I just handed in a new book to my editor Richard Jackson. When published, it will be the twenty-second book I have worked on with him. The books he edited include The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle, Nothing but the Truth, Poppy, The Man who was Poe—among the books for which I am best known. Other writers will tell you the same. If you match his name with the big awards in the children’s book world, he has been associated with more winners than any other editor.
What is he like to work with? I can only tell you how he works with me, because one aspect of his editorial skill is that he works differently with different writers. That is to say, he is keenly tuned into the writing style and personality of the many different people with whom he works. I have no idea how he worked with Paula Fox, Garry Paulson, or Judy Blume, to name three very different writers with whom he has worked. There is something of the chameleon in him—in a positive way. I once asked him how he would like to be in a room full of his writers. He visibly winced.
He has always edited many, many books, but whenever I spoke to him, he was instantly there, in my project, as if he had nothing else to do, or needed to think about other text than that project. Many a time, when I thought a book was done, he would call and say, “I’ve been thinking…” and what he has thought about was something missing and vital to the book.
His instincts are very sharp, and indeed, he’s a very smart, an intelligent person, who grasps what the writer intends, and then some. He knows literature. He sees what the writer can do. He will ask questions, not tell you what to do, though he has never ducked marking up a manuscript. Inevitably the writer—this writer anyway—in the process comes to understand an aspect of the work not fully understood before. His line editing is of the same high order, cutting away the chaff, bringing forth the intent.
When we have talked about books in process I always came away energized with a new sense of clarity, of being challenged. And it must be said we talk about other things other than the current book. We share certain interests—theatre, for example—and our talks are punctuated by a lot of laughter. It is fun for me to talk to him, a much loved and admired friend, a colleague, without doubt fundamental to my life as a writer.
The most amazing thing about him, is that I know there are many other writers who can say the same thing.