Today I found out that Janet Schulman had died. She wrote the book I'm currently illustrating. In fact, I was working on the last spread (the title page, which I always save for last) when I got the email from her daughter Nicole letting Janet's friends know that she had passed away this afternoon.
I hadn't heard from Janet in a while. I had FedEx'd her a Valentine present Tuesday. It was a poster made from the endpapers of the book (100 different Valentines drawn by the 10 kids in the book). I knew it had arrived, and in the back of my mind I kept waiting to hear from her.
Then this afternoon I got a message from her email account. I was happy for a split second--until I read the subject line: Sad News. It was the sad announcement from her daughter, and she was using Janet's account to send the news to everyone in Janet's address book.
I was stunned even though I had had a feeling this afternoon right after lunch. And I guess the fact that I hadn't heard from her in three weeks should have given me a big clue.
She was a mover and a shaker. One example: Back in 1974 she and her whole staff at Macmillan were given an hour to clear out their offices and leave the building. Publishers Weekly did a piece on it called "The 1974 Macmillan Massacre," and showed a photo of her out in the street leading other women carrying signs. The article quotes her:
I had always suspected (correctly) that I was being paid far less than male vice-presidents or male marketing managers. The final straw was my discovery, after I had a baby, that maternity medical benefits that were denied me were given to the wives of male Macmillan employees. I joined the Macmillan women’s group and was subsequently elected co-chairperson.
I was so impressed to find out that this was the person who had written the first book I'd illustrated for Random House that I emailed her and asked her if I could interview her for my blog.
The two things I remember most about the interview were her responses to these questions:
What is your favorite piece of jewelry?
Not worth answering. Do you really ask this question to others for your blog???
And the other, which I deleted: What is your favorite pair of shoes?
Another stupid question.
Needless to say, lover of plastic jewelry that I am–and lover of shoes that I am–I was a little shaken up. I emailed her right back, told her I loved the interview and asked her if I could publish it. And the rest is history.
My last email from her was dated January 21:
Just a quick note. Wed. chemo went ok. Just hope it works. A birthday book might be a good idea. Maybe call it 10 BIRTHDAY WISHES. It would be a birthday party for one of the 10 kids. Each kid would add a candle to the cake and have a wish and maybe a present for the birthday boy/girl. Sorry I can't get off the counting game, but I actually think it would be a good idea. I can't think of any birthday books that include counting concepts and are therefore geared to the younger preschoolers. This just might work. But don't hold your breath waiting for me to write it!