Meet the Mentors

men·tor
/menˌtôr,ˈmenˌtər/
noun
1. an experienced and trusted adviser.

For Harry Potter, there was Dumbledore. For Frodo Baggins, there was Gandalf. For Luke Skywalker, there was Obi Wan Kenobi. Every great character has a mentor alongside them to guide them through a long yet rewarding journey. A mentor is someone who pushes us to reach our goals, always listens, and truly believes in us. Mentors are an important source to have and MTSU Write would like to recognize some of its own 2016 mentors. Without them, we are lost. 

*Note: This is an updating post so there will be more mentors added soon.

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Inside Pic. 2

Rick Reichman

1) Where are you from?

Born and raised in Nashville.  Have lived in Atlanta, GA, Boulder, CO, Vancouver, Canada, Los Angeles, CA, Washington, D.C. and Santa Fe, NM.

2) How did you hear about MTSU Write?

I teach screenwriting at MTSU and been in contact with Jennifer Kates in the English Department, who told me about MTSU Write.

3) How long have you been writing?

Since high school.  I was a terrible student but one day the teacher assigned us to write a critique about a particular book of our choosing.  I looked up critiques in various magazines and newspapers and then wrote my own.  The teacher accused me of plagiarizing the critique because it was “too damn good to have been written by anyone but a professional.”  I challenged him to find where I had gotten it from, he couldn’t but he still failed me on that assignment.  I figured out then that I had some sort of talent for writing, and whether I could make a living as an actor–what I really wanted to do–or not, I also wanted to write.

4) What inspired you to start writing? 

See above.

5) What genre do you mainly write? 

Light Science Fiction and YA.

6) Who/What is your greatest influence?

Too many to list here.  However, I particularly love the Max Perkin’s Writers Fitzgerald, Hemmingway, Wolfe, Rawlings, and Canadian Writer Mordecai Richler.  In film writing, Steve Tesich’s Breaking Away (first script I ever read), George Lucas’ Star Wars, and Tom Schulman’s (a Nashville native) The Dead Poet’s Society are particularly influential and favorites.

7) What is your favorite part of being a mentor?

I love to watch as a student improves his/her writing, story telling, ability, and marketing skill.  I also love when my students succeed in Hollywood, as many have.

8) What is your least favorite part of being a mentor.

It’s extremely difficult to hear that your work is not quite there yet and you need to take time and a huge effort to “fix the problems.”  I hate when a student gets upset or takes offence at that.  I’ve been on both sides of that equation, and I understand the feelings.  But as I tell my students, If Wolfe, Fitzgerald, Hemmingway, Rawlings, etc. hadn’t listened to, worked with, rewritten, with their editor– Max Perkins, you’d have never been able to read all that great literature.

9) What is your favorite hobby?

Movies and politics.

10) Tell us something that people might not know about you.

When I was 12 years old I was an actor at the Children’s Theater in downtown Nashville.  I played Huckleberry Finn in their production of Tom Sawyer and the Caterpillar and Knave of Hearts in their production of Alice in Wonderland.  I was also chosen to be in some film productions for the local company TRAFCO, for their Sunday morning half hour films that were shown on TV.  In the first one–which I played a town bully to kids moving in from the country–I found out that Patty Duke–who was one of the greatest actresses of her day–was coming to Nashville to do a TRAFCO movie.  So I begged my way in saying even if I were just a “footnote” (and that’s what I was, as all you can see of me in that film is my feet) I just wanted to be in a movie with Patty Duke.
During a lull in the filming, I was back in the control room getting a coke and she walked in.  We just started talking as if we were junior high friends who had kind of seen each other but hadn’t really conversed before.  She was so nice and easy to talk to–and I didn’t realize until later what she was going through in her life, which made this meeting that much more extraordinary–that the time–and I don’t know how much time but it was at least 15 or 20 minutes–simply slipped by wonderfully.  Of course the entire time, I had to keep my emotions down and try to tell myself this was like talking to a friend and not one of the most famous actresses in the world.
Though I never talked with her again, I was always a huge fan, and so when she passed away earlier this year it kind of hit me harder than I would have thought.  She was lovely, gracious, talented and took time to talk at length to a nobody, and that was easily my fondest of childhood memories.

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karen

Karen Alea Ford

1) Where are you from?

Born in Buffalo, NY, I grew up in West Palm Beach, FL. I’ve also lived in NC, Thailand and Australia.

2) How did you hear about MTSU Write?
I first heard of MTSU Write through Linda Parker Busby. We met at Sewanee Writers Conference. Later, she met me for coffee when she was in town meeting with the program’s founder, Roy Burkhead.
3)How long have you been writing?
My first illustrious writings coincided with that lovely, fresh adolescent-angst era. I remember reading my parents a poem about how one of them was the color red, and another was yellow. They made me–the color orange. And Orange is it’s Own Color and Should Be Respected As Such!
4) What inspired you to start writing?
As mentioned above, there is a deep seated desire for people to be heard and understood. It is what inspires me to write still.
5) What genre do you mainly write?
I was focused on fiction for a very long time, however, I am enjoying writing personal essays recently.
6) Who/What is your greatest influence?
As a person, I’m thankful it is my parents. My mother was extremely creative. My father is a very hard worker. I desire to let those traits solidify in me. As a writer? Michael Cunningham, Maya Angelou, David Sedaris, and on and on.
7) What is your favorite part of being a mentor?
I love seeing things in people’s writings they don’t see. It could be one of their strengths, as in great dialogue. It could be a bad habit they’ve formed, or it could be a big-picture situation–where I can point out where I think their work could fit in the publishing world.
8) What is your least favorite part of being a mentor?
Let’s be honest. Like every writer, sometimes I read something and think, “Why didn’t I write that?” Fortunately, I am against plagiarism.
9) What is your favorite hobby?
I enjoy, and am perhaps compelled, to do small fiddley tasks–jigsaw puzzles, jewelry making, cross-stitch, games on my phone. The more brainless, the better.
10) Tell us something that people might not know about you.
My father is from Cuba, and I went there (um, illegally) to visit in 2001.
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jennifer
Jennifer Chesak

1) Where are you from?

I hail from the frigid (but great) state of North Dakota—where I grew up in a log cabin-style home on the Lewis and Clark Trail.

2) How did you hear about MTSU Write?

I read about the program online after I first moved to Nashville from Chicago.

3) How long have you been writing?

I trace my writing roots back to the age of three when I would make up stories about my stuffed animals and record myself on a Fisher-Price tape player.

4) What inspired you to start writing?

I have severe asthma, and when I was a child, I couldn’t go outside in cold weather. North Dakota can be brutal for eight months out of the year. While other kids enjoyed recess, I stuck my nose in book after book. Reading was so entertaining to me that I also wanted to be a storyteller.

5) What genre do you mainly write?

Right now I am working on a fiction novel, but my background is in journalism, therefore much of my work to date has been nonfiction magazine features about adventure travel and fitness.

6) Who/What is your greatest influence?

Reading, whether a published book or a manuscript I’m editing, constantly influences and inspires me to improve my own writing.

7) What is your favorite part of being a mentor?

I love helping someone discover and refine the intricacies of his or her writing talent.

8) What is your least favorite part of being a mentor?

Just when I feel like I’m really getting to know a writer, the trimester ends!

9) What is your favorite hobby?

I’m an avid runner and a gardener. I’m always training for my next half or full marathon and working on a new landscaping project in my yard.

10) Tell us something that people might not know about you.

I have a metal “bone” in my left ear that helps with a hearing disability.

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Jennifer Kates

1) Where are you from?

I grew up in Madison, Tennessee, but have lived in Mboro since 1997

2) How did you hear about MTSU Write?

I knew about it from the beginning because I was teaching in the dept., and I was asked to mentor about three years ago.

3) How long have you been writing?

Since birth, I guess!

4) What inspired you to start writing?

I couldn’t help it.  But also teachers gave me opportunities and validation for writing as well.

5) What genre do you mainly write?  

Short fiction, realistic stuff; I am starting to work on some non-fiction pieces this year–I guess they are essays?

6) Who/What is your greatest influence?

Wow, this is really hard to answer.  Lots of writers–I go through stages.  Right now I am very enamored of Lauren Groff.  Teachers have also been important in empowering me.  But at present I’d have to say that my students are influencing me by reminding me to grow.

7) What is your favorite part of being a mentor?

Seeing growth and development in student work.  I guess that’s pretty obvious, but in one-on-one mentoring you get to see it more profoundly than in a class of 15 or 20.

8) What is your least favorite part of being a mentor?

No grades to hold students accountable 🙂  I guess this is just  because I am used to having that leverage, and without it I have sometimes have to work harder.

9) What is your favorite hobby?  

Besides reading (duh) probably painting or gardening.

10) Tell us something that people might not know about you.

I grew up in a school with all the Nashville music industry people’s kids, so I recorded two albums before middle school and regularly spotted Roy Orbison, Johnny Cash, or Barbara Mandrell in the cafeteria or pickup line.  Also, I hate camping and think of it as practicing homelessness.

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Kory Wells

1) Where are you from?

I was born in Chattanooga and have deep roots in southern Appalachia. I’ve lived in Murfreesboro most of my life.
2) How did you hear about MTSU Write?
I was a friend of the program from its inception, usually attending and occasionally giving a talk at its gatherings. I became a mentor after my chapbook was published, in the time that my longtime friend and colleague Terry Price was co-directing with Charlotte Rains Dixon.
3) How long have you been writing?
My mama had me keeping a journal and writing poems and stories before kindergarten. My early efforts included co-writing a play about the Salem witch trials, abandoning a mystery novel closely inspired by Nancy Drew, and contributing to the canon of lovelorn adolescent poetry. In college, I foolishly listened to professors who told me I had to choose between two distinct paths – art or science, so to speak – so unfortunately I didn’t write in my twenties.
4) What inspired you to start writing?
In my early 30’s, I came back to writing when my grandmother, at a Thanksgiving gathering, asked each of us what we’d go back and do over in our lives if we could. My gut response was “I’d be a writer,” and I spoke that truth before my brain even had time to process it. Although I had a great career in information technology, I knew I had to make room for the writing.
5) What genre do you mainly write?
I write a little bit of everything, but my focus – and addiction – has been poetry for more than a decade.
6) Who/What is your greatest influence?
Oh, my – this isn’t a short answer question! I again have to mention my mom, Judy Lee Green, who’s also a writer and who taught me in more than one way about the power and allure of voice. She led me to the work of Flannery O’Connor, Eudora Welty, Lee Smith, Jill McCorkle, and others who are so iconic, particularly in the South. Then I have to mention teacher-mentor-friends like Darnell Arnoult, Bill Brown and Jeff Hardin, whose writing and advice has made such a big difference to my own work. Presently I keep turning to inspiration from contemporary poets Cecilia Woloch and Vandana Khanna, and the poems of another icon, James Dickey. Finally, I can’t neglect to mention the important encouragement of my writing friends and various writing groups.
7) What is your favorite part of being a mentor?
It sounds terribly general to say “giving encouragement,” but that’s the thing that comes to mind. I do try to be very specific about that encouragement. Underlining those phrases in a student’s poem that deserve a “check-plus” or seeing the improvement a student has made in revising their work based on my earlier comments – those are great moments to celebrate with a student. I love seeing them reach their goals, whatever those goals may be.
 
8) What is your least favorite part of being a mentor?
Um, is it bad to say the deadlines? But we all need them, right?
9) What is your favorite hobby?
You mean, aside from writing? And reading? Browsing antique shops and flea markets with my husband; making artsy stuff from re-purposed items, like old dishes; strumming the ukelele.
10) Tell us something that people might not know about you.
A lot of my newer writing friends don’t know I’ve also written a novel. When it was a finalist in the William Faulkner Writing Competition, novel-in-progress category, in 2003, I braced for immediate and resounding success. Alas, such success didn’t materialize, and in the following years of agent searches and revision, I got “sidetracked’ onto poetry. What I want most in my writing life now, beyond the satisfaction of simply being engaged in my writing and the writing community, is to complete and publish the full-length collection of poetry I have underway. After that, I may dust off the novel. Maybe.
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Charlotte Dixon

1) Where are you from?

I live in Portland, Oregon, with my husband and two psycho (and I do mean psycho) cats.  Assorted extended family members live close by.
2) How did you hear about MTSU Write?
I heard about MTSU Write back before it was even called the Loft. Roy Burkhead, the founder, and I were students together at the MFA program at Spalding University in Louisville.  He got the idea for the Loft when he worked at MTSU, and would write me long emails late at night. I enjoyed reading about his vision, but didn’t really think it would ever happen. Imagine my surprise when he got the program approved and hired me as its first mentor! I’ve been a part of it ever since and I love working with students through Write.
3) How long have you been writing?
Forever. Since I was tiny, literally. I used to write poems and illustrate them with crayon drawings.
4) What inspired you to start writing?
It was in my genes, clearly.  I’ve always used writing as a way to sort out my feelings about life for starters.  I got my undergrad in journalism and did a lot of free-lance writing.  Then one day I realized I wanted to change the quotes my sources were giving me to make them fit the story better–and that’s when I realized I needed to start writing fiction.
5) What genre do you mainly write?
Women’s fiction and romance.
6) Who/What is your greatest influence?
I am inspired by all kinds of people who regularly engage in the creative process–writers, artists, musicians, actors.  I am most interested in telling stories about people who find themselves in totally unexpected places in life. In other words, all of us. So I guess my greatest influence is day to day life itself.
7) What is your favorite part of being a mentor?
I love watching my students improve by leaps and bounds as we work together.  The process of working closely with a mentor is so beneficial to improving your writing skills and I get to see that happen over and over.  Plus, some of my dearest friends started out as students.
8) What is your least favorite part of being a mentor?
I don’t have one!
9) What is your favorite hobby?
Can I have several? Because, reading, of course, and beyond that I’m an avid dabbler in fiber arts: knitting and weaving.
10) Tell us something that people might not know about you.
I have the most disorganized writing space on the planet.
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Bill Brown
1) Where are you from?
I’m from Dyersburg, TN, 70 plus miles north of Memphis and ten miles from the Mississippi River.
2) How did you hear about MTSU Write?
MTSU Writes was The Loft when I joined. They asked me to do a poetry workshop in early fall and later asked me to mentor. I mentored five poets for the total of seven semesters. It was a joy and learning experience for me and I hope for them.
3) How long have you been writing?
I started writing early in my teens, but not seriously until I was in my late twenties. I began to publish in journals in my early thirties.
4) What inspired you to start writing?
In the late fifties and early sixties, folk music and early rock singers and song writers started me writing lyrics. Peter, Paul and Mary, The Beatles, Bob Dylan, Richie Havens, Joanie Mitchell, and Joan Baez inspired me greatly.
5) What genre do you mainly?
Poetry.
6) Who/What is your greatest influence?
My best mentor poet and friend is Malcolm Glass and too many poets to name: Frost, Dickinson, Bishop, Yeats, Keats, and Lowell to name a few.
7) What is your favorite part of being a mentor?
I love meeting new writers. People who write live examined lives, not happier lives, but learn to know themselves and experiences more deeply. I made wonderful, lasting friends as a mentor for MTSU Writes.
8) What is your favorite part of being a mentor? 
I had no bad experiences as a mentor. Sometimes I learned or gained more than I gave.
9) What is your least favorite part of being a mentor?
My hobby use to be gardening, jogging and playing guitar. Now it is riding my bike on the greenbelt, growing herbs, loving our cats, and working with young writers.
 
10) Tell us something that people don’t know about you.
Most people don’t know that I dropped out of school in 1968 and left with Newman Jones for California. We lived in a commune outside of Berkley. Later, I would become a teacher/writer and Newman would tour with the Stones and make guitars for Keith Richards, Dylan, Willie Nelson, and many, many more stars. He died this summer at 67 years old. A heart-break.

 

 

Interview by: Chelsey Dugger (senior at Middle Tennessee State University)

 

 

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