Long ago, before the Internet or e-mail, I sat at my kitchen table paying bills, and was so alarmed by the balance in my checkbook I phoned Jane Yolen to ask if there was still time for me to write a story for her Arthurian anthology, Camelot. The anthology was tentatively filled, she said, but no one had written a story about Mordred. If I could get her a Mordred story in a ridiculously short time, she would consider it.
I quickly wrote and submitted a story about Mordred called “The Raven.” Jane liked it, and I got paid, which was my immediate concern. Sometime later, Michael Green, the editor who handled the anthology for Philomel Books, let my agent know he would be glad to see a book from me.
So we sent Michael Green a book—and he rejected it. We tried again, with a second book, Secret Star, which was accepted. I was happy about this—until I received his 17-page revision letter.
I set to work like a pro, revised the book, and sent it back to Michael Green. He responded with another revision letter. This time it was 14 pages. Nearly every paragraph began with “Nancy.”
“Nancy, I admire your use of metaphor, but...”
“Nancy, your vocabulary amazes me, but...”
Gritting my teeth, I revised some more. When I sent the manuscript back, I included a letter of my own.
“Michael, I admire your skills as an editor, but...”
“Michael, I appreciate your insight, but...”
I thought that would be the end of it. It wasn’t. We went back and forth on Secret Star until I swore to myself that I would never, ever, work with Michael Green again.
But then I met the man at another author’s publication party. Michael Green was young, nice, lots of hair, a true cutie. Dammit. Some time after our meeting, he called to ask me if I would write a novel about Mordred based on “The Raven.”
Now, editors had approached me many times with a suggested topic, and I had always politely refused, sensing that other people’s ideas were not for me. But this time something resonated—something Arthurian, high concept—Mordred’s side of the story. I had a singing sensation in my mind.
So I said yes to Michael Green, the pickiest editor ever.
I delighted in the research and the writing of I Am Mordred. And by the second draft, I started to feel like this was going to be my best book yet. A couple more months and a little more scrutiny, I figured, and I would send it in.
But that was not to be. My husband of 27 years left me. I felt it would be a long time before I would be able to write again.
The very next day, with tears falling onto the fanfold computer paper, I printed the not-quite-finished manuscript for I Am Mordred and, along with an explanation of my situation, dumped it in Michael Green’s lap.
And—bless that pointy-headed perfectionist—he tackled it. Michael Green spent months doing virtually all the hard final-draft work that should have been done by me. He sent a line-edited manuscript back. I tweaked it and sent it back to him. This went on for 12, maybe 14 rounds, and I felt more grateful with each pass. Michael Green had saved my book.
One day, he phoned. “Nancy,” he said, “I just finished reading I Am Mordred for what must be the 20th time, and it still makes me cry. I really don’t know how you do it.”
Well, I suppose I did do it. But Michael Green sure helped.
In the following months, I Am Mordred (1998) was named a Booklist Top 10 Editor’s Choice, an ALA/YALSA Best Book for Young Adults, a New York Public Library Book for the Teen Age, a Carolyn W. Field Award winner, and on and on. And some time during all this wonderfulness, Michael called me, and with his most annoying pointy-headed boyish enthusiasm, said, “Nancy, I’ve got it! I know the next book you need to write for me: I Am Morgan Le Fay!”
At first, the idea struck me as ludicrous. I almost told Michael Green he was crazy. My mouth opened, but no words came out. Instead, I had that singing sensation in my mind.