by Len Lear
Area resident Lynn Rosen is a brilliant multi-tasker who knows what it’s like to be on both sides of the publishing industry, as a published author and as a person who guides authors through the sometimes treacherous publishing experience. “What could be better than working with books and writers?” she asked rhetorically. “I’ve been lucky to have the opportunity to experience publishing from multiple perspectives: as an editor, literary agent, journalist and author.”
When Lynn, 52, who grew up in Dresher, decided to launch a career in publishing, she “knew immediately that I wanted to be an editor and, at heart, I will always be first and foremost an editor. I started out as an editorial assistant in college publishing, and then moved to trade (general consumer) publishing and became an editor at Ballantine Books, a division of Random House. In both of these jobs I acquired and edited serious non-fiction books. As I moved through the editorial ranks at other publishing houses, my work also encompassed working on illustrated books and ‘books plus’ as a Senior Editor at Running Press and Editorial Director at Peter Pauper Press.”
In 1991, Lynn launched her own literary agency, which she named Leap First, “to reflect my belief in taking chances.” In her eight years as an agent, she worked with academic authors such as Myra & David Sadker, authors of “Failing at Fairness: How America’s Schools Cheat Girls,” associations such as the American Dietetic Association and other authors such as Byllye Avery, founder of the National Black Women’s Health Project and winner of a MacArthur Foundation Fellowship. Lynn helped her clients develop and shape new book ideas.
Lynn also taught writing and publishing at Temple and at the University of Pennsylvania. After a few years of adjunct teaching, Lynn, who graduated from the University of Pennsylvania with an Honors degree in English and holds a Masters in English and Comparative Literature from Columbia University, joined Rosemont College as the Director of Graduate Publishing Programs, where she worked for three years.
Lynn is also the author of “Elements of the Table: A Simple Guide for Hosts and Guests” (Clarkson Potter/Random House). Journalist A.D. Amorosi of Philadelphia’s City Paper called her “The First Lady of the Fork,” and Publishers Weekly magazine called her “a more forgiving Miss Manners.” Her book, “Elements of the Table” ($12.44, or possibly a few dollars less on amazon.com), looks at everything on the table — including silver, china, crystal and decorative items — and describes how to properly use it, along with some fun dining history. Did you know, for example, that napkin rings were invented so you could make sure you got the same napkin at each meal, since no one laundered them in between?
Here are some questions we put to Lynn last week with her replies:
• How did you get interested in writing “Elements of the Table?”
“My mother loves to entertain and does so beautifully. As a girl, it was always my job to set the table and, for special events, I had to do so with all the china and fancy stuff, which was a lot of work! When I got married and had my own nice things, I realized that I really enjoyed setting a pretty table. I decided to do some research and learn more about table setting customs.”
• What has been the reception to your book?
“The reception has been very positive. When it came out (2007) it got many positive reviews and was featured in magazines like Glamour, Family Circle, Bridal Guide and locally in the Inquirer and City Paper. I was also a dining correspondent on WHYY’S ‘A Chef’s Table with Jim Coleman,’ and was flown to Toronto to be interviewed about etiquette on ‘Canada AM.’”
• How long did you work on the book?
“Hard to recall exactly, but somewhere between three to six months. It was my full-time job at the time. I did a ton of research, buying lots of books on dining and culinary history and table setting and ordering absolutely every related book I could find in the Montgomery County library system, which was a lot.”
• What were the major problems in the course of doing the research and the writing?
“Well, it’s hard work writing a book. Not that that’s a problem, but it was a factor: I gave up a lot of sleep and a lot of family time to get it written in a timely manner. I also was responsible for providing photography.”
• Weren’t there already some books in the marketplace that could provide this type of information?
“There are many books about table setting, but most of them were and are big pricey oversized ‘coffee table’ books. My book is meant to be more streamlined and more of a reference tool.”
• Are you working on another book now? If so, can you say what it is?
“I’m taking a class on writing your first novel. Wish me luck! The class is at Musehouse in Chestnut Hill, by the way, and it’s great!”
• Can you tell us some examples of the “fun dining history” you made reference to in your book?
“Yes. For example, a table knife that’s rounded at the tip has a French tip. This is because Count Richelieu dictated that table knives had to have rounded tips so no one could stab him at dinner! Speaking of the French, they used to make fun of the Elizabethans with their big frothy collars. The custom at the time was to tie your napkin around your neck but the English couldn’t do it because of the collars. They said they had trouble ‘making ends meet.’ And the origin of table etiquette had nothing to do with good manners, and everything to do with self-preservation, protecting oneself from violence at a table filled with strangers and lots of pointy objects. And there’s much, much more like that!”
Lynn Rosen will host a workshop about the well-set table at “A Date with a Plate” on May 6 and 7 at Moulin at Sherman Mills (formerly Peche), 3502 Scotts Lane in East Falls. (A Date with a Plate is the biennial fundraiser of the IMAJNZ Foundation for melanoma research and related causes. Ticket info at www.adatewithaplate.org)