Friday, June 09, 2006

Why I Write For Kids (Reason #2)

In my experience, people who choose to edit kid lit are trapped in grownup bodies -- they KNOW that all work and no play makes book a dull read. Dedicating themselves mind, heart, and soul to an author's story, they receive little or no recognition for the telling of it (although the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators is trying to change that). Who else will agonize with you over the progress of your story, word by word, or bird by bird, as Anne Lamott put it so well? As a personal trainer is to your physique, so an editor is to your novel. Here's a list of the editors who have kicked my writing butt into better shape, along with a brief foot-oriented factoid:

Megan Tingley. I wrote the novel for fun because I was bored at work and sent it into a Little Brown contest on a whim. Three weeks later, the phone rang. To my utter amazement, a lowly assistant editor told me that they loved my book and wanted to publish it. "You have a wonderful voice for middle-grade fiction," she said, instantaneously combusting a career. She then proceeded to edit The Sunita Experiment with a meticulous eye for detail and a wide-hearted vision for the story I was trying to tell. These talents and loyalty paid off: Megan is now THE Publisher of Little Brown Children's Book Group. To me, though, she'll always be that young twenty-something voice on the phone who first informed me that I -- yes, me -- actually had a voice. Footwear factoid: wears sandals to show off baby blue toe polish while lunching al fresco at Quincy Market.

Françoise Bui. My second novel had been soundly rejected for years. I was sick and tired of the revision-rejection-revision process and burned out on the story and characters. Finally, my agent called and said a Delacorte editor wanted to buy the book (much dancing, weeping, and prayers of thanksgiving ensued). The manuscript arrived, laced with gentle-handed editing and kind-voiced suggestions, and I girded up my loins to begin revision #43 of Monsoon Summer (I think; I lost count.) Françoise's notes often included something like, "Why not end here?" Always, she was right about cutting the last paragraph or six in a chapter or section. Why drone on explaining how my characters feel and respond instead of giving my readers the space to feel and respond? Thanks, Françoise, for showing me the power of understatement. Footwear factoid: watch for a pair of petite, elegant feet in stilettos traipsing through the streets of midtown.

Sangeeta Mehta. When Little Brown decided to reissue The Sunita Experiment, the book was handed first to Alvina Ling (another editorial powerhouse on the rise), and then to my utter delight, given into the care of an INDIAN editor named SANGEETA (the name I had given Sunita's sister in the book years before!) Thanks to her youthful, bi-cultural savvy, The Not-So-Star-Spangled Life of Sunita Sen was released with a gorgeous new cover and a revised ending that eliminated the unnecessary "exoticization" of my main character. Footwear factoid: pumps and silk stockings by day and chappals with ankle bracelets for those dance-until-three-in-the-morning bhangra parties.

Judy O'Malley. I was signing at a regional booksellers' convention. It was one of those demoralizing events where the authors seated next to me all had long lines snaking from their tables, and I was tapping my pen. Thankfully, a compassionate type took pity on me every now and then and merged over to get a book signed. Judy O'Malley of Charlesbridge was one such visitor. "Do you have anything in the works?" she asked. "I have a picture book called Rickshaw Girl," I said hesitantly. It, too, had been rejected quite a few times. "Send it to me," she said. I did, and she came back with something I've heard over and over again: "Your storytelling is intended for a wider venue. Don't squish it into the PB format." Patiently, she worked with me to extend and revise Naima's story into a novel, scheduled now for a January 2007 release as one of Charlesbridge's new Bridge books (yes, that's the cover). Footwear factoid: high-heeled leather zip-up boots keep long legs warm -- and looking sharp -- through a never-ending Boston winter.

Margaret Woollatt. Dutton asked Laura Rennert, my agent, if one of her writers could submit a proposal for a book about a president's daughter. Laura and I worked together on a plot treatment and sent it off just as the ALA midwinter convention was meeting in Boston. I paid for a day pass into the exhibit halls, which proved to be a good move. Stephanie Lurie, the head honcho of Dutton, was there, and she invited me to pitch my proposal. "I love it," she told me on the spot. "I'll buy it." And she did, handing the editing of the book to Margaret Woollatt. Now, as I'm revising book one (First Daughter: My Extreme American Makeover, Spring 2007) of what morphed into a two-book series and interacting with the brilliance of yet another twenty-something editor, it feels like I've come full circle. Margaret reminds me eerily of Megan Tingley fifteen years ago, and Penguin just might have a publisher in the making. Footwear factoid: keds are definitely the new dolce gabbana.

I just watched Malibu's Most Wanted (yet again -- I love that between-cultures flick), so here's the fire escape's final shout-out to the hardworking editors of kid lit: "fo' shizzle my sizzles (and the occassional bizzle), you gangstas r da BOMB." (Hmmmm .... so that's why middle-aged mothers of teens should never attempt to use hip-hop slang in any shape or form ... )

2 comments:

Pooja said...

Great post. Can't wait for Reason #3.

Pooja

Fernando Pinto said...

Last Thursday, I was deeply congratulated and applauded in the end of the lesson I led in The Faculty of Psychology. So were you, after the reading of “Magic Carpet” and your message to my school fellows.
Most of teachers that were present are women. Most of them finished the lesson with the desire of wearing a sari and look for nice stories to read to their pupils.
Thank you very much, Mitali!
One of these days, I’ll write about this experience and your kindness in my blog. I’ll let you know!