Additional Reasons to Visit New York
I reached New York (read: Manhattan) for the first time on the Monday night of the Memorial Day Weekend, 1993.Â The next morning I set off in a taxi (admission: in fifteen or more visits over the intervening years, I’ve never yet been on the subway) to the Flatiron Building and St Martin’s Press, to meet the editor I’d been working with and talking to over the phone for the past eighteen months.
Ruth Cavin, then in her mid seventies, had plucked A Grave Talent out of the stack of the great unpublished and given it a home.Â It came out in January, 1993, and sold well enough to go into three or four printings by the time I showed up in New York, but it was still four months away from receiving its Edgar nomination, and eight months from its win: In other words, one more first novel among hundreds of others.
Ruth and her assistant Elizabeth (now long gone out of publishing, sensible woman) welcomed me, showed me around the offices, introduced me to various Terribly Important People whom I promptly forgot, and then Elizabeth proudly handed me a color Xerox print of the proposed cover for the next book, The Beekeeper’s Apprentice.
“Oh,” I said.
“Isn’t it great?Â We just love it.Â I was so glad it came in before you got here so you could see it.Â Here, you can have this copy, take it with you.”
I will pause for a moment while you examine this.Â Closely.
I went back to my hotel room, set the page up on the table, stood backâ€”and started to cry.
Oh my God, what could I do, I was a nothing author and they were My Publishing House and the cover was awful, just terrible, ugly and creepy and jumbled andâ€¦
Oh dear.Â And I am not good at confrontation, never have been.Â But in the morning I summoned all my New Yorkish In-Your-Faceness and made a phone call to Ruth, and after agreeing that it had been great to meet her and that yes, we must do it again soon, I cleared my throat and screwed up my face and, making a tremendous effort to keep my voice steady, said, “Um, about the cover?”
“Yes, it’s striking, isn’t it?”
“Well, I suppose.Â But really, I don’t think itâ€¦says what you want to say about the book.”
“Hmm.Â Do you think so?”
“Oh yes, I really do. It really doesn’t.Â It doesn’t capture any of theâ€””
“You may be right.Â I’ll send it back to the Art department and see what they can do.”
“Oh.Â Well.Â Thank you.”
Â Then I stretched out for a while on the floor and breathed quietly.
Â Note–theÂ much-improved final version of theÂ cover, as it appeared on the original St. Martin’s edition: