Q&A conducted by Jennifer D. Foster
Have you ever wondered what fellow editors like to read? We have, too. In our interview series, “By the Book,” we get the inside scoop on editors’ all-time favourite books, their top style guide, and what their alternate-universe career would be.
Tell us about your current job, Janice, plus a little-known quirky fact about you.
For many years now (too many to mention!), I have worked as a Toronto-based freelance trade editor. I do all kinds of editorial work—structural editing, copy editing, and proofreading, as well as project management—on fiction, non-fiction, and children’s books, and I teach a copy editing course in the Ryerson publishing program. In my spare time, I also write non-fiction books for younger readers.
A quirky fact, eh? Don’t travel with me! Something bad always happens when I travel—one airline went bankrupt, my pocket was picked, a hurricane struck. Probably the wildest one was in New Orleans, where a bolt of lightning travelled down the chimney and came out the fireplace four feet from where I was having my morning coffee. It was one of the most frightening experiences of my life!
What is your all-time favourite book and why?
Well, like any book lover, I’d say this is an impossible question to answer. It’s kind of like asking a parent to name his or her favourite child! There are many, many writers whose work I greatly admire, of course, but I read different authors at different times for different reasons.
If pressed, I suppose I’d list Flannery O’Connor, Pat Barker, Thomas Hardy, Lorrie Moore, William Trevor, Marilynne Robinson, Gabriel García Márquez, Kate Atkinson—and closer to home, Alice Munro, Helen Humphreys, David Adams Richards, Frances Itani, Michael Ondaatje’s Coming Through Slaughter, Dianne Warren’s Cool Water, Wayne Johnston’s Colony of Unrequited Dreams, and Joseph Boyden’s Three Day Road. And I haven’t mentioned non-fiction yet! There, I’d probably single out Bill Bryson, Margaret Visser, Ross King’s Brunelleschi’s Dome, Taylor Branch’s three-volume America in the King Years, Mark Kurlansky’s Salt, Erik Larson’s Devil in the White City, Dava Sobel’s Longitude, and Adam Hochschild’s King Leopold’s Ghost. I have no idea what this eclectic and unusual list says about me, but I hope it’s nothing bad!
What is your favourite editing manual, style guide, or other book about editing/writing?
When I’m asked to recommend books about the craft of editing or behind-the-scenes books about the business of publishing, I always suggest Diana Athill’s Stet and Scott Berg’s Max Perkins: Editor of Genius. But as far as style guides go, it is without question The Chicago Manual of Style. I consult it multiple times a day and simply couldn’t do my job without it.
What do you think you’d be doing if you weren’t an editor and why?
I’ve always said that if I weren’t an editor, I’d be an architect. I’ve written about architecture for kids, and it’s a great passion of mine. I’m especially interested in the way the buildings we make reflect the social and cultural concerns of the times in which we live. But having said that, I must stress that I would never give up what I’m doing now. I’ve already got my dream job, working with books and all the smart, creative, committed people who make them—nothing could be better than that.
Jennifer D. Foster is a Toronto-based freelance editor, mentor, and writer, specializing in book and custom publishing, magazines, and marketing and communications.
This article was copy edited by Ambrose Li.