Thursday, January 20, 2011


by Michael Dymmoch

My editor died recently. Ruth Cavin was an extraordinary person and a standout in her field. Mike Shatzkin, who knew her well, described her as a "great editor and world’s nicest person." Julia Spencer-Fleming, one of Ruth's authors, eloquently expressed how many of us felt about her.

I remember getting Ruth's call, informing me I'd won the Malice Domestic contest. She sounded too young to be an editor, and I'd have thought she was putting me on if I'd told anyone else that I entered the contest. I was too naive, then, to understand what that call meant, but my agent's response was a clue. "Oh. Oh! That's wonderful!" When I finally met Ruth in person, I was amazed—she'd sounded so young!—and reassured that I was in good hands. As an editor, she was very wise and reasonable. When she questioned how I could have a character drown herself in a toilet, I explained how it could happen, and Ruth dropped her objection. She did not, however, relent on matters of good writing.

Ruth didn't start her career as an editor until age 60, after raising three children and having a successful career in public relations. She went to work for Thomas Dunne Books/St Martins Press when she was 70. She was still working at the time of her death; she was 92.

In a sense, her legacy will go on as long as there's a Library of Congress, in the hundreds of books she guided from manuscript to bookshelf. And in the children and grandchildren she was so proud of.

A second legacy was featured, recently, on WTTW's Chicago Tonight. Vivian Maier was a professional nanny and an amateur photographer of extraordinary skill. Her story is amazing—her legacy would have been lost if John Maloof hadn't discovered some of her photos and negatives at an auction of unclaimed storage items. Maloof was so taken with the materials he'd purchased, that he tracked down others who'd bought some of her stuff and bought all of it—over 100,000 negatives as well as prints, cameras, books, hats, and rolls of undeveloped film. Prints of eighty of Maier's amazing photos—mostly of people who caught her interest—are on exhibit at the Chicago Cultural Center until April 3. After viewing them, I found myself studying the faces of people I passed on the street, even snapping a few photos.

Finally, The New York Times Magazine recently ran a relevant piece by Rob Walker: GHOSTS IN THE MACHINE: IT'S POSSIBLE TO LIVE FOREVER ON THE INTERNET, WHETHER YOU WANT TO OR NOT.