Omaha native and icon Elaine Jabenis has had a full life and career, from working a stint at the New York Times to being on both radio and television in Omaha. Now, at 93, she’s adding a new job title to her long resume—author of fiction.
Before her first fiction book entitled Georgia’s Secret was released in late February, Jabenis had done other writing, starting with writing for the Omaha World-Herald while on Central High School’s newspaper. When she got married, her husband’s job with the Air Transport Command moved the two to New York City. One day in the pouring rain, she walked into the New York Times Building for shelter, and got her first real shot.
“I thought, ya know, I got nothing to do, I think I’ll go up there and just make out an application just for the heck of it.”
After getting hired for a temporary secretarial position and working in a few other departments throughout the publication, Jabenis and her husband returned to Omaha. It was here where she worked in theater, radio, television, and, most importantly to the book, fashion.
“As I progressed in my position at Brandeis, I became the fashion merchandising director for all of the stores,” Jabenis says. “I began to realize they were bringing a lot of people in for training for this kind of thing, [but] the schools have had no textbooks. They had a lot of textbooks about merchandising, but not this particular area.”
Jabenis contacted one of her friends in New York, who was editor of Seventeen Magazine at the time, about writing a textbook of this nature. Jabenis was then put in contact with the editor at John Wiley & Sons publications.
“I sold it to them on the basis of an outline and chapter breakdown, but I hadn’t written one word of the book and they signed me,” Jabenis says. “And they signed me on my credentials only.”
The textbook, which the Fashion Institute of Technology bought 300 copies of right away, was used for 10 years, was adapted to fit both women and men in the industry, and was even translated into Japanese.
Jabenis left Brandeis after a 23-year career, and went into business of being her own producer, which gave her control of her time and work. The process of moving from television and textbooks to fiction started 10 years ago.
“It was going very well for awhile, but then I began to lose my sight, and I had four eye operations … four cornea transplants,” Jabenis says. “And every time I had one, I had to stop writing because I didn’t have any vision and I didn’t think there was any way of doing it otherwise so it took me years to get this book out.”
The book is a story about a 22-year-old who works in a department store . She is burdened with an unbearable secret that puts her in a situation to be blackmailed.
“[She is] very successful, but all the time, this secret is keeping her imprisoned. She’s not just trying to assume any place in the sun for herself, but she does try to help others,” Jabenis says. “It’s a romance suspense novel.”
Though much of the background knowledge included in the story stems from Jabenis’ time working in fashion, she says none of the people or places are based on true events.
“Writing a book, I was able to make a composite of characters that you meet throughout your life or you envision or that you have witnessed or that you just make up and of course that’s what the fun is, the making up these people that never existed except in your mind, and they become so real to you, and once I got going on it the characters really take over,” Jabenis says.
Even though her first book just hit the shelves, she already has plans for a second and third book, both of which cover other industries she has worked with in her life.
“I read the concept to someone, to my daughter first, and she said: ‘Oh mom you’ve just got to write this, you gotta promise me you’ll write this.’”
“I thought, ‘Gee, this is great. It gives me something to look forward to,’” she says.
“I’m just so glad I had this urge to do this, and all I really want out of it is to have people open it and read it and say I enjoyed this, I had a good time reading it, and it was informative and I had fun with it or it made me feel, whatever.”