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New novel based partly on Judith Regan is rare fictional take on book world

New novel based partly on Judith Regan is rare fictional take on book world

Judith Regan, the publisher who brought us tell-alls about steroids, pornography and, almost, the "crimes" of O.J. Simpson, has helped inspire another novelty in the book world: a work of fiction about the industry itself.
"Because She Can," by former Regan employee Bridie Clark, not only builds upon the tumultuous legend of Regan, fired last month amid reports of anti-Semitic remarks, but adds to what has been a surprisingly small genre. While Hollywood and the magazine world have been endlessly parodied, in such books and movies as "The Player" and "The Devil Wears Prada," there are few takeoffs on the book world.
"It isn't that kind of business," says Jason Epstein, a longtime editor with Doubleday and Random House whose many authors have included Norman Mailer and E.L. Doctorow. "It's very gentlemanly, and there isn't a lot of scandal to write about. You publish a book, it sells or it doesn't sell, and then you publish another one."
The number of novels with publishing plots would probably fit easily on a small shelf: "The Bestseller," an elaborate parody about a chaotic Manhattan publishing house by "First Wives Club" author Olivia Goldsmith; Deborah Ginsberg's "Blind Submission," published last fall, features an especially bossy boss widely believed to be based on literary agent Sandra Dijkstra, for whom Ginsberg once worked.
Rob Weisbach, president and CEO of Miramax Books, recalls Adam Davies' "The Frog King," a 2002 novel about a young man's unhappy start in the book business. Editor Robert Gottlieb, whose many writers have included Joseph Heller, Toni Morrison and former President Clinton, cites Herman Wouk's "Youngblood Hawke," a 1961 novel about a publishing sensation who lives fast and dies faster.
"But publishing is not a glamorous business," Gottlieb says. "It involves people sitting home and reading long manuscripts and then putting their pencils on the paper and making notations. Someone may set a novel in the publishing industry, but I don't see it as the basis for a strong novel."
If anyone in publishing could serve up the dirt for a novel, it's Regan, known not only for such books as Jose Canseco's "Juiced" and Simpson's abandoned "If I Did It," but for her romantic affairs and atomic temper. (Regan did not immediately respond to several requests for comment about "Because She Can.")
The 29-year-old Clark, a tall, soft-spoken woman who lives on Manhattan's Upper West Side, worked 11 months as an editor at ReganBooks before leaving at the end of 2004 with the hopes of taking her career in a "different direction." She quickly put together a manuscript about a young editor in the publishing business, what she calls a "coming of age novel disguised as a `boss from hell' story."
Clark's novel was already of interest _ fitting for Regan's place in the book world, the contents were first leaked in a gossip column in the New York Daily News _ before Regan's misbegotten Simpson project, a hypothetical confession to the murders of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Goldman. Warner Books has given "Because She Can" an announced first printing of 50,000.
"People I know who aren't even in the publishing business were very keyed in to the story of Judith and the Simpson book," says Jamie Raab, senior vice president and publisher of Warner Books.
In "Because She Can," Iowa native Claire Truman is an idealistic young editor who leaves the old-fashioned confines of Peters & Pomfret for better pay and more responsibility at Mather-Hollinger, where she will work under the notorious Vivian Grant. Claire's professional and personal life are soon ravaged by Vivian, who harasses her at all hours, at all volumes.
Like ReganBooks, Grant Books is known for tabloid best sellers about sex and crime and politics, with the occasional literary work thrown in. Regan once worked for Simon & Schuster, Grant for Peters & Pomfret. Regan has been labeled a "foul-mouthed tyrant," a title Grant more than lives up to.
But, of course, Vivian is not Judith Regan.
"The character from Vivian Grant really is a composite," Clark says. "There is nothing directly lifted from life in the book."
Then again, Claire and Clark would have a lot to talk about.
"Yeah, she's demanding," Clark says of Regan, whom she calls "the most driven person I've ever encountered in my life."
"When she's not happy with something, she lets you know. I was certainly yelled at my fair share of times, and got a few late night phone calls and things like that."
Clark, of course, is not Claire Truman. She's from Connecticut, not Iowa, and never shared Claire's starry dreams of the publishing industry, just a general affection for the written word. After graduating from Harvard University, in 1999, Clark worked briefly at New York Magazine and Vanity Fair, before spending a year at Simon & Schuster as an assistant editor.
"She was unusually sharp and funny and she brought some great experience to the job," says Rob Weisbach of Miramax, a vice president and editor at large at Simon & Schuster at the time Clark worked there.
Like Claire Truman, Clark left her stable job at Simon & Schuster for a higher position at ReganBooks, where she worked on a range of Regan fare, such as Jennifer Lehr's "Ill-Equipped for a Life of Sex" and Essie Mae Washington-Williams' "Dear Senator," a memoir by the daughter Sen. Strom Thurmond, who is white, conceived with a black woman.
Clark's career is a familiar story of a young editor finding her way in the industry, although she did have one advantage, an uncle in the business, Warner Books executive editor Rick Wolff, who helped her get an agent (Dan Greenberg of the Levine Greenberg Literary Agency) and helped her get published.
"It's like a second home," Clark says of Warner, where she had previously worked as an intern. "I just felt really comfortable there."
"There was no pressure, whatsoever," Raab says. "Rick just gave us a heads-up about the book and then stepped out of the way."
Clark emphasizes that the novel is about Claire, but acknowledges the draw of Vivian Grant, recalling that when she saw the film of "The Devil Wears Prada" last summer, Clark came out of the theater thinking about Meryl Streep's character. Clark and Raab both say that "Because She Can" was substantially revised from the original draft, with Vivian practically screaming from the page _ profanely, no doubt _ for more attention.
"The scenes with the wicked boss were so hilarious and so strong that I thought if we put more of that in the book, the book would work better," Raab says. "Villains are fun, and they tend to steal the show. It's a lot harder to do that with a nice guy."


Updated : 2021-07-24 21:21 GMT+08:00