Can we talk about perfect timing? Just as the Golden Globe showers the movie Lincoln with seven nominations including best picture I get a call from one Pegotty Applebloom, the great great great great (possibly one more great) granddaughter of Elizabeth Hobbs Keckley the personal maid and dressmaker to Mary Todd when the Lincolns occupied the White House.
"I have something that is going to put your little publishing company on the map."
She had my full attention since so far My Little Publishing Company (MyLittlePubCo.com) didn't even have a website yet.
"I'm in possession of Elizabeth Hobbs Keckley's diary in which she writes about her affair with Abraham Lincoln. And I'm willing to offer you exclusive rights."
"Wow! Whoa! Why me? Why My Little Publishing Company? Why not go to one of the giants, like Penguin House?"
"Because I've been following your blog. I like your style. I like your gumption." (Gumption is one of those telltale 19th century Republican words. This woman could be telling the truth.)
"How much?" I asked.
"You must be kidding. I don't have that kind of money."
"We can do an easy payment plan. Say, $165.99 a month." That was do-able. It was about the same as my monthly Verizon bill. I could just cancel my phone.
"But wait one gol darn minute! (I, too, could call up the vocabulary of yesteryear.) My little publishing company may be small but we're not stupid. I'm not about to send you a check before verifying the authenticity of the diary."
"Of course." We arranged to meet at Starbucks on 45th and Lexington in New York City, hub of the world's publishing behemoths.
Before our meeting I did a little research about Keckley, a former slave and ultimately a close friend of the First Lady. So I was a bit surprised to see that Ms. Applebloom was Asian. (What a wonderful melting pot this great country of ours is!)
She slid a page across the table to me.
"Here's the sample," she said.
"You ripped this out of the diary?"
"It was falling apart anyway."
The paper was yellowed parchment. The ink so faded it was difficult to read. The penmanship was definitely of another century -- all elegant ascenders and slanted flourishes.
"I chose this entry because it's so key. This describes the first time Lincoln and my great great great great grandmother became intimate."
The following is the excerpt she gave me:
"Miz Lincoln was after the Prez [the prez?] about his hair. 'You haven't had a decent haircut since you were sworn into office, Abraham. Let Elizabeth give you a trim. She's very good with the scissors.'
I bade the president sit down and I wrapped an old sheet around him.
'I can't cut your hair unless you take of your hat, sir,' I sez. He held onto it with both hands as if it was about to blow away.
'Abe, you have to stop with this foolishness,' sez Miz Lincoln.
'I can't have you to see me hatless, Mary,' he sez. He was blushin' like a schoolgirl.
'He never takes that thing off. He even sleeps in it,' she sez to me. But she left the room. Only then did he remove his hat. He had a strange look in his eyes. And when he spoke to me it was in such a low husky voice.
'Just a little off around the ears, Elizabeth. Leave the back long.' And that there was the beginning."
There was no question in my mind. The penmanship, the ink, the paper, the passion inherent in this short passage -- I knew I had the real thing. So you can imagine my horror when in my excitement I spilled my Caramel Macchiato all over the precious page.
"Not to worry," said Ms. Applebloom as she quickly mopped up the mess with a wad of paper napkins. I was surprised and relieved to see that the ink hadn't run. In fact, the coffee stain lent an even greater degree of authenticity to the document. I wrote her a check then and there for the first month's installment.
This is another good example of where we, the smaller, more innovative publishers can get a foot up on our bad bird competition. (I guarantee Penguin House is tearing out its feathers right now.)
Watch for Oh, Abie, Baby! coming out next summer.