Thursday, January 12, 2012



Twenty other writers and I had the good fortune of attending a novel revision retreat this weekend at the Santa Barbara Mission. It was organized by the highly organized Alexis O’Neill of the SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators).

At such events, I generally hope to find a mentor, or wise & trusted teacher, & this time I found a doozy. This retreat’s fiction mentor was Kathi Appelt, author of many fine books, among them The Underneath & Keeper. Her focus, attentiveness, and insight threw amazing light on our projects, whether picture books, early readers, middle grade or YA novels. 

The Greek name, Mentor first appeared in Homer’s Odyssey, Mentor was the name of a friend and advisor who just happened to be the goddess Athena in disguise. There’s nothing like advice from a deity. It’s likely that Homer based his character’s name on the Greek word mentos, which meant intent, purpose, spirit or passion. Mentos traces its roots back to Proto-Indo-European & Sanskrit, & was used to mean one who thinks & one who admonishes.

Admonishment just wasn’t this particular mentor’s cup of tea, but many of the other historic meanings apply perfectly to Kathi Appelt. Thoughtfulness, intent, purpose, spirit, & passion all figure highly. At times her insight seemed inspired, so it might even be fair to argue the goddess connection. Kathi Appelt is a class act who knows her stuff. Writerly friends, jump on any chance you have to work with her.

Good followers, what qualities do you look for in a mentor? What mentors have helped you along your path & what qualities do you most appreciate in them? 

My thanks go out to this week’s sources,,, & the OED.


  1. How lovely to know that a mentor is the goddess Athena in disguise. I have a bust of Pallas Athena in my study (along with a raven, in a nod to more recent mythology) Now I realize I had a mentor all along. :-) Sounds like you had a great conference. Can't wait to hear all the wisdom you acquired from your Athena-in-disguise.

  2. Wonderfully put, Charlie! I'd been thinking about mentors, too. Kathi was amazing and gave all of us tools that I know we'll carry with us as we continue to move our writing to the next level. Thanks for putting words to what I know we all felt.

  3. Now that I have taken up my first YA novel I look to you to mentor me through YA language and pace and tone. Not only as a writer of YA but as a person who is in regular contact with YA persons. And you are doing a darn good job!
    How exciting to have attended an inspiring conference. Get's the juices flowing!

  4. Hi Christine, Dianne & Anne,
    Thanks for stopping by. May Athena & her ilk guide us all.

  5. Great word, Charlie.

    A mentor is someone that "gets" me, first off. They understand what it is I am working on and toward in a story. They encourage me. I only hope I am as good a mentor to others as people have been to me.

  6. My mother is currently my mentor, though I never would have expected that. We are so very different in every possible way-- politics being such a substantial piece of this. But as I'm watching her in her "twilight days"-- I am staggered by her grace, gratitude and unfailing sense of mission.

    As an aside, I am a big fan of Mentos, the candy/breath mint.

    Thanks, Charlie, for another great post! Glad that your retreat was great!

    Mary Hershey

  7. Hi Jean Ann & Mary,
    Mentos! Mary, how did I miss that? Life is funny. Jean Ann, I'm with you about hoping I'm doing for someone what a number of fine folks have done for me over the years. May you both dwell in "grace, gratitude & an unfailing sense of mission" long before reaching your "twilight days."