Above: Rancho Santa Fe Library Guild hosted a special author event with New York Times bestselling author Steven Rowley, who provided a glimpse into his second novel, “The Editor.” Courtesy photos
RANCHO SANTA FE — On May 15, The Rancho Santa Fe Library Guild in partnership with Warwick’s in La Jolla hosted an author event featuring Steven Rowley at the Rancho Santa Fe Library. The New York Times bestselling author was quick to point out that his newest novel, “The Editor,” is not a sequel to his first bestselling work, “Lily and the Octopus.”
Before diving into “The Editor,” Rowley shared that “Lily and the Octopus,” a story he wrote which helped him wade through the grief of losing his beloved dog, was translated into 19 languages. Currently, “Lily and the Octopus” is being adapted into a feature film.
“I never imagined then that the book would go on to become a national bestseller,” Rowley said.
When it was time to think of a crafting a second novel, Rowley thought of a story about a young writer who had written a very candidly autobiographical book about his own mother — and what might happen if that type of book spiraled a little bit out of the main character’s control. While it was a good start, Rowley’s instincts told him that the events he had in mind were not interesting enough to sustain a novel.
“I was looking for that sort of extra bit of magic much like ‘Lily and the Octopus,’” he said. “I had remembered that Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis had a career as a book editor. I didn’t know a lot of details at the time, but I sort of thought well if she became the book’s editor, then that would make it a much bigger deal than the young writer had ever intended.”
The idea fueled Rowley to begin researching this period in Kennedy Onassis’ life.
“She (Kennedy Onassis) had a remarkable career — this third act that we don’t really think about,” he said.
According to Rowley, Kennedy Onassis worked for 15 years as a book editor in New York. She worked for two years at Viking Press and then at Doubleday for the bulk of her career where she edited over 100 titles.
“She had a really prolific career as an editor, and it’s not really amongst the first five things that we think about when we remember her — I actually think it’s the most interesting time in her life,” he said. “She had sublimated much of her own desires to her two marriages to the men in her life. And this was a time where she was putting herself first — it’s hard to speak for someone else — but a lot of people think that this was the happiest time in her life, and it was very fascinating to research.”
Rowley said he read a number of the books that Kennedy Onassis was editing at the time that his novel, “The Editor,” took place in 1992. He explained that he forensically recreated her desk with the manuscripts which were it, including what other topics she was interested in at the time, as well as what other ideas may have been at the forefront of her mind.
“On top of that, I had a very supportive publisher who helped put me in touch with a lot of people who worked with her (Kennedy Onassis),” he said.
The people that Rowley spoke with were either retired from publishing or holding senior positions.
“They were all very generous with their memories of her,” he said.
For Rowley, it was great fun trying to bring Kennedy Onassis’ life working in publishing into a character in his novel.
“In ‘The Editor,’ you have a young man caught between this sort of flawed image of his mother and this sort of idealized aspirational picture of American motherhood that Jackie represented for a generation,” he said.
Rowley said he worked to give Kennedy Onassis a real narrative purpose for the story, and by the end of the book, readers will discover the depth of her character.
A seasoned screenwriter, Rowley passed on adapting “Lily and the Octopus” into a screenplay but is serving as the producer. As for “The Editor,” Rowley decided to adapt the manuscript into a screenplay.
To learn more about Rowley, visit www.stevenrowley.com.