When my friend, fellow author and Michigan Ad-Com member Pat Trattles approached me about serving as the novel mentor, I couldn’t say no. Really. As Robert Heinlein pointed out to Spider Robinson decades ago, you can never really pay a professional writer back for the help that they’ve given you. You can only pay forward. Winning the Ellen Dolan Missouri Mentorship with Gary Blackwood back in 1999 changed my writing life forever.
As part of the application project, I had to write an explanation of why I wanted the mentorship. I shared how more than one editor had let me know that I wrote well. I didn’t know what else I could do! Gary gave me an education in the importance of conflict, structure and subplots. While I didn’t sell the novel that Gary and I worked on together, it opened the door for me at Peachtree. Moreover, I sold the next two projects that I wrote after the mentorship. Later manuscripts helped win me representation with Erin Murphy.
Naturally, I sent Gary copies of my books, but I couldn’t pay him back. Instead, I’ve found ways to pay forward. For example, I served as the Missouri Mentor several years ago. Even though I’m being paid to serve as an instructor for the Institute of Children’s Literature, I do tend to slip in extra looks for my students on promising pieces. But time is precious. I can’t help the world when I need that time for my family, my projects, my students, and my church. But I can help one talented, hard-wrking and thoughtful writer take a step closer to winning a contract by offering my perspective on every level from the big flick down to Nitz-picking.