An unknown poet often is quoted in slideshows, Facebook posts, and books of thoughts to live by as writing: People come into your life for a reason, a season or a lifetime. For me, this idiom hasn’t proven true in the writing world. Instead, each writing mentor coming into my life fills all three roles. Each has been there for a specific project, element of writing, or modeling of behavior for an ongoing or defined period of time, but what I’ve learned from each will stay with me for a lifetime.
For example, when I attended my first Malice Domestic, in 2012, I found myself alone in an elevator with Carolyn Hart. I stumbled over my words as I tried to tell Ms. Hart how much I enjoyed her books and was delighted she was receiving the Amelia Award. She was most gracious, even when I tripped over my own feet backing out of the elevator. During the weekend, when she was interviewed, she did something none of the other honorees did – instead of touting only her own accomplishments, she plugged an up and coming writer (Terry Shames). At the Sisters in Crime breakfast, Carolyn and another New York Times bestselling author had a programming idea for the “We Love Libraries” project. Rather than demanding or assuming it be implemented, they asked my opinion as the initiative’s coordinator. I barely kept it together during our discussion. At the end of the conference, again together in an elevator, she kidded “We can’t Keep Meeting Like This,” and I replied, “You’re right, Carolyn.”
After reading “Thea’s First Wife,” I wrote my first fan e-mail to author B.K. Stevens. In the e-mail, I expressed my awe at the story and asked if she taught internet writing classes. She didn’t, but she wrote me a detailed note of things I should read and could do. We became friends. She was one of a group of people who encouraged me to have the guts to submit my work to Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine and Ellery Queen. The last time we were together, before her untimely death, was at last year’s Malice conference when the new Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine issue provided to every attendee featured my story, “The Night They Burned Ms. Dixie’s Place.”
A few weeks after the conference, I received a package from Bonnie which contained several copies of the issue and a note telling me she knew I’d want extra copies and that the story was award winning. Her words alone would have been a compliment, but I wish she could have known other writers and readers agree with her – “The Night They Burned Ms. Dixie’s Place” is a finalist for this year’s short story Agatha Award.
Bonnie, or B.K., was only in my life for a few years, but reading her works taught me technique. Personally, she instilled confidence in me. Both things, and the hope of emulating her willingness to help other writers, will keep her with me for a lifetime.
The writing world is filled with mentors. They don’t necessarily take inexperienced writers under their wings and teach particular skills, but the way they act, treat others, and live their lives impacts others in small and large ways that can last a lifetime.