by Molly Rookwood
Published at 2019-06-19
On June 7, a perfect, sunny, 20 degree day, I arrived in Halifax. I breathed in the sea air after many months of life in Toronto, headed straight to the waterfront to say hello to my favourite ocean, and then prepared for the actual reason I’d arrived — the Editors Canada 40th Anniversary Conference.
Each year, the Editors’ Association of Canada (or Editors Canada, for short) hosts a conference in a different city in Canada. At this conference, editors from around the country gather to share wisdom, learn from seasoned professionals, and reconnect and build their networks. Conference attendees included publishers, in-house editors, freelance editors, authors, booksellers, and more. It felt, in large part, like a big industry party, full of laughter and excitement and grammar-related puns.
As an East-Coaster myself, and as someone moving back east in a few months, an editing conference in Halifax seemed hand-crafted for me. The conference began with the very silly Rime of the Ancient Editor, a sea shanty about editing written by Marie-Lynn Hammond and James Harbeck and sung at the pre-conference reception.
Linden MacIntyre, an esteemed author and journalist from Cape Breton, gave Saturday morning’s opening keynote speech and spoke passionately and eloquently about truth, democracy, freedom, and human relationships in the modern world. Editors Canada tweeted paraphrased highlights of the speech, which included the following:
Objective truth shapes popular opinion. People who seek power seek to manage truth by controlling the vehicle that powers truth. While truth cannot be destroyed it is always in danger of being manoeuvred. The truth teller challenges power.
He spoke about the power of the media in controlling the truth received by the public. He spoke about the interview he conducted with a Canadian on death row in Texas and the power of human relationships to influence how we look at issues that seem to be black and white, good vs. evil. He spoke about the power of editors to keep bias out of the media and to keep truth as truthful as possible. It was an inspiring and auspicious start to the conference, and I came away profoundly moved.
I began my conference sessions with something entirely outside of The Editing Company’s purview: Whitney Moran’s talk about editing children’s picture books. Whitney, the managing editor at Nimbus Publishing, talked in depth about the experience of picture books for a child — how page breaks physically propel a story forward and how a full story must be told in an average of 600 or fewer words.
My next session was more in-line with TEC’s services. Kim Pittaway and Dean Jobb, both instructors in the University of King’s College Masters of Fine Arts in Creative Nonfiction program, discussed navigating the line between fiction and truth in creative non-fiction. They explored the grey area in which non-fiction authors make seemingly small assumptions or fabricate conversations to better tell their stories, and they asked whether a book with fictional elements could still be called non-fiction. The session gave me a lot to think about, and I felt that I would be a more competent and careful editor of non-fiction moving forward.
My final session of Day One looked at the future of editing in a changing world, a world in which technology reigns, social media promotes a different approach to language, and students enter university with a lower comprehension of grammar and writing than they have in the past. Heather Buzila moderated this session, with editors Wendy Barron, Clare Goulet, and Marianne Ward sharing their thoughts on this changing — but still vital — industry.
After an evening of viewing and debating the merits and failings of four different adaptations of Pride and Prejudice with my sister-in-law and a few friends (I did not attend the conference banquet, although I’m sure it was wonderful), I returned to the conference on Sunday morning for Day Two. My Sunday had more of a Maritime focus than my Saturday did, which — as most of the publishing in Canada is based in Toronto — was informative and encouraging.
My first session was called “Atlantic Editors: Editing from the Edge,” and was hosted by Christine Gordon Manley, Shelley Egan, donalee Moulton, and Sandy Newton. Each had made her career work in a very different way, and they emphasized that although editing in Atlantic Canada is rarely the “start as a junior editor at a publishing house and work your way up” arrangement that is more common in Toronto, editors are needed everywhere and can flourish anywhere with a bit of creativity.
I then attended a session on selling books in Atlantic Canada, hosted by Chris Benjamin in conversation with Hilary Drummond, Michael Hamm, and Lisa Doucet, three Nova Scotian booksellers. They talked about the love and loyalty that Maritimers have for their local books, authors, and bookstores, and the ways in which Maritime culture keeps its (admittedly small) book industry flourishing.
My final conference session was a discussion between Stephanie Domet and authors Evelyn C. White, Carol Bruneau, and Stephen Laffoley about their experiences with editors throughout their careers—what their editors have done well, what they could have done better, and how editors and authors work together to produce the best manuscript possible. They emphasized, among other things, that editors should recognize and acknowledge that authors are the experts on their subjects, that an editor’s first reaction to a book can be terrifying for the author, and that if an author writes about the pain that she or her culture has experienced, she does not do so cavalierly, but rather does so with meaning, purpose, and intention.
The Editors Canada 40th Anniversary Conference ended with what was, among other things, a love letter to editors from children’s writer and poet Sheree Fitch. She spoke about the times her editors had been right, times they had been wrong, and times that they cared about each word in her stories exactly as much as she did. Sheree closed with a freshly composed ode to editors and was met with cheers and applause.
I am so grateful that I had the opportunity to attend this conference. I learned from a series of thoughtful and experienced authors and editors, I built up my network of editors in the industry, and I came away confident that, despite moving away from Canada’s publishing hub, I will continue to find my way in this industry. I hope to attend next year’s conference in Montreal, and would highly encourage any editors who are able to do the same.
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