Saturday, June 30, 2012

Deborah Brodie

This past week my former editor, Deborah Brodie, died. She saw me through five books. Felt I had worth as a writer and provided the guidance I needed to shape my words into better stories. Her help was invaluable, and I was with her long enough to absorb a lot of her lessons. A lot, but not all. I will miss her wisdom keenly.

Then, as sometimes happens, things fell apart. Separate from the current tumble and toss the publishing world is experiencing due to e-books and Amazon, all on its own it sometimes rises up like a wild horse and bucks those clutching tightly to its back right off into the dirt. That happened to Deborah--though she quickly found her footing again and launched herself into a whole new career--and it happened to me.

I am of course thinking about her a lot. I'm a nature girl, but Deborah wasn't. She wasn't born in New York, but she was a New Yorker through and through. I remember, on the one visit I had with her in New York City, as we strolled through Central Park, her pointing to the far side of the park where trees stood tall against the buildings. "That's how nature should be," she said. "With buildings in the background." I laughed out loud.

I haven't had much experience with New York, but when I think of the city I always think of her. In fact, after the phone call when she accepted my first book, the very first email I ever sent to her was the week after 911. She was okay, but, of course, none of us were, really, and still aren't.

Deborah once told me that as the former wife of a rabbi, with all the social demands that entailed, she could make conversation with a stone. A good thing, as I was often a stone myself. A shy oyster, if you will, with limited social skills. But Deborah was always there for me, not only teaching me how to write a better book, but telling me what to expect in terms of reviews, conventions, interactions with others, even sometimes telling me, at my request, how to act in certain situations--because, honestly, I didn't know.

The last five years have been difficult for me. For a myriad of reasons, I have gone silent, my words have floundered, I have felt lost. I drifted, from Deborah and from my agent and from my writing friends--except for a couple who kept in touch with me even though, because I had wandered away, I did not deserve their attention. I only talked or exchanged emails with Deborah occasionally. She had agreed to read one of my manuscripts, and said she would read it again when I completed the revision I was working on--a revision based on her suggestions.

And then she died. A big shock.

The past several months have been a time of lessons for me--painful lessons--coming from many different directions. I have told myself repeatedly that I must change, that I cannot continue to drift away from everyone. But changing is hard, and I have despaired of making any real gains, knowing  that we are what we are. Still, I do have Deborah's example--of moving on, of continuing, of connecting with others, of refusing to stop doing what you love.

And so, here I am again. On the blog I had largely abandonned. Remembering Deborah. That's as good a start as any.

10 comments:

  1. I'm so sad to hear this bad news about Deborah, Kathleen. It's beyond terrible when we have to say goodbye to someone who played such an important role in our lives, but I'm very glad you played tribute to Deborah here. And that you had her as an example - that kind of inspiration is a magical thing.

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  2. Thank you, C.K. Saying goodbye to someone is the hardest thing to do. But someone once said to me that we end up saying goodbye to everyone we love. A painful truth.

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  3. Kathleen, I love what you've written here. Thank you for sharing your thoughts. I never worked with Deborah, but I heard her speak at a writing conference (where she pulled mysterious objects out of paper bags and taught us the all-important lesson, "Dessert First"), and I also occasionally crossed paths with her in our neighborhood. I know how much Deborah will be missed.

    Also, all industry bucking and tossing aside, I know that for a lot of us, silence is the greater part of writing. And I, for one, can't wait for your next book.

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  4. Rebecca, thank you for your vote of confidence. I hope I will actually have a next book published someday.

    I never heard Deborah speak at a conference--I wish I had. Though, one-on-one conversations were a pretty good substitute.

    Deborah's "dessert first" advice for writing makes sense. When my mother-in-law has dinner, she always eats her dessert first, so I have some experience with the concept. :-)

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  5. Diane Pierson MonnierJuly 2, 2012 at 7:59 PM

    Kathleen - This news about Deborah comes as a huge shock to me, but your words of personal truth about the role Deborah played in your life mean so much. It is hard to believe it will be five years this August that I retired from MCPL; I often think of my years there with a special joy. You and your wonderful books were part of that joy. How proud we were of you and your success as a writer. I believe your voice is still within you, perhaps hidden just a little...maybe taking a needed rest. Deborah was a magical lady with the ability to recognize talent and the courage to move ahead when life threw her a curve ball. She saw that talent in you, and she was "right on". I am looking forward to your next book, Kathleen. I know Deborah would be, too. Diane Monnier

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  6. Five years! I can't believe it, either. we certainly miss you at MCPL. I hope you are having a splendid retirement.

    Thank you for your kind words about Deborah and about me. She really did have the ability to see what was in a person and draw it out. I will sorely miss that.

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  7. I'm sorry for your loss. Thank you for your tribute to someone so special. I know that struggles are a part of life and think they force us to find that inner strength and resilience that we didn't know we had. Thinking of you during this tough time.

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    1. Thank you, Anonymous, and I'm sorry I did not reply to you right away. I have decided to continue my blog, and yet I keep drifting away. A bad habit! I am hoping my struggles will indeed help me find an inner strength--that would be a good outcome.

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  8. I just now realized that you've started posting in your blog again, Kathleen. Thank you for this moving entry.

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    1. Kit, thank you. I am looking forward to reading your reactivated blog! We're sort of like zombies right now, aren't we? Lurching forward, sort of alive, sort of dead, hoping for renewal of some sort; at the very least hoping for continuance. But I figure two zombies are better than one, right?

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