Author Raven West

Vashti’s Daughter

To make reading easier, I’ll only be posting the latest chapter on this page – if you would like to read the entire draft – it can be found on my other blog: https://ravenwest.wordpress.com/vashtis-daughter/

 

            For the next several days, Anna didn’t have a spare second to think about her Vashti fantasy as her concentration was totally immersed in the reality of preparing for the annual Los Angeles Times Festival of Books. Although the event was open to the public for only two days, for the publishers and authors, planning began weeks in advance. Even those years when Anna wasn’t scheduled as a guest speaker for a discussion panel, her and her staff was busy deciding which titles to spotlight at the event, scheduling her author’s personal appearances, book readings, signings submitting all the necessary information to the FOB by the deadline and praying there wouldn’t be any embarrassing last-minute changes to Steine & Steine’s line-up.  When she had just started at Beacon Press, Anna painfully learned there was nothing more damaging to an author’s career than disappointed readers, when one of their star authors was a no-show, the back-lash from the fans was so brutal, the author and his editor were both dropped from the company the very next day in an effort to repair Beacon’s tarnished reputation. With the publishing industry just barely hanging on, she wasn’t about to take any chances. Anna always had a Plan B,  a Plan C as well as a fully stocked emergency kit in her arsenal. Even though she couldn’t foresee every catastrophe, she was confident that she had enough contingency plans to ward off any serious damage, even a 7.5 earthquake, should one occur.

            Whether it was preparing for the BEA in Chicago, or the local FOB, Anna both loved and dreaded the title selection process. These conferences were attended by the full staff of editors in all genres. The first topic would be which titles would be featured in their catalogue, which titles would be displayed on their table for sale and which authors would be invited to make a personal appearance. With only a limited number of slots available, the competition was brutal. Throw a brand new author and his not-yet-released religious themed non-fiction, and Anna knew there was going to be a much fiercer battle than they’d ever had before. She also knew the only way to defuse the anticipated confrontation was to have the author’s editor introduce him to the rest of the staff to put him above the rest of the pack. Even though hers was the final say, Anna needed to, at the very least, appear to be impartial, which in the case of Vashti’s Daughter was nearly impossible, especially after she received a number of complaints about her decision to have it featured on the front page of the 2017-2018 catalogue before it was ready for full distribution.

            When she knew of impending chaos, Anna prepared by enjoying the quiet of a vacant office. Arriving an hour before the rest of the staff, Anna walked from the elevator through the aisles, to the staff lounge where a full breakfast buffet was waiting for staff to arrive for the meeting. (thank you, Janet). Anna filled a cup with hot coffee and a dash of cream before continuing her journey passed the editor’s stations where she glanced at their individual items that created a personal space in a very impersonal business environment.

Anna felt a sense of pride that, after evicting Henry from the company, she had been able to create more than just a successful business, but had grown a company of loyal associates who, although they would disagree frequently with her decisions, had mutual respect for their boss and each other.

            It hadn’t always been the case. When Henry was her partner and husband, the atmosphere at Steine & Steine was filled with tension. Although Henry had demanded keeping their split confidential, Anna had insisted on complete transparency with the staff. Adhering to Elaine’s advice on what to keep confidential for legal reasons while keeping personal ones private, Anna would post daily updates to the company email which helped relieve the anxiety of their staff and to the editor of Publisher’s Weekly which helped relieve the anxiety of their authors, agents and distributors.

            After the smoke, and Henry, had cleared out, Anna Steine, now President and CEO of Steine & Steine had not only retained all their authors, editors and staff, but when news spread about Anna’s integrity and reputation, the company attracted several additional editors and created several new divisions within the company, including audio and ebooks.

As she walked toward her office, Anna paused for a few seconds in front of the full-sized book cover posters of their number one best sellers which hung on the walls. She remembered the day each one had signed their initial contract, and the celebration the entire office held when the New York Times best seller list was announced with that author’s title as number one. Anna let out a small sigh when she recalled it had been nearly a year since a new poster was added to the honor wall. That slight moment of sadness was replaced by a self-satisfying grin when she thought about her newest title. Although the graphics department hadn’t as yet finalized the cover art for Vashti’s Daughter, Anna was confident they would need to make room for another poster in the very near future.

Flipping through the mail and memos on her desk from the day before, Anna found the FOB vendor application which Janet had nearly completed. The only blank pages were for the list of titles and authors which would be filled in later that day. Anna was making some notes when she was interrupted by Janet knocking on the side of the opened door. She took three steps into the office then dropped the manuscript on the desk.

“I just finished reading Braverman’s manuscript.”

“I’m glad to hear it. What did you think?”

 “I’m just your assistant, and I’m not Jewish, so I don’t think my opinion is going to matter much. It’s well written in academic style, grammatically correct and all, but do we even have an audience for this What happened to our policy of never publishing religious genre?”

“I changed my mind.” Anna couldn’t honestly tell Janet why she felt compelled to publish the book because she didn’t know herself. “You met Dr. Braverman when he came in to sign the contracts last week. I think you’ll agree with me that he has something, I’m not entirely sure what that something is, call it a gut feeling, but we signed the contract and we’re publishing it. In fact, we’re going to spotlight it on our catalogue cover.”

“Anna, I’ve been working with you for a very long time and I’ve never, ever known you to move so quickly with an unknown author before. Can I ask a personal question?”

“Can I stop you?” Anna leaned back in her chair waiting for Janet to ask the question she already knew was coming.

“Are you sleeping with him?”

“I’m not sure.”

Anna knew that it was a strange answer but it was a true one. She had sex in her dream with a man who looked, smelled, felt and sounded an awful lot like Nathaniel. She quickly added, “No. You know me better than that, Janet. If I could be bribed to publish a book in exchange for sex, I’d publish erotica, not Jewish historic non-fiction. I’d rather curl up in bed with a good book.”

“Of course you can curl up in bed with a good book,” Janet quipped. “but it is much more satisfying to curl up in bed with a good man who wrote a good book.”

“On that note, I have to get ready for the meeting. I’m sure there are going to be many more questions and objections to my decision than just yours, but ya know I am the Queen around here and I do have the prerogative of exercising my power when I feel like it. You can go back to work now.”

“Okay, your Highness, whatever you say.” Janet gave Anna a little sarcastic bow and left the office.

Anna was a bit startled by what she had just said to Janet, but what was even more startling was just how easy it was for her to say it. While it was true, she was her boss, but she had never pulled rank on anyone, especially not Janet who was her very well paid assistant  not her servant. She made a mental note to apologize to her later.

Or maybe not.

            After everyone had their full of the catered breakfast, Anna called the meeting to order. As she expected, everyone loudly voiced their opinion about who they felt should be on the “hot” list of authors to be featured at the festival. The editors who worked closely with their authors who’s books were on the backlist and midlist knew they didn’t really have a chance for a slot, but were just as adamant about promoting them as those that knew there were in the running. After the finalist were selected, congratulations and condolences were exchanged. Anna called for a half hour recess so the editors whose authors had made the cut could make the necessary arrangements to attend the event at the designated time.

Janet called the caterer to clear the breakfast and set-up for one-thirty pitch session, then went to talk to her boss about her strange behavior, hoping she wouldn’t jeopardize her job in the process. Not seeing Anna in her office, Janet located her in the lounge lying on a couch with her eyes closed and her hand on her forehead.

“You need some aspirin, or something stronger?” she asked.

“What I need, I don’t think they sell legally or illegally.” Anna let her hand drop to her side as she slowly sat up.

“I don’t know what’s going on, Janet. I invited Dr. Braverman to the pitch meeting to talk about Vashti’s Daughter and you know I never ever, ever have an author attend one of our meetings. I haven’t even assigned him an editor yet. I don’t have anyone who has any experience with narrative nonfiction.”

“Since it is a Jewish theme, should he have a Jewish editor who would be more familiar with the story?”

“Not at all. We want this to appeal to all faiths, especially those who have never heard of Vashti or Purim. Besides,  I don’t want to offend anyone, political correctness and all that. The last thing we need right before FOB is a scandal.”

“I can take care of it, don’t worry. You have more than enough on your Siddar plate. Did I say that right?”

“Thank you for taking care of this, you are the best, in case I hadn’t mentioned it.”

I hope that makes up for my acting like a bitch earlier. Anna thought.

“I’m going to freshen up before Nate arrives. Show him into the conference room so I can introduce him to everyone.” Then, just to be certain Janet accepted her apology she added, “Please.”

 “Of course.”

As soon as Janet left, Anna headed for her private bathroom. When she took over the company, she had planned on replacing Henry’s office with a half bath and shower for the times she might have to stay all night at work, but hadn’t yet had the time to call a contractor. She wished now that she had. Anna washed her face, brushed out her hair and re-applied fresh make-up, barely noticing how uncharacteristically  meticulous her actions were. Anna never “dressed” for a client. She didn’t need to. Her brains, talent and position in the company was more than enough to attract the right business partner and seal the deal. Anything more than that was just pretentious and  a waste of her time, Anna thought. For some reason all her previous convictions dissolved into a pile of mush where Dr. Braverman was concerned. Although Anna hadn’t thought that much about their initial meeting at the basketball game, the Tarot cards and her dreams were bringing out feelings Anna hadn’t allowed herself to trust since her divorce. She was terrified that, at any time, the interesting, kind, intelligent Nate would turn into a possessive, abusive monster as Henry had. However, Anna was not about to allow her fears dictate her business decision whether or not she succumbed to Nate’s charms in reality as she had with Darius in her dream.

Janet ushered Nate into the conference room and began introducing them to a few of the staff who were finishing the last bite of their lunch. Anna couldn’t help but glance at the wall clock, which showed, as Shifra had pointed out, precisely 2:18 pm when Nate walked over to shake her hand. In spite of the coincidence of the hour, Anna felt perfectly fine when their skin touched, if she could ignore the temperature in the room being a bit warmer than it had earlier, which was the reason Anna felt her cheeks flush. At least that’s what she told herself right before she started the second half of the meeting.

Once the caterers had cleared the tables, the staff returned to their seats. Each one had their chosen manuscript in front of them as well as notes and a blank pad as they waited patiently to have their turn at pitching their project to the entire staff who would vote on which title would move forward in the publishing process. Usually Anna sat alone at the main table in front of the room and called upon each editor, starting on her right, to come to the front and do their best to excite the rest of the team. In past pitch meetings there would be a great deal of chatter as editors discussed their projects and plans with their fellow competitors before Anna called the meeting to order, but this particular meeting was not going to be business as usual.

Every seasoned editor knew authors were never invited to a pitch meeting. As soon as they saw Nathaniel seated next to Anna, the chatter was replaced with curious whispers, then deadly silence when Anna stood to begin the meeting.

“I hope you all enjoyed your lunch and are ready to start our annual pitch session.” Anna waited for the predictable response. “Before we get started, I’d like to see a show of hands of those who have Dr. Braverman’s narrative nonfiction submission Vashti’s Daughter I emailed everyone on Monday.”

As she expected, every hand went up.

“For those of you who are not lying,” Anna smiled warmly, which resulted in an eruption of nervous laughter. “I need to assign an editor to work with Dr. Braverman on the final draft. Do I have any volunteers?”

Several hands went down, leaving six remaining. Anna visually scanned the remaining editors, mentally doing an eeny meeny choosing rhyme which landed on Freddy Tyler a senior editor who had worked with five of their last best-selling authors in the past. As soon as she called his name, she could see the relief in the remaining editors’ faces as they lower their hands, while they shot Freddy a silent look of sympathy which he responded in his usual professional manner.

“Thank you for your confidence, Anna. I did read the manuscript. Even though I had no idea who Vashti was before I read it, I found it very compelling. I’m looking forward to working with Dr. Braverman.”

“I’m sure you are, Freddy,”

Anna turned her attention to the rest of the room.

 “We only have another week before FOD. My goal is to pre-release Vashti’s Daughter the day before the start of the festival. Toward that goal, our entire research department will be working full speed researching everything about Vashti you can find on-line and off,  so when we’re questioned on historical facts, and make no mistake, we will be, I want to be 100% sure we have the answers and sites to where and whom they were attributed to. As much as I have full confidence in Dr. Braverman’s research, it won’t hurt to have a few other collaborative academics and perhaps a few religious scholars as well in the acknowledgments. Now, I’d like you all to meet Dr. Nathaniel Braverman, the author of our next non-fiction best seller, Vashti’s Daughter.”

Nate wasn’t sure if he was required to stand, or remain sitting in response to the polite applause that followed Anna’s introduction. He was much more comfortable in front of a classroom behind a podium than in a boardroom especially when he had no idea what he was expected to say in response to Anna’s instruction, so he simply smiled and waved.

“I’m happy to be here,” Nate lied, “I’m looking forward to working with Freddy and, of course Ms. Steine.”

“Before we get to the business of our next year’s publishing selections, are there any questions for Nate before he leaves?”

The room was uncomfortably silent, until Freddy spoke up. “I’m sure we’ll be working on these issues in detail later, Dr. Braverman…”

“Please call me Nate.” “Okay, Nate. After reading your manuscript, I do have many questions, but the one that is come to mind first is since the book is titled Vashti’s Daughter, the manuscript ends with the death of Esther, but we don’t know what happened to Adara.”

“I honestly don’t know.” Nate stammered.

Esther didn’t tell me.

The entire room went silent when Nate answered. The editors who had read the manuscript had asked themselves the same question which was why they didn’t want to be the assigned Nate’s editor. Those that hadn’t read it were just now silently asking Anna how she could green-light a non-fiction book that didn’t have a resolution to the main character’s story.

 “Unless you want to publish this as fiction,” Freddy continued. “It would be a much easier sell and a lot less work for our research department if we went in that direction.”

Anna stood, glaring at Freddy and each of her editors, she responded in a forceful voice articulating each word.

“We are publishing Vashti’s Daughter as is by the deadline I stated. If anyone has any objection, you can see me in my office after you’ve collected your personal belongings. Any further questions?”

Dead silence.

“Good. I want to thank Dr. Braverman for taking time to meet everyone. Let’s take a fifteen minute break, then we will complete our list.”

There was a stampeded for the exit, leaving Nate and Anna alone.

“What was that all about, Anna? You even scared me.” Nate grinned.

“I have no idea why I was so adamant about publishing your book as is, because to be honest Freddy had a valid point. When I finished the manuscript, I thought you’d left out some of the pages at the end because we don’t have the full story if we don’t know what happened to Adara.”

“I understand that, but I told you the facts of how I came to write the manuscript. Her narration ended when she told me about the carriage crash, so I assumed she didn’t know what happened to Adara because Esther was dead. I’m not an author, I’m a professor of Ancient Near East studies. I write academic papers, not books, that’s your area of expertise.”

“It was up until today, apparently. Go find  Freddy and get started on the edits of what you’ve already written and we’ll figure out the rest over the weekend. I’ll call you after I get home tonight, okay?”

“Sounds like a plan to me. Just relax and everything will be fine.”

Nate walked toward the door, turned and gave Anna a little “Disney” wave. Somehow, the gesture helped her focus on the future business she needed to finalize and not on what had just occurred in her conference room.

Anna was perplexed. Everything she’d ever leaned about running a publishing company was crumbling beneath her and she had no idea why. She only knew she had better get a grip on reality in less than fifteen minutes or she might not have a future business to worry about.  

 

  

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