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Lucky: On Finding Writing Mentors

Dear Kim,

We had a great time celebrating my father this past weekend. Seventy. My siblings and I all gave him the "John Green" treatment. (My father is John Green, not that John Green.) My dad believes in the art of public speaking. Given the opportunity he would speak at your birthday, your kid's fifth grade graduation, your best friend's mother's retirement.

He likes to speak. Scratch that. He loves to speak publicly. He adores, and masters, the sweet mix of a little humor joined by a bit of nostalgia, blended together with a dash of love.
The John Green toasting Garry and I at our wedding.
My brother really nailed his tribute to John Green. I was lucky to give my 90% humorous speech before my brother stepped up to bring us all to tears. John Green was proud.

I'd have to say for many reasons I am lucky to have John Green as my father. Among the reasons, he was my first writing mentor. As a young journalist my dad kept on deadline and covered all sorts of human interest stories. When I started writing-- for school mostly, my dad was the first and toughest copy editor I'd ever experience. Always a red pen. Always loads of line edits. He'd grab ahold of any one of his four kids' assignments and fall into The Elements of Style mode.

With Saint Patrick's Day approaching it feels like as good a time as any to write about the LUCK that I've had in finding writing mentors. I believe that in any profession to gain skills and unlock your talent you must find mentorship. In teaching I had several. In writing (and everything that goes into this profession) I've been blessed with many.

Kim, as you know my family is made up of some killer creatives. Surrounded by creative energy from a young age, my mom's at time manic need for creativity was always overflowing. From my mom's culinary magic to my brother and sisters, who all suffer the creative condition, I've been influenced, supported, and challenged.

Then the door fell open and I stumbled out of my home in search of other mentors. Not those born to me but those I had to find on my own. I met Kent Brown on this quest. Through a series of fortunate events I had the opportunity to write for Kent. The red pen returned.
Kent Brown, Jr. Executive Director of The Highlights Foundation
Kent is an editor at heart. (Many folks would say farmer, but I believe that his bones are made of white-out and his heart runs with red ink.) He isn't looking for what is right in a story, he is looking for what can be made better. He made me write on demand. He made me write and rewrite and find more heart and then rewrite again. He opened my eyes to a community of other working writers who were generous beyond belief with their mentorship.

Patti Gauch and Peter Jacobi's poetic words. Meg Medina's passion. Rich Wallace and Kathy Erskine's knowledge of voice. Junko Yokota's research. Pat Cummings and Denise Fleming's characters. Floyd Cooper and Eric Rohmann's humor. Candy Fleming's mastery of the craft. Kent's Highlights Foundation gives me more mentorship than I can ever hope to repay. But I will try.

InkSisters at #NY16SCBWI. Note the cupcakes.
Finding mentors became exponentially easier when I found the Highlights Foundation and SCBWI. Through SCBWI I found you and Donna, my critique partners, yes. But you are so much more than a "partner" at times. You are my go-to mentor. You push me. You take my hand when things get tough. You won't let me quit. You walk just a bit farther ahead on the path in order to light my way. And here too I hope to give back, not just to you and Donna, not just in the form of tasty gin drinks and cupcakes, but to SCBWI too. Lin Oliver and Steve Mooser do amazing work bringing writers and illustrators face-to-face with mentors all over the country. I'm proud to volunteer for their mission.

#TeamTallahassee 4Ever!

If someone asked me where to find writing mentors I would always start with the Highlights Foundation and SCBWI, but I have to say Twitter is also a great virtual meeting space for mentorship. Without Twitter and #PitchWars I never would have found my Natalie Traver: mentor extraordinaire, greatest giver of time and support. Natalie, author of Duplicity (and many upcoming titles) was my coach for the 2014 PitchWars contest. She worked to bring Blossom Hill together. Daily revisions and rereads. She once emailed me at midnight after returning home from a party to let me know she cornered an FBI shoe analyst and the crime scene I'd written would work. We brought home second place in the contest, but I won first prize when I found her support. Go ahead and ahh because my love for her is that freaking real.

Of course, Kim, as a writer, you know one of the easiest places to find mentorship is in a book. Authors you've never met in person become mentors too. I know I may never get to meet my between-the-pages mentors but their novels have given me such a deep understanding of the kind of writer I need to be for teens. When I was a teen I devoured Stephen King, but his words entertained me, decidedly not the same as mentoring. It wasn't until I discovered Megan Abbott's work that things began to click for me.

I'd been writing for a few years when I read The End of Everything. I read more of Abbott's work, short stories and other novels. I credit her Dare Me with pushing me past the "maybe I can write for teens" threshold to the I must write...RIGHT NOW! All of my writing up to that point was about the intensity of teenage girls and no one I had ever read before wrote about teenage girls in the way that Ms. Abbott had. I've let her books "mentor" me. They let me know that there is a place on the shelves for such work. They let me know that the experiences-- the horror and the realness of those years, is welcome in the world of young adult publishing. I'll see Megan Abbott in person for the first time at the end of this month. I only hope that I can keep myself from rushing the stage and tackling her. (Tackling her in the nicest, most flattering way.)

Lucky, that's me. Lucky enough to have a family that breathed creativity. Lucky enough to help with two organizations that provide mentorship to children's book writers. Lucky enough to have Natalie pick my work. Lucky enough to find mentorship on the page. And oh so very lucky to have met you and Donna. My cupcake eating, no bullshit critiquing, InkSisters.



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