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.