Candas as Mentor

We recently celebrated the release of Prairie Starport: Stories in Celebration of Candas Jane Dorsey but some of the contributors wanted to do something a bit more. And so for the next few Fridays my blog is going to feature more stories about Candas and the anthology in the form of guest posts for a mini blog series I’m calling:

Candas as Mentor

“I referred to someone as my mentor for the first time the other day. I thought you should know, since I was talking about you.”

I told Candas that as we were sitting in her car outside my house. We’d just come from having sushi and were, to paraphrase Candas, stuffed full as snakes. It was wintertime but the sunlight coming through the windshield warmed the car to a comfortable level. I was not comfortable, however, I was nervous.

It’s weird the weight that the word ‘mentor’ can carry.

I met Candas when I took one of her workshops. I went into it not knowing anything about her at all–I’d signed up primarily to buy myself some deadlines to get some writing done, any feedback I got in addition to that would just be a nice bonus.

Well, I got a lot more than I bargained for.

At that time I was in the midst of putting together a Niteblade anthology (I think it was Nothing to Dread) and I had questions. Questions I thought Candas might be able to answer. So during the breaks in our class I would follow her to the hot chocolate machine and pick her brain. And I found that in addition to knowing things I wanted to learn from her, I also liked her.

So, once the workshop was done I asked if I could take her out for sushi. And a friendship was born.

By the time we were sitting in her car and I was shyly confessing to referring to her as my mentor, Candas and I had been friends for a few years which made it feel a bit weird, like I was saying, “Hey, I know we started out as student and teacher, and then evolved into friends but, uh, I still feel like we’ve got a student/teacher thing goin’ on here…”

In retrospect my shyness was ridiculous, not only because I know that relationships are complicated and layered and stuff… but also because teaching isn’t just a thing Candas does, it’s a big part who she is (in my defense I’ve got a pretty big ego and there’s a certain amount of repression of that ego which comes along with acknowledging someone else as your mentor LoL).

Over the years Candas has taught me things. Here are just a few of them:

  • Get the words on the page however you need to get the words on the page. If your usual system isn’t working change it.
    • My first drafts are usually written long hand and then I do my first editing pass as I’m typing them up on the computer. One day, Candas and I went for lunch and I was complaining about how stuck I was. I had the ideas, I knew the story, but trying to get the words on the page was worse than pulling teeth. Candas asked me about how I wrote my first drafts, I told her and she said, “After lunch we’re going to get you a new pen.” We finished eating and hit up the store for a new pen. It sounds ridiculous, but it worked. I was so excited to use my new pen that I broke through my paralysis and got the words on the freaking page. Sometimes even the smallest changes can have a huge result.

 

  • When editing, or critiquing, you need to consider intent.
    • After the workshop Candas ran where I first met her, she taught another, slightly more advanced, class. I signed up. As part of the course each participant was expected to critique every other participant’s work. I was struggling with one submission in particular. I kept trying and trying to come up with some encouraging, constructive feedback, but no matter how many times I read it I just couldn’t find anything that worked about it. Finally, in desperation, I emailed Candas and was like, “What do I do? It’s just so bad…” I could hear her smile in her email when she replied and said, “Read it again and look for her intention. What was she trying to do when she wrote this?” That helped. Not just in that critique, but any time I come across a story I’m really struggling to critique or edit.

 

  • It’s all about doggy dominance.
    • One of Candas’ dogs was a timid little thing. In an attempt to socialize him, whenever I went to visit she had me spend time with him, and we had a lot of conversations about doggy dominance, and (basically) faking it until you make it. When I was writing my very first ever anthology pitch I showed it to Candas. She took her red pen to it, crossing out all the places I was the least bit hesitant or tentative and wrote ‘Doggy dominance’ across the page. I’ve never forgotten that and now anthologies are kind my thing. Who’s to say how much of that has to do with doggy dominance?

 

I could get into all the things I’ve learned about writing from Candas too… but that’s a whole blog post of it’s own. Maybe next time 😉

 

 

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All profits from this collection will be donated to the Bent Arrow Traditional Healing Society in Candas’ name.

 

 

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2 Responses to Candas as Mentor

  1. Robert Runte says:

    Oh wow, I love the new pen story. That is so Candas, and so brilliantly simple. Candas has always gotten the importance of tiny rituals in day-to-day life, and how these ‘mini-spells’ speak directly to our subconscious and allow it to relax-already-yet and get out of our way.

    I have repeated that story about 20 times already since reading it here Friday, and every time the person I’m telling slaps their forehead and says, “Of course! That’s brilliant!”(and those that know Candas add, “Yeah, that’s so her.”)

    The what do you say when marking/critiquing a terrible submission is a problem I frequently run into –on one occasion, I was reduced to saying “nice typeface” (Comic sans, for my sins) but I think Candas’ advice here was significantly better…

    Doggie dominance–yeah, I get that. I learned the difference between my initial impulse say “I think we should maybe think about us possibly doing X” at meetings and the much more effective Candas move of “Why don’t you do X?” There is a world of difference between responding to someone else’s tentative suggestion (for which they would get credit if it did get done), and trying to come up with a reason to get out of something that is (suddenly) obviously your responsibility. It’s the rare doggie that can find the fortitude to respond, “’cause I don’t want to.” There’s a reason why people who hang around Candas long enough go on to have successful careers themselves…. I got 80% of my classroom management/organizational skills watching Candas work a room/workshop.

  2. Gregg Chamberlain says:

    wish i had had that experience.

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