Please welcome today's guest blogger, Rosanne Parry!
Mentoring and the Life of a Novelist
by Rosanne Parry
When I thought about writing today's blog post, mentoring is the first subject that came to mind. That's because about ten years ago I had lunch with Kirby for the first time at a Willamette Writers conference. She was so warm and encouraging and she gave me some very practical advice about the story I was working on at the time, Written in Stone. I remember thinking, why on earth, when publishing is such a competitive field, would any author ever offer another advice of any kind? It seemed counter-intuitive, especially when you realized that thousands of books are rejected for every one published.
But that lunch with Kirby was not that unusual. Time and again I’ve been astonished by the generosity of my fellow writers. Here are a few who were generous mentors to me many years before I showed any promise as a novelist:
Carmen summed up the benefits of mentoring very nicely. She pointed out that I could not write a book like hers even if I spent years studying her specifically, nor could she steal an idea of mine and have it come out remotely like a book I would write. “I have nothing to lose from helping you, Hermanita, and much to gain,” said the very wise Carmen.
Here's another way to look at it. A book is not a car. People traditionally replace cars every five to eight years. Not so with books. People don’t buy a book, love it, and then not buy another for five to eight years. One book leads to another. So it’s in my interest as a working novelist to elevate the quality of books in print because the more people read books they love, the more they want another book. It’s the happiest of addictions!
Today I wanted to thank two women who were wonderful mentors to me on my very first job out of college more than 25 years ago. Veronica “Mice” James and Kathy Law worked at Taholah Elementary when I arrived there to teach in 1987. Mice was, and still is -- three generations later--, the Quinault Language and Culture teacher. Kathy is a historian and, at the time I arrived, was the school librarian. Both these women warmly welcomed me into their community and answered a thousand questions that first challenging, exhilarating teaching year.
My own daughter is graduating from college this year and I am praying she’ll find such women as Mice and Kathy to nurture her though those first years as a professional woman in the world.
If my husband had not been an Army officer I think we would have settled in Taholah for the long term, but as life would have it I moved away from the Olympic Peninsula in 1989. But the place and the people had a hold on my heart and imagination in a way I couldn’t ignore for long. I started writing Written in Stone a year or two before the Makah resumed their whale hunt in 1999.
Kathy and Mice were encouraging from the start and offered me many useful sources of information including unpublished doctoral research. More importantly they were willing to help me understand the parts of their culture that are not recorded anywhere but in the hearts of their own people—in particular the practices of grieving the death of parents. I could not have written this book authentically without them and my editor would never have accepted it without their input. So a hearty See-oh-qwee-al (thank you) to my Quinault mentors, Mice and Kathy. I can’t wait to bring this book to the school where I taught so many years ago and to the children, now grown with children of their own, who inspired me to write it.
Thank you, Rosanne, for this touching insight into the history behind your new book. What a powerful connection to your own past, and to the Quinault past, this book offers. Siqwil!