Meet Dana Gynther, author of THE WOMAN IN THE PHOTOGRAPH and revision extraordinaire! Every author must cut parts of her first draft to get to the true meat of every story, but some cuts are harder to make than others– especially once an author becomes attached to her story. Not all is lost though, because Dana has saved a piece of her favorite deleted character for us here on XOXO.
Manuscripts, like butterflies, go through incredible stages of transformation. From the tiny egg of an idea, to the overly-pudgy, caterpilly first draft, to the cocoon stage when the editor gets a hold of it, to finally the lovely sleek novel in shops. My new novel, THE WOMAN IN THE PHOTOGRAPH, was no different. Not only did it change titles a half-dozen times, but the original story was cut in half, to emerge, six months later, fully-formed again. Can caterpillars manage such things? (I don’t think I want to find out).
The finished novel, with its glossy cover and gorgeous Art Deco fonts, is the story of the intense relationship between two photographers in Paris in the late 1920s: Lee Miller—a strikingly beautiful flapper from Poughkeepsie who, after a stint modeling for Vogue in New York, headed to Europe in search of excitement—and Man Ray, 17 years her senior, the famous Surrealist photographer, who opened both his darkroom and his heart to her.
The original version (I shy away from the expression ‘first draft’ since these ‘firsts’ are often actually thirds or fourths) had two parts. The story of Lee and Man together in Paris was just the first; the second was Lee during World War II. The two sides of Lee Miller: the sophisticated, spoiled socialite accustomed to fine gowns and champagne balls juxtaposed with the feisty war photographer who, wearing the same grimy military uniform day after day, was determined to get the best front-line shots.
But, while in the chrysalis, my editor realized that, as a story, the first part worked better on its own. That I needed to dig into that relationship, the depth and detail, and leave WWII to a brief sketch of the aftermath of Lee’s war in an epilogue. And she was right (editors often are, bless them).
Sadly, however, that put an end to one of my favorite, real-life characters: Audrey Withers.
Audrey Withers was the editor of British Vogue, aka Brogue, when Lee worked there. An Oxford-educated socialist, Audrey was not a delicate flower interested solely in fashion, but a hard-working, straight-shooting professional. When Lee moved to London after war had been declared on Germany in 1939, Audrey gave her work, keeping a restless Lee sane and focused. When the Blitz began, Audrey – calm and carrying on—would work in the cellar; when the Vogue offices were bombed and all the windows blown out, she put on her coat, lit another cigarette, and told Lee to photograph the damage. Audrey was an advocate for women’s rights, who, quite simply, learned to believe in Lee Miller.
While female correspondents were not supposed to cover the Home Front, a month after the storming of the Normandy beaches, Audrey finagled the papers for Lee to get to the continent.
There, Lee took photos and wrote long, first-person testimonials about the war: the siege of St Malo, the Liberation of Paris, the chaos on enemy lines, and on into “Krautland,” where she witnessed the opening of concentration camps like Buchenwald and Dachau. Think of it—a fashion rag with a war correspondent! Vogue getting exclusives from the front lines! It’s impossible to imagine today.
It was Audrey—not her romantic partner Roland Penrose—who was Lee’s contact back in London. She called her asking for favors—to send care-packages of Kleenex and Tampax to a war-depleted Paris or to get her a new uniform made. But it was also Audrey Lee turned to for support. Drunk, exhausted, or sick, she’d make a collect call to Audrey—a no-nonsense near-maternal figure who always had her back. Audrey cheered her on, got her any necessary documents, fixed the deadlines that forced Lee to face the typewriter and darkroom, and who gave her the confidence to become a top-notch war correspondent, a woman in a man’s world.
It’s a real pity that, in the editing process of THE WOMAN IN THE PHOTOGRAPH, Lee’s editor was left out. But, come to think of it, perhaps I should write a novel about Audrey Withers?