Over the course of her career, Laura Geringer Bass has worked at numerous publishing houses, including HarperCollins, where she headed Laura Geringer Books for more than 20 years. She is also the author of several books for young readers. Her forthcoming middle grade novel, The Girl with More Than One Heart, follows eighth grader Briana as she mourns the sudden death of her father. The book was edited by Tamar Brazis, editorial director of Abrams Books for Young Readers, who began her career in 1998 as an editorial assistant at Laura Geringer Books. We asked Bass and Brazis to interview each other about the evolution of their 20-year relationship as friends and publishing colleagues, and now as author and editor.
Bass: Do you remember what year we first met?
Brazis: Oh, yes! It was 1998, a few days before I graduated from Sarah Lawrence College. I was 21 and going to HarperCollins for my first “real” job interview. I started working for you a few weeks later.
Bass: I remember you walking into my office at HarperCollins. I had just begun interviewing candidates for the editorial assistant job. You were the first to come through my door. It didn’t me take more than five minutes of talking with you before I knew that I wanted us to work together.
Six years later, when you left the nest for Abrams, I felt like a mom seeing her daughter off to college. And now here we are working together on The Girl with More Than One Heart, wearing different hats!
Brazis: I learned so much during those years with you. You taught me how to be a visual thinker—I would have never become a picture book editor without you. And you also showed me how to be a patient fiction editor. I was able to witness your relationships with your authors and see how you always gave them the space to let their books take shape. That time was very important to me and I feel so lucky that we are here together, 20 years later!
Bass: I took a quick look back over some of our emails in the past decade while we were working on various stages of The Girl with More Than One Heart. It’s hard to believe that it took me 10 years to write! I would set it aside and then come back to it again and again. And each time I came back to it, there you would be with encouragement and suggestions. You never lost faith. You believed against all evidence to the contrary that eventually it would be a book. And now, here it is—finished! I guess it was a story I had to tell, even before I exactly knew what the story would be. It hasn’t been an easy book, has it?
Brazis: For my mentor to trust me with her own book was the greatest honor you could give me. You taught me that the good ones are never easy.
Bass: Charlotte Zolotow taught me that.
Brazis: I must admit that I feel very special to be a descendant of such a distinguished history of children’s book publishing—the Ursula Nordstrom/Charlotte Zolotow/Laura Geringer line!
Bass: By having become my editor, you’re my mentor now! It’s one of those circles in life that gives me great joy. I couldn’t have written The Girl with More Than One Heart without you.
Brazis: I feel so much a part of this book. What do you think was the toughest aspect of writing it?
Bass: The hardest thing by far was turning it from memoir into fiction. After the death of my dad I wanted to write about the tender relationship my father had with my eldest son, who’s on the spectrum. His grandpa would tell him just the right story at just the right moment, transforming an afternoon’s meltdown into laughter. When my father passed away, I needed to have a record of the way they had been together. That was the beginning of The Girl with More Than One Heart, but at that point, there was no girl. And the only heart in the story was my own, which was heavy with grief.
Brazis: I read the book at that stage, back when it was a memoir, and it made me cry. You had managed to make your family so real on the page. And I wanted you to turn it into a novel. When you did, it made me cry again. Let’s be honest: every time I read your book, I still cry at the end! It’s as moving to me now as it was the first time. More so.
Bass: Thank you for crying! It was so encouraging to me that you cried that first time! And exciting that you wanted me to turn it into fiction. But at that point, I hadn’t a clue how to do that or where to start. My last book before Girl had been a fantasy. I felt I just didn’t know how to write a story with characters so close to home.
Brazis: So you put it aside for a while and started working on a different book?
Bass: Yes, a fantasy.
Brazis: What got you back into The Girl with More Than One Heart?
Bass: On the anniversary of my dad’s death, at three in the morning, I sat down at my desk and wrote the first lines: “The day my father’s heart stopped I discovered an extra heart deep in my belly below my right rib. It talked to me. I wasn’t crazy. Before that day, I had just one heart that never said a word.”
Suddenly, there was Briana, the heroine of my story. She was 13 years old, a budding writer who, like me, needed to get through a crisis—the death of her dad, her favorite parent. She had a little brother on the spectrum prone to meltdowns. And yes, she had a Grandpa Ben who resembled my father. Briana’s “Dad heart” gave Briana commands like, “Find her!” and “Be your own!” and it gave me a new direction. I was excited to find out what that heart would say and what Briana would do in response. It was a start.
Brazis: It took a while for Briana to take over as the main character. Her little brother continued to take center stage—and so did the wonderful Grandpa Ben. I think it wasn’t until maybe the third or fourth revision when the book took on the shape it has now that Briana truly came into her own.
Bass: But then we had to deal with that talking heart!
Brazis: The “Dad heart!” I loved it. It symbolized for me how our parents and the ones we love really do become an extension of ourselves—and sometimes those deep connections are hard to separate or distance ourselves from. At first, the “Dad heart” just said whatever popped into your mind, but as we went along, we both realized there had to be some “rules” that governed Briana’s extra heart—some guidelines about what her “Dad heart” would and wouldn’t say.
Bass: Your insights helped me radically rethink the story. After I wrote those first few lines about Briana’s “Dad heart” in first person, I changed my mind and decided to write the book in close third. But at the end of the day, you felt the point of view wasn’t intimate enough. The reader needed to be in Briana’s head. You suggested I change it all to first person but you worried that the lyricism of the writing would be lost in that switch. Once I tried writing the whole story in Briana’s voice, it felt so right I knew there was no turning back. I held my breath while you read the revision. I was so relieved when you said it worked. What was the hardest part for you as my editor?
Brazis: Because I had read so many drafts of the book over the years, I, too, was very attached to certain images and stories that Grandpa Ben shared throughout the pages. But I realized that as the book evolved, some of those stories weren’t as close to the new story anymore. It was hard to suggest that certain elements shouldn’t remain—and I’m sure this was difficult for you, too.
Bass: One of your brilliant editorial letters suggested to me how to “let in more light” by focusing on the imagery that was already there. You provided an editorial map for how to take it up a notch or two. We became ruthless about cutting scenes, folding one chapter into another when that nip and tuck surgery increased the momentum of Briana’s journey. By that time, we were both so steeped in The Girl with More Than One Heart that we could speak to each other in Briana’s private language, particularly when it came to working on the character of Briana’s mom. We shared a vocabulary specific to this book, an abbreviated way of referring to emotional truths in the story through its imagery. Mom’s green eye for example. Her blue slippers. The clothespin angels. And so on.
Brazis: Those images are with me forever: Mom’s green eye. A beach ball floating toward the horizon….
Bass: I have a photo of myself standing in front of a huge stack of revisions of The Girl with More Than One Heart, taller than I am. And I’m six feet tall in socks!
Brazis: I’m proud to have read all six feet plus!
Bass: I show that photo to my students when we talk about revision. I say, “Don’t give up!” I’m so happy to finally hold this book in my hands!
Brazis: And I’m thrilled that The Girl with More Than One Heart is out in the world at last!
The Girl with More Than One Heart by Laura Geringer Bass. Amulet, $16.99 Apr. 17 ISBN 978-1-4197-2882-2