Tuesday, April 20, 2021

Peer Mentors

 

In the past couple of months, I’ve shared ideas about “rock star mentors,” and “midlist mentors,” but today, I’ll introduce “peer mentors.” You know, those writers we’ve met at local meetings, writers we found ourselves sitting next to at a conference, or writers we’ve connected with online. Jessica Conoley calls them Working Role Models.

With today’s global community, my writer friends extend from Arizona to Florida to Canada to Switzerland and Australia! A couple of them are several rungs up the ladder on their way to midlisters and beyond. Many are a little ahead of me in their publishing success, even more of them write at my level, so close to publication. Several are beginners, and the teacher in me is eager to share what I’ve learned with them.

Who in these groups would make a good peer mentor for you?

Most likely, look for a person in the group just slightly ahead of you in their author’s journey. If you’re already successful beyond your wildest dreams, then I expect you’d seek out authors at the same level on up to rock star, the ultimate in iron sharpening iron. But most of us who read this blog are lower on the totem pole.

Do you have one or two books published? Connect with a person with four books under his belt.

 Does everyone tell you that your writing is ready for publication? Find an author who just published her first book. What can she tell you about snagging an agent or editor? Ask for help with a query letter.

Are you new to learning about writing fiction and the publishing industry? Latch onto someone who’s been learning for a little while. It’s a steep curve, but he’ll have the experience to answer your basic questions, even if he’s not published.

You might be thinking, “Good advice, but—”

How do I make the jump from connecting with a potential mentor to actually landing a peer mentor relationship?

1. Create a short list of possibilities. Writers you know and admire, both in their character and in their writing style. Who do you think best understands your author voice? Make that person your first choice.

2. Ask. Yes, it’s that simple. You’ve already connected with your chosen peer mentor, either personally or online, so, pop the question! The worst that can happen is a “no.” Writers get used to hearing that word. However, many authors are willing to lend a hand up the ladder of success.

I used to think writing books consisted of cutthroat competition, but I haven’t seen it yet in the years I’ve been writing. Reading tastes are so varied, and writing styles so unique, every author can find a niche—if they write well.

The person you ask may very well say no. Please don’t be discouraged. Authors have deadlines, other commitments, and your request may be too much of a time commitment. As Conoley says, “Our time is precious, and we cannot say yes to every request and/or opportunity that comes our way.

If your peer mentor candidate says yes, make sure you don’t hog their time. Or waste it.

When you plan a meeting, come prepared. Keep a list of questions in front of you. You don’t want to leave, and two hours later remember an important topic you wanted to discuss!

When you send her work for review, accompany the work with a set of questions as well. Are you concerned if something is missing in your character’s motives? Is the setting easily seen in the reader’s mind? Where do you think the writing is weak? Does the mentor agree?

I’ve had four unofficial mentors, relationships that naturally evolved into peer mentoring. All four are published. One is also an editor. Two self-publish.

This monumental task of climbing the mountain toward publication is not an afternoon’s stroll up a mild incline. There are days when I’m clinging to a rock wall, and one of my mentors must rappel down and assure me that I can reach the next foothold!

If you’re reading this post, chances are the Lord has called you to write. Any God-given ministry takes time to develop, but He equips us with what we need, including mentors, and the rewards of saying “yes” to Him bring more joy to our hearts than anything else we could accomplish.

 

Linda Sammaritan writes realistic fiction, mostly for kids ages ten to fourteen. She is currently working on a middle grade trilogy, World Without Sound, based on her own experiences growing up with a deaf sister.

Linda had always figured she’d teach middle-graders until school authorities presented her with a retirement wheelchair at the overripe age of eighty-five. However, God changed those plans when He gave her a growing passion for writing fiction. In May of 2016, she blew goodbye kisses to her students and dedicated her work hours to learning the craft.

A wife, mother of three, grandmother to seven, Linda regales the youngest grandchildren with “Nona Stories,” tales of her childhood. Maybe one day those stories will be in picture books!

Where Linda can be found on the web:

www.lindasammaritan.com

www.facebook.com/lindasammaritan

www.twitter.com/LindaSammaritan

Wednesday, April 14, 2021

Writing Lessons Learned from Invasive Weeds

 For more than a decade, we tried to improve the appearance of a large flower bed along the back of our house by sowing seeds and planting a variety of flowers among the perennials that sprang up each year. Our efforts, however, were thwarted by this particularly hearty ground cover that looked green and healthy in the spring but by mid-summer took on the appearance of being untended and in the early stages of an ugly death. By this time, it had often succeeded in crowding out the prettier, wanted flowers and plants. Twice we’d worked up the entire bed—approximately twenty feet by three feet—in an attempt to rid the space of this vigorous plant, but to no avail, as it survived, yay, even thriving to a greater extent.    

We’d nearly given up eliminating the stubborn vegetation, resorting to the wasted effort of yanking it out repeatedly all summer long, when our green-thumbed neighbor confirmed this “ground cover” was for all intents and purposes a weed. She informed us that by attacking it with a rototiller, we had in fact only encouraged it to thrive. The only way to rid the space of this stubborn plant was to dig it up, by hand.

Imagine my distress to learn that the pretty-in-the-spring-but-ugly-by-summer’s-end “ground cover” we’d been watering for years was actually an invasive weed?  

If we wanted this space to look nice, we had but one option. Tackle the monumental task of digging up and disposing of the nasty intruder. Considering that we’d fixed up the patio for entertaining—installed a permanent gazebo, built a new firepit, purchased a new grill, table, and chairs—there was no “if” about it.

Because I loathed feeling I had to apologize for the dreadful appearance of this space right next to the entertainment zone, I determined I would confront the challenge head-on. In as many uprooting sessions as it took, I would rid the flower bed of this weed. My bad back groaned at the very thought, but the vision of a beautiful array of blooming wildflowers fortified my determination. As my grandson and I attacked the last two sections earlier today, I realized how this situation mirrors the place I find myself in when it comes to finishing the third and final book in my YA series.

Although I love my characters and their story and, of course, I do not want to disappoint the readers who are anxious to discover what happens next, the task of finishing feels as challenging as the ground-cover-riddance project. It will take persistence and determination and a lot of hard work to whip this final installment into shape. And most of the time, for a host of reasons, I don’t feel up to the task.

It doesn’t help that the storyline details are sharing brain space with the next-in-line project that, if I must be honest, is begging to be written. Some days it seems to write itself in my mind—the memoir focused on my adoption search and reunion—while I have to dig and pull for the next scene, the next chapter of the YA novel. I want the book to be done. I want to wrap up the series and give it the kind of marketing attention it deserves. But I’m struggling big time, and in all honesty, have posed the question, “Would it matter if I don’t finish it . . . ever?” I swat the thought away, before it can take root. It WOULD matter. 

So, what are my options? I can put the novel aside and dive into my memoir. But the fear is intensely real, that I’d never return to it, leaving the story that I still believe God placed on my heart, without an ending.

I can wait for the perfect writing conditions accompanied by a burst of inspiration that makes the words flow effortlessly, faster than I can record them. You know, stop feeling guilty about the slow progress and just chill.

Or, I can commit to pouring consistent time and effort—however much it takes—into finishing the book. That will mean planting myself in the chair whether I felt like writing or not. Creating realistic goals that will encourage progress. Limiting the distractions of social media, vacation planning/dreaming, and too-lengthy veg-out sessions. And some accountability strategies would be helpful, too.

I know I can do this. If I want it badly enough. If I’m willing to work hard enough. 

Just like the flower bed transformation. Last fall when my kind neighbor delivered her diagnosis of the situation, I couldn’t imagine such a monumental task. If we’d been talking about a three-foot by three-foot space, sure, no problem. But a space six times that size? Come on.

Well, I’m beyond thrilled to report that the ground is ready for a little TLC before the wildflower seeds and a few carefully chosen perennials will be planted, just in the nick of time according to my husband’s springtime planting guidelines. 

And tomorrow has been designated as a novel writing day. I’m hoping for a super productive session that propels the story forward in a major way. Although a parade of interruptions would not surprise me. I do declare, sometimes the number and severity of the roadblocks that present themselves is nothing less than astounding. But I will press on. Between You and Me will be completed. 

If you want to prod me about my progress from time-to-time, be my guest. It can’t hurt. 

Beth’s combined experiences teaching the high school Sunday School class, substitute teaching in the public school, and connecting with the teenage staff at the fast-food joint where she claimed a “back booth office” helped inspire her young adult “Choices Matter” fiction series. She's a "cheerleader" for saving sex for marriage and for "renewed waiting" because it's never too late to make wiser choices. Her “Waiting Matters … Because YOU Matter” blog helps people of all ages navigate the choppy waters of saving sex for marriage while her “Slices of Real Life” posts find GOD in the day-to-day moments of real life.

As a genetic genealogy enthusiast, she writes and speaks about her experiences as a "foundling" who located her birth parents. Her journey to find and connect with her biological family is chronicled in the blog series “A Doorstep Baby’s Search for Answers.” All of her writing endeavors can be found on her website, https://bethsteury.com.          

 

Tuesday, April 6, 2021

Sympathetic Characters

 It’s not unusual to come away from a family reunion or alumni dinner so struck by someone’s eccentricities that you wag your head and say with a chuckle, “She’s a character.” But that’s not entirely true. You really mean that the stand-out is peculiar; her personal qualities are so over overdrawn that we are bound to laugh, but this doesn’t make her a character. It would be more accurate to say she is a caricature.

Caricatures belong in Sunday comics or editorial cartoons, but not in the novel you’re writing. Our knowledge of a caricature is superficial, certainly not the basis for a meaningful relationship, while we get to know a character in sufficient depth to appreciate that person’s true identity. Readers want the protagonists of our stories to be well-rounded, credible characters. 

Dean Koontz observes, “If there is not a character one can like and toward whom one can feel sympathetic, then readers will not care what happens next in the story.”[1] He then identifies five qualities that a character needs for readers to care about her:  

Virtue. He defines this as basic moral understanding. A virtuous person recognizes the difference between right and wrong and consistently chooses to do what’s right.

Competence. “The average reader has an extremely difficult time identifying with and caring about lead characters who are nothing more than ineffective, whimpering victims of fate” (141).

Courage. Lead characters face difficult and frightening situations, trusting that they will find the wisdom and strength to confront each situation in a mature way.

Likeability. Is the lead character someone the reader would like to have as a friend? “He should show kindness, consideration, and concern for those around him…” (142).

Imperfections. Yes, genuine heroes have weaknesses and flaws, and our lead characters should not pretend to be otherwise.

Readers want sympathetic characters, subjects they can like, individuals with whom they can emotionally share the story. Too often we try so hard to draw the unique profile of a character that we make her a caricature instead. Recall the people of the old Seinfeld TV series. Nearly all were caricatures: Kramer skidding through the door, Elaine demonstrating her spasmodic dance, George obsessing over his failed attempts at flirting, and so on. Would we sympathize with any of them? Probably not. They were good for a laugh, but not for a life that anyone would want to emulate. 

Now recall the protagonist of a recent novel that you enjoyed. How does that person measure up to the five qualities of a sympathetic character, as Dean Koontz described them? How about the lead character of your current work in progress?



[1]Dean R. Koontz, How to Write Best-Selling Fiction (Cincinnati: Writers Digest, 1981), 139.