The Mentors' Mentors by Katherine

Katherine Longshore Reply Wednesday, August 25, 2010
The Nevada SCBWI ran its first mentorship program in 2006.  The idea formed, depending on who you talk to, either in a cab or in a hotel room, but both Ellen Hopkins and Suzanne Morgan Williams agree that they started it to help “almost there” writers and illustrators get “all the way there”.

How do you find/choose mentors?

Suzanne Morgan Williams:  Some of our mentors are published Nevada authors and some are friends of Ellen's and mine.  At first they almost volunteered their time. Now we’ve reached the point where published people approach us about wanting to be mentors. We try to include people who are well connected in the publishing industry and always require a person be a generous, effective teacher. We try to create a faculty that will be fun, easy going, and balanced personality wise.

How do you find/choose mentees?

Ellen Hopkins:  Originally, most were our local SCBWI members, but the word got out around the larger organization, so we now get applications from around the country and even from other countries. It is a juried program, so mentors choose to work with the people they feel best able to help move forward (and upward).

Interviewer’s aside:  On this note, I asked Suzanne Morgan Williams to share her own story with us.

Ellen and I not only get to accept the mentees for each program, we have the difficult task of turning away many applicants. I know how discouraging that can be and that it can be seen as one more rejection.  It helps for me to share that I was not accepted to our first program. The applications are numbered as they come in and are sent to the mentors for their selection without names. No one knew they were rejecting the RA in charge. But they did. Fortunately, I was the next person in line to be selected – an alternate – so when one of Terri Farley’s mentees was unable to attend the retreat, she offered to mentor me for that last weekend. I stepped in as the alternate. Terri read my novel in two days before the weekend and was a great advocate for me. I was able to read during her group’s time with our guest editor, and the result was the publication of my novel, Bull Rider in 2009. You never know where this journey will lead.

Why is it important to you to help “pre-published” writers and illustrators improve their craft?

Ellen Hopkins:  Children's publishing is a special arena, and helping talented writers and illustrators find their way into it is extremely rewarding. When I was searching for where I belonged in this industry, our local SCBWI helped me. It's simply returning that gift.

Suzanne Morgan Williams:  I love great stories, I love art, I love teaching. SCBWI is in the business of supporting people’s dreams and their careers. I’ve gained so much from this group and it’s been delightful to help develop a community of talented writers and illustrators, connected with Nevada SCBWI, whose purpose is to create wonderful books. I think the community is the most important. When we feel safe and supported we can let our creativity soar and our words and colors work their magic.

What is the best thing about the program for you personally?

Suzanne Morgan Williams:  This program requires a lot of work. The mentors work hard. The mentees struggle and revise and rewrite, recreate again. If you do it right it takes a major commitment. And then at the end, when we gather for the final weekend, we get to see the results. That weekend all the detailed planning, explaining, listening and critiquing are worth it. It’s such a magic time. That’s the best. And later, hearing the results come in from past mentees – that’s pretty cool too.

Ellen Hopkins: When people go through the program, they become more than SCBWI members. They become friends. And they keep coming back to Nevada because of the friendships that have developed. The best people in the world you could have for friends are children's writers and illustrators!

How do you find time to write, run the Nevada SCBWI, the mentorship program, and be a mentor yourself?  (not to mention school visits, conferences, family, etc.)

Ellen Hopkins:  I have no clue. Really. When things matter, you get them done. I prioritize as best I can. And on the SCBWI end, having Suzy as a co-RA makes it all work. When I'm gone, she takes care of things and when she's off and running, I do the best I can to fill her very big shoes.

Suzanne Morgan Williams:  Not sure. Working on it.  : )  I do love all of the above. That helps.

From my experience, just going through the program feels like an incredible achievement, but from a publishing industry standpoint, what are some “success” stories from the program?

Suzanne Morgan Williams:  The measureable success stories are posted on our website. Fran Cannon Slayton’s When the Whistle Blows, Philomel, 2009, mentor Ellen Hopkins; Suzanne Morgan Williams’ (that’s me) Bull Rider, Margaret K. McElderry, 2009, mentor, Terri Farley; Lindsay Eland’s Scones and Sensibility, Egmont USA, 2010, mentor Bruce Hale; Holly Thompson’s Orchards, Delacorte/Random House, 2010, mentor Esther Hershenhorn; Tracy Clark, winner of SCBWI Work in Progress Grant, The Circle Journal, now with Michael Bourret agent, mentors Ellen Hopkins and Susan Hart Lindquist. Additionally, people who’ve gone through our mentor programs and retreats, and who we count as “ours” include, Jackie Pynaert, now with agent Josh Adams, mentors Linda Sandoval and Terri Farley; Katherine Longshore, now with agent Catherine Drayton mentor, Susan Hart Lindquist; and from our spring Tahoe Novel retreat, Kelly Sheahan and Veronica Rossi were both nominated for the Sue Alexander Award at this year’s SCBWI LA Conference, and Veronica Rossi is now with agent Josh Adams. Honestly, there’s no way to know how much we are helping people with their writing and careers and how much of this is the program’s attracting great writers and illustrators. It’s probably both, but we are honored and just a little proud to count all these talented people as part of the Nevada SCBWI family.

Three programs have run to completion “graduating” almost 60 mentees.  A fourth program has already begun.  

Anyone interested in applying for the mentorship program will need to have a finished manuscript by the end of 2011.  Keep an eye on the Nevada SCBWI website and follow them on Twitter @NVSCBWI

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