Until recently, I always thought that a writing mentor was a result of lucky happenstance. Someone who gave useful advice or who helped you connect with the right person or market, sprinkling fairy dust on one's writing journey.
It didn't occur to me that you could seek out a mentor, as some people now do in Twitter pitch sessions. You just had to be lucky and hope someone would sprinkle fairy dust in your direction.
I've had four such incredible people in my life.
1. Rita Fromkess
was the wife of a movie producer and an assistant producer. I met her in August 1970 in London's Dorchester Hotel when everyone was stuck in the lobby during a sudden downpour. We started talking and I told her that I was in university and wanted to be a drama critic. She gave me some tips on what to see in London and in Florence. She said that her husband was producing the movie, "The Last of Sheila." She said she wanted me to see it and write her to tell her what I thought of it. She gave me self-confidence in my ability to write.
2. Barbara West
was an editor at Chatelaine magazine. My future mother-in-law was her doctor and insisted that I give her a call to get writing tips. Ms. West was kind enough to talk to me about Chatelaine and what kind of articles it used. I sent her a few queries but never hit the Chatelaine sweet spot. However, after rejecting my query about James Houston, she told me exactly which market would accept it: enRoute. She was right.
3. James Houston
was the author/artist/screenwriter/glass designer/discoverer of Inuit sculpture and printmaking who was the subject of my cover story for enRoute. He took a chance on a novice journalist and let me interview him on speculation. (I didn't have a market yet when he was in town for his Glass Art Gallery show opening.) I will always be grateful to him. And to Janak Khendry, the owner of the gallery who arranged the interview.
4. The woman at Italian Night
M and I went to an Italian Night sponsored by the church of our friends in the fall of 2008. (We just liked Italy and our friends suggested that we might have fun.) Although we were the only Jewish people there, everyone made us feel welcome. The Italian food was delicious, of course, and we enjoyed the entertainment. Sitting at our table was a couple whose son was an author of children's books. The woman told me the name of the publisher and I recognized it. I'm still kicking myself that I didn't bring my business cards with me for this purely social occasion.
After we left early to feed and walk Echo, I researched her son. He had written some high quality non-fiction children's books. And he had an agent. A Canadian agent. It hadn't occurred to me that there were any Canadian agents who might handle children's authors. Soon after, I sent a query to a Canadian agent and was successful.
From my mentors, I learned that market and publishing information is always changing and it's important to keep up-to date. Talking to complete strangers, while scary, can be rewarding. Inspiration can come from the most unexpected sources. Act self-confident before you actually are.
Also, never go anywhere without your business cards (or your book's bookmarks)!