I heard this morning that my friend and mentor Elaine Marie Alphin had passed away yesterday. My thoughts have been full of her memories, and appreciation for all she taught me as a person, and a writer. I posted this shout-out a few years ago, when she first had her stroke. Today, I re-post as a remembrance of a wonderful mentor.
Shout-Out To Writing Mentors: Elaine Marie Alphin
Every writer needs support and guidance as they are learning to hone their craft and navigate the world of publishing. I wrote for several years before I found my current writers group, and with it some wonderful mentors. I never knew what I was missing! One of those mentors is Elaine Marie Alphin.
Elaine joined our writers group not long after I did. She is a passionate children's writer with more than 30 books under her belt, and numerous awards, including the Edgar Allan Poe Award for mystery for her book Counterfeit Son. Elaine took me under her wing. She spent hours discussing my stories with me, offering suggestions and critiques, but always in a strong, positive way. She helped me see my writing in new ways. She worked with me during writers group time, in the car on the way to conferences, over gyros for lunch, and by email and phone chats. She taught me what it means to truly live your writing.
Elaine also taught many other people. She traveled extensively for school visits, SCBWI Conference presentations, and writers retreat collaboration. I brought Elaine into my school where I teach, and she worked with me and the entire student body to write our own mystery. The kids actually wrote a mystery novel, with each grade level providing a chapter. This was an amazing project that inspired the writing of countless kids.
A little over a year ago, Elaine suffered a massive stroke that has left her physically unable to write. She is in the process of rebuilding brain neuron pathways to hopefully bring her passion back.
I imagine there are probably thousands of writers out there who also claim Elaine as their writing mentor, but I claim her special. I'm so grateful for her teaching, her guidance, her knowledge, and her friendship. Here's a shout-out to you, Elaine!
Revision is like solving a puzzle. You've drafted the story, created the characters, woven the plot, tried to use vivid descriptions, tried to show not tell, and done a fairly decent job of dumping out what was in your brain. Maybe. Then you have to step back and try to make sense of the picture. It's just not all right. You analyze the pieces, shift some around, add more, take some out, turn others around, or flip them over. You always need to have other people look at it too, and help you figure out where the image is skeewompus. You keep working, and working, and working.
Revision has been my work for the last while. With 4 manuscripts - good stories all - and rejections now coming personalized, and often after several looks, I know I'm to the place where I am SO CLOSE! But the puzzle just isn't quite right enough. Yet.
I've written before about using Martha Alderson's Plot Whisperer to help with revision. I recently took another look at her four energetic markers: 1) The End of the Beginning 2) The Recommitment Scene 3) The Crisis 4) The Climax. I could readily identify each of these energetic markers in my story. My MC follows these nicely in his arc. But I had a bit of a shift in thinking. What about my plot threads? How do the other characters follow the markers? Do all the side things fit too?
So I took each of the main threads of the story, and drew them out on paper, aligned with the energetic markers of the story. This was a great exercise for me to see how each element interacted with the others along the line. I found some mistakes! I found some places where one character was reaching markers before they should be, or ideas were jumping out of sequence. I found threads not aligned as neatly as I wanted. So I grabbed those puzzle pieces and did some shifting, and adding, and creating new.
I'm happy to report that my puzzle image is looking clearer than it ever has. I'm meeting with my wonderful Writers Group tonight to see what they think of the new and improved product. Aligning the energy of my story with all the parts was the key. And now, we'll see how close the puzzle is to being complete.
I've decided to leap. Actually, the decision has been long in coming, but the time was finally right. I'm leaping into the unknown, downright scary world of 'staying home to write'. I've officially taken a year's leave of absence from my school district to focus on my writing.
I love teaching. I'm a teacher at heart. I've been at my school here in Montana for 10 years. I've seen all my own kids go through the school. I've been there for them, supporting them. My youngest son is starting high school this fall. None of my kids will be at Monforton anymore. I always intended to be there with them, and I was.
This decision was tough for me. I love teaching. I love writing. I finally decided it was time to shift from one thing I love to another. I took a year's leave to ease myself out, keep a safety net. I'm not sure how I'm going to handle it. When something is such a huge part of you, it can be hard to let go.
But. I can't even express how excited I am to be able to Write Every Day! I have so many active projects, and great ideas, and layers of support. I'll finally be able to focus on THIS love, and really see what I can do.
So I'm leaping into the dark. Right into my big cushy chair with my touchscreen computer. Wish me luck!
Writing for children is a passion - along with reading kid's books, writing plays for kids, and teaching kids how to write!