In our ongoing sorting and downsizing process, my ever-efficient daughter Jordan has bought plastic bins to store some of my books in a climate-controlled storage unit. She started today with my children’s books, a frustrating chore because the more she sorted, the more she found scattered in among other books. And then there were some boxes—Jacob unearthed three boxes of A Ballad for Sallie, not intended as a children’s book but taken that way by the publisher. When Leisure Books went out of business, they sold or gave the rights to Amazon, which reprinted it with a new cover. When Jacob found the new edition, he was completely flabbergasted.
In spells in which my fiction didn’t seem welcome, I wrote on assignment for several publishing houses that specialized in books for school libraries. Some assignments were traditional, and those books still bring me tiny checks every once in a while. Others were done as work-for-hire, and I got a one-time payment.
Jordan was astounded at the number of books and the variety—she came across single copies of books on vaccines, surgery, and passenger ships—how’s that for diversity? She also found single copies of a number of histories of various states and worried whether she and her siblings had copies of those. On the other hand, I have so many copies of the book I did on Christopher Reeve that we are awash and uncertain what to do with them.
The good thing about writing those books (beside the rather uneven pay) was that they required quite a bit of research, and I learned a lot doing them. Some stretched my creativity—like one on mapping the Old West. A fact checker questioned me, and I had to explain that no, I didn’t plagiarize but there aren’t that many written sources on how Native Americans found their way around. A book on the international treatment of women presented another challenge—until I convinced the publisher to let me create a fictional camp where teens from various countries came together to share their stories. I rather thought the book a success, but I have no idea what the foundation behind it thought.
Jordan is advocating for a “Judy Alter Night” at the Old Neighborhood Grill where I hold all my signings. She envisions one display of each of these books, plus introducing my forthcoming historical novel, The Gilded Cage. I am uncertain, but I realized when I looked at the display of books on the couches (she’s organizing stacks by title) that those books represent a lot of long hours of research and writing. Makes me kind of proud.
Happy Birthday today to my big brother. He’s sixty. If you believe that, then I am fifty-four. And if you believe that, I have a lot of books to sell you cheap!