I graduated from what my high school English teacher called “the Academic House of Usher,” attended enough classes at SUNY Stony Brook to graduate, and landed a job at Coward McCann as “assistant to the editor” F.N. Monjo, then head of Coward, McCann’s children’s book department. On my first day he asked me what I thought of a picture book.

“It’s nice,” I said.

“Nice!” The word withered as it passed his lips. “Nice” was banned.

Mr. Monjo returned from lunch in an expansive mood. He wondered if I knew Russell Hoban’s Frances books. I didn’t. To educate me, he retold Bread and Jam for Frances, acting out all the parts and reaching his peak on the line, “She liked to practice with a stringbean….” If this was work, why had I avoided it?

The adult editor-in-chief was a tall, imposing woman–think “grande dame” and “doyenne of the historical romance.” That afternoon in the ladies room I heard her describe a meeting she’d just attended. Arm swooping she declared, “We sat there like flies in amber.” Flies in amber! Would I get to go to meetings and feel like that? I certainly felt hopeful.

This was the stuff of fiction, and here I was in the midst of it.