Thursday, December 27, 2012

Do I Need Mentor? No, But Maybe I Want One.....

This is a blog I've started multiple times, but I never ended up posting it, either because maybe the words didn't come that day, or I was worried about how it would sound - whining, posturing, posing - or maybe I just had too much to say, and not enough time to really sort out how to say it.  BUT, it's Christmas vacation, and Abby's off to work today, so I've got plenty of time to sort it out.

So here it goes, and to forewarn: no offense of any kind is meant with this blog. So if it sounds offensive, it wasn't meant to be. I'm also not whining, either. Just sharing a little bit of my writer's heart, I guess.

On Monday, Christmas Eve, I blogged briefly about where I've been, about the advice I've received, and where I'm going (or, where I'm planning on going). And, while I have been lucky enough to get lots of great advice over the past few years, for whatever reason, I can't say as if I've actually had a mentor there, along the way, guiding my steps.

And for a long time, that really bothered me. 

I'm not sure why.

I've been writing since the 8th grade. I finished my first "novel" in a MEAD spiral notebook my senior year in high school.  I've been actively building a "career" since 2008, when my first story - "The Way Station" - was published in The Midnight Diner.  And really, it started about two years before that, in 2006, when I started writing book reviews for a variety of venues, including my city newspaper, getting actual MONEY to write something.

And all this time, I've been lucky enough to meet people along the way who have given me great advice. But so often, in reading blogs or writers' memoirs, I've seen writers referring to other veteran writers as "mentors," experienced writers who placed a guiding hand on their career, and helped shepherd them along on their first, fledging steps in their career. 

Actually, what got me thinking about this again was a recent blog by author Brian Keene, talking about the mentors - elder statesmen of the genre - who had an impact on him, and how he's now in that same position.  It made me ponder - can I say I've had a mentor, along the I have one, now...

And do I want one?

Early on in my writing career - VERY early - I aimed for the CBA (Christian Bookseller Association).  That's where I began writing reviews, getting to know authors, editors, and publicists. I made some inroads, some contacts, even had the first three chapters of a WIP looked at by a major CBA acquisitions editor. He passed on the project, but even then, I was kind of relieved he had done so, because I hadn't really made peace with myself about whether or not I wanted to be published in the CBA.

But anyway...because of my hustling and reviewing and working the "scene", I'd established some email relationships with three fairly big CBA names. One, I actually got to meet in person, and two of them, I emailed almost ALL the time with questions about the business, they were very generous and responded, and they read my earliest published work, offered their opinion...

And then I "jumped ship", decided to target secular fiction instead.

Insert the sound of crickets, here.

Now, I don't feel slighted (well, maybe I did, a little, at first). Of these three authors, one had a pretty bad health scare and withdrew from the publishing industry almost entirely (which is a shame, because this person is a FABULOUS writer), and the other two became HUGE sensations in their genre, certainly too busy to correspond with a writer suddenly not interested in the CBA, any more.

And, to be fair, one of these authors - despite becoming massively busy and successful - HAS still emailed on occasion, and has hooked me up with contacts, and has still showed an interest in my career, so I'm truly thankful that, despite being so busy, he/she has shown an interest in how I've turned out.


I think, in my head, I'd been all set to call those writers "mentors." And when I realized that wasn't going to happen, because we'd all moved off into different directions....I dunno.

Kinda felt like that one guy at the prom, with no date.

Now, a few years into the horror genre, I started to feel the same way. Everyone and their brother always seemed to be talking about their mentor, and here I was, lonely old me, with no mentor.  

And, here's a little secret about me, between you and me: I'm a little "needy", quite frankly.  And I often feel "left out" of things, even when I haven't really been left out. So I think this has exacerbated things, making me feel worse off without a "mentor" than I really should've. 

There are a couple good, solid reasons why I haven't developed a relationship with a mentor, reasons I can't really control. The primary one, of course, would probably be my light Con attendance. I really just can't afford to get to many, right now, so some folks - folks I probably MIGHT consider mentors, if we actually talked more - I probably only see once a year. AND, another little secret about me: as needy as I am, I'm also socially awkward, and shy. So if I don't get enough "face time" to become comfortable with someone, I'm much less likely to email or call said person.

Plus, some things just don't work out as you expect, and that's just life. A few writers I thought I'd established connections with...well, they kind of faded away. I'm not going to say: left me behind. Although - again, see warning above about me not wanting to sound whiny, or offend anyone - I did feel that way. That I'd connected with a few people, traded lots of emails, but as they got more successful, I faded away in their rear-view mirror. 

AND also, in a few cases, MEETING certain of my favorite authors has NOT turned out to be what I'd (stupidly) built it up in my head to be. Ironically enough, authors whose work I only "like", have turned out to be far more helpful. 

So where does that leave me? Do I still feel this...lack of a mentor?

Maybe a little. But as the market continues to change, as I continue to just work, every single day, having a "mentor" has become less and less important, for two reasons:

1. it leaves me freer to define myself, define my career FOR myself, and be the kind of writer I want to be

2. Instead of a "mentor", I've gained something maybe even better: trusted friends and colleagues in the writing industry

BUT, many, many folks have been great help. I've always been eminently grateful that Mort Castle and Norman Partridge and Rob Dunbar have so generously answered my emails. Attending Borderlands Press Writers' Boot Camp twice not only connected me with a group of peers who have developed into great friends, it also introduced me to both F. Paul Wilson and Tom Monteleone, which led them to working with my students, which lead to some wonderful conversations - including the "best night ever" - as they were very gracious sharing their "down time" with me. And at Horrorfind, I always somehow end up at a bar, chatting about the publishing industry with Tom. He, in particular, is also close to the title of "mentor."

Kelli Owen and Michelle Pendergrass have provided LOTS of advice over the past few years. They're like big sisters. Probably the closest things I have to mentors, actually. Rio Youers has been very gracious with his time, as well as Ron Malfi.  Norman Prentiss, especially, as well as Dan Keohane and Bob Ford and Jeremy Wagner and Alethea Kontis and Maurice Broaddus, and the best part is - those guys are dear, dear friends, as well.  Tosca Lee - despite becoming wildly successful - has shown a continued interest in my career.

I'm also immensely grateful for Brian Keene's words of wisdom. He's never really spoken TO me, per se (about writing, we speak regularly on FB and in person as friends), but - and this is NOT hyperbole - I've been so grateful to simply sit and listen to Brian talk about the genre, its history, and his experiences. He's seen it all: the good, the bad, and the ugly - and I've learned a lot, just by listening to him.

And of course, I've developed great friendships with colleagues: The "Hiram Five" and the Shroud crew (Danny, Tim, Johnny, Mark), Gard Goldsmith, Michael Smith, Mike Duran, Phil Tomosso, Greg Mitchell and Douglas Warwick and Kyle Johnson and Tony Trembley and John Dixon and James Newman and Robert Swartwood and way too many more to name here (if I left you out, I humble beg your forgiveness).

So. Do I still want to call someone a mentor?  Probably. And, it's very likely that over the next few years, a mentor will develop out of this pack.

But right now, I no longer feel like I "need" one. I still need advice, of course, and I have plenty of people I know I can ask for advice. But, little by little - especially as, also noted in Brian's blog, the industry changes more and more - I've become more and more confident in defining myself as a writer, by my own standards and priorities, rather than needing a mentor to define myself by.

And there isn't anything better you can ask for, I don't think.