Five Ways of Looking at Writing Mentorship

466079003_586Before we get too far along here, I just want to say that the number one person who made my book possible was me.

There’s a lot of credit to give when a project as big as a book gets made, but if you’re a writer, you know how much time you spend alone, at the computer, or behind the scribbling pen, and there’s NO ONE ELSE THERE, which is good, because if they were, they’d be bothering you or convincing you to put down your computer and go get tacos. If you’ve written a book, pat yourself on the back, pal, because lots of people say they want to write a book, but you did it.

Me, too. I did it.

That being said, I’ve had a lot of help along the way. I’m not going to start with junior high school English teachers here—hi, Mrs. Dingman—but let’s just say—ok, yes, high school, too, hello, Mrs. Beck—a lot of help. And support. And encouragement. And raspberries when I was being a chump and not doing any writing. So many friends and family members who did their part to make me who I am, and what I’m about to become: a published writer. But if I only get to name five? Here they are:

Christopher Coake
Chris Coake and I went to high school and college together. We’ve been friends forever. But in 2006, he published a book of short stories. Me? I showed up in his acknowledgments. Which was nice. But it was not publishing a book of short stories, was it? Chris showed me a writing life was possible the only way you can—he did it first. A funny thing happened, though, when he published his book, the stellar We’re In Trouble (and then his novel, You Came Back, in 2012). I got jealous. But I’d never been so happy to be jealous in my life, because I knew if he could do it, the only thing stopping me from doing it, too, was, oops, me again.

Terence Faherty
I met Indianapolis mystery writer Terry Faherty at a Midwest Writers Workshop Retreat in 2009. I’d taken my jealousy (see above) and turned it into a writing degree, but I still didn’t have what I wanted—a novel. I was working on something, but it was overwritten and stalled out. Terry made me read it aloud in front of our small group until I could hear that it was overwritten and stalled out, and then helped me see the problem. The problem? Me again. I was writing a mystery, and I didn’t know it. I also hadn’t read many mysteries in the past few years, so I was out of touch with the genre I was writing and didn’t know I was writing. With Terry’s help, I figured out who I was.

Gillian Flynn
I’ve never met Gillian Flynn, although I did send her a fan note once. This was in 2009—so she had time to write me back, thanking me for the note and mentioning that she was finishing up this project called Gone Girl. It was her book Dark Places I wanted to congratulate her on, though, and this was the novel that showed me the kind of book I wanted to write. Having someone tell you you were writing a mystery (see above) was all well and good, but I needed a precise example. Dark Places provided a great one, and if you haven’t read it yet, I’m now jealous of you.

Clare O’Donohue
Clare O’Donohue helped me figure out how to be who I was. I met Clare at the 2011 Bouchercon Mystery Conference in St. Louis. I heard her speaking on a panel: a funny, smart woman mystery writer of about my age who lived near me. I decided to make her my friend. She’s my friend now, but she’s more than that—she’s a role model for the kind of writer I needed to become. She works a full-time job and writes funny, smart mysteries with female protagonists. I’ve got plenty more to learn about being a working mystery writer, but, with Clare’s encouragement, I found my tribe. It’s not just me anymore.

Chip Jaggers
Charles “Chip” Jaggers isn’t a writer, not in the way these other mentors are, but what I learned when I worked for him at a university communications job in the late 1990s (ooh, that makes me seem so mature or, er, old) has been useful in writing, as well as in everyday life. He always said he was the gardener, and his job was to tend the soil—he had cute little hand motions—so that we flowers could grow. I grew. I grew up. And most of the good things I have in my life today, I owe to this one person. What I took with me is that, even while you’re doing your thing, you can make the space around you better for other people.

I think that’s what the Debutante Ball means to me—this is our garden, and we’re keeping the ground nice and fertile for those who come after us. That’s what all of these people did for me. They made room for me, knowing there was enough sun to go around for all of us.

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Lori Rader-Day is the author of the mystery THE BLACK HOUR (Seventh Street Books, July 2014). She grew up in central Indiana, but now lives in Chicago with her husband and very spoiled dog.

14 thoughts on “Five Ways of Looking at Writing Mentorship

  1. Oh, the people who will call you out when you’re being a chump and not doing any writing… these people are almost as important as the cheerleaders along the way.

  2. What a great post, Lori! I’m glad you mentioned that you made your book possible. It’s so true. I rarely think about my efforts, because I’m doing what I love. But even loving something doesn’t make it easy, and I forget to give myself kudos.

    Clare O’Donohue said lovely things about you at Bouchercon. 🙂

  3. Just heard from Terry Faherty, who says he thinks he comes off tough on me in this post. All should know that Terry is a total sweetheart and only writes tough. In any case, you should read his books.

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