Annie Vanderbilt’s Lost Pages


The Secret Papers of Madame Oilivetti is Annie Vanderbilt‘s first published novel, but it’s not her first novel… That, she explains, is lost to us forever:

The novel I lost, Yesterday’s Woman, was the first book I ever wrote. I was in my thirties. I remember some lyrical passages about canyons, sex on a sand bar on a desert river, and stars in the black canyon night burning like the tips of the cigars of a thousand South American heroes.

I typed the manuscript on an Olivetti portable typewriter, many of the chapters written in a stone farmhouse in southern France. When the book was finished I went hiking in the canyons of southeastern Utah where I fell off a cliff, suffered multiple injuries, and survived a long night alone while my husband went for help.

During the six years of my recovery, Yesterday’s Woman took up residence in my closet, my creative energies channeled into healing. I did not write again until, in my late forties, I began work on The Secret Papers of Madame Olivetti. My life had changed. I was twelve years older. I regarded Yesterday’s Woman as a first draft of a first novel (and a bizarre one at that) but someday worth a rewrite. It would have to wait. I was already deep into the story of Lily Crisp and her intriguing past, and settings more sensual than arid canyons.

Then one night the telephone rang. I was in Florida. An Idaho neighbor said to me, “Annie, I’m standing in the street watching your house burn down.” Into the flames went almost everything Bill and I owned, including the manuscript of Yesterday’s Woman. Fire is cleansing, after the trauma has gone. The good news: no rehashing the past. The future—The Secret Papers of Madame Olivetti—was safe on my laptop.

6 October 2008 | guest authors |

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