February 19 – 25: “Do you have a writing mentor?”

thriller-roundtable-logo5This week ITW Members Bob Bickford, DiAnn Mills and J. H. Bográn dish on mentors. Do you have a writing mentor? What’s the best lesson you’ve learned from your him or her? Scroll down to the “comments” section and follow along with the discussion!


When he was little, Bob Bickford haunted the library. He hunted for good stories, got lost in pages, and daydreamed about becoming a writer. When he got older, real life got in the way and paychecks became more urgent than classes or degrees. The dream was filed under ‘impossible things’, and nearly forgotten. After years spent in various corners of the United States and Canada, he dusted off his imagination and became a writer-by-night. He hunts for good stories once again, and he still haunts the library.


DiAnn Mills is a bestselling author who believes her readers should expect an adventure. She combines unforgettable characters with unpredictable plots to create action-packed, suspense-filled novels. Her titles have appeared on the CBA and ECPA bestseller lists; won two Christy Awards; and been finalists for the RITA, Daphne Du Maurier, Inspirational Readers’ Choice, and Carol award contests. FIREWALL, the first book in her Houston: FBI series, was listed by Library Journal as one of the best Christian Fiction books of 2014.


J. H. Bográn, born and raised in Honduras, is the son of a journalist. He ironically prefers to write fiction rather than fact. José’s genre of choice is thrillers, but he likes to throw in a twist of romance into the mix. POISONED TEARS is his third novel in English and has already garnered positive reviews and recommendations. Jon Land calls it “a splendid piece of crime noir.” Douglas Preston says it’s a first class roller-coaster ride. His other works include novels in both English and Spanish, short stories, screenplays. He’s a member of The Crime Writers Association, the Short Fiction Writers Guild, and the International Thriller Writers where he also serves as the Thriller Roundtable Coordinator.


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  1. Three authors in particular prompt me to write: Clive Cussler, Tom Clancy and Ken Follett. I devoured all of their early books. With Cussler and Clancy I learned to read a series out of order as I was getting their books by different methods, from flea markets to assaulting friends’ home libraries.

    They made writing look so easy I gave it a try and penned my first novel in 1998. Lessons learned through rejections and various critique groups, until finally my debut novel saw the light of day via a publisher in the early days of e-books in 2007.

    While working on my next book I found a dedicated group of writers in Backspace. They ran a monthly short-story contest. Although I never won, the experience served me to hone my skills. There I also met two authors who took me under their wings: E. J. Knapp, not only critiqued my work, but showed me I could do better. He later became a partner in Rebel e-Publishers and invited me to submit. Now I have two books with Rebel as my relationship with EJ has grown into a professional one. We remain friends.

    The other mentor is Karen Dionne. An extraordinaire author herself, she always takes the time to respond to my queries. And when I say respond I mean she takes the time and write page lengths email that means she’s put time, thought, and shows interest in the matter. Karen helps me with career advice, like when I was searching for agents or foreign rights. She also got me involved with The Big Thrill, where I’ve been a Contributing Editor for years.

    So, to Karen and EJ, thank you my friends!

  2. When I was six or seven years old, every Sunday afternoon found me sitting at our dining room table in small-town Kansas. I had a piece of lined paper. I also had a yellow pencil, which was never quite sharp enough, because my mom whittled points with a kitchen knife instead of using a sharpener.

    I had to write a letter to a woman I had never met. She lived in a far-off state, and I addressed her as “Granny”, although she was some sort of distant relative and not my grandmother. The letter writing commenced after lunch and lasted until it was done, regardless of how long it took. Between morning church and afternoon letter, every summer Sunday balanced on the edge of complete loss.

    The letter formula didn’t vary. Three paragraphs about my week’s events, three sentences each, with simple and compound sentences mixed in a way that pleased my mom’s eye. She expected a certain symmetry and balance, with perfect grammar a given.

    The kicker was that the letter had to be interesting. If my mom read the finished letter and decided it was boring, it meant starting again. “Dear Granny…dammittohell.” Lies were also considered cheating. It had to be both compelling and sincere. Finding topics and events in my seven year-old life that would engage an old woman in another state meant chewing the end of my pencil, and digging deep.

    “Dear Granny…three paragraphs, nine sentences…we got a new dog…the chain fell off my bike…I almost drowned at swimming lessons…Love, Bobby” and I was set free. These days, my letters are a little longer and have covers, but all these years later, the formula hasn’t changed. “Once upon a time”— addressed to a far-off person I’ll never meet. Above all, it needs to be true—insincerity and lying disqualify a story immediately, because all good stories are true.

    I have another mentor and confidante now, a lovely older woman halfway around the world. She seasons my LA noir with her recollections of the tastes and sounds of 1947, and makes the magic real. I write to her every weekend, news about my week. She has an eclectic, beautiful mind, and is herself an accomplished writer, so my letters have to be good. Sunday afternoon letters—the good things don’t change, if you can identify them and hold on for dear life.

    I write without the benefit of much formal education, so I still fall back on the dining room table rules. The yellow pencil sharpened with a kitchen knife is all I know, and perhaps all I need.

    My mom is long gone, but my most important mentor remains her ghost, real enough to touch. She is still a young woman, standing at a sun-splashed dining room table, reading my words from a sheet of lined paper. Every novel I’ve ever written is simply a three-sentence-three-paragraph letter to someone far away, chewing my pencil and digging deep. Simplicity, symmetry, clarity, balance. Good enough—go out and play.

  3. While I don’t have a specific person who mentored me in the writing journey, I do have a writing hero whose habits have helped and continue to help me develop into a better writer. He’s a friend who has shared his wisdom to thousands of writers.

    From Jerry Jenkins, I saw the courage needed to write what was on my heart. Through his teachings, I learned the power of daily pursuing the publishing industry. That meant daily educating myself in the craft, marketing, promotion, social media, current trends – everything involved with a writing career. I also learned the art of developing a thick-skin when critiques and edits came my way. Jerry instilled the value of mentoring another serious writer who is eager to grow his/her skills and to find their place in the publishing world.

  4. I think it’s important to state our mentors gave without requesting something in return. They saw in us a gift, desire, and the willingness to sacrifice for our craft. To me, I can only pay the commitment forward.

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