Marina Budhos on Mentoring Writers

Whom have I learned from? In whose footsteps have I followed? What have I done to nurture those who will follow me? Having been in this writing business now for some 30 years, and taught writers for about twenty of them, I suppose it’s natural to think about such questions from time to time.

I have followed Marina Budhos‘s work for years, ever since I read her incandescent novel, The Professor of Light.  So when I learned she was part of the WNDB 2019 group of mentors, I asked her if she’d write me a reflection on what mentorship means to her.

Here is what she wrote:

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Photo courtesy of the author

I was recently thinking about mentorship, because I was listening to a writer speak about her own experience.  In this case, she has been mentored by very strong figures—for better or worse—and yet she herself kept a distance from too much entanglement with students.

I never had any clear mentors, and I wish I did.  As an undergraduate student, I dove into writing and some of my professors recognized my seriousness as a writer.  In graduate school, while I had professors who taught me a good deal about writing, I really had no close mentors.  I came to be largely self-taught and self-sufficient. Thus, when I came to New York City and began to publish short stories and sought out an agent for my emerging novel, I was confused and easily discouraged. Indeed the person who taught me the most about developing myself as a writer and making certain career choices is my partner, co-writer and husband, Marc Aronson.

I have been teaching a long time, in many settings, so there is no doubt that I’ve been a mentor to many emerging writers, in different ways.  When I taught in a low-residency program, the structure is much more one-on-one and I developed sustained relationships with those students, some of whom went on to publish and thrive.  I am a professor, so when I notice a gifted undergraduate student, I will pull them aside and put books or stories in their hands; for some of my graduate students, I’ve tried to guide them with their work, and how to start to imagine and envision a finished manuscript and real publication.  Sometimes, with some students, they interest me so much that I will probe and prod and reflect with them so as to open them up to other possibilities in not just their writing, but their thinking and feeling in the world.

In terms of my mentorship for We Need Diverse Books, I have a few aims.  One, I’m hoping that a gleam in my mentee’s eye can become a reality for her.  And I’m hoping I can give her some professional sense of what it takes to write the kind of nonfiction book she has proposed, and what publishers will be looking for.  When I was coming up as an emerging writer, I had no one explain to me the path toward publishing; I had no sense of how to ask for help, or where I should put my energy.  I virtually gave away my first novel to a fledgling press with no proper representation.  I’m hoping that I can provide this, because otherwise writing, and writing to make a project a reality, is so amorphous.

marina_longride.jpgThe other aspect of this, which is particular to We Need Diverse Books, is my aim is to encourage more writers of color to write nonfiction.  So often when we speak about diversity, we’re thinking about fiction, but in my mind, I’d like to see more diverse writers in the realm of nonfiction.  Not only can they bring to the world stories, histories, discoveries that readers have not seen, but simply put, I’d like to see more writers of color conceive of themselves as nonfiction writers too.  I often think it’s an arena that writers of color don’t realize they can succeed in, and the more they succeed, the more editors will come to them with topics or contributions to anthologies.

Marina Budhos’s latest YA novel, The Long Ride, is a story of friendship that builds and sustains three mixed-race girls in the 1970’s era of bussing.

On Mentors and Mentoring, Part 3

Traci Sorell and Kathi Appelt responded to my inquiry about the role that mentoring played in their own lives and how they hope to pass the love along:

Traci Sorrell:

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Photo by Kelly Downs Photography

I wouldn’t be a published author without mentoring. Fellow picture book authors, Ann Ingalls and Sue Lowell Gallion, both members of the SCBWI KS-MO region have been extremely supportive of my development. I met Cynthia Leitich Smith through social media and her guidance on navigating writing as a career has been equally invaluable.

I haven’t served as a writing mentor before, but I have mentored others in previous careers. Serving as a mentor gave me the opportunity to give back for all help I’ve received throughout my life. It reinforced an early lesson I learned about helping others coming behind you (in whatever field you are in) to navigate that journey. Also, it taught me to listen to what the mentee needed (which might not be what I needed as a mentee) and to connect them to the resources that would best help their growth and development.

I hope that by working with my WNDB mentee I’ll learn more about the person and their writing style and interests. I’m also interested in the human or personal connection with other creative folks in this business, so I look forward to how my knowledge base will continue to expand based on the mentee’s background, what they write and what they need most from me as a mentor.

And this from Kathi Appelt, whose exuberant energy and love of children’s books have kindled fires in many writers:

kathi-225x300.jpegWhen I was in the first grade, my teacher Mrs. Beall, looked me squarely in the eyes and said this wonderful thing:  “Kathi, when you grow up, I think you’re going to be a writer.”

She probably said that to every one of the first graders, that’s the kind of teacher she was. But when she said it to me, I had this overwhelming feeling of YES. It wasn’t so much that I intended to become a writer in the first grade. In fact, what I really dreamed of being back then was a cowgirl. But what Mrs. Beall did was plant a seed of possibility. First grade is all about possibilities, about the shape of what can be.

And I think that’s what a good teacher does—shows you the glimmers of what can be.

I’ve had many wonderful teachers, and each one of them has taken my hand and in their own distinctive styles, shown me what is possible.  This is what I aim for in my own work as a mentor, too. And who knows, maybe some day I’ll even become a cowgirl.  It could happen.

Are those not truths to carry in our hearts? The human connection. The glimmer of what can be. Thank you, Traci and Kathi!

See earlier posts on the WNDB mentoring program with contributions from Robin Stevenson, Alex GinoFrancisco X. Stork, Swati Avasthi, and JaNay Brown-Wood.

Note: This is not an official WNDB promotion but a reflection of my personal/professional interest in the program and in diversity in our field.

 

On Mentors and Mentoring, Part 2

More on the relationship of mentoring and writing from a couple more of the 2019 WNDB mentors, writers of distinction who care about books for young people.

Swati Avasthi:

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Photo credit: Anne Marsden

As a teacher at Hamline’s MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults, I’ve had the honor to mentor many writers.  Each time, I’ve gotten unexpected gifts:  the first look at an amazing manuscript, the knowledge my students have offered from expertise in their day jobs, a connection that outlives graduation, and most importantly, a sense that I am part of a larger community. I’m constantly rewarded, even though I can never anticipate in what form that reward will come.

I’m specifically excited about mentoring at WNDB because I’ve gotten to work with very few mentors of color as a writer over the years and none in my early years. But whenever, I get that chance, something powerful and honest stirs in my work, simply because I’m in a space free from the white gaze. By mentoring in WNDB, I hope to find more and more ways to create a safe and supportive spaces for a writer of color and continue to grow as a mentor. And who knows what other gifts and lessons mentoring will bring?

JaNay Brown-Wood:

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Photos by Tatsu

Something I’ve learned during my time in the children’s literature industry is that there are always more opportunities to learn from individuals at every level of the industry, no matter how seasoned of a writer you are. I think by serving as a mentor, it allows for me to reflect back and think about things I wish I would have known as I started writing, as well as think about tips that helped me along the way. Additionally, looking over someone’s work, critiquing it, providing feedback, catching things that the writer might have overlooked, and pushing them to improve their skills help me as a writer, too. Scrutinizing someone else’s work helps to remind me of best practices in the craft of writing. For example, am I taking my own critique advice in my work? Am I making sure my work includes scenes as opposed to telling? Do my characters sound like children, or adults in children’s bodies? Am I being particular in the words I choose? Is there a true narrative arc including a pressing conflict? These are each things I’ve mentored others with before, so they stay at the forefront of my mind as I write and revise my own work. Lastly, I hope to continue to fine-tune my own teaching and mentor skills so that I can mentor others in the future, leading them to feel excited and proud of the work they produce.

Thanks, Swati and JaNay!

See earlier post on the WNDB mentoring program, with contributions from Robin Stevenson, Alex Gino, and Francisco X. Stork.

Note: This is not an official WNDB promotion but a reflection of my personal/professional interest in the program and in diversity in our field.

On Mentors and Mentoring

Thoughts on the relationship of mentoring and writing from some of the 2019 WNDB mentors, all writers of distinction in the field of writing for young people.

Robin Stevenson:

20180606-20180606-_M8A1392.jpgWhen I started writing, I was on maternity leave and in my mid-thirties. I knew nothing about writing or publishing, so I reached out to the only author I knew- my friend Pat Schmatz. Pat gave me gentle, insightful feedback on manuscript after manuscript, asking perceptive questions about my characters and being curious about my stories-and in the process, helping me become a much better writer. I will always be so grateful for this generosity.

The WNDB mentorship program will be the first time I have served as a mentor in a formal arrangement, but I have been teaching and freelance editing for years. I love supporting other writers as they develop their manuscripts, and I always learn from it myself. I think that reading and responding to other people’s work helps me to view my own writing more critically— and having to articulate my ideas helps to further develop and clarify them. Working with writers as they take a first draft and transform it into a much stronger completed manuscript is inspiring: so much can be achieved in revision. It is always a good reminder to me not to give up on my own uncooperative first drafts! Best of all, I have made many wonderful friends, and have enjoyed watching former students become colleagues. I am very much looking forward to being a mentor for We Need Diverse Books in 2019.

Alex Gino:

alexpenbooklaunch-225x300.jpgHaving a mentor was critical for me as a writer. I don’t think my first book, George, would have been published without it. I had pushed myself through writing a first draft, which was a new accomplishment for me, and I had even gone through and looked for typos and better word choices. But I had no idea how to turn this pile of words into a cohesive story with a full arc divided into satisfying, chapter-size chunks. It was my dear friend, Jean Marie Stine, an amazing sci-fi editor and writer, who sat down with me page by page, looked at the structure of my story, and showed me where to push for me when I didn’t know where to go. I was (and am) extremely lucky to have Jean Marie in my life, but not every writer just happens to know a professional editor. I am delighted to now be able to mentor others through that mysterious process from completed draft to marketable manuscript.

Francisco X. Stork:

francisco_stork.jpgI didn’t have any writing mentors but I was fortunate in my life to have teachers who were willing to be friends with me outside of the classroom. These were individuals who were living with purpose and dedication to their work and their “mentorship” was really the life-example that they provided to me.

I have learned that the role of a writing mentor is not only  about providing feedback to the manuscript or in providing practical advice for publication.  The important part of being a mentor is to share with the mentee what it means to be a writer and the attitudes toward our work and the writing life that are harmful and helpful.

Each mentor-mentee relationship is different. Each is a dialogue and not a monologue,  so there will be growth on both sides.

More to come. Applications accepted in October 2018 for the WNDB 2019 mentorships.

Note: This is not an official WNDB promotion but a reflection of my personal/professional interest in the program and in diversity in our field.

WNDB 2019 Mentorships Announced

a1a3d5c0-e214-46fb-8a60-6b52c89d4cccBeginning in October, the We Need Diverse Books™ (WNDB™) Mentorship Program will accept applications for the program’s fourth consecutive year. The mission of the program is to support writers early in their career by pairing them with an experienced children’s author or illustrator.

A total of 11 applicants will be matched with mentors, in picture book text, middle grade fiction, young adult fiction, MG/YA nonfiction and illustration. Read more about the mentorship and application process on the WNDB™ website. For further information, contact co-chairs Miranda Paul and Meg Cannistra at mentor@diversebooks.org.
The 2019 WNDB™ mentors are an award-winning group of children’s book creators including Alex Gino, Swati Avasthi, Coe Booth, Traci Sorell, Francisco X. Stork, Robin Stevenson, JaNay Brown-Wood, Samantha Berger, Kathi Appelt, Marina Budhos, and Joyce Wan.
I invited the 2019 mentors to share some thoughts about their experiences with mentoring. Look for their responses here in the next few days.