Editor Frances Foster called this morning to tell me that writer Janet McDonald died yesterday in Paris, her adopted home. I never met or even spoke with Janet, but my admiration for her books led to my interest in her writing something for the Horn Book, which led to one of the richest--and definitely the most riotous--files in my email archives. There was no joke she would dare not make, but unlike many funny people, she was just as appreciative of other's (mine, I mean) jokes as she was expert at making her own. After we had finished working on her Horn Book article, our correspondence continued, with sometimes a dozen emails in a day when I was allegedly working at home and she was up late in Paris, allegedly doing the same: "I need a new YA book idea and fast, now that I'm done with the one Frances was awaiting. Or how will I pay my rent? It's too hot to set up my Love Tent in the Bois de Boulogne next to the Brazilian trannies (plus, those gorgeous wenches would get much more traffic than me)." We talked gossip, politics, sex, aging, love troubles--books, rarely. In the past year, there were some breaks in our emails due to Janet's illness, which we both thought she'd beat--she told me about doing a victory dance with Kiley Minogue in the chemotherapy ward--but when I didn't hear from her for a good long time I knew it had come back. I'll really miss her.
Her books will remain a signal contribution to YA literature: smart, teen-intriguing tales set in the African American neighborhoods of the Bronx and Brooklyn, told by someone who really knew what she was talking about, and who knew that a situation was never enough; you need a story. And while Janet's books frequently deal in tough issues, plenty of her characters have a gift for backtalk that could have you, as Janet often said, "on tha flo'!" Her novel Off-Color will be published this November by Frances Foster Books/Farrar, Straus and Giroux.