Interview 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, Noelle, plus a little-known quirky fact about you.
I’ve had the pleasure of being HarperCollins Canada’s managing editor for 11 years, where I oversee the publication of books of all sorts: cookbooks, literary and commercial fiction, mystery, history, biography, memoir, business, lifestyle, current affairs, popular science, and books for children. The breadth of the program is what attracted me to HarperCollins. There’s something on our list for every kind of reader.
I often describe my position as a bit like an air-traffic controller’s: I coordinate the “flight paths” of our edited manuscripts—sending them to freelance copy editors, proofreaders, and indexers, and redirecting them, in turn, to authors, in-house editors, or the production team. It’s my job to ensure that manuscripts travel smoothly through the final stages, meet professional standards, and arrive on time.
I’m not often described as a “quirky” person, but I’ve gone swimming with sharks, if that counts. It happened in the British Virgin Islands, where my husband and I were married. On our last day, while snorkelling, I became surrounded by a school of fish that completely obscured my view—until they suddenly vanished and left me staring at a black-tipped reef shark instead! I actually shrugged off the first encounter, but when I saw that unmistakable silhouette glide by a second time, I scrambled hastily to shore. The shark was about five or six feet long.
What is your all-time favourite book and why?
It’s impossible to pick just one, but my touchstone is Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll. Alice’s peculiar odyssey captivated me as a young reader, and I still find its jumble of Victorian manners (or lack thereof), fantastical beasts, nonsense verse, logic puzzles, wordplay, and whimsy irresistible. Aside from owning several different editions, I have an array of paraphernalia, including a Marvel Classics comic book and an audiobook narrated by British actor Jon Pertwee—best known (to me, anyway) as the third Doctor in the Doctor Who TV series. I even have Wonderland tarot cards, jigsaw puzzles, rubber stamps, Christmas tree ornaments, and a porcelain cream and sugar service—not yet used, I hasten to add. Now that would be quirky!
Other books I love: an extraordinary memoir called The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating by Elisabeth Tova Bailey; The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami; Natasha by David Bezmozgis; The Book of Negroes by Lawrence Hill; Crow Lake by Mary Lawson; The Barrytown Trilogy by Roddy Doyle; Three Day Road by Joseph Boyden; and anything by Miriam Toews. I was also in a poetry group for many years, where I delighted in the writings of E.E. Cummings, W. S. Merwin, Mary Oliver, Gwendolyn MacEwen, Leonard Cohen, Michael Ondaatje, and others.
What is your favourite editing manual, style guide, or other book about editing/writing?
I have worked as both a copy editor and as a copy editing instructor, so my style guides are very well-used. The Chicago Manual of Style has been a daily companion for 20 years now; I rely on it heavily. (I nearly wept when the 15th edition was published without a hyphenation table!) I also consult an array of dictionaries, of course. For understanding cookbook conventions, I turn to The Recipe Writer’s Handbook by Barbara Gibbs Ostmann and Jane L. Baker. For matters of grammar, Maxine Ruvinsky’s Practical Grammar and Anne Stilman’s Grammatically Correct have served me well. For anyone seeking advice on the “softer skills” required of editors, The Subversive Copy Editor by Carol Fisher Saller is both entertaining and enlightening.
What do you think you’d be doing if you weren’t an editor and why?
In my youth, I did advocacy work for animal welfare groups and even participated in rescues. If I won the lottery tomorrow, I’d lend my efforts to an animal sanctuary or organization devoted to wildlife conservation. I’d love to go on one of those volunteering holidays to help protect sea turtles… I also flirt with the idea of writing, an early passion that has fallen by the wayside. You can see why a financial windfall might be a prerequisite for my alternate careers!
Jennifer D. Foster is a Toronto-based freelance editor and writer, specializing in book and custom publishing, magazines, and marketing and communications.
This article was copy edited by Ellen Fleischer.