Monday, February 14, 2011

Janet Schulman, editor, 1933-2011

Today I learned that Janet Schulman, my editor for Boys of Steel: The Creators of Superman, passed away on 2/11/11 after a battle with lung cancer that apparently began in the late 1990s.

(Incidentally, she was born the same year Superman may have been; though in Boys of Steel I attribute that historic moment to 1934, which is the year most commonly cited, I've since read evidence suggesting it could've been 1933.)

There will invariably be tributes to Janet by people who knew her far better than I did, so I will be brief in sharing my small experience.

I was so fortunate to be able to work with her, and not just because 22 other editors rejected the manuscript. After reading only the first two or three lines of her first editorial feedback, I saw firsthand why she had earned her towering (and, at times to me, intimidating) reputation in the industry. (She was an author, too.)

Almost any comment she made was a study in efficiency and, often, a valuable mini-lesson, even if she wasn’t presenting it that way. Here’s one comment that has stayed with me, from her 2/14/06 notes memo, addressing certain concerns I had:
Stop tearing your hair out! You are the author. You may tell me to go to hell...but you better not! Seriously, I do not expect you to accept everything that I am suggesting but I do expect you to take my comments seriously.
(It didn’t resonate because of the request to take her seriously—I was way ahead of her on that—but rather because of the invitation to disagree with her. Only the most confident of editors would tell an author—especially one they’d not worked with before—such a potentially risky thing.) Upon revisiting that memo today of all days, I was struck by the spooky coincidence of her sign-off:

I regret that Janet and I didn't have more (really, any) personal talks, but that seemed to be the way she wanted it. (I didn't even know she was ill.) She kept her focus on the story. Consistent with that, I am told that she requested that no memorial service be held for her, and that Random House is honoring her modest wish.

Yet all of us who love children's literature should honor her memory, privately. I'm quite sure she'd feel an apt way to do that would simply be to stop and appreciate a children's book. Not specifically one of hers. Just any good one.

I'll end with the end. I was struck by her ability to make her no-nonsense, waste-not aura seem polite. When she wanted to get off the phone, she wouldn't attempt to wind down with small talk the way many would. She would simply announce, "I'm going to hang up now."

No, please don't, Janet. No one wants to stop talking with you yet.


Linda Davick said...

Marc, this is a wonderful tribute--her plain speaking threw me at first, but it didn't take me long to appreciate wholeheartedly somebody who said what she meant and meant what she said. I felt I could always trust her.

Marc Tyler Nobleman said...

Thanks Linda. I fully agree about Janet. Nice to hear from you.