Monday, January 7, 2008
Arthur, for the Very First Time
Every collector will tell you that each volume in his collection has two stories. One is the story that the author shares within the pages of that book. The other is the collector’s story of why and how this particular book ended up on his shelves.
This is the story of why and how a paperbound advance reader’s edition of WHEN SHE WAS GOOD by Norma Fox Mazer came to occupy a place of honor in my collection.
Nearly eleven years ago, in the spring of 1997, I was poking around on the internet when I came across an advertisement for a new book by Norma Fox Mazer. I am a huge fan of the author (love her Newbery Honor AFTER THE RAIN, think her short story collections DEAR BILL, REMEMBER ME? and SUMMER GIRLS, LOVE BOYS are brilliant, and have a copy of my favorite, SATURDAY, THE TWELFTH OF OCTOBER, so close at hand that I could turn around in my chair and grab it off the shelf at this very instant.) The advertisement offered a free advance reading edition of the forthcoming WHEN SHE WAS GOOD, so of course I responded and asked for a copy.
I was surprised when the book’s editor wrote me back personally. He told me that he had previously worked at Knopf, where he published THE GOLDEN COMPASS (wow!) but was now starting up his own imprint at Scholastic. WHEN SHE WAS GOOD was the first book on his new list and he was excited about it, but he also had financial concerns. He said he’d send me an advance copy if I’d also promise to buy a hardcover when the book was published.
The advance reader’s edition arrived in the mail a few days later. Inside the front flap was a letter from this new publisher:
“My life is in your hands. And I mean this with absolute sincerity in a number of different ways.”
(Wow again! Though there’s been many a time when MY life has been in the hands of an editor -- often with tragic results -- this was the first time an editor had put his fate in my control. He continued:)
“First, this novel, this wonderful, heartbreaking, triumphant novel by Norma Fox Mazer, marks the launch of my imprint here at Scholastic Press. And, deliberately, it is the only title you will see on this debut list. It represents everything I want to give you as a publisher: a singular, unique voice; a story that is deeply felt and beautifully written; a book that you find yourself talking and thinking about long after you’re done. What you are holding represents the focus of my efforts these past few months and all my hopes for the future.”
I immediately read WHEN SHE WAS GOOD and agreed that it was a wonderful and triumphant novel. The publisher and I exchanged notes for a few more days. He told me that the lantern colophon used by his imprint incorporated all three of his initials. He mentioned again his fear that his new imprint wouldn’t be a financial success. Then he asked where I thought Philip Pullman was going with the religious themes in the “His Dark Materials” trilogy. I had no idea how to answer that. In fact, it seemed like a trick question. I wrote back with some ridiculous response that I’m sure made absolutely no sense. I never heard from my publisher friend after that and always wondered if it was because my response had proven what a literary lightweight I was or if our brief and casual e-mail correspondence had simply run its course.
But I never forgot my promise to this publisher and rushed out to buy a hardcover copy of WHEN SHE WAS GOOD the very day it was released. in fact, I took quite a proprietary interest in this publisher’s books from that point on. I didn’t want to be responsible for this imprint going the way of Crowell, Lippincott, Seabury, and so many other late, lamented children's publishers.
Over ten years have passed and this publisher is still in business. Not just in business, but thriving. I’d like to think that my early support had something to do with this company’s great success -- but I suspect that a wizard named Harry Potter probably had a hand in it as well....