25 June 2022

What Makes an Author a Hero? Paying it Forward

 I love that term, Pay it Forward.  It speaks of giving selflessly, but also of planning for a future.  

Really, we're talking about Hope.  When you pay it forward, you are believing in Hope.  Hope that the world will continue to be a good place in future - or at least, a good enough place for you to invest some time NOW helping others who will be around later.  In our case, helping them to continue the literary tradition.

Recently, I got an almost tearful email from a former student who has been picked up by a traditional publisher.  Her book comes out this month.  I couldn't be more thrilled.

She has been generous in her thanks to me for serving as a mentor and cheering squad, and that got me thinking about the people who influenced me in my publishing travels.

I've had maybe a dozen students do really well as writers, in my 30 years of teaching the craft.  Each email telling me of one's success does something to my heart. This is why we teach!  What joy I am given by a student's success.  

But it also does a very curious thing for me.  It reminds me of my own first successes, and the people who helped me on my way.

It's lonely out there, on that author journey.  You basically have to travel it yourself (writing for hundreds of hours, alone at a keyboard.)  Writing, as we all know, is a solitary exercise.  Unless you co-write a book, no one else will have the same investment in it.

It's a journey, no question.  But along the way, you may come across some seasoned travelers who give you the benefit of their experience.  Generous people who take the time to encourage you, when there is no tangible benefit to themselves.  

I started writing for money in my 20s. As I look back on a thirty-five year writing career it suddenly struck me that few of my mentors or people who encouraged me are still alive.  And thus the circle has completed.  They mentored me.  I mentor others younger than me, who will go on to support the next generation of writers, when I am long past.  

God Bless all those who mentor and encourage writers.  You are important and appreciated long after the fact.

A few of mine:

Marilyn Laycock:  Marilyn was a columnist for her local paper.  She died last year, after serving as an older sister to me for almost forty years.  It was she who encouraged me to 'go pro' and take college writing courses in 1986 and 7.  Marilyn told me where to send my first essay (it got published) and provided all the 'Attagirls' I needed in those early years. She sponsored me for membership in the Mississauga Writer's Guild, and introduced me to well-published fiction authors there who would be instrumental in encouraging my fiction career.

Michael Crawley:  The head of the Mississauga Writer's Guild was Michael Crawley, a professional veteran fiction author of horror, erotica, and other genres, under several pen names.  Michael saw potential in me, took me under his wing, and made it his job to see that I tried writing and publishing in several genres, some of which I don't admit to these days :)  Michael died several years ago, but is still fresh in my mind - he lives on in a way I don't think he ever would have anticipated.  

And finally, one who is still alive:

Linwood Barclay:  Sometimes a simple act of kindness can make all the difference.  After some early humour column publications, I brazenly wrote to Linwood Barclay, who was then editor of the Life section of the Toronto Star (Canada's biggest newspaper,) asking if he would consider publishing one of my pieces.  This was completely unsolicited.  I marvel that I had the guts.  But here's the thing:  Linwood wrote back.  This was before email.  So he actually *wrote* back.  He told me the piece was definitely funny, I had talent, but the Star didn't take freelance.  Why didn't I try my local paper?  So I did.  They took it.  They took more.  I got syndicated.  And that launched a humour career of columns, standup and comedic fiction that has spanned thirty years.

One simple act of kindness that has lasted a career.  He didn't have to do it. Most wouldn't have.  It took a bit of effort on his part.  And I have never forgotten it.

 How about you?  Are there people who made all the difference to you as a newby writer?

Linwood Barclay in Conversation with Melodie Campbell, Burlington Public Library, May 19, 2022


  1. Nice, Melodie!

    What do you think about inviting your students to write a 'Melodie Experience' article? Perhaps something like, "This is what I learned from Mistress M." Hmm?

    1. Laugh! That will never do, Leigh. I mean all sorts of things will come out about Erotica Genre night, including the pink fuzzy handcuffs...(students give you the most curious teacher gifts)

    2. I'm shocked! Shocked, I say.

      And I have no idea what you mean! (snort, giggle)

    3. Hmm...thinking... favourite quote, paraphrased, was 'I'm a book whore. I will write anything for money.' :D

      I love the article, Melodie.

      And I want you to know that after I took your course, I led a long-running workshop that met each month at Kitchener City Hall. Several of those writers went on to publish books, too.

      Leigh? She taught me too much to fit into one article-- I learned the value of show versus tell, how to craft realistic dialogue, ways to build suspense, being mindful of redundancy, balancing the elements of fiction... and much more! She was right about another thing: knowing all these things has changed the way I read novels. Sigh. I miss reading the way I used to read.

      Cheers to my fellow authors. keep the torches risen, keep lighting the way.

  2. You are a teacher, author, advisor, supporter, all linked together with pay back!

  3. Late to the rodeo, but I think the biggest difference was made by Cathleen Jordan, who picked my story, "Grown Ups Are All Alike" out of the slushpile and bought it. It was the first mystery story I ever wrote. I'm still amazed.


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