Wednesday, September 26, 2012
IN HONOR OF DEBORAH BRODIE
Yesterday I was browsing through my new SCBWI newsletter and Deborah Brodie's name caught my eye, as it always does. But this time, the news was that she passed away at the end of June, after a long struggle with cancer. She was only 67.
I first met Deborah about 21 years ago. My son Nathan was 2, I was working on a long rhyming picture book featuring him, and I was desperate to take a class I'd read about at the New School on writing for children. I was a single parent, and my dear friend Sonia gave me the best birthday present of all time: an offer to watch Nathan for me each week, for the duration of the class session.
The instructor was a woman with a jolly voice and twinkling eyes named Deborah Brodie, and the first thing I learned was to ditch my dreams of having "Nathan and the Urch," or just about any rhyming picture book, published. "Dr. Seuss is dead," Deborah told us crisply.
I learned a lot more than that from her, but the main thing I learned is that children's book publishing is an industry and that children's book writing is a profession; neither one existed only in some magical realm. And I also learned of the existence of SCBWI, a haven for people who want to learn to write for children and get their work published.
When the class ended, I didn't know how to thank Deborah for opening up a new world for me, so I brought her a rose. A few days later, I got a thank-you note at home from her.
I followed Deborah over the years. After over 20 years as an editor with Viking Children's Books, most of that time as executive editor, she left in 2001 to co-found Roaring Brook Press. In 2007 she left there to become a freelance editor, writing instructor, and "book doctor." All along, she did her teaching on the side.
When I read that "book doctor" announcement in an SCBWI publication, I contacted her and ended up sending her a manuscript for doctoring. She did a very thorough and enormously helpful job, and after that we occasionally stayed in touch by email. Yesterday, after reading her death announcement, I went back and saw that, as I'd thought, I still had a saved email from her, sent in late 2009, responding to an email I'd sent her about her new website and saying, "I'm still hoping to see your name in my 'good news' column one of these days!"
I've been reading Deborah's obituaries. I don't know whether anyone can count how many new authors she's discovered, how many new careers she's launched, or how many still unpublished writers there are like me that she just kindly and graciously helped to move forward. I do know that she was a beloved figure to many, both inside and outside the publishing and writing worlds. I read this today, from her son: when Deborah learned she did not have long to live, she said, "Why me?" But, unlike other people who ask that question, she went on to ask, "Why have I been so blessed, with such wonderful children, grandchildren, and my life?"
Today is Yom Kippur, a day of remembrance, and along with other people I have lost in my life, I remember Deborah. But, of course, she was only human, and although she knew a lot, she wasn't always right. Dr. Seuss isn't really dead. And neither is she.