It’s my great honor to be a mentor for middle-grade and young-adult fiction by the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Editors (SCBWI), Western Washington chapter, for the 2021-2022 season. Applications for the program from the SCBWI membership are accepted from now through July 30. The mentors and mentees will work with each other for a six-month period, beginning in September 2021 and ending in May 2022. For more information, learn more here .
SCBWI Western Washington will be publishing interviews of their mentors in their bulletin. My interview follows.
Why do you like mentoring?
When I was a young woman, I was lucky to be mentored by Madeleine L’Engle, author of the classic A Wrinkle in Time. She encouraged all her workshop students to succeed in our writing endeavors. She taught us “belief.” She set a tone to be supportive of each other. A writers’ group of seven women formed from the first workshop I took with Madeleine, and more groups evolved from other workshops. Soon we had a community. At that time, none of us had any books published. Dozens of books followed, including eight of my own. Thirty years later, we are still cheering each other on, now weekly on Zoom. It gives me pleasure to foster others with the same generosity of spirit that Madeleine offered.
What can a mentee expect from your mentorship?
My aim is to help my mentees discover and nurture their writing skills. We’ll discuss their goals for our six-month time together. We’ll set dates on calendars and decide together the best method of communication, hopefully cemented by occasionally meeting in person, depending on our locations and Covid restrictions. If the mentees have a workable idea or partial manuscript, we’ll brainstorm to help them decide about plot, structure, characters, point of view, and other fundamentals. I have handouts and exercises that will be helpful in creating synopses. We will discuss the plots of books and movies in the mentee’s genre and what principles and techniques the authors employed.
When the mentees have manuscripts ready and want feedback, I’ll make notes on the manuscripts and produce comprehensive “editorial letters” with constructive comments on improving the manuscripts. I’ve worked on staff for several children’s book publishers in New York and will provide a high level of professional analysis.
What are the best parts about being an author(-illustrator)?
I love doing research, whether it’s in the library sleuthing around in dusty archives, using old maps, searching online, or reading books and taking notes. Sometimes I take trips. Once I served as a volunteer crewmate on a schooner for a week. By far the most inspiring trip I took was to Egypt to research my future novel Golden Treasure. I flew over the Valley of the Kings in a hot-air balloon. For this same novel, I visited Highclere Castle in England and met the Countess of Carnarvon.
It’s exciting to receive a bound book in the mail for the first time. I was delighted to see my book The Snow Baby, which has a gorgeous cover and design.
What’s the writing/illustrating advice you give most often?
Never give up. Writing is a journey. Let your friends and mentors uplift you when you’re discouraged. Find a writers group, or start one, but make sure the members are supportive and affirming. Set small goals and accomplish them. Try not to expect too much of a rough draft. Don’t judge it harshly. Instead, let your book evolve.
What does being a successful published professional look like to you?
Success has meant different things to me over the years. It has thrilled me to receive starred reviews, to be published by Random House, to be invited to a fancy reception with famous authors in New York’s Rainbow Room during an American Library Association conference, to have a book optioned for film. But experiences like this have been few and fleeting.
What gives me the greatest satisfaction is to celebrate milestones with friends and family. These pleasures are long lasting. My late mother used to host book events for me and invite up to a hundred people, including my former teachers. She encouraged invitees to stop by the bookstore or museum shop and purchase autographed copies, and continue on to her house for a gourmet meal.
What are you working on next?
My collaborator and I are working on a nonfiction book about the people of color, including her ancestors, in a community on Long Island in the 19th century. I feel very galvanized by this project, to reveal the names of people long forgotten. And it feels so satisfying to know that there’s an audience that will truly appreciate this book.