Monday, December 07, 2009

Craft, Career & Cheer: Mary Hershey

Learn more about Mary Hershey.

Can you describe the best experience you've had working with an editor?

I've had the prodigious privilege of working with Wendy Lamb at Random House on my last three novels, all with excruciatingly long titles (Writing Tip #1: Be careful what you start): My Big Sister Is So Bossy She Says You Can't Read This Book (2005), Ten Lucky Things that Have Happened to Me Since I Nearly Got Hit by Lightning (2008), Love and Pollywogs from Camp Calamity (2010)(all Wendy Lamb/Random House).

Wendy Lamb is incredibly smart, artistically deft, both an intuitive and pragmatic editor-- and completely glamorous in that New York-ish way that makes me swoon. I suspect she wears tailored, monogrammed jammies and has a special spoon just for her morning marmalade.

When I first queried her years ago about a manuscript that she eventually bought, it was near Halloween. Her reply to my query was a brief note in perfect penmanship that read, "Yes, please send it!" followed by a smiley face pumpkin. It was so perfectly corny and human. I knew at that moment that we were destined to work together.

Shortly after the publication of our first book, I traveled to New York and met with her at Random House, which rivaled St. Patrick's Cathedral in its grandeur for me. I needed a bib for drool catching as she walked me through the different departments and made introductions.

Afterward, we went to a Fancy Nancy-ish Greek restaurant with blinding white table linens and silver utensils with the heft of tiny barbells.

Sometime after salads, but before dessert, she proceeded to turn down my second book as nimbly as she'd acquired the first. I consider it one of the great feats in my life that I managed not to crack until I got in the cab to the hotel. Then I yowled all the way back as if I'd been shot in the gut sometime during lunch.

This was serious buzz kill on my Big Day in New York. Yet, it is exactly what the writing life looks like. I just was too new to know it.

Months later, I sold Wendy a different project, and then later, another.

She is an editor who clearly knows what she wants and will gently but firmly wait until she gets it. I am awed by her ability to intelligently navigate the diverse worlds of business, art and relationships. Watching how she maneuvers this course has inspired me in my work at the VA where I am employed.

All that I love and admire about Wendy Lamb converged one unforgettable summer night when we were finishing our work on Ten Lucky Things. I had actually thought we had already finished, but she emailed to say she had just a "few more things" she wanted to fix before it went to copy editing. We made a phone date for later that evening.

She was on vacation in Pebble Beach with her husband, and I was traveling for work, lodged in a hotbox of a hotel with no WiFi in my room.

I holed up in the hotel's euphemistically named "Business Office" sans air conditioning, knee to knee with teenagers playing games on the other PC.

Wendy was in her hotel parking lot in a rental car with my manuscript on her lap. Her husband was sleeping in the room, and she didn't want to disturb him. It was dark outside so she was reading by flashlight.

We worked over an hour that night doing line edits. I had sweat running down both legs, and while she didn't complain, I'm quite certain working by the light of Duracell leaves a bit to be desired.

This is absolutely why she is the fabulous editor she is. Wendy is all in. There is nothing that escapes her attention, nothing too small for consideration. She makes my work infinitely better, smoother, deeper. And she is still drawing smiley faces on my work!

What do you love most about being an author?

1. I love getting emails from kids in all their raw, unfiltered, delicious honesty.

2. I love going to the library and pulling my book from the shelf and experiencing that momentary gasp that this author life really isn't just a dream. I'm especially delighted if the copy has a lot of food stains in it and looks like the reader had a heckuva great time.

3. I love signing books for kids and the way they always try to read upside down what you're inscribing because they can't wait to see. Adults won't hardly ever let you catch them doing that.

4. I love the thrill of receiving big padded envelopes from my editor or agent which might be a manuscript, contracts, galleys, catalogs, or a big stash of royalty cash (Okay, I'm still waiting on item #5).

5. I love that I can feel madly jealous and heart-soaringly happy for another author all in the span of a single heartbeat. And often do.

6. I love copy editors that have taught me to consider that plates don't have corners, and you can't hiss a word that doesn't have any S's in it.

7. I love that my mother often has a copy of my book in her purse or car and is ready at any given moment to promote my work. To absolutely anyone.

8. I love the irony that for a ginormous introvert, I am cracking open my chest wide and spilling my secrets out into the world.

9. I love being with a pre-published writer and doing whatever I can to inoculate them with hope, stamina and drive.

10. I love not knowing what my future holds--five more books--twenty--a movie option--a teaching position--or, finally meeting Anne Lamott and agreeing to do a book project with her. Or Liz Gilbert. Or, both.

Well, and if we could get Stephen King in on it, I'd be good with that, too....

Cynsational Notes

In the video below, "Mary Hershey on The Creative Community," Mary talks to host Santa Barbara TV's Channel 21 David Starkey about writing for children.

Don't miss Mary's excellent blog, co-offered by R.L. LaFevers, Shrinking Violet Promotions: Marketing for Introverts.

The Craft, Career & Cheer series features conversations with children's-YA book creators about positive aspects of their creative and professional lives.

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