Monday, November 26, 2012

My Teacher, My Mentor, My Friend

Like Mary Ann, I am alas incapable of incorporating Esther's cool thanku format as I acknowledge the teachers who have inspired me on my journey as a writer.  For one thing, there are too many to thank.  For another, there's just too much to say (and I've never been very good at following the rules, I must admit).

There's my sixth grade teacher, Mr. Micklos, who helped me to believe that I could write -- and who also taught me the scientific method that provided the backbone for my first novel.  There are my wonderful high school English teachers, Mrs. Weingarten and Mr. Bennett, as well as the one (he who shall not be named) who taught me everything NOT to be as a writer or a teacher.  There's my first editor, Olga Litowinsky, who was generous and demanding and funny and smart.  Then there are my Vermont College advisors. 

Randy Powell had two small children, a full-time job, and a writing career, yet he took the time to write me amazing 10-page editorial letters each month.  From Randy, I learned that hard work pretty much trumps all. 

I worked with the inimitable Jane Resh Thomas the semester that I was writing my critical thesis, and my biggest takeaway lesson that semester was honesty.  I remember Jane recounting with regret that she had become a nurse based upon the fantasy world that the Cherry Ames books had cultivated.  Jane said indignantly, "Books lie."  As a parent, I often remember her words about the harm we do when we keep the truth from children who need to hear it.  And coming from a soap opera background where it's second nature to go for the easy shock (back-from-the-dead, serial killers, demonic possession!),  I learned from Jane that I must always put the emotional truths of my characters first. 

Susan Fletcher was my mentor in my last semester, when I had cancer surgery and radiation.  In her compassionate way, she inspired me to work as hard as I ever had.  Read anything she has written, and you will see how her kindness spills onto every page.

Children's book writers are, by nature, a nurturing lot.  Soap opera writers, not so much.  With hefty-ish salaries and limited jobs to go around, backstabbing tends to be the way of the world.  So while this blog is ostensibly about writing for children, I feel compelled to use this space to give profuse thanks to one Frances Myers Newman.  I was a lowly intern and then writers' assistant when she was a seasoned scriptwriter at DAYS OF OUR LIVES. Fran fought for me to get my first job.  When I was fired, she prevailed upon friends to help me to get another job.  She and her husband, Roger, gave me continuous feedback and encouragement, support and friendship.  When my husband and I were on the cusp of either parting ways or entering a serious relationship, I asked her advice and took it without second thought.  And here I am -- eight years married and two kids later.  I tell Fran that I would have no job, no husband, no kids without her.  She thinks I exaggerate.  I do not.  Fran taught me a favorite expression of her mother's that I will forever carry in my heart. "God is the good in each of us."  And God has been very good in giving me the gift of Fran and her family in my life.

April, we are all so thankful for Gary's recovery.  (And yes, we are fond of induced comas on soap operas, but I've never known anyone in real life who'd been in one.)  God is good, indeed!
-- Jeanne Marie

A reminder from Carmela:
You're invited to share your own writing-related thank-yous with us. You can do so on or before Nov. 30 in one of three ways:
1) a comment to one of our posts,
2) an email to us at teachingauthors [at] gmail [dot] com, OR
3) by writing a thank-you blog post of your own and then sharing the link with us via 1) or 2). Feel free to copy and paste the image below into your blog post. We'd love if you'd also link back to this post and invite others to participate. (As the lovely Linda Baie has done on her TeacherDance blog.)

Your thank-you needn't be written as a Thanku, or even as a poem, but if you're posting it as a comment or email message, please limit it to 25 words or less. We'd especially love for teachers to send us thank-yous written by their students. We may share some of them on the last day, November 30, along with our round-up of links to Two Weeks of Thanks-Giving blog posts.


Carmela Martino said...

I'm glad you "broke the rules," JM, and shared your thanks to multiple people in this post. I especially enjoyed reading about Fran's influence in your life. Blessings to her and to all your wonderful mentors!

Margaret Simon said...

Our life's mentors are so important. I'm glad I discovered your blog. I taught my students about the thanku. Here's my post: