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Wednesday, March 30, 2011

The Life of a Curling Writer: Not always easy to convince editors that curling is a story worth telling

Action at the Fergus Curling Club (Photo Jean Mills)

I'm a curler, yes, but I'm also a writer, and writing about something you love has got to be the best way to spend your time. (Getting paid for it is nice, too, which happens sometimes...)

One story I really want to write about is curling families - you know, all those grassroots and elite curlers who are out there on the ice with various combinations of family members. I pitched this story to Reader's Digest a year ago and after some initial excitement (why wouldn't they be excited; it's a great story!) they turned it down. I had Russ Howard on board to talk about his own family's experiences, and Joan McCusker was lined up, too. The story died. Sometimes I hate freelancing.

But, where there's a will...

As the editor of my local freelance writer's blog (the Guelph Chapter of the Professional Writers Association of Canada), I'm in charge of posting content. So when Around the House, the blog I write for the Canadian Curling Association, went live today, I quickly posted a blurb (which I've included below for anyone interested in the perils of the writing life) about my rejected-story experience. My writing friends got to read about the writing side of the story, and at the CCA website, my curling community gets to read about why curling really is an "all in the family" sport.

Win, win.

Curling and writing: I could do this for a living....


Some of my Guelph PWAC colleagues heard my sad story last year of a pitch to Reader's Digest that started out full of promise and went suddenly to the "Sorry, not interested" file - after I had put two increasingly detailed proposals together, at RD's request. That's a lot of work - unpaid, of course.

My story about curling being a family affair originally caught the attention of RD editors, especially when I secured the support of Olympic gold medallists Russ Howard and Joan McCusker. Both Russ and Joan have great stories which exemplify curling's unique qualities as a family-oriented sport. RD was interested. "Very" interested, in fact. Emails were flying between me and my sources, me and the RD editors. Proposals, interviews, encouragement and excitement from all parties.

And then, out of the blue, the phrase that freelance writers never want to hear: "No thanks." Darn. 

Glenn Howard in action (Photo Jean Mills)
But all was not lost. A recent interview with a curler who is going to a national championship with his dad on the team got me thinking. I resurrected the "all in the family" idea and blogged about it for my weekly gig with the Canadian Curling Association. It's not quite the story I set out to write for RD, but it sure captures the essence of it. Curling really is a family affair.  You can read it (and see a photo of two generations of smiling Howards) here:

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Piss-cutter and Make It Go Away: Curling words to live by

As a curling writer, I'm fascinated by the language of the game. Friends of mine told me that when they tried to watch the Olympic curling event, they were in stitches over the indecipherable language - "code" they called it - used by the announcers. Try it: turn your curling antenna off and just listen to the lingo used to describe our game. It's pretty darn strange.

But there's always room for word evolution in curling.

At the recent Scotties, Saskatchewan (now Team Canada) skip Amber Holland drew lots of attention for her unusual lingo during a few games.

Referring to one of her rocks as a "piss-cutter" got people talking. Is that a bad word? What does it mean? How did that one get by the censors?

Truth is, the term is not as inappropriate as you might think.  Although I haven't concluded my research, it appears that the term is in common usage in the U.S. Marine corps, as the name of a certain type of folded cap worn with a uniform. But it's also been found as far afield as New Brunswick, as a term for something outstanding or good. "A real piss-cutter of a job", says Bill Casselman, collector of unusual Canadian terms, means to do a really good job of something. (You can read Bill's blog, here).

An article in the National Post in which Amber got "cornered" by reporter Cory Wolfe, suggests that the term is actually from Old English. I checked in with Professor Elizabeth Greene at Queen's University, a Old English specialist, and she says the term doesn't ring any bells with her. (We both went running for our copies of Beowulf and found nothing).

So the truth is out there, readers.  If anyone can help nail this one down, I'd love to know.


How often have we heard the announcers (and occasionally, curlers) preface a hit with the phrase: "We just want to make it go away."

Now, my question is, have curlers always been using this phrase - make it go away - or is it the invention of the late Sandra Schmirler (my theory)?

I can remember Sandra discussing shots with Jan Betker, her third, in the house and announcing that the plan was to "make it go away", at which point TSN announcers Vic, Linda and Ray would laugh in approval.

My question: did Sandra invent this term? Does anyone remember "Make it go away" being used in curling parlance before the late 1990s?

The language of curling: another reason to love the Roaring Game. (And of course we know where that term came from....right?)