A few weeks ago I had the pleasure of hearing Kathryn Fitzmaurice’s keynote at the Women’s National Book Association Writers Conference. Kathryn spoke eloquently about her mentor, her grandmother, science fiction writer Eleanor Robinson.
At lunch, Kathryn and I talked about how after becoming the successful author of several award winning/starred middle grade novels including The Year the Swallows Came Early, Diamond in the Dust, and Destiny Rewritten, she is now mentoring an aspiring writer. I asked Kathryn if I could share her experience.
Tell, me who are you mentoring and what are you working on together?
KF: Her name is PB Rippey and she’s a member of SCBWI in Northern California. The title of her work in progress is “Trouble Beneath the Waves,” a wonderful story about a young girl with special powers. I won’t say any more!
How were you two connected?
KF: We were connected when I received an invitation from Catherine Meyers, who is the ARA to Patricia Newman, the RA for the Northern California SCBWI chapter.
I understand this is a new program that the chapter is trying out and that you are one of several published writers who are mentors in this “digital mentorship” program. What are you expected to do?
KF: I am expected to stand along side her and do everything I can to help her bring her work-in-progress to a place where it is publishable. I would like to see her obtain an agent and have the agent sell this story.
You wrote in a blog post that there are several mentors in the program that you would have liked to have been paired with as a young writer. Who among your fellow writers would have been your dream mentor?
KF: I would have loved to have been paired with someone like Gary D. Schmidt, who is my very favorite middle grade author. I was able to meet him last year at the Los Angeles Times Book Festival, where I was on a middle grade panel with him, and Katherine Applegate, and Linda Urban. Mr. Schmidt is so talented as an author, with one of his novels winning a Newbery Honor Medal, (The Wednesday Wars). My favorite book he has written is Okay For Now. Every time I read it, I find some genius page where Mr. Schmidt has made me cry, or laugh. But even more, he is very nice. In addition to writing, he teaches English at a college in Michigan.
The aspiring writers had to submit several pages of a manuscript and a synopsis, and then the mentors chose their mentees based on the work. Can you remember what about PB’s story resonated with you?
KF: I remember when I read her pages, I thought to myself, I can see what might be missing, (it wasn’t much really), and I think I can help her bring the manuscript around to a place where we can cut some of the things that don’t need to be there, and bring in some things that will move the story forward faster. PB is really quite lovely, she wants her story to be published and I believe it will be. She is a hard worker. She’s also a poet and has published a few poems. Not every one can be a poet. You have to understand rhythm and how words work together in a sentence. It’s complicated to see this sometimes. But she sees these connections. She understands how words can be written to make the reader fall in love.
This is a one year program in which the mentor is expected to read the writer’s entire manuscript between November and January, then do a video chat and provide a first round of editorial notes. The writer is supposed to have a rewrite by the end of March, which the mentor then reads, and does a second video chat and editorial notes.
Is this how the program is actually working for you and PB?
KF: After I go through her manuscript, I send my notes, (using track changes on word), to her and she reads through them. Then we make an appointment for a Skype call and go through everything together. We probably speak a lot more, though, than the rules say, because I have told her that she may contact me whenever she needs to. I want her to know that I am available to her any time of day, for whatever reason she may want to discuss. Because sometimes every author has, (including me), times when we need to discuss a very important idea.
What do you find yourselves talking about during those Skype calls?
KF: We really discuss her main character and how she is growing, what she has learned, and how she sees the world differently than she did at the beginning of the story. Together, we do everything we can to cut out the things that aren’t working, and keep the things that are working in her story. But honestly, her story is really very good.
What is the best part of being a mentor?
KF: It’s always nice to help other people realize their own dreams. I remember when my agent, Jen Rofe, of Andrea Brown Literary Agency, called to tell me she had sold my first book. I want PB to have that same feeling. I want her to be able to jump up and down and say she sold her novel. That would be so wonderful!
Lastly, I understand you’re working on a book that’s very different from your other novels. Can you give us a peek into what you’re writing now?
KF: I’m on my third revision of a novel that I will continue to write until it is good enough to sell. I keep going back and fixing it. Everyday, I revise the story, so that my main character is growing, so she sees the world differently than she did at the beginning of the story. I am using a bit a magical realism, which I have never done before. This is the part that is testing me. I keep coming back to these sections and reworking them.
Kathryn, thank you so much for sharing your mentoring experience. We look forward to watching PB on her journey.
To read Kathryn’s moving blog post about her relationship with her own mentor: