Editor (Rowley)

The Editor 
Steven Rowley, 2019
Penguin Publishing
320 pp.

From the bestselling author of Lily and the Octopus comes a novel about a struggling writer who gets his big break, with a little help from the most famous woman in America.

After years of trying to make it as a writer in 1990s New York City, James Smale finally sells his novel to an editor at a major publishing house: none other than Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis.

Jackie—or Mrs. Onassis, as she's known in the office—has fallen in love with James's candidly autobiographical novel, one that exposes his own dysfunctional family.

But when the book's forthcoming publication threatens to unravel already fragile relationships, both within his family and with his partner, James finds that he can't bring himself to finish the manuscript.

Jackie and James develop an unexpected friendship, and she pushes him to write an authentic ending, encouraging him to head home to confront the truth about his relationship with his mother.

Then a long-held family secret is revealed, and he realizes his editor may have had a larger plan that goes beyond the page. (From the publisher.)

Author Bio
Birth—ca. 1971-72
Raised—Portland, Maine, USA
Education—B.A., Emerson College
Currently—lives in Los Angeles, California

Steven Rowley is an American author with two bestselling books to his name: his debut, Lily and the Octupus, published in 2016, and his second novel, The Editor, which was released in 2019.

Rowley, at the time, a 43-year-old paralegal and screenwriter, had sold several unproduced screenplays before writing a short story about the death of his dachshund, Lily, to cope with his grief. Rowley's boyfriend encouraged him to expand it into an novel.

Rowley wrote Lily and the Octopus in 100 days and submitted it to approximately 30 literary agents, who all declined to represent him. Rowley said of the manuscript, "I was proud of it as a piece of writing, but I never thought that this was going to change my life."

Intending to self-publish, Rowley hired freelance editor Molly Pisani, who later pitched the novel to her former colleague, Karyn Marcus of Simon & Schuster. Impressed by the quality of the book, Marcus forwarded it to Simon & Schuster editor-in-chief Marysue Rucci. According to Marcus:

I woke up to an email that [Ms. Rucci] had sent me at 3 in the morning, saying "this book is incredible, I wept real tears, you must buy it." … We knew immediately it was going to be a big book for us, and the advance certainly reflected that.

In April 2015, Publishers Weekly reported that Marcus had acquired the novel for Simon & Schuster in a "nearly seven-figure" book deal. The Hollywood Reporter noted that the offer "was made with unusual speed," with The New York Observer calling it "a timeline unheard of in the slow-paced publishing industry."  (Adapted from Wikipedia. Retrieved 7/17/2016.)

Book Reviews
Filled with whimsy and warmth, the Lily and the Octopus author’s second novel centers on the complex relationship between a fledgling writer and his fabulous editor, the latter of whom becomes a mentor, friend, and maternal figure. Oh, and she happens to be Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, but that’s Mrs. Onassis to you.
Oprah Magazine

Steven Rowley is the best-selling author of Lily and the Octopus, and he's honestly outdone himself with The Editor.

[A] delightful slice of historical fiction (Must List).
Entertainment Weekly

[A] sharp, funny sophomore novel.
Town and Country

A journey of self-discovery.… Ultimately a story not about celebrity but about family and forgiveness.

The Editor… sweetly evokes a mature Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis. In 1990s New York, James Smale is an obscure first-time novelist, but his editor is world-famous. In this delicately observed tale the steely Jackie becomes not just the midwife of the angsty gay Smale's manuscript, but of a wider reconciliation.
Sunday Times (UK)

(Starred review) [A] poignant tale of a new author’s breakout hit… under the guidance of… Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis.… Rowley deliberately mines the sentiment of the mother/son bond, but skillfully saves it from sentimentality; this is a winning dissection of family, forgiveness, and fame.
Publishers Weekly

[A] struggling young writer James Smale suddenly [lucks] out when editor Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis buys his novel. But he's drawn heavily on his own dysfunctional family and can't face finishing the manuscript, so Mrs. Onassis sends him home to address his conflicted relationship with his mother.
Library Journal

While diving deep into questions of identity, loyalty, and absolution within the bonds of family, Rowley… soars to satisfying heights in this deeply sensitive depiction of the symbiotic relationships at the heart of every good professional, and personal partnership.

As this novel is already on its way to the screen, one can only hope that the first few scenes come off better on film than they do on paper…. Even if you have Jackie Kennedy—and this is a particularly sensitive and nuanced portrait of her—you still have to have a plot.
Kirkus Reviews

Discussion Questions
1. The Editor is centered on a woman who looms larger than life in our history: Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis. How did the Jackie of the novel compare to your own imaginings of the former first lady?

2. Ithaca, as both a place and a story, is a recurring idea in the novel. Do you think it takes on a particular meaning? If so, what is it?

3. Imagine you had the opportunity to work closely with a major historical figure. Who would you pick?

4. James has been a struggling writer for years. But his big break isn’t a happy one initially. How does it affect his relationships, with Daniel, with his family? What does his success do to his own sense of self and personal history?

5. As his editor, Jackie pushes James to reconnect with his family in order to write a more authentic ending to his novel. How do you think realism and personal intimacy impact storytelling? Are endings that ring more true ultimately more satisfying?

6. In her own way, Jackie slowly reveals parts of her personal life to James over the course of their relationship. How does this change James’s perception of her?

7. The book’s epigraph comes from the musical Camelot by Lerner and Loewe, and Jackie herself references Camelot in a later scene with James. President Kennedy was said to be attracted to the Arthurian legend, the idea that history is made by great heroes with moral clarity, and the idea of a Camelot has become a shorthand for the Kennedys’ brief time in the White House. What acts of heroism does James see in both Jackie and his mother?

8. Talk about the different endings James strives to achieve throughout the story: with the manuscript, with his father, with his biological father, with his mother. How are each of these connected? Do any of them lead to the others, and are they ever really achieved?

9. What do you imagine happens next for James? For his mother? For Daniel?

10. Like James, would you ever write a novel about your real life? How would you balance the autobiographical and the fictional? Would you ever feel comfortable sharing it with your family and friends?
(Questions issued by the publisher.)

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