Posts Tagged ‘nancy mercado’
You all know how much I love my editor Nancy Mercado since I babble on about her every chance I get. You may not know that these days, she’s on maternity leave with her sweet and miraculous babe. I couldn’t be happier for her. She gave me a thumbs up and an enormous amount of trust on her way out the door, and now, basically, I’m facing months of no editorial feedback on Book 1 of Project Next.
I have a complete draft, mind you. This novel went through several revisions before my agent and I ever sent it to Nan on submission. But considering that it usually takes me twelve drafts to have a real book, I still feel like I’m early in the process, and normally, I would welcome Nan’s input around this stage.
It has been startling and terrifying to discover how dependent I’ve become on Nan’s feedback. She’s been a safety net of ideas, questions, and encouragement, and without her, there are so many ways my manuscript could go wrong. When I came back from book tour and an enforced break from my writing, my project loomed so large and intimidating that I could barely force myself to open the file. I dreaded heading into it again, and even more, I dreaded heading into it alone, unarmed.
Then, last week, in the midst of Sandy chaos, I opened the file and gingerly tiptoed over the sill. To my astonishment, my story sucked me in. It pulled with needy, hungry claws, like it was starved for air, and this ornery, devious creature is now gleefully playing outside the fence. It’s like the ground had to disintegrate beneath my feet for me to discover I have puny, scrappy wings. I have tumbled into a wonderful place, an exploring, open-ended, creative, devil-may-care land far from the terrain I knew. Anything goes.
Each book I write seems to require its own process, and this one apparently needs me to write wild, without my net. How unexpected this is to me. How scary and fascinating. How perfect that now is the time my editor is on maternity leave. Later, someday, the reasonable grown-up part of me will certainly resurface and look around for guidance, but for now, the brave, new, twisted, magical side of me is delving deep.
Nancy Mercado and I talk to each other rarely. We’ve had fewer than a dozen phone calls over the past three years, and we’ve met in person three times total. In a way, I know my editor most vividly as a disembodied voice in the margin of my manuscripts, and yet, because of the focused nature of our relationship, Nan has surprised me countless times by how completely she gets how my mind works. It’s almost uncanny, really. We laugh a lot, too, but almost never in the same room, at the same time.
When we revise a draft together, certain ongoing exchanges take on a life of their own. We’ve recently worked on “Tortured,” a short story we plan to use as an experimental tie-in to The Birthmarked Trilogy. Here’s a screenshot showing our Track Changes comments around a particular revision. You can figure out who’s talking even when she jumps in my red box with her caps
I ended up taking her advice on that one. I usually take her advice, frankly, or pull my brains out trying to figure out why I shouldn’t.
As much as I value the small-scale editing, however, what I really cherish is the way Nan pushes me deeper into my own mind with her questions during large revisions, and how she supports when I need to take a risk. Prized brings up a sensitive issue, the sort of topic that can divide my extended family and set tempers flaring. A character’s unwanted pregnancy had been hovering at the edge of my story through eight drafts before I finally said to Nan, I don’t know what to do with this. I thought she might advise me to drop it, which I could have done, but instead, she suggested I bring it forward. Face it. See what happened.
Until that point, I had not realized how much I’d been censoring myself. I was afraid to write something that might make people, especially people I loved, upset with me. I didn’t think I could write well enough to be fair or true. Over the next weeks, grappling with the novel also involved discovering what responsibilities I had as a person and a writer, especially a writer for teens. Nan patiently waited me out, postponing deadlines, nudging with her questions while I hewed away, rewriting and revising, rippling the consequences of my decisions through the rest of the story. I trusted Nan would support me regardless of what I wrote, as long as I wrote honestly. The final novel feels right to me, hard but right.
I know I would not have developed Prized the way I did, nor stretched who I am quite this way, without Nan’s support, and so when it came time to pick a person to dedicate Prized to, Nan was my only choice. I put her name in the manuscript just before the copy edits stage and sent it in. When she wrote back to ask if I was sure, I was caught in a funny, awkward moment. She modestly said that writers usually pick family members, and I thought, Oh, no. She’s declining. I couldn’t exactly write back and say Nan’s like family to me. She isn’t. Nan’s like my editor to me.
In the end, fortunately, I convinced her. Prized is dedicated to Nancy Mercado.
Two weeks from now, when Prized is released, I’ll be having a live chat on Goodreads, and my editor Nancy Mercado will be there, too! I’m so pleased. Here’s a photo of Nan I swiped from a Girls Write Now mailing in February 2011 (she’s a mentor with the program) because it seems to capture a bit of who she is—focused, intense, and nice. Look: she’s all about the editing, but she also has her punch glass in hand. Rumor has it a bunch of us writers who work with Nan secretly have a fan club for her, but I couldn’t say for sure. That would be far, far too silly, anyway.
My blog tour takes me today to A Good Addiction, where Kari will interview one of the men in Prized and ask how he likes living with so few women. Plus, she’s running a giveaway of a Prized ARC and my friend Leah Cypess’s Nightspell.
What most surprised me about the Brooklyn Book Festival was how big it was, and how many people were meandering around looking at books, reading on the steps, and filling up the chairs for the panels. At first, it was too much to take in, but once I had a map and saw where the Youth Stoop stage was, I had my landmark for the day.
I enjoyed being on the Another World panel with Jewell Parker Rhodes and Bill Willingham, especially since they went first and I could see how they talked about their work and answered questions. Jewell gave us a nice big spoiler, which was funny, and Bill described his talking animals, with no spoilers. Susan Chang was a gracious and thoughtful moderator. Thanks, Susan!
Cory Doctorow, Gayle Forman, and Jacqueline Woodson were interesting together on the subsequent panel, Making Difficult Choices, in part because their books are so different. I was happy to moderate because I was able to ask what I most wanted to know and think about the ways books change individual readers and then the world. Gayle’s pins for “Team Adam,” if you haven’t yet heard, are in support of guys who are really nice, solid guys and not self-absorbed jerks. I’m paraphrasing.
Afterward, I had the chance to hang around talking with some very nice readers and bloggers. Then I met up with Nancy Mercado, my editor, and some of the other writers who have her as an editor: Tommy Greenwald, Casey Scieszka, and Steven Weinberg. We had conspired via email to meet in person and secretly gawk at each other, wondering what we must have in common that Nan had chosen all of our different books.
Over dinner at Noodle Pudding, I discovered that Lauren Tarshis, Nan Marino and I are all writers who don’t write with outlines, but rather immerse ourselves in the scenes and plan to rewrite massively after we have a complete draft. It made me think our editor must be especially good at seeing the kernel of a valuable idea in a manuscript and trusting that she can help us work to develop that. At least, that’s my new theory. It was great to talk with Laura Toffler-Corrie and Tracy White who joined us, too.
It was an inspiring day, and fun, and filling.
Thanks to Nancy Mercado and the rest of the BBF committee for putting together a stupendous event. If you’d care to see more photos from the day, check out Nancy’s album.