Author Mentoring: The Art of Paying It Forward

By: Kathleen Pickering


I spent most of this past week at The Myrtles, a haunted plantation in Louisiana, with my mentor, the award winning, New York Times Best Selling author, Heather Graham. Luckily for me, Heather is not only my mentor, but my dear friend. (I don’t even know if she knows she’s mentoring me!)

I accompanied Heather and her family “on location” to shoot the new book trailer for her upcoming “Krewe of Hunters” series with Mira Books. As my mentor, Heather showed me how to set up a script, find a location, hire a videographer and assemble a cast of actors (with costumes) and work within a budget to accomplish in one afternoon what promises to be an exciting and entertaining introduction to her next book series.


Heather Graham on location at The Myrtles, St. Francisville, LA

I enjoyed all of this instruction while having fun. I came away realizing that while mentoring doesn’t always lead to friendship, friendship surely leads to mentoring. Mentoring is an important facet of any role in life, not just writing. Many corporate mentoring programs involve software such as the TogetherApp, an employeee mentoring software that tracks the progress between the mentor and the mentee(s). In writing, mentoring is an organic essence of a writing community. Joining Florida Romance Writers, Romance Writers of America, Mystery Writers and Thriller Writers has immersed me in conversations with other authors from which I have come away a better writer—just by sharing information. Many times, I’m lucky to make friends with some of my most favorite authors. In turn, when I meet new writers, I answer their questions, offer them help with works in progress, or point them in whatever direction I can to help further their career.
Mentoring is an author’s way to “pay it forward” or in other words, to do good for someone in advance of good happening for you. When we pay it forward, we take mega-leaps in our own careers, as well. Heather showed me how she uses her skills and years of experience to create media content. In turn, I followed the cast around the plantation, videoing behind the scenes. (With equipment I bought through more mentoring from Fred Rae, a member of Mystery Writers.) To thank Heather for the fun—and the lessons, I plan to create up to 20 (depending on the quality of my photography!) short “behind the scenes” videos for YouTube, Facebook and iTunes to help herald Heather’s upcoming series. (I’ll be sure to post them on my website, as well.)
Why? Because I am delighted to “pay it forward” for my friend—and not just because she’s teaching me. It feels good inside to know I’m building my career on good intentions. Helping create an Internet buzz for Heather works in symbiosis with my learning how to create media. It’s all good. After all, in the author’s world of mentoring, what are friends for?
So, let me ask you. How do you contribute as a mentor in your writing world?
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Happy Endings Redux (And Good News)

By John Gilstrap
http://www.johngilstrap.com/

First the news flash: I am thrilled to report that I have just re-upped with Kensington/Pinnacle for two more Jonathan Grave thrillers. That means he’ll be guaranteed at least four books to make his mark on the literary world. I can feel the bad guys in my head scurrying for cover already. Best of all, I will continue to own the lead spot for July (Hostage Zero this year, and the new books in succeeding years), which means I get to launch each book during ThrillerFest. I’m a very happy author right now.

Shifting away from shameless self-promotion, there’s a blessing and a curse associated with following Michelle Gagnon in the Killzone batting order. The blessing, of course, is that she’s very good at what she does, fielding thought-provoking questions and opinions. The flip side–the curse–is that her posts frequently spark something in my psyche that prompts me to sideline the post I was going to write to expand upon the idea she introduced.

So let’s talk some more about happy endings. But first let’s wrestle with semantics. The phrase, “happy endings”, is itself trite and cliched. It brings to mind blue birds and insipid hugs. I like “satisfying ending” a little better, but what works best for me is “respectful ending.”

Authors must respect their readers.

I make a silent pact with my readers to deliver a certain kind of ride. They can expect honest, dedicated good guys, bad guys whose badness is well-motivated, and a screaming pace from beginning to end. Where violence is necessary, the violence will be graphic, because I believe that violence must have consequence, both for the characters involved and for the reader who’s coming along on their adventure. If I do my job well, everybody’s going to be a little out of breath at the end.

I think it would be unforgiveable if, after painstakingly developing this fragile trusting relationship with my readers, I let the good guys fail and the bad guys win. I’m not above making victory hurt, but I can’t imagine creating a book-length story where the good guys didn’t prevail.

When I think of the stories that have most disappointed me over the years, the common denominator is the writers’ lack of respect for their audiences. Remember Hannibal? Terrible. Clarice Starling goes to the dark side. WTF?

Or what about the movie Pay It Forward? Forgive the spoiler, but they knife a little boy to death so that the producers can have the excrutiatingly cloying river of candles marching in his memory. Urgh.

Y’all probably have a thousand other examples where you’ve felt cheated or just plain pissed off by an ending.

In my book, if a good guy is going to die, his death had better by God be for a cause more noble than startling the audience. Do we really want to see Jonathan Grave or Winter Massey or Jack Reacher get dropped by a stray bullet just to make a point that life is capricious? That kind of thing happens in real life, but fictional realities have no allegiance to the harshness of the real world. I believe that people who read about bigger-than-life characters do so for the vicarious victory that they can reasonably count on.

Not necessarily a “happy” ending, but most definitely a respectful one.

That said, let’s tie this into the short story discussion we’ve been having here. In a short story, all bets are off, as far as I’m concerned. On that small canvas, I get to flex my irony muscle. My pact with my regular readers is null and void for the short story. I’m just sayin’.

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