Nevada Bound

Katherine Longshore 1 Thursday, August 19, 2010
When I began this crazy journey, I never imagined my path would take me to the wild and desolate state next door.  I'm a California girl by birth, but my dad's a geologist and my sister and I spent many a summer wandering the deserts of Nevada, sneezing over sagebrush and wondering where the next Oreo was going to come from.

So when I read that the Nevada SCBWI sponsored a novel retreat on the California shore of Lake Tahoe, I figured I was safe.  No deserts.  No sagebrush.

It was in Tahoe that I met the brilliant Nevada regional advisors, Ellen Hopkins and Suzanne Morgan Williams.  I was placed in a critique group with the calmest, most incisive and straight-talking critiquer I have ever met:  Susan Hart Lindquist.  I learned about the Nevada SCBWI mentorship program.  I learned Susan was a mentor.  And I knew I had to apply.

I sent Susan my baby.  A 100-page middle grade novel about a fourth-grade boy who discovers his best friend is actually a fifth-century prince who was supposedly murdered by his uncle, Richard III.  After years of theater, I knew how to get into character.  I had a knack for getting words on paper.  But I had no clue about character arc, story arc or how to add depth to a novel.  I had a cute, simple story.  Susan would want much, much more.

And then I had to go to Nevada.  Virginia City is perched in the high desert, surrounded by sagebrush, and on my first morning there, all was encrusted by a thin layer of snow.  I fell immediately and irredeemably in love.  I went singing to the conference rooms where Susan took my book apart and told me to put it back together.  In a nice, calm, incisive, straight-talking way.  I quietly freaked out, went home and did exactly as she said.

In the course of six months, I learned about arcs and archetypes.  I learned about the transformational quality of story.  I demanded too much from my 10-year-old character and he became twelve.  He gained another friend, a girl.  I learned about alchemy and time-travel.  I read masterful stories by brilliant authors of whom I'd never heard.  I struggled.  And Susan was always there.  She never sugar-coated, she never let me slide, but she always, always told me I could do it.

The week before our mentor retreat (again in Virginia City), Margaret Peterson Haddix got on the New York Times bestseller list with her book, Sent, about a boy who discovers that his new friend is actually a 15th century prince who was supposedly murdered by his uncle, Richard III.

Imagine my surprise.

Susan told me not to give up hope.  She berated me on Facebook when I posted that I felt dejected.  She told me my book was different.  She told me everything I needed to know to keep going.

But I didn't.  I set it aside.  I returned to the book I'd begun when she was reading my ill-fated middle-grade novel.  And I applied all that she'd taught me.  I thought through, in advance, character arc and story arc and archetypes.  I heard her whispers as I struggled to get my character to internalize emotionally as well as react.  This book has Susan's fingerprints all over it, though she has never seen it.

And that is the mark of a good mentor.  Like Obi-Wan Kenobi, muttering about the Force in the dark, a good mentor remains in a person's psyche, bound to that person's work and future.  Like a special place. Like Nevada.  Sagebrush, desert and Susan are there, bound into my work.  Invisible, but whispering.


I love reading this and hope Susan sees it too. She is indeed a gifted teacher/mentor and I look forward to reading your novel.

Post a Comment

Grid_spot theme adapted by Lia Keyes. Powered by Blogger.


discover what the Muses get up to when they're not Musing

an ever-growing resource for writers

Popular Musings

Your Responses

Fellow Musers