Mentor Monday

Mentor Monday ~ Michaela Maccoll

A BIG Mentor Monday welcome to Michaela Maccoll, author of two historical novels entitled, Prisoners in the Palace and Promise the Night. Both have earned so many starred reviews, they should be re-titled as constellations!

Thanks so much, Michaela, for coming by to tell us about your wonderful mentors!

Hi, Lynda! Thanks so much for the opportunity to muse out loud about mentors. Who do you single out and say…. That one! He or she is my mentor! It’s additionally tough for me because I don’t like asking for help. I’m loath to use up too much of their time or goodwill. I ration these mentors, for better or worse.

But I do have a “mentor” that I go back to time and time again. Who is the first to receive any news. Who has seen every major revision and kept me writing through a careful combination of praise, guilt and critique.

My mentor isn’t a person, it’s three people: my critique group. Sari, Christine, Karen and I have been together for over five years now. I brought the group together originally (Sari and I were old friends, Christine I met at  a conference and Karen stood behind Christine and I in the ladies’ room line at SCBWI!), but what keeps us going is how useful and necessary we are to each other.

We all bring strengths to each other and shore up the weaknesses together. Sari has such a   deft gift for romantic comedy, she always finds the romance in my scenes, even if I don’t. Christine has a poet’s soul and when I write to something beautiful, I ask myself “What would Christine do?” And Karen? Her clear no-nonsense approach to editing has helped me find the germ of what’s good and clear out the dreck more times than I can count.

These gentle ladies are the only ones who’ve seen my highs and lows. I trust them and love them.

Mentors indeed!

Categories: adventure, author, Mentor Monday, writing

Mentor Monday ~ For the Love of Mentors

Since we are almost upon Valentines’ Day, I decided to write about love. But, not romantic love. Today, I think about that love important to us writers and others trying to achieve a dream—love from—and for—a mentor.

Since relaunching Mentor Monday here on my blog, I have been thinking a lot about mentors. I’ve found myself thinking about what makes them the driving force that they become. After some thought, I got it. I suppose it’s obvious, but I’ll spell it out anyway. (Writers like to do that.)

Mentors have the knowledge of a particular subject matter and the willingness to impart it to us. They are passionate about their area of expertise. But, as writers for example, we meet a lot of people that fit this description. So, what sets a mentor aside from a teacher?

It’s that they care. They care a lot. Yes, they care about their content area, but what sets a mentor aside from an instructor is that they care about you. They care far more about the person than they do about the student.

And, as the one being mentored, we feel that in our cells and it drives us to work harder, I think. It did with me anyway. The child in me wanted to please, to impress, to have my mentor be…well, proud of me. Even though I was grown and teaching third grade at the time.

I’m embarrassed to admit that, because it feels childish, but that’s what it was. I wanted to see that “ya done good, kid” look in her eyes. I never figured I’d get published; I just wanted to impress her. But, the other, crucial side of it, though, was that even if I had tried and failed, she still…

…she still would have been proud of me. And you know what? That’s the real key, because knowing that—that I had nothing to lose by pushing myself, taking chances, trying to achieve the difficult task of becoming published. Well, knowing that the outcome didn’t matter set me free to put myself out there with no worries. There are so few times that you can put so much on the line and yet have nothing to lose. Yet, this was one of those times.

She is not a writer, yet she is my writing mentor. Why? Because she introduced me to myself by being my mentor on life and teaching and children. On raising a family and having a happy marriage. On taking care of myself and focusing on what’s important. Where as I had been bobbing around looking for direction, I had become tethered to someone I knew would not let go.

In the beginning, I used to write stories and show them to her. She told me they were wonderful even when I knew they weren’t. But, that was okay. Eventually, I would seek out a critique group to deliver the bad news. Those stories eventually came around to chapters about a young girl who lands in a foster home with a foster mother who is willing to impart life lessons–but also cares about a kid that can be a real pain sometimes. And how transformative that is.

My real mentor’s initials are J.M., so I named the foster mother in my debut, One for the Murphys, Julie Murphy. The scenes were emotionally honest. There were no filters in writing them—after all, no one else would ever read them anyway. Right? 😉

Some day, when I manage to post my “Dear Teen Me” essay that’s been sitting on my computer, you’ll be able to see (if you care to) the before and after in me. Until then, you’ll have to trust me. That this “Mrs. Murphy” broke through a layer that no one had before. She reached inside and I felt a parent’s love. And, published author or not, changed who I am and who I’ll remain.


Categories: Mentor Monday, writing

Mentor Monday ~ Luke Reynolds

A BIG MENTOR MONDAY welcome to Luke Reynolds, agent-mate at Erin Murphy Literary Agency and author of several wonderful pieces of work including,  BURNED IN: FUELING THE FIRE TO TEACH and DEDICATED TO THE PEOPLE OF DARFUR: WRITINGS ON FEAR, RISK, AND HOPE.  And if that weren’t enough, Luke is an all-around, really great guy! We’ve only met online, but a message from him always puts a smile on the face–he is so very optimistic and wise. I look forward to meeting him in person one of these days…

Here, he shares a moving tribute to his mentor, John  Robinson:                                              

One True Life

Ernest Hemingway once claimed, “All you need to write is one true sentence.” I have often wondered if the Nobel-Prize winning author meant for us all to take that literally—just write one authentic, amazing, drop-dead-spot-on TRUE sentence, and you’re done. Finished. You’ve reached the peak of what it’s all about as a writer. Or, did Hemingway mean for us to take it as a sort of challenge, an invitation, to let our hearts sweat as we try to craft the stories that need crafting, realizing that we can only ever write one true sentence at a time. If we keep at it long enough—devote ourselves to it passionately enough—then eventually we’ll move to another sentence.

And another.

Caption for photo: John Robinson and Luke Reynolds, in Room 106 at Hamilton-Wenham High School, 2003.

And another.

When I think of my life nine years ago, a wet-behind-the-ears Senior at Gordon College, aspiring to be a great teacher and a great writer, I have to chuckle. Because I didn’t have the slightest clue what it took to even be decent at either of those two lofty endeavors. All I knew was that ever since I was about five years old, I knew I wanted to write books and teach other people to write, too.

But a funny thing happens when you’re twenty-two and just getting ready to leave college: stuff gets hard. Everything, really. Electric bills, heating bills, considering how to find a job, considering how to find a soul mate, considering how to live out writer Frederick Buechner’s exhortation to go where your greatest passion meets the world’s greatest need.

Into this wow-life-is-getting-hard-and-complex last semester of my college life came my supervising teacher, Mr. John Robinson. I would be paired up with John as a part of my Secondary Education program, and it would be in Room 106 at Hamilton-Wenham Regional High School that I would learn to become both a high school English teacher and a writer. It would be under the tutelage of John that I would learn what it takes to make dreams become realities.

And ever a man of warmth, wisdom, and wit, when I first met John, all I remember is this moment (which changed everything): amidst talk of all the forms we would have to fill out to satisfy the college’s requirements, John leaned in towards me, across the hard rolls and red grapes of our luncheon, and whispered conspiratorially, “Do you write?”

Then, the wide smile. The smile that said, essentially, just wait until you see what we can do together, man. It was—and is—a smile that welcomes people in: everyone from waiters and waitresses at diners John frequents to students he inspires to aspiring teachers and writers like myself.

I said, “Yes,” and so began a nine-year mentorship program with no flippant paperwork and requirements, but instead incredible love and instruction.

In our semester together, I watched John’s passion for literature inspire his students, and I learned from him how to teach from the center of one’s heart—not according to soul-less rubrics but according to those greater standards: passion, belief, authenticity, clarity.

But I also received an education easily worth a four-year college degree—it would have been called Writing and Publishing, and John Robinson was one heck of a Professor.

After our school day would end and the students would leave, I would watch as John checked his e-mail, and there would be messages from the Fiction editor of The New Yorker, telling John that his work was powerfully composed; or there would be a note of reply from a lit mag where John’s writing had been accepted. I began to see how one goes about sending work into the world, and I was grateful even to be a part of the drive to the local post office, occasionally, after teaching when John would send of a novel to an agent or a requesting editor.

John worked with me on my own writing, as well. Even as, by day, he taught me to inspire students and line edit their works with the kind of precision one would expect from a production or copy editor at a New York house, by early morning or evening, John would share wisdom and advice for my own fiction.

Occasionally, I woke early enough to meet him at the Agawam Diner, where John ate each morning on his way to school. He knew everyone and they knew him. And I could sit at John’s booth there, listen to him talk about every great writer from Hemingway to Gore Vidal to Andre Gide to a thousand others. John could quote lines from their work as if he’d had them written on the back of his hands; he could recall their counsel to other writers; and he could deliver their moments of triumph and despair with such emotion and conviction that I felt as if John knew these writers.

And he did. John had travelled his own long road to become the published author of novels, short stories, plays, and essays—and amidst fighting his own battles, he learned how to speak knowingly and movingly of the battles all writers face.

I graduated college, became a high school English teacher, and started writing my first novel. Every time I hit a wall—whether in teaching or in writing—John was there. I would call him or e-mail him with my current dilemma and, as appropriate, John would encourage, challenge, or probe. He was always ready with sage words that came from his soul—yes—but also from that great cloud of witnesses: other writers whose words were etched on his own heart, his own life.

Years passed. I met the love of my life—Jennifer—and John was there. At our Rehearsal Dinner, the night before the wedding, John read a speech he had composed which included literary allusions galore, and as he shared the words, there was that smile.

That smile.

I started a Creative Writing program after three years of teaching. And John was there—still that smile, offering guidance on writing, publishing, revising.

As life continued, John was always there, whatever the case might be. He was ready to share his own stories of success and failure, and he was always ready to point out that whatever I faced in my own life, some other writer had been through something similar and survived it, had grown from it, had used it to fuel creation and creativity.

Before this most recent adventure in my life—for my family and I to move to England—John and I met at the historic Plough & Stars pub in Boston, where the gorgeous literary journal Ploughshares was first inspired (a journal in which one of John’s short stories, “Centipedes on Skates” once appeared). It would be our last face-to-face meeting before we left for the UK.

John talked with his usual wit, wisdom, and warmth. The meal was lovely, and when it was time to say goodbye, John wrapped his arms around me and wished me well. He encouraged me to keep writing, and told me that great stories were in store for me.

When we separated, I looked at him and had one of those rare moments where you realize the full worth of someone’s love in your life—and you realize it while they’re right in front of you.

I looked at John, but I had no word to explain just how deeply his guidance, concern, and care for me as a writer and teacher had affected me. So I said the only two words I could say, which really said it all.

“Thank you.”

And today, I say those words over and over and over again. As John and I e-mail, on a daily basis, we connect about writing and teaching and creativity and passion. And the gratitude I felt the day we hugged goodbye is ever-present.

When Hemingway told us that all we needed to write is one true sentence, maybe this is what he meant: that when you, the author, craft one single sentence in which every word fits with the next—in which there is no guise, no fear, no short-cuts and no cheap forgery—then maybe you’ve taught yourself what matters most. You’ve taught yourself how to write the way we long to live. You’ve taught yourself that writing well is about working harder than you ever thought you could, believing when it feels impossible to believe, and trying again when it seems as though the line (or the paragraph, or the story, or the book) just won’t ever be right. And you do it anyway. You go at it again. You choose to believe again.

In writing one true sentence, you teach yourself how to live the life of a writer.

And with Hemingway’s sage words in mind, I think of the love and wisdom of my mentor, John Robinson, and that wide smile.

And my heart writes the words One True Life in the space between that smile and me. Thank you, John.

Categories: Mentor Monday, writing | 1 Comment

Mentor Monday ~ Leslie Bulion

Note: For whatever reason, Blogger will not let me format this into paragraphs. Therefore, I have color-coded what would have been paragraphs if the blogging Gods had been smiling down upon me today… In honor of Poetry Month, let’s extend a super-duper Mentor Monday welcome to Leslie Bulion. She is not only the author of three middle grade novels, but is also the author of some wonderful science poetry books such as, HEY THERE STINK BUG! This was one of my son’s favorites! Too bad Leslie’s wonderful new book, AT THE SEA FLOOR CAFÉ: ODD OCEAN CRITTER POEMS, (illustrated by Leslie Evans was not released 8 years ago; this charming book would have become worn and dogeared! This clever collection of poems describes the devious and sometimes surprising methods ocean denizens use to forage for food, capture prey, trick predators, and protect their young. The poems swim effortlessly from page to page, leading us from the snail shell home of the jeweled anemone crab on the ocean floor to a violet snail hanging upside down in its bubble house on the sea’s surface. At the Sea Floor Cafe includes science notes with details about each animal’s behavior, a glossary, and an appendix explaining the forms of poetry that appear on each spread. Striking linoleum prints round out this title, which can be used across the curriculum. And……Peachtree Publishing is running a contest that I’m including as part of this Mentor Monday! Click below to win either a skype visit with Leslie or a copy of this fabulous book!, there is a charming AT THE SEA FLOOR CAFÉ trailer on youtube that you may want to check out: Leslie Bulion teams a life-long love of poetry and her oceanography background in At the Sea Floor Café (Peachtree 2011), her second collection of science poetry. The first, Hey There, Stink Bug! (Charlesbridge 2006), is an award-winning book of gruesomely humorous insect poems. Leslie’s other books include the Bank Street Best Books 2007 middle-grade novel Uncharted Waters (Peachtree 2006), The Trouble With Rules (Peachtree 2008), and the Children’s Africana Book Award Best Picture Book winner, Fatuma’s New Cloth (Moon Mountain 2002). A former school social worker, Leslie has written and edited books in the education market and has been a regular contributing writer in national magazines and on the Internet. She gives writing workshops and presentations to students, educators and writers throughout the US. Visit Leslie’s website at Without further ado… Readers sometimes ask me if I always knew I wanted to be a writer. My answer is a resounding NO! First of all, back when I was falling in love with Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle, Miss Bianca, and Taran the assistant to the pig keeper, books were magic, and authors were wizards. I was an ordinary mortal. How could I be a writer? In college I learned that you could research and rewrite a paper forever, but exams ended when you put your pencil down. This aphorism guided my course selection, save one. Tucked between my science courses was one, lonely class in creative writing. I spent that entire semester writing poetry. Why? Because of Mrs. Brownworth. My fourth grade teacher, Mrs. Brownworth, was young, enthusiastic, gentle, caring, and she loved poetry. Mrs. Brownworth read us poetry all the time. She encouraged us to listen for the music within and in-between the words. We memorized a poem and recited it in class. I chose “Sneezles” from the collection Now We Are Six by A. A. Milne. That poem has everything I still love in a poem: wonderful rhythm and meter, perfect rhyme, funny parts, invented language and a punch line. I was so proud to learn it. And I know now that reciting “Sneezles” and other poems helped me to internalize the flow and rhythm of rhyming poetry. Inspired by the poems we heard and learned, we all wrote our own poems with Mrs. Brownworth. The words flowed. Here’s one of my very early works: The grass is green, The grass is brown, The grass is waving up and down. The grass is brown, The grass is green, The grass is full of amazing things you have never seen! Mrs. Brownworth gave me feedback and celebrated my poems. I kept on writing. I wrote reams of poems that year, and every year after that. I continued to write poems for myself through the all the years I insisted I was not a writer, until one day a longtime friend called me up after reading a letter from me and said, “Yes, you are.” (Another mentor story. I have lots. The writing community is so very generous and encouraging. I’ll try not to digress.) Even after I’d written magazine stories and children’s books (skipping other mentor stories here), it took years for me to put “being a writer” and “writing poetry” together in my head. Several years ago, I was taking yet another science course when I came up with what I considered a crazy idea: to write poems about the insects I was studying. The idea seemed so off-the-wall that I didn’t even mention it to my critique group. But when I finally admitted to the group what I was thinking of doing, their off-the-charts enthusiasm encouraged me to take the leap (mentors, mentors, mentors, all).As soon as I sold Hey There, Stink Bug, I started trying to find Mrs. Brownworth. I wanted to thank her for setting me on this writing path (unbeknownst to me and while I was busy heading elsewhere). I contacted the teachers’ association in the town where I grew up. No luck. But last year I recognized her on Facebook and here’s the funny thing: she’s not so very much older than me anymore, and her first name is Barbara, not Mrs.. I am thrilled to be able to show her the impact she has had on my life since I was lucky enough to have her as my teacher back in the fourth grade. Thank you for poetry, Mrs. Brownworth!

Categories: Mentor Monday

Mentor Monday ~ Jo Knowles

A Huge Mentor Monday welcome to YA author, Jo Knowles! She is the brilliant scribe of LESSONS FROM A DEAD GIRL and JUMPING OFF SWINGS, PEARL (July, 2011) and SEE YOU AT HARRY’S (spring, 2012). Jo is, also, a freelance writer and teaches writing for children in the MFA program at Simmons College. She lives in Vermont with her husband and son.
I am always so impressed with Jo. She is so willing and able to open herself up and be vulnerable in her talks to aspiring authors in a way that inspires and encourages. I think it’s the truly brave that are able to do that and the kind-hearted that actually act on it. This post, here, is no different! In addition, I think that Jo’s post on is one of the most poignant entries there.
Jo is going to be one of our author mentors at Whispering Pines, 2012!!! I am *so* looking forward to getting to know Jo even further!
Without further ado…
Mentor Monday, by Jo Knowles

I met Lowrly Pei my sophomore year of college when I signed up for his nonfiction writing course. There were about 10-12 students in the class and each week Lowry would choose someone’s work to read out loud and then we’d all discuss the work in painstaking detail. I remember the first time my work was chosen, I made myself sick I was so nervous. But Lowry was always kind, always quick to point out the specks of gold in the rock. He made me feel like a writer. When he handed back our work, it was often accompanied by a page or more of single-spaced comments. I would pour over those comments, so grateful to have a reader. So grateful to have a listener. By the end of the semester, I was making small notes at the top of my papers, “Please don’t share in class.” Because the other amazing thing Lowry had done was allow me to create a lifeline with my words. Sophomore year was a difficult one for me. So difficult, I still don’t talk about it. And yet I had a safe place to share my secret, parallel life. Silently. With Lowry.

Poor Lowry.

I continued to keep in touch with Lowry throughout my years at Simmons and on into graduate school. He was my master’s thesis mentor (I wrote my first YA novel instead of a thesis), and he guided me through the obvious mistakes new writers make with patience and steady encouragement. I also took a course with him called Teaching Writing, which required me to be a teaching assistant in a writing course similar to the one I’d taken with him years earlier. In our weekly graduate seminars, we’d talk about how the classes were going and I joked with Lowry about what a terrible student I must have been, sharing secrets I never should have burdened him with. He just laughed, and told me I wasn’t the first. He said he often walked down the busy halls of students and thought, “Every one of them has a story. Every one of them has a secret.” That same day, I remember stepping out into the hall and watching all the young women making their way from one class to another. What’s your story? I thought, as each one passed. And I swear I could almost feel those silent secrets hitting my chest like a fist.

I was so lucky to have Lowry to share my own story with. And later, my fiction, drawn from pain and joy—experienced, witnessed, and imagined. Even after I graduated, it was Lowry I sent my first drafts to for approval. Lowry whose long, detailed and honest letters I cherished and believed in. In the fifteen years since my graduation, I’m sure Lowry has mentored many, many other quiet Jo’s, slowly daring to put secrets on paper, desperate to get those words out, if only silently, from student to teacher. Who slowly learned how to find beauty in the ugly. To turn truth to lies and back again, so that some day, at long last, their words could find their way to strangers who have their own stories to tell.

Thank you, Lowry, for listening.

Categories: Mentor Monday

Mentor Monday ~ Jennifer Thermes

Jennifer Thermes is the author/illustrator of SAM BENNETT’S NEW SHOES and WHEN I WAS BUILT. She has also done endpaper maps for books such as THE WATER SEEKER by Kimberly Willis Holt, and REVOLUTION IS NOT A DINNER PARTY by Ying Chang Compestine. Recent projects include cover and black & white interior illustrations for a middle-grade chapter book written by Valerie Hobbs, to be released by Henry Holt Books for Young Readers in 2011. Please take the time to go to Jen’s website. Her artwork is just beautiful!

I met Jennifer when I went down to a Shoreline Arts event and heard her speak. I liked her immediately. Seeing her art work was one of those times that I longed to be an artist. I just love the colors she uses and her drawings have such a sweet quality to them. (Professional artists would talk about lines and tone and such. I just like them!) Her maps are genius! Someday, I intend to hire her to do one for me.

Based on her easy going nature, talent, and presentation, I later invited her to be our author/illustrator mentor at Whispering Pines. She agreed but wanted to know a bit more about the weekend. We agreed to a quick phone chat. Three hours later…Needless to say, we hit it off, and I feel so very fortunate for two things tonight. (1) That Jennifer will be our author/illustrator mentor this weekend at Whispering Pines in Rhode Island, and (2) I have a wonderful, talented, funny, caring friend that I didn’t have a year ago! Huzzah!

Without further ado…Here is Jen!

I can’t remember ever having had just one mentor in my life, in the traditional sense of the word. It’s been more like many. I’ve been fortunate.

There were teachers– the elementary school Art teacher who let me draw horses endlessly, because he knew it was my passion. (What better way to encourage creativity than to let a child follow their passion?) And a junior high school English teacher who patiently helped me revise, over and over, my telling of a traumatic event during a family trip to Maine. She taught me that writing clearly was more than scribbling words in an angsty, teenage diary: writing was in the revising.

I had an awesome Art Director and co-workers in my first job out of art school. They taught me the realities of deadlines, how to produce a magazine, and how to keep you sense of humor while doing it! The illustrators that I hired and the freelancers I met were huge inspirations when it came time to take the terrifying leap from a full-time job into my own life as a freelance illustrator.

There was the magazine editor I collaborated with on many projects. He taught me the mental game of how to stay sane through the ups and downs of working for oneself.
My first art rep was a guy with a terrific head for business. From him I learned not to fear negotiation! And then there was the editor he had worked with who loved my maps, and wondered if I wrote, as well. Her inquiry set into motion a course of combining art and words, and opened my mind to the possibilities of working in the world of children’s books.

My writing group, ever supportive, has been priceless; as have been old friends and new ones made serendipitously.

I am a confessed writing-and-art-craft book addict– if you mention it, I will buy it–because sometimes that “I get it now!” moment happens when something is explained for the hundred-and-second time.

And then there’s the Internet. Hard to imagine it didn’t exist when I first started out. It feeds my learning curve through blogs, tweets, and chat boards. Also, working on your own can be a challenge when you’re faced with a problem. But through the online community I can always find someone who has gone through something similar. Although many people I’ve met in cyberspace have become friends, most aren’t even aware of the inspiration they’ve provided.

I truly believe mentors are everywhere, if you remain open and curious. Consider this post one big thank-you to all of mine, whether you know you’ve been one or not.

Categories: author, Mentor Monday

Mentor Monday ~ Laura Resau

A gigantus MENTOR MONDAY welcome to Laura Resau, author of six novels including RED GLASS, WHAT THE MOON SAW, RUBY NOTEBOOK, and the newly minted, THE QUEEN OF WATER (co-authored with María Virginia Farinango). This novel, which is based on a true story, begins in an impoverished Andean village where seven-year-old Virginia is taken from her indigenous family to be an unpaid servant. For the next eight years, she struggles to hold on to her spirit and humor in the face of oppression. But once she’s found her freedom, will Virginia – now a teenager caught between cultures – also find a place where she belongs? I have my copy—can’t wait to dive in!
* “[A] riveting tale… by turns heartbreaking, infuriating and ultimately inspiring.” – Kirkus, STARRED
“A richly described coming-of-age story set in a culture both foreign and and familiar …by turns shocking and funny.” – VOYA
“A moving, lyrical novel that will particularly resonate with teens caught between cultures.” Booklist STARRED review
Feel free to go to Laura’s website page to read an excerpt from THE QUEEN OF WATER, as well as the poignant inspiration for this wonderful book.

I first met Laura as I arrived as a wide-eyed, freshman member of the Gangos (Erin Murphy Literary clients) who traveled out to Portland, OR., for an agency retreat back in 2009. I was actually awed enough to be quiet for two hours. From reading Laura’s work, I knew she was a fabulous writer. She also had all of these wonderful stories of her travels and how her adventures fed her written stories. Fascinating. Beautiful. Sad. Inspiring.

However, the strongest impression that I came away with of Laura, was that she has a “steeped in wisdom” quality about her. (Remember those EF Hutton commercials? Well, when Laura spoke, I’d stop to listen.) About writing, about marketing , and about the writing life. When I expressed some nervousness about school visits down the road (before my ms had even been submitted to editors), she looked me in the eye and told me that I was a natural story teller and that I had nothing to worry about. And you know what? I believed her! I was instantly at ease with the whole thing. Speaks to the power of words and small kindnesses, doesn’t it? So, I guess, Laura mentored me that weekend!

Without further ado….

~~Laura Resau – Mentor Post~~

My mentor came on the scene later in my writing journey, but at what turned out to be the perfect time. Mentor-less for many years, I’d managed to bumble my way through writing and revising my first YA novel, What the Moon Saw, thanks to a smattering of enthusiastic teachers and writing group members (and my mom) who gave me guidance. Of course, it would have been wonderful (and time-saving!) to have had a mentor during the five years it took me to write the book. But a mentor-of-sorts did come along, just in time to help me navigate the rough waters of the publication process and beyond.

Lauren Myracle (of the Luv Ya Bunches and TTYL series) became an invaluable (and supercute, superfriendly, supersmart) resource for me. She’d always been supportive of me and other prepublished writers when I saw her at events in Fort Collins (where we both live). So, when I got a voicemail message from an editor at Delacorte saying she was interested in my manuscript (but that she would be out of the office for vacation and wanted me to call her back after one torturous week), I called up Lauren for advice. I was agent-less at the time, and Lauren was the only industry expert I knew who felt approachable. She squealed and congratulated me and cheerfully told me that if the editor made me an offer, to bump it up a few thousand dollars, since that’s what they expect.

A week later, I called the editor back, my hands shaking, my throat parched, nervous sweat gushing from my armpits. She offered me a typical debut literary novel advance—about the price of a small, used car. “Yes!” I said. “Yes! Thank you thank you thank you!”

She paused. “Are you officially accepting the offer, then?”

Terrified that she would suddenly change her mind, I said, “Yes, yes, officially, yes! Thank you!” (Oh, if only Lauren had been right there with me on speaker phone…)

After the discovery that I was terrible at negotiating book contracts, I called Lauren. I told her the good news and, a bit embarrassed, said that I suspected it would be a good idea for me to get an agent. ASAP.

And being the generous soul that she is, Lauren gushed excitement, then gave me her agent’s phone number. He ended up referring me to my unbelievably wonderful agent, Erin Murphy (who is also Lynda’s agent!) Erin proved to be worlds better at contract negotiations than I could ever dream of being.

Lauren continued to be a wise (and adorable) guide for me through the publication process. She explained authorly etiquette (like asking for blurbs), introduced me to other YA authors, and gave a beautiful, from-the-heart quote for the back cover of What the Moon Saw (which several people have told me made them buy the book). When I had questions about appearances at librarian and teacher conferences, she was the first person I asked (her advice: be generous and wear a cute dress). And when she had to turn down author appearance invitations for local events, she passed along my name, which helped spread the word about my book. It feels so reassuring to have someone like Lauren helping me figure out the YA book industry. (Even after six years, I still call her for advice.)

Thanks for reading! May you all find the perfect mentor at the perfect stage of your writing journey!

Categories: author, Erin Murphy, Mentor Monday

Mentor Monday ~ Emma Dryden

Anyone who’s been seriously writing for children knows the name, Emma Dryden. She’s been in publishing 25 years and shows no signs of slowing down. During a nineteen year career with S&S, she earned the titles of Vice President and Publisher of both Atheneum Books for Young Readers and Margaret K. McElderry Books.
Emma has edited nearly 500 books and has worked with children’s literary stars such as Ellen Hopkins, Karma Wilson, Alan Katz, Kathi Appelt, Holly Black, Louise Borden, Lorie Ann Grover, Chris Demarest, and Shelia Moses. The list of major awards her books have garnered is staggering. A shock wave went through the children’s publishing world when she was laid off as part of a cost-cutting maneuver by S&S. I still remember thinking the person who’d told me the news had the wrong name.Emma Dryden still continues to give the children’s publishing industry her very best. Enter…Drydenbks, a multi-platform venture through which she will provide editorial and creative services to children’s book authors, illustrators, publishers, and agents. She will also conduct workshops and act as consultant to those seeking to break into or expand their presence in the children’s publishing arena. Emma also does some writing (mostly poetry), and keeps a blog.

I first met Emma Dryden as a wide-eyed newbie at Whispering Pines Writer’s Retreat about 8 years ago. I remember her as being kind, quick to laugh, and having some darn cool sweaters. I also remember that during a first pages activity, she made some comments (along with author, Nancy Hope Wilson) about my work that changed the direction of my writing. I’ll be forever grateful for that, as that “direction” is now under contract.

Below, Emma writes about her blessing of having multiple professional mentors. Following the first piece, she writes a short piece about luminary, Margaret McElderry, and a humorous, fateful day twenty years ago. It seems that both Emma and Margaret were blessed on this frenzied August day….

Thanks, Emma, for your generosity in sharing these pieces with me.

Without further ado…


Emma Dryden:

I have been blessed to have had several mentors in my professional life. I have been blessed by some people older than myself who by example instilled in me a regard for and understanding of not only the business of a business, but the humanity of a business; people who by example inspired me to learn from my mistakes, care about my reputation, conduct myself with honesty and passion, and strive to become a decent citizen of the world. By example, these people taught me, helped me, challenged me, and expected the best from me as they expected the best from themselves. They made me cry because they were tough. They made me laugh because they were playful. They made me think because they were thoughtful. They made me care because they were careful. And in the process, as I grew from being an assistant to a colleague to a peer, we became friends because we shared a deep mutual respect for our business, for one another, and for the future.

As I walk along the paths of my life and my work, I don’t always take the time to think of and thank these people who themselves never thought they were remarkable in any way, just doing their job, just doing what came naturally, just doing what was right. I stop now to think of them and thank them, for they were most remarkable indeed. Remarkable for inviting me into their offices and homes to witness them doing their jobs, doing what came naturally, doing what was right. To witness. And to embrace all that would become essential to my own growth into someone of whom I can be proud. A businesswoman, a colleague, a person of whom I sincerely hope they would be and are proud.

It is a wonder how deeply one person can touch another simply by being present. By listening. By suggesting. By living fully. And by laughing. Oh, the laughing! Would that everyone be as lucky as I’ve been to enjoy but one older person in their life by whose example they can be inspired in their work and their life.

In honor of Dilys Evans, Linda Hayward, Richard Jackson, Margaret K. McElderry, Ole Risom.






My mentor and friend, Margaret K. McElderry, passed away at the age of 98 on February 14, 2011. Valentine’s Day. A day on which we celebrate and express love. And a day somehow wholly appropriate on which to say farewell to a woman who was full to overflowing with a passion for imagination, story, a beautifully crafted book, laughter, friends, fine wine and delicious food, blue skies over sparkling oceans, the quiet revelatory conversation and the raucous celebratory gathering—a woman so full of love and enthusiasm for all life has to offer professionally and personally.

Where our work ended and our friendship began, where our friendship ended and our work began, it’s hard to say. I suppose though, the working friendship and friendly working began the day in early August 1990 when I tried to reach Margaret to tell her I was accepting her job offer. Margaret was leaving that day at Noon for her annual vacation on Nantucket and we’d agreed I’d call her at home with my “Yes” or “No.” I made my decision. It was going to be “Yes.” That morning at eight o’clock, I called. No answer. I called again. No answer. I waited a half-hour and called again. No answer. I called over to Margaret’s office at Macmillan to confirm I had the right number. No one was in yet and I left a message to say I was doing all I could to reach Margaret to tell her I wanted the job and would they please let the HR folks know. I called Margaret again. No answer. I was getting on the subway to go to Random House where I was working at the time. I found a payphone to call my partner and my mother to ask them to please keep trying Margaret McElderry’s phone number while I was on the subway. They did. No answer. I got to Random House, called again. No answer. I left another message with Margaret’s assistant. I decided to come clean and tell Margaret’s friend, Knopf editor, Frances Foster what was going so she could confirm I was dialing the right number. I was.

Now I’d not only essentially given notice to Random House without actually accepting the job offer from Margaret, but it was getting on towards 11:00 and I was frantic. I knew darn well you don’t promise Margaret McElderry you’ll call her and not call her. I called Macmillan again and was told my messages had started to set off great concern. Publisher Judy Wilson was putting McElderry Books’ art director Barbara Fitzsimmons into a taxi at that very moment to send her down to Margaret’s house on Washington Square to see if everything was alright. Oh, and by the way, Judy Wilson was delighted, I was told, that I wanted the job. I called again. No answer. And then, just before Noon, my phone rang. Judy Wilson was on the line to tell me it seems Barbara got to Margaret’s house in a progressively nervous state, and was pounding on the door and holding her finger on the doorbell – only to have a rather put-out Margaret McElderry open the door, take one look at Barbara’s pale face, and say something to the effect of…”What are you doing here? Did you all think I was dead?” Well, in fact, yes we did. And, in fact, while Margaret McElderry was clearly very much alive, her telephone line was completely done for. It seems not three minutes before Barbara arrived, she’d just figured out what was happening when she’d quite irately picked up the receiver to call Macmillan’s HR department to tell them QUOTE “If that Emma Dryden doesn’t have the common decency and courtesy to call me at the time we arranged for her to call me, I don’t want her working for me anyway.” UNQUOTE.

Margaret and I never did speak that day, but I started as her associate editor on September 19, 1990, a week or so before she returned to the office, tan and energized, from Nantucket. And when we saw each other, we hugged and laughed and had some rather choice things to say about AT&T. The rest is history and we told and retold that story over and over again because it said something about our partnership and it made us laugh. Such a remarkably unexpected beginning to a remarkably unexpected friendship and collaboration. I’d give anything to call you right now, Margaret, to tell you how much it all meant to me—professionally and personally—to accept that job offer, to accept that gift. And this time, we’d use our cell phones.


Publishers Weekly has a wonderful tribute, written by several kid lit professionals (including Emma Dryden) who knew and loved Margaret McElderry. Reading their pieces makes me wish that I’d been able to meet this one-in-a-billion woman! Her loss is a loss for everyone that loves children’s literature.

Categories: editor, inspiring, Mentor Monday, publisher

Mentor Monday ~ Michelle Ray

A big MENTOR MONDAY welcome to Michelle Ray! I’m looking forward to meeting her in person someday, but for the time being, I’ll have to be content with being EMLA buddies and Emusdebuts blog mates. She posted a wonderful blog entry this week on the highs and lows of receiving and working on the editing letter. I like it—it’s funny and honest and inspiring all at the same time! Michelle is the author of the forthcoming book, FALLING FOR HAMLET, which is one of those books that I want to get my hands on!! I also find myself into Shakespeare lately, so I’m especially looking forward to getting my nose into this one.And, although I don’t know you, Amy (Michelle’s mentor) I’m sending out a big hug to you—because all writers should have an “Amy!”

Without further ado, here is Michelle!!!

For years, I was a closeted writer. Maybe you know the type: really loves the written word, journals incessantly, has great ideas for stories, might even put them on paper but would never, never, never show them to anyone. Well, until I met Amy Ludwig VanDerwater, I was just such a person.

I was teaching in Mt. Kisco, New York and was lucky that an organization called LitLife came to my school to show us how to better engage our students in writing. Amy was one of their teachers. The philosophy was to have teachers try the exercises that the students would do. This made me more sensitive to my students’ fears and challenges because, like them, I had to put myself out there when sharing my work. But amazingly, during these workshops, I not only became a better teacher, but I learned to trust myself as a writer, as well.

After one workshop, I quietly told Amy that I had started writing a manuscript. I proceeded to explain why it wasn’t finished and why I had never told anyone about it. She listened patiently and poked holes in every excuse I offered. Then she outed me to the entire teaching staff of my district by announcing, “Michelle Ray is writing a novel.” Holy cow! At first I was horrified, but you know what? I didn’t fall through a hole in the ground, I didn’t get struck by lightning, and most importantly, no one laughed at me. In fact, having this secret out in the open turned out to be what I needed to take myself seriously as a writer.

Amy believed in me when I lost faith, and encouraged me when I needed motivation. Right after I found my agent, Ammi-Joan Paquette, I happened to be visiting her house, and she toasted me with real champagne! I had to undercut the moment and say it didn’t mean my book would sell, and, of course, cheerleader that she is, she said it would. And she was right: within weeks, Alvina Ling at Little, Brown, offered to buy my manuscript. As if all that weren’t enough, Amy’s always among the first to “like” when I post about my publishing excitement on Facebook.

There is nothing I would change about fabulous poet, inspiring mentor, great cook, honest to goodness farmer/gardener, and terrific friend Amy . . . except that she lives so far away.

My sincerest thanks to Amy Ludwig VanDerwater for bringing my secret writing life into the light.

Categories: EMLA, Mentor Monday

Mentor Monday ~ J. Anderson Coats

A big Mentor Monday Welcome to… … J. Anderson Coats! We have not actually met in person, but I’ve had the pleasure of meeting J. (Am I suppose to keep the name a secret?) online, as we are both clients of The Erin Murphy Literary Agency, are both contributors to the EMU’s Debut Blog, and are both members of The Apocalypsies, a blog for children’s authors who are debuting novels in 2012.

J,’s book, WITHOUT THE WALLS, sounds utterly fantastic! Here is a taste:

1293. North Wales. Ten years into English rule.

Cecily would give anything to leave Caernarvon. Gwenhwyfar would give anything to see all the English leave.
Neither one is going to get her wish.
Behind the city walls, English burgesses govern with impunity. Outside the walls, the Welsh are confined by custom and bear the burden of taxation, and the burgesses plan to keep it that way.

Cecily can’t be bothered with boring things like the steep new tax or the military draft that requires Welshmen to serve in the king’s army overseas. She has her hands full trying to fit in with the town’s privileged elite, and they don’t want company.
Gwenhwyfar can’t avoid these things. She counts herself lucky to get through one more day.
But the Welsh are not as conquered as they seem, and the suffering in the countryside is rapidly turning to discontent. The murmurs of revolt may be Gwenhwyfar’s only hope for survival – and the last thing Cecily ever hears.

~~Sounds incredible, doesn’t it? I’ll be looking forward to getting my hands on my own copy in 2012! I am totally looking forward to traveling the debut writer’s road with J. Anderson Coats!
So, without further ado, here is J.’s Mentor Monday:

Dear Mrs. Stromberg:

Perhaps you’ll remember me as the smart-mouth girl in the back of your AP Literature class who was often distracted by the scribblings in her notebook. I know you’ll remember me as the girl who strolled into your classroom at the beginning of her junior year ready to rest on her writing laurels.

You probably figured out quickly that I was used to coasting when it came to anything written. Never in my life had a teacher made a single meaningful red mark on anything I wrote. On the contrary, they swept A’s across the top of everything and gushed how great a writer I was.

And unfortunately, I’d gotten way too used to hearing that.

I smugly slid my first paper of the year across your desk and waited for the inevitable shower of praise. But when I got it back, it looked like you’d slit your wrists all over it.

I’ll admit it – I was gobsmacked. There was only one conclusion I could draw: you thought my writing was terrible. Why else would you mark it up like that?

I sulked for a while. I’m not proud of that. But then I buckled down. No way was I going to tolerate getting papers back all covered in red. I kept tightening and tinkering and experimenting and tweaking, all to get a paper back as white and flawless as they’d always been.

Those red marks didn’t lessen in quantity. But they changed in content. They changed in tone.

That’s when I started reading them.

Because that’s when I realized you didn’t think I was a bad writer. You tore up my writing because you knew I was good – and if I got the right feedback, I could get even better.

I took what you taught me and turned it loose on my fiction. And I got better hand over fist till I sold a novel I’m really proud of. I’m still getting better. I always will be.

I probably learned some stuff about literature from you that year, but two things sank in deep that I still carry with me: even good writers are never finished learning how to write, and honest feedback presented with respect is invaluable.

You never pulled any punches. You treated me like a writer, not a student. And I walked out of your classroom not only a better writer, but also a better person.

Best regards,

J. Anderson Coats

PS: I should also probably learn to call you by your first name, Kelly, but that one’s gonna take some time.

Categories: apocalypsies, author, EMLA, Mentor Monday, writing

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