Mentor Monday: Lisa Wheeler

I crossed my fingers when I asked Lisa if she would consider being interviewed for this blog series. I know she’s talented, wise, and proficient – that’s obvious from her body of work in the children’s book industry — but I didn’t know where she stood on mentoring. Lisa has professionally critiqued three of my picture book manuscripts (one sold so far!) and I viewed her critiques as more insightful and valuable than expected. In addition to receiving a critique on a particular manuscript, I felt I had been mentored. This lead me to ask Lisa for her thoughts on the subject. You may be surprised by who she would choose as a mentor…

Visit Lisa’s website at www.lisawheelerbooks.com.  

Please share a brief bio of you and your work.
Lisa Wheeler is passionate about children’s books. “I love everything about them, including the smell.” To date, Lisa has thirty titles on library shelves, with more to follow over the next few years. She’s written picture books in prose and rhyme, an easy reader series, three books of poems, and creative nonfiction for the very young.

Awards include the 2004 Mitten Award for Old Cricket, given by the Michigan Library Association, the 2005/06 Great Lakes, Great Books Award and 2005 Missouri Building Blocks Award for Bubble Gum, Bubble Gum, the 2006 Bluebonnet Award for Seadogs , the 2006/07 South Carolina Picture Book Award for Bubble Gum, Bubble Gum and most recently, the 2008 The Theodor Seuss Geisel Award for Jazz Baby given by the American Library Association.

Her newest titles include Spinster Goose: Twisted Rhymes for Naughty Children, illustrated by Sophie Blackall (Simon & Schuster)and Dino-Basketball, illustrated by Barry Gott (CarolRhoda),

Lisa shares her Michigan home with one husband, one dog, and an assortment of anthropomorphic characters.

What value do you feel mentoring brings to a writer and the writing community?
First off, I think of mentorship as being three different levels. 

Level 1: Books. An author writes a fabulous book and when you read it, you are inspired to write one. Or the book is so well written, you want to emulate the author. Is this true mentorship? I don’t know. But there is a whole host of writers that I have learned from just by reading their excellent works.

 Level 2: Critiques. You may have a critique partner or group that has opened your eyes to not only the wrong things in your manuscript, but also the good stuff. Your critique partner has helped you become a better writer and you know that their help has been invaluable.

Level 3: Mentorship. This is a true one-on-one relationship with an accomplished writer. This person has helped you shape your writing and has also helped you maneuver through this crazy business.

 I think that all three levels are important. It is unrealistic to think that every new writer can be mentored by an accomplished author, so I encourage everyone to try for Level 1 and 2. I have learned so much from critique groups and published works. I think they are the backbone of our industry and fill in very nicely when one doesn’t have the luxury of a one-on-one mentorship.

Have you ever been officially mentored (through an SCBWI, educational, or community-based program)? If so, please describe the situation and outcome.
No, I have never been officially mentored. But back when I was starting out, I was fortunate enough to find an awesome online critique group. Author Verla Kay was in charge of all us newbies and in time, nearly every member became published. In this group I met the very talented Linda Smith (Mrs. Biddlebox, The Inside Tree, Mrs. Crump’s Cat) and she and I became not only one-on-one critique partners, but also formed a lovely friendship. Her skills were beyond mine and she encouraged me to try bigger, better things. I do think of her as a mentor.

Have you ever officially mentored a writer? (through an SCBWI, university, or community program) If so, please describe the situation and outcome.
No. I have never officially mentored anyone. But I am happy to say that I have done hundreds of critiques over the years and have been fortunate enough to see some of those manuscripts go on to publication. I have taught workshops (Picture Book Boot Camp) and am thrilled whenever I get an email from students who say they “get it” now. I have developed friendships with many of the writers I have critiqued or taught and feel an overwhelming sense of pride in their accomplishments.

What strengths would you/do you bring as a mentor?
I know picture books. I can tell when they are and aren’t working. It is much easier for me to see what is not working in someone else’s manuscripts than in my own. I try to teach writers when I critique their manuscripts so that when they revise—or write a new picture book—they will not repeat errors. My strength lies in my ability to convey How To advice concerning picture book writing in a simple, concise and clear way. I love teaching what I’ve learned along the way.

If you could mentor any writer throughout time, who would it be and why?
This one really stumps me. I can’t think of anyone. But if I did have to mentor someone throughout time, I suppose it would be some very wordy novelist because it would be fun to teach them to write tight.

If you could be mentored by any writer throughout time, who would it be and why?
After some thought, I decided it would be Jim Henson. I think he was truly a genius and brought puppets to life in a wonderful way. I would’ve loved to have learned from this master of his craft.

Thank you, Lisa!

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