Monday, March 29, 2010

Stephanie Lane: Editorial Secretary (1967)


Betty E. Haughey, il. Ray Abel (cover)
1967, Julian Messner

Stephanie took a Fifth Avenue bus for the fifteen blocks to the apartment, feeling very much a part bustling, home-bound New Yorkers. It was a good feeling.

Recent college grad and small-town Pennsylvania girl Stephanie Lane is happy to have achieved her short-term goal of moving to New York City and getting her foot in the door at a magazine. True, she's sharing a tiny place with a friend and the job is secretarial rather than editorial, and at a trade magazine (Elementary, a magazine for teachers) rather than a glossy, but it's a real success for a girl who knows nobody. She quickly learns that her job is going to be complicated by office politics. The magazine's editor, Elizabeth Rafferty, was recently hired over the head of associate editor Ann Michaels, and everyone is split between loyalties to either Miss Rafferty or Ann. Stephanie, forced to take sides, is drawn to Rafferty as Ann's cohorts make her uneasy.

Outside work, Stephanie begins dating native New Yorker David Powers. Her social life initially provides the fun side of reading old books. The fashions and the places seen through the prism of 43 years can be mind-bogglingly alien:
Later that afternoon, Jennie appeared beside Stephanie's desk, a pert red velvet pillbox perched atop her blonde curls.

or mind-bogglingly familiar:
Down below the parapet on which she was standing stretched the Wollman Memorial Skating Rink in Central Park, crowded with laughing, sweatered skaters. Beyond the rink she could see the tall hotels and apartment buildings of Central Park West bordering the park.

The plot moves along briskly and, right on cue, troubles pile up. Miss Rafferty goes away on business and the office relaxes so much that they're in danger of missing a deadline. A mysterious sharp decline in ad sales matches the mysterious sharp increase at their competitor, hinting at a sabateour at Elementary. Her father has a heart attack. Sweet and attractive David becomes a jerk.

Now for the darker side of old books. David, a seemingly perfect guy, produces a massive hatred of working women from out of nowhere, along with a 'quit or I walk' marriage proposal that Stephanie, stunned, turns down. Her sleepwalking misery over David's defection helps distract her from her career troubles until it's almost too late. 

The characters are well drawn and convincing, there is a nice amount of description and atmosphere, along with the career work and romance, and it's nicely resolved. And the situation with Stephanie's family alone is commendable, neatly switching the traditional situation around in what may be a little convenient but is a very nice trick to free our heroine from a very old girltrap.

So many career romances involve nursing or teaching or other careers I'm unfamiliar with, so it's nice to see something I know and fun to see how much publishing has - and hasn't - changed. Trade magazines, the frustrated longing to be working on glossies, cramming ads in at the last minute because of heedless salesmen, offices where men are the minority - all the same. A paper office, typewriters and foundry proofs (ie, final proofs made from set type) - gone. Extinct. Vanished. It's astonishing how completely technology goes away. Jennie's little red pillbox could always return as a zany retro look, but foundry production is never coming back.

I was an English major, got a foot in the door via an internship which is basically an updated version of an editorial secretary, and worked in trade publications (ie, not the prestigious ones). And this exchange still rings true:
"Why didn't I major in journalism or something else instead of English? It's totally useless unless you want to teach. And I don't."

Stephanie's wail of dismay echoes down the years. Her roommate's advice bears repeating, sometimes as a mantra;
"No, it's not useless," Joann had said. "There are dozens of fields here connected with literature: publishing, both books and magazines, bookstores and libraries."
Wollman Memorial Skating Rink (now has an unfortunate name on it)

Other books
William Penn: American Pioneer
About the author
Betty Elen Haughey was from Pittsburgh. The only information I could find was that on the back of this book. Online, all I found was the Penn book and a research paper. She attended the University of Pittsburgh, graduated with a degree in fiction writing, worked in Pittsburgh and then moved to New York, where she followed a career path similar to Stephanie's. She returned to Pittsburgh eventually and worked for a research organization. Her final comments on the back cover flap was that she hoped to write more books for young people. It seems that she did not, and considering the generally high quality of this one, that seems a shame.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Too Bad About The Haines Girl (1967)

Too Bad About The Haines Girl
Zoa Sherburne, il. Cynthia Basil (cover)
1967, William Morrow and Company

It was like walking in the shadows, Melinda thought, like moving through a nightmare that went on and on. No matter how bright the day, how gay the companions, the cloud was there, a chill thing ready to fall about her shoulders like a clammy coat, silencing her unthinking laughter and dimming her easy smile.

From the first paragraph of the book, Melinda Haines knows she is pregnant. She's known for a while. She's denied it to herself, she's begged God to change it, and now she's numbly accepting it's true. She's 17, a senior in high school, and she's going to have a baby in a little under six months. Now she has to tell Jeff, her boyfriend and unofficial fiance. They love each other and they had already planned to get married eventually, but he had been determined to finish school and support his widowed mother and little brother first. She's torn between anger at him, anger at the situation and anger at herself. She can't find the words to tell him at first, then snaps at him when he tries to take her hand and draw her along to their next class.

"Don't yank at me, Jeff. You know I hate it."

He stared at her. "Sometimes," he said deliberately, "sometimes I have the feeling you hate me."

She bit her lip childishly, but there was nothing childish about the look in her eyes. "Sometimes," she said, "I wish I did."

A classmate, the knowing Polly Wyman, spots Melinda's dilemma with that unerring instinct of the born predator, and tells her of a woman who performs abortions for $200. Melinda is sickened - but inspired. Her worst nightmare could end, if she had this abortion. No one would know about the pregnancy, there would be no rumors, no gossip. And it's the hideously predictable gossip that Melinda most fears. The way her life, her and Jeff's romance and their unlucky, impulsive act and its consequences, will become public fodder, will be the latest thing everyone in her and her family's 'nice' circles will chew on with the solemn, sad glee of the righteous. Melinda hates that above all else, and the idea of escaping it, of keeping her privacy and her status, is unbearably tempting.

Melinda grapples with a variety of temptations. The abortion is only one route that occurs to her as she struggles, mostly alone, with her situation. Gazing into the darkness of the alley behind her home, she dreams of disappearing. To walk out and hitch a ride and never be seen again. She finds her mother's sleeping pills in the medicine cabinet and considers how easy an overdose would be. Jeff, faced with driving her to the woman who will perform abortions, suggest eloping.

There are anachronisms, of course, largely involving the social setup of the school (I find the idea of public high schools having school songs just hysterical) and that roundabout way older teen books had about discussing sex.

At first necking in a parked car was just exciting. It was the excitement of finding out about yourself... the wonder of discovering what you could feel for another person, a very special person. You thought you were the only ones in the entire world who felt like this, and it got harder and harder to pull away...

But there's a great deal right with the book. Sherburne does spot-on character descriptions, like this one for Polly:

She gave the impression, after a while, that she could tell any story,even Little Women, and have it come out sounding a little smutty.

And she has a knack for moving the plot along. That the plots are somewhat relentlessly relevant, a sort of precursor to the television episodes of ABC's Afterschool Specials, is part of the charm.

Most importantly, Melinda is very real. She is perhaps given too much to represent - as in most 'relevant' problem novels, the hero/heroine has to field all possible ideas and feelings - but ultimately her emotions feel true and her reactions seem unforced. When she finally, exhaustedly, turns to her parents after a grimly ironic celebration, you get the impression of a teenager who's grown up very, very fast and would now like to sleep. The tone of the book, which has been fevered and tightly-wound high drama, slows and becomes quietly, painfully realistic.

Some have dismissed Too Bad About The Haines Girl as a fantasy, what with the boy being faithful and willing to marry his pregnant girlfriend. I don't disagree that the boy as white knight is awfully convenient, but on the other hand, this plot choice made it possible to remain centered on Melinda. She's barely aware of him or his emotions or choices; she's distantly glad he's sticking by her, but in the final analysis, what's happening to her is happening to her. And the book remains faithful to that, instead of wandering off to investigate Jeff's feelings and problems. And that's kind of amazing, because even today books about girls and women have a tendency to wander off in the direction of the nearest male character to explain his problems and world view. Books that live for their female protagonist are few and far between.

A note on the abortion issue
The book was published in 1967, six years before the Supreme Court of the United States legalized abortion in the January 22, 1973 ruling on Roe v. Wade. The depiction of abortion -

The [educational] film had been sickening. It showed a girl being rushed to the hospital after an abortion, and the doctors trying and trying to save her. She had died anyway. Maybe she'd wanted to die; maybe she felt it was better than being arrested and having all that horrible disgrace and publicity. There were other girls in the film who didn't die, girls who would never be able to have children, girls who were ill - not just physically ill, but mentally ill.

- is understandable in that it's of the 'back alley' abortions done while the procedure was illegal. But it's clear that the author and her characters would not approve of an abortion done safely and legally; an abortion is presented as an evil temptation.

Other books
Almost April
Ballerina On Skates
Evening Star
Girl In The Mirror
The High White Wall
Princess In Denim
River At Her Feet
Stranger In The House
The Girl Who Knew Tomorrow
Why Have The Birds Stopped Singing?

About the Author
Sherburne turned from short stories to young adult novels in the 1950s, as periodicals publishing shorts declined. Her books usually feature a teenage girl facing a social problem, and the word 'relevant' springs irresistibly to mind. One book, 1963's Stranger In The House, was made into a CBS telefilm called Memories Never Die in 1992.

The Seattle Times obituary on October 10, 1995
de Grummond Collection
National Abortion Federation - the history of abortion in the U.S.
A shot of the book's cover at Fantastic Fiction

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Now For Nola (1970)

Now For Nola

Lee Priestley, il. Catherine H. Scholz (cover)

1970, Julian Mesner

Nola sighed. "Why won't you believe I can stay in love?"

"Because you're such a kid. You've still got peanut butter and jelly on your face. How do you know you're ready to be a wife?"

19-year-old Nola Foret has spent her post-high school months exasperating her airline executive father by taking up and abandoning a series of interests including her latest passion, drama school. When Pa puts his foot down, Nola is startled but agrees to begin working at the air freight office at his airport. Which is where she meets Tom Cartwright.

He was tall and tanned and too thin. Sun-streaked hair, brown eyes flecked with green, a strong chin and an amused mouth... His uniform and his captain's bars looked shiny new, but he had a jaunty assurance that matched his winged insignia.

Tom's 25, a career soldier with an engineering degree who's working on helicopter modifications for the Vietnam war zone he's recently left. He comes from a line of career servicemen, a fact that Nola doesn't initially consider. It's love at first sight for both of them, but Tom's more cautious, realizing his young girlfriend doesn't realize exactly what she'd be getting into as a military wife. Or, considering her track record as a flibbertygibbit, as a wife, period. As her father throws at her, early on,

"I've lost track of how often you've lauched out on a great wave of enthusiasm and then paddled back to shore when the going got tough."

But Nola charges ahead. She persuades Tom to agree to marriage now rather than later, and joins him on the ragged little airbase of Bitter Lake. Now, with Tom busy and her wealthy family far away, Nola discovers how much she'll need to change if she's to make this new life a success. First order of the day - quit annoying the Colonel's wife.

Fran sighed. "I keep forgetting this is your first post. Listen, honey. When the Colonel's Lady says, "Hop!" all the officer's wives make like frogs."

Nola's struggles to fit in, to find a meaning and a purpose and settle to a task for more than 12 seconds, make a satisfying read. The crossover aspects between the classic old-school romances and the Vietnam era makes it an interesting one. Conversations refer more explicitly to sex - one serviceman's wife says, with practical frankness, "We don't do such a good business in hatching stuff since The Pill. That playpen came in last month and it's still here." Nola deliberately attempts to make the military chaplain at the R&R base in Honolulu think she's pregnant, to get his support in her surprise arrival to marry Tom. And there are other examples of a widening world. Nola's nearest neighbor on the base is a black girl, Fran, who quickly tells her a lot of facts of military wife life. Nola's father the executive believes all girls need to be able to support themselves, just in case.

But at the core, it's still an old-style plot with pre-Vietnam values. Early on, Nola dismisses a previous boyfriend, who went into grad school to avoid the draft:

"Then it occured to him he might get drafted out of that real fine job, and bang! he's against the war... I don't think I'd like getting shot at any more than he does, but it seems to me he's playing both ends against the middle...if you're going to take all the goodies the system provides - an education, a good job, all that - shouldn't you be willing to do your share to keep the system going?"

Other Books

Young Adult

Tour To Romance (1978)

Believe In Spring (1964)

Because Of Rainbows

The Sound of Always


Mee-Yow (1968)

Rocket Mouse (1966)

A Teacher For Tibby (1960)

The Two Too Twins (1966)

Two Stories About Kate and Kitty

Short Stories

She wrote many short stories for publications such as Thrilling Ranch Stories, Texas Rangers, and Giant Western. A list is available at The Fiction Mags Index here


Journeys Of Faith (bio)

Billy the Kid: The Good Side of a Bad Man

Within Sound of the Bugle

About the Author


Raised in Kansas, Priestley went to New Mexico in 1947 with husband Orville to run the Las Cruces Sun-News. They owned the newspaper until 1970.