Thursday, November 22

My First Mentor

When Liz first suggested we target the one person we’re most thankful for in our writing life, I didn’t have a clue who I was going to feature. As most writers will tell you, the thank-you list is long and possibly endless. Family, friends, professionals, teachers, you name it—we could thank them for one thing or another.

Then it came to me—like a lightning bolt—who I should thank. For me, that person is mystery-gothic romance writer, Sheila Simonson.

See, when I was 20 and going to the local community college, Clark College, I decided to take a fiction writing course. I had always been a writer—always, at least in my head or in all the defunct beginnings I had stuffed into a notebook. In high school, I was editor of the school paper because it was the only writing outlet offered. And while I loved being a part of the Bay Window, I didn’t want to write “who won what for that” stories. I wanted to create.

So, when I saw the fiction writing course being offered, I snapped it up. Enter Sheila Simonson.

Sheila was not only an instructor of writing, she was a real, published writer. It was through this course that I learned to critique and to be critiqued. I learned about proper punctuation and the importance of keeping my tenses consistent throughout the manuscript.

In the class, we got a sheet of writing prompts and you had to do like six during the course, plus write an 8 page short story or novel opening. The prompts were things like: Show two characters having a discussion without using speech tags.

But then, we also critiqued each other’s work. The people who wanted to be critiqued submitted their work in one class and during the week, we’d read through and put our comments on them and then on the following class the next week—it was a weekly night class—we’d give our comments. Sometimes there might develop a mild debate if people had different opinions. The writer wasn’t permitted to comment during the critiques. This class became the model of what critique groups came to  be in our area.

The biggest thing I lesson I learned however was this—that sometimes what’s in your head doesn’t transfer to the page. Or if it does, it may not be interpreted  the way in which you intended.

But back to Sheila—she was the first person, outside my family, who encouraged me and supported my writing efforts. While she didn’t hold back on the mistakes, most of what I turned in received at least one complimentary note—by the time she retired from the class and I quit taking it (yes, I took it in one version or another repeatedly. I should be able to get an Associate’s degree on English credits alone)—I received more good than bad notes.

Sheila—while a published author—has never sought to be a best-selling novelist. For her, it’s writing the books she wants to read and hoping others will enjoy them as well.

So, on this national day of Thanksgiving, I say thank you to my first mentor, Sheila Simonson. And I wish all of our readers that today be a day of blessings and cheers for you.


  1. Nice post, Liz. Everyone should be lucky enough to have a mentor like that.

  2. Nice post! Reminds me a lot of the class I took with Margot Early.
    Happy turkey day!

  3. Great post, Margie, and what great "stuff" you gained from her!

  4. Thanks you guys! I posted this yesterday and then headed over to my mom's and while I monitored the comments via my phone, I wasn't able to respond. Appreciate you all!