One year ago authors E. Katherine Kottaras and Catherine Linka answered our call for published members interested in mentoring. Since May, they have been working with their chosen mentees. As we now request proposals from next year’s potential mentors, Kottaras and Linka reflect on their experience of advising aspiring writers.
Kottaras (How To Be Brave, 2015) says it’s as important to discuss the process of providing feedback as it is to discuss the work itself. At her first meeting with mentee Melanie Dearman, “We discussed the workshop experiences we’ve had, and worked out what kind of feedback she was looking for before I started reading.”
Linka (A Girl Called Fearless, 2014 and A Girl Undone, 2015) asked her potential mentees to express their attitudes toward input, revision, and collaboration in their applications. “The writer who embraces them is better suited for mentoring,” she says. But she also urges self-reflection as mentors consider possible mentees. “Be honest with yourself about what you do well as a writer.”
Both mentors defined the details of their mentorship and the contest for selecting mentees from a pool of anonymous applicants. Linka was delighted to find amongst her applicants a writer who was struggling with a problem similar to what she faced in her first novel: “A Girl Called Fearless was rejected by an editor who said she didn’t know how to help me fix a problem with structure — but the editor who later bought it did.” Linka extended her learning to mentee Cheryl Manning. “I was thrilled after I gave Cheryl her first round of notes and she told me she had a roadmap for her revision.”
The learning went both ways. Providing in-depth analysis of her mentee’s novel prompted Linka to reexamine what she thinks she knows about writing. “I asked myself if I’m following my own advice on my WIP. Honest answer: not as much as I should.”
Kottaras claims she read Dearman’s work less as a mentor and more as a fan, but the pair has also worked toward revision. “It’s been fun to discuss the various ways Melanie could reimagine the plot,” Kottaras says. “I’m excited for her to discover the new layers in her story.”
As an English professor at Pasadena City College who offers a course in creative writing and children’s literature, Kottaras doesn’t usually spend time with students outside the classroom. She and Dearman have been able to talk for hours about writing and publishing. “It’s been a joy. …I’ve loved every minute of it!”
This year’s mentorship ends October 31st , the day before Kottaras’s second novel, The Best Possible Answer, hits stores. Kirkus Review calls the YA work, “a sensitive novel about accepting imperfection.” Linka, meanwhile, has chosen to immerse herself in the world of contemporary art for her WIP, set in an art institute. Her attitude toward the writing of it is perhaps instructive to us all: “If this book doesn’t sell, I’ll still have had all the experiences that went along with writing it.”
If you are a PAL member interested in mentoring, please see Request for Proposals 2017 on our website. Proposals may be submitted from illustrators and/or authors until 10/25/16.
By Marcelle Greene
SCBWI-L.A. Contest Coordinator
Photographs provided by Marcelle Greene.