That’s right, FEELS LIKE MINUS TWENTY-TWO.
I just don’t know how to cope with that.
Oh wait, yes I do. But you have to lay the groundwork early:
1) On a gloriously sunny morning, by the sparkling waters of Sydney Harbour, attend a Sydney Writers' Festival session that includes Erin Clarke from Knopf talking with author Craig Silvey (and others) about how books travel. You do not imagine that you will ever experience such a temperature as ‘feels like minus twenty-two’, because why would you? The sun is shining! The Harbour is sparkling!
2) Hold tight to Erin’s business card for several months, until you are organising your BDEF schedule. Be totally thrilled when she says, yes you can come stay for a week at Knopf.
3) One morning in late February, walk out of your Brooklyn brownstone. Walk immediately back in and put on heat-tech tights underneath your jeans. Consider not leaving the house again. Toughen-up. Catch the subway and walk to 1745 Broadway. Glimpse the big billboard that alerts you to the fact that they film Letterman a block or so down the street.
4) Walk in past those big bookshelves. Note that it’s the 50th anniversary of Harriet the Spy.
5) Be met by Erin, introduced to the Knopf team, and installed in a lovely cosy office in their corner of the 8th floor.
6) Sit in your cosy office, feeling warmed to the core.
7) Spend the week grabbing moments of time to talk to people about what they do, how they became editors, the books they love, and the challenges and opportunities that face YA.
8) Consider showing up again the following week, as if you just work there now. Maybe no one will notice.
And that’s how you beat the cold.
After having lots of meetings all over town, it was very nice to stay put in one place for a while, to feel a bit at home, and be able to observe some of the ebb and flow of a normal working week.
It was a quiet week, with people away at sales conference. (Held in ever-warm Florida. Smart thinking, Random House.) But that meant there was time for me to bail people up in coffee shops and quiz them.
Knopf’s list is full of great books – picture books, middle grade and YA. They have a real commitment to their authors, and to books that will last. They also have a good eye for books from overseas that will speak to the US market. You can spot several Aussies in the photo below. It was, I have to confess, more than a bit thrilling to find my self in a discussion about when Philip Pullman might submit his next manuscript, or how they'll be celebrating the 50th anniversary of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.
I also continue to be so impressed by the fact that (after a certain point) editorial assistants can acquire books themselves, in what seems from the outside to be a safe, low-pressure environment, that helps you learn what you like, encourages you to make contacts that will serve you well throughout your career, and gives you ownership of, and loyalty to, the list. I think it’s smart for the publishing house and good for the careers of editors – especially when it comes to YA, where being closer to the target age-group can be no bad thing.
Nowhere in the building did I see physical evidence of the Penguining of Random House. (Or is it the Housing of Random Penguins?) Some key staff are starting to oversee both houses, but the buildings remain separate, and life seems to be continuing as usual for the smaller imprints, perhaps with a bit of an air of let’s wait and see.
It was thrilling to pay a visit to the 9th floor (the rowdy floor, apparently) to spend some time chatting to the inimitable Wendy Lamb. Wendy’s list is so inspiring; her experience and her commitment to good books and great writers shines through. She very kindly gave me this beautiful postcard of the blizzard of 1888 – which I clutch to my chest to remind me that even though it’s now March and still well below freezing, things could be worse!
Special thanks to Erin Clarke, for saying yes, and for making me feel so at home. Big thanks also to Nancy Siscoe, Melanie Cecka, Wendy Lamb, Nancy Hinkel, Michelle Frey, Kelly Delaney, Stephen Brown, Karen Greenberg, Katherine Harrison and Allison Wortsche. You guys were the best cure for the cold.