GEORGE JONAS

In 1977 I published By Persons Unknown: The Strange Death of Christine Demeter, written by George Jonas and Barbara Amiel. From the outset, the collaboration of the husband and wife team was, let’s say, interesting. Both of them were highly talented, highly opinionated, and determined to produce an excellent book, so their standards were very high. If collaborating on a book puts pressure on any pair of authors, the pressure increases immensely if the authors are a married couple. I was fascinated to watch their outspoken relationship play out, often in my office,with George drawling cynical conclusions that usually ended the debate.
The book developed a very exciting momentum, as the superb chapters came in. Finally, in my role as editor I felt able to begin my copy on the back of the published book with the words, “In future years this book will be seen as a classic.” This is what happened, as the book won an Edgar Award,and provoked comparisons with Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood. It established both Barbara Amiel and George Jonas as major authors.
This joint success did not save their marriage. Courteously, they came to my office to tell me this news in person. I reacted, as most of us would, by flailing around, telling them how sorry I was to hear it, and offering to do anything I could to help them. George dryly suggested that it would be very nice if I could help with the laundry.
Later I saw George in action as a CBC Director. After the success of Alligator Pie, the children’s book by Dennis Lee illustrated by Frank Newfeld, a new book by the Lee-Newfeld team was obviously a big story. Big enough certainly, for me to arrange a launch party one afternoon at the old Boys and Girls House Library on St. George Street, with scores of excited nine-year-olds in attendance. And big enough for the CBC to send a camera crew to cover it, under George Jonas’s direction.
Since the new book was called Garbage Delight I had arranged for a City garbage truck (you would be amazed what a life in publishing involves) to deliver Dennis, hanging on to the back, in overalls, and the similarly-clad Frank in the truck beside the driver.
We had fifty kids on the sidewalk jumping up and down outside the Library, and George and I were set up with his cameras when I signalled that the truck should start, and come down busy St. George Street, to pull in at the cleared space beside the crowd of kids, and George’s cameras.
As the truck approached, the kids (and publishers) cheered loudly. Then the truck simply ….kept on going.
Something had gone wrong with Frank’s directions to the driver, who drove on a full fifty yards beyond the kids and the cameras. I tried to retrieve the situation by getting the kids to run to greet the  now-bickering authors, but it was not a huge success.
George was philosophical. As the crowd disappeared into the library, he said.”Can we run that through again?”
A fine, witty man. I was glad to count him as a friend.
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The Embedded Biographer

The recent travails of David Petraeus and “the other woman,” his biographer, Paula Broadwell (no jokes, please, and stay away from jokes about the book title, All In) remind me of the perils of close literary association. I have been involved in many projects that worked, with the author and the subject getting along well, and others that almost produced violence.

I remember, for example, when a ghost writer for Garth Drabinsky’s book, Closer to the Sun, had a crisis meeting with him in his office one Sunday.

While Avie Bennett (the Chairman of McClelland & Stewart) and I watched glumly, the writer and Garth stood nose to nose, screaming at each other. Avie whispered to me that we were wasting our time. I counselled patience, that maybe they could work this out.

Avie was right.

On occasion the relationship between the ghost writer and the author of record, or the writer and the biographee, produces such strains that the luckless editor or publisher has to step in as referee, almost wrapping his arms around one of the combatants like a hockey linesman. The strains can extend far beyond the romantic. I remember the wife of a prominent man whose biography was in the works who came to my office to threaten suicide if the book was not to her liking.

Sometimes, as with David Petraeus and Ms. Broadwell, a dangerously close relationship develops between author and subject. Interestingly, Ms. Broadwell had a co-author on the Petraeus book named Vernon Loeb, who was “dumbfounded” by the news of the romantic liaison. But then, Mr. Loeb’s wife has described him as “the most clueless person in America.”

Sometimes, instead of an attraction developing, the opposite happens — a husband and wife author team split up in the course of writing the book. This was the case with George Jonas and Barbara Amiel, who were in the thick of writing their true-crime book about Peter Demeter, By Persons Unknown, when they broke up. They courteously came to my office to inform me of this development. Taken aback, I said predictable things about being sorry to hear it. When I politely offered to do whatever I could to help in this situation, George (an old-fashioned man with a quick wit) mentioned that he now would have a problem with his laundry.

There is a Canadian angle to all this. When Jill Kelley (suspected by Ms. Broadwell of being the other “other woman”) started to receive threatening e-mails (which brought in the FBI, and then the world), they included the words “Who do you think you are?”

It’s clear that all of the best stories prove to have links with Alice Munro.