I’ve always felt that I have a unique gift for identifying people who were “meant” to play an important role in my life – difference makers (https://donblackwell.wordpress.com/2012/06/17/new-fathers) . One of those people is Michele Rothkopf, who helped edit my first three stories (“The Bunt,” “Rounding Third” and “Todd’s Story” (http://www.amazon.com/-/e/B0088DIX9Q)) and played an especially critical role as the editor of “Dear Ashley.” I first met Michele in 1994. She was my son’s 5th grade English teacher at Gulliver Elementary School. I had a sense she was special from some of the early “reports” I was receiving from Greg about her warm and patient manner in the classroom, but most importantly, from the quality and depth of the creative writing she was drawing out of him and his fellow classmates, despite their youth and their almost complete lack of prior writing experience.
And so I took a chance. I reached out and asked Michele if she would read my first children’s book, “The Bunt,” and offer her editorial suggestions. She quite graciously and unselfishly agreed and, a few weeks later, I received a “marked up” version of my manuscript in the mail, margin notes and all! I’m not going to pull any punches here, as Michele and others in my personal and professional life will readily attest, I become extremely “attached” to the words I write and, consequently, I can be very sensitive to criticism about my writing at times. Like any good editor, Michele intuitively knew and respected that, while at the same time knowing that I wanted (and needed) her discerning eye to identify opportunities to improve upon what I’d written and suggest revisions that would elevate the finished product. The approach she took in doing that, with patience, wisdom and clarity, as if I were one of her students, made all the difference.
We continued to work together, as writer and editor, on my next two projects, “Rounding Third” and “Todd’s Story.” In fact, at her invitation, I made several visits to her classroom over the years, as a guest speaker, presenting on the process of writing and the evolution of a book from the kernel of an idea to publication. We even arranged for a two-session “work shop” that allowed one of her classes to write entire chapters for “Todd’s Story,” based on outlines I had created in the early stages of writing the book, with the promise that if I ended up using their words or ideas in the book they would get full credit in the “Acknowledgements” section. So, it’s not that surprising I suppose that, over time, Michele and I developed a mutual respect for one another and became good friends. And then one day, sometime in 2009, I invited Michele to meet me for lunch to discuss “a new project,” one quite unlike its predecessors in magnitude and importance – “Dear Ashley.”
I don’t have a clear recollection of that first meeting, in part because there have been so many luncheon meetings about the book since then, and, in part, because I was so emotional in sharing the journey that had led me to our meeting and my “vision” for the journey that lay ahead. I do, however, remember that, from that moment until the day we submitted the final edited manuscript to the publisher, Michele was fully committed and fully engaged in the process and adamant about our getting to the finish line. We met regularly, usually after I had written and she had a chance to review and reflect on 2 or 3 chapters, to discuss our thoughts about them, where they fit in to the structure of the work as whole and how they could be improved, fine tuned. Invariably, though she could clearly see the emotional toll the writing was taking on me at times, Michele pushed me to dig even deeper, to reveal more, to be even more vulnerable – and I listened.
There were times when I wasn’t sure I could or should continue, times when I second-guessed the wisdom of laying myself bare for all the world to see. Every time those thoughts surfaced, Michele, who saw it all (and more) long before the rest of the world, stressed the importance of pushing forward, the need for the story to be told. She also added critical editorial suggestions along the way, both with respect to the content and structure of the work – revisions that had a profound impact on the finished product, including the repositioning the first two chapters, which originally were buried in the middle of the work, so that, from the outset, the reader would establish a connection with Ashley and her dad. It was a stroke of brilliance, but, by no means, the only one. I could sing the praises of my friend and editor, Michele, for hours, but, perhaps, my simple inscription in the book I hand-delivered at a rather emotional lunch meeting a few weeks ago says it best:
This book would not have been possible without you– your editorial guidance, your belief in me, and above all else, your friendship. I am eternally grateful.