Monday, March 20, 2017

Conference Faculty Interview: Jessica Anderson

I don’t know about the rest of you, but I am so looking forward to this conference. Just 18 days and counting to our SOLD OUT conference! I was fortunate enough to chat with Jessica Anderson this week. Jessica is with Christy Ottaviano Books and she’s on the lookout for lyrical picture book biographies, hilarious middle grade diary fiction, and gritty contemporary realistic YA.

Dori: Thanks for taking the time to chat with me, Jessica. Could you tell us a little about your career path. How did you come to be an editor of children’s books?

Jessica: Books have been a great comfort to me for as long as I can remember; as a child, I spent hours purging a linen closet in order to set up my own library, coding each book with a special number and collecting 10-cent late fees from anyone who didn’t return their books on time—a ruthless (if entrepreneurial) policy that my family kindly abided by. Years later in high school and college, I took a sharper interest in the unlimited modes of storytelling; this lead me to creative writing and literature classes, but also toward studies of music, film, and the fine arts. By the time I got out of school, I knew I wanted to pursue a career that would allow me to engage with stories that might emerge from a dialogue between different mediums (words and illustrations, for example). I also knew that as an adult, I still hadn’t stopped buying the latest Jeff Kinney or Dav Pilkey every time one came out. At this point, I had the great fortune of connecting with a thoughtful and accomplished mentor in the children’s book world, and I dove head first into the joys of editing children’s books.

Dori: Oh, my gosh! I did that, too! I had all my books in alphabetical order and I would check them out to my friends. But I never collected overdue fines. I did nag, though, if someone kept one of my favorite books longer than I wanted them to. What are some of your favorite books (and they don’t have to be children’s books)?

Jessica: I think this is a tricky question for most of us—but as of right now, my three favorite books would be: Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell, When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi, and the Silverwing series by Kenneth Oppel. Each of these has made me cry, and I come back to them every few months because they have incredible moments of beauty and heartbreak that leave me with a stronger sense of empathy with each read.

Dori: Is there a book you wish you’d had the opportunity to work on?

Jessica: I would have loved to work on any of Roald Dahl’s books—especially The Witches. I’ve always been curious about the workings of his imagination and the way he and his editor parsed through settings, characters, and ideas in order to distill so many unique, whimsical stories.

Dori: What do you like to do when you’re not reading or editing children’s books?

Jessica: Though I was not much exposed to dance as a kid, I’ve recently fallen in love with beginner ballet and modern dance classes. I also love to roam around lively dog parks and take in conceptual art exhibits; lucky for me, New York is never in short supply of either!

Dori:  Have you ever been to Seattle before? Is there one thing you’re hoping to see, do or experience while you’re here?

Jessica: I have heard such great things about Seattle but have not yet had a chance to visit. If nothing else, I am committed to experiencing the famous coffee culture.

Dori: Can you give our Western Washington members a sneak peek at one of your sessions? What is one thing you’re excited to be sharing with us?

Jessica: I’m excited to talk about the evolution of a middle grade book—from the moment it is acquired, to the various steps of production. There are so many different ways that editors envision a book: pitching it to a sales team through the lens of comparative titles, and nailing down just the right specs for the finished book, only to name a few. I look forward to bringing this discussion to the group! 

Dori: That sounds great, Jessica. Thanks again for talking with me. We’re all looking forward to meeting you!

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