Born and raised in Salem, Gary Fisketjon now splits his time between Tennessee and New York, where he has established himself as a successful and influential editor. He is currently the vice president and editor-at-large at Penguin Random Houses’s Knopf publishing group, “a publisher of distinguished hardcover fiction and nonfiction,” according to their website. He has worked with famous literary minds including Cormac McCarthy and Haruki Murakami.
Fisketjon will be returning to Salem this week, Thursday, March 7, as Willamette University’s second speaker of the Spring 2019 Hallie Ford Literary Series. He will be in conversation with creative writing faculty in an evening titled The Art of Editing at 7:30 p.m. in the Hatfield Room.
Fisketjon explained editing is a profession he “kind of walked into.”
After studying philosophy, literature and history at Williams College in Massachusetts, he had difficulty finding a job, and eventually looked into publishing despite having little to no knowledge about its inner workings. His random career choice proved to be a dazzling fit.
“It’s been a great life, and still is,” Fisketjon said.
However, this great life did not come without hard work and long hours.
“It’s one of those jobs that doesn’t quit…it’s not 40 hours a week, it’s not nine to five, and it’s not overtime. It is a life, not just a job,” he explained, continuing to say that even his vacations feature hours on the clock.
“No matter who I am editing, I will do five pages in an hour, whether it is a 10th book or a first book. That’s what it takes to read a book with the level of care that I think is called for,” he said about his editing process.
Fisketjon said the publishing and editing process is full of excitement, citing the moments where a new, talented author is discovered to seeing a good cover sketch for the first time. However, his favorite moments reside within his editing process of five pages in an hour.
“When you spend that amount of time looking at it, you are sort of getting into the DNA of the book, so that you can come to understand what makes it so good,” he said. “It defies the law of nature. By nature, nothing comes of nothing. You can’t create energy out of thin air. Well, that’s what good books do. They are invented things that seem as real as anything and as powerful as anything.”
For students who are interested in pursuing writing or editing, he explained that these careers require patience and self-confidence. He said this is particularly important for writers, as it takes years of practice to become a skillful author.
“I often say to young people who are thinking about going into publishing, I say it’s the perfect kind of job to have. While you don’t make any money in particular, you work all the time, so you don’t have time to spend the money you’re not making. It balances out very neatly,” he said.
Fisketjon made it clear that even if the publishing industry does not offer the highest paying jobs, it is his passion, and he encourages students to pursue a path that includes theirs.