More interviews…oh fall!
I always remember the first day of fall. The air feels slightly chilly and it seems like signs for Halloween are everywhere, even if they are only in your mind. Once a romance that had been brewing all summer came to fruition on the first day of fall. Everything seemed more poignant that fall. Flowers were more fragrant. I recall wearing tights that were too tight to pull up. I got my solo apartment that fall, even if it was only a sublet. It was a magical time, but then, fall always is. It’s the biggest change of season, a time of re-birth.
So on with the Interviews – I haven’t forgotten.
Where: Grounded in the West Village, NYC
Occupation: Business Editor
Rachel is a fan of the Yankees, “loves Shakespeare” and will probably run a marathon someday. She also happens to be a business editor.
“I hope my team isn’t messing up the coverage,” she says.
For the past year, she’s been my Sunday Yoga friend and that’s the extent of it.
We met while I worked in marketing for Salon.com, which is now forever ago. We met when Salon was relevant and we were not. Things have changed.
These days Sunday Yoga is “our date” because it might be the only time we see each other in the month. We are both guilty of being busy, and we both travel a lot. Rachel is always “off somewhere”- or “going to her country house”– or on a humanitarian mission to Africa. She seems like the kind of person who could put out a fire and save two babies on her way to work. And no, she won’t tell me who she’s going to vote for because of her “journalistic integrity.” Really? Okay.
Since I never go to Brooklyn, I have to appreciate that Rachel comes into Manhattan for our visits. I’m a Taurus, which means I make people come to me. Rachel is a Leo, which means, she controls things.
“Oh,” she says with the calmness of lion after its kill, “did I tell you that I accidentally ran a half marathon last weekend?”
“How do you accidentally run a half marathon?”
“Well, it just happened.”
But it was something, this marathon. This was Rachel once again pushing herself to new, yet un-tested limits.
“Oh Noni, I’ve got to get going,” she says as she helps me finish my coffee.
Knowing that Rachel loves plays as much or more than I do, I ask her if she’s the kind of writer she really wants to be.
“I’m making my living writing. That’s the kind of writer I want to be.”
Her answers are all business and I guess that makes sense.
“So, are you writing this down, Noni?”
Who: Carolyn French
Where: The Fifi Oscard Agency, Midtown, NYC
Occupation: Literary Agent
I met Carolyn French over five years ago when I came in looking for a job at Fifi Oscard, a literary agency in NYC.
I was in the first summer of my MFA and really only knew that a literary agent position sounded interesting.
I stood in the waiting room with my resume thinking that I would just get to drop it off and I wouldn’t hear a thing. Turns out that the owner, the grand dame Fifi Oscard wanted to see me.
“So what can you do for us?” Truthfully I had no idea. “I can….lick stamps, uh…I can…answer the phones….”I stammered. Suddenly I knew what I could do.
“I can read plays,” I said with confidence.
“Oh good,” she said.
So Fifi gave me a play and I returned it with comments the next day. The play was terrible and I said so.
“You should go talk to Carolyn,” she said. So I did.
That day I became Carolyn’s assistant and for the next three years I read and commented on a great many plays. I helped Carolyn file, write letters and worked on getting people out to her writer’s events. Eventually my role grew at the agency grew and I had my own clients. I had quite a time there, but that’s not what I’m writing about.
The ever-stylish Carolyn was born around 1930, which means she was a teenager when my granny’s cartoon Brenda Starr had just come out. She lived in San Francisco and from the looks of her now, I imagine she was quite a beauty when she was young. She’s tall and slender, and boasts of how she still stands on her head every morning.
Carolyn got her PhD in English and Theater, was unhappily married and had one daughter and “traveled the world” before becoming an agent.
Carolyn is probably one of the smartest and most intellectual agents out there. She’s an agent that really knows how to tell a good play from a bad one. Honestly, so many agents are just into the hype, but not Carolyn. Even if she forgets ten minutes later, Carolyn will tell it to you straight.
Carolyn only decided to become a literary agent later in life after an illness left her unable to teach.
“I lost my memory,” she said. “So I certainly couldn’t teach.” But she could surely choose plays.
When she came to Fifi’s to work as an agent she had to train, just like me.
“ I worked for free at first – and still do, practically.”
Carolyn was able to gain her confidence quickly as an agent.
“I only wanted a project that people would recognize,” she said. “I was hardly expecting what happened next. I mean where do you go from there?”
Carolyn’s first project as an agent was the play “Wit” and it won the Pulitzer Prize.
When I told Carolyn that I wanted to be a playwright she said “why?”
“A playwright really only needs one good play,” I said.
Carolyn’s become a fan of my work and a wonderful and dear friend.
These days Carolyn has a harder time getting around, but she still loves what she does.
In some ways she reminds me of my grandma (Dale Messick) who I miss very much. “When you quit and sit that’s it” – that’s what Dale used to say.
That’s hardly the way the elegant and charming Carolyn would put it, but I think the sentiment is exactly the same.