Catching it from behind, lobbing it forward

by Pari

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.

23 thoughts on “Catching it from behind, lobbing it forward

  1. Lyn LeJeune

    There this guy on the left, see his photo, that’s Ken Bruen. I never met him, but he is one of the few writers I contacted that was generous enough to reply and encourage me. He is a Beatitude.Lyn LeJeune – The Beatitudes Network-Rebuilding the Public libraries of New Orleans. Author contact me to have your website/log listed as A Beatitude.merci mille fois

  2. Tammy Cravit

    There’s this group of folks that write this Web site…it might be called Murderati, or something like that. They help me every day to keep my focus and enthusiasm high, to keep my motivation up, and to know that there IS a safe passage through the alligators if I would but seek it. To them I owe a tremendous debt of thanks.

    Everyone here is so amazing that I hesitate to publicly single out any specific ‘Rati authors, but the three of you I’ve corresponded with privately know who you are. Goddess willing, you’ll find your names on an acknowledgment page somewhere someday.

    I’ve met or talked to a wide assortment of writers, and I continue to be amazed at how generous, as group, mystery authors are with their time and experience and encouragement. It’s really quite wondrous.

  3. pari noskin taichert

    Lyn,This is what I’m talking about . . . someone who makes a big impact on another person, who teaches something, often without even realizing he or she is doing it.

    Tammy,Aw, shucks . . .

    Actually I know what you mean about those alligators. In my post, I didn’t even mention all the people who offered their knowledge and advice BEFORE I was published . . . the list would be too long.

    Without turning these comments into a love-fest, I do firmly believe this the group of writers at Murderati are among the most giving in the business . . .

    . . . and that’s saying a lot because, as you note, overall mystery writers tend to be a darn generous group.

  4. JT Ellison

    My list of mentors is so long… but to start, John Connolly, both on and off the page; Del Tinsley, my dutch mom, who adopted me and gave me all the tools; Pari, for countless rah-rahs, and who talked me up to a certain Brit so when I met him, he actually knew my name; Naomi H., for teaching me patience; Lee Child, for all the obvious reasons, and some not to obvious ones; Neil Nyren, for editing my first inspiration, John Sandford, and for always being willing to answer a silly question. Sheesh, I could just recreate my acknowledgements page here.

    Murderati is the most wonderful experience of my writing life. Friendship, learning and fun, all rolled into one mass of readers and writers. I love you guys.

  5. Louise Ure

    Oh, Lord. All the writers who made me feel welcome at the first cons. The ones who gave of their time and influence to offier a newbie an author comments on a manuscript.

    But most of all, Jude Greber (Gillian Roberts). I took a writing class from her and then participated in a writers group she led. She convinced me I could do this. She’s read my manuscripts as often as I have. And she continues to offer advice, counsel and friendship. I would never have written a word without her.

  6. pari noskin taichert

    Louise,I met Jude at my very first Malice where no one had ever heard of me. We sat next to each other at a booksigning where not a single person bought my book — and there was a big line for her. She was so kind, warm and gracious, I’ll never forget it. Since then, she’s continued to be one of the lights in this community.

    BTW: ALL!!!!I’m reading THE FAULT TREE by our own Louise Ure right now. It’s positively gorgeous.

  7. Woodstock

    Interesting question! And to be honest, for most of my years since college, I can’t really think of too many. However, I vividly remember one man I met in the college job interview process, which back then took place during specific weeks when all the various recruiters were on campus. See, my degree was in a field where almost NO WOMEN were hired. And I had not “filled in my skills” by taking any education courses at all. Without really understanding what I was doing, I had decided to go for broke. Most of the recruiters I met with were polite, but dismissive. And dismissive in a way that it was clear to me I was being dismissed. Not even a “don’t call us, we’ll call you.” However, one recruiter seemed truly regretful he had nothing to offer me, and gave me excellent tips on where to go from there, how to find firms which would be interested in adding me to the staff, and followed up with a couple of referral letters and other pointers. Following his advice, I found a job when I graduated and left college.

    About a dozen years or so later, I was suddenly a single mom. I had met another young woman in the same boat, although we no longer lived in the same town. We had many long, long phone calls, and she gave me excellent advice on a lot of serious and mundane issues which came up with distressing regularity. I look at my adult daughter now, and can see that she is teaching her children important things I taught her, and that I would not have taught her without that other mother’s guidance.

    Maybe all the above is off the subject, but when I read Pari’s query, those two people immediately came to mind.

  8. Elaine Flinn

    I’ve had many wonderful writers welcome me to the nut house – and become close friends – but I’d never had entered if not for Chassie West. This multi-nominated twenty-seven book wonder encouraged me from day one. And speaking of Jude Greber – Jude and Chassie are both ‘spotlighted’ – along with other great gals – on the current Evil E – which – by the way (!) – features an interview with Louise and her new book – THE FAULT TREE.

  9. pari noskin taichert

    Woodstock,What wonderful stories. Thank you for sharing them with us. I, too, have had total strangers go to bat for me for some of my PR jobs — especially when I was first starting out. What a blessing they were.

    Elaine,You’re one heck of a mentor yourself. You know that, don’t you?

    I think I’ll just head on over to Evil E right now . . .

  10. toni mcgee causey

    I am going to forget people, and that bothers me. I have been extremely fortunate. Allison Brennan has probably stepped in the most often and kept me sane, and just been such an incredibly friend and mentor, I don’t know how to thank her. Same for sisters Rosemary and India Edghill. Harley Jane Kozak. MJ Rose. Nancy Martin.

    So many people at the cons each year — Don Bruns and Claudia Bishop and Jay Waggoner were really and truly amazing to me at LCC last year.

    I’ve had one university person who championed my work early on: David Madden. David was nominated for a Pulitzer and even though my genre is about as far away from his as one can get and still both be called fiction, he’s shouted from the rooftops and beat the drums in support.

    I know there are dozens more. I have a lot of paying forward to do.

  11. Alexandra Sokoloff

    Wow, so many I could be here all day and not even start. People have been amazing.

    All the incredible authors of the Killer Thriller band – Heather Graham, F. Paul Wilson, Michael Palmer, David Morrell, Harley Jane Kozak, John Lescroat, Scott Nicholson – completely took me under their wings and gave me seven lifetimes of advice and support. I can go to any one of them with any question, or problem. It’s amazing.

    Heather Graham on her own has been the most amazing fairy godsister. I have never met a more generous human being in my life.

    Doris Ann Norris, of Sisters in Crime, is truly the patron saint of mystery writers.

    Then both patron AND saint, and true inspiration, Ken Bruen.

    Pari, Elaine Flynn, Naomi Hirahara, are all constantly sharing their wisdom and experience.

    And then I have a whole other set of mystery goddess mentors: Margaret Maron, Sarah Shaber, Katy Munger Kathy Trochek, Diane Chamberlaine, and Brynn Bonner.

    I second MaryElizabeth Hart (Mysterious Galaxy) and add Nancy Olson (Quail Ridge Books) and Del and Sue Howison (Dark Delicacies), the entire staff of The Mystery Bookstore in Westwood- there are so many booksellers who go out of their way to put authors on the map and give newbies a boost.

    And then, my God – Ali Karim, Larry Gandle, Janet Rudolph, Joe Hartlaub, Kate Stine, Sarah Weinman… always there to give a boost.

    I am constantly basking in the wisdom of Deb LeBlanc of the Horror Writers Association.

    This just isn’t a fair question on such a frazzled day.

  12. pari noskin taichert

    Toni and Alex,This does seem almost like a time-limited acceptance speech or something, doesn’t it?

    But, boy, I’m so glad to be reading about all of this kindness, all of this generosity.

    I have to be honest, this has been a difficult couple of days. To read about people being good to each other is a tremendous boon.

    Thank you.

  13. Christa M. Miller

    Well, to start with, all the writing bloggers I read… here, First Offenders, Murder She Writes… they are all so helpful!

    More personally, Naomi Hirahara, Sean Doolittle, Anne Frasier, Sandra Ruttan, Laura Lippman, Steven Torres… all helpful with advice and support in one form or another, whether it was via email, on Crimespace, or ye olde Mystery Circus. (I’m sure I’m forgetting folks, so if you’re one of them, I apologize!)

    Honestly though, I don’t think anyone is “just” a mentor or protege. I have had career authors come to me for help (usually for fresh eyes on something or a take on parenting). I think most people in this community recognize that to get it, you have to give it, so help is an investment – not only in themselves and their own jobs, but on behalf of others, if that makes sense.

  14. Tom

    Sheila Finch.

    Elaine Viets.

    Mark W. Lee.

    By example, Ken Bruen, James Lee Burke, Tony Hillerman, the late Roger Zelazny.

    The late Mark Ganzel.

    The late Stephen J. Linsner.

    They proved to me that it could and should be done, and that I have to try even when hope is on the wane.

  15. pari noskin taichert

    Christa,I think you’re right about the paying it forward aspect of this business. But, I’d posit that the ratio of people who firmly believe this in the mystery community is higher than in many others . . .

    Tom,You’re sure right with your examples. Roger Zelazny is a legend around here in NM — such a giving professional.

    Elaine,Yep, yep, yep.

    JT,Thanks. It’s been rough. I might blog about it next week.

  16. Allison Brennan

    Other than my agent and editor–both of whom have been very enthusiastic and supportive of my writing from day one–the single most wonderful author who really welcomed me and made me feel not so alone, answered all my questions, and helped me over the new author hump, is Mariah Stewart. Not only did she give me a cover quote on my debut novel when she was under her own tight deadlines, but she’s always been there to listen and share her vast wisdom. She’s my long lost sister 🙂

  17. Allison Brennan

    Toni, you are so sweet–and very welcome, though I had nothing to do with your book being so fabulous! That was all you 🙂

    And Elaine, I totally agree. What comes around and all that . . . It’s the 11th Commandment, Do unto others.


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