I think the reader has rights.
It has been remarked that book publishing as a so-called gentlemans
occupation began to change about the time the phrase publishing industry
came into use, around the mid-1970s. If true, it
marks nicely the beginning of the kind of change I have been interested
in tracing in the business of making and selling books.
Is it true, however: has the gentlemans occupation changed so much,
so quickly? Perhaps my assumption is faulty? An editor and publisher of
long experience told me that hed like to take the notion of gentlemans occupation and kick it in the head. I liked this
and asked him to say more. He did, and a lively conversation followed.
Substantially, however, what has changed in the business of making
and selling books? For I think it can be agreed that enormous change has
occurred. What sorts of people went into publishing then? Are they a
different sort now? Are there fewer good books, more bad, than ever? Is
the art of editing no longer practiced well in the trade? How can we
speak of publishing houses after conglomeration? Do
conglomerate managers know anything about books? I have been inquiring
of distinguished representatives of an older generation ,and of my own
generation of the Sixties, what they thought about these questions.
Generously, these persons have told how they entered the book trade;
spoken about writers theyve published and declined to publish;
described the (changing) class structure of their domain; talked
straight about money, commerce, and corporate capitalism; described
their way of practicing responsible publishing. Without exception, they
are serious readers, usually of more than one language. They recognize
that times have changed. They speak with wary-friendly observation of
the generations coming up.
Excerpts of these conversations will continue to appear regularly in
Archipelago and may serve as an opening into an
institutional memory contrasting itself with the current corporate
structure, reflecting on glories of its own, revealing what remains
constant amid the present flux. Despite their surround of gentility,
these publishers are strong-minded characters engaged with their
historical circumstances. Out of that engagement have appeared a number
of books that we can say, rightly, belong to literature.
A Conversation with Marion Boyars, Archipelago, Vol. 1 No. 3
A Conversation with Cornelia and Michael Bessie, Vol. 1 No. 4
Vol. 2, No. 1
A Conversation with William Strachan, Vol. 2, No. 4
Whatever He Says is Gospel -George Garrett
Samuel S. Vaughan, Editor-at-large, Random House
Former Editor-in-chief, President, and Publisher,
Samuel S. Vaughan entered the publishing trade in 1951,
as a desk man for King Features Syndicate. The following year he joined
the syndication department of Doubleday, where he learned the craft of
cutting books into serials, then selling rights to newspapers. He was
promoted to advertising manager (1954-56), then to
sales manager (1956-58). From sales he moved to
editorial, becoming a senior editor in 1958; ten
years later, he was made executive editor. In 1970
he was named publisher and president of the company and remained so for
the next twelve years. From 1982 till 1985
he was editor-in-chief of Doubleday. The list of titles (it is
incomplete) should indicate that he learned the art of publishing books
from the ground up. He has done nearly every job in the trade, he
supposed, except printing. The equation of the publishing business
is what I think I understood, and what the publisher is asked to
understand and to deal with, he said. It is the major
elements that the publisher can affect. I liked all parts of publishing.
I like the editorial job; I like the publishing and promotion, the
advertising job; I like the sales jobs. It was important to me to give
everybody a fair shake.
Sam Vaughan is known as a man of his word. You can take what he
says as gospel, the novelist George Garrett told me. A woman of
wide experience in the business, whose first job had been as his
assistant, said simply, He is a great man.
Sam Vaughan, though claiming to be semi-retired, is at present
editor-at-large at Random House, once a competitor of Doubleday; now
both large companies are owned by the same German publising company. A
visitor to the Random House skyscraper signs in, is given a badge, and
takes an express elevator to an upper floor, where she is met by a tall,
courteous man resembling James Stewart in aspect and voice, who
apologizes (unnecessarily) about his small, book-filled office.
Thoughtfully, he has provided coffee. He is interested in what the other
publishers have had to say, seeming to converse with them as much as
with his caller. He takes issue with received ideas, and he is careful
I spoke with Sam Vaughan in the Spring of 1999;
twice we met at his office, the third time at the august Century club,
where he gave me a pleasant luncheon. He expressed interest in the theme
of institutional memory, while commenting wryly about the
capacity of his own. His is a fine, dry humor, without irony but rather,
enlarged by compassion and honest indignation.
A gentleman of contraries
KATHERINE McNAMARA: Youve, very engagingly, called yourself a
SAM VAUGHAN: Its a stock market term, and Im not much of a
financial wizard, but I just dont agree with much of the conventional
current comment about publishing. Although in the beginning I did,
because I was learning. Now Im beyond learning.
KATHERINE MCNAMARA: What are you contrarian about?
SAM VAUGHAN: Well, were still selling trade books by the
pound, pricing them according to weight, not intrinsic value, or the
limits of the presumed market or audience as reflected in the first
printing, or their likely ability to pay. Publishers are still letting
untrained, inexperienced people loose on books, refusing to train or
develop them except by the ancient system of an unstructured
apprenticeship. And, we allow myths to perpetuate. For example, Im
trying to write an introduction to a new edition of a fairly well-known
publishers memoir thats an oxymoron called AN
OCCUPATION FOR GENTLEMEN, by Frederick Warburg. I want to talk
about the impact of the title, because people have picked up on it: that
this was such an occupation. What Id like to kick in the head is the
idea that publishing was an occupation for gentlemen. It has led to many
misconceptions about the origins and nature of publishing.
KATHERINE MCNAMARA: Why do you say this?
SAM VAUGHAN: The word gentleman, it seems to me,
doesnt have a precise definition, but it implies a person of
independent means, who doesnt really have to work. In the Warburg
memoir, the title comes from an anecdote. He was in conversation at a
party with a man who was the head of Marks &
Spencer, the big retailer. When Mr. Warburg said he was in publishing
(after the usual What do you do? kind of thing, which was not so
common in London then) Mr. Marks-&-Spencer
said, Is publishing an occupation for gentlemen or is it a real
I dont mean to say that there never have been gentlemen, by whatever
definition, or gentlewomen, but the history of books and publishing is
not a history of gentlemen dabbling in a pleasant occupation. As far as
I can tell, the first books were in the hands of literate elites,
meaning the church and high priests, scholars and scribes, who despite
their exalted position were not exactly gentlemen. Then, following
Gutenberg, publishing was often in the hands of printers and ultimately
booksellers. They were tradesmen, sometimes middle-class. Thats what we
came out of, in large part.
KATHERINE MCNAMARA: Do you think the term trade
publishing began, in fact, with the jobbing printers?
SAM VAUGHAN: As far I know, it begins with publishing for the
retail book trade, as opposed to publishing for schools. A big part of
publishing, now and for a long time, has been for schools and colleges
and for libraries. I think the reference was to the book trade, i.e.,
KATHERINE MCNAMARA: When would that have come about?
SAM VAUGHAN: I dont know that. English publishers in the 1920s
and s had what they called a
trade counter in the publishing house. The trade counter was Im
laughing because of the contrast with the current scene where the
trade was supposed to come and pick up their books. In a really
aggressive house the publisher might have a person or two who took books
out and carried them to the booksellers.
English publishing, when I first started to visit London, in the 1950s,
was sort of frozen, en gelée. I remember an English publisher
who did a lot of visiting back and forth. We were each doing the same
book. I said, Our jacket for the book is just ready, would you
like to see it? He said, Well, yes, that would be very
nice. We got the jacket out for him to look at. I held it up. He
stared at it for awhile. I said, Like it? Yes,
he said, but dont you think its a little market-seeking?
That was a leftover attitude. In any case, I dont know whether the
English were ever so uncommercial as they appeared to be.
On the other hand, German publishers tend, by-and-large, to be
well-trained for business. My young assistant, Mr. Ulf Büchholz, is a
case-in-point. He was trained by Bertelsmann [owners of Random House,
Inc. and Doubleday/Bantam/Dell] in Germany. I once was one of the
authors of a report for the Publishers Association, which I titled The Accidental Profession. In Germany, publishing is much
less accidental. The bookseller is a professional, trained in a sort of
guild-fashion. The relationship between the bookseller and the publisher
is one of mutual respect.
KATHERINE MCNAMARA: So, the phrase the accidental
profession is yours?
SAM VAUGHAN: Yes. We found that almost none of us had set out
to be in book publishing but were.
KATHERINE MCNAMARA: How, then, did you come into this trade?
SAM VAUGHAN: I was like Mr. Marks-&-Spencer:
I had never thought about book publishing as an occupation. I had
thought about magazine-, but not book-, publishing.
KATHERINE MCNAMARA: How were these different, would you say?
SAM VAUGHAN: Well, Id been an editor as an undergraduate of a
magazine, a humor magazine first and a literary magazine second. And
therefore I wanted to work in magazines; it was a form I thought I knew.
But, fortunately for me, I didnt work in magazines. Of course, in the
and 60s, mass-circulation magazines were about to
encounter very heavy weather, and some disappeared.
The interesting difference, from the point of view of the writer,
between a magazine- and a book-publisher is that, when you write for a
magazine, the magazine owns the piece. Youre writing in the magazines
voice, or youre at least being edited by the magazine, and it tends to
have a certain style. When you write a book, youre really writing for
yourself: you lease what you write to the publisher. So when publishers
say, I bought a book, they misstate the case slightly. What
they do is make a contract that gives them the right to vend the book in
various forms, for a period of time. The author, always downtrodden and
always fragile, is nonetheless the owner of what he or she created.
Learning the business
KATHERINE MCNAMARA: Would you talk a bit about your
background, where you were raised and educated?
SAM VAUGHAN: I was raised in Philadelphia, in the city itself,
in the section called South Philadelphia. And my wife was born a block
away. Well, Jo is half Italian by ancestry and Im not at all Italian by
ancestry. My folks were leftover WASPs, and so I
had the delightful experience of learning how to be a WASP
minority. With a name like Sam, and a long nose, and a Welsh surname,
going to school was quite colorful. But because my parents spoke
English, I had a head-start program of my own, and, therefore, my
teachers treated me very well, and I got the idea I was smart. And,
despite the evidence of later years, I never quite gave it up. I went to
Penn State, and, as I said, I majored in putting out undergraduate
magazines. Terrible student in high school and in college. But I did
learn something about pasting up off-set proofs, selling advertising,
and trying to get writers people who said they were writers to
KATHERINE MCNAMARA: You read, though; a lot?
SAM VAUGHAN: Im poorly-read. I suppose a number of people in
publishing secretly feel that, because were surrounded by books. We had
some books in my house, and my parents were readers; but Im not
well-read in any formal sense. Im a person who needs a Great Books
curriculum. When I got to college they tested us in English and I was
put in an advanced-placement freshman class. All the teachers of
advanced freshmen decided they were sick of the classics, and they
taught, instead, off-beat books. Instead of CRIME AND
PUNISHMENT, they taught Olive Schreiners THE
STORY OF AN AFRICAN FARM
KATHERINE MCNAMARA: A wonderful book
SAM VAUGHAN: Yes. Well, I read EYELESS IN GAZA,
when I might have been reading WAR AND PEACE. Not
to say that one book is bad and the other book is good; its just I
missed a lot.
After an interlude in the Marine Corps, I got out of college. There
was only one place for me to work an idea planted in my head by my
peers and that was New York. I came here and got a job, through a
college-magazine friend, at King Features Syndicate, a Hearst
organization. The big business there was comics. I had the most minor of
editorial jobs, called, according to the union, a desk-man.
I did proof-reading and the preparation of boiler-plate, the stuff that
was sent out to small newspapers that couldnt afford to compose their
own Sunday puzzle pages. I wrote Minute Mysteries, in one of which the
bad guys name was Italian. My boss rapped my knuckles; even back then
he said: You cant do that. That was a lesson in whats now
called political correctness: or, simply, avoiding stereotypes.
My boss was a good guy named Clark Kinnaird. He was very concerned,
when he hired me, about whether or not I could, as a married man (I was
married as an undergraduate, and had a child), make it in New York on $77.50
a week. I assured him I could; and did; and three months later, he was
even more appalled when he fired me.
KATHERINE MCNAMARA: A man with a heart.
SAM VAUGHAN: Well, it wasnt his doing. William Randolph
Hearst had had the bad taste to die right after I was hired, and right
after he died they started to clean house, and so, last one in, first
one out. There was nothing unfair about it; I mean, they got rid of lots
But Mr. Kinnaird did his best to help me find a job. After I had
shopped around for awhile he said, Would you like to have a job at
the Washington Star ? I said, Id love it. He
sent me out to Washington, New Jersey, to a paper there at that time,
for a job that I, in turn, didnt get. In any case, I made the rounds
for months, and, meanwhile, delivered the mail in Washington Heights,
and got a job at Doubleday, in a small arm of their rights department
they called the Syndicate. I came in at the tail end of the time when
books were fairly widely syndicated in newspapers in this country. The
papers carried books in serial form. Doubleday had books that had made a
lot of money by licensing them to outside syndicates, books like Fulton
Ourslers THE GREATEST STORY EVER TOLD. The money
had to be divided 50/50 with the syndicate, and
then 50/50 with the author, so the author got 25%,
the publisher got 25%. Then Doubleday, in its
wisdom, decided to do it themselves. So, I got this job preparing books
for syndication; also traveling to sell them. I wasnt notably good at
it, but I got to see the country.
KATHERINE MCNAMARA: How did you prepare them? Did you actually
do the editing, divide them into usable chapters, and so on?
SAM VAUGHAN: You would cut them into a week-long series, or a
twelve part series, and it was learned by doing. It was surgery on the
helpless body of the author. But I think we showed the cut versions to
the authors, and they were usually happy to have some extra readership,
publicity, and income.
KATHERINE MCNAMARA: Just for curiositys sake, what was the
SAM VAUGHAN: It ranged from $50.00 to a
couple of thousand. A paper would buy a series from us. A big paper in
Chicago might pay $2,000; a small paper anywhere
might pay $50.00. You had to give them territorial
rights, because big papers tended to claim everything.
But one of the books my boss got interested in, when I was first
there, was one by a young Dutch girl. He sold it to the New York Post
for a small amount of money before publication. But what we got out
of it was that the Post did its own version. Every day I went
down to the Post and got, hot off the press, their installment. I
came back and typed it on stencils. Then we went on the road to sell it.
My boss sent me, naturally, to Philadelphia. I sat down with a man named
Stuart Taylor, of the Bulletin. He was an elegant fellow;
newspapermen could be elegant in those days. Thinking back to what I had
told my boss, I said: This isnt exactly good newspaper material,
its a diary of a young girl who was a real pain in the ass. Who could
love a teenage girl? I mean, thats the worst time of life to love
KATHERINE MCNAMARA: And the book was
SAM VAUGHAN: THE DIARY OF A YOUNG GIRL,
by Anne Frank. That was its first title, I believe.
Stuart Taylor listened to my story and bought it from me on the spot,
for very good money. I almost fell off the chair. We in fact only sold
it to about ten or twelve papers; but it was part of the publication buzz, as they would call it these days. I had no idea that
the book would last forever. I guess I had certain sympathy for what we
knew of Anne Franks life and death, but I just didnt feel the
mystery at that point. That was my first observation of a publishing
phenomenon. Its an interesting study, a publishing phenomenon. I dont
mean bestseller, I mean books as phenomena. That was also my first
example of a book that passes from the intended audience to an
incidental audience, one of which happened to be young women.
I dont mean that theyre incidental, but that nobody said,
This is a book for young women. Nobody said, This is a
book for Jewish people. In fact, you didnt say that in those
days, not out of any sensitivity, but because that was before the
revolution in which Jewish writers became some of our most interesting
and important writers. We published EXODUS [by
Leon Uris] in that period, which we called the story of the birth
of a nation. We published [Herman Wouks] MARJORIE
MORNINGSTAR, which we described as a love story of a young
girl in New York, never saying the word Jewish.
KATHERINE MCNAMARA: Indeed, I remember hearing about those
books when I was coming up, and it never even occurred to me that they
were, as it were, separate from me.
SAM VAUGHAN: Well, Anne Frank was published as an
adult trade book, and it sold extremely well as such, but then passed
on, over the decades, into the hands of young people.
Thats a good topic to explore, sometime: the book that, published
for one presumed audience, transmutes itself for another. For example,
the book that is published as an adult book, and gets taken up by kids.
Or, the book that is published for children and gets taken up by adults.
Theres a history in that.
Selling books for Doubleday
KATHERINE MCNAMARA: There you were in the syndicate
department, selling syndicate rights; but that didnt continue.
SAM VAUGHAN: Corporate culture is a phrase used
with a sneer, but any organization worth a damn has its own culture.
Doubleday was proud of the fact that it trained its people well. It
believed in certain sporadic attempts at formal training, but mostly, it
trained by letting you move from job to job. In the first six years, I
had three jobs, along a curious path. None were in Editorial. Well, the
syndicate, in a minor way, was editorial. But all were in publishing.
Then I was promoted to become advertising manager . I did that for a
couple of years, and loved it, because I thought that the book
advertising was terrible, stodgy, and still do. Routinely, book
advertising today is no better than it was then. Its what I call the parade of the rectangles. Run a picture of the book,
write a headline, quote some reviews, and get it out. Its a very
limited view of what you might say about a book and how to present it.
KATHERINE MCNAMARA: What is an expanded view?
SAM VAUGHAN: Well, I tried to show books in context. I tried
to show that books didnt float in air, they existed somewhere: in your
hands, in your home, in your travels, or wherever. I spent a lot of
money on photography. I suppose the peak of all that was when we got a
Publishers Ad Club award  for an action
novel called MR. HAMISH GLEAVE, by Richard
Llewellyn. A wonderful novel, I fell in love with it, and I probably
spent too much money on it. But I got a photographer to go down to Wall
Street. I said: The character in this book is a member of the
British Establishment, he has been spying for the Russians for a long
time, hes about to leave the country. And I had some idea of a
situation, but the photographer came up with something much better. He
photographed our guy in his Homburg and his dark suit and his tight
umbrella, running down a very long flight of steps outside one of those
Wall Street buildings. You just dont see a man dressed like that
running; it was a marvelous piece of work. I wrote some short copy to go
with it, and it was a very effective ad. Thats the kind of thing I
thought should be done, and still do. Theres one consistently brilliant
advertising manager, Nina Bourne, at Knopf, who can make an ordinary
review ad look extraordinary. She never stops amazing me, and amusing
me, with variations on that theme.
A so-called company man
KATHERINE MCNAMARA: When you look back over the works
youve published, do you find continuities; do you find themes?
SAM VAUGHAN: One of the virtues of growing older is that you
find the themes and the connections of your own life. I came of age as
an adult in the 50s. One big question at the time
was conformity, and therefore conformity is important to me still. Or,
perhaps, non-conformity, while pretending to conform. Books like BABBITT
and THE ORGANIZATION MAN were formative books for
me. They had a lot to say to me. Ive always worked for
organizations, fairly sizable ones, so the question of whether you
become a so-called company man or not was somewhere in the air. Ive
been a bit of a fraud because Ive passed.
KATHERINE MCNAMARA: Speaking metaphorically.
SAM VAUGHAN: Yes. I guess I looked the part. Once, a woman
came up to me at a party and said, Did you go to Princeton?
I said, No. She insisted that I did.
KATHERINE MCNAMARA: Recently, I read an article about changes
in publishing, with a similar theme. The author talks of a moment when
publishers actually hired people who didnt have a good college
education, because they wanted to sell to the mass market. The claim he
made was that, instead of the old school tie, they used some other
kind of criterion. Im interested in that, because you very nicely go
around that whole issue of class, while at the same time almost alluding
to it in several of your pieces, as you did just now.
SAM VAUGHAN: Mike Bessie [see Archipelago, Vol. 1,
No. 4] and I belong to an informal
group of editors who meet for dinner six or eight times a year. The
great Cass Canfield, who was the head of Harper for so long, once said
to Mike, as we were sitting around the table: Well, theres nobody
here who hasnt gone to Harvard or Yale, is there? Mike had to
point out, gently, that there might be a few who hadnt. But that
expectation may have been typical of the sort of people they let into
publishing then. Doubleday was more democratic than some houses, in that
it was more accessible as a place to work. They published a lot of
middle-brow stuff, and they had a more national view. It was not a New
York house, although it was owned by an old New York family. I used to
say to people who lived in Manhattan, because I lived in New Jersey,
that I lived on the mainland. Doubleday was interested in
publishing for the mainland. We had a bigger sales force
than most, and we thought that St. Louis and Detroit and Houston, and so
forth, were important.
So, there was, I suppose youd call it, a democratic moment, which
was good for people like me and also for women, ultimately.
KATHERINE MCNAMARA: People like you meaning, you
went to Penn State instead of an Ivy League school.
SAM VAUGHAN: Sure. Periodically, we were assigned to read an
out-of-town paper, to see what was going on. I love that expression, out-of-town, as if everything outside of New York were
KATHERINE MCNAMARA: When you joined Doubleday, it was still
owned by the Doubleday family. Why do you say it wasnt a New York
SAM VAUGHAN: Well, their interests were not confined
exaggerating, of course but their interests were not circumscribed
by the Hudson River, as some houses seemed to be. There were some
houses which were very New York. They seemed to cultivate
the high opinion of literary persons in New York, they thought most of
the important reviewers and critics were in New York, and that most book
readers were, too. It was a sort of Lincoln Tunnel vision. At Doubleday,
we liked popular fiction, we liked popular history, we liked politics,
all sides I was going to say except for extreme radical stuff,
except that, in the 60s, we got radicalized, too,
to an extent. The house was what they called Establishment
we liked to publish ex-presidents and such and, at the same
time, not an elitist house. The house had a healthy attitude towards the
rest of the country, which wasnt charity: it was good business. The
Literary Guild, which Doubleday owned and ran, was not famous for
biographies of Joyce and Eliot; that was not their fare, while the Book
of the Month Club might take on such substantial works.
It was also a family-owned house, and it tried to instill, loosely,
and with some success, a family-feeling among the employees who stayed
there. We had a sense of who we were, and what kind of things we wanted
to publish, and also, importantly, what kind of things we didnt want to
publish. There were some popular books which we felt happy to leave to
KATHERINE MCNAMARA: For example?
SAM VAUGHAN: Once, when John Sargent was our chairman, we were
at Frankfort [Book Fair], and he said, I received some information
that suggests that I think it was Jacqueline Susann
is winking at us. What do you think? I said, John, do you
really think shes someone we want to publish? That ended the
conversation, and ended the pursuit, at least on our side. Here I was
being a snob; but it was the kind of book that wouldnt have done well
on our list, handled by our people.
One book that somehow got on our list was based on conversations with
prostitutes; this was in the early 60s, I think, and, although the
author was given a contract, that book hit an invisible wall inside the
house, so it was as if it didnt get published.
Now, Doubleday has one blot on their escutcheon that I know about,
and anyone who knows literary history knows about, and its this. SISTER
CARRIE was under contract to Doubleday; but the then-Mrs.
Doubleday objected to it on moral grounds, and so it was what a friend
of mine, the publisher-author Dick Grossman I think he invented the
term called privished: that is, it wasnt fully
And some of it was edited out, apparently. The nice irony was that,
decades later, a university press, I think it was, re-published the
novel, un-Bowdlerized, or in the original version. That rare person, a
wholly objective critic, writing in The Nation or The New
Republic, perhaps, said it was better as first published. Dreiser
may not have had a cloven hoof but he did write with both feet.
KATHERINE MCNAMARA: You had a feel, surely, for what then was
popular. Was what you meant by popular then, what pop means now?
SAM VAUGHAN: Well, youre on to one of my favorite subjects.
It wasnt exactly what pop means now, because pop now may include the
avant-garde and, after all, theres Pop Art, which is not art for
the masses, in a way. So I dont think it means the same thing. I meant
that Doubleday lived for the most part on fiction by Herman Wouk, Arthur
Haley, Leon Uris, historical novels by Irving Stone, and the women
novelists with three names who wrote clean romances.
KATHERINE MCNAMARA: That brings to mind Edna Ferber. Did you
SAM VAUGHAN: Yes, we did. We published Ferber, referred to
around the house as Miss Ferber. When she died she left her
desk and typewriter to us. It sat in the hall for a long time, until we
couldnt stand it. We finally donated it.
KATHERINE MCNAMARA: She was a presence, was she?
SAM VAUGHAN: She was a presence, and so were some of the other
house authors. I never met Somerset Maugham, but Maugham was a presence.
The houses first lists were built on a consummate Anglophilia: Conrad
and Maugham and Kipling and any number of people came to the list from
England. Mr. Maugham, as he was called, was a real presence, as if he
had an office there.
KATHERINE MCNAMARA: You said that it was because of him that
Ken McCormick was named the editor-in-chief? [Kenneth McCormick (1906-1997)
was editor-in-chief of Doubleday from 1942 to 1971.]
SAM VAUGHAN: Thats the story. It wasnt only because of
Maugham, but his endorsement couldnt have hurt.
KATHERINE MCNAMARA: May I return to my question about popular
writing? What would you consider popular literature? Did it
feel as if you, at Doubleday, were speaking with your readership?
Because I suspect that there was a relationship, there, between
publisher and readers.
SAM VAUGHAN: I once had a conversation with the great Bob
Gottlieb [former editor-in-chief at Knopf, then of The New
Yorker] and I mean great. We were in a cab
going somewhere and he said, Tell me about popular fiction: I
really dont understand it. And he was one of the great
editor/publishers of fiction, who was candid enough to admit that he
didnt understand popular fiction.
I inherited Arthur Haley as an author. Now, when I
came out of college, I was like any other smart-ass entering publishing:
I was in love with prose style. If you could write well, it didnt
matter to me what you wrote about. I learned at Doubleday, because of
feeling respect for popular writers, a decent respect for the
well-written, straightforward sentence; for the well-plotted, sturdy
novel of the sort that Arthur did. At first I was contemptuous of it, I
mean silently, secretly; but as I got to know something of the people
who wrote those books, and something about the readers who read them, I
dropped all that nonsense. What I would read for my own pleasure was one
thing. Popular non-stylists could flourish: and why not? They had
something that people wanted to read.
KATHERINE MCNAMARA: I asked the late Marion Boyars [Vol. 1,
No. 3] this question: What is commercial fiction?
Her answer was, I dont know! But I would guess that its
not the same as what you mean by popular fiction; or, not wholly.
SAM VAUGHAN: Well, its wonderful when a book that you and I
might easily agree is beautifully written becomes popular. And that
happens often enough to not be an aberration.
KATHERINE MCNAMARA: Would you give some examples of books that
you consider such?
SAM VAUGHAN: COLD MOUNTAIN, recently; or
SNOW FALLING ON CEDARS. But there are certain
authors of whom it can be said that there is not much chance they will
ever lapse into writing a popular novel: they are too demanding of the
reader. Now, some readers love to be demanded of. But, in general (if
you can make a statement about a large group of people), they mostly
just dont want to be taxed heavily. Now, there are degrees of
difficulty. John Le Carré is popular but not an easy read, because he
writes in a style that holds back information with English reticence,
but he certainly is a commercial author, and he sells like a mass-market
author. There are gradations of difference between popular and
mass-market. Our tendency to divide everything into this or that annoys
the hell out of me, but we find it inescapable. The Europeans love to
refer to publishers as serious or not-. We know
what they mean, of course. But its such a damning indictment that any
publisher would not be considered serious.
One of the things I dearly love about book publishing is its
pluralism. I used what I call the stewardess test. When I
was flying somewhere I would ask the stewardess what she was reading,
because they have a lot of down time, sitting in those fold-down seats.
She would usually say something like: Im reading Taylor
Caldwell, or Danielle Steele, or Barbara Taylor Bradford. But she
might, instead, be reading Ayn Rand; or she might be reading WAR
AND PEACE. Without meaning to, she refused to sit in a category.
I have a file at home bigger than you are on the issue of what I call pop and lit.
Its an old argument that should have been
resolved a long time ago. On the other hand, it fuels a lot of cocktail
party conversation and reviews, so maybe Ill subside.
I remember a list we published at Doubleday, in the 1950s,
when I was advertising manager. It was a very important list to us
because it had four big books on it: Trumans memoirs; Robert Ruarks
novel SOMETHING OF VALUE; André Malraux VOICES
OF SILENCE; and THE COLUMBIA HISTORICAL PORTRAIT
OF NEW YORK. Thats pluralism; thats diversity in publishing.
Thats why Ive never wanted to be known just as a literary editor:
because I find it too confining.
KATHERINE MCNAMARA: Hovering, then, is a discussion about the
SAM VAUGHAN: Yes. Mid-list is as imprecise as the
expression non-fiction, which, too, embraces everything from
the Bible to Peanuts. Its the dreaded equivalent of middling. Still
The new chairman of Random House, Inc., Peter Olson, was nice enough to
take me to lunch recently. He was speaking with an almost embarrassed
smile about having taken over when the business was going so well. That
doesnt mean that everything works, or that every division is doing
well, but it means that, all over, the company is doing very well. And, he said,
its not only phenomenal books, the
books like THE CENTURY, by Peter Jennings, and the
Tom Brokaw book [THE GREATEST GENERATION], its a
lot of the mid-list. I was so delighted to hear a well-trained
publishing executive speak affectionately of the mid-list. Ive had
other conversations with other publishers. When they start in on the
mid-list, Ive said to them: If you published 500
books a year, 350 of them would be mid-list.
We once published 500 books a year.
KATHERINE MCNAMARA: Thats extraordinary, isnt it?
SAM VAUGHAN: Well, it was extraordinary. But if you published
five books a year, three of them would be mid-list. Theres no escaping
the mid-list. The fact is, the mid-list is the place where you lose the
most money, and its also the place where you make the purest profit
when a book works. Thats because you usually dont have so much money
An editor named Tom Congdon, who had been at The Saturday Evening
Post, told me one day his editor used an expression which haunted
Tom ever afterward. He said: I dont want a lot of little gray
articles. There are little gray books: which doesnt mean they
have no value or virtue. It means that a mid-list can be cluttered.
Every book has a reason: a reason why the author wrote it, a reason why
somebody decided it should be published. But it can also choke you, like
too much wheat. On the other hand, there may be a baby in the bulrushes;
you dont know.
KATHERINE MCNAMARA: Can you give a sense of the texture of a
SAM VAUGHAN: No, I cant. A mid-list is the most assorted
list. Books are graded in some kind of crude sorting. As for mid-list: all that means is that the book is not an obvious
candidate for super best-sellerdom; or its not a first novel destined
to be published merely because it should be published.
ROOTS was a mid-list book. ROOTS was not
conceived, ever, by us as a blockbuster, as a phenomenon. You dont
predict phenomena: thats why they are phenomena. But that book
was signed up and written in the period when the attitude of the book
trade was, Weve had enough black books, weve had a lot of them
in the past decade, theyre over. The book trade gets like that
from time to time. Booksellers, in their wisdom, and in their sincerity,
and in their dopiness, will make statements like that, and so do we. But
what we couldnt see coming was that this book, which was not bought for
no money there was money put into it, over and over was going to
strike a nerve: we didnt see that. And, we didnt see the effect of
Alex Haleys constant traveling and speaking to groups. There was an
audience clamoring, practically hitting the door down, when we
published. That had nothing to do with television. When the television
series came along it multiplied the effect. Now, thats not a typical
mid-list book, but it came out of the mid-list. After all, Alex had done
an earlier book, THE AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF MALCOM X.
KATHERINE MCNAMARA: Thats right. Had you published that book
SAM VAUGHAN: Doubleday had it under contract and gave it up.
It helps to recall the atmosphere at that time. Before the book
appeared, Malcolm X was assassinated. Nelson Doubleday became concerned
that, because of Doubledays nearly unique situation only Scribner
had the same one: we had people working at street level in the Doubleday
bookshops. There was real fear in the air. He became concerned that it
might result in some broken glass, and people getting hurt. And so I
wasnt in the middle of this we told Alex to keep the money wed
paid him and he was free to publish elsewhere, which he did promptly. It
became a classic and sold forever, and nobody got hurt; but thats why,
I was told, we gave it up. We managed somehow to keep on with Alex, and
did the next book.
KATHERINE MCNAMARA: Thats interesting. He
SAM VAUGHAN: No; we became friends but he was first Ken
McCormicks, and then Lisa Drews author. Alex has a remarkable
persistence. He wasnt what I would call tough-minded, because he did
some things that showed he was soft; but he was durable and persistent.
That book: again, I only brought it up because it came out of the
mid-list; but all phenomena are interesting to follow.
KATHERINE MCNAMARA: Is it a canard that the mid-list is
shrinking? We know that publishers are cutting back their lists.
SAM VAUGHAN: I hear it everywhere, and its probably true.
There are a lot of canards in publishing; but even fewer facts. I do
think that the annual count of books published in the U.S.
has declined or has held steady at a lower level than it might have been
assumed. I think we were headed toward more than 50,000
new titles a year, though I dont think its gone much over that.
got to affect the mid-list, since the mid-list books are most books. But
I dont know the facts. I know that the questions are asked: Who are we
going to sell it to? Do we really need this book? questions which,
one way or another, have been asked for a long time, but are perhaps
being asked more often than they were. Im amused by the question: Whos going to read this book? because we know so little
about readers. So it seems like a sensible question, but its largely
Who needs this book?
KATHERINE MCNAMARA: Your other question though, also is
interesting because of all the directions it goes in: Do we need
this book? Whos we? What does we mean?
SAM VAUGHAN: Yes, youre right. The editor may say,
certainly do. It may mean that she needs the book, or he needs the
book, as an ornament or as a potentially profitable part of his own
individual list; or it may be that she sees a palpable need for the book
out there. For example, Larry Ashmead, my friend at Harper, has always
edited a differing stream of books, including books on what I call popular diseases. I would first hear about a disease from
Larry, and I would take his word for it that there was a need for a book
to help people who had it, or thought they had it. Many books are done
that way, because there is a real need. You may be premature; very often
you are late in the field.
The question of need for books is interesting because there are so
many books for which there really is a need. A lot of reading, a lot of
bookselling, a lot of book publishing, is composed of utilitarian books.
My favorite example is a book near the top of our back- list which
was a 4,000-5,000-title back-list for years
called THE ASHLEY BOOK OF KNOTS. Now, THE
ASHLEY was a big, bulky book with, I suppose, every knot ever
devised by man. We used to speculate about who was buying it. Somebody
would say Boy Scouts, so wed take that as part of an
answer. I was very pleased to find that Annie Proulx used a quote from THE
ASHLEY BOOK OF KNOTS for an epigraph in a chapter of THE
SHIPPING NEWS, a most distinctive novel.
KATHERINE MCNAMARA: Or, it could be a book like GRAYS
ANATOMY. You see it everywhere, and all sorts of people buy it. I
had a copy for years. Why? Because you might need it.
SAM VAUGHAN: Sure. We all tried to get the distribution of the
MERCK MANUAL, for example. The RED
CROSS HANDBOOKS are eternally useful. Theres a real, not very
mysterious need for so much of publishing.
KATHERINE MCNAMARA: Id like to put in a word, although
sure I dont need to, for the serious or literary writers: people who
write out of that other kind of need: because theres no help for it.
They themselves say that they need to write. Or, youll read a
book and know that this book has to be in the world. Its that
other kind of need, a metaphysical need, if you like.
SAM VAUGHAN: So many books are, or seem to be, written out of
a need to communicate with another human being. We all know that theres
a meeting of at least two minds in a good book. There is so much
loneliness in the world. Its one of my favorite themes. If a book has
loneliness at its heart, it stands a good chance of finding an audience
eventually.... After all, we go through life alone. Whether were lucky
enough to have people around us whom we love, and vice-versa, or not,
every person walks alone. Think of the loneliness of Lindbergh, of Anne
Frank, of what someone recently observed as the magnificent
loneness of the principle figure in THE STORY OF O,
of Quixote. THE LONELY CROWD was a work of
sociology which sold rather well; but I dont think it was an accident.
It was inspired.
KATHERINE MCNAMARA: It was a late-50s
kind of book, if you want, appearing at the end of a time, but also
becoming the mark of a time. And that would be, I think, your kind of
book. It was your book. Yes, I know you said that; but I can
see why, now, in retrospect, having learned some of the themes that
SAM VAUGHAN: I guess what were talking about is the need to
write, and the need to read, which are not very well summed up into
simple statements. Many of the alarms about publishing are just that:
alarms. I dont think we generally realize that reading is not a passing
fancy or an idle diversion. Reading, I really believe or let me say,
storytelling, one kind of story or another is a human need as basic
as bread. You dont have to go far down the list of human needs: theres
something about the need for story that is immense. That doesnt mean
that people have to get stories in book form; but thats one way to get
them. As people will get stories, in whatever form they choose to get
them in, whatever form theyre available in, some will tend to move in
cyclical ways from books to movies to television to theater, and back
again. We havent gone back to sitting around a campfire, but
nevertheless, all the traditional means of telling stories are
available. Its only the illiterate who are really poor, in that sense.
The editors work
KATHERINE MCNAMARA: Would you talk about the experience of
making a book: finding the author; having the author find you; and, if
you would, describe that whole adventure?
SAM VAUGHAN: It is that. If I liked fishing, Id say it was
like fishing. Where do the books come from? They come from writers. One
of the great sources of finding writers is other writers. Probably the
most efficient source, because theres less waste when a writer
recommends a writer. If your insurance man recommends his adolescent son
who has a gift for verse
. Know what I mean?
KATHERINE MCNAMARA: Right.
SAM VAUGHAN: Another source, of course, is these are all
very obvious reading. You have the greatest excuse in the world to
read all the time. You can read anything. Its one of my challenges to
myself, still, although I should get over it: when I pick up a magazine
or a journal or a newspaper, I want to see if theres something in there
that would lead to a writer or a book.
KATHERINE MCNAMARA: You have attached yourself to writers who
write across a broad range of subjects. Do you find that still true?
Have you narrowed your interests, or focused them?
SAM VAUGHAN: Ive never wanted to be typecast as a literary
editor, or a public affairs editor, or a history editor. Its very
different than being a textbook editor, where youre expected to be,
partly, an expert. I represent the great unwashed and unknowing. I
cherish my amateur standing. Also, it keeps refreshing itself more that
way. Ive often counseled younger editors who set out to be known as a
literary editor not to put too much coal on that fire alone be it,
dont say it. Everybody has to be economically justified, sooner or
later, and you have a better chance of doing it if you handle a range of
At times Ive fallen into pockets of specialty. I did a lot of books
by political figures, for a while, not by design but because thats the
way it worked out.
KATHERINE MCNAMARA: For example?
SAM VAUGHAN: Early on, I handled one of the books written by a
man named Ezra Taft Benson, who was Eisenhowers Secretary of
Agriculture. I inherited a contract with him, from Adam Yarmolinsky,
who was, briefly, an editor with Doubleday. It was for a staff-written
book called FREEDOM TO FARM, I believe. The book
was dull, and Ive never been terribly interested in agriculture; but I
got to know him a little. He decided, at the end of his time there in
Washington, that he would write a memoir, which he did, because he was
the only cabinet member to spend the full eight years with Eisenhower.
So I went into that Mormon household a number of times. Mrs. Benson fed
me, while I worked down in the basement on the manuscript and
photographs. We got a rather good memoir out of it, because Secretary
Benson, who was a church elder and became head of the Mormon Church, was
a good storyteller. We also got some news out of it, in that he
recommended the ticket of I think it was Nixon and Rockefeller,
at the time: anyhow, it was a peculiar, or surprising, pairing, because
he was more conservative than anybody else in the Eisenhower
I went from there to doing a book by a man named Lewis Strauss, who
was the chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission, and had been nominated
by Eisenhower to be Secretary of Commerce, and, for almost the first
time since the Civil War, had been denied that innocuous post by the
Senate. I pursued him for a book.
KATHERINE MCNAMARA: Was there a reason he was denied? It was
just a little before my time.
SAM VAUGHAN: Yes. The reason was that he was a powerful friend
and a powerful enemy, and he had become an opponent of Robert
Oppenheimer, and thus, the fans of Robert Oppenheimer in the Senate. He
believed Oppenheimer to be a security risk. Oppenheimers principal
defender was a senator, from New Mexico, I believe, and he collected all
his due-bills from his colleagues, and they denied Lewis Strauss the
Strauss wrote a book called MEN AND DECISIONS.
It was reviewed on the cover of the New York Times Book Review,
was taken seriously, sold very well, and exposed me to a kind of mind,
and kind of person, that again, I was about as likely to become
friends with an ex-Kuhn, Loeb banker as I was with a farmer. I liked
that about politics: it made me open my cheerfully-closed mind.
And then, it turned out that we got a contract for
post-Presidential memoirs. Ken McCormick had been the editor of CRUSADE
IN EUROPE, the book published after the war. But he was the chief
editor and couldnt spend the time required to do these two volumes; so
I got posted to Gettysburg, at age 28. It was a
good assignment. It taught me the usual lesson, which is: There are not
two sides to every story, there are 24 sides. And
it exposed me to a seemingly-genial, seemingly-bland, likable individual
who had been turned out of office the way we send most of our presidents
out of office, which is, in tatters, at a low point in public esteem. He
was said to be the chairman of the board and didnt
really know what was going on.
KATHERINE MCNAMARA: It was not long after the U-2
SAM VAUGHAN: Not long after. And of course, he turned out to
be a lot more complex than that. I watched the process go on, which
still goes on, which is: the Eisenhower reappraisal industry. Its
become a major activity in academia. It happens with other presidents,
KATHERINE MCNAMARA: Truman, for instance.
SAM VAUGHAN: Sure. So, thats the kind of thing that got me
into politics. I worked with Republicans for a long time, because I was
the only editor of my age and stage who spoke Republican. Most editors
were liberals and left, to whatever degree they were left, and Democrats
therefore; and so, there werent many editors in our place, as
middle-of-the-road as it was, that you could put with a Republican. I
enjoyed myself. I had fun.
KATHERINE MCNAMARA: Are you saying that you were a Republican?
SAM VAUGHAN: No. I wasnt a Republican. And Im not. Although
my wife thinks I am.
Eventually, I came to work with Hubert Humphrey and Ed Muskie, and
others; and I liked them, too. But, the experience of working on the
other side of the street, politically, was very good for me. It is the
dark side of my personality that I like politicians. How could you
resist a guy like Humphrey? He overflowed with ideas and energy and
invention and compromise and ideals, and all that stew! But then,
eventually, when I edited a book for Senator Muskie, published on the
day he withdrew from the presidential race, the book not only sank like
a stone, it sank without a trace. And Im afraid I burned out at that
point. Ive been less eager to get back into it, and have not done much
in that line.
KATHERINE MCNAMARA: Would you say more about the adventure of
finding and working with writers?
SAM VAUGHAN: When you start out as an editor, you
writers. You dont have what they used to call the following. All the
senior editors have all the writers, seemingly, and all the agents go to
them, seemingly. But if you put out your lines, and you exert yourself
you read a lot, you write a lot of letters, and you make a lot of
phone calls, and you see a lot of movies; you go to agents offices and
you try to get established, in their eyes, as a person you
eventually begin to see proposals and manuscripts. And it becomes
cumulative, so that, when youre really an established senior editorial
person, youre still looking, but things do come to you just because
youre there. You get to be known for handling certain kinds of books
well. Or, simply, because you and the agent like each other; or you like
a kind of writing, and when the agent turns up a writer in that
category, you may get a shot at it. That part is fun sort of
disorganized; not measurable.
I have some good friends among the agents, but Ive never been quite
as dependent on agents as many editors. Not by design; its just the way
And I love the business of commissioning a book, when you have the
idea for the book and you go out to find the writer who might want to do
KATHERINE MCNAMARA: Would you describe such a book or
SAM VAUGHAN: When I was in the political stream, it occurred
to me that the great unwritten presidential memoir was FDRs.
And so, I talked to a friend, who was working part-time as an editor for
us, named Eric Larabee. Well come back to him, because he had a
wonderful expression I want to tell you about.
Anyway, I said to Eric: Find me somebody who might take this
idea up, if it is an idea. He introduced me to a writer named
Bernard Asbell, who had written a book about the end of FDRs
life. We had a drink one day, and after we skirmished around politely,
Asbell said, What do you have on your mind? I said, I
want you to write Franklin Delano Roosevelts memoirs. He said, Hes dead. I said,
By God youre right, he is.
I said, It seems to me that any president trying to write a
memoir has to do a certain number of things in preparation. Why dont
you just do that? Well, Bernie Asbell is the kind of writer who is
an editors dream. He always gives you more than you asked for. He did
this as a kind of report to Roosevelt, saying hed been hired to help
prepare for the memoir, and had taken the liberty of drafting some
chapters. Thats the way he got into it. He had captured the voice
Turned out, he could only do the New Deal years; he
couldnt do the
whole life because it was just too full. So we did that book, which,
thanks to Asbell, was a real tour de force, subtitled A
Speculation on History. What didnt happen was what sank the
chance of doing the sequel. I expected the idea to outrage historians
and it didnt. They didnt get ruffled at all.
KATHERINE MCNAMARA: They probably loved it, especially the
SAM VAUGHAN: And several senior ones, too. Well, let me tell
you about Larabees line, because I think it bears on so much. It has to
do with, well, the readership and, quote, marketing. He wrote an essay
once called The Imaginary Audience. Part of the argument
was, The audience does not sit there fully assembled, waiting for the
performer. The performer assembles the audience.
KATHERINE MCNAMARA: Thats nice.
SAM VAUGHAN: That, to me, is a mantra. The idea that the
audience is sitting out there saying, Send me a book about a Civil
War soldier walking home from the war, or a story about the relocation
of Japanese-Americans during World War II is, by-and-large,
nonsense. The author assembles the audience; the artist does; the
KATHERINE MCNAMARA: The word of the moment, the one that goes
along with sell, is branding. It seems to me
that its a sort of rubber-stamp idea, branding. Well, Eric
Larabee wasnt talking about something like branding, was
he? And you arent? Youre talking about the artistry of it.
SAM VAUGHAN: If branding would work in the case of books,
all you would have to do is do the same book over and over again, with
variations. Some of that does happen. Some people would say John Grisham
does it, or Stephen King does it. But thats to underestimate the
writers. Their books are never quite alike. They assemble an audience
with certain predilections. But theyre both adventurers, in a certain
way, and they dont get credit for taking risks. They get credit for
being acts, and formula writers, and pop stars. So, I dont think
branding works for human beings the way it does for soap or corn
KATHERINE MCNAMARA: Theres an awful lot of talk about it,
though, in publishing, as if they think it might work.
SAM VAUGHAN: In publishing, theres always a certain amount of
rueful envy of other businesses which are, seemingly, so logical.
KATHERINE MCNAMARA: And that
SAM VAUGHAN: Yes, and that make product. Ken [McCormick],
the gentlest of men, would throw a man out of the room who said product.
KATHERINE MCNAMARA: Youre a senior editor; writers come to
SAM VAUGHAN: Yes; meanwhile, you continue to
never give it up, really. And that becomes so satisfying, in a way.
Although publishing means having to say youre sorry, quite a lot. But
the only thing worse than having to say youre sorry is having nothing
to say anything at all about.
KATHERINE MCNAMARA: One of the writers who came to you was
George Garrett. Would you talk about George Garrett, who, I want to say,
is an American man of letters, the genuine article, in a time, perhaps,
when that occupation is under-appreciated.
SAM VAUGHAN: It certainly is; and, to be literal, in
case, hes a man of letters written on long yellow pads with a Mont
Blanc fountain pen. When you take on George, as a friend or as an
author, or both, you have to put a wing on your office to file the
letters in. Theyre wonderful to have: scurrilous and libelous and funny
and generous. I dont recall quite how we got together. The first
manuscript I had anything to do with was DO, LORD,
REMEMBER ME. But I cant tell you, at this moment, how I got to
KATHERINE MCNAMARA: I think he told me it was rather by
SAM VAUGHAN: My facts are no more reliable than
take that into account. [See comments from George Garrett, following.]
I think I got that manuscript in the mail, from an agent. It was kind
of tattered, beat-up. There had been no attempt to pretend it was a
virginal submission. I liked what I read, but I was uneasy about it. And
then, before I did anything, which always takes time, another version of
the manuscript arrived which was just as clean and presentable and
dressed-up as I could imagine. We went ahead and published it.
KATHERINE MCNAMARA: Youre saying hed done something more
than erase the marks and
SAM VAUGHAN: Im not even going to attempt to say what he did,
because I just dont know.
I remember the first book in the Elizabethan trilogy [THE
DEATH OF THE FOX; THE SUCCESSION; ENTERED FROM THE SUN]. I heard
about that; not from George, I think, but possibly. It was under
contract, or under option, to a company like Appleton-Century-Crofts,
which was busy going out of business at the time. They not only didnt
offer him a contract, they didnt have anybody there to read it. So, it
came over to me.
It was intimidating, because it was in three bright-orange boxes that
took up half the office. I began to read it and of course was swept
away, and still am. I got in touch with George, and we made a contract
for it. I said, George, the only editing Im going to do on
this because its long is, Im going to draw a
pencil line in the margin of any page where I fall off the rails, or
fall off my chair, or fall asleep, whatever kind of barometer: because
only you know whats really important in this book, and I dont know
nearly as well. So thats what we did, apart from little dinky
stuff like chasing the inevitable repetitions, and so forth.
I had the great fortune: I knew that it was a wonderful book, and it
should look wonderful. The company I was with was not known for
producing wonderful-looking books, because a lot of books were made
close to book-club specifications, cheaply-made. Our printers had two
kinds of paper. One was the cheap paper, and one was Bible paper. If a
manuscript was beyond a certain length, it got printed on Bible paper.
Georges manuscript was beyond all lengths, so we got it printed on
Bible paper, which had some finish, some feel, texture. It looked like
the goods, and it was the goods.
We did the second novel in a couple of years, and the third Cork
[Corliss] Smith did, at Harcourt. I dont know whether I had left
Doubleday at that point, or whatever had happened, but in any case, the
trilogy was finished with Cork, elsewhere.
Speaking of writers as a source of writers, George is a great friend
to writers. Hes spent more of his life writing for little magazines and
going to writers conferences than almost anybody I know. He has 10,000
friends and 10,000 due-bills, things owed to him
which he doesnt invoke very much at all. His wife, Susan Garrett, is
good writer, too.
KATHERINE MCNAMARA: Yes, she is: a very good writer. I loved TAKING
CARE OF OUR OWN. A fine book; and the newer one [MILES
TO GO] is, also.
KATHERINE MCNAMARA: You are the editor of Hannah
posthumous novel. Would you speak about that?
SAM VAUGHAN: Its not a novel, but it has a novelistic
quality. Hannah Green wrote one of the most admired novels of the time, THE
DEAD OF THE HOUSE. The posthumous book she left is quite
different. For some reason, she never quite finished it: which is part
of the challenge of the moment. It was finished; but she didnt think
it was finished, and she kept delivering it to me and taking it away. I
used to talk and commiserate with her friend and teacher Wallace Stegner
about Hannah. We both wanted to kick her hard in her fanny, because she
would never finish the book. I didnt think she was going to die before
she did: that came out of nowhere, and should have stayed nowhere.
Anyhow, its a book about one day out of many seasons spent in a
small village in France, called Conques, which sounds like the conch
shell: apparently, the village is shaped like one. In that village
reside the bones, or the relics, of St. Foy. Hannah and Jack Wesley,
her husband, an artist, used to spend part of the year in that village.
Hannah entered into a relationship, youd have to say, with St. Foy;
that is, St. Foy was a living presence to her. Now, this was a
Protestant girl, from Ohio, I think, who was having a sort of Roman
KATHERINE MCNAMARA: Initiation into the mysteries.
SAM VAUGHAN: I think youre right. Actually, her love has no
denomination. Its a total immersion into the life of a little girl who
lived a long, long time ago and was a martyr to her faith. And so,
Hannahs written this book which is partly meditation, partly poetry;
has, I said, certain novelistic aspects; and, finally, is a love song to
the village and the people of the village. The problem Ive never
faced it before is, I know how much Hannah resisted editing. Not
that I edited THE DEAD OF THE HOUSE, but I was
around the publishing house [Doubleday] when it was done; I think Ann
Freedgood was the editor. But I know Hannah was very skittish about
editing; polite but nervous; and therefore, I dont feel that I have a
free hand. So, what Ive done is this. There are two people involved
with Hannah, out of many who liked or loved her. One is her husband; the
other is a writer named Sarah Glasscock, in Texas, and whose first novel
I edited [ANNA L.M.N.O.]. I think Hannah sent it
to me. So, its a love affair all around. I like Jack, and I like Sarah,
and I liked Hannah; and vice versa.
Sarah helped Hannah with her book by typing endless drafts or
versions, and if anybody on earth knows what Hannahs intentions were,
its Sarah. Having the widower and the colleague, or amanuensis, to rely
on, I did some work on the manuscript. Then I gave it to a copy editor,
named Virginia Avery. I gave her the background of the book and said, I
dont know how much you or I should be allowed to do. Why dont
you edit a piece of it the way you would any other book? Well show it
to Sarah; well show it Jack Wesley; and, if they have no problem with
it, well go ahead. And thats where we are.
Because, on the one hand, I owe it to Hannah not to over-edit her
writing. On the other hand, I owe her the duty of getting the best book
out of it that we can, which is the task of the editor of any book.
Having these other people helping to mediate the whole thing eases me
Continued in Part II