Category Archives: leadership

The Importance of Mentors

Mentor. noun

  1. a wise and trusted counselor or teacher.
  2. an influential senior sponsor or supporter.

Every successful author I come in contact with mentions hYoda memeow they wouldn’t be where they are without the aid of someone special. Someone who took the time to bear them up, give them encouragement and advice, and most of all, be an example. I want to talk today about mentors.

Benjamin Franklin said, “Tell me and I forget, teach me and I may remember, involve me and I learn.” As writers we have many authors that tell us where to go to find the answers. They say things like, “Check out this book, or visit this website.” Sometimes we are fortunate enough to sit in a class with them as they instruct us on the things we should do to better our craft. The best authors—the mentors, take time to not only instruct us but involve us. They are the ones that show they really care. They are the ones we remember years later when we finally make it.

91QXf1iLg8LA month or so ago I was very discouraged in my writing goals. I had books out and I had great reviews and feedback from kids that had read my books, but my publishing goals were not being met. I was struggling and, after years and years of trying, I was ready to call it quits. That is when my mentor, J. Scott Savage, stepped in. Noticing I was lacking my normal oomph he took me out to lunch to “talk shop.” During that luncheon he did what every great mentor does: he encouraged me, taught me from his own bumpy road of success, and showed me I’d be a fool to give up. I left that luncheon feeling more than supported—I felt guided.

Fast forward to just last weekend and I was at a writing conference in Utah called Storymakers. Here my mentor was again trying to help all he could. Not only me but as many writers that would answer his invite. The morning before the Saturday session he set up a donut breakfast in which he provided a hundred delicious donuts, milk and juice, and invited anyone to come and “talk shop” about anything to help them on their writing journey. It was by far one of the best moments I had that weekend.

jack6.000x9.000.inddWith his “Pay it Forward” mentality J. Scott Savage teaches me the type of author I want to be. He is my mentor and I am proud to call him such. I hope that one day when I make my goals as an author I can be this type of mentor to others that are like me now. I encourage aspiring writers to find mentors to help them on their journey. I invite all authors who feel they have something to offer others to help and be a mentor. So many would not be where they are today if someone didn’t take the time to show they cared.

J. Scott Savage is a middle-grade author of several books including the totally-awesome Farworld series, Case Files 13 series, and the newly anticipated series Mysteries of the Cove available this fall. You can find more information on him at http://jscottsavage.com/.

Never Underestimate Young Readers

We often hear how students today don’t know literature or history, or that they lag behind kids in other countries in the most crucial areas of math, science, and engineering. Culture is often blamed. Movies and TV shows promote violence and drug culture and advertising commercializes and sexualizes the youth. Video games and movies often glamorize unsavory heroes. Kids today live in a celebrity culture, where intellect isn’t appreciated and everything is dumbed down, numbing young minds instead of expanding them. Some schools barely keep kids in the classroom. Our society is not encouraging children to utilize the full potential they were born with.

dreamstime_m_5241257_zps70a9b06c

We must constantly strive to reach these kids and give them books they’ll enjoy while stretching their minds and imaginations. As readers and writers for young people, the Emblazoners know tweens are readers and fully capable of understanding rich and complex stories that thrill and teach and inspire. We know what books we read and enjoyed in our youth and we want to reach today’s kids before they give up on learning.

Lynn Kelley and I, writing as BBH McChiller, have decided that when we write our Monster Moon series of books for 7- to 12 year-olds, where we create a fictional world full of fictional characters with fictional problems, that we will always drop in a dabbling of real history or geography, real science, real literature, actual occupations, folklore, and mythology, anything that adds truth and depth to the story.

This exposes kids to the real world in a subtle and unobtrusive way. As a simple example, our pirate rat character often bemoans the plight of his species Rattus rattus, and while kids sympathize with him they are learning the scientific nomenclature for the rat species. Similarly, we have Macbeth being quoted at a Monster Ball. Kids are smart and capable, so why not give them an awareness of history and science and literature in addition to a fun read.

Last month I had the opportunity to be a Grand Award Judge at Intel’s International Science and Engineering Fair (ISEF) in Los Angeles, and I saw firsthand the intelligence and amazing abilities of young people, but also, the worldwide competition with whom they’ll have to compete.

Intel’s ISEF is the world’s largest science and engineering fair where millions of dollars are awarded to students, mainly high schoolers, ranging in age from 13 to 18. Over seven and a half million students from all over the world began on this journey by competing in local, regional, school, state or sponsored fairs, and the top winners/finalists were invited to compete at ISEF for the largest awards given to young people.

The 1,700 finalists came from 70 countries and were the best of the best. Their projects would compare with any college or graduate level research endeavor. Several top category winners were just 13 to 15 years old. The Grand Award winner was a 15-year-old boy from Boston, MA who worked on his project at home combining science, math, and computer learning. He wrote a computer learning program teaching the computer to calculate the relative deleterious effects of various cancer cell gene mutations, all in his spare time. These students certainly gave me hope for the future of the world.

top three with confetti 2
This year’s top winners were from Malaysia, Germany and United States.
(Photo – Courtesy of ISEF)

These outstanding kids got their interest in science, nature, mathematics, computers, etc. from somewhere. They had already attained this interest and drive before they went to high school. Maybe it was from reading. Interestingly, I noticed that many of the competitors were reading fictional books in their spare minutes. Or, maybe they got their interests from museums or travels. Somewhere they developed an ability to think about the world around them, to question how things work, to see problems and imagine solutions.

We work hard to write books that kids will enjoy and maybe we’ll inspire some readers to become writers or poets. Maybe we’ll write something that while fun to read, also inspires future historians, archeologists, engineers, mathematicians, cancer researchers, physicians, veterinarians, astronauts, and inventors.

Within the context of our novels, we can certainly encourage a zest for learning and for understanding the world around us. It’s easy to tuck interesting nuggets into a story, details that readers will enjoy and remember. Maybe we’ll even trigger that spark of curiosity, and they’ll want to learn more about some factoid we’ve woven into the tale. Maybe they’ll even want to read a nonfiction book on the subject. We can give readers an idea how they can solve a problem or change the world. Books can do that. We should challenge young readers’ minds. They can handle it.

Do you write historical or scientific facts into your stories beyond what the setting requires? Do you think it’s hard to do if it doesn’t directly pertain to the story?

img_3925_2
Kathryn Sant

Kathryn Sant is a retired obstetrician who has witnessed the births of thousands of future readers. She has published a middle-grade novel, Desert Chase (Scholastic), and under the pseudonym BBH McChiller she is a co-author of the fun, spooky Monster Moon mystery series. Curse at Zala Manor is the first book in the series, Secret of Haunted Bog is the second title, and the upcoming Legend of Monster Island will be the third. She is currently working on two middle-grade boys’ adventure novels and the next Monster Moon book.

Her interest in adventure, research, and genealogy has led to a love of world travel, exotic adventures, and museums of all kinds. But she also enjoys quiet evenings reading with her dogs at her side.

Be a Catalyst for Your Own Author’s Group

Ever since Emblazon got its start last summer, I’ve been bombarded with requests to join. Unfortunately, membership is limited, or communication and administration would quickly get out of control. So I thought an honest post about how and why I initiated this group and the benefits members derive would be in order in case some of you would like to form your own group.istockphoto

So how did Emblazon begin? It evolved slowly, starting with my own experience writing a teen and tween book review blog. Then last year I ran across the Indelibles, a website administered by 20+ young adult authors, which got me thinking how beneficial it might be to team up with other tween authors. The idea fomented as I drafted my first Taylor Davis novel. After its release in the spring, I started brainstorming ideas for a blog based on the Indelibles model.

I actually designed the blog—the name, the mission statement, the monthly meme, the first pages, the posting timeframe, member expectations—before I began pitching it to other authors so they could see exactly what I had in mind and make a well informed decision about whether they would make a good fit. And I wanted them to have an idea of the level of commitment membership would entail. You can see the early Emblazon Membership document I drew up here. Then I began inviting authors.

My book blog gave me a great place to start. I’d reviewed countless books over the last few years and had a list of about ten or twelve indie authors I’d been highly impressed with. Some joined, some didn’t. It wasn’t enough to fill the 15-20 slots I hoped to start with, so I asked for recommendations from the other members. If they had read a particular author’s work and recommended them, that author automatically received an invitation. If they were merely suggesting someone they had not read, I dug up one of that author’s books and made a judgment call based on the writing skill and tween appropriateness I found there.

This branching out marked the first instance of shifting control from myself to the group, and it was a little scary. I didn’t know who I was getting. But as we spent the first part of the summer getting to know each other and preparing for our July launch, I was delighted with each and every one of them. We’re wonderfully varied, with different skills and connections. Fortunately, designer D. Robert Pease was an early member who offered to improve our blog’s appearance. We have two more gifted designers, small press authors, a leader in the New England SCBWI chapter, bloggers, and Twitterers. We have a best selling indie with a real head for the market. We have thinkers, administrators, volunteers, cheerleaders, teachers, supporters, encouragers. I had envisioned such a group. I was thrilled to watch it become a reality. And seeing that we shared a vision made it easy to hand over power to others who could manage their areas of expertise much better than me. We’ve truly become a cohesive, democratic team.

Our launch was a little crazy. As we settled into a routine, however, I realized my vision had been very small. I’d wanted a blog where we could increase our visibility, help other writers succeed, and build a supportive tween-centered community. I soon found that when this many authors put their heads together, things are going to happen! Apart from the blog—behind the scenes where readers can’t see—we’ve generated many, many ideas to push each other toward greater success. Just a few of them include exploring the benefits of and obtaining Lexile scores, procuring ready made MARC file for the convenience of librarians, creating an email list of educators and librarians, issuing a biannual catalog—it’s fabulous; you’ll see it soon!—joining NetGalley, and a hundred other ideas. The power of a cooperative group is amazing!

In conclusion, Emblazon has far exceeded my expectations. I may have been the spark that ignited the group—the idea, of course, was borrowed—but it was this fabulous team of individuals who have pitched in and made it what it is. Our membership isn’t changing quickly. If you had an interest in joining us, your chances of getting in are very small. But you can be the catalyst for a new author group. It isn’t that hard. It just takes some planning and initiative. (If you have specific questions, drop me an email.) Once it gets running, everyone contributes. And I think you’ll be amazed at what your team comes up with!

Image courtesy of stock.xchang.

_____________________________________________________

0451111Michelle Isenhoff writes adventures for kids up to age 79 (so far). She’s the author of the popular Divided Decade Trilogy and more recently, the humorous Taylor Davis series.

When Michelle’s not writing imaginary adventures, she’s probably off on one. She loves roller coasters and swimming in big waves. She’s an avid runner. She likes large dogs, high school football games, old graveyards, and wearing flip-flops all winter. Once an elementary teacher, Michelle now homeschools two of her three kids and looks forward to summer break as much as they do. Website | Facebook | Twitter | Goodreads | Youtube | Email