Judy Blundell, A Dark Horse Even to Herself, Comes Through

By Neal Comment


When we caught up with National Book Award nominee Judy Blundell (left) during the dinner break at last night’s ceremony, we asked what it was like being at the ceremony as a shortlisted author rather than as a judge for the young people’s literature category, as she had been two years ago. She confided that she was enjoying herself “because I know I’m not going to win.” She’d read the books by all the other nominees (including E. Lockhart, at right), and she thought they were all wonderful, and she was just glad to be in their company. (GalleyCat readers had a bit more faith in her; sure, they thought Laurie Halse Anderson would take the prize, but they had Blundell right behind her.)

And then she won! Well, as she told the audience, “When I started in publishing, I was a hopeless and underconfident person—not much has changed.” She’s actually written more than 100 other novels, but What I Saw and How I Lied is the first that she’s published under her own name. She made sure to thank her editor at Scholastic, David Levithan, “for giving me back my voice,” telling her that he wanted her to just tell the story she wanted to tell, instead of her usual work method of writing to editorial specification (sometimes with formal guidelines, as in her Star Wars tie-ins, and other times with broader instructions to write something that had, say, vampires in it.)

sasa-stanisic-bookcover.jpgBy the way, look in the background of that photo above, and you’ll spot the lead judge on the jury for Blundell’s prize, Daniel Handler. As long as we had him in sight, we thought we’d ask just how he ended up on the cover of Eastern European novelist Sasa Stanisic‘s How the Solider Repaired the Gramophone. “It was a photo that was sold to Getty Images that was supposed to be filed as a picture of me and was misplaced in the general catalog,” he explained. That clerical error led to the picture being used on the German edition of the novel; when Grove Atlantic bought the English-language rights, they liked the cover so much, they decided to stick with it… until, during an editorial conference, somebody realized that the guy in the photo was Handler.

Morgan Entrekin actually called and said they’d be willing to pulp the books and get a new cover if I wanted, though they really hoped I didn’t want them to,” Handler recalled—he was fine with it; in fact, he was more interested in how Stanisic would feel once he found out some other writer was plastered on the cover of his book. “There was a brief rumor that I’d written the novel myself, which of course I didn’t… although the idea that I could write an Eastern European absurdist novel, because those do have a specific literary language to them, and then publish it under another name is an appealing one. And then,” he laughed, “I’d put a picture of me on the cover.”