Monday, March 28, 2011


A Huge Mentor Monday welcome to YA author, Jo Knowles! She is the brilliant scribe of LESSONS FROM A DEAD GIRL and JUMPING OFF SWINGS, PEARL (July, 2011) and SEE YOU AT HARRY’S (spring, 2012). Jo is, also, a freelance writer and teaches writing for children in the MFA program at Simmons College. She lives in Vermont with her husband and son.

I am always so impressed with Jo. She is so willing and able to open herself up and be vulnerable in her talks to aspiring authors in a way that inspires and encourages. I think it’s the truly brave that are able to do that and the kind-hearted that actually act on it. This post, here, is no different! In addition, I think that Jo’s post on is one of the most poignant entries there.

Jo is going to be one of our author mentors at Whispering Pines, 2012!!! I am *so* looking forward to getting to know Jo even further!

Without further ado…

Mentor Monday, by Jo Knowles

I met Lowrly Pei my sophomore year of college when I signed up for his nonfiction writing course. There were about 10-12 students in the class and each week Lowry would choose someone’s work to read out loud and then we’d all discuss the work in painstaking detail. I remember the first time my work was chosen, I made myself sick I was so nervous. But Lowry was always kind, always quick to point out the specks of gold in the rock. He made me feel like a writer. When he handed back our work, it was often accompanied by a page or more of single-spaced comments. I would pour over those comments, so grateful to have a reader. So grateful to have a listener. By the end of the semester, I was making small notes at the top of my papers, “Please don’t share in class.” Because the other amazing thing Lowry had done was allow me to create a lifeline with my words. Sophomore year was a difficult one for me. So difficult, I still don’t talk about it. And yet I had a safe place to share my secret, parallel life. Silently. With Lowry.

Poor Lowry.

I continued to keep in touch with Lowry throughout my years at Simmons and on into graduate school. He was my master’s thesis mentor (I wrote my first YA novel instead of a thesis), and he guided me through the obvious mistakes new writers make with patience and steady encouragement. I also took a course with him called Teaching Writing, which required me to be a teaching assistant in a writing course similar to the one I’d taken with him years earlier. In our weekly graduate seminars, we’d talk about how the classes were going and I joked with Lowry about what a terrible student I must have been, sharing secrets I never should have burdened him with. He just laughed, and told me I wasn’t the first. He said he often walked down the busy halls of students and thought, “Every one of them has a story. Every one of them has a secret.” That same day, I remember stepping out into the hall and watching all the young women making their way from one class to another. What’s your story? I thought, as each one passed. And I swear I could almost feel those silent secrets hitting my chest like a fist.

I was so lucky to have Lowry to share my own story with. And later, my fiction, drawn from pain and joy—experienced, witnessed, and imagined. Even after I graduated, it was Lowry I sent my first drafts to for approval. Lowry whose long, detailed and honest letters I cherished and believed in. In the fifteen years since my graduation, I’m sure Lowry has mentored many, many other quiet Jo’s, slowly daring to put secrets on paper, desperate to get those words out, if only silently, from student to teacher. Who slowly learned how to find beauty in the ugly. To turn truth to lies and back again, so that some day, at long last, their words could find their way to strangers who have their own stories to tell.

Thank you, Lowry, for listening.

Monday, March 21, 2011


Jennifer Thermes is the author/illustrator of SAM BENNETT'S NEW SHOES and WHEN I WAS BUILT. She has also done endpaper maps for books such as THE WATER SEEKER by Kimberly Willis Holt, and REVOLUTION IS NOT A DINNER PARTY by Ying Chang Compestine. Recent projects include cover and black & white interior illustrations for a middle-grade chapter book written by Valerie Hobbs, to be released by Henry Holt Books for Young Readers in 2011. Please take the time to go to Jen's website. Her artwork is just beautiful!

I met Jennifer when I went down to a Shoreline Arts event and heard her speak. I liked her immediately. Seeing her art work was one of those times that I longed to be an artist. I just love the colors she uses and her drawings have such a sweet quality to them. (Professional artists would talk about lines and tone and such. I just like them!) Her maps are genius! Someday, I intend to hire her to do one for me.

Based on her easy going nature, talent, and presentation, I later invited her to be our author/illustrator mentor at Whispering Pines. She agreed but wanted to know a bit more about the weekend. We agreed to a quick phone chat. Three hours later...

Needless to say, we hit it off, and I feel so very fortunate for two things tonight. (1) That Jennifer will be our author/illustrator mentor this weekend at Whispering Pines in Rhode Island, and (2) I have a wonderful, talented, funny, caring friend that I didn't have a year ago! Huzzah!

Without further ado...Here is Jen!

I can’t remember ever having had just one mentor in my life, in the traditional sense of the word. It’s been more like many. I've been fortunate.

There were teachers– the elementary school Art teacher who let me draw horses endlessly, because he knew it was my passion. (What better way to encourage creativity than to let a child follow their passion?) And a junior high school English teacher who patiently helped me revise, over and over, my telling of a traumatic event during a family trip to Maine. She taught me that writing clearly was more than scribbling words in an angsty, teenage diary: writing was in the revising.

I had an awesome Art Director and co-workers in my first job out of art school. They taught me the realities of deadlines, how to produce a magazine, and how to keep you sense of humor while doing it! The illustrators that I hired and the freelancers I met were huge inspirations when it came time to take the terrifying leap from a full-time job into my own life as a freelance illustrator.

There was the magazine editor I collaborated with on many projects. He taught me the mental game of how to stay sane through the ups and downs of working for oneself.
My first art rep was a guy with a terrific head for business. From him I learned not to fear negotiation! And then there was the editor he had worked with who loved my maps, and wondered if I wrote, as well. Her inquiry set into motion a course of combining art and words, and opened my mind to the possibilities of working in the world of children’s books.

My writing group, ever supportive, has been priceless; as have been old friends and new ones made serendipitously.

I am a confessed writing-and-art-craft book addict– if you mention it, I will buy it–because sometimes that “I get it now!” moment happens when something is explained for the hundred-and-second time.

And then there’s the Internet. Hard to imagine it didn’t exist when I first started out. It feeds my learning curve through blogs, tweets, and chat boards. Also, working on your own can be a challenge when you’re faced with a problem. But through the online community I can always find someone who has gone through something similar. Although many people I’ve met in cyberspace have become friends, most aren’t even aware of the inspiration they’ve provided.

I truly believe mentors are everywhere, if you remain open and curious. Consider this post one big thank-you to all of mine, whether you know you’ve been one or not.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Why Did the Monkey Cross the Road?

So, everyone is all a twitter (literally!) about online marketing! Here are some things, however, that prospective and dubut authors should consider *beyond* online promotion:

Head on over to EMU's Debuts to read my post: Why Did the Monkey Cross the Road? Because the Other Side Had Paperback and Foreign Rights.

Monday, March 14, 2011


A gigantus MENTOR MONDAY welcome to Laura Resau, author of six novels including RED GLASS, WHAT THE MOON SAW, RUBY NOTEBOOK, and the newly minted, THE QUEEN OF WATER (co-authored with MarĂ­a Virginia Farinango). This novel, which is based on a true story, begins in an impoverished Andean village where seven-year-old Virginia is taken from her indigenous family to be an unpaid servant. For the next eight years, she struggles to hold on to her spirit and humor in the face of oppression. But once she's found her freedom, will Virginia - now a teenager caught between cultures - also find a place where she belongs? I have my copy—can’t wait to dive in!

* "[A] riveting tale... by turns heartbreaking, infuriating and ultimately inspiring." - Kirkus, STARRED

"A richly described coming-of-age story set in a culture both foreign and and familiar turns shocking and funny." - VOYA

"A moving, lyrical novel that will particularly resonate with teens caught between cultures." Booklist STARRED review

Feel free to go to Laura’s website page to read an excerpt from THE QUEEN OF WATER, as well as the poignant inspiration for this wonderful book.

I first met Laura as I arrived as a wide-eyed, freshman member of the Gangos (Erin Murphy Literary clients) who traveled out to Portland, OR., for an agency retreat back in 2009. I was actually awed enough to be quiet for two hours. From reading Laura’s work, I knew she was a fabulous writer. She also had all of these wonderful stories of her travels and how her adventures fed her written stories. Fascinating. Beautiful. Sad. Inspiring.

However, the strongest impression that I came away with of Laura, was that she has a “steeped in wisdom” quality about her. (Remember those EF Hutton commercials? Well, when Laura spoke, I’d stop to listen.) About writing, about marketing , and about the writing life. When I expressed some nervousness about school visits down the road (before my ms had even been submitted to editors), she looked me in the eye and told me that I was a natural story teller and that I had nothing to worry about. And you know what? I believed her! I was instantly at ease with the whole thing. Speaks to the power of words and small kindnesses, doesn’t it? So, I guess, Laura mentored me that weekend!

Without further ado….

~~Laura Resau – Mentor Post~~

My mentor came on the scene later in my writing journey, but at what turned out to be the perfect time. Mentor-less for many years, I'd managed to bumble my way through writing and revising my first YA novel, What the Moon Saw, thanks to a smattering of enthusiastic teachers and writing group members (and my mom) who gave me guidance. Of course, it would have been wonderful (and time-saving!) to have had a mentor during the five years it took me to write the book. But a mentor-of-sorts did come along, just in time to help me navigate the rough waters of the publication process and beyond.

Lauren Myracle (of the Luv Ya Bunches and TTYL series) became an invaluable (and supercute, superfriendly, supersmart) resource for me. She'd always been supportive of me and other prepublished writers when I saw her at events in Fort Collins (where we both live). So, when I got a voicemail message from an editor at Delacorte saying she was interested in my manuscript (but that she would be out of the office for vacation and wanted me to call her back after one torturous week), I called up Lauren for advice. I was agent-less at the time, and Lauren was the only industry expert I knew who felt approachable. She squealed and congratulated me and cheerfully told me that if the editor made me an offer, to bump it up a few thousand dollars, since that's what they expect.

A week later, I called the editor back, my hands shaking, my throat parched, nervous sweat gushing from my armpits. She offered me a typical debut literary novel advance—about the price of a small, used car. "Yes!" I said. "Yes! Thank you thank you thank you!"

She paused. "Are you officially accepting the offer, then?"

Terrified that she would suddenly change her mind, I said, "Yes, yes, officially, yes! Thank you!" (Oh, if only Lauren had been right there with me on speaker phone…)

After the discovery that I was terrible at negotiating book contracts, I called Lauren. I told her the good news and, a bit embarrassed, said that I suspected it would be a good idea for me to get an agent. ASAP.

And being the generous soul that she is, Lauren gushed excitement, then gave me her agent's phone number. He ended up referring me to my unbelievably wonderful agent, Erin Murphy (who is also Lynda's agent!) Erin proved to be worlds better at contract negotiations than I could ever dream of being.

Lauren continued to be a wise (and adorable) guide for me through the publication process. She explained authorly etiquette (like asking for blurbs), introduced me to other YA authors, and gave a beautiful, from-the-heart quote for the back cover of What the Moon Saw (which several people have told me made them buy the book). When I had questions about appearances at librarian and teacher conferences, she was the first person I asked (her advice: be generous and wear a cute dress). And when she had to turn down author appearance invitations for local events, she passed along my name, which helped spread the word about my book. It feels so reassuring to have someone like Lauren helping me figure out the YA book industry. (Even after six years, I still call her for advice.)

Thanks for reading! May you all find the perfect mentor at the perfect stage of your writing journey!