The dedication in my next book SHADOW OF BETRAYAL coming out
in July will read thusly:
To William Relling Jr.
Some of you may have read one of Bill’s books. His first was
a novel called BRUJO…a horror novel that involved the spirit of a Native
American medicine man on the island of Catalina. His next was also in the
horror genre. SILENT MOON. After that he mainly switched to crime fiction. He
had a short lived series featuring former Treasury agent Jack Donne who takes
up life as an owner of a vineyard and winery. There were only two books in the
series: A DEADLY VINTAGE and SWEET POISON. And then about a year before he
died, his last book, THE CRIMINALIST, came out.
I met Bill in the fall of 1992. I figured it was about time
for me to get serious about my career as a writer, and to admit I needed help,
or at least a kick in the butt. So I signed up for a beginning novel writing
class through UCLA Extension. Bill turned out to be my teacher. I remember that
it was 1992 because we had classes on Tuesday, and one of our classes happened
to be on election night when Bill
Clinton defeated Bush senior. (Not a political statement, just something I
remember.) It was a great class, and Bill gave me a lot of encouragement. In
fact, after the course was over, he called me up and invited me to join a
writing group he was forming. I jumped at the chance.
Now the group was not exactly typical. It was set up where
Bill was in charge. Each week we would all ready whatever anyone submitted the
previous week, then we’d give our thoughts. The last to give thoughts would be
Bill. He was the authority. But not only would he tell us what he thought, he
would also do a heavy line edit on everything that was submitted. It was pretty
shocking at first. Sentences cut. Words X’d out, paragraphs moved around. But
after you got past that first couple of times, you realized that most of his
suggestions were actually spot on. He was just damn good at making our mediocre
stories great. I also have to say that I have never had anyone do an edit on my
manuscript like he used to do, which I’ve decided to take to mean I’m doing a
much better job on things on my end.
In that time, Bill became first my teacher, then my mentor.
I trusted him, I turned to him with questions about my work that previously I
would have been afraid to ask anyone because I would not want to get hurt by
their response, and I learned in the end to trust myself, too.
His straightforward, no bullshit style help to also toughen
my skin, and allow me not to be phased by the dozens of rejections I would
later be receiving. He believed in my work and knew one day I’d break through.
The others in the group I’m sure felt the same way. Several
have also gone on to get published. Besides Bill and myself, our weekly meeting
included Nathan Walpow, Richard Jordan, and Marc Paoletti, along with several
other talent writers. It was a great group. One I was very proud to be a part
After a couple of years, staying in the group and juggling
the rest of my life had become too much. I had to bow out. My writing output
also ebbed during this time. But when I finally was ready to jump back in about
7 years ago, Bill told me he’d started another group and I was more than
welcome to join. I readily accepted the offer. It was in that group that I
wrote the original version of the book which would become THE CLEANER.
I’ve talked about Bill before, so several of you already
know he didn’t live to see me get my first contract. Close, so very close. In
fact, and I’ve never told this part before, in many ways it was because he had
passed away that I got my contract. At his memorial service I reconnected with
someone who, later, put me in touch with the folks who eventually bought my
book. I still get a little bit of a chill thinking about that. And I wouldn’t
be surprised if Bill’s spirit had been hovering beside us as the offer for an
introduction was made.
Bill was my mentor, and I know without any question that if
it wasn’t for his help in improving my craft, and preparing me for the world of
publishing (he proofed my query letters, and even wrote a recommendation letter
for me himself) I wouldn’t be where I am today. I still remember his smile and
his too loud laugh and his pointed remarks when I tried to get away with
something in a story.
The quote he used to love to repeat to us…Never let the
truth get in the way of your story. I still repeat it to myself today, along
with about another two dozen Billisms.
Mentors are a powerful, powerful thing. You don’t always
know when you are going to get one, and they aren’t always easy to find, but
when you do find one, a good one, learn all you can from them, then go out make
Do you have a mentor? How have they helped you?