A draft of The Bear sold in the US, Canada and the UK. While doing the first big edit, my primary editor, Sarah Murphy, was in the US with Little Brown & Co. I also had notes from Nita Pronovost at Random House Canada and Liz Foley at Harvill Secker in the UK.
I can imagine the many reasons why this international editing team might not have worked well together, but we did. Sarah took in comments and collated them into a cohesive set of questions. One note that came back was about the mechanics of Coleman. He was such an important plot point, could he work?
At this point, writing The Bear became less about my memories. I started to think much more about the reader.
While I didn’t doubt my Coleman plot point, but I went back and reread. Had I described him well enough to someone who has not seen a Coleman of that size and vintage (in the UK they are called cool boxes)? I wasn’t completely convinced. I’ve told you about my love of aimless hours on the Internet before. This was a good time to engage in some serious time wasting.
I found a Coleman cooler on eBay that was perfect. It was large–80+ quarts–metal and from the 1970s when they were made from stronger metal. After I placed the order, the seller emailed a few times. Did I see that there were marks from a knife on the top? I knew that it was rusty? I explained that these imperfections made Coleman perfect (and I suspect that she remains slightly confused to this day).
I called up a friend who had a 5 year old girl and a boy who was 2. The conversation was slightly awkward. ‘Could I stuff your kids into a cooler?’ I asked. Luckily, she has a good sense of humour.
In the first photo above, the kids are inside with the lid closed. The second photo shows the older girl’s well warranted skepticism.
Once the test was complete I edited the cooler section to make the kids movements more realistic. I’m not sure it really changed anything other than my confidence in my own work, but it was highly entertaining.
I talk more about the Coleman test, the truth and fiction behind The Bear in my interview on the CBC: The Next Chapter with Shelagh Rogers. If you missed it, the episode is available to stream or by podcast.