The afternoon I learned from my agents that Penguin was going to make an offer on my novel, The Secret Papers of Madame Olivetti, was a day of fire. No first-time author can forget that phone call or letter or email with the amazing news that a publisher wants your book! You remember where you were and what you were doing. In my case, the air was gray with smoke, as if the world was coming to an end, and ashes rained down on the driveway.
The Castle Rock Fire had been burning for ten days in the hills around Ketchum, Idaho. Over 2,000 people had evacuated their homes while crews from all over the country had been called in to fight the wildfire. On August 28th, 2007, flames shot up over the crest of Bald Mountain, famous for Sun Valley’s ski slopes. It looked as if a volcano had erupted with dark smoke billowing out of the mountain’s summit.
My husband, Bill, and I had already loaded our truck with all our belongings, which were few since two years earlier our house in Ketchum, where we had lived for twenty-three years, had burned to the ground. Fire is no stranger to our lives, with the ironic touch of the only surviving manuscript of my first novel, written thirty years earlier, going up in smoke along with our house and its contents.
The day the Castle Rock Fire reached the top of Baldy I had my computer and a hard copy of Madame Olivetti in the truck. We were ready to evacuate in case the fire could not be contained and jumped the slopes into Ketchum. It was difficult to breathe in the smoke; our eyes stung and lungs hurt. At three p.m. I walked out of the house and was just locking the front door when the telephone rang. “I’ll get it,” I said to Bill, and ran back into the darkened house. My literary agent was on the phone, her words imprinted forever on my mind: Ellen Edwards, executive editor of National American Library, Penguin Books, is going to make an offer on your book tomorrow.