Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Be Thankful for Mentors

Here at the Blood-Red Pencil we often mention those who pass on the craft of writing through their wonderful books on writing. Today I’d like to talk about a different class of mentors—authors of wonderful books who also generously give of their time and wisdom to up-and-coming writers. So many such writers have influenced my writing life, through their teaching, their professionalism, and their literary legacy.

So many have influenced me in so many ways, but today I’ve chosen one nugget that exemplifies the way a few have created an impact that lingers. Their genres are diverse and I’ve learned as much through their great writing as I have through workshops and personal interaction. Check them out!

Juilene Osborne McKnight (historical fiction) “He had only one book in him and he kept rewriting it.” Have you ever heard that oft-repeated phrase? Juilene thinks it’s too cynical—instead, she believes a writer’s soul tends to be drawn to one kind of archetypal story (mine is transformation; yours might be The Wanderer). Once you recognize this you can forgive yourself the similarities and continue to explore the kinds of powerful stories that speak to you.

Ruth Knafo Setton (literary fiction, poetry) From Ruth I learned that sixteen years of effort, refocusing, and distillation is worth it if it results in a concise, powerful story. Some of her beautifully crafted sentences contain within them an entire world. Ruth exemplifies what it means to say that writing is a calling, and that heeding the call may exact a price beyond what you originally expected.

Katherine Ramsland (nonfiction) I will never wonder if I have enough ideas because of my interactions with Katherine Ramsland. This fascinating, determined woman always leaves in her wake the same breathless curiosity about life and people that inspired her to write 46 published books—and pick up three master’s degrees and a Ph.D. along the way.

Jonathan Maberry (thriller, YA, comics) “Writing is an art, publishing is a business—learn this or get out of the way.” If that sounds full of bluster, the man’s got plenty of it. He attacks word count, juggles projects, and social media with the precision and grace of a martial artist, but in his teaching, his stories, and the many ways he helps other writers, he reveals his big heart.

Mindy Starns Clark (Christian commercial fiction) I had a terrible time writing romance until Mindy taught me how. It’s about need fulfillment—what deep need from the her past can only be addressed by someone like him, and vice versa. She makes love sound easy (then again, her first title was The House That Cleans Itself). Probably should have consulted Mindy before entering my first marriage.

A.S. King (YA) Amy exemplifies how to let your fierceness shine through your work. Unwilling to let conservative parents, schools, or publishers dictate what her characters did or said, she found an agent and publisher who supported her edgy young adult characters and their dilemmas. As a result she’s racked up scads of awards and honors—many of them from librarians.

This is just a smattering. To all my teachers and mentors: From the bottom of my heart, thank you for all you passed on to me. I was paying attention, and my life and writing are the richer for it.

In the comments, please share the name of one of your writing mentors, and what they taught you that you’ll never forget. 

Kathryn Craft is a developmental editor at, an independent manuscript evaluation and line editing service. Her women's fiction and memoir are represented by Katie Shea at the Donald Maass Literary Agency. Her article, "The 7 Deadly Sins of Self-Editing," co-written with Janice Gable Bashman, appeared in the Nov/Dec issue of Writer's Digest. Her debut novel, The Art of Falling, is due out from Sourcebooks in January 2014. Her essay Memoir of a Book Deal tells the larger story while also serving as a primer on story structures. To follow her writing please "Like" her Facebook Author Page. She follows back most writers on Twitter.

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  1. What a wonderful collection of mentors, Kathryn. Early in my writing, I had the joy of sharing with Laura Parker Castoro, who helped me make the transition from nonfiction to fiction. Learning the difference between telling a good story and showing a good story was a challenge for me. (smile)Some of the authors whose books challenge me to write better are Anne Tyler, Dennis Lehane, Laura Lippman, Anne Lamott, and Jodi Picoult. (There are more, but I thought I would leave room for other comments. LOL)

  2. Well, I know all the fiction I've read over the years have had an influence on me, but the guy who really taught me how to write was a history prof named Brown ... he'd light up my papers with a blood-red pencil ... I learned a lot about humility from the old guy, too.

  3. Ironically, one of my mentors was Nora Roberts, whose books I stopped reading several years ago because of her explicit bedroom scenes. However, I learned a lot about powerful, compelling writing from her prior to that time. Now I pass those lessons on to writers whose books I edit.

  4. If it weren't for mentors, I would never have gotten one book published! The writing community members are extra generous with their time and talents!

    Morgan Mandel

  5. Sorry I haven't been here to comment yet today—other duties called! Maryann, I like that list! I always have to "read up" to be inspired to write. I think that reaching for meaning helps wake up all the cells on the right side of my brain. Every book I decide to keep becomes a mentor—and you have a great list going!

  6. Linda: So funny about Nora Roberts! Another mentor of mine is romance author Susan Meier. Category romance isn't my bag, really, but you really have to know how to write to churn books out as fast as she and Nora do.

  7. Chris, humility is a super important lesson, isn't it? I'm sure you've had many a reason to practice it since. Funny how we don't always perceive the importance of the lessons we're learning until we look back at them from greater maturity.

  8. I'm glad you've also found that to be true, Morgan, and benefitted from it!

  9. Thanks for giving us a few more writers to look to, Kathryn! Two of my writing mentors are Maureen Murdock and Susan Tiberghien. I met them at the annual conference of the International Women's Writing Guild, where they woke me up to the power of memoir - both writing and reading.

  10. I'll add one name to the list, Kathryn Craft. Your writing workshops have helped me feel more confident. Thanks!

  11. Yes, a very interesting selection! I've heard AS King speak and she and her writing are wonderful. I love that cover you show for Mind of a Murderer. What clever cover art! I makes me want to read it, which is the point, right?

  12. Kathryn, what an amazing list of mentors! You are overflowing in riches with the folks you've been blessed to learn from - and you are so passing it on, as I can attest!

    There is such a warm camaraderie amongst writers and I think one of the most supportive careers to be had, but we need the support with the mountains we must climb..again and again and again with each word, each story, each tale.

    And we never stop learning. There is no 'Certificate of Completion" for becoming an Author. And perhaps the continual journey of learning is what makes this a passionate career path so special.


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