Thursday, January 30, 2020

The First Time I… (Holly Schindler)


This month’s theme keeps making me think of teaching music. 

That’s how I paid the bills during my earliest days of writing. As I was drafting those first attempts at novels, I was teaching piano and guitar lessons out of my home. It was the perfect setup: get up in the morning, write until 3:00 (when the kids got out of school), then teach lessons for a few hours, until dinnertime. 

The thing that struck me the most about teaching music was the pervasive belief so many of my students had that if it didn’t come easily or quickly, it wasn’t for them. 

Music, they assumed, required an innate gift. You were born with it, or you weren’t. That first scale or song or chord needed to be perfect. If not, they were never going to be musicians. Ever.

It completely blew me over. Every single time I came across it. I even come to think of as the myth of talent. At times, it sure seemed it did far more harm than good. 

I vaguely remember an article I bumped into somewhere in which the author contended that there was no such thing as a child prodigy—the one we all immediately think of when we hear the term, the kid who just popped into the world automatically knowing how to drive a golf ball or play a concerto. The author’s hypothesis was that what that kid really had was interest. He / she paid attention. And there was a strong desire that went into it, of course, that kind of mildly obsessive component that kept driving them back to the same activity.

That article stayed with me. Mostly because I think there’s something to it. I was often told, through school, I had a “talent” for writing. I loved books. I loved storytelling. I graduated with a creative master’s in English. And yet, it still took seven and a half years to sell that first novel. (Not a typo.) In the end, what was more important—any raw talent I might have had, or a work ethic? The desire to get better? 

Clearly, if you’ve got to choose, determination and stamina and a willingness to work always beats out raw talent. 

So often, we ask the question, “Got an idea for a book?” and offer advice on how to get it on paper. But what happens if you’ve got a draft and it’s awful? Or didn’t sell? 

So what? Write it again. Write another book. Keep going. 

Don’t decide, after playing one clumsy song, that you’ll never play the piano well. 

After all, the first time I ever tried anything, the results were lopsided and disastrous.

…even writing.

Wednesday, January 29, 2020

Nothing Like The First...

By Charlotte Bennardo

One of the themes this month is about mentoring. Honestly, I can't say a single individual has mentored me. Yes, there have been those who've encouraged me, and author organizations which created resources for writers, and those in the business I've asked for advice. But that's not the same as mentoring.

So that leaves the other theme of "The first time I..."

As a multi-decade writer, there are a lot of firsts. I'm grateful to have achieved a number of them:
  • Getting a job as a newspaper reporter/photographer then seeing my articles and photos in print
  • Getting that call from an editor who wanted to publish Sirenz
  • Appearing at Book Expo America, and seeing over 300 people lined up, waiting for a copy of Sirenz
  • Hearing from fans who loved Sirenz
  • Getting a gift from a fan
  • Finding an agent
  • Becoming a member/committee member of the NJ SCBWI
  • Going to NYC for the SCBWI annual conference
  • Meeting so many authors and agents
  • Having an agent (not mine) say, "I read your book."
  • Seeing Sirenz, Sirenz Back in Fashion, and Blonde OPS in bookstores
  • Getting shutdown notices of my browser from the FBI because of the research I was doing for Blonde OPS
  • Getting roasted in a review that was so vitriolic, the org had to post an opposing viewpoint for balance
  • Dedicating my books to those special people in my life
  • Indie publishing my Evolution Revolution trilogy and it getting awards
  • Having a launch party for Sirenz
  • Meeting famous writers
  • Getting dumped by an agent. And an editor
  • Having books go out of print
  • Having Sirenz stolen out of the library (which, to me is a compliment)
  • Beating Dr Suess in the number of rejections for 1 book (he had 50, I stopped counting at 60)
  • Going to a book festival/signing/event and NO ONE shows up
I'm sure I could list more, but you see that an author's life is a combination of both good and terrible firsts. Just something to keep in mind when you see only the 'glamour' (ha ha) and not the reality. If you're a beginning/aspiring writer, don't let the bad outweigh the good, and if you're an established writer, hey, we're all simpatico to each others' disappointments. If you're a reader, there is an unpleasant underside when we create art and put ourselves out there, so be kind if you don't like the book, and be a hero and post/talk about a midlist writer.



Tuesday, January 28, 2020

A First Time for Everything

I find that a lot of writers are like I used to be in that they're apologetic about what they haven't done.

"I haven't published a novel."

"I haven't ever published a story."

"I've never written fiction before."

"I've don't write nonfiction."

"No one's ever invited me to present at a conference."

"It's not like I'm on any bestseller lists."

"My books don't have any writing awards."

The list goes on.

In stacking up a list of the things we haven't done, we de-legitimize ourselves.

But guess what?

The writers who have done all the things you haven't done...hadn't done them either...until they did them!

So in 2020, I challenge you to add one little, three-letter word to your "never have I ever" writing statements: the word YET.

Maybe you haven't finished a novel YET. Or published a nonfiction YET. But that doesn't mean you never will.

And after the first time of finally doing the thing you've never done, you've done it!

Here's to all your successes that are yet to be in the new decade!


Ginger Rue is the author of the Aleca Zamm series from Aladdin and the Tig Ripley series from Sleeping Bear.






Monday, January 20, 2020

My Favorite Mentors

A popular question I'm asked at school visits is, "What inspired you to become a children's author?" My answer is simple. "All the authors I love to read." And for this month's post, I'm going to highlight three of my favorites. They aren't mentors in the sense that I was their protégé, but they are mentors in the sense that their writing molded and shaped who I became as a writer because I admired their work and learned so much from it.

I'll start with a childhood favorite - Beverly Cleary. I read her books when I was a child, read them to my students when I was a teacher, and recommended them to children when I was a librarian. And why did I find her writing so especially inspiring? The answer is twofold: characters and setting. Her relatable characters are so much like me, and the settings she creates for them comes alive on the pages of her well-loved books. The worlds Cleary created appealed to me so much, that when I was young, I wished I lived on Klickitat Street with Henry, Beezus, and Ramona. All those "book worlds" gave me a wonderful foundation for creating the characters and settings in the books I now write.    


My next favorite mentor author is Kate DiCamillo. The language of her writing is what draws me to her books, especially her book The Tiger Rising. DiCamillo is of course a master at telling wonderful stories, but her stories go well beyond just being amazing stories. When she tells a story, she creates that story by carefully choosing words and then masterfully putting those words together in such a way that the result is almost like music. Because of this, reading her stories aloud is almost magical. Her writing takes story and language to an entirely different level, and it has inspired to strive to reach for that in my own work.


The last author I'd like to highlight is Eleanor Estes. Her book, The Hundred Dresses is an "oldie" but goodie. It has taught me how a story does not need to be complex in order for it to have a huge, lasting, emotional impact on readers. Her use of character, setting, and language are simple and straightforward, but the themes and emotional core of her story run long and deep. It is nothing short of true brilliance. I only hope my writing could come close to making such a lasting impact on the lives of young readers.


Happy Reading & Writing,
Nancy

Sunday, January 19, 2020

My Mentor, My Friend

“When it came time to go for my writing dream, I knew there was nothing I could say to calm the youngest parts of me, who feared yet another disappointment. So I had two choices: I could sit with her forever in that dreamless world, or I could pick her up with compassion, and carry her along with conviction, and prove to her that not all stories have sad endings.” -Sandra Kring

I am truly blessed that one of my favorite authors, Sandra Kring, is also one of my truest and kindest friends. We met in a book interview – her latest novel about to hit the shelves, and me a journalist. 

I had my own childhood aspirations at the time as I sat behind that newspaper reporter desk. I always had. To write a novel. My attempts to fulfill that dream had been weak and half-hearted, afraid to try.

Sandra would later become my first – and one of my best ever – mentors. Both in writing, and in my life. 

It’s true childhood me was terrified to try. Terrified to fail. I’d write a sentence or a chapter or two then destroy it. I never told anyone. I didn’t want them to laugh at me, or judge me if or when my writing never went anywhere. 

A change in life circumstance scared me beyond anything my own personal failure ever could. Suddenly, failing at something like writing a book was the least thing that could punch the wind from my lungs. I wrote. I wrote and wrote and wrote until I had my first novel. Then the next. And the next.

It was Sandra who read my first – really bad – attempts at a first manuscript. It was Sandra who stood by as I honed my writing and learned more and got better. She was there as I queried my first agents, signed my first book deal, stood at the podium for my first-ever book reading. 

There are a lot of things in life to be afraid of. Making friends, and trying your hardest to make your dreams come true, shouldn’t be one of them. 

Thank you, Sandra. 

Happy reading!


Saturday, January 18, 2020

Learning from Literary Mentors . . . at Their Archives

Most authors grow in our craft by studying the works of our most admired literary predecessors. We read their published books with writers' eyes, trying to understand their creative choices. Oh, wouldn't it be wonderful to be able to peer over their shoulders as they wrote? To trace their creative journey step by step?

Well, actually, we can, by making a pilgrimage to the archives where their manuscripts, correspondence, speeches, and other treasures are housed.

Recently I've twice given myself the treat of spending a week poring over the papers of a beloved author.

My first adventure was at the Archives & Special Collections of the Thomas J. Dodd Research Center at the University of Connecticut. There I did research on Eleanor Estes, who was festooned with Newbery accolades at the middle of the last century, with Newbery Honors three years in a row (for The Middle Moffat, Rufus M. and The Hundred Dresses), culminating in the Newbery Medal for Ginger Pye.

My second adventure was at the Kerlan Collection at the University of Minnesota, which contains the papers of more than 1700 children's book authors and illustrators (including my own). There I did research on my favorite children's author in the whole world, Maud Hart Lovelace, author of the Betsy-Tacy series, published in the 1940s and 1950s.

Both times I funded my travel with grants. Indeed, the Kerlan Collection even gives a grant (The Ezra Jack Keats/Kerlan Memorial Fellowship) each year to "a talented writer and/or illustrator of children's books who wishes to use the Kerlan Collection for the furtherance of his or her artistic development."

So what did I learn as I pored over Maud Hart Lovelace's papers?

A lot.

Even though her books are heavily autobiographical, I saw the meticulous attention she gave to getting every historical detail right: pages of notes from past issues of Ladies Home Journal on current slang, changing fashions, celebrity mentions, and "New Books Worth Reading"; letters to childhood friends peppered with questions (e.g., "What were your religious beliefs about the time you were a sophomore in college? Did college work any great change in them?"), lists of birds of Minnesota (by month), histories of local churches, "verses and wise sayings", and more. I was humbled to see how hard she worked on the stories that read as if they were effortlessly recalled from memory.

I learned about the values that shaped what and how she wrote. In one letter, to a friend who was going to appear in fictional form in one of her books, she promised, "I can assure you that . . as in the previous Betsy-Tacy books . . . all the characters with any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, will be handled with loving kindness." With a jolt, I realized that's what I aspire to in my books as well: to portray ALL my characters with loving kindness.

Above all, I felt inspired just to be in her company, honored to be part of a tradition of authors writing for young readers, trying with all our hearts to give them the best books we possibly can.

I left wanting to be a better writer.

I left wanting to be a better person.

So: if you have a beloved mentor author, seek out their papers. It's a wonderful way to join with them in timeless fellowship.


Thursday, January 16, 2020

My Best Mentor, by Michele Weber Hurwitz

As we're blogging about National Mentoring Month, I've been thinking about the various mentors I had throughout my life, from teachers to bosses to fellow writers. There was the tough, strict English teacher in junior high who made me cry one day (okay, more than one day) but taught me how to spell and punctuate. There was the boss who somehow at the same time praised my work but also pushed me to do better. And how much I've learned from other authors -- more lessons than I can count.

But one person in particular stands out, and she's an unusual, unlikely mentor. My daughter! She's now an editorial intern at a lifestyle magazine in New York, but it was way back when she was 10 and I was attempting to write a middle grade novel that she became my mentor.

Since I'd had three novel fails before then, I was hesitant to let anyone read my next attempt. But my daughter was the same age as the main character. And she loved to read. Finished a book every few days. Plus, she'd be kind, wouldn't she?

She agreed to read each chapter after I wrote it and took her task seriously. Turned out, she was helpful, insightful, honest, and had spot-on suggestions for plot and characters. And yes, kind, but also surprisingly critical. She pointed out where a 10-year old wouldn't really say a line of dialogue I'd written, or where a plot turn didn't make sense.

About halfway through the novel, I remember she came out of my office with a smile on her face.

"Mom," she said. "I think you really have something here. It's good. Keep going. I need to find out what happens at the end."

I hugged her. Then burst into tears.

She was right. That novel would go on to become my first published book, Calli Be Gold, in 2011.

My daughter has continued to read early drafts of each of my novels and I trust her advice implicitly. As I would with any great mentor.


Michele Weber Hurwitz's fifth middle grade novel, Hello from Renn Lake, publishes in May from Penguin Random House/Wendy Lamb Books. Check it out at micheleweberhurwitz.com

Tuesday, January 14, 2020

Adventures in Time and Space and Writing Mentors

You may remember, I am one of the original Whovians. I've been with the show since 1963. I tell my students that I am as old as thirteen Doctors. Fourteen if you include the War Doctor. While mentor texts tend to be considered literature, I offer that it can be of anything that reflects “story.”   If we remember that fiction is primarily an emotional exchange, then plot can be understood as a sequence of emotional milestones. The viewer/reader stays connected to the hero because she feels the story. The reader wants to see the character succeed, or at least wants to see what happens next because of this connection.

Developing Character

Consider the character of Doctor Who. The very essence of thirteen incarnations (regenerations) reflects the complexity of a fully-realized protagonist. The First Doctor was an eccentric curmudgeon. The Second Doctor had a strong sense of humor. The Third Doctor had a love/hate relationship with authority. The Fourth Doctor was quite taken with his own charisma and cleverness, with a love for long scarfs and jellybabies. The Fifth Doctor was a pacifist. The Sixth Doctor was petulant. The Seventh Doctor was ruthless. When the Eighth Doctor changed, there was a profound shift in the character. This was the great moment in the plot when everything changed. He became the War Doctor, a warrior that committed genocide against his own people. His was a regeneration considered so dark, he renounced the title of Doctor. The hope and curiosity of the previous incarnations were ground away by the brutality of his choice. He became the brooding Ninth Doctor, the tragically lonely Tenth Doctor, the guilt-ridden Eleventh Doctor, and the self-doubting Twelfth Doctor.

When seen as one character, rather than thirteen  “regenerations,” the protagonist becomes a complex, dynamic character. A character, while racing through time and space, who remains anchored to his (and her) companions. They exert a force on him (and her!), changing him even as he changes them. That’s the very essence of a plot moving forward.

The two most common reasons why a manuscript is rejected is a plot without enough tension, and characters that are not fully developed.  I often use this workshop exercises in my classes, adapted from Donald Maass’s Writing the Breakout Novel, to help explore character dimensions. First, write a small paragraph detailing your protagonist’s defining quality. What trait is most prominent in her/his personality? Second, being as objective as possible, what is the opposite of that quality? Third, write a paragraph in which your protagonist actively demonstrates the opposite quality you noted in the second part.

The Importance of Backstory

Important to developing a realized character is his backstory, the history that underlines the situation at the start of the book. Backstory drives the character’s motivations. It is primarily the character’s wounds that become the core of his emotive journey and drives his choices. Choices that move the plot forward. Such wounds are so deep and organic that they ultimately define how the character sees the universe.

And the Doctor has had 57 TV years of backstory, of accumulating a long lifetime of emotional wounds. As Amy Pond once said of the Eleventh Doctor,
“What if you were really old, and really kind and lonely, your whole race is dead. What couldn’t you do then? If you were that old, and that kind, and the very last of your kind, you couldn’t just stand there and watch children cry.”

Secondary Characters, otherwise known as Companions

At its core, the Doctor's story is about these epic relationships. These secondary characters helped to reveal the best and worst characteristics of the Doctor. The First Doctor was a know-it-all, prickly codger, but his two hearts softened whenever his granddaughter, Susan Foreman, walked into the Tardis. When Adric died during the tenure of the Fifth Doctor, the first long-term companion to die on the Doctor’s watch, the Doctor was stunned and reflective about his mad man in a blue box ways. By the time the Ponds died (during the time of the Eleventh Doctor), he was overwhelmed by his grief and hid away in the clouds. Only the mystery of the Impossible Girl was strong enough to compel him to leave the Tardis.

And these secondary characters were often the vehicle used to escalate the stakes while adding layers to the character, asking the question, “what if?”

What if we went to a museum to see the works of Vincent Van Gogh, and saw a monster in his painting? What if we went back in time to visit the artist, and met the monster lurking in the church?

What if we met a friend in a creepy old building with a garden filled with stone statues? What if these statues were really predatory creatures, and every time you blinked, they moved in for the kill?

What if there were giant whales swimming through space?

What if a broken but brilliant man, during the final years of a 1000 year war, genetically modified survivors to ensure his people's survival? What if these modifications were integrated into tank-like robotic shells, with every emotion removed except hate? What if this new species thought themselves the superior race?

Supported by the sweeping themes of love and war and redemption, grief continues to be a powerful, emotional theme that prevails throughout the Doctor’s story. As the Doctor learns repeatedly, honor your dead, but keep on living. He learned this with the passing of Adric, and the passing of the Ponds, even at the passing of his wife, River Song. His best friends, and even his childhood best friend who grew up to be his favorite frenemy, the Master, eventually they all left him. Throughout the course of his long life, he became defined by his losses.

In one story, the Twelfth Doctor saves a Viking girl -- at his companion's urgent request -- through a technology that makes her immortal. Her tragic saga spans through eternity. She outlives everyone she loves, witnessing  the end of the universe. And yet, her story doesn’t end. It continues unexpectedly after the Doctor endures torture for a billion years, forcing his way back to Gallifrey, in hopes of saving his companion, Clara. Eventually he pulls Clara out of her timeline, trapping her between two breathes. In their final goodbye, she wipes the Doctor’s memory of her before flying off into her own adventures with the Viking Girl. Clara chooses to let him go to save him. Yet, before the Twelfth Doctor regenerates, he remembers Clara.  The story comes full circle, a narrative device that frames the story to bring about resolution. At this point, the Doctor's inner and outer conflicts converge at the same time and place (all puns intended) for emotional impact. There remains intact certain kernels of emotional truth.

An old Ibo (Africa) proverb states, “all stories are true.” And what we learn in this wibbly wobbly journey through time, as the Doctor has learned, as all great stories exemplify,  is  what it means to be human.

--Bobbi Miller

Monday, January 13, 2020

Pop Quiz, by Chris Tebbetts


I do an exercise in some of my workshops, where I encourage participants to hone in on the things that stick to them the most: favorite stories, persistent memories, influences on their creative lives, etc., all with an eye on identifying prospective core material from which they might draw for some future writing project.

First, I ask my writers to take a minute or less to make a list of five favorite movies. Anyone who isn’t a movie person is free to list five favorite stories from whatever medium: books, plays, tv shows, video games, whatever. Either way, it’s not meant to be a definitive list, but a quickly-generated one that captures whatever items most readily come to mind in that particular moment.. 

From there, I ask participants to see if they can discern any repeating motifs, ideas, or themes among the movies/stories they just listed. It doesn’t have to be something that’s true for every title on the list; this is more about looking for repetitions of any kind. For example, someone might notice a handful of stories with strong female protagonists; or a lot of mysteries; or stories about loners; or about friendship; or…or…or….whatever it might be.  

After that, the workshop covers a long series of steps that I won’t lay out in detail here, but the overall idea is to put us in touch with story elements that naturally excite us, spark our own imaginations, and—presumably—are there in our minds for a reason. My guess is that if I incorporate anything from my list into a story idea, or a story in progress, it’s going to bring a natural level of creative energy with it, and maybe give me a leg up on the story I’m trying to create. 

So, in keeping with this month’s theme (“The first time I…”), and in the spirit of everything I just mentioned, here’s a list of questions for your consideration. Instead of movies, I'm focusing here on middle grade fiction, and I've included my own answers as well. 

If you want to play along, write down your responses and then see if you don't spot some kind of repetitions in and among the answers you come up with.

And....if you’re still feeling energetic after that, try a timed free write for five, ten, or twenty minutes. Take one of the motifs or themes you’ve identified, and use that as a jumping off point for the free write. For example: What do those strong female characters mean to you? What emotions does the idea of adventure evoke in you? What is the appeal of loner stories? (Alternately: Start writing a scene that incorporates the thing in question.) The point here is to just start writing and see where it takes you.


1) The first character I remember wanting to be: Charlie Bucket, in Roald Dahl’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory

2) The first book I can remember reading over and over: Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing, by Judy Blume 

3) The first book I can remember buying with my own money: The Littles, by John Peterson

4) The first MG novel I can remember having a real emotional impact on me: Harriet the Spy, by Louise Fitzhugh



5) The first MG author to earn my loyalty as a reader: A tie between Beverly Cleary (Ramona the Pest, Henry Huggins, Ellen Tebbits, etc.) and Roald Dahl (James and the Giant Peach, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator). 

AND MORE RECENTLY:

6) Favorite MG book of all time: James and the Giant Peach 

7) A MG book that to made me cry: The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane, by Kate DiCamillo. 

8) A MG book that made me laugh out loud: Cosmic, by Cottrell Boyce

9) Favorite middle grade reads from the past year: The Bridge Home, by Padma Venkatraman; Where the Heart Is, by Jo Knowles; A Time Traveler’s Theory of Relativity, by Nicole Valentine; The War that Saved My Life, by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley 



Now it’s your turn. If you’re inclined, share your responses in the comments.

Happy reading, listing, and writing in the meantime! 

Sunday, January 12, 2020

On the Subject of Mentors

This month's topic of mentors got me thinking about who led me to this field of writing for children. For me there was no ONE person, but rather a combination of every author I love and the books I've read that inspire me. Each time I read a middle grade novel from someone whose writing I admire - be it Kate DiCamillo, Katherine Applegate, Bruce Coville, Jerry Spinelli, Jane Kelly, Tracy Holtzer, or whomever - I jot down turns of phrase, beautiful descriptions of place, an unforgettable bit of dialogue that I want to recite and remember over and over.

The more I read the work of authors and books I admire, the more ideas spark in my mind and the more I want to make the journey beside an old friend (character) who points me to an unexplored path. A path with a story begging to be told. A path for me to follow with pen and paper poised and ready.

So, to all the MG authors out there...thank you for your stories that open up the world of discovery and imagination. Thank you for being such wonderful mentors.

Saturday, January 11, 2020

First Isn’t Always Best

by Jody Feldman

Once upon a time, way back in the dark ages before we all had computers, in a year that started with 19**, I submitted my first book, a picture book based on the neighborhood where I grew up. This was a neighborhood teeming with kids playing one yard game or another, but it also had “mysterious” neighbors, who were the subject of much speculation.

I submitted this book with much hope. It sparkled. It shined. It was good. Then the rejections (multi-plural) came. I eventually did what one does when faced with an exhausted pool of publishers: I shelved that book and moved on.

Not too long after, I realized the concept would work much better as a younger middle grade. I wrote, I submitted, and I received another collection of rejections. (Upon reread, no wonder.)

The idea continued to tug at me, harder and harder, until I no choice but to revisit it. This time, I came at it with more skill and skills and all the things that go into creating a book with voice and mystery and emotional arc.

Currently, this book is in the capable hands of my agent. We’re talking next week. And while I now know that first isn’t always best, I’m hoping that third time’s the charm.

To be continued...

Wednesday, January 8, 2020

Mentoring Myself, Or What Would Athena Do --- by Jane Kelley


In 2018, I was a mentor. The SCBWI-WI chapter asked me to advise an up-and-coming MG author. I chose Maria Parrott-Ryan. I learned more from her than she did from me. (If you aren't a SCBWI member, you should join. It offers many opportunities to learn, no matter what point you're at in your career.)

As 2020 begins, and I rewrite a novel for the one-millionth time, I sure could use some guidance. I'm not eligible for the SCBWI-WI opportunity. But I can learn from the one who was the very first mentor--Athena.
Athena, by Rembrandt
Yes. THAT Athena. Goddess of Wisdom. In Homer's epic, The Odyssey, Ulysses couldn't go home after the Trojan War because he had made Poseidon mad. As a result, lots of greedy, evil suitors were hanging around Ulysses's palace, hoping to marry his wife and get rid of his son Telemachus. Athena decided to help out Ulysses and Telemachus. She could have waved her hand and brought Ulysses home. But she didn't. She became a mentor. Literally.

What Does Athena Do?

1. Take the form of a trusted family friend.  

Mentor really was a close friend of Ulysses. So when Athena "becomes" him, Telemachus is more likely to take her advice. Just as I'm more likely to listen to a kindly uncle who wants what's best for my book than to a sneering critic.

2. Give practical suggestions.  

When Athena enters the scene, Telemachus is moping around and daydreaming. If only Dad were here, he would put things right. Athena gives Telemachus specific things to accomplish. Go find out what happened to your father. If he's dead, then bury him. And so I should find out what isn't working in my book. If a section is dead, get rid of it.

3. Be inspirational. 

Athena put menos into Telemachus. She gave him mental strength. As Homer put it, Athena "left his spirit filled with nerve and courage." She also had to inspire Ulysses after he finally made it home. Her words to him resound in my ears. "Where's it gone? Your power? Your fighting heart?" Writing isn't easy. That doesn't mean I can quit.

4. Protect them from attacks. 

Athena doesn't actually fight for Ulysses and Telemachus. She can't. They don't just need to win the battle; they need to win their self respect. She does, however, make sure his enemies' arrows miss their targets. Do I need to be wounded by self-doubt? What good does it do to read a mean-spirited review? Or hear someone say that no one reads books anymore anyway? Let those arrows pass me by.

5. Know when the work is done. 

Finally, on the last page, Athena calls a halt to the fighting. Enough is enough.

"Athena handed down her pacts of peace between both sides for all the years to come---the daughter of Zeus whose shield is storm and thunder, yes, but the goddess still kept Mentor's build and voice."

I'm very grateful that she did.