I just finished reading Charles Shields new book I am Scout, the teen adaptation of his adult biography on Harper Lee. Although I found it fascinating, I think it’s a bit dry and dull for younger kids but good for older readers and adults uninterested in reading the full version. It’s what I consider to be a good biography. There aren’t any made up conversations or imagined scenes, just good old fashion research and documented quotes. It’s the kind of biography I wish was written more often for kids.

The thing I found most interesting in the book wasn’t the fact that Harper Lee grew up next door to Truman Capote or that she was instrumental in helping him research In Cold Blood. No, I found her relationship with her editor to be the most fascinating part. I know that this was much more common in the past then now, but Harper had a very personal relationship with her editor. They worked together for 3 years editing To Kill a Mockingbird. Harper used to spend weekends at her editor’s summer house to escape New York City. They were close friends, and her editor nurtured both Harper and her writing.

Now days I don’t think anyone, even the writers and editors living in New York, that have this kind of relationship. No one, certainly not the editors in bigger houses with their firm deadlines (as opposed to my looser ones) can afford to contract manuscripts that require 3 years of rewriting. I simply can’t start from scratch with an author. I can’t simply say that this person writes well and may someday develop a story. No, the book has to be fairly far along and require little major input from me. It’s why editors prefer agented manuscripts. They just tend to be farther along. Even with authors that have sent me drafts in earlier stages and that I feel I’ve somewhat nurtured, I know that I haven’t had the same impact on their lives and writing that Harper’s editor had on her.

In some ways this makes me sad, but in other ways I understand the necessity. Publishing is still a business, and business decisions have to be made. Books that are interesting, but just not there have to be passed on for books that are ready and marketable. I wish that I could spend leisurely weekends discussing children’s literature with my authors here in town, but I work in a bookstore on Saturdays, and my authors have other lives as well. Very few of them are full-time writers. And though I may lament it, I don’t think the good old days of writing are coming back. Tony Randall in the movie “Down with Love” has an excellent line right after Renee Zwellger book becomes an international bestseller. Although I may deplore the sentiment, I still can’t help smiling at the truth of it. Tony congratulates Renee and tells her that her book is a prime example of why they all went into the book industry in the first place — for sales.

© Copyright 2006-2011 Madeline Smoot. All rights reserved.
May be excerpted and duplicated for educational purposes.
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