The author, her editor, and the cover designer all talk about their memories of working on THE GATE TO WOMEN’S COUNTRY:
The thing I remember most vividly about The Gate to Women’s Country is that the editor–Amy, I think–told my agent there was something about it that bothered her. She didn’t know what it was, and nothing we asked or suggested or offered solved the problem. This went on for about two months, and finally it turned out that what bothered her required that I change one word in a chapter near the end of the book. As I recall, the word was “they.” Ask Amy, maybe she’ll remember what all the tsouris was about.
And my agent, male, who said, as a man it was hard for him to read. He wasn’t sure it would go over. He didn’t think men could be like the fundamentalists I described. And an invitation I got to speak in Salt Lake City if I swore in advance I would not talk about this book or say anything detrimental about their church. And several men who wrote to me angrily saying that I was obviously a rabid feminist and they didn’t approve of feminism because original sin started with women, and it’s obvious I wasn’t married because no man with good sense would marry a woman like me. I wrote back giving them instructions for handling their situation. Step one: close the book. Step two: put it down. Step three: walk away and quit kvetching.
If you’d asked me then if it would still be in print 21 years later, I might have said no. But here it is. And here am I, at 81–both still going . Who would have guessed?
–Sheri S. Tepper, June 2010
The favorite moments for an editor come when she knows she’s got a book that lets her pull out all the stops. Sending the manuscript to other esteemed authors for those nuggets of praise, bragging it up to everyone who will listen, sitting with the Art Director (ed.: see below) to get the right look–this is what every editor hopes she’ll be doing when she starts to read a manuscript. I can think of no better example than The Gate to Women’s Country by Sheri S. Tepper.
Two plus decades later, I still remember the first time I read Gate. I had edited Sheri’s previous novel at Spectra and now it was time to consider whether to acquire the new one. I settled into a chair in my postage-stamp-sized backyard in Brooklyn and grabbed a chunk of manuscript. By twenty pages in, I knew I had to publish this book.
Editing Sheri was pure delight. She is an intelligent, thoughtful woman with a lovely sense of humor. Over the course of the eight books we worked on together, she was always willing to smooth out the occasional rough edges–or my rough readings. I must have read the manuscript for Gate four or five times before sending it into Production and she addressed my concerns each and every time.
One scene drove me crazy. I couldn’t figure out why it didn’t make sense. Finally, in discussing it we realized I had misunderstood a single word. I thought “they” referred to men when in fact it was about women. If you know anything about Sheri’s fiction — and especially The Gate to Women’s Country–you’ll understand me when I say how such a small misunderstanding can completely change the reader’s interpretation of an entire chapter. But Sheri was happy to improve on her already brilliant work.
Meanwhile, in-house at Spectra we sat down and agonized over the cover. (Somehow certain books always take a bit more discussion before you find the right approach.) We hammered on the doors of our colleagues and sent bulky reams of paper to the sales reps and other writers (because this was before everyone had computers, let alone email). In the end of course, it got a good bit of attention and solidified Sheri’s reputation as a writer who will still be worth reading ages from now.
If you go into any book store or check online, Sheri S.Tepper’s novels are still easy to find. Even better she is still worth reading, whether it’s the first time or the tenth. I re-visit The Gate to Women’s Country every few years. I always come away from this novel with something new.
And that, my friends, is the absolutely best thing an editor can ever say about a book.
–Editor Amy Stout
My publisher, Lou Aronica, came up with the brilliant idea of doing a line of hardcover limited edition books that would be sold by Doubleday Books, but would be books from Doubleday and from Bantam. So the cover design for the Bantam selections would be designed by me. Sheri S. Tepper wrote a thought provoking novel called The Gate to Women’s Country that was put into this new line of books with the new Foundation logo. Since the book was a bit more literary in style, I hired Wilson McLean, who had a more editorial style of art. The final piece was exactly what I was looking for–a very stylized landscape with a huge crack in the earth separating the people with a rainbow in the sky. The effect was dissension and hope in the same piece of art, which I think captured the feel of the story.
–Art Director Jamie S. Warren
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