Interview conducted by Adrineh Der-Boghossian.
A career as an editor is often a solo adventure, especially if you’re a freelancer. So we thought one way to better connect with fellow editors was to ask them the Five Ws: who, what, where, when, and why. Read on for some thought-provoking, enlightening tidbits from those of us who choose to work with words to earn our keep.
Please tell us a little about yourself, the kind of work you do (and where you live), and how long you’ve been an editor.
I’ve been editing for about 20 years. These days, I work mostly in non-fiction—health and wellness, personal/professional development, art history, social and cultural issues, primarily for the fabulous publisher Page Two. I usually do substantive editing, although I copy edit occasionally and proofread fiction now and then.
I’m a gardening nut and exercise enthusiast. I have an acute sense of smell and a taste for fine things belied by my ramshackle semi-attached old house in a dusty working-class neighbourhood of Toronto.
Who: If you could edit one famous author, living or dead, who would it be?
I don’t have a particular desire to edit anyone famous or dead. But I think I would enjoy hanging out with Leonard Cohen, maybe lying on a carpet in his living room and discussing the virtues of the light in Los Angeles. I’ve been editing some essays about his work for an upcoming exhibition at the AGO and cited in them is a biography by Sylvie Simmons, which I tangentially worked on, more than a decade ago, back when I was in-house at McClelland & Stewart. There is a satisfaction in these connections between projects over time and space and to imagine that I placed my small hand in the hand of a writer imagining the poet, and said, “Here I am with you.”
What: Do you have a favourite punctuation mark and/or a favourite word?
I’m partial to the colon and the word “dangerous.” Here’s why: Last July, I joined a young man with autism, his aunt and his mother for a recuperative week away from our respective cities, at their family’s country home in the Laurentians. We played cards and hiked and canoed, and one day nursed a stunned hummingbird back to health by feeding it sugar water from under our fingernails.
The young man, at the time, loved the sound of “dangerous.” He loved the way it could begin at the front of the mouth and then loll back and forth between the throat and the upper palate, before it unfurled behind the teeth and then floated off the tip of the tongue, an aerosol suspended above the cool surface of the lake. He liked to say it, and he liked to hear other people say it in that way just so. He taught me to appreciate it. “Why can’t we travel?” he’d ask. It was the middle of the pandemic. “Why can’t we set off those firecrackers?” (It’s July!) “Why can’t we separate this noun from this verb or this verb from its object?” Slowly now…it’s dangerous… .
I like the colon as a presenter of opportunities: to be didactic, sure, as in a list of colours or insects or words that will satisfy the eyes and tongue and teeth and lips; or to wend, to complicate and elaborate its syntactic precursor. A simple, erect statement, I hope.
Where: If you could work anywhere in the world as an editor, where would that be?
We are in this beautiful time, probably not for long, where freelance editors can work anywhere in the world. I have already worked in a little beach town on the Nicoya Peninsula in Costa Rica. A couple of editor pals and I rented an airy house on a clifftop up from the ocean. We all worked a bit on our different projects and wandered down to the town according to our own schedules. Often in the late afternoons we drove to a different beach for a swim and then drove back to our flat to watch the sun set from our balcony.
I have edited in a little West Coast Modern apartment in Berkeley Hills, California, and I would do that again. I have edited during a stay at a remote ashram in the Kootenay Mountains, British Columbia. I would also like to take my work to Paris, to almost anywhere in Europe, really, and to Mexico. So, I suppose I care less about working in a big publishing centre like London or New York, and more about who and what I am working with, and how I relate with the environment around me, and how that in turn nourishes my work and so the text and its eventual readers.
When: Was there ever a time in your life when you seriously questioned your career choice?
As much as I enjoy the job, I don’t consider myself a natural-born editor. On a given day, I might imagine myself in another career—a biologist, a letter carrier, a professor. When I wish I made more money and that I could do more for the environment or for social justice, I regret not becoming a lawyer. When I dream of a life where I don’t care about money at all, I am a vaudeville performer.
Why: Why did you choose to become an editor? Or, should we ask: Why did editing choose you?
I was doing a bit of freelance work, had a part-time job at PEN Canada, and was planning to go back to school for a psychotherapy degree. At PEN, I met the great editor and publisher Ellen Seligman, and had an opportunity to be mentored by her. So that’s when I really chose to become an editor. Ellen was formidable and taught me a lot about the slow, methodical work of the best editing and the intuitive aspects of it as well. Over at McClelland & Stewart, I met other editors, such as Jenny Bradshaw and Lara Hinchberger and Anita Chong, and in my early days there, Trena White, and all these women fiercely pursued the highest qualities, each in her own way. They were the most excellent role models of professionalism and of dedication to the craft.
And, of course, we just had to ask the inevitable how: How would you sum up your motto?
As with my garden, I am an advocate of freedom and beauty, as much as it is possible, in any given circumstance. This requires a lot of standing back and considering the whole composition along with planting and pruning and rearranging for the best possible effect on an audience. The job is equally one of relationships, with the author, with colleagues, and with the mind of the reader. I consider work service, and I strive to serve these ideals and these relationships in my work.
Adrineh Der-Boghossian (she/her) is a queer-identified editor and project manager who currently works in-house at Page Two. She has held communications roles in the non-profit sector and was the former editor-in-chief of BoldFace. She also proofreads and copy edits books through her company, More Than Words. When not in front of a computer, you can find her exploring Toronto and environs on her bicycle or motorcycle.
This article was copy edited by Leslie Lapides.