Member Interview: Janet Love Morrison

Written by Frances Peck; copy edited by Karen Barry

Janet Love Morrison is a writer, editor, and speaker based in Maple Ridge. Her five books include The Crazy Canucks: Canada’s Legendary Ski Team, winner of the 2009 One Book, One Vancouver award, and the illustrated kids’ book Radar the Rescue Dog.

Every time I talk to you or read about you, I learn some new detail about your life. It seems there are about seven Janet Love Morrisons. Is that true?

I never thought too much about it, to be honest. One newspaper did write: “Janet Love Morrison can’t be pigeonholed…” I’d say each chapter of my life has been rich with the people I’ve met and the lessons I’ve learned.

What got you into writing and editing? Was there an “aha” moment when you decided “This is what I want to do”?

I was living in Whistler in the mid-1980s, and one summer the local paper was soliciting travel stories. Whistler had about 1,100 year-round residents at the time and was still very quiet in the summer. I submitted a story, it got published, and I won an extra-large pizza! That experience created in me the belief that I could learn to write and get published.

Years later, in 1994, I was in Cambodia just after the first democratic election. The United Nations was pulling out and most of the soldiers had left. I was there with two doctor–photographers, and a young man named So took us out to the Killing Fields. Sitting in the shade by the memorial, he told me his horrific story of living through the genocide. He carried an English dictionary a UN solider had given him, and he was working so hard to learn English because he believed one day tourists would travel back to Cambodia and he wanted to be ready for them. I marvelled at his capacity to rise and not allow his past to determine his future. Also, his success was going to be another’s success because he wanted to create work for other Cambodians. That was such a profound moment for me. After that, I just wanted to honour people who meet their challenges and rise, because I believe they inspire others to rise too. [In this way] So gave me the clarity of why I write.

As for editing, that began with teaching ESL. Grammar was my weakest skill and I wanted to make it a strength, so studying grammar seemed a natural progression with my writing. I learned how to polish my own work as best I could. Then people started asking me to edit different texts. I was asked to be an editor for Masters’ World in Kuala Lumpur—that was a wonderful opportunity to learn about the magazine industry. Since then I’ve continued to take courses and workshops, and [to] do everything I can to learn more. I certainly didn’t plan on becoming an editor. Writing morphed into editing, opportunities came to me, and editing became an extension of writing.

Is it hard being both a writer and an editor? Do you keep the roles separate, or do they blend into each other?

I enjoy both processes. I love being a writer and working with an editor. Having a fresh eye and perspective brings so much to the creative process. I love to learn.

When I’m wearing an editor’s hat, I’m grateful for the writer’s trust and I do everything I can for them to see their possibility. I generally ask if they want to learn some writing tips. If they say yes, I try to help them learn a little more about the craft so the next time they write, hopefully they’ll have more confidence and skill. When I’m editing someone else’s work, it depends on what the client wants. I do my best to respect their voice and their intent; I don’t want to bring “me” into it.

You’ve lived in a dazzling array of countries: Switzerland, Israel, India, Japan, Malaysia. How has being a world citizen fed you as an editor and writer?

I’ve always felt I’m a citizen of this world first, a Canadian second. I’ve lived in a Hindu country, a Muslim country, a Jewish country, and a Buddhist country, and friends have invited me to participate in celebrations of all faiths. We are one race, the human race, and I believe that when we all rise to be the best we can be as individuals, and respect one another’s beliefs, we will rise as humanity. My parents, life experiences, and the teachings of Master Dhyan Vimal created an awareness in me to be a friend to mankind wherever I can, which drives me to be the best I can be as both a writer and editor.

Now you’re a goodwill ambassador for Friends to Mankind, an international non-profit. Tell us about that.

When I first met Dhyan Vimal, founder of Friends to Mankind, I felt I had come home. The ethos is perfect for me: “Doing what we can, where we are.” That statement allows anyone to find something they care about and act—children, animals, the environment, and so on. If we can all say, “I’m a friend to mankind,” this [prevents] any negative action toward another human being. You wouldn’t want to hurt a friend; you would do all you could to help. One of the core principles is “My success is the success for mankind.” My success is for humanity, and I can celebrate my success because it’s for others too. I volunteer some of my time to help other writers whose intent is to serve. It is an honour to be a goodwill ambassador for Friends to Mankind.

You also have a long connection with skiing and have written some books on the subject.

I started skiing on our front lawn in Port Coquitlam back when the Lower Mainland got snow almost every winter. My brother and I, who were maybe 10 or 11 at the time, would use ski poles to create a slalom course with about three gates to ski around. After that, I mowed lawns in the summer so I could go up Grouse Mountain with an after-school program (my parents paid for half). I first skied Whistler Mountain when the town centre was still a garbage dump! I eventually moved to Whistler and lived there for 15 years. I was the last alpine caretaker for Whistler Mountain Ski Corporation in the 1980s. There’s more about that chapter of my life in this Ski Canada article.

The ski industry was my first genre as a writer. Writing about it was a marvellous opportunity to celebrate figures like the Crazy Canucks, the pioneers of Whistler, and Radar, Canada’s first avalanche rescue dog. It wasn’t so much about skiing; it was more about honouring them.

Justin Trudeau, whose brother Michel died in an avalanche in 1998, wrote the foreword to your latest book, Radar the Rescue Dog. What was it like dealing with him?

Justin was terrific. I wrote him and heard back in two days. He understood my intent: to create awareness about mountain safety and to teach children to stand in their power, stand up to bullies, and not allow anyone to influence them to do anything they don’t want to do.

Then there’s Peter Mansbridge, who wrote the foreword to The Crazy Canucks. He got the manuscript on a Thursday and asked me for his deadline. I told him Monday morning and he had it done Sunday afternoon. I told him, “From now on, I’m going to say that I got to give Peter Mansbridge a deadline!” He laughed.

Any parallels between skiing and writing/editing?

Interesting question…sometimes you get champagne powder moments and other times you get caught in the bumps. Eventually both will end, so enjoy both rides, stay centred, and celebrate the learning.

Top travel tip?

Don’t compare anything to back home. Every culture and tradition is unique. One isn’t better than another. A wise Master once told me, “Don’t compare a rose bush to a bamboo tree; the world needs both.”

Top tip for editors who also write?

Live on the side of possibility.

Frances Peck, a partner with West Coast Editorial Associates, has been an EAC member and volunteer for nearly 20 years.

Karen Barry is launching into freelance editing and is currently enrolled in SFU’s Editing Certificate program. She has a background in biology and over 15 years’ experience writing and editing research papers, technical reports, grant proposals, and promotional and educational materials.

Image provided by Janet Love Morrison

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