This is the first in a series of posts about being an editorial intern. My aim is to share some stories and provide publishing tips to emerging writers through an insider’s view of the industry.
With the bug-eyed alertness of a cat stalking its prey, I watched a grey-haired woman push her walker into the middle of King Street and approach a cab. The cab I needed.
I was on my way to the second interview for the job of my dreams, and I was panicking. My dream job was an editorial assistant position at Penguin Random House Canada, where I might not only have the opportunity to work on Canadian literary blockbusters, but also with international superstars such as Ian McEwan, Salman Rushdie, and my personal favourite, Kazuo Ishiguro. I’d left my house with an hour to spare, though I live downtown and the trip was only supposed to take twenty minutes. On my way to the streetcar, I stopped at a pharmacy in order to pick up a new lipstick. After all, I was going to arrive so early I’d have to wait in a coffee shop. The lipstick I was wearing would rub off on the rim of the soothing cup of tea I would order. I’d need to reapply.
Afterwards, clomping along in my heels, I saw three streetcars pass in quick succession. When the next one finally arrived, it was short turning. There was so much construction on Dundas—a familiar story in Toronto during the spring and summer—that rather than wait eons for the next one I hopped on a streetcar heading south to King and then on another heading east to Yonge Street.
“I have to be at King and Yonge for noon,” I informed the driver. “Will I make it?”
“That depends on traffic,” he answered. “Right now, it’s not looking good.”
It was 11:50 a.m. A few minutes later, I saw the cab, and then the woman shuffling towards it. Shit, I thought. Shit, shit, shit.
“Excuse me,” I said to the streetcar driver. “Can you please open the doors? I have to get that cab.”
We were stopped at a light. “I can’t let you out here.”
“Please,” I said, “I have a job interview in ten minutes.” He slid the doors open for me.
The woman was leaning through the cab’s open window, talking to the driver. He had one of those old-school map books out. “Are you taking this cab?” I demanded.
No,” she said. “I’m getting directions.”
I jumped in. Was I doing this? I was. “I’m so sorry,” I shouted, hysterical now. “I have to be at King and Yonge in five minutes. I’m so sorry, I’m so sorry. But you have to go right now.”
“Please help me,” said the old woman to the cabbie.
“I’m so sorry,” I repeated, whether to the woman or the cabbie or the universe, I wasn’t sure. The cabbie rolled up his window and drove off, leaving the woman alone in the intersection.
I made it with less than a minute to spare, but, perhaps due to karma, I didn’t get the job. Instead, I got the position I’d originally applied for—an internship—and spent three blissful months this summer reading submissions, attending editorial meetings, and even shadow editing a couple of titles. It was an odd feeling to work at a major publishing house at the same time as I was trying to sell my own debut short-story collection. “Think of yourself as a spy on assignment,” a friend advised me. But that wasn’t it, exactly. I love to write, to edit, and to teach. I want to work in publishing. I want it all.