Okay, it's possible she's not very nice. Her Globe and Mail columns recounting her lunches with celebrities became so notorious for their nastiness that local lights considered turning down her lunch dates.
But Jan Wong's a tough, seasoned journalist. She was the Globe's Beijing correspondent in the 90s, came back to Toronto to become the newspaper's star reporter, and famously went undercover as a maid to report on the experience in a series that was nominated for a National Newspaper Award.
She's well known, highly skilled and writes like a dream. So why did she have to self-publish Out Of The Blue, her new book on her experience of depression and the way her employer, the Globe, dealt with it (see review, page 64)? Did our national newspaper put the screws on her original publisher, Doubleday? Is that why the company opted out of the Wong project?
We can't say. Globe and Mail publisher Phillip Crawley is not returning calls.
But the chronology of events, as Wong offers it, may offer some clues. Doubleday had made sure the manuscript was lawyered, and Wong handled every one of the concerns line by line, sitting at legal council's side and responding to suggestions that some sections be moved and questions about vocabulary.
"I can't remember which words exactly, because none of them mattered to me," she says when asked for specifics. "I assumed the Doubleday lawyer [paid in part by Wong] was on my side."
Having satisfied the legal team, Wong was surprised when she was called back into the Doubleday offices. "The big honchos were there," she recalls, "- something that's never happened to me before once a book has gone to copy editors."
They'd brought back the manuscript with sections highlighted that they wanted her to change or move.
"That included every single mention of the Globe and a few references to [Globe insurer] Manulife."
Wong says she and the publisher amicably agreed to part when she refused to make these changes. Doubleday is keeping mum about what went wrong.
"We had a difference of opinion about the direction of the manuscript. We wish Ms. Wong all the best," is the terse comment from spokesperson and marketing manager Tracey Turriff.
That's nice, even if it makes no sense from a business perspective. I mean, really, what's likely to sell more, a book about depression with a courageous personal account by a survivor of the disease or a book about depression with a courageous personal account by a survivor of the disease that includes her conflict with her employer, Canada's iconic national newspaper?
After she wrote an article about her depression in Chatelaine in the fall of 2010 mentioning her forthcoming book, Wong recalls that Globe in-house counsel called the lawyer she shared with Doubleday, Brian Rogers. Rogers is not answering questions, citing lawyer-client (Doubleday in this case) privilege.
Wong, for her part, doesn't want to give the impression that her publishers caved in to pressure. She does say that when they parted ways, Doubleday, as had the Globe when she was fired, tried to impose a confidentiality order regarding what had transpired between them. She refused, choosing to include some details about her final negotiations with Doubleday in the afterword to her memoir.
"It isn't in my interest to expose this [behaviour] of my long-time publisher. But I don't worry about advantage or disadvantage. It's about whether the conversation should take place in public. To not speak is an issue - that's part of the story."