Saturday, January 12, 2013

Jane Henderson, Post Dispatch Book Reviewer, at the MWG Conference

Jane Henderson, book editor from The St. Louis Post Dispatch, will be the keynote speaker for the 2013 Missouri Writers Guild awards banquet on Saturday night of the conference. She grew up in the St. Louis area and graduated from the University of Missouri-Columbia with degrees in journalism and English literature. She cut short her work as a grad student in English to go to work as a copy editor for the St. Louis Globe-Democrat in the mid-1980s. The Globe would close a few years later (due to money issues, not misplaced modifiers). After working for three years in the newsroom of the Hartford Courant in Connecticut, Henderson returned to St. Louis and has been an editor and writer with the Post-Dispatch's features department for 23 years. Seventeen of those years have been as book editor. As book editor, Henderson assigns and edits book reviews, choosing from some 300 or so new books each week. She has written stories about book trends and interviewed many authors, from Salman Rushdie to Joan Didion to E.L. Doctorow. Usually, but not always, that's a pleasurable thing.

MWG: Hi Jane, we are so excited to have you come and talk to us at the conference. Let's start with this: What do you think makes a great book?

Jane: This is so hard to answer, isn't it? If we're talking about fiction, we'd need a strong plot, amazing characters, and fascinating prose, plus some interesting themes. Even then, not every novel that is well-written connects with every reader. I suspect that one's own life experience and even age and mood play a role in how a reader responds to a book. When it comes to nonfiction, I prefer books that have original, thorough research and a writer who can make anything interesting. Of course, both nonfiction and fiction should be well-edited and look professional (the fact that I even point that out shows that it's not always a given these days).

MWG: Unfortunately, that is true. SO the opposite then--what makes a book no good?

Jane: No good? Well, a lot of books have good points, but just aren't great. For me, if a nonfiction book has even a hint of being plagiarized or made up, it's no good.

MWG: What do you plan to share at the MWG conference keynote address?

Jane: I'm not entirely sure, but I assume writers will want to know about reviewing and how to get reviewed. I will talk about how there is a difference between reviewing a book and "supporting" an author, and that reviewers should be fair -- but that isn't the same thing as being objective.

MWG: That sounds interesting, and I think something all writers will need and/or want to hear--no matter where they are at in their careers! In general, what do authors need to know about getting their books reviewed? 

Jane: It's really difficult to get traditional newspaper reviews now. Most have less space and smaller freelance budgets. On the other hand, the reviews on the web have opened up a whole, new world. I will definitely talk more about this at the conference.

MWG: Sounds great! So, what are your favorite types or genre of books?

Jane: I suppose my favorite is realistic literary fiction. But anything well-written can be interesting!

MWG: What inspired you to promote books and authors in your career?

Jane: When I was a kid, I loved to read. I wanted to major in English literature in college, but I also thought I'd better study journalism so I could get a job. So I got degrees in both. I was working toward my master's in English when I got the chance to work as a copy editor at the old Globe-Democrat. About eight years later, I happened to be at the Post-Dispatch and was asked to fill in for the book editor while he was working on a project. Like so much in life, it was a bit of being in the right place at the right time. I ended up keeping the job, which was perfect for me.

MWG: It sounds like you were in the right place at the right time--AND you did a good job at it, too. Thank you, Jane, we look forward to hearing more at the conference! 

Interview by Margo L. Dill, author of Finding My Place: One Girl's Strength at Vicksburg 

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