On Dedicating Prized to Nancy Mercado

This entry is cross-posted on MacTeenBooks and MacKids today.

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

Click to Enlarge

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.

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