'Violet' Comes to Life
For years, Jan Karon's fans have asked her if the 'award-winning' "Violet the Cat" books by Cynthia Coppersmith, Father Tim's wife in the best-selling "Mitford Years" series, ever had an existence of their own.
Although Karon had already written the final Mitford book, she decided to bring Violet, the endearing white cat, to life with a new series.
Karon, who was beginning work on her new books about Father Tim in Holly Springs, Miss., felt she needed to find someone else to write the "Violet" books. After searching for three years for a storytelling voice and art style authentic to the fictional author and illustrator, Karon was "thrilled to at last discover Cynthia's warm and compassionate voice in a gifted new writer, the talented Melanie Cecka."
Emily Arnold McCully, Caldecott Medal-winning author/illustrator of 'Mirette on the High Wire' provided the illustrations.
"We have a book that makes us so proud we could bust," says Karon. "I promise you that it is beautifully illustrated and tenderly written."
On Thursday, Oct. 26, at 4 p.m. at The Country Bookshop, Cecka, the daughter of Thomas and Andrea Cecka of Pinehurst, and one of the top children's book editors in the U.S., will present "Violet Comes To Stay," the debut book in the series for young readers.
When Karon and her publisher, Viking, originally put out the call for "Your Best Violet Story," Cecka was a children's book editor, also at Viking, although she doesn't believe Karon was told of her position.
"I was an editor by day and working on my MFA thesis at The New School at night; I just needed a break," she says. "I wrote the story purely for my own sense of satisfaction. I had no expectations at all."
Cecka had to immerse herself first in Mitford, the charm and comfort of it. Although all the "Violet" book titles are established in the Mitford books, Cecka was free to develop her own story.
"For 'Violet Comes to Stay,' I had to establish Violet in the world and give her a sense of being," she says. "My family always had cats. In fact, our kittens came from the grocery store -- we had three 'Kroger' cats."
In the story, Violet and her brother and sister must find a place in the world. Violet's search leads her to a plant nursery and a bakery, and finally a bookstore -- the one place where the gentle cat isn't expected to be a mouse hunter.
"The idea came from all the people a child knows from their neighborhood," says Cecka.
Karon reviewed at least two dozen stories before she chose Cecka's. With over 15 years experience, Melanie knew she was a "perfect" editor, and she assumed she would be a "perfect" author.
"My editor sent me the loveliest letter, 'Dear Melanie, Your manuscript is flawlessly written and utterly charming, BUT.'" I hadn't expected the revisions to be so time consuming," she says. "I revised the text 14 times! Some revisions were for turns of phrases or to be sure it was in the spirit of how Jan would write. Once, Jan had to remind me that Violet 'is a WHITE cat, and NOT a tabby."
Cecka was born in Minnesota, raised in Houston, and graduated from St. Lawrence University with a degree in English in 1992. She received her master's degree in creative writing from The New School University and taught writing workshops in New York City.
She started out in publishing in adult editorial, hoping to work on novels, but found herself increasingly interested in the design aspect of publishing.
"I also like narrative work too much to consider switching to a house that produced coffee table books," says Cecka. "That's when a friend suggested I look into children's books. For me it ended up being the perfect way to combine my interest in quality literature with my interest in art and design."
She worked at Random House, Knopf Books for Young Readers, and was with Viking Children's Books for 10 years before joining Bloomsbury Children's Books, an independent publisher of high quality fiction and non-fiction, in 2004. She was promoted to co-editorial director; and last month, was made publishing director of Bloomsbury Children's USA and Walker Books for Young Readers.
Children's authors and illustrators agree that Cecka is the "crme de la crme," "top in her field," "the big name in children's literature," and "a gem of an editor." She receives high praise from everyone in the publishing industry for her dedication to helping new and established writers and illustrators hone their craft and learn about the business of publishing.
As a highly sought-after panelist for the Society for Children's Book Writers and Illustrators, Cecka offers "Rejection 101: Getting a Grip on the Gobbledygook," detailing the meaning behind nearly 50 words and phrases commonly found in rejection letters. Her presentation, "Reading Between the Lines: What Key Words in a Rejection Letter Can Reveal About Your Writing," is a regular highlight of SCBWI meetings. "Once I got a copy of Cecka's handout," one author said, "I felt like a kid who discovered the answer sheet to an upcoming final."
Her advice to authors is to "write because you love it, whether you get published or not. Stop trying to figure out what editors want, what will 'sell,' and write about what you are passionate about. If it's not from the heart, the editor will know."
Cecka is completing work on the second "Violet book," "Violet Goes to the Country," which will be published in the fall of 2007.
For information, call The Country Bookshop at 910-692-3211.
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