Q&A with Karen and Doug
Last week we announced that Karen Brochu, VP of Sales and Marketing, will be stepping into the role of Publisher at House of Anansi, and Douglas Richmond, Senior Editor, will be moving into the position of Editorial Director. Karen and Doug have both been with the house for nearly a decade. With so many years of Anansi experience, we had to ask them some important questions about their time at the house. You'll find anecdotes ranging from a snowy road trip with Tessa and Scott to their favourite Anansi holiday potluck recipes. Pull up a chair and grab your favourite Henderson beer for this deep dive Q&A.
What do you remember about your first day at Anansi? Did you bring a lunch? Tell us everything!
KB: At our office we have three small fridges and a freezer in a row and they all look the exact same. On my very first day I brought a sandwich and put it in the freezer by accident. Later, a colleague watched me take it out, and I tried to pretend I’d frozen it on purpose. I then proceeded to microwave it to make it edible. I still think about this all the time.
DR: I remember feeling overdressed, as I’d come from a downtown office with a slightly more conservative workplace culture. Much of the publishing group has since departed, but I distinctly recall meeting Karen Brochu from the sales team on that first day. She was still new to Anansi at that time, and like me, she was excited to be working for such a distinguished house. For lunch, I probably walked up to Nonna’s Place, a small Italian take-out that served inexpensive yet delicious sandwiches and pastas of the day. Sadly, Nonna’s is no more, but Karen and I are still at Anansi.
What was the first book you worked on at Anansi?
KB: Prior to my start date, I was sent several manuscripts to read as I was going to be selling the Fall list to Indigo soon after starting. Two of those books were The Break by Katherena Vermette and The Best Kind of People by Zoe Whittall. It was a really fun start to my time at Anansi getting to sell and work on those two books!
DR: I was immediately thrown into the deep end when I joined Anansi in the summer of 2016, and I was happy for the opportunity to work with so many great writers. A book that sticks out to me from those early days is Spirit Bear: Encounters with the White Bear of the Western Rainforest by the late naturalist Charles Russell. It was a complete redesign of a book that had originally been published in 1994 by Key Porter. Charlie was a pleasure to work with, and the content of the book—especially the incredible photography—was unlike anything I’d worked on previously in my career.
Karen, you’ve been to some very good places. Any fun work trip stories?
KB: The top work trip locations for me have been New Orleans, Puerto Rico, and the Bahamas! As for stories, probably one of my most memorable days on the road consisted of Chicken Shit Bingo and then a night at a duelling piano bar in Austin.
Doug, you famously (to me) edited the Tessa and Scott book. What was that like?
DR: Working with Tessa and Scott was a blast! They were such warm and welcoming people from day one. We laughed a lot, swapped stories, and consumed a lot of doughnuts. After one especially long day of interviews in Hamilton, I drove Tessa back to Toronto in the middle of an intense snowstorm. I stayed in the right lane and kept our speed low, all the while thinking to myself, “Stay alert, Richmond. You’re transporting a national treasure!”
We’re serious about snacks at Anansi. What’s your go-to office snack?
KB: There’s yet to be a kitchen treat I’ll turn down, but these days a go-to afternoon pick-me-up is a Nutella bombolini from upstairs at Spaccio!
DR: I’ll gladly partake of just about anything left out on the kitchen island, especially anything salty.
Another food question: You’ve been to many Anansi/Groundwood holiday potluck lunches. Which of your contributions are you most proud?
KB: Such a hard one! I think probably my top contribution has been a toffee square recipe that I inherited from my grandfather, which I lovingly call Grampa Squares. You’ve gotta be quick at the potluck sign-up sheet to get a dessert slot, but I think my squares are worth the stampede.
DR: I make a mean variation on the traditional Railroad Pie that’s become a staple of our office potlucks. It’s basically a hot cheese dip made with old cheddar, chopped onion, hot mustard, mayo, black pepper, and Worcestershire sauce. I like to serve it with Triscuits. Watch out, though, it’s mouth-burningly delicious!
What’s the most important item at your desk? For example, when we all departed from the office in a hurry back in March 2020, what was the first thing you thought to take home with you?
KB: Besides the essentials like my computer? My cuticle oil! I keep my favourite one at the office to remind me to use it, and when I came back to pack up a few things in 2020, that was a must grab. I also picked up some of the many pairs of shoes I had stashed at the office but turns out I didn’t need to wear heels for about two years anyway!
DR: My laptop. It holds all my files, my manuscripts, and my secrets.
Karen, here’s the big one for a seasoned sales gal like yourself. Answer our most asked question in the bookshop: “I’m going to a baby shower, what book do I bring?”
KB: If you are looking for a single book, my current go-to recommendation is Busy, Busy Birds, a board book by Geraldo Valério. It has dynamic and bright art and is perfect for chewing. If you are looking for something a little more substantial, I would recommend a few (or all!) the books from the Buddy and Earl series by Maureen Fergus and illustrated by Carey Sookochef, a hilarious series with charming illustrations that never fails to please.
Doug, when you’re on an editing deadline do you go for coffee or tea?
DR: Coffee in the morning. Tea in the afternoon. Whisky at night.
You’re also a new dad, how do you find time to read?
DR: I’m still looking for it.
Favourite beer from our neighbours at Henderson's?
DR: I’m a big fan of their Figo Italian Pilsner and their classic Pearson Express IPA. And I’m always down to try whatever new “Ides” beer they’ve produced that month. The recent Voyageur (Ides of May 2023) was excellent.
Stay tuned for more behind-the-scenes moments with our team!