Mentor Monday ~ Tamara Ellis Smith
Tam’s middle grade novel, MARBLE BOYS, won an Honorable Mention in the 2008 PEN New England Discovery Awards and was runner up for the 2008 SCBWI Works-In-Progress grant. I’ve heard an excerpt of this and it’s beautiful. Visual. I still have images from it in my head after all this time. I know in my heart of hearts that Erin, our over-the-top awesome agent, will find a lucky editor for it soon! And, I’ll be one of the first to celebrate!!!
Tam also has an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from Vermont College—a top program in the country! God! I can hardly get my socks mated! Clearly, this girl is in for BIG things! 😉
By Tamara Ellis Smith
Anyone who has been in a room with Kathi Appelt for more than a few minutes has probably heard her utter her famous words “Write like your fingers are on fire!” She lives this. She is passionate, full of energy, and the words that pour out of her heart and mind are piping, steaming hot!
I was lucky enough to have Kathi as my second semester advisor when I was a graduate student in the Writing for Children and Young Adults program at Vermont College for the Arts. At that point, I had been in school for one semester—long enough to know that this was exactly what I was meant to do with my life and that I had no idea how to do make it actually happen. It was a mucky, murky time. I was in it, for sure, but I was kicking up a lot of debris and I couldn’t see very clearly.
Kathi nurtured me that semester in so many different ways.
She nurtured my craft: I was working on a novel for the first time (I had only ever written picture books before that) and she gave me permission to finish a whole draft. She urged me to do it, asked me to let go and let it flow out of me. Feel what that felt like. She nurtured my soul: She created a real community from the five of us students who had her as an advisor that semester. She asked us to connect, to talk to each other, and support each other as we all dug deep to do our work. And she nurtured my heart: Kathi and I talked over email—probably over twenty hours all told—about the craft of writing…but also about raising children, managing writer’s block, and balancing family and work.
Craft. Soul. Heart. Kathi held and lifted each one of them.
She taught me how to embrace it all—to open my arms wide and gather it up, to weave it all together, to let it organically be what it wants to be. In essence, Kathi got me to stand still. To let all of the pieces touch me, and float around me, and finally settle to the ground. Like standing still in a stream, and allowing the mucky, murky water to settle until it is clear. This feels intuitively right to me, but I don’t think I would have trusted that way of being if Kathi hadn’t guided me there.
Kathi writes like her fingers are on fire, but I believe that she also writes—and lives—like this. By embracing it all, by staying quiet and still in the cool water, by weaving all of the pieces together. You can see it in her work. And you can feel it when she teaches.
I am eternally grateful that Kathi is in my life—my mentor, my moon sister, my friend.
Thanks SO much, Tam! We so much enjoyed hearing about this fantastic mentor of yours—none other than Kathi Appelt! I hope to meet her in person some time soon…