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Aerin Caley

An Interview with Lorina Stephens, Editors Canada Conference Keynote Speaker

Lorina Stephens
Keynote Speaker Lorina Stephens
Photo courtesy of Lorina Stephens

Lorina Stephens didn’t start her career in writing and publishing. She has been a manager and bookkeeper for companies as diverse as a civil engineering firm, Faberge of Canada, and her own custom glass installation company. She has also created and sold historically accurate clothing patterns and has explored other arts such as sculpture, printmaking and painting (which she started at the age of 14 under the tutelage of artist Dorothy Milne Eplett).

She began her formal writing career as a freelance journalist, amassing experience with several local publications. In 2008, she founded Five Rivers Publishing, with the goal of providing a voice for Canadian authors. The backlist of 100 publications, from 32 authors, includes works by Nate Hendley, H.A. Hargreaves, Ann Marston, Dave Duncan, and C.P. Hoff, along with her own works. Her vast range of life experience informs her own written works, which span genres from science fiction to contemporary ghost stories, cookbooks and guidebooks.

Editors Canada is delighted that on Sunday, May 29, 2022, at 4 p.m. ET, Lorina will give the second keynote address at our virtual conference, Editors 22: Editing for a Changing World.

(This interview has been lightly edited.)

Aerin Caley: What book has Five Rivers published that you’re most proud of and why?

Lorina Stephens: There are so many books I was proud to publish, but the one that stands out has to be Nate Hendley’s, The Boy on the Bicycle: A Forgotten Case of Wrongful Conviction in Toronto. It is the story of the wrongful conviction in 1956 of Ron Moffatt, who was 14 years old and in the wrong place, at the wrong time and subjected to a coerced confession and fumbled police investigation regarding a brutal and heinous murder. I had always been pleased to publish anything from Nate, because his research is excellent and his writing incisive, and in this case his exposé helped Ron to obtain a formal apology from the provincial government in 2019.

I’ve always believed in championing the underdog, in supporting social justice, so Nate’s book was a perfect manifestation of that paradigm.

AC: What one piece of advice would you give editors, from a publisher’s viewpoint?

LS: I think the best piece of advice, from a publisher’s perspective, is to keep your hands off the creative framework of an author’s work, and to read and understand a wide variety of topics in order to better inform your editorial decisions and comments.

In the case of the first point, I think it’s important to understand what the author is trying to say, how they’re trying to say it, and why. Art is, after all, subjective, and what may be to your taste may not be to another’s. So it’s important to achieve that fine balance between effective communication and the latitude required to create startling art.

An understanding of artistic latitude and an understanding of the workings of the world are, in my opinion, essential to being an effective editor.

AC: Did your work as a publisher change your approach to writing?

LS: I would have to honestly say it was the other way around. Being a writer helped me to understand how to effectively and meaningfully create powerful and lasting relationships with the authors I published. It gave me a deeper insight into the creative process, and definitely informed business decisions such as when an author was running behind on a deadline, because I’d been there myself. I already was a very disciplined and organized writer, and it was that discipline and organizational skill that helped me create a vibrant and empowered team. I don’t think I could have published as many books, on such a wide variety of topics and in so many genres, had I not had that experience as a writer and as a freelance journalist.

What did change my approach to writing was when I started working as an editor, because I was picking up on errors and possible refinements I was guilty of myself. And that, in turn, helped me be a better publisher, as well as a better writer.

AC: Your latest release was Dreams of the Moon; are you working on anything new?

LS: I smiled when I read that question because I’m always working on something new. If I can’t be creative in some fashion, it’s like not being able to breathe or drink or live. Yes, yes, I know that sounds oh-so-very artistique. But it does happen to be true.

As to the particulars of what I’m working on in the field of writing? Well, there’s the new opus, Hekja’s Lament, which is an historical tragedy based upon the settlement of L’Anse aux Meadows circa 1021 CE and a reference to a slave in The Vinland Sagas.

Two of my short stories will make a debut this spring, one in Pulp Literature, called “Would We Had Time,” and the other in On Spec, called “Water Rights.”

And, of course, I’m recording an audiobook of my latest novel, The Rose Guardian.

AC: Can you give us a teaser of what you’ll be talking about in your keynote presentation?

LS: Well, given the theme is editing for a changing world, it will be about exactly that: about societal and technological changes that affect the business of editing — both historically and presently — and how we, as editors, can continue to evolve. Or at least my perspective on the world and our place in it.

Thanks very much for this opportunity to be one of your keynote speakers. I’m very excited about that, and about furthering the cause of literature in all its forms.

To hear Lorina’s upcoming keynote speech, please register for the 2022 Editors Canada Conference.

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