The Mentor-Mentor(ee) Relationship & 7 Ways to Gauge Success

Mentor-TeacherEarly in my career, I met my own mentor, Michael Collins. He nurtured my writing and was key in the completion of my first novel. We worked together for two years and I feel that if I had not had his help, I would still be struggling through that first novel. Certainly, I would not have the personal, expert advice I received from Michael during that time. Right now, I’m working with one student who is a dream student–considerate, willing to try new things and to take advice.

So, how does the mentor-mentor(ee) relationship work? Well, for those published authors with the heart to help see other writers grow in their careers, all you need to do is mention that you wish to work with a mentor student and you’ll have several knocking at your email within hours.

Conversely, for emerging writers searching for mentors, it’s a little more difficult than just a mention but don’t fear. I’ve included this topic as part of my 7-part discussion on the mentor-mentoree relationship.

  1. Finding a mentor–It’s not all that difficult, really. If you attend writing workshops and conferences, all you have to do is go up to an author presenter, someone you feel you could learn from (this is key) and ask if they ever accept or are accepting mentor students. If they do not mentor, move on to someone else. Also, ask authors you may know via your social channels (Facebook, Twitter, LinkeIn) but keep asking until you find someone to work with. Finding a mentor sometimes takes perseverance but it will be worth it to your writing career.
  2. Setting boundaries–Boundary-setting is as simple as stating how many times per month you will meet (or e-meet) with your student. As a published author you are busy not only writing but marketing your published work so the student will need to fit into your schedule and not the other way around. Next, decide how long each meeting will be and where–whether in a cafe, via email, the phone or on Skype. Stick to your scheduling as closely as possible. You do not want to send mixed signals about the meetings or their times. Although sometimes issues come up and you may have to postpone but try to stay on a fixed schedule.
  3. Goals for you as the mentor–Mentoring emergent writers is one of the greatest and most fulfilling activities I do as a career writer. My time spent with mentorees not only affords them information I have received from my many (many) years writing and working in the publishing industry, but it also tests my knowledge. I learn so much as we discuss writing and the industry as we work through our meetings.
  4. Goals for the student–The best mentor students come with set questions and goals for their writing. Of course, every writer wants to hurry up their careers and to become published but sometimes the hurry-up part isn’t the most important. Sometimes learning craft is or learning business issues (approaching a publisher or agent, writing the query letter or proposal). However, one thing I wish I had known, before venturing into this whole writing thing, was to be patient. I tripped and made many stupid mistakes along the way and have suffered for those mistakes. This is one lesson I try to instill in my mentor students who seem to suffer from impatience as I did. And then, of course, to answer their set of questions about publishing, marketing and writing.
  5. Tracking progress as the mentor–The mentor can either track progress on paper or simply by asking from time-to-time if the mentor student is still benefiting from the meetings. But make sure the student doesn’t feel like you’re trying to get out of the relationship unless, of course, it has become onerous or toxic, because every once in a while the mentor will get into a relationship where the student is refusing to apply concepts to their writing or is not doing the work you’re setting out for them. If you (as the mentor) are feeling anxious about each meeting then maybe it’s a tell that you should get out. Maybe you should move on and let the relationship end. If this happens, do it kindly but truthfully.
  6. Tracking progress as the student–Likewise to tracking progress as the mentor, the student should be the true beneficiary of the mentor’s knowledge. Sometimes, however, the student will be intimidated and not as upfront about how they feel sessions are going, or how much they are benefiting from the relationship. As a mentor student, you must tell the teacher what you need to learn but you must also tell her if she’s not fulfilling what you need from her. This is why goal-setting is such an important part of the mentor-mentoree relationship.
  7. Mentor relationship success–Progress checks with each other are critical to gauging success between the mentor and student. I find out by asking my students these questions: (1) is there is anything they are not getting from me that they want from me (aside from a publishing contract, that is); (2) if they are still feeling inspired and motivated to write; (3) if they are still happy with the relationship; and (4) if they are feeling stuck on a subject or in their writing. I guess one true way to calculate success comes after the relationship ends. Several of my mentor students have sent me emails letting me know that they have since become published. What great news! And what a wonderful way to gauge the success of our relationship.

Remember, discouraging critique causes confusion and dwindles the spirit. Whereas, motivation and encouragement will create in your mentor student a sense of achievement and the will to win.

Here are some links to help you find a mentor:

American Writing Programs:

Writer’s Relief:

Goins Writer:

I write books and some of them are bestsellers. ~Susan.


10 Ways to Improve Your Writing Productivity

This post represents my beliefs as someone who has been writing full-time since 2004. First off, let me say that I don’t believe in writer’s block. I think writer’s block is an excuse to stumble. Productivity, or word count, must remain high on a writer’s list of most important things in their daily work. Why? Because with any business having a product to sell will determine whether or not you will succeed–not marketing, not social media. If you don’t have books to sell then you won’t sell any books. Pure. Simple. 02122015-IfOpportunityDoesntKnock-BerleQuote

So, how does a writer improve their word count? By improving their habits. And, as a side note, excuses irritate me. Don’t tell me why you can’t do something. Tell me how you can make it work for you.

I’ve developed the following list of 10 items to help improve your productivity and to add word count to your stories.

  1. Decide how many days a week you will write–Knowing your current schedule will limit your time to write. Some people rue over this, that all they can write is in the evening after the kids go to bed or only on the weekends, on Mondays and Thursdays, or on Sunday after Church. No need to rue when you have solid information that tells you, “Well, I can write between 8 p.m. and 11 p.m. on Friday and Saturday evening.” Basically, you’re turning your negativity and your limited time into a huge positive. When people have limited time for an activity–whether cleaning the house, playing a round of golf or writing, they tend to fit in the time for that activity. It’s all about choice here. If you want to write and you prefer to write, you will find time to write.
  2. Set aside time to work on your writing–Setting aside a specific amount of time each day to write will not only help improve your craft but it will also add word count to your story.
  3. Write in Segments–Segment writing will cause you to focus on what’s important about your current story. Break your writing up into several 15-minute chunks. Set a timer and begin and end with your timer. If you are not currently writing to a story, segment writing can be a great way to find a new story to expand into a longer piece. Segment writing is what I like to call “free” writing in that you can play around with new ideas, techniques, ways to format, new genres, poetics, and any other idea you want to practice on such as deepening characterization through voice, setting through applying different sensory perceptions, and conflict by employing hooks, foreshadowing and cliff-hangers.
  4. Read books about writing–Reading books on how-to-write or how-to-edit your work will make you a better writer. Much the way watching golf instruction on TV has made me a better golfer (no lie), reading within your craft about how-to develop character, setting, and conflict will strengthen your writing. Books like Self-Editing for Fiction Writers, Second Edition: How to Edit Yourself Into Print by Renni Browne & Dave King, will help you avoid common writing mistakes before a real editor gets hold of your manuscript. Titles like The War of Art, and Bird by Bird are other books that focus on craft and the writing life.
  5. Writing-MotivationTake defined breaks–Defining your writing between stints at work and stints during breaks is key to being able to get back to writing. Allowing yourself “coffee” breaks of 5- to 10-minutes each, allows your mind to settle on what you have accomplished during your time at writing. Taking a defined lunch break allows you time to refuel your brain (see my “healthy choices” post). Eat, relax, walk the dog, read a book. Hey! You can even fold laundry or clean the toilet. All these things will fuel your writing mind to create better scenes with more visceral imagery to strengthen your story.
  6. Make sure to edit–Editing your work at the end of your writing session and again at the beginning of your writing session is always a good practice. At the end of writing, is when I catch all of my major boo-boo’s. I run my spell-checker to catch spelling errors and then go to my “usual” problem children such as to and too, they’re and their, hear and here–those problem children. I use the find and replace function in Word and fix those problems. When I come back the next day, I re-read what I wrote yesterday (or last time) and I edit for word choice and sentence structure. By the end of my story, my manuscript is fairly clean when I hand it off to an editor… can you guess what item #7 is going to be?
  7. Hire an independent editor–Editing your own work is great and makes your independent editor happy that she doesn’t have to delete or correct silly spelling errors and typos. It allows them to line edit for structure and grammar, syntax and clarity. Never send out your manuscript or self-publish without using an independent editor. Your work and your sales will suffer. Believe me, I know. I learned the hard way. Editors like Emily’s Eagle Eye Editing, Jim Thomsen, Jodie Renner, Renni Browne will strengthen your work and make it look professional when it arrives at the agent’s or the publisher’s desk. Put your best foot forward by hiring an independent editor to go over your work before sending it out.
  8. Set deadlines–Self-imposed writing deadlines will keep you on track. Sometimes. However, when you tell someone outside of you that you will be completed with a writing project within 6 weeks, you subconsciously make yourself accountable to that person. This works too, sometimes. So, why not make yourself accountable to your editor? Tell them you will be done with a project by May 13th (or whatever) and you will get them your MS on or before that date. What happens when you work with an independent editor is that they will clear their schedule for you. And you had better get them your work on or before that deadline or else they will lose money. Being responsible for someone else’s financial losses is a huge motivator but it can also be key for you to complete another project and get that story to an agent or a publisher for consideration. I like to set up deadlines for myself because when I meet the deadline I get a great sense of accomplishment in that I’m doing something to further my career by staying on track, by getting another story finished and by clearing the slate for my next writing job.
  9. Join a writing group–By meeting up with other writers on a regular basis will focus you to get work done on time. You will clear your slate when one or more authors are relying on you to give constructive comments about their writing in exchange for their comments on yours. I have been involved with several groups and the most successful ones are those who allow 5- to 10- double-spaced pages of work. Also, join groups where the writing is of fiction or nonfiction. Mixing genres can lead to weird dissatisfaction among members. Don’t ask me why but I have found that either fiction or nonfiction groups work well–but not both intermingled.
  10. Find a mentor–I often mentor fiction writers. I write fiction so mentoring students who write in nonfiction doesn’t work for me. I had a mentor early on in my career. Michael Collins will remain a key figure in my writing career. He gave me expert advice when I was flailing. He motivated me to write and encouraged me to continue a career in writing. He was honest sometimes brutally but I grew from our mentor-mentoree relationship. It was a priceless experience.

There are many more methods on how to become a more productive writer, I’m sure, but this list will help you right away. Basically, buckling down and pressing ahead are the ways to succeed in this industry. Try not to be discouraged and if you do, drop me a note. I’ll be your encouragement and will try to talk you out of your frustration. We’re all in it together. So let’s help each other the best we can.

I write books about God. Amen. 😉 ~Susan.

The Deer Effect by Susan WingateB&N-Button-LgAmazonImage

10 Great Opening Lines from Novels I Love

Waking, my feet remained stuck under the covers, in a dream about a story, this morning. The story’s first line warbled into ether and left an inkling that colors my morning making me wish I could drag back details as the dream-film played against my eyelids.

The chill of the morning prickled my skin and shook the dream out. Reality began. Get the dogs out. Put the tea on. Feed the deer–who, by the way, were absent most definitely because of the chilly morning. The deer were too cold to eat? Now, I’ve seen everything.

But the dream is playing hide-n-seek with me in my subconscious. It has shifted from story to first lines of stories. My subconscious perhaps speaking to me? Whatever my subconscious intended, I decided to snag 10 books off the bookshelf and offer up to you the books’ 10 opening lines. The books are in no specific order they are simply listed for your reading pleasure. I’ve added a link for each book title and for each author.

  1. “Ships at a distance have every man’s wish on board.” Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston.
  2. “Later, I would look back and wonder what I was doing the exact moment Kelli died.” Heart Like Mine by Amy Hatvany.
  3. “of things–when is it exactly?” The Accidental by Ali Smith.
  4. “If you really want to hear about it, the first thing you’ll probably want to know is where I was born and what my lousy childhood was like and how my parents were occupied and all before they had me, and all that David Copperfield kind of crap, but I don’t feel like going into it, if you want to know the truth.” Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger.
  5. “There was no hope for him this time: it was the third stroke.” Dubliners by James Joyce.
  6. “Then there was the bad weather.” A Moveable Feast by Ernest Hemingway.
  7. “She did not intend to steal anything that day.” A Town of Empty Rooms by Karen E. Bender.
  8. “She gave a startled cry.” The Painted Veil by W. Somerset Maugham.
  9. “We are at rest five miles behind the front.” All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque.
  10. “The year 1866 was signalized by a remarkable incident, a mysterious and puzzing phenomenon, which doubtless no one has yet forgotten.” Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea by Jules Verne.

I think you’ll agree that the author gave great consideration to these first lines. No one line was left to chance. It makes me wonder when they wrote their lines. Did they write them at the very beginning of writing the novel or after the novel was written in order to apply a smidgen of hindsight?

What do you think?

I write books. ~Susan.


A Listing of 43 California Literary Agencies and their Website Links

Here is a listing of literary agents you will find in California and the Pacific Northwest. This list may exclude other agents found in this state however it is fairly complete. And, if you’re an agent and you wish me to include your agency’s name on this list, send me a note to and please provide your website link. If you do not have a website, you will not be listed.

Also, writers! Remember to do your due diligence when researching if an agent is legitimate or a predator. Go to sites such as Preditors & Editors ( who have researched a thorough list of good publishers and agents and bad publishers and agents.

Wisdom: Make sure you check out any agents on before agreeing to be represented by them.

  1. Above the Line Agency,
  2. Books & Such Literary Agency,
  3. Bookstop Literary Agency,
  4. Bradford Literary Agency,
  5. Brown Literary Agency, Inc., Andrea,
  6. Cameron & Associates, Kimberley,
  7. Castiglia Literary Agency,
  8. Catalyst for the Arts,
  9. Cine/Lit Representation,
  10. Corcoran Literary Agency, Jill,
  11. Cornerstone Literary, Inc.,
  12. Dijkstra Literary Agency, Sandra,
  13. Dreisbach Literary Management,
  14. East/West Literary Agency, LLC,
  15. Energy Entertainment,
  16. Evatopia, Inc.,
  17. Felicia Eth Literary Representation,
  18. Fielding Agency, LLC, The,
  19. Fresh Books Literary Agency,
  20. Full Circle Literary, LLC,
  21. Grayson Literary Agency, Ashley,
  22. Heacock Hill Literary Agency, Inc.,
  23. Hidden Value Group,
  24. Hill Bonnie Nadell, Inc., Frederick,
  25. Keller Media Inc.,
  26. LA Literary Agency, The,
  27. Larsen/Elizabeth Pomada, Literary Agents, Michael,
  28. Levine Literary Agency, Paul S.,
  29. Manus & Associates Literary Agency, Inc.,
  30. Marsal Lyon Literary Agency, LLC,
  31. McBride Literary Agency, Margret,
  32. Newman Literary, Dana,
  33. Niad Management,
  34. Red Fox Literary,
  35. Rinaldi Literary Agency, Angela,
  36. Ross Literary Agency, Andy,
  37. Secret Agent Man,
  38. Sherman & Associates, Ken,
  39. Venture Literary,
  40. Veritas Literary Agency,
  41. Waterside Productions, Inc.,
  42. Writers House (West Coast Office),
  43. Yates & Yates,

Again, this list is no way is a listing of preferred agents nor is it complete. These 43 selected agents have been chosen randomly and would not be included if the agency had no website. However, having a website is not a stamp of approval, it is only my requirement to have their link on this post.

I repeat! Do your due diligence on reseaching each and every literary agency you approach.

I write books. ~Susan.

#1 Amazon Bestseller Christian Fantasy Metaphysical  Visionary
#1 Amazon Bestseller Christian Fantasy Metaphysical
Mystery/thriller collaboration with the Prime 5 Authors
Mystery/thriller collaboration with the Prime 5 Authors

Industry News: “Edgar” Short List of Candidates & A Reading Challenge

Today’s Publishing News!

Crimespree Magazine ( announced the short list of candidates for the venerable Edgar Award. The winners will be announced April 29, 2015 at the award ceremony. It’s a big deal, this award.

As many of you know, each spring, the Mystery Writers of America present the Edgar® Awards, widely acknowledged to be the most prestigious awards in the genre,” be the stories fiction or nonfiction. And, as you might suspect, one of my faves, Mr. Stephen King, sits among an esteemed set of authors in the category for Best Novel.

Here’s the short list of books selected for this category:

What a group, right? Holy cow.

So, here’s my challenge to you, should you choose to accept…

I intend to read one of these books and finish the entire list by the 29th of April. So, who wants to join the challenge? Then, after the ceremony, we will discuss the winners–all kindnesses extended–and whether the judges were right or wrong. Of course, I’ll be rooting for Mr. King. Which begs the question, “Who will you be rooting for?”

Even if you don’t finish reading these books by the April 29th, it will still make for some great reading, won’t it?

And, don’t forget… I write books (too). 🙂

You can locate all of my books on Amazon at:

Here’s the list of 2015 Edgar Nominated Authors and links to their websites:

This Dark Road to Mercy by Wiley Cash
Wolf by Mo Hayder
Mr. Mercedes by Stephen King
The Final Silence by Stuart Neville
Saints of the Shadow Bible by Ian Rankin 
Coptown by Karin Slaughter


Writing “The End” on Your Novel

I was once told by a self-proclaimed writing guru that writing the end of a book shouldn’t be an event. That we shouldn’t get all wrapped up in the fact that we finished a book–your first or your fiftieth, that we should simply move on to the next story and plow through that one too.

And I get that. You don’t have to tell me to keep my nose down and my fingers flying. I write daily.

But, here’s…

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Writing “The End” on Your Novel

I was once told by a self-proclaimed writing guru that writing the end of a book shouldn’t be an event. That we shouldn’t get all wrapped up in the fact that we finished a book–your first or your fiftieth, that we should simply move on to the next story and plow through that one too.

And I get that. You don’t have to tell me to keep my nose down and my fingers flying. I write daily.

But, here’s the thing: I would understand this setting aside of emotional attachment to my writing more if I were a robot having zero feelings and no degree of the understanding of one’s own self-worth. But, I’m not a robot. I’m a human being with all the longings anyone else has.

So, as a human being who also writes for a living, the satisfaction I feel from finishing another story is tantamount to, say, crossing the finish line for the career marathoner.

Completing a first novel exemplifies my point even greater but the satisfaction is still worthy of a celebratory glass of champagne for even a tenth, a twentieth or a one-hundredth novel.

I write for myself, of course but sometimes I write for other writers. In fact, I am currently under contract with a NY Times Bestseller. We’re working on a 3-book thriller series. I’m finding that finishing those books gives me equal satisfaction as finishing my own.

Maybe all that the finishing of a novel is, is that simple joy one gets from completing any project that has a beginning, a middle, and a ending. I’m sure the building contractor feels similarly about putting the final touches on a house. It’s a big thing building something from the ground up. Even a novel.

And, yet, although the guru makes a good point–one where we are just another writer in the flotsam who needs a substantial inventory to make a living and, so, we are to press, press, press through to that next unwritten story–I fear he’s missing a major point. Because a big part of this writing thing we do, as with any job we choose, should allow feeling joyful after our work is done.

I write books. ~Susan.


I Don’t Believe You! How’d You Do That?

Lately, I’ve been finding great joy in writing anti-heroes where my main character (or a central character) has some pretty big problems. Double that with a sense of unreliability in the character and that character will have automatic depth.

Let’s look at the anti-hero.

122014-antiheroThe character will have a few flaws but will also be the person in your novel expected to “save the day.” His (or her) flaws…

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I Don’t Believe You! How’d You Do That?

Lately, I’ve been finding great joy in writing anti-heroes where my main character (or a central character) has some pretty big problems. Double that with a sense of unreliability in the character and that character will have automatic depth.

Let’s look at the anti-hero.

122014-antiheroThe character will have a few flaws but will also be the person in your novel expected to “save the day.” His (or her) flaws can run lightly or severely. Here are a few examples from books and even movies if you can believe it.

I’m using movies too because even though they may not come in the form of a book, someone must write them to create the story.

Arthur: this character is a happy drunk (a comedy)

The Giver: this character is a gullible boy (literary fiction/children’s)

The Wedding Planner: an overly controlling woman who has many rules for herself (romantic comedy)

Anna Karenina: a man who refuses to conform (even when it means becoming ostracized by the people he loves the most). (literary fiction)

Even my latest novel, The Deer Effect: a married man who is tiring of his wife. (Christian fantasy)

I’ve added the genres of each story for a reason because unreliability will be exacerbated by the genre.

So, now, let’s look at unreliability in a character.

122014-unreliablenarratorBasically, as the image suggests, writing the unreliable narrator shoots holes in the story. It’s up to the author to fix everything by the end. When used correctly, unreliability can add great depth to each of the anti-hero character traits. Unreliable narrators are often written in first person point of view but a crafty third person limited point of view can also bring in a sense of unreliability for your main character account of the story. Still, any first person account gives an automatic sense of unreliability simply because all people when telling a story tell it from their perspective, thus giving way to elaboration and how they feel about what happened rather than the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.

For the writer, when we move away from an omniscient point of view to a very personal first person POV, we move away from truth. Not that we’re lying but more that we’re able to give a solely personal account of what’s happening in the story.

Omniscient is the God’s eye POV and a very truthful position to take when writing because the reader is “seeing” many different angles of the same story. With third person limited POV, again, we’re as close to first person as the writer can get and staying within the confines of a third person tale (using “he” and “she” as devices) without slipping into first person or even second person. Second person POV is fun to play around with and uses devices in storytelling as if speaking directly to another person. In second person POV, the writer employs the “you” and “we” to tell a story. For instance, “When you go to the store and you see a gal who looks like a million bucks, you end up walking up to her and handing her your business card. You flash a smile and tell her you think she might be the most beautiful gal you’ve ever seen. Does she respond? Maybe. Maybe not. But you don’t care. You walk away thinking you did the best you could.”

Second person isn’t used all that often in today’s literature simply because not many people enjoy reading it but also because second person is very difficult for the writer to maintain throughout the length of the novel. If you want to read a novel written in second person, an excellent one is Bright Lights, Big City by Jay McInerney.

Here are the same characters from above but with unreliability woven in:

Arthur: his judgment is skewed by the wealth of his family and his pending inheritance.

The Giver: he is told he can lie.

The Wedding Planner: she falls in love with a client thus breaking one of her strictest rules.

Anna Karenina: the man falls in love with a Christian woman out of his class structure and begins to doubt his own sensibility.

The Deer Effect: his grief and weak faith make him doubt what he’s seeing happen right in front of his face.

Upon further examination of each story, can you not see how the characters have been set up to either fail or succeed? Of course, they should fail a couple of times before finally figuring things out and succeeding.

The beginning writer may ask why adding unreliability to an already faulted character is necessary. Well, it gives the reader more to sink their teeth in with the character. It adds more interest. It also makes the character act in ways they would not if the character were absent of those other unreliable considerations whereby making the reader feel unsure of what will happen next.

When we write an unreliable character, we set the reader up for disappointment, surprise and humor. When a character doesn’t do something the reader expects, she will think, “Well, I didn’t see that coming,” and will, most likely, keep turning the pages.

These two aspects of writing character go to storytelling quality and ability. There are many resources on the internet that teach how to write the anti-hero and an unreliable character. You might take a look. Not only will you build your craft but you’ll also have fun reading about how to tweak your characters.

So, how do you write unreliability into your characters? There are many ways to create the anti-hero and unreliable character and I’d love to hear yours.

I write books. ~Susan.


Eleven Steps to becoming a successful writer–it all Starts in the Morning

Sometimes I read posts from authors I’ve never heard of on How to Become a Successful Writer. Makes you wonder, right? So, I decided to write my own steps-to-successpost. As with many of the authors I’ve never heard of, maybe you’ve never heard of me either. No matter. I still wrote one and now, if you decide to read this, you will have to suffer through it along with the other three people who…

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