I thought it would be fun to hear from Melissa Shanker's mentor, Kristin Wolden Nitz. Kristin took time out of a tight deadline to answer our questions about mentoring and how important the process has been to her and her writing. She can be found at http://www.kwnitz.com/. Thanks, Kristin!
Please share a brief bio of you and your work.
I’ve always written the books that I wanted to read. That might explain why my credits include a young middle grade contemporary fantasy (SAVING THE GRIFFIN), upper middle grade sports novel (DEFENDING IRENE) and YA mystery (SUSPECT). My husband and I have moved thirteen or fourteen times since we graduated from Michigan Tech. Currently, we’re in the middle of preparing for our third move to Missouri.
Why did you decide to become a mentor?
When I heard that the (SCBWI-MI) mentorship was going to be a novel in the next year, I offered to serve as one of the judges. When a friend on Ad-Com asked me if I’d actually BE the mentor it was hard to say no!
How many writers have you officially mentored?
Other than Melissa, I’ve also officially mentored Debra McArthur. She won the Missouri mentorship back in 2003 or 2004. Unofficially, I’ve offered a lot of encouragement to a number of talented writers. I also teach for the Institute of Children’s Literature in their beginners and book course. Often, I feel more like I’m mentoring the novel students rather than overtly teaching them.
Were you part of the decision process for choosing Melissa Shanker as the SCBWI-MI Mentor Award? If so, what about her work made it rise to the top?
Yes. I had my choice of the top three writers as chosen by the other judges. I bonded with Melissa’s characters almost immediately. They seemed very real to me. At the same time, she brought some serious tension to her project.
What strengths do you bring as a mentor?
Well, I have a zeal for making sure that there’s enough conflict and tension in a project since that used to be one of my weaknesses. I also have a pretty good understanding of layering in subplots so that they all come together in a coherent and dramatic way. Finally, I really want to see talented writers succeed. For that reason, I really have an enthusiasm for nurturing and encouraging them.
Have you been a mentee? If so, what from that experience helps you be the best mentor you can be?
My writing life changed dramatically when I won a mentorship with noted children’s author Gary L. Blackwood back in 1999. He helped me understand the importance of conflict in novels. I would often try to smooth things over for my characters. Problems would stop before they got started. I can never pay Gary back. This is the kind of debt that you can only pay forward. (Award-winning science fiction author Robert Heinlein came up with this idea decades ago.)
If you could mentor any writer throughout time, who would it be and why?
Megan Whalen Turner. Then I could find out what happens next in her Attolia books.
If you could be mentored by any writer throughout time, who would it be and why?
As much as I adore writers like Charlotte Bronte and Jane Austen, they probably wouldn’t be that much help in dealing with current issues in writing. That’s why I’d have to go with either Lois McMaster Bujold or Elizabeth Peters. They’re both delightful, generous writers who went through tough times before achieving success.
The first Mentor Monday interview is with Michigan's own Melissa Shanker, winner of the 2011 SCBWI-MI Mentorship Award. Melissa is mentored by the accomplished author, Kristen Wolden Nitz, who can be found at http://www.kwnitz.com/. The interview follows:
Please provide a brief description of your mentor and your winning manuscript.
I am fortunate to have Kristen Wolden Nitz as my mentor. She’s the author of SUSPECT, a young adult mystery that made the ALA’s list for best YA fiction, as well as two imaginative MG books and several sports themed non-fiction books – so obviously her experience crosses many genres.
The manuscript that won the award was my YA novel, A WEEK IN THE LIFE OF AN ORDINARY GIRL. It’s a story about an under-the-radar teenage girl who discovers the ugly truth about the boy she loves and then risks everything to save the girl she hates. Over the course of one week, I do some horrible things to my poor protagonist, including making her an accomplice to murder. She emerges from the rubble a little beat up, but a lot wiser about love, friendship, and the power of truth.
Why did you decide to apply for the SCBWI-MI Mentorship Competition?
I’m at a point in my writing where I think my work is coming closer to the level of the authors I admire. A consistent and experienced writing presence in my life, like Kristen, will be just the motivation I need to make my writing worthy of submission and hopefully acceptance by an agent or editor. In other words, I need a taskmaster to kick my butt, and Kristen is up for the job.
Did you find the application difficult? If so/not, why?
I don’t think there is a writer in the world that enjoys writing a one-page synopsis. So yes, I found it difficult, but also helpful. Whenever you’re asked to summarize it forces you to step back and take a look at your novel as a whole. Sometimes that bird’s eye view can have the reverse effect – the tiny hiccups you noticed close up, look like big black holes from far away.
Why do you believe your manuscript was chosen?
Oh, didn’t they tell you? I was the only one that entered the contest.
Kidding. No, I was told that the voice of my protagonist, Addie, is smart, self-aware and funny without being self-pitying. While the plot does share some common coming-of-age teen elements, the judges thought my writing was confident and compelling.
What do you hope to accomplish during the course of the mentorship (improve craft, revise this manuscript, develop new project/s, etc.)?
My mentor and I are working on a brand new novel that I am immensely excited about. It’s a middle grade novel, part mystery/part humorous contemporary fiction. Kristen is a whiz at pacing mysteries, and she’s completely organized and meticulous – two areas my family will tell you I fall woefully short. I’m confident she will be a huge help.
How will you know if the mentorship was a success for you?
I already know that it’s a success.
If you could choose any mentor in the course of history, who would it be and why?
Wow. That’s a toughie. My favorite contemporary writers are Sara Zarr, Laurie Halse Anderson, Gary Schmidt – and Lauren Myracle is a machine…but I think I’d have to pick John Green because he’s so darn cute, and if I were his mentee he might let me join the Nerdfighters. Side note: Can you say “mentee” without feeling like a completely pretentious idiot? I cannot.
Would you consider mentoring another? If so, what could you offer? (FYI, it is my belief that everyone has something to offer even if he/she is just beginning in the writing world…)
Yes, of course, if anyone would have me!
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