New Mentor Monday Blog Series Begins Today! Melissa Shanker

The first Mentor Monday interview is with Michigan’s own Melissa Shanker, winner of the 2011 SCBWI-MI Mentorship Award.  Melissa is mentored by the accomplished author, Kristen Wolden Nitz, who can be found at The interview follows: 

Please provide a brief description of your mentor and your winning manuscript.
    I am fortunate to have Kristen Wolden Nitz as my mentor. She’s the author of SUSPECT, a young adult mystery that made the ALA’s list for best YA fiction, as well as two imaginative MG books and several sports themed non-fiction books – so obviously her experience crosses many genres. 

    The manuscript that won the award was my YA novel, A WEEK IN THE LIFE OF AN ORDINARY GIRL. It’s a story about an under-the-radar teenage girl who discovers the ugly truth about the boy she loves and then risks everything to save the girl she hates.  Over the course of one week, I do some horrible things to my poor protagonist, including making her an accomplice to murder. She emerges from the rubble a little beat up, but a lot wiser about love, friendship, and the power of truth.

Why did you decide to apply for the SCBWI-MI Mentorship Competition? 
    I’m at a point in my writing where I think my work is coming closer to the level of the authors I admire.   A consistent and experienced writing presence in my life, like Kristen, will be just the motivation I need to make my writing worthy of submission and hopefully acceptance by an agent or editor.  In other words, I need a taskmaster to kick my butt, and Kristen is up for the job.

Did you find the application difficult? If so/not, why? 
    I don’t think there is a writer in the world that enjoys writing a one-page synopsis.  So yes, I found it difficult, but also helpful. Whenever you’re asked to summarize it forces you to step back and take a look at your novel as a whole.  Sometimes that bird’s eye view can have the reverse effect – the tiny hiccups you noticed close up, look like big black holes from far away. 

Why do you believe your manuscript was chosen? 
    Oh, didn’t they tell you?  I was the only one that entered the contest.  

    Kidding. No, I was told that the voice of my protagonist, Addie, is smart, self-aware and funny without being self-pitying.  While the plot does share some common coming-of-age teen elements, the judges thought my writing was confident and compelling.

What do you hope to accomplish during the course of the mentorship (improve craft, revise this manuscript, develop new project/s, etc.)? 
    My mentor and I are working on a brand new novel that I am immensely excited about.  It’s a middle grade novel, part mystery/part humorous contemporary fiction.  Kristen is a whiz at pacing mysteries, and she’s completely organized and meticulous – two areas my family will tell you I fall woefully short.  I’m confident she will be a huge help. 

How will you know if the mentorship was a success for you?
    I already know that it’s a success.  

If you could choose any mentor in the course of history, who would it be and why? 
    Wow. That’s a toughie.  My favorite contemporary writers are Sara Zarr, Laurie Halse Anderson, Gary Schmidt – and Lauren Myracle is a machine…but I think I’d have to pick John Green because he’s so darn cute, and if I were his mentee he might let me join the Nerdfighters. Side note: Can you say “mentee” without feeling like a completely pretentious idiot? I cannot. 

Would you consider mentoring another? If so, what could you offer? (FYI, it is my belief that everyone has something to offer even if he/she is just beginning in the writing world…)
    Yes, of course, if anyone would have me! 

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