This is funny, unless you are one of my editors. If you are one of them…no laughing matter at all.
To them, my overuse of the comma was nothing to joke about. Thanks to their intervention, I have admitted I have problem and I am on the way to kicking it. Once I deal with commas, I will take on the exclamation mark and the word ‘very’. One step at a time, right?
Crap! I have used five commas already…dang it!
The steep learning curve in this book-writing process has been one of the best things about it. Although I loved Cowboy Cody from the beginning, there was a point when I needed to seek an editor to collaborate with. I was too close to this project to be objective…I wish that I could have just taken my mom’s opinion of my book and gone to print, but I was pretty sure that she was maybe a little bit biased. What I really needed was critical feedback from someone who didn’t love me so that I could use the feedback to address the areas where the story was weak.
I look back, and think how cute it was that I thought my story was pretty much done last spring.
Dorothy Lethbridge recommended that I seek the expertise of a friend of theirs named Thelma Poirier. Thelma was an editor/editorial consultant for all three of Victor’s books. Dorothy and Victor raved about Thelma’s vast knowledge, experience and honesty. During her career Thelma has written and published several books. Her publications include Rock Creek, Rock Creek Blues, several poetry collections as well as a few books for young readers. Her children’s book The Bead Pot is an award winning publication. Thelma has been involved in editing many books centered on ranching, history and the environment – all are causes near and dear to her heart. I really liked that she was clearly rooted in the rural lifestyle. My hope was that she would ‘get’ me and support my determination to a write a story which genuinely reflected rodeo life.
I would have to travel to Thelma because she lived in Saskatchewan. Dorothy said, “Thelma lives in a little tiny town in Saskatchewan called Glentworth…have you heard of it?”
Have I heard of Glentworth? If you are a fan of Canadian rodeo, this is like asking a country music fan if they have ever heard of Nashville. Glentworth is a small town in south-central Saskatchewan which is surrounded by some of the most beautiful ranch country you have ever seen. Glentworth and the communities that surround it are home to a remarkable number of Canada’s most famous rodeo stars. (Canadian Champion Team Roper/Olympic Gold Medalist Murray Linthicum, World Champion Steer Wrestler Mark Roy and Calgary Stampede Champion Steer Wrestler Davey Roy are a few of the legends this part of the country has turned out).
If you are ever in that neck of the woods, I encourage you to treat yourself to visit to the Rodeo Ranch Museum in the Wood Mountain Regional Park. This little treasure features a ‘who’s who’ of Canadian rodeo superstars hailing from the East Block of Grasslands National Park.
So yes, I knew all about Glenworth and had visited the area many times over the years as we traveled up and down the rodeo trail. Our friends Jan and Murray Linthicum are members a family who have lived and ranched in the area for generations. Murray and my husband Dwight were Team Roping partners and won a Canadian Championship together in 2008. We have been friends with the Linthicums for nearly 30 years and when I knew that I was headed that way Jan was my first call. I asked Jan, “Do you someone named Thelma Poirier?” Jan quickly responded, “Ha-ha yes I know her…she’s Murray’s Aunt!” Again I was reminded of how small and awesome this world can be.
I went to see Thelma last summer and got to work with her for a couple of hours on a Sunday morning. Not much time, but enough to make a huge difference.
My #1 take away from that morning was the knowledge that I still had a lot of work to do. I realized that my story was too long, too descriptive and needed to be refined. Thelma pushed me to focus on character development and to carefully consider what my goals were. I went home and looked at my story with critical eyes. I edited cruelly and left most of what was not absolutely essential on the cutting room floor. I understood that I needed to utilize illustrations to tell the story whenever possible. This meant that each word carried enormous weight. I planned in detail what the illustrations would need to communicate so that the storyline was less dependent on the text. Cowboy Cody is aimed at very young readers, and I wanted to make sure the text was at their level. This short time with Thelma was a real turning point for me as a writer. Thelma pushed me to decide who I wanted to be as a writer and for this I am grateful.
I had the privilege of working with a great team on this story; Dorothy, Victor and Thelma were my dream-team. I am so thankful that I left my pride at the door and ‘zipped on my thick skin’ so that I could consider and embrace the different perspectives of people more knowledgeable and experienced than I. They taught me that the road to publishing takes much longer than you expect and you must truly love what you are doing to make it worthwhile.
Lucky for me – I loved every single minute of it!
Please note – I used 25 commas, 5 exclamation marks and the word ‘very’ four times during the writing of this post. Especially for Thelma Poirier, I DID NOT even once use the phrase ‘all of a sudden’ or the word ‘suddenly’ – not even once. I now know they are weak words and you have made the world a better place. Thank you!