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Monday, January 10, 2011

MENTOR MONDAY


A big Mentor Monday Welcome to… J. Anderson Coats! We have not actually met in person, but I’ve had the pleasure of meeting J. (Am I suppose to keep the name a secret?) online, as we are both clients of The Erin Murphy Literary Agency, are both contributors to the EMU’s Debut Blog, and are both members of The Apocalypsies, a blog for children’s authors who are debuting novels in 2012.

J,’s book, WITHOUT THE WALLS, sounds utterly fantastic! Here is a taste:

1293. North Wales. Ten years into English rule.

Cecily would give anything to leave Caernarvon. Gwenhwyfar would give anything to see all the English leave.

Neither one is going to get her wish.

Behind the city walls, English burgesses govern with impunity. Outside the walls, the Welsh are confined by custom and bear the burden of taxation, and the burgesses plan to keep it that way.

Cecily can’t be bothered with boring things like the steep new tax or the military draft that requires Welshmen to serve in the king’s army overseas. She has her hands full trying to fit in with the town’s privileged elite, and they don’t want company.
Gwenhwyfar can’t avoid these things. She counts herself lucky to get through one more day.
But the Welsh are not as conquered as they seem, and the suffering in the countryside is rapidly turning to discontent. The murmurs of revolt may be Gwenhwyfar’s only hope for survival – and the last thing Cecily ever hears.


~~Sounds incredible, doesn’t it? I’ll be looking forward to getting my hands on my own copy in 2012! I am totally looking forward to traveling the debut writer’s road with J. Anderson Coats!
So, without further ado, here is J.’s Mentor Monday:

Dear Mrs. Stromberg:

Perhaps you’ll remember me as the smart-mouth girl in the back of your AP Literature class who was often distracted by the scribblings in her notebook. I know you’ll remember me as the girl who strolled into your classroom at the beginning of her junior year ready to rest on her writing laurels.

You probably figured out quickly that I was used to coasting when it came to anything written. Never in my life had a teacher made a single meaningful red mark on anything I wrote. On the contrary, they swept A’s across the top of everything and gushed how great a writer I was.

And unfortunately, I’d gotten way too used to hearing that.

I smugly slid my first paper of the year across your desk and waited for the inevitable shower of praise. But when I got it back, it looked like you’d slit your wrists all over it.

I’ll admit it – I was gobsmacked. There was only one conclusion I could draw: you thought my writing was terrible. Why else would you mark it up like that?

I sulked for a while. I’m not proud of that. But then I buckled down. No way was I going to tolerate getting papers back all covered in red. I kept tightening and tinkering and experimenting and tweaking, all to get a paper back as white and flawless as they’d always been.

Those red marks didn’t lessen in quantity. But they changed in content. They changed in tone.

That’s when I started reading them.

Because that’s when I realized you didn’t think I was a bad writer. You tore up my writing because you knew I was good – and if I got the right feedback, I could get even better.

I took what you taught me and turned it loose on my fiction. And I got better hand over fist till I sold a novel I’m really proud of. I’m still getting better. I always will be.

I probably learned some stuff about literature from you that year, but two things sank in deep that I still carry with me: even good writers are never finished learning how to write, and honest feedback presented with respect is invaluable.

You never pulled any punches. You treated me like a writer, not a student. And I walked out of your classroom not only a better writer, but also a better person.

Best regards,

J. Anderson Coats

PS: I should also probably learn to call you by your first name, Kelly, but that one’s gonna take some time.




4 comments:

Natalie said...

J., as a teacher, I'd *love* to receive a letter like the one you wrote! Did you really send it? The thing about teaching is that we never really know what kind of impact we have on kids. There are stories of students seeking out former teachers, but they are few and far between. Hooray for that teacher, and hooray for you and your book that I can't wait to read!

Lynda said...

I thought the same thing, Natalie. Making the kind of impact that this wonderful teacher did is why so many of us went into teaching in the first place! A big hooray for all teachers who are in the trenches and looking out for children.

Lydia K said...

I'll always remember the teachers that inspired me with literature and writing.
Great post!

J Anderson Coats said...

Natalie and Lynda, I plan to send a version of the letter that's a little more personalized. I know she's still teaching at my old high school, so I know where to send it. I just need to get up the courage to hit "send." It's always weird to contact people from ten years - you worry they won't remember you...