Carter, Betsy 1945-
Carter, Betsy 1945-
Writer. McGraw Hill, New York, NY, editorial assistant, 1967-68; American Security and Trust, editor of company magazine, 1968-69; Atlantic Monthly, editorial assistant, 1969-70; Newsweek, New York, NY, researcher, 1971-73, assistant editor, 1973-75, associate editor, 1975-80; Esquire, New York, NY, senior editor, 1980-81, executive editor, 1981-82, senior executive editor, 1982-83, editorial director, 1983-85; New York Woman, creator and editor-in-chief, 1988; New Woman, New York, NY, editor-in-chief, 1994-97; AARP's My Generation, founding editor-in-chief, 1999-2003. Member of board of directors, National Alliance of Breast Cancer Organizations.
American Society of Magazine Editors (executive committee member, 1988-91, vice president, 1997), Author's Guild, PEN.
Nothing to Fall Back On: The Life and Times of a Perpetual Optimist (autobiography), Hyperion (New York, NY), 2002.
The Orange Blossom Special (novel), Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill (Chapel Hill, NC), 2005.
Swim to Me: A Novel, Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill (Chapel Hill, NC), 2007.
Contributor to periodicals, including Good Housekeeping, New York, AARP, Atlantic Monthly, Washington Post, and O.
Betsy Carter has had many highs and lows in her life. In her career as a magazine editor, she has founded and run several high-profile titles, including New York Woman, Esquire, and My Generation, the last published by the American Association of Retired People (AARP). She was known as an accomplished professional, well-established at the top of the publishing world in New York City, when a terrible run of bad luck began after a taxicab in which she was riding became involved in an accident. As a result, Carter lost all of her teeth. Soon after that her marriage crumbled when her husband announced that he was gay, and her job was lost when the magazine she was working for folded. Her home burned down and she learned she had cancer. Carter reviews this terrible period in Nothing to Fall Back On: The Life and Times of a Perpetual Optimist, an autobiography that is "surprisingly upbeat," according to Time writer Andrea Sachs. Carter told Sachs that although her title implies a continuous positive outlook, it was not that simple, and no one who is going through difficult times should expect it to be. "I was not always cheerful," she told Sachs. To those who, like her, face overwhelming bad fortune, she advised: "Be easy on yourself. The last thing you need is that inner judge saying you shouldn't be losing control that way, why are you crying that much?"
The author alternates the story of her adult troubles with memories of growing up in the 1950s, as the child of refugees from Nazi Germany. In the course of addressing her adult problems, Carter writes "most poetically about confronting the reality of aging, ailing parents," commented a Publishers Weekly reviewer, who added that the author's "engaging account" of her struggle to overcome her many challenges "should gratify many readers." Booklist reviewer Carol Haggas called Carter's style "fresh, frank, and forthright" and termed her book "inspiring, witty, and refreshingly upbeat."
Carter tried her hand at fiction in the novel The Orange Blossom Special, published in 2005. The story begins in 1958 and features a young widow, Tessie Lockhart. Tessie works as a clerk in an Illinois dress shop, and although her husband has been dead for two and a half years, she still talks to him everyday. Finally, she seeks a fresh start, moving with her young daughter to Gainesville, Florida, a college town whose inhabitants will see many changes in the decade to come, as lives are touched by the Vietnam War, the civil rights movement, and the general social upheaval of the 1960s and 1970s. The story has many humorous aspects, such as Tessie's continued communication with her husband via something she calls "The Jerry Box," in which she drops notes to her late husband and waits for him to answer with a sign.
As Carter's story progresses, it takes on a more serious tone. The title refers to the first passenger train running from New York to Miami, and it is, in the words of the Publishers Weekly reviewer, "a not-so-subtle metaphor for the American dream and the forward march of history." That critic commented that the author's desire to provide historical sweep works to the detriment of her character development. Joanne Wilkinson in Booklist, however, found that the characters are drawn with "fresh, often idiosyncratic detail," making them "instantly engaging." A Kirkus Reviews contributor remarked that The Orange Blossom Special is an "odd mix of styles and themes, but nonetheless an endearing portrait of a place and time."
Swim to Me: A Novel is based on the real water attraction of Weeki Watchee Springs in Florida—which advertises itself as "The Only City of Live Mermaids." Weeki Watchee was launched in the late 1940s by a former U.S. Navy entrepreneur who designed a way for spectators to watch women in bathing suits that resembled fishes' tails swim underwater. In its heyday, before Walt Disney World opened in Orlando, Weeki Watchee attracted a nationwide audience, including such celebrities as Elvis Presley, Arthur Godfrey, and (appropriately enough) movie star Esther Williams. The protagonist of Swim to Me is Delores Walker, a teenager from New York who sets off to make her fortune by becoming one of the stable of swimming mermaids at Weeki Watchee. Eventually she becomes a guest weather lady at a local television station and (after rescuing a child from drowning) a local celebrity as well. The attention brings her into contact with her father, who had abandoned Delores and the rest of his family some years before, and the two reconcile. "With careful attention to detail," wrote Lee Ambrose for Story Circle Book Reviews, "Carter has incorporated some of the very real attractions and issues of central Florida during the 1970s." Ambrose also stated, "Readers are treated to delightful characters, the power of keeping dreams alive, the real possibility of hopes come true, and the importance of friends and family." The book is "heavy on sweet eccentricity and uplift," concluded a contributor to Kirkus Reviews, "but what could be a better beach read than mermaids beating Mickey Mouse at his own game."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Carter, Betsy, Nothing to Fall Back On: The Life and Times of a Perpetual Optimist, Hyperion (New York, NY), 2002.
Booklist, July, 2002, Carol Haggas, review of Nothing to Fall Back On: The Life and Times of a Perpetual Optimist, p. 1816; March 1, 2005, Joanne Wilkinson, review of The Orange Blossom Special, p. 1136; August, 2007, Joanne Wilkinson, review of Swim to Me: A Novel, p. 40.
Folio: The Magazine for Magazine Management, October 1, 1995, Lorraine Calvacca, interview with Betsy Carter, p. 45.
Kirkus Reviews, May 15, 2002, review of Nothing to Fall Back On, p. 714; March 15, 2005, review of The Orange Blossom Special, p. 302; June 15, 2007, review of Swim to Me.
New York, August 20, 2007, "Is This Book Worth Getting? A No-Frills Guide to the Just-Published Fiction Shelf," p. 65.
O, August, 2002, Cathleen Medwick, review of Nothing to Fall Back On, p. 74.
People, June 27, 2005, Vick Boughton, review of The Orange Blossom Special, p. 49.
Publishers Weekly, May 9, 2005, review of The Orange Blossom Special, p. 44; July 15, 2002, review of Nothing to Fall Back On, p. 66; June 25, 2007, review of Swim to Me, p. 31.
Time, August 19, 2002, Andrea Sachs, "Still Here: A Leading Editor Describes Her Rebound from Stunning Woes," p. G14.
ForeWord,http://www.forewordmagazine.com/ (March 11, 2008), review of Swim to Me.
Story Circle Book Reviews,http://www.storycirclebookreviews.org/ (March 11, 2008), review of Swim to Me.