I have noticed that the Walrus is working hard to attract marquee bylines. I would be happier about this if the magazine had a stronger mix of up-and-coming writers and the big guns, but what are you going to do? Sure, Adrienne Clarkson might catch the eye on the newsstand, but I’m not going to buy the magazine because of her. (The problem, of course, is that the Walrus target demographic is considerably older than me, and nothing I can say or do will change that.)
There is of course, a danger in soliciting the big names. The danger is that they will say yes. When a writer reaches a certain level of success, a magazine is paying for the name as much (if not more) than the actual content. And in the interests of maintaining a good relationship with the Big Writer, the publication tends to edit lightly, if at all -- even if the magazine is given a less-than-stellar piece of writing from a Big Name Canadian Writer.
As a case in point, I’m going to provide some editing comments on a (not very) recent Walrus piece, a Field Notes. I feel that my editing suggestions are, in fact, reasonable. I’m not trying to be a snotty prig here. Really. If this piece were submitted to a major magazine, I humbly suggest that these are the sort of editing suggestions that the writer might expect to receive back.
[All editing comments in square brackets refer to the sentence preceding.]
QU’APPELLE VALLEY – In the summer of 2006, a miniseries adaptation of my novel The Englishman’s Boy went into production in Saskatchewan. Since half of the drama is set in the American and Canadian West of 1873, it was decided that a crash course in
On the first morning of instruction, I arrived wearing a pair of boots I had bought in Dallas fifteen years before and worn only once or twice since. My middle-aged feet had spread like the rest of me, forcing me to mince about camp in a most unmanly fashion. The wranglers in charge of teaching horsemanship were former professional rodeo riders and ranchers – laconic, leathery types given to unfathomable stares, most of which I felt were directed my way. [Editor: This reminds me of the movie City Slickers. Might it be worth making a humourous aside/nod to the film?]
The first course was a safety primer, covering topics such as how to approach a horse from behind without getting kicked into the bleachers, or what to do if you find yourself on a careering runaway. For instance, don’t scream. It might further panic the horse. [Editor: You could combine those two sentences without losing any effect.] Next, each actor was assigned a mount and spent time currying and feeding it and performing other ingratiating services meant to encourage
By the time the actors were engaged in learning the rudiments of steering, stopping, and accelerating their new
“Take mine,” he said and, dismounting with
On the ensuing trail ride, the grin soon melted off my face as I wrestled to restrain my high-spirited steed. If it bolts, I reminded myself, resist the urge to shriek. Better to die in silence than in disgrace.
In the next few days, I found myself aching in places I didn’t know I owned and walking like an animated wishbone. [Editor: Great image. Love it!] Meanwhile, the actors were soldiering on, growing ever stiffer, sorer, and more chafed. They were also learning that horses, like thespians, sometimes exhibit quirks, foibles, and
Too soon, I had to leave, despairing at having notched only a single ride. When I returned weeks later, all the actors from Vancouver and Toronto had developed a blasé competence around horses and were now being glamorously referred to as
Michael happens to be considerably shorter than me, but there was no time to adjust the stirrup lengths. Off I went, an overweight,