I have this habit when I’m writing. I call it a paragraph stroll. When I finish a paragraph, and sometimes even when I don’t, I get up from my disorganized and disgusting desk and make my way toward friendlier climes. Sometimes, when I was at BusinessWeek, it was to the snack bar, which really wasn’t a whole lot less gross than my desk, but at least provided a chatting potential. Sometimes I took strolls down the long hallways, with the big posters of old BW covers (none by me). I’d occasionally wander to the windows by the copy machines and gaze down from the 43rd floor to midtown Manhattan. I had lots of places to stroll.
But my most common landing spot was Heather Green’s office. It was only five or six steps from mine and was as neat as mine was messy. She had framed photographs on the walls, a spotless desk and a fairly comfortable chair for me to sit in. Heather worked far more consistently than I did. She was usually busy with something. But she was nice enough to take a few minutes to chat. Sometimes it was about work, since we did a number of projects together and were co-bloggers. But more often it was about books we were reading, movies, French, her life, my life.
These interactions with colleagues were what I liked most about the job. Heather and I were (and are) friends.
And yet, here’s what’s really weird. While Heather and I were talking about all sorts of things, I had only the slightest notion of what she was up to across the river, in Union City, NJ. I knew she had a boyfriend named Matt, and I seem to remember hearing once that they’d rescued a stray cat. (She asked me one time if we wanted to adopt a kitten. I caucused briefly with our two cats and came back with a negative.) In any case, she and Matt were running an entire cottage industry out of Matt’s house in Union City. She and her future husband were coaxing strays, jury-rigging traps to catch them, and networking with loads of fellow cat rescuers, both in North Jersey and online. It was like a second career, full of mystery and adventure, and I had virtually no idea.
The other strange thing is this. Heather and I wrote together. That’s what we did. We edited each other’s stories, we collaborated on cover stories, we even shared a blog. Our business, if you boil it down, was coming up with words, sentences and paragraphs. And yet I had no idea that Heather had the writing skills–the scene-setting, dialog and characterizations–of an excellent novelist. That part of her was lost to me.
I got an email from her a few months ago asking if I’d give her manuscript a preliminary read. Naturally I said yes. And that’s when I encountered this wonderful book. It’s lively and funny and, at points, disarmingly honest. It introduced me to a good friend who, it turned out, lived a life I knew next to nothing about.