Asking for help might sound really simple, but I’m actually horrible at this. I’m not sure if it’s a pride or shyness issue, but I just get really uncomfortable putting out any kind of request. It’s as if I’ve been conditioned to believe that just my asking for assistance will automatically draw a person’s wrath, which is by and large untrue. What I must constantly remind myself is that the worst that can happen (usually) is that I get a no. But if I get a positive response, what ensues can be amazing.
Six years ago, when I was researching my first manuscript, I read Elizabeth Wayland Barber’s Women’s Work. It’s an excellent, excellent resource about the historical, cultural, and social aspects of weaving. I got a lot out of it, but once I was done reading, I had some lingering questions. Then I noticed in the author’s bio that Ms. Barber taught at Occidental College. A little research, and there her e-mail was on the faculty roster.
Then I hesitated. It felt presumptuous to contact an authority I’d never met and expect her to respond. But finally I sucked it up, wrote an e-mail telling her I enjoyed the book, and tacked my questions on at the end. She replied the next day, graciously thanking me for reading her work and answering my questions. Pretty cool!
More recently, when I chose to write about Cynisca of Sparta for my next manuscript, I realized horses were going to play a major part and decided that I should probably find someone who actually owned a horse to help me out. After all, even though horsemanship has changed throughout the centuries, certain things, like equine personalities or the number of hoof stomps it takes to break your toe, don’t change. But whom to ask? I live in an urban area, and downtown LA isn’t exactly crawling with horses.
Then I remembered the avatar. At the time, I was reviewing manga at a certain website, and Julie, one of my fellow reviewers, had a picture of a horse and rider in dressage as her avatar. So I checked out her website. Sure enough, she owned that horse. Two in fact. So I PM’ed her to very timidly ask if she might consider being my horse resource. She not only agreed, she connected me with another equine friend of hers who owns and drives two Friesian geldings.
Both these ladies have been an invaluable help ever since. It helps that their horses’ personalities are so different. Julie’s mare Blondie is full of sass and attitude while three-year-old baby Elle just wants to do her best. The Friesian pair, Titan and Kerrick (affectionately known as the Boyz), are two big hams who love it when kids give them attention. As for their owners, Julie’s relatively new to the equine world (she didn’t get her first horse until after college) while the Boyz’ Mom has been around horses her entire life. But both of them love their horses and love talking about them. So far they’ve checked parts of my manuscript for accuracy, sent helpful links, shared pictures of their horses in action, and answered 100 or more questions from me. And all that from one initial request for help.
By the way, you’ll be hearing more about Julie and the Boyz’ Mom in later posts. They’ve graciously given me permission to write about our conversations, and I hope you’ll enjoy reading them as much as I enjoyed learning from these wonderful horsefolk.