November 04, 1985 12:00 PM

Working parents on the PEOPLE staff often find that they have working children, at least as a source of ideas for stories. This has certainly been true for Assistant Editor Joyce Wansley, who has a creative wellspring in her 6-year-old daughter Vanessa.

“She’s been an inspiration,” says Wansley, who credits her perky second-grader at the Berkeley Carroll Street School in Brooklyn with tipping us off to Strawberry Shortcake (those strawberry scented dolls), the multicolored, clanky kids’ charm necklaces and kiddie calling cards. Vanessa’s contribution to this week’s issue is the candy vogue, gummi bears and worms (p. 68). “I noticed that every time I took Vanessa to the movies, she’d ask, ‘Can’t we have gummi bears?’ ” reports Wansley. “Then, when the TV cartoon came on NBC, it clicked for me that gummis are a national fad.”

Vanessa has unwittingly been of assistance on other stories. When Wansley was stuck on how to structure an article about a children’s space camp in Huntsville, Ala., she decided to turn her article into a letter written by Vanessa to her aunt, Betsy Young, who also happens to be a PEOPLE picture editor. It worked.

Wansley, 36, joined the magazine prior to its March 1974 debut (older sister Betsy joined a few months later). Since then, Joyce finds she has “done a story for just about every section of the magazine, except Jocks.” Born in East Elmhurst, N.Y., Wansley (who retains her maiden name) attended Queens College and is married to Leslie Agard-Jones, 41, a college history professor who spent much of last summer touring West Africa as a Fulbright scholar.

Joyce now edits PEOPLE’S Mail column. “Each week I choose perhaps a dozen letters,” she explains. “I pick those that most represent the opinions of the letter writers.”

There’s no predicting which stories will generate the heaviest response, Wansley finds. “Sometimes readers will surprise us and go for a subject that we would never have anticipated.” Such was the case with the Sept. 16 cover story, which posed the question: “Has Rock Gone Too Far?” The response was a record 2,035 letters, topping the number of letters that followed our Aug. 5 cover on abortion.

“When we get a landslide response,” Wansley says, “the editors expand the Mail section. Our aim,” she adds, “is to accommodate as many points of view as possible.”

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