The trophy-hunting editor's instructions were explicit: before leaving, take your handbag into the restroom and snag a napkin with a vice presidential seal.
Robin Preiss Glasser, a former ballet dancer forced by injuries into a second career as an illustrator, was first intent on pocketing a job during an August 2001 trip to Washington, D.C. Simon & Schuster's children's unit was hiring an illustrator for "America, a Patriotic Primer," but not without the assent of its author, Lynne Cheney, wife of the vice president, Dick Cheney. Nervously quaking alongside the publishers' emissaries at a lunch "audience" in the vice presidential residence, Glasser managed to establish a rapport with Mrs. Cheney, who consented to the pairing.
With her own mission accomplished, Glasser excused herself to clandestinely fulfill her editor's whim. She overlooked one directive, entering the restroom empty handed. Undaunted, she returned to her host openly holding a handful of souvenir napkins and asked if she might take extras. "I love your honesty," Mrs. Cheney told her. "Half the time, people come out with them sticking out of their pockets or their sleeves."
Glasser, 46, a member of Newport Beach's Reform synagogue, Temple Bat Yahm, has seen little of Cheney since. Their project, which might have taken a year under normal circumstances, after Sept. 11 became a five-month pressure cooker of 15-hour days and e-mail exchanges.
"Now, everything is miraculously unbelievable," said Glasser. "America" has remained on The New York Times best-seller list since its publication last May. Its finely detailed ink drawings portray American history by the alphabet. C is for Constitution, D for Declaration of Independence and J for Thomas Jefferson. Only G, for God, receives a double-page spread about religious freedom.
As part of the O.C. Jewish Community Center's book festival, Glasser on Nov. 11 will share some of her secrets in a workshop for children, who will create their own storybooks.