She didn’t mean for it to happen again. The first time, Hadley was a young editorial assistant and he was an alcoholic with the aura of a Nobel Prize winner. She was intrigued by his smell of cigars and the twenty-year age difference. It fell apart when his wife returned from her summer abroad and Hadley was silently removed from his latest manuscript.
Marcus came over that night. He had been sleeping over most nights. Hadley answered the door with his manuscript still in her hand.
“I love it when you answer the door carrying my book,” he said and kissed her in the doorway. She figured his excitement was split 60/40 between seeing the manuscript and her.
She pulled him inside, out of the hallway and away from her neighbor’s nosiness. “Do you want anything to drink?” Hadley asked. “I’ve got a pinot open.”
He pursed his lips and slowly shook his head. He scooped her up into his arms—they were surprisingly sculpted for a writer—and carried her into the bedroom.
In the last twelve years, as she advanced her career to acquisitions editor, Hadley had sworn off dating men whom she edited. For the last twelve years, she had dated boring men—men who completed the Sunday crossword puzzle and shopped at Brooks Brothers. She preferred to keep the authors at a distance, at least an arm’s length—close enough to care about their story, far enough to not care about them. This had worked well and had shown in her career. The higher ups at Random House had noticed her keen eye for a good manuscript and trusted her whenever she looked to be going out on a limb for a new author. Hadley’s track record was fantastic and she therefore had the power to bring in whatever new talent she chose. Critics sometimes said that Raymond Carver would never work today; if Hadley knew him, he’d not only work but would have that Pulitzer.
She found Marcus at an MFA reading at NYU. She went to these occasionally, when she needed a dose of something new. These young writers renewed her hope, took the business out of publishing, and restored her romanticism, if only for a moment. She gave him her card and told him to submit. A first novel published at twenty-four was remarkable, but not unheard of. Marcus had carried it well, was enthusiastic about working with the marketing team, hustling, and charming his way into mentions in prominent blogs. He made the New Yorker’s list of the twenty best fiction writers under forty. Then the nomination for the National Book Award came and the headline “From Slush Pile to Success Story” in Publisher’s Weekly (it wasn’t like he came out of nowhere, but everyone loves a Cinderella story). Hadley was there for all of it—she was his encouragement, his voice of reason, and the soother when he didn’t win (“Even a nomination for the National Book Award increases sales.” “I don’t care about the sales; I care about the art.”).
She didn’t sleep with him until he turned in the first draft of his follow-up novel and requested that Hadley handle the substantive edits.
In bed, in the half-light, she could only make out his silhouette and the glowing end of his cigarette. She hated cigarette smoke, but knew he was young and thought this was the thing for young writers to do.
“What are you thinking about?” He asked and rolled onto his side.
She didn’t want to say him. “I’m thinking about my father.”
“I’m just thinking about the lecture he would give me if he knew I was sleeping with one of my authors.”
“You’re not going to tell him, are you? I thought we weren’t going to make a thing of this.”
“No, I haven’t told anyone. It’s my career that’s on the line, not yours. And besides, he’s dead anyway.”
Hadley’s dad had worked at Random House in the 1960s, right out of undergrad. He was there during its last gasp of glory and he considered himself a legend for it, as important as any author he edited. He made sure Hadley knew it. He made her take notes.
“Write this down,” he’d say. “Whether they’ll admit it, the author needs you. You don’t just clean up their work; no, it’s more than that. You have to hold their hands, talk them down from ledges. You have to be their therapist and their champion. Forget the work with the actual manuscript—you save the editing for nights and weekends. The work you do during office hours—the meetings, the schmoozing—that’s the work that makes you a good editor. If you’re lucky enough to find a great author—especially a first-time author (they’re the most loyal)—then you have to work your ass off to make them happy.”
Hadley knew—had always known—that she was a legacy, that Random House gave her a chance because she was her father’s daughter. She worked hard to prove that she was more than a bloodline. She took risks, found exciting writing, and tried desperately to keep alive the literary tradition of Random House’s backlist (Kafka, Faulkner, Auden), even when it became increasingly—predictably—corporate.
Hadley’s dad would roll over in his grave if he knew she was sleeping with Marcus. Therapists lost their licenses for this kind of behavior. This, of course, made it more appealing to Hadley.
She didn’t get much work done that night—she never did when Marcus stayed over. It was too difficult to work on his manuscript when he was in bed beside her.
“What’s that for? Why did you do that?” He’d ask about every red mark.
(Stay tuned for part two next week)