FOR WHAT IT’S WORTH is not only my tenth novel with Henry Holt Books for Young Readers, but my tenth book with my longtime editor Christy Ottaviano. I don’t know any writer beside myself who has done ten books solely with one house, let alone one editor.
That’s not to say Christy will offer to publish every idea I come up with – I have a picture book about a chameleon detective she’s politely declined several times – but for the most part, our tastes in interesting stories for kids has been spot on.
Back in the nineties, I wrote what would become my first book – TRU CONFESSIONS – in Jack Gantos’s ‘Writing Novels for Children’ class at Emerson College. Little did I know when I entered that MFA classroom that I was meeting not only a mentor and friend but also taking the first step toward my own vocation. When I finished writing TRU CONFESSIONS in Jack’s workshop and sent it to an agent, she immediately thought of an editor who might enjoy it: Christy Ottaviano at Henry Holt. Christy did, and thus began our fifteen-year collaboration.
Christy and I worked for several months on that book, after which she asked what else I’d been working on. I gave her the manuscript to an early chapter book MARTY FRYE, PRIVATE EYE and she wisely suggested an up-and-coming artist, Laurie Keller, to illustrate it. Christy and I spent a lot of time on the manuscript to MULTIPLE CHOICE, one of the first novels in the middle grade world to deal with OCD. But it was really my next book that would put our collaboration to the test.
When I handed in the first draft to THE GOSPEL ACCORDING TO LARRY, I didn’t tell Christy she was in the manuscript, along with Bono, Barbara Walters, and me. I also forgot to mention the photos, footnotes, and a story that walked the line between fiction and non-fiction. When someone in the production department said the footnotes had to go, Christy told him they were integral to the book and he’d have to find a way to make them work. I’ve played with format in all my books and Christy has always supported my out-of-the-box way of storytelling. I’d love to take the credit for the idea for two sequels, but neither Christy nor I had the foresight for that one. When I was getting five hundred emails a day from readers who insisted on finding out what happened next, Christy asked me to write two more Larry books. In between, I wrote FAULT LINE, which I dedicated to her for her many years of friendship and support. Christy has always been thrilled with the awards and accolades my books have received and no one was happier than I when she earned her own imprint at Henry Holt: Christy Ottaviano Books.
Christy loved the first chapters I gave her of MY LIFE AS A BOOK and thought it was great that I’d hired a cartoonist to do illustrations in the margins. I didn’t tell her till after she offered to publish it that the illustrator was my teenage son. Christy has been a great editor with Jake too, giving him excellent feedback on his drawings and putting him on the path to his own illustration career. Jake and I did MY LIFE AS A STUNTBOY with her, as well as two titles for 2013: MY LIFE AS A CARTOONIST and EINSTEIN THE CLASS HAMSTER.
But FOR WHAT IT’S WORTH – which comes out this month – is the first book I wrote specifically at Christy’s request. For fifteen years, we have been discussing music and I make her a CD of songs to go along with every book I hand in. Over lunch a few years ago, Christy suggested I write a book set in the world of rock and roll; it was a challenge I was happy to tackle. I set the book in Laurel Canyon circa 1971, jamming the story with enough rock and roll to keep each and every music nerd happy. (Christy didn’t balk when I threw in some Vietnam too.) Of all our books, FOR WHAT IT’S WORTH represents our truest collaboration.
I was just at ALA where several librarians shared how much they’ve enjoyed my books over the years. I thanked them but know perfectly well I’m not the only one who created the books they asked me to sign. For the striking covers, perfectly edited manuscripts, and scrupulously checked facts, I have someone else to thank. In the ever-changing world of publishing, our professional relationship definitely stands out. We are two working moms, balancing our own children with those we publish books for. Christy – for what it’s worth – I truly appreciate our body of work and look forward to working on many more books together. (Maybe even a chameleon picture book or two…)