Take Three: a Revision, a Shoot, and a Reading

It’s hard to believe that over two months have passed since Robert and I set off for Warsaw. Our Eternal Quest, as we dubbed it, left me energized and eager to get back to the book, which is lucky; on returning I received a new round of feedback from my editor, Sarah. I knew this round would be more specific than the last, and I’d be lying if I told you I wasn’t daunted by the prospect of sitting down to 450+ pages of line edits. But I dug in, and as soon as I did I was bowled over by Sarah’s expert, detailed eye, by how insightful she was in her remarks. Whether she questioned a motive or offered up a suggestion on how to reword a sentence to make it sing, each and every one of her comments resonated.


Sarah prefers to make her line edits on a hard copy of her manuscripts—this was the view from my desk for weeks as I pored over her (amazing!) feedback.

Last week, after a string of long days and late nights, I finally sent Sarah a revised manuscript. She’s reading it now. Until I hear back, and before I start tackling things like maps and acknowledgements, I thought I’d share a couple of cool book-related happenings.

You might recall that in March, I was contacted by a pair of Brazilian filmmakers who are researching and producing a documentary on the life of Luiz Martins de Souza Dantas, Brazil’s one-time ambassador to France. Souza Dantas, in the early years of WWII, surreptitiously issued illegal Brazilian visas to hundreds of Jews trying desperately to escape war-torn Europe—my grandfather was one of them.


A movie poster for The Ambassador

In September, Marina and João came to New York. Could you and your mother meet for an interview? they asked.few weeks later a film crew arrived at my doorstep toting a carload of equipment. My living room was instantly converted into a studio of sorts, and before I knew it, the cameras were rolling.


Staff Cinema comes to Connecticut!

I was nervous at first about taking a seat in the spotlight. I flinched at the snap of João’s clapperboard, at his enthusiastic take one! But a few minutes in, I took a deep breath and realized how rewarding it felt to sit beside my mother and recount the details of my grandfather’s past. Eventually, I forgot entirely about the camera. I laughed and I cried and I found myself especially moved by the notion that without the kindness and courage of this Brazilian ambassador, neither my mother nor I, in all likelihood, would be here today. Thank you, Marina and João, for taking the time to visit with us. It was an honor to play a small role in the telling of Souza Dantas’s heroic past.


The living room “set” of our interview for the Souza Dantas documentary.

Another bit of book-related excitement came a few weeks ago, when I discovered that Elisabeth Egan would be giving a reading at my local library. I’d spoken to Liz once, just before I signed on with The Book Group—she’d spent some time on the phone with me, answering my questions and raving about Brettne, the agent we now share (and adore). Liz is the books editor at Glamour magazine. Her debut novel, A Window Opens, came out in August and was quickly coined a must-read by everyone from Gwenyth Paltrow to the editors at People magazine and Entertainment Weekly.

I read the book while I was in Europe, and found its narrator, Alice, irresistibly funny, flawed, and relatable. Alice is a middle-aged woman trying to juggle the roles of mother, wife, friend, and daughter—while simultaneously fulfilling her professional destiny in what she believes (at first, at least) to be her dream job at a hip, young start-up. Liz captures the tension between Alice’s career and her old-fashioned family values beautifully. The storyline, she revealed at her reading, is based not-so-loosely around her own life experience. It is as much memoir as fiction, which makes sense; everything about the novel—the challenges, the quick-witted humor, the pain, the questions it evokes—feels authentic.

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I left Liz’s reading thoroughly adrenalized. That will be me one day! I realized as I tucked her signed book under my arm and hugged her goodbye. A year from now, Brettne and Sarah tell me, I’ll be preparing for my own readings, my own book tour. It’s still impossible, of course, to imagine myself in Liz’s shoes (and to be honest I don’t often let my mind even go there—not before the book is finished), but at least I have a better idea of what there is to look forward to. Thank you, Liz, for showing me how it’s done!

Fall, indeed, has been full of fun happenings. And while I might not allow myself to think too much about what lies ahead on the road to publication, it’s gratifying to look back now and then, to revisit the milestones, and to recognize how, with every passing month, this project slowly, steadily, feels more and more real.