Let’s talk mentoring.
There’s the formal route. International Thriller Writers pairs debut authors with seasoned ones. Mystery Writers of America works to partner writers, whose publishers have abandoned them, with others who’ve weathered this traumatic career challenge.
Sometimes, when I’m in self-pity mode, I wish I’d had the benefit of an established mentorship program. But, the truth is, my informal experiences have been pretty darn good.
Dozens of people have taught me in my career so far. These are the folks — not always writers, btw — who took the time to answer my questions thoroughly. They’re the ones in whom I’ve confided fears and awful emotions such as jealousy and envy. They’ve responded with compassion . . . and a punch to the solar plexus when necessary.
In the past, many of these informal mentors didnt realize I’d thrust them into that role. People like Steve Brewer, Connie Shelton, Susan Slater, Suzanne Proulx, Deborah Donnelly, David Corbett, Barbara Seranella and Maryelizabeth Hart took me under their wings at my first Left Coast Crime convention. Because of them, my introduction to the mystery world was a glorious one.
I didn’t ask these generous souls to guide me. They just stepped up and did it.
Right now, my life is filled with informal mentors again. In my critique group, I’ve got five astounding teachers — all experts at one thing or another. At the First Friday group I attend in Alb. (started by Tony Hillerman and Madge Harrah among others), I sit, listen, and am agog at the wealth of information and perspectives I can get in one little room. The writers on this wonderful blog, all my fellow ‘Ratis, are incredible teachers, too.
On listservs such as the one for the American Crime Writers League, Mystery Writers of America’s breakout, and the one for Novelists, Inc., I’m simply floored with the responses to my — and others’ — serious questions.
I apologize if I seem like I’m gushing. I’m on the verge of a new book release and, boy, I’m feeling mighty grateful.
Think about it . . .
There are authors in our community who serve as examples to us all — without even trying. Lee Child can wow a roomful of fans and make every single one of them feel valued. He’s also extremely kind to new authors. Charlaine Harris has her incredible following because of her writing — and the risks she’s taken with it — AND is nicer than warm peach pie a la mode. Jan Burke saw a problem with crime lab funding and did something about it. Donna Andrews tirelessly volunteers for Sisters in Crime and Malice Domestic.
These people are my mentors, too, though I rarely contact them privately.
And I haven’t even mentioned booksellers; professional reviewers; or the fans who create and man listservs, write reviews, work at and organize conventions. So many of them have given me pearls and helped me avoid pitfalls.
Isn’t it amazing? Doesn’t this astounding altruism just blow you away?
Most of the time, I still think of myself as a neophyte in the publishing world; I’ve got the same jitters and joys in anticipation of book #3 as I did with #1.
Yet I’m no virgin.
People have begun to ask me questions. They pull me aside at conventions now and trust me enough to keep confidences and respect their vulnerabilities.
I only hope to be as gracious and giving as those who’ve taught, and continue to teach, me.
So, let’s celebrate the givers today. Let’s celebrate our mentors. Are there people who’ve helped you — either formally or informally — to achieve your dreams?
I can’t wait to read what you’ve got to say.