Sunday Interview #15

Image of Anita Daher

Today, on Interview Sunday, I am pleased to introduce to you a fascinating woman who has many children’s books and YA titles under her belt. She is a youth mentor, continues to research and write novels, and is also an editor for Great Plains Publications, so without further ado, here is Anita Daher:

Hi, Anita! Welcome to my blog! Please tell us a little bit about yourself.

Hi, Susan! Thanks for asking. What shall I tell you? I waver between thinking I can do anything and nothing at all (this usually depends on where I am in my most recent manuscript) and have recently taken up playing the ukulele. I dislike flying and sailing beyond sight of land, but love exploring diverse parts of this gorgeous country and others. Life is an adventure.

On a more writing related note, I have published ten novels for young people: seven in Canada (Orca and Penguin) and three in Europe (Stabenfeldt). I also write the occasional short story, article and column. Beyond writing, I am teen book editor at Great Plains Teen Fiction, a position I love.

How long have you been writing and what made you start writing in the first place?

I have been writing with the intent to publish since 1995. My children were babies and I’d just left a position within Canada’s Air Traffic Services industry. In considering what I might do next (besides being a mom), there was never hesitation. For as long as I can remember, I’d wanted to write. And so began my reeducation as writer. I worked hard and steadily, and published my first middle grade novel, Flight From Big Tangle (Orca) in 2003.

Sidebar: A few years ago I pulled out a folder of writing I’d kept from my junior and high school. Amongst my notebooks I found an application, accepted, that I’d made to the Institute of Children’s Literature when I was in grade ten. I didn’t take the course then—what 16-year-old has $500 to spare?—but the fact that I’d applied told me that I’d wanted to not only write, but write for children, from a young age. I have no memory of sending in the application, but it’s nice to know I pursued a dream with long ago roots. Makes me feel I’m on the path I was meant to follow.

That’s really cool that you’ve been able to follow your dream. 🙂

How difficult was it for you to get your first book published? Did you have an agent? If so, how did you find him/her and how did they help you find your first publisher?

Before Orca accepted my first middle grade novel, I wrote dozens and dozens of picture books. None of these were accepted, for good reason, I now realize, and yet I persisted. In 1999, while I was living in La Ronge, SK, a forest fire threatened the community, destroying eight homes just outside of the town proper, and getting as close as across the street to my own. Not long after, we moved to Yellowknife in the Northwest Territories. I’d long wanted to write a story involving water bombers, but in plotting, soon realized this story would be better told as a middle grade novel. Because I’d been reviewing children’s books for CBC Radio, I’d become familiar with the kinds of books several publishing houses were putting out, and was certain my story would be a good fit for Orca. It was, but not right away. The editor wrote and said that she liked the story, but there were issues. I rewrote, resubmitted, and it was accepted.

I didn’t approach my agent, Marie Campbell, until I had several books out, and finding time to research the market became difficult. I sent her Spider’s Song, she loved it, and we are still together. I love having her on my team.

Please introduce us to your books.

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Flight from Big Tangle and Flight from Bear Canyon are about Kaylee, a twelve-year-old girl who practically grew up in the back seat of an airplane. Her misadventures require her to be brave and fly first her mother’s airplane, and then her Uncle Jack’s in order to escape desperate situations.

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Racing for Diamonds, Poachers in the Pingos and On the Trail of the Bushman are set in Canada’s north and feature Junior Canadian Rangers Jaz, Colly and Tommy as they race for their lives, solve mysteries about diamond thieves, poachers, and the mysterious bushman (Bigfoot).

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Two Foot Punch features the urban sport of parkour, and a traceuse, Nikki, who must use all her skills to save her brother who has been kidnapped.

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Spider’s Song is a psychological thriller set in Yellowknife about a troubled girl, AJ, who finds her long lost father, but soon discovers he has several surprises for her, including one which may lead her down a dark path.

The last three stories, Wager the Wonder Horse, The Wilderness Cure and The Hustle, are horse stories written for Stabenfeldt’s Penny Girl book club. I hope to find a North American publisher for these soon.

That would be great! What young girl doesn’t like horses? I’m sure they would be very popular here, too. 🙂

What was the editing process like for you when your first manuscript was accepted?

It was so long ago, I have some trouble remembering. My first editor was author Maggie DeVries. I loved working with her! She was supportive and offered terrific ideas, but never tried to force a change on me. She encouraged me to challenge a suggestion if I did not agree with it, rather than blindly accept it. As with every other editor I’ve worked with, we worked on the substantive edit first, then the copy edit, and finally moved to the proofreading stage.

When a manuscript comes into a publishing house, how is it evaluated before the decision is made to publish it or not?

Every submission that has followed the proper process lands on my desk. I read the synopsis, check the reading level, genre and word count, and if the story is right for our house, sounds intriguing and is well written I ask for the full manuscript. After reading the manuscript, if I am still intrigued and don’t find too many issues (plot holes, etc), I will usually pass it along to other readers in our house including our managing editor, and our marketing director. After all have had a chance to read, we gather round the editorial table and discuss. At the end of this process, if reports are all positive, we will make an offer—one of my favourite parts of the job.

Once a manuscript is accepted, how do they determine who will be its editor? Do you have a choice or is it simply assigned to you?

In 2007 we expanded our YA imprint, and I came on board as editor. From that time, I have edited all of our teen novels. Wait, that’s not quite true. We have one YA author who has always worked directly with the publisher, and she prefers to keep it that way. When we take on one of her novels, I offer general comments and work on catalogue copy, but otherwise leave them to it.

When you are introduced to a manuscript, what is the first thing you do?

Generally, I put my feet up and start reading! I may make a few notes, but what I’m looking for during this read is a story that draws me in and hangs on.

When you run across a problem, how do you help the author fix it?

If I think it necessary, I explain why I feel something is a problem, and offer suggestions on how an author might approach a fix. An author might go with my suggestion, or find another way through, which is just as awesome. If an author feels strongly that something should not be changed, I choose to respect that. After all, it is the author’s name that goes on the cover, not mine, and if it were a major issue, we likely wouldn’t have made an offer to publish in the first place.

I have been very lucky in my author-editor relationships. Each author I’ve worked with has understood I am their admirer and their support; that I am on their “team.” We work together to make sure their book is as strong as it can possibly be.

I can certainly vouch for that! 🙂

Is there anything you wish to add?

Two things, I suppose. First, that I love, love, love editing and the authors I’ve worked with. I’ve been very lucky. The second is that it is sometimes tough to balance the energy I need to put into editing with that of my personal writing career, but I’m not inclined to give either up. I spend every day, all day doing not one, but two things I love. How lucky does that make me?

You are very lucky! Not many people can say that. 🙂

Would you care to share any links with us, for example, your website, Twitter handle, or Facebook page?

Certainly!
I’m on Twitter as @anitadaher
Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/anita.daher.39
and I have a personal website: http://www.anitadaher.com
I’ve also just started a Tumblr account: http://anitadaher.tumblr.com/

Thanks, Anita, for taking the time from your busy schedule to answer my questions and giving us new insight into the editing process. I really appreciate it, as I’m sure my readers do, too. 🙂

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17 comments on “Sunday Interview #15

  1. I think it’s really cool how Ms. Daher successfully switched from one profession to the other. May I ask a few questions?

    How does one “reeducate oneself as writer?” Was there specific classes to take? Or was it something else?

    Another very educational interview. 🙂

  2. Good morning, Literary Tiger! I’m happy to answer questions. As prior to my leaving the air traffic services industry I’d not taken any classes/courses in writing, I began with enrolling (finally?) in the Institute of Children’s Literature program. We moved cities quite a lot in those early days (Saskatoon, Thompson, La Ronge, Yellowknife, Sault Ste Marie), but when we were in a city with a university or college, I enrolled in classes there, and I attended as many workshops and presentations as I could fit into my schedule. I also joined regional and national writing organizations and volunteered during various literary events. In short, it was something of an immersion program 🙂 I should also mention that I wrote every day–still do (mostly).

  3. Hello, Anita, congratulations on the publication of your books! They look very cool. I re-read your sentence about your love of editing. I think that must be a requirement for being an author. I personally love to write but do not love to edit, darn it. 🙂

  4. Oh, Kathy, but editing is a second look, one more chance to boost what you have to something gorgeous! Yeah, I do love editing–my own work, and that of others. I find story birthing the brutal part, and yet I keep going back… 🙂

  5. Hi Anita! I really like the answer about editing, and it’s nice to hear from an editor! I’ve followed you on twitter 😀 I hateeeee the process of editing… I love writing the initial piece and I love the final product. For me editing = painstaking, which is sad because it’s the most important part of the process!

    • Hi, Ravina! Early in my writing days I kept a quote as screensaver on my computer: “It is perfectly okay to write garbage–as long as you edit brilliantly.”– C.J. Cherryh. This quote helped me move forward with a manuscript when I was terrified that I might make a wrong turn and all would turn sour. I gave myself permission to write messy, sloppy, ick, leaving spaces for missing research, etc., in order to get to “The End” with the primary story arc, and the story’s “heart” –the one that drove me to write this story and not another–still beating. I continue to write this way. Once a story is “birthed,” the rest is a pleasure. When you write messy, it is pretty easy to improve upon, which makes that first revision sweep pretty exciting.

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