by Cheryl Manning
The SCBWI Los Angeles region offers a plethora of events and contests for writers and illustrators throughout the year. I’ve been inspired and enlightened by many of them, but the Mentorship Contest stands out. Here are six reasons why my mentorship was so meaningful.
1. Favorite New Author
I was writing a middle grade novel and therefore reading mostly books in that genre. When I found out that YA author Catherine Linka had chosen to mentor me, I purchased her novels A Girl Called Fearless and A Girl Undone. Instead of prepping my manuscript to send off, I began reading Catherine’s first book and was sucked into Avie’s story of survival in search of freedom. Within one chapter, Catherine’s storytelling skills and authentic dialog had me hooked. By the end of her second book, I knew that I was the luckiest mentee on the planet. When I found out that her newest novel, What I Want You to See, was about to launch, I knew I’d be the first in line.
2. Memorable First Words
During our initial phone call, all I remember were her words: “As soon as I read the first page, I knew I had to work on this novel.” I was shocked and ecstatic all at once. One page down, three hundred to go, or so I thought. As much as we both liked that beginning, by the end of the mentorship, the darling was deleted; a process that while painful at times, was repeated again and again. In the end, I learned that sometimes favorite phrases or scenes needed to be killed off for the good of the story. Occasionally, I was fortunate enough to fill the void with new darlings.
3. Initial Literary Lunch
A few weeks after shipping off my unfinished manuscript (consisting of a beginning, a climax, a couple of potential endings, and too much mush in the middle), Catherine and I met for a literary lunch. I was a nervous wreck before our first face-to-face meeting, having no idea of what would happen. Her mentoring skills were as good as her writing skills, quickly putting me at ease with comforting yet constructive notes. For the first revision, she focused on big picture notes including the story structure, theme, and character development. While quite generous with praise, Catherine zeroed in on the weak links in the story, my writing ticks, and gratuitous scenes. She also enlarged my reading list with novels to inspire my writing.
4. Revision With Purpose
Catherine’s suggestions for my manuscript became my guidebook for improvement. While her input was invaluable, it wasn’t mandatory. I appreciated her insistence that this was my novel and I wasn’t obligated to make changes. Yet, so much of what she said made sense that I ended up following her lead. She’d given me a blueprint and it was my job to move rooms around to create better flow, decide if a second story was needed, and fill up the basement. I embraced the creative autonomy and pushed onward.
5. Line Notes Over Lunch
I looked forward to our second meeting, knowing that I had a friend in my corner. She liked the new first chapter, acknowledged the improvements in the story, then identified specifics that needed attention. During this pass she focused on sentence structure, dialogue, and voice. I walked away with a firm grasp of what should come next. During this revision I painted the walls with color and furnished each room. Catherine continued to be an email away for my questions and concerns.
6. Writing Masterclass
Catherine’s support, insight, and constructive feedback transformed not only my novel but also my writing skills. Whenever I pick up a pen or tap on a keyboard, Catherine’s wisdom is with me. The Mentorship Contest is an invaluable opportunity – so be brave and submit.
The SCBWI-L.A. 2020 Mentorship Contest will be accepting entries from February 14 through March 27. This year’s mentor is celebrated author, Nicole Maggi. For more information about the mentorship and instructions on how to apply, check out the SCBWI-L.A. Mentor Contest webpage.
Best of luck to all who apply!
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Cheryl Manning enjoys putting words to paper when not busy fondling her four felines or working on her collection of bonsai. After writing numerous articles on the art and technique of bonsai, she is now trying her hand at writing for children, with a focus on historical fiction. She started this journey with picture books, moved onto middle grade, and is now working on a YA novel.