The End of an Era: When Writing Mentors Move On

You know that moment in Star Wars where Obi-Wan Kenobi gets killed and you freak out because Luke’s just lost his mentor and he still is nowhere near where he needs to be, training-wise? That’s kind of where I am right now.

In 2005, I met Jonathan Maberry, who had joined the now-closed Writer’s Room in Doylestown. From that moment on, he has built a wonderful society of writers in the Greater Philadelphia area. Now there is a thriving community, helmed by the Liars Club, that has workshops and networking meetings and just has a generally good time.

I have been a part of an ongoing workshop of Jonathan’s since 2006. Originally called Revise & Sell, it is now known as the Advanced Novel workshop. Basically, all of us in the workshop have novels in some stage of development (but beyond first draft) and are trying to get published. I was one of the original workshop members. Over the years, people have come and gone, but a core group has stayed rock-solid and bonded together. We critique each other’s work when asked. We offer a shoulder to cry on when needed. We discuss problems, both craft and business, that are standing in our way. A group of us formed The Author Chronicles group blog about 3 years ago. Several of us have had short stories published, and one member, Tiffany Schmidt, is now a published novelist with her second book coming out in February!

So when Jonathan told us he was moving to San Diego later this year, it was a bit wrenching—one of the main pillars of my writing life was disappearing. We had what is likely to be our last in-person class last week, which was a weird feeling of endings and beginnings all mixed into one.

Last R&S Class

Last in-person class. Photo courtesy of Tiffany Schmidt

But the thing is, just like Luke Skywalker, we aren’t really losing Jonathan at all. Technology today has made it possible for us to continue this workshop virtually, through Skype. I am looking forward to keeping up the forward momentum we have built together. Although conversing with a flickering, pixelated mentor is a little too sci-fi even for me! But maybe we’ll get lucky and the Force will be with all of us.

I wish Jonathan all the best in his new adventures out in California. The man is a force of nature; I have no doubt he will do well. And I’m glad that technology will allow us to stay in touch as a class, because I get quite an energy boost from our meetings—and I think there are good things ahead for all of us. I want to be there to cheer the others on and celebrate when they get their big break. We’ve all done the hard work—but it’s with Jonathan’s guidance that we’ve come as far as we have.

So, thank you, Jonathan. It’s the end of an era—but the beginning of a new one. I can’t wait to see what new opportunities the new era brings.

Have you ever had a writing mentor?

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The Relationship Between “Time” and “Why”

I’ve been thinking about time a lot recently. It’s been popping up on web posts I’ve read, and a book I’m reading, and in my own life—after all, none of us ever have enough time.

We all try to cram so much into our day, doing things we think we should be doing, how we should be doing them, and yet most of us never ask the important question: “Why?”

Why are we doing the things we are doing? Why are we choosing to spend our time doing A and not B, even though we would like to do B as much as A or even more?

Sometimes, of course, we do A because it must be done. Things like going to work or taking care of your child. But, see, that is a Why answer—and a valid one. I work so I can have food on the table. I take care of my child because I love her. I spend time with my spouse because I love him.

There are some things that have an obvious Why answer.

But then there are other things that I make myself crazy with (and I’m sure you do, too) that maybe we should ask ourselves Why? Social media is the big thing I’m thinking about here, because it can be a huge time suck. As writers, we are encouraged to be on every social media platform known to mankind, and so we plunge in. I am on so many I can’t even list them all, and I do manage to keep a current presence on all of them. But then an article I read by Kimanzi Constable said most writers who do marketing and social media never ask themselves Why? And that got me thinking.

The easy answer is, “I do social media to build a base so when I do have something to sell I have a base.” But that’s too vague a Why. Why am I on THESE social media platforms? Why do I frequent THIS one instead of THAT one? In other words, do I have a PLAN?

And I don’t. I hop from one to the other and sort of poke around and then hop off. Now, I really am on most social networks just to be…social. To build a network of friends and colleagues to help get through this writing life. But I have often felt of late that I may be focusing on the wrong places or the wrong things in my online presence—or that I might be so scattered across the platforms that I’m almost better off not being on them. So sitting back and thinking Why might be a big help. Who am I trying to be social with? Why on this platform and not another? I might be able to make my social network rounds more efficiently yet more effectively if I had a plan, perhaps built around the platform I am most comfortable with and then branching out to others. Making a social media plan is on my To Do list, for sure.

The other major reason I was thinking about how I spend my time is because writing colleague Tiffany Schmidt asked me if the time I spent blogging was worth it. In other words, with writing time so scarce, could the time I spend on the two blogs I write for be better spent on my fiction writing?

I had never asked myself that question: WHY am I spending a couple hours a week writing blog posts? Without knowing that, I couldn’t answer the question of if that time was well-spent.

I finally decided that, yes, my blogging time is worth it. First, honestly, most of my blogging is done in my “fractured time”—those stolen 5-10-15 minutes between chores and child. Anything less than half an hour is pretty useless (for me) for dealing with my fiction—I can’t switch mental gears fast enough. So this fractured time might otherwise go to no use at all in forwarding my writing if I didn’t squeeze in the blogging there.

Second, not only can I write better, faster than before, I feel myself a part of the larger writing community. The blogs I write for are part of the online conversation of writers, and I like contributing to that. Not to mention how much I have learned—and continue to learn—from reading so many other blogger’s posts. I will admit that the name-recognition I have gotten from blogging (particularly at the Author Chronicles) is a plus. To have complete strangers come up to me at a conference and recognize me from the blog is a bit of a thrill (and a little disconcerting). To know that I am helping people and making an impact in the community is a great feeling. For now, my blogging time is totally worth it. When I get a book deal, I may have to reassess if it still makes sense, but for now it’s where I want to be.

So I think I will take some time in the near future and look at a whole list of things and ask: WHY? The answers may make my life simpler—and they may surprise me. But from now on, instead of running around blindly trying to do everything, I think I will stop to ask Why.

How about you? Do you find yourself racing about like a headless chicken without really knowing why you’re doing what you’re doing?

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How To Tap the Darkness Within

We were discussing in our Advanced Novel Workshop with Jonathan Maberry about digging deep and putting your pain on the page. Jonathan talked about how he has found his writing highly cathartic. Tiffany Schmidt talked about the difficulty of writing emotional scenes and then finding a way to leave the pain in the book and not let it color your real life. As Jonathan said, leave the tears on the page.

Except in a very few instances, I have not shed tears while I write. I have not felt emotionally drained like so many writers talk about in their blogs. Apparently, I have not tapped into my deeper levels of pain, anger, darkness, and, yes, joy, love, and healing and laid them bare in my writing.

This could explain why beta readers feel my characters are not quite “real” or that they don’t “connect” with them on a deep level. It’s always a struggle before I get the characters in shape.

Why can’t I access these deeper places? There could be a few reasons. One, I don’t HAVE deeper places. Two, I lack the empathy to connect to other people. Three, I’m afraid to go into the darkness.

As for number one, I’m sure I have deeper places. I know I feel things deeply at times, and seemingly benign things like commercials can unexpectedly bring a welter of feelings in me. Examining number two shows that I am close to my family and while my close friends are not many in number, the friendships run deep. So maybe I’m just afraid to go into the darkness?

It is true that I don’t like letting strong emotions loose. I find it very, very hard to put emotional genies back in the bottle. I have an anxiety disorder, so once emotion wells up, it often spirals out of control. It can impact my life for days—not a good thing when you have a toddler to take care of. As a survival technique, I have gotten very good at surpressing the anxiety, but perhaps that comes at the cost of cutting myself off from connecting to the world as wholly as I might like. Which then might mean I can’t connect my characters to the reader the way I should.

I don’t doubt there’s some subconscious fear there. But the other side of the coin is that I don’t really know HOW to access those stronger emotions. Not consistently and effectively. If my character is sad and I’m not, how do I call that up? Or anger? Or fear? And I don’t know how to turn them off when I’m done. Maybe I can call on one of my actor friends to help me with that.

So what do you think? Do you need to be so emotionally invested in your book that you cry (or want to) at times while writing it? Should it drain you emotionally?

And do you have tips on how to access those emotions—and then leave them behind when you’re done?

My writing supporters

This week, Nathan Bransford had positivity week, a week where he focused on the good things going on in publishing, and thereby talked many an author down from their individual ledges.

All this positivity got me thinking about the good stuff in my life. Sure, there are things to complain about, and things that are frustrating, and things I just plain old don’t understand, but all in all, things are good. We as humans tend to focus on the bad, and forget the good.

So here’s my good—the people in my life. The list starts with my friends, who have always accepted me for the eccentric that I am, and encouraged the strangeness that is my writing. Of course, these friends have hobbies including Civil War re-enactments and Cowboy Shooting, so maybe they were just glad I accepted their idiosyncrasies, too!


The writing community in Doylestown, PA, really launched me into the “serious” part of my career. Only after I got involved there did I think of myself as a “real” writer, someone who could do this well and successfully. I have taken many workshops there, including and most especially workshops run by Jonathan Maberry, which have increased both my craft and my understanding of the business of writing.


Classmates from those groups have become part and parcel of a network of up-and-coming writers, and we share the knowledge we gain with each other as we explore this world of publishing together—in particular, Nancy Keim Comley, Tiffany Schmidt, and Matt McGovern.


Through Jonathan’s inaugural Master Class program, I met friends and colleagues who still amaze and energize me: Jerry Waxler, Keith Strunk, Don Lafferty, and Jeanette Juryea.


The peer critique group I’m in at the Doylestown Library has also been a boon. Not only do I get great feedback from a variety of viewpoints, but I also met my two The Egyptian Enigma co-authors there. Jim Kempner and Jeff Pero have helped launch me into an entirely new adventure, which has so far been a wild and enlightening ride!


My family, glad to say, has also been a great support to me. My parents never pushed me or my brother to be something other than what we were. For a very non-girlie girl like me, that was a blessing. Pressure from society to conform is bad enough, without adding family pressure to it. My parents encouraged my talents and comforted me in my failures, and suffered through many a young (translate: bad) story. And my little brother? Well, now that we’ve grown out of the wanting to kill each other stage, I find he’s a pretty cool guy, who I know will always have my back if I need him.


Then there is my wonderful husband. He suffers in silence while I type away on my computer instead of paying attention to him. He works hard so I can write all day instead of having a day job. He fetches me books from the library, and tries to help fix computer issues that I cannot. He reads my drafts, nitpicks my grammar, and tells me honestly when something is no good. He loves me and encourages my dream, and I know how rare that is.


Last, but not least, is my best friend Donna Hanson Woolman. I met her at age 14, and we shared a passion for writing that bound us together. We wrote many very “young” novels, some of which may yet mature into published novels. Our synergy was legendary (our phone bills will attest to the length of our discussions), and for eighteen years we wrote together. Six years ago, I lost her to cancer, but she taught me one last lesson I will never forget. On her deathbed, she said to me, “I’m so lucky.” I didn’t understand how she could feel that way, and she explained, “To have so many people who love me.”


So, that is why, when speaking of the positive things in my writing life, I am not talking about book deals or word counts or best-seller lists. I am talking about the people in my life, because without them, none of it would matter. I can live a full and complete life without publishing a single word. My life would be empty without the people who love me.


I am so lucky.

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