Pardon me while I have my anxiety attack.
I just opened the returned manuscript for Bone Girl from one of my beta readers. I’m overwhelmed with all of the notes he made on it, written in red type, and all in CAPITAL LETTERS. My heart is racing. My fingers are shaking. Holy buckets! I’m totally freaking out.
Here’s what happened: after I finished the first draft of Bone Girl, which by the way, was originally titled Phat Girl, I sent it off to my beta readers. These are friends and acquaintances who critique the first draft of a manuscript and provide feedback, which is used by an author to revise the work.
I had about five beta readers for Bone Girl. Let me tell you about them.
To begin with, there’s Maudeen Wachsmith. Maudeen is a professional editor who worked on Celebration House. She gave birth to the idea that the book should be a trilogy. When Maudeen first approached me with the idea of not one but two sequels, I said “Nooooo.” Then, after applying tincture of time, and hearing from other readers, I realized the answer was, well, maybe. Now, I can’t stop thinking about these next two books, especially Melanie’s.
For those of you who have bought and read Celebration House, well, first, THANK YOU! Secondly, you know who Melanie is and how unlikeable her character is. But, you’ve got to admit, she’s a tough cookie. Man! You should try living with her in your head all the time. I mean, really. C’mon! Stop already.
My second beta reader is Edith Poole. Edith, stand up and wave to the audience. Oh, you are standing. My bad. Edith is my petite mother-in-law and an experienced horsewoman. She’s five feet of red-headed fury. Say that fast three times.
I gave her Bone Girl last summer, and she called me and told me to come to her house. Alone. She wanted to talk to me. Eeek! Boy, that was a long one-mile drive. But I listened, and she was right. The book wasn’t finished. I hope it’s more finished now. I say that because I agree with George Lucas: no creative work is ever finished, just abandoned.
Aarene Storms was my third reader. She’s a published author herself. She wrote Endurance 101: A Gentle Guide to the Sport of Long-distance Riding, which I used when I wrote the manuscript. Aarene pointed out some of my more glaring mistakes, i.e. any horse expected to trot fifty miles would likely be shod. Also, the main character in Bone Girl, an 11-year-old girl named Josey, wouldn’t be wandering alone in an endurance camp. There’s too many mama bears amongst horse people.
Because of Aarene’s comments, I created two new characters: Earl Keck, the farrier, and Opal Meyers, an older woman who watches over Josey on the day of the endurance ride. I grew fond of Opal quickly because I’ve known women like her who have shown me amazing kindness. I only wish Opal would invite me into her 1968 Oasis travel trailer for breakfast.
I also sent the manuscript to Dennis and Sue Summers. I know I’ve blogged this before but it bears repeating. The Summers are the real deal: experienced endurance riders who’ve taken horses to competitions around the world, including the Middle East. Dennis penned a book for advanced endurance riders: 4th Gear – Power Up Your Endurance Horse.
The Summers too agreed Chief should be shod. Alas, they didn’t like one of my plot points: PETA protests the endurance ride Josey’s father competes in. My apologies, Sue and Dennis, but I needed to get a television crew to the ride and that’s how I did it. I’m sorry. If it’s any consolation, when Bone Girl is made into a film, I intend to send the producers your way so my mistakes won’t be replicated in the film.
Last night, I received the manuscript back from my final beta reader, Les Dunseith. He was a journalism professor at my alma mater, Truman State University, and, I like to brag, a former editor at The Los Angeles Time. I met Les in 1985 in my first journalism class, and I’ve been annoying him ever since. Les read Celebration House before I finished it, and I asked him to read Bone Girl. If this continues, I’ll probably have to start paying him.
Les gave me my first inkling that maybe I had something special with Carrie, the main character in Celebration House. A few days after he returned the printed manuscript back in the mail, Les emailed me to tell me he was still thinking about Carrie. She lingered with him. She was not easily forgotten.
Last night, Les returned Bone Girl to me, and he must know me and my neuroses well enough because in his email he wrote, “I think you’ve seen enough of my editing suggestions by now not to be surprised when you open the document and see lots of red type (much of which is positive by the way).”
Yeah, but you didn’t tell me it was going to be in ALL CAPS!
Relax, I tell myself as I scan the first page and see as much red ink on it as my original text. Relax. Deep breath. This is all part of the novelist’s experience. It’s like a practice test. Les has given me the answers before I actually step into the classroom, i.e. publish Bone Girl. I can use his feedback to make the book better. To make you, the reader, my boss, fall in love with Bone Girl the way I did. Okay. Let’s get started.
Hands and arms inside the cart: Next, I’m interviewed by Stephen Colbert. (Please note: this interview takes place in my imagination)
I would love to meet your Mother-in-law. Keep breathing, you can do this, I know!