By MEG SMITH
Friendship, fantasy and the creative process were the themes of the Children's Literature Center discussion "Between Writer and Editor: A Conversation," held June 27 at the Library.
The full-capacity audience spilled out of the Madison building's Mumford Room into the foyer, where a closed-circuit television carried the discussion to another 50 fans of the evening's guests, children's fantasy writer Susan Cooper and legendary children's editor and publisher Margaret K. McElderry.
Sybille Jagusch, chief of the Children's Literature Center, stepped away from the podium after welcoming her guests and joined them around a table at the front of the room. She compared the format of the discussion to a "TV talk show" where Ms. Cooper and Ms. McElderry could avoid formal remarks and instead answer questions and reply to each other's comments. "I thought this would be more comfortable for everyone," Ms. Jagusch explained.
Ms. Jagusch is the curator of the new children's literature exhibition, "From Sea to Shining Sea -- An American Sampler: Children's Books from the Library of Congress," in the main foyer of the Madison building. The exhibition will be on view through Jan. 2.
"I think this will be a joyous occasion. Margaret McElderry is the grande dame of children's publishing," Ms. Jagusch said. "And Susan Cooper uses the same fine writing and sophisticated plots as you would expect to see in adult literature."
In 1952, Margaret McElderry was the first editor whose books won both the Newbery and Caldecott in the same year. She has worked with Eloise McGraw, Margot Benary-Isbert, Antonio Frasconi, Helen Oxenbury, Ms. Cooper and many other children's authors. The winner of the Hope S. Dean Memorial Award from the Foundation for Children's Books, Ms. McElderry is the first editor of children's literature to publish her own line of books, a feat she has been doing for 26 years.
Ms. McElderry began working with Ms. Cooper in 1966, when she published the author's first children's book, Over Sea, Under Stone, in America. The book had been rejected by more than 20 publishers in Ms. Cooper's native England before catching the attention of London publisher Jonathan Cape in 1965. From there, Ms. McElderry said the book made its way into her hands across the Atlantic.
"The moment I started reading it there was some quality there," Ms. McElderry said. "The thrill of knowing ... an unknown writer was tremendously exciting, and I wanted to publish her."
The synergetic moment Ms. McElderry described was the start of a partnership between writer and editor that has lasted more than 30 years, growing more "sibling-like" with each collaboration, they said.
Ms. Cooper attributes her rapport with Ms. McElderry to their ability to "speak the same language of fantasy writing."
The author mixes fairy tales and Celtic myths to create imaginative stories for older children. Her stories often feature modern English children encountering people and stories from legendary worlds.
Over Sea, Under Stone became the first volume of the series for which Ms. Cooper is best known. The Dark Is Rising, the 1973 sequel that garnered Ms. Cooper a Boston Globe-Horn Book Award and a Newbery Medal, gave the series its name. Three more volumes followed: Greenwitch in 1974, The Grey King in 1975 and Silver on the Tree in 1977. The Grey King earned her a second Newbery medal and a Carnegie Medal commendation.
Ms. Cooper said she did not expect to make a career in children's books. After Over Sea, Under Stone was published, she had her first of two children and spent the next two years writing a new book for an adult audience. After several publishers turned her down, she sent a copy to Ms. McElderry, asking her to suggest what was "wrong" with it.
Reading from the letters Ms. McElderry sent to her in the early years of their friendship, Ms. Cooper said her mentor's reply surprised her. After reading the manuscript for Dawn of Fear, Ms. McElderry wrote, "There is nothing wrong with it, but it is not an adult book. It is a children's book and I will publish it."
But during the six years between Over Sea, Under Stone and Dawn of Fear, Ms. McElderry was waiting for Ms. Cooper to return to the story and characters that had made her famous with children. Although Ms. Cooper knew her mentor was impatient for her to write the sequel, Ms. McElderry patiently let the creative process unfold for each book.
Ms. McElderry nodded. "I leave Susan strictly alone while she's writing," she said.
"That's as much as Margaret does to you. She says, 'When is the next book coming?'" Ms. Cooper added.
Ms. McElderry said her patience comes from experience. "If an author is serious, they know what they're doing," she explained. "I hate to be pushed, so I imagine they hate to be pushed too."
Of her friendship with Ms. Cooper, Ms. McElderry said, "We don't argue much except mostly about commas."
"I do not believe in the Chicago Manual of Style," Ms. Cooper admitted to laughter from the audience.
"One has to be friends with an author," the publisher said. "If you're not friends in some way, you're not on a wavelength where you can talk and work with one another."
Ms. Cooper said her inspiration comes from many sources, including a recurring dream of a magical library, her childhood in wartime England where the only books she had were classics by Charles Dickens and William Thackeray, and a loving grandfather who always had a book for her to borrow.
She said that once her books are written, she relies on Ms. McElderry to know how to make them meaningful for children.
"Most writers write for the child in here," she said, touching her head. "The imagination is the link between the writer and the child, but the editor needs to know more about their likes and dislikes."
Like the stories they create, Ms. Cooper and Ms. McElderry had a word of advice for the audience of readers and writers that night: Inspire children to become readers and writers themselves.
"I think any one of us could have that effect on a kid," Ms. Cooper said. "It is librarians and teachers, God bless them, who match the right book to the right child."
Ms. Smith is an intern in the Public Affairs Office.