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By the Book: Freelance editor and author Charis Cotter’s book highlights

Charis CotterInterview 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 guides, and what their alternate-universe careers would be.

Tell us about your current job, Charis, plus a little-known quirky fact about you.

I juggle my work as a freelance editor with writing children’s books, doing storytelling and writing workshops in schools, and reviewing children’s books. This fall, I’ve been focusing on promoting my new novel, The Swallow: A Ghost Story, and that morphed into telling ghost stories on radio, on TV, and in schools. Ghosts are my thing—Newfoundland ghosts, in particular. I encourage students to collect traditional ghost stories from their families, and we use them to work on storytelling and writing. It’s very rewarding, but I really appreciate the relative quiet calm of editing and writing when the dust settles.

Quirky? Not a lot of people know that I like to memorize and recite poetry out loud while I am walking the wild coastline near my house on Conception Bay, Newfoundland. I prefer poems by my favourite rhyming poets—Shakespeare, Yeats, Wordsworth, and Longfellow, to name a few. It helps to distract me from thinking about how hard it is to get up the next rocky hill. I love learning a poem this way. I really get inside it by saying it over and over, and by the time I’ve memorized it, I understand it. The rhythms of walking and reciting poetry go very well together. I highly recommend it. As long as you don’t meet other people on your walks. That can be embarrassing.

What is your all-time favourite book and why?

It really is hard to say. It keeps changing. Murder mysteries are my favourite reading. I am an escapist reader and I love a well-plotted story. I read to go into other worlds—not fantasy, but worlds that aren’t mine. Laurie R. King’s Mary Russell series (The Beekeeper’s Apprentice is the first) are my favourite mysteries. I also love the spooky gothic books set in Barcelona by Carlos Ruiz Zafón (The Shadow of the Wind is the first). I’ve been rereading L.M. Montgomery lately; she is one of my favourite writers. She is funny and writes snappy characterizations, but what I love the most about her books is how she goes way, WAY over the top with her descriptions of nature. She can be so passionate about a tree that it could be an opera. I love opera. I also like Joanna Trollope and (gasp!) Rosamunde Pilcher, books where, somehow, things work out in the end. Pilcher’s books are especially satisfying because there is a lot of unhappiness at the beginning, but then the heroine moves to Scotland, finds a beautiful house, and then a love interest pops into the picture. I like that.

What is your favourite editing manual, style guide, or other book about editing/writing?

I have to say The Chicago Manual of Style. I swear by it. I love the online version, too, but there is something very comforting about opening up that orange book and seeing all the places I’ve bookmarked on previous jobs.

What do you think you’d be doing if you weren’t an editor and why?

I started daydreaming a few years ago about being a snowplow operator in rural Ontario. I just thought how simple and peaceful it would be to sit in a warm cab, clearing clean paths through all that snow, with the blue lights flashing, and the dark night all around me, making people happy by giving them safe roads to drive on. Of course, it wouldn’t really be at all like that, probably cold and boring, but something about it appeals to me. If it came with a pension, even better.

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 Ellen Fleischer.


1 Comment

  1. It’s wonderful to get inside a fellow editor’s head through these interviews! I loved L.M. Montgomery especially when I was between the ages of 10 and 12. I never thought her nature descriptions were over the top, and I doubt she did either–but now they do seem that way, old-fashioned and maybe sentimental, but still beautiful to me!

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