SPOT THE EDITOR: An excerpt from the upcoming novel “Triburbia” in the most recent issue of Harper’s includes a tantalizing description of life at a Condé Nast magazine: “We didn’t really have staff meetings; our editor in chief preferred to keep us all off balance by privately relaying her conflicting instructions. The Darwinian logic to this, apparently, was that the best of us would thrive through cattiness and would undercut our colleagues to rise up on the masthead, those attributes being what made the perfect Condé Nast editor in chief.” Described as a Condé magazine that “didn’t survive very long in the digital age,” there are only a few candidates author Karl Taro Greenfeld could be referring to. Could it be Deborah Needleman of Domino (2005-2009)? Or perhaps Pilar Guzmán of Cookie (2005-2009)? Or Joanne Lipman of Portfolio (also 2005-2009), where Greenfeld was a correspondent?

To at least one former Portfolio staffer, the excerpt “describes Joanne to a T.”

This story first appeared in the July 25, 2012 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

When reached at his home in Manhattan’s TriBeCa, which is, incidentally, the novel’s main subject, Greenfeld said he wasn’t thinking of his former boss. He was thinking of all his former bosses.

“The idea of the editor in chief is a composite of the managerial style of every editor in chief I’ve ever dealt with,” he said, and that includes editors, even male ones, at Time Inc. and Hearst. Sometimes — here’s a shocker — they can be “mercurial” and “capricious.”

“Historically, hasn’t being editor been an area where you can exert your ego and not have to necessarily worry about the feelings of genuine staffers?” said Greenfeld, sounding every bit like the battle-scarred, lifelong magazine writer. His byline has also appeared in Sports Illustrated and Vogue, among many other titles.

To be fair, the magazine in the book is a fashion title based out of Condé’s old offices on Madison Avenue. Greenfeld said he wrote a character “representative of the way an editor can sometimes just operate to lead everybody off balance.”

For a magazine as leaky as Portfolio, it seems for now this is as close as one will get to a roman à clef. Lipman isn’t planning on revisiting her tenure any time soon. Since leaving Portfolio, she’s been writing op-eds and working on her own book, inspired by her childhood music teacher. It’s expected to be published next spring and has the working title of “Strings Attached.”

She told WWD she hasn’t read Greenfeld’s book and so didn’t feel comfortable commenting. But she “was looking forward to it.”

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