What’s tougher than herding cats? Herding writers. Janet Fretter should know: she’s the Managing Editor of emerge 15. What’s the job? Well, the Managing Editor’s key responsibility is to hold the reins and communicate to ensure the student teams are able to fulfill their tasks and everyone meets the deadlines. Not an easy task. Let’s learn about Janet as editor, writer, host, and active part of the writers’ community here in Vancouver.
You’ve worked on emerge multiple times. How many times have you been Managing Editor? What do you enjoy about the process and what keeps you coming back?
What keeps me coming back? There’s a list, of course. I enjoy getting to know each cohort of emerging writers, keeping that connection with the spirit of discovery and personal growth that is palpable in The Writer’s Studio. Working with our publisher, Andrew Chesham, is something I look forward to each year. He is highly organized, detail-oriented, and infinitely patient. And he’s always on the lookout for ways to improve both the learning experience—the elective itself—and the final product, the anthology. Andrew’s openness to innovation keeps the experience fresh each year. Ultimately the emerge elective is billed as a course on book production. I’m a bit geeky about books as physical objects, so I enjoy watching the anthology take shape each year, culminating in the celebration of the launch event we’ll enjoy this week!
You’re a graduate of The Writer’s Studio. Can you tell us about your experience while there?
Yes, I’m a graduate of The Writer’s Studio (2013, fiction). My TWS experience was transformational. After years of writing in isolation, I learned the value of being part of community through the workshop experience. It emboldened me to take risks with my writing, go deeper. And I gave myself a challenge: any writing-related endeavours I was asked to participate in, no matter how far outside my comfort zone, the answer would be yes. I call it The Sink or Swim School of Learning. I recommend it—with one proviso: eventually one needs to develop focus, while remaining open to opportunities.
You were a host for the monthly SFU TWS Reading Series at the Cottage Bistro. What can you tell us about that experience and what you have learned?
My year as co-host of the TWS Reading Series has just wrapped up. I’m a big proponent of public reading as part of process. It’s helpful to test material on a live audience. Even though the listening experience is different than the reading experience, the audience will give the writer/reader an indication of what’s working in a piece, and sometimes what’s not. I really enjoyed seeing current TWS students (and alumni) testing their wings, and being met with the support and encouragement of great audiences. It was great to build connections with other writers who filled the playbill each month, including a series of poets and writers who featured for us from the larger literary community. I will miss working with my co-host Wendy Barron (TWS 2014), but I’m delighted that Shazia Hafiz Ramji (TWS 2015) has stepped into my role. It’s bound to be a great season ahead.
What projects are you working on currently?
Currently I am revising some short stories. I have had a bit of a crazy year but am finally able to get back to submitting pieces for publication. I have two that I will shop around shortly and many that need revision/completion. I’m also playing with personal essay as a form. And I have a novel in progress that’s doing drawer time. I am looking for a way to fall back in love with that project. My main challenge at present is to focus on completion. I tend to start new pieces before I’ve completed others, which keeps the generative muscles supple but atrophies the long-haul revision muscles.
What advice do you have for future TWS students working on their submissions for emerge?
Future TWS students working on their submissions for emerge would do well to start thinking about it early in their Studio year. I think the best mindset to approach the challenge with is to consider the submission like a snapshot in time of one’s writing: it isn’t going to be the ultimate measure of where you land as a writer, but it’s a reflection of where you were at this stage of your writing. In other words, it doesn’t “all end here.” I’ve seen some pretty anxious writers get close to obsessing over their pieces. My best advice would be to choose a piece of the appropriate word count that you’ve work-shopped and polished in the first quarter of the year, and then to relax with the process.
Is there a question you wish someone would ask you as a writer and a supporter of the arts?
I warm to the topic of the importance of the arts to education and life. It’s one of my “soapbox subjects,” sparking some pretty impassioned opinions. It saddens me to see the arts be the first to fall under the axe of budget cuts in most educational systems. The arts enable us to make sense of our world, to explore other cultures, to grow empathy. Never was that more critical to a people than now.