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Success Story: Audrey Stahl Whiteman

This is a photo of the cover of Audrey Stahl Whiteman’s book “Reaching for the Rainbow”.

Audrey Stahl
Whiteman’s
book
“Reaching for
the Rainbow”

Audrey Stahl Whiteman didn’t venture into writing until she was seventy. Then, inspired by a church workshop, she sat down and, in a single day, wrote fifty pages about her adolescent stay at the Menninger Clinic. The resulting memoir was so moving that her workshop leader, Margaret Maat, sent it along to her editor, Ellen E. M. Roberts at Where Books Begin.

What Ellen saw blew her away. Audrey Stahl Whiteman had a powerful voice and a stunning memory, so Ellen called Audrey to see if they could work together on getting the memoir published.

Audrey confided in Ellen that she had written the memoir to honor the psychoanalyst who had helped her recover from teenage suicide attempts while she stayed at the famed Menninger Clinic in Kansas over a period of four years. The psychoanalyst, Dr. Irving Kartus, was now in his eighties and confined to a nursing home. A recent fall had incapacitated him physically and the death of his wife (also a psychiatrist) a year earlier had set him back emotionally. Audrey thought that this written record of the good he had done her fifty years before might cheer him up. She wanted to print the memoir immediately in a beautiful form so that the doctor could enjoy the homage that she so eloquently paid him.

This is a photo of Doug and Ellen team working hard.

Doug and Ellen
working hard

Ellen and Audrey worked with Doug Wink of Inkway Graphics to develop a package that was affordable and efficient. In the sad days after September 11, the staff of Where Books Begin, exiled from their office by the World Trade Center and bereft over the awful events that had hit their community, focussed solely on Audrey’s book. On laptops from their apartments, Ellen and her editors organized Audrey’s story into chapters; copyedited it; and worked with Audrey to create a forward and an afterward so that the reader would have a context for her stay at the clinic. The excitement over the project dissipated the depression that had been hanging over them since September 11. The publication party Audrey’s stepdaughter Jill had planned for October 14 served as the deadline.

Audrey decided to call the book Reaching for the Rainbow: My Years At The Menninger Clinic. It was to be distributed privately and sold only at Jill’s party in a tiny edition of eighty copies.

Audrey wanted to include vintage photographs of herself, her doctor, and her very attractive family in the book. Since xeroxed photos look lousy, we opted for a gatefold cover on 80 point cover stock. This served as a lure to bring the reader into the text. For Dr. Kartus, or Heathcliff, as Audrey always calls him, we hired a hand binder to create a special presentation edition of her memoir.

At Jill’s party on October 14, the author described her book to a crowd of friends and relatives. Nearly everyone lined up to buy a copy of the 96-page paperback. The guests knew this was a collector’s item, a true first edition. The next day, Audrey was besieged with phone calls from people who had stayed up all night reading this riveting story. Who would have guessed the elegant Audrey Stahl Whiteman had had such a troubled past?

Today, Ellen and Audrey are working on a proposal for the trade edition of the book. Ellen is convinced that the book’s authentic recapitulation of mental health practices in the late 1940s will resonate with a large public audience. Audrey’s uncanny ability to capture her teenage attitudes and emotions as she moved from being a suicidal boarding school senior to an accomplished young woman in her four years at Menninger Clinic sings from every page. The diligence and affection that Heathcliff brought to Audrey’s case and continued to show her for the rest of her life make Reaching for the Rainbow a love story that no reader will forget.

While it’s likely that the eventual trade publisher of this book will change many things about it, including the title perhaps, its power lies in its truthful telling of a terrible time and a great overcoming of that time. At Where Books Begin, our motto is from an old Mary Wells song: What Two Can Easily Do Is Hard to Be Done By One . Reaching for the Rainbow makes that point on every page.

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