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Ben - Do you think the front desk will be concerned about the microphone? [Johanna: Noooo.] Shouldn’t be. [knock on door, door opens] Johanna:  Look at you, there she is. My mom, Lillian. Ben: Hello! Hi so nice to meet you.  Lillian: Nice to meet you, Ben. Ben: I’ve got the questions that I wrote up that I wanted to ask you so I’m going to pull those out and Johanna and I will dive in and talk. Does that sound OK? [laughter] Lillian: Just don’t ask about my love life. [Johanna laughter] Ben: THAT is is off off limits.  Lillian: I wouldn't want to tell my secrets. [Ben laughter} Ben: No, no. Understandable. Lillian: Yes, of course. NARRATION Welcome to Story Geometry, Episode 16, and that is writer Lillian McCloy who has just published her first book - a memoir - at the age of 90. NINETY. So there’s hope for all of us. No excuses. And the memoir’s title? Here’s Lillian’s editor and daughter Johanna McCloy: Johanna: Six Car Lengths Behind an Elephant: Undercover and Overwhelmed as a CIA Wife and Mother And with that inspiration, let’s back in time, shall we? [play Raiders of the Lost Ark theme then fades] Today’s theme: the 80s, Espionage, and Editing and comes to you in three installments. So there I was, an only child, in suburban Atlanta. This was the late 70s and early 80s. Black Huffy bike. Atari 2600 game console. Of course, no internet, no cell phone. Perhaps you’ve seen this era represented to perfection in the Netflix hit, Stranger Things from the summer? Instead of searching for a missing friend like the tween heroes of that show, I was devouring tween and teen mysteries - The Three Investigators, Encyclopedia Brown, and my idols, The Hardy Boys. 

Imagine my excitement when, all these years later, I came across a book, a memoir even, about a family with that kind’ve life. The cover company, global travel, espionage kind’ve life. The life I’d pined for on so many muggy Georgia afternoons all those years ago. Now whether you get teary eyed when thinking of your 80s glory days or if you weren’t yet born, this episode’s got it all:

The challenges of pre-internet literary entrepreneurship, life inside the global espionage trade that led to a memoir, and all the while, the power of editing to craft the most compelling story possible.

[Story Geo theme music] We’re brought to you by Talking Book, the modern audiobook publisher, talkingbook pub and in partnership with literary workshop series Writing by Writers who is now booking spots for the 2017 Generative Workshop in Boulder, Colorado. The Boulder faculty includes award winning writers Pam Houston, Camille Dungy, and Andre Dubus III. Get your future literary weekends set at

This is Chapter 1 - Like An Editor. Back in late 83 / early 84, San Francisco based freelance editor Jay Schaefer launched a literary magazine called Fiction List. Alice Walker’s The Color Purple won both the Pulitzer Prize in Fiction and the National Book Award. Beverly Hills Cop starring Eddie Murphy was the highest grossing film. Prince’s When Doves Cry was the top song according to Billboard.  Alright, do you have your 80s groove on? Here’s Jay Schaefer:
Jay: Well, Fiction Network was a network before there were networks. It was one pre -- certainly free internet and it was just at the very very early stages of desktop publishing so it was produced very much in the old fashion way. It was an all fiction short story and novella magazine but what made the process most interesting and unique was that it also syndicated fiction to newspapers around the country. There are lots of literary magazines but the idea of syndicating fiction had gone out of fashion since Dickens’ time. So what I did was approached newspapers, primarily Sunday magazine, as a syndicate and convince them that it was okay to run fiction - a lot of papers would never knowingly publish fiction. Others jumped at the chance to get really talented writers both well known and unknown into the paper. And it was a great success, I think the total readership was about 25 million readers. NARRATION To see what all those millions saw in their Sunday paper, there’s a picture of Fiction Network Number 2 published in Spring of 84 on And look closely, one of the 10 writers featured in that issue is Story Geometry episode 9 guest Fenton Johnson. Here’s more from Jay. JS: This was my graduate school, if you will, to get into publishing to do this magazine. I'd gone to San Francisco State in the Masters Writing Program for while before that but the way I learned editing and advertising and paste up and met agents was all through Fiction Network and it created new outlets for writers and my thinking was as long as going to find the fiction and edit the fiction, why not put it in as many different channels as possible? … So a lot of writers went on to find agents and find publishers. Some of the writers I would wind up working with again later at Chronicle Books on their fiction and it lasted from 1982 to 1990. It was it was a great experience for me and for the other people who worked on it. NARRATION Here we are Chapter Two: A Code Name I’d Forgotten … while Jay was launching Fiction Nework, CIA agent Frank McCloy was wrapping up an eventful and challenging global undercover career. Here’s his wife and now debut author, Lillian McCloy:

Lillian: Langley had no concept of what that was like when you’re living in a foreign country and uh supposed to be a family of high income and very respected, and we didn’t have the money to do it. We didn’t have the expense account to do it. It was hard … It’s kinda difficult for me to talk with someone about this that I don’t know. [Ben: sure] It was so ingrained in us never to talk about it. Never. Except to my own family. We were allowed to tell one person.

Ben Who did you choose? Lillian: My sister, Dora. Someone had to know about it in case there was sudden death or whatever. NARRATION: For more background, the McCloys started their global journey in 1962 with a posting in Madrid, Spain. Six years later they moved to Delhi, India. Frank was then assigned to Tokyo, Japan, but spoke no Japanese, so the family moved to the States first so he could take a one year Japanese Language immersion class. And during that year this happened, read by Johanna McCloy: Johanna Pickup: Frank was the mascot of the class, an old-timer at 40, always charming and funny, with self-deprecating humor that endeared him to his classmates. When a young woman in Frank’s class, in a bloom of idealism and spirituality asked him, “What did your experience in India teach you? What did you learn from that incredible country?” He replied, “Always drive six car lengths behind an elephant.” [laughter] Lillian You have to have a sense of humor to be in that business, and I think we were lucky that we did. NARRATION cont’d That story was told and retold among the family, and years later, when Lillian started writing, she always believed it should be the title. The family moved to Tokyo and stayed for six years so Johanna’s older siblings finished high school there. And for their last stop, Frank, Lillian, and Johanna moved to Caracas, Venezuela … this was in the early 80s for Johanna’s senior year. Johanna  My biggest challenge in life was thinking that I was a Spaniard I really did, because I grew up that way. [laughter] Ben: What was also really fascinating is the transparency of the financial challenges …  
Johanna  I was very aware of the financial struggles, though I didn’t know the specifics obviously until I knew what he did and why but it was a real disconnect between the fact that he actually had and carried and did the so called .. I have an issue with ‘cover job’ … because Ben: He was a full-time employee, he was doing the job. Johanna INT: He was. Yeah. And the people who worked for him had no clue. Nor should they have any reason to question. Ben: Right Lillian: On the last day my husband, at the age 50, because of the depth of the work that he did, it was kind’ve severe, he was allowed to retire at age 50. And he did. And there was no flag waving, no shaking of the hands, there was no gold watch. There was nothing. One day he was with the CIA, the next day he wasn’t. … Heartbreaking. They resented the fact that the men in my husband’s category had so much freedom. That they could submit an expense account and say I took them here and took them there, and he of course could have receipts from the restaurants or hotels or whatever it was … but his name was nowhere. … When he was with the CIA, although he did the job he was supposed to be doing and did it well, and at one point, he was given a $10000 bonus at Christmas, and he had to give it back. [Ben: that’s heartbreaking] It was heartbreaking because he wanted to know where it went. Ben:  Were you writing at all during that part of your life?
NARRATION It’s just such an amazing, confusing, thrilling lifestyle. I then asked Lillian if she was writing at all during this point of her life. Lillian No. No. I enjoyed writing … I kind’ve gave up on it but I really loved writing. And writing was just something that I enjoyed and it was very easy to write this book because the plot was already there. I have never considered myself to be a writer except in my own mind. Ben: But now, at the young age of 90, you’re -a published author. [laughter] Lillian: I started writing, and it wrote itself. I just kept right on going. I wrote it in one month. Ben: ONE MONTH!
Lillian: It was at my kitchen table on a regular typewriter [Lillian laughter] Lillian I always wonder, I think that people must have a huge ego when they write a book about themselves, but you know, I was writing this more for my husband because he had never been recognized. NARRATION When wrapping up with Lillian, I was curious ….
Ben:  How have you felt to see your story out in the world, in book form, at the young age of 90? Lillian:  I don’t … it’s just overwhelming. It’s unreal to me actually. I just hold the book, and I love books. I’m in love with books. And just holding this book ... I can’t really see the cover, but I’m on the cover. It’s just wonderful. I can’t explain it. Just to feel the heft of that book, to know I wrote that. Ben: Thank you again Lillian, really love to meet you
Lillian: You’re very welcome, nice to meet you.
NARRATION: Briefest of interruptions to remind you that today's episode is brought to you by TALKING BOOK  -- the modern audiobook publisher. Are you an author? Do you want to turn your book into the fastest growing medium in publishing? Then go to talking book dot pub. They produce, distribute and promote radical audiobooks for amazing authors AND respected publishers. Audiobooks like the sharp, comic novel SOPHIA by Michael Bible. And if you mention Story Geometry, you'll get 16% off production cost till the end of October. Yes, 16% off in honor of our 16th Episode! Here's the thing, people want to listen to your book. You’re listening to this podcast! It's a fact. So go to talking book dot pub and join the audiobook revolution today. So back to family McCloy, Johanna and I were able to continue the conversation after saying goodbye to Lillian. Johanna: She said the other day that someone told her they’d bought the book, and they loved it, and recommended it to somebody. And she lives in Assisted Living due to her blindness. And the administrator said he wants to organize a book reading there. And maybe even invite some media. And she called me and says, ‘I’m a writer, I’m a writer.” NARRATION: And in reference to the full-time effort over several months to get the book published: Johanna cont’d: You know that’s why I did this … that is why I did this. … This is a gift to her …I wanted her to have something be excited about and something that was her own {Ben: Yeah]. Give her a sense of accomplishment. But even more than that to give the story its due, and to give my dad his due. Because this is story that’s been private and it’s a courageous story. … people read it and say WOW, I can’t believe what she endured, and how she endured, and good for her. She hasn’t heard that, because no one’s known. NARRATION: To give you a taste, let’s hear an excerpt from Six Car Lengths Behind an Elephant: Undercover & Overwhelmed as a CIA Wife and Mother from those glorious 80s. reading again, here’s Johanna, and this excerpt along with links to buy the book, will be on READING - The Vigil One night, after we had been in Venezuela for a few months Frank had a meeting in a small hotel with an agent. Per usual, I expected him home no later than 11 p.m. It was very late, and there was still no sign of Frank. I felt a stirring of apprehension and began to watch the clock. At 2:00 a.m I began to worry. I couldn’t sleep, so I got up, made tea, and sat on the balcony, where I could see the winding drive that came up the hill to our building. There was almost no traffic on the street. Another hour went by. Johanna appeared at the balcony and asked if everything was all right, and I said no, that I was worried. She joined me with a cup of tea and we both set our eyes on the road. When I thought about the Venezuelan police, I didn't even want to imagine how they would treat someone like Frank. I was beyond grateful that Johanna could understand my situation. It was such a comfort.  She asked me if I knew where he was that night or who he was meeting, if I had any reason to be particularly concerned about this evening. I told her that I knew he was always on high alert about possibly being followed by the KGB. We fell silent. I didn't know whether I should call Frank’s case officer at home; I didn't want to disturb him until at least dawn. Johanna asked about the protocol. I told her there were code words we were supposed to use in these situations. She urged me to do so, but I waited until the sky became light. When I checked our address book, I saw that Frank had never written the number there. It was probably under a code name I had forgotten. I called information and to my surprise, the number was listed. I called and his sleepy voice answered. Riddled with adrenaline, I cryptically tried to explain who I was by using Frank's code name. It was instantly obvious that he had no idea who I was and didn't know the code name. I couldn’t chance saying anything more in case the phones were tapped. I said I would call him later at the office. “Hmm…” he said. It was time for Johanna to catch the bus to school and I insisted that she get on it. I wanted things to look as “normal” as possible. Johanna wanted to stay home, but I argued with her. She said it wasn’t fair to expect her to act normal and go through a whole day at school knowing her dad was missing and not being able to talk about it with anyone. I promised that I would call the school under whatever pretense, to alert her with any update. She reluctantly agreed, fighting yawns as she rushed out the door to get to the bus in time. Not thirty minutes after Johanna left, I heard the private elevator kick into gear. It opened directly into our living room, so I stood in front of our door and waited. It stopped on our floor, the doors opened, and there was Frank. He was filled with remorse because he realized how frightened I must’ve been. He had been taking an antihistamine for allergy, which made him drowsy. When the agent left the room, he started making notes about the meeting and took the medication along with a drink. He then fell asleep. Through the night. Accidentally. He had no resistance to medication, but alcohol didn’t help. I was furious. I called the school and asked to speak to Johanna. They took her out of class and brought her to the phone in the principal’s office. I said “Daddy’s home. He’s okay. We’ll talk later.” I don’t know what she told the principal about why she had to take the call.  I thought about all the married women who only had to be worried about their husbands getting drunk and having sex with a wicked woman. Did they know how lucky they were? Ben: Fantastic, thank you so much. Johanna: thank you! NARRATION: This is Story Geometry, 80s, Espionage, and Editing, and we’ll wrap our tour of the 80s here in Chapter Three: Food and Focus with more from editor Jay Schaefer on his work helping shape a bestselling memoir. Ben: Jay, 22 years at Chronicle Books, amongst many other accomplishments … what’s your perspective on your time there?  Jay: Well, when I was hired in 1987, I was the "Books with Words" editor. Chronicle had primarily been a visual books publisher and they wanted to get into books with more context and also to originate more books so, that was my task when I started. And what I'm particularly proud of was launching the fiction list and the memoir list and also a mystery list, all of which were little entrepreneurial efforts within Chronicle Books which grew from 19 employees to 150 employees during the time I was there. NARRATION So 1987. I was reaching the end of high school. A Summons to Memphis by Peter Taylor won the Pulitzer in fiction. Three Men & a Baby was top grossing domestic film! And the #1 song was Walk Like an Egyptian. Ah, the 80s.   Later Jay gave a talk to the workshop attendees, and he shared this story about editing a memoir … which you’ve probably heard of... TALK EXCERPT One of the books I worked on a Chronicle when we were launching the memoir list was Under the Tuscan Sun. NARRATION Written by professor and poet Frances Mayes, Under the Tuscan Sun: At Home in Italy was her first narrative book. Soon after release, it shot to number one on the New York Times Bestseller list and lived on the list for two straight years. Jay cont’d: And in a lot of ways that's a good model for a memoir because it doesn't tell a person's whole life. It focuses on a particular experience and takes an unusual tack towards solving that. It's a midlife experience by woman who's who's gone through a divorce. And now she's changing her life. So she's rebuilding a villa in Italy. Which is a fantasy that writers can ... People can relate to not just writers but readers and. She's an expert cook. And these are wish fulfilment popular subjects. So should you didn't hear about her growing up in Georgia. You really didn't hear why she went through a divorce or how terrible her husband was ... there’s one little line about that. When she separated … She found what the story was about. And a lot of the work in developing that book was in leaving stuff out. And not putting it in 
NARRATION And thinking about Six Car Lengths, credit to writer Lillian and editor Johanna on keeping that book focused on the global CIA year. They didn’t include Lillian’s time as a big band jazz singer in San Francisco before marrying Frank or, years later, the loss of her home and possessions in the 1991 Oakland Hills fire. But let’s get back to Jay and Under the Tuscan Sun. Jay: Francis was a poet and hadn't written any narrative before the book. And the book was sold on the basis of a proposal which consisted of three articles that had appeared in different magazines on related things there was a rough outline. The book was written after the deal was done. And so there's a lot of question of what should the book be in that course the time between when the book was signed up and it came out there were these reviews of other books and said ‘God spare us from another expatriate American rebuilding a villa in Italy or rebuilding in France.’ So all of a sudden we had signed up this book that the reviewers were saying enough of this genre we're completely tired of it. And that also was a factor in figuring out how to how to shape the course of the book and I won't go into all the details but two of the things that Francis did was keep food primary. Including recipes in the book which was something different for for a memoir. And it helped flesh out the sense of the place in the atmosphere and you could taste the food. And the other thing that was a real struggle at times between us was to keep the focus. Keep the story tight to that one experience and not include all her drives through Italy. And all her visits to other countries and just kind of the Drive-By memoir. But to keep it on the experience of this villa. NARRATION In thinking about focus, Johanna, Lillian, and I talked about the frame of telling the global espionage story from the spouse’s point of view. Unlike most CIA memoirs and, of course, spy fiction, Six Car Lengths isn’t about the secret agent trade or the cases or the work. Instead, as you’ve heard, it’s about navigating the family challenges and experiences of the life. Once again, here’s Jay … Jay: And I think that that helped create the sense of of place and story and really made it easy for people to understand the story, It also started out as one year. And it didn't make any sense to try and tell the year in a life so we just opened it up and told what had to be told all the over the however many years it took to develop it. NARRATION To wrap up our chat, I’d asked Jay more background on his approach, working with such a broad range of writers, books, and genres: Jay: Every every project is different, every writer different - that's what I like about it. That's why I don't get bored and it's not just the subject matter of the book that changes it's the writer and the writer's approach. I don't-- I don't think there's any formula or or or any magic. I think the process is the same in what's the writer trying to say, how well are they saying it, how can I make it better and that gets  -- whether in fiction or nonfiction that's what you go through. 35:37 I think you look at what every writer wants to do with their book and what every writer can do and the main thing is to be true to the writer's vision of the book - to help the writer achieve what what what they're trying to do it as best they can. The writer has certain expertise and you -- you've gotta figure out where oh -- where can the story go with within what the writer is trying to do and is and is able to do - and that's the skills of a good editor. I think what editors should do is be invisible, the book is not about the editor, I can write my own book, the book is about the author. Ben NARRATION We’re less than 30 days away from the 2016 Election - what a political month it’s been - and as you may know, I’m curating an Election Year Lit list of works by, about, or influenced by presidential election cycles. For another Election Year Lit option, like last episode, Johanna stayed in the visual space with a film: Johanna: The Candidate, really good, that stands the test of time by the way. Campaigning. Really every day guy against the smooth talker. Robert Redford’s in it. It’s about integrity vs schtick. Politics in a nutshell, right? NARRATION Indeed! Thanks for listening to Episode 16, The 80s, Espionage, and Editing. Tremendous appreciation to guests Jay Schaefer, Lillian McCloy, and Johanna McCloy for all their insights. Don’t forget to sign up for future literary workshops at Writing x Writers . org, get your own audiobook discount at Why not find me on Twitter @BenHess and also @StoryGeometry on Facebook. Thanks for listening.

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