NYT: A Midwife for Harrowing Memoirs (Lisa Pulitzer)


It started when HarperCollins asked her to help Elissa Wall tell her story of growing up in a fundamentalist, polygamous sect that forced her to marry her first cousin at 14. The result, “Stolen Innocence” (2008), made its debut at No. 6 on the New York Times best-seller list, and there are now 400,000 books in print.

This year Ms. Pulitzer, a former newspaper reporter, is the co-author of two more books. “Beyond Belief,” about Jenna Miscavige Hill, niece of the leader of Scientology, David Miscavige, is already climbing the best-seller lists, and “Banished,” about Lauren Drain’s years in the Westboro Baptist Church, is a memoir about a sect with a particularly venomous attitude toward homosexuals.

Ms. Pulitzer, 50, has earned her role because she can turn around a book in three months and because she uses her reporting skills to substantiate her subjects’ stories for publishers. Finally, she has a motherly presence that is comforting to women who are about to expose raw truths of a sordid past, allowing her to establish a level of trust with them quickly.

“I felt like she knew not to make me look bad,” Ms. Drain said in a phone interview. “I worried I’d look like a freak show, but she was able to be confident about people understanding my experience and that it would help other women leave different cults.”

Ms. Pulitzer said she had never been personally threatened by sect or cult members, although she was once cornered in her car by two trucks in Utah while researching “Stolen Innocence” and warned to leave the area. But she said her work convinced her that disturbing experiences in extreme sects were all too common. She fields calls and e-mails from defectors all over the world.

The week Ms. Hill’s book came out in February, Ms. Pulitzer said she heard from a man in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, whose parents abandoned him to a Christian cult whose members physically abused him for years, and from a woman who had eight children with an extremist Christian leader in Canada. Ms. Pulitzer says she feels compelled to answer everyone who reaches out to her, often offering comforting words and places where they might receive help. But as a businesswoman who receives a percentage of each book’s advance and royalties, she is very selective about her projects.

The bar is surprisingly high. The details of the organizations and the women’s paths away from them must be significantly different each time and preferably in recent headline news. Ms. Hill’s book, for example, sold only after the Katie Holmes-Tom Cruise split last summer put Scientology back into the news.

Ms. Pulitzer did not set out to make a specialty of such defections, of course. Her first subject was murder.

Fresh out of college in the late 1980s and early 1990s, she worked as a contract reporter on Long Island, collecting and writing material for publications including The Times. It was a golden era of perverse suburban crime, and she spent a lot of time at the Nassau County courthouse.

After following Joel David Rifkin, a serial killer convicted of murdering nine women, she was a co-writer of a quick book about his trials titled “Crossing the Line” (1994). She left daily journalism in 1998 when she became pregnant, and began turning out books about sensational killers, including “A Woman Scorned: The Shocking Real-Life Case of Billionairess Killer Susan Cummings” (1999) and “Fatal Romance” (2001), about Jeremy Akers, a lawyer who committed suicide after killing his wife, a romance writer.

Then Ms. Pulitzer received a call from HarperCollins, asking if she would audition to write the book with Elissa Wall. Lisa Sharkey, a senior vice president at the publishing house, said: “Our team is really about getting books out on the zeitgeist. Lisa is one of our go-to people because she can get the job done, and done sensitively.”

Full 2 page article: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/03/12/books/lisa-pulitzer-author-of-memoirs-about-defecting.html?hp&_r=0

Rapt Reader

Thanks for the info :yes: and the link...

Jenna's book is so well-written, that I was wondering about the credentials of the co-author...No disrespect intended to Jenna's talents (I think she's great, and have a soft spot in my heart for her and her story), but when I've seen her interviews I thought that maybe she was incredibly shy and nervous in person, but wonderfully well-spoken and prolific in private, alone at the typewriter or keyboard. Lisa Pulitzer has done a stellar job of drawing out her subject and helping her write an engrossing book. Well done :clap:
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