Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

Interview: Christina Palassio, (former) Managing Editor, Coach House Books

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Interview: Christina Palassio, (former) Managing Editor, Coach House Books

At the first meeting I had with Coach House, Christina identified herself as the person who does "the contracts and all of that sort of stuff." In essence, she kept the authors paid, the lights on and even squeezed out a couple of books along the way: Edible Toronto, The State of the Arts: Living with Culture in Toronto, GreenTOpia: Towards a Sustainable Toronto and HTO: Toronto’s Water from Lake Iroquois to Lost Rivers to Low-flow Toilets. She has also written for the Globe and Mail, the Montreal Gazette and Matrix Magazine.

Christina is a producer, of sorts. I've worked with a lot of producers and arts management people; a lot of those experiences have been fab, some not so much. Christina sets just the right tone; you know the lights will stay on and business will get done. But she does that extra thing that stellar producers do, she keeps us inspired. It's hard to be inspired if you don't know if the cheques're coming in.

She's an app fiend. I was once engaged in a hot debate as to whether it was Al Pacino who played The Devil in that movie with Keanu Reeves. From somewhere in the wireless universe, Palassio said yup, it was. I knew it. Since leaving Coach House earlier this month, she has set her sights on Toronto's hunger problem at the Stop Community Food Centre. Christina kindly answered some questions just before her departure.

1. Clearly, you are on the money trail. Who are you and how did you land at Coach House? Did Stan (Bevington, Coach House Founder) poach you?

Ha ha. Actually, I started at Coach House as a marketing and publicity intern six years ago and learned the money stuff on the job with the help of our Editorial Director Alana Wilcox and a couple of great bookkeepers and accountants. (And an accounting course.)

2. Editors keep the dream alive. Or, at least, make it comprehensible. What’s the difference between a Managing Editor and the regular editors we all know and love?

I think the role of managing editor is different from press to press. The job at CH, as it was while I held it, was pretty broad. I did some editing, design and a bit of promo as well as all the bookkeeping and invoicing, contracts, rights sales, inventory and distribution management and many of our grants.

3. You’re a triple threat. You can find your way around a budget, edit books and are a mean app navigator. What’s the future of your special project, the Coach House app?

The Coach House Coffee Room app was initially developed as a promotional tool that would help promote the CH brand and spread the word about our books and events. Going forward, the idea is to make the app iPad compatible, and to make it adaptable to the BlackBerry and Android OSs. Once that's accomplished, there's really no limit to how it can be used. We hope to be able to sell ebooks through the app in the next year or so, and to see it transition from a sales and marketing tool to a content-delivery tool in the longer term.

4. You ought to be proud of yourself. You’ve put some fab books out into the world. They’ve meant a lot to a lot of us. How will the lucky Stop Community Food Bank benefit from your fab-ness?

I'll be doing a lot of fundraising and event coordination at the Stop. I've been volunteering with them for a year and a half now, and I'm a huge supporter of their programs, which range from a drop-in centre and food education programs to a year-round greenhouse and catering programs. I hope that I can apply the promotional, administrative and editorial experience I gained at CH to my position at the Stop, and, of course, to learn a whole whack of new things, too!

5. Every time someone (usually my in-laws) asks me how many copies of The Drifts have been sold, I tell them: uh, hello? That’s not why I wrote it. Ask Christina. How important are book sales to keeping the Coach House doors open?

*Very important!* Small literary publishers in Canada can't survive without funding from provincial and federal grants. That said, we're constantly fighting to increase our domestic and export sales. As the number of independent bookstores continues to shrink, selling books becomes more and more difficult. So we take out co-op in bookstores and ads in magazines and on websites. We send out advance reading copies to key media and booksellers. We run a pretty neat website that chock-full of information and fun ephemeral items. We have an app, as well as a Facebook page, a Twitter account, and groups on Goodreads, Librarything and Shelfari. We go to conferences and bookfairs, and we're always trying to hunt down bulk advance sales too. And that's only what I can think of right now. Which is all to say that we're always trying to boost our sales in every way possible. Buy our books! They're beautiful and a pleasure to read. In doing so, you'll be supporting Canadian authors, Canadian printers, a Canadian publisher and a Canadian bookstore, too!

6. Now that you’re transitioning away from the Coach House, what secrets are buried there? Margaret Atwood’s hairpins in the back porch cement? Bp Nichol’s chewing gum stuck under the picnic table? Spill the beans, please.

Well, currently there's a squirrel trying to burrow its way out of the space between the roof and the ceiling and into our coffee room. And I'm sure there are any number of mummified squirrels hidden away behind baseboards and between floors. It's a strange little jungle in here.

7. How did the Coach House legacy shape how you went about your job?

I was definitely intimidated when I first started at Coach House, working in a place that's been home to so much artistic innovation. In my six years at Coach House, I always tried to push the press forward while keeping in mind the traditions and history of the place. Not sure if I succeeded, but I gave it a good shot.

8. What do you know about writers and publishing now, that you didn’t know when you started at Coach House?

A lot. Publishing is a very complicated industry, and there's a lot to learn. The advantage of working for a small press like Coach House is that you get to have your fingers in almost everything, so you learn the interrelatedness of things pretty quickly.

9. As someone who is often caught doing appalling things, I’m wondering what’s the most appalling thing you’ve done while on deck at Coach House? I did hear a bourbon-slurred story about you, ice and a loo. Any particular winter plumbing tips you can offer?

>>No no, you're conflating two stories. The ice and loo came together on my birthday, in January, when I walked into our 'washroom' to find the water in the bowl frozen. I had to boil water to melt the ice before anyone could use the loo. The bourbon is every other story.

10. Is Evan (Coach House’s publicist) going to steal your desk?

I recommended that he should, but I'm not sure if he'll listen. (He's a stubborn lad.) It is bigger than his, and has a better view of the window. But my computer screen is right out there in the open, so it's not the best place to do undercover work ...

READING: Lansing, Michigan. I'm crossing the border and heading to my hometown for a reading on Thursday, July 29, 2010 at 7pm out at Schuler Books on Eastwood near Lake Lansing. Come on out!

The views expressed in the Writer-in-Residence blogs are those held by the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Open Book: Toronto.

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Thom Vernon

Thom Vernon has worked in film, television and theatre since 1989. He has been the Actors’ Gang Youth Education Program director and has worked as an arts educator at the Lorraine Kimsa Theatre for Young People. The Drifts (Coach House Books) is his first novel.

Go to Thom Vernon’s Author Page