Cherish your mentors – Part 1

Carolyn See, Ph.D., died on July 13, 2106.  That bastard cancer struck her down at 82. (For a more official appreciation, you can read Mary Rourke’s column in  The Los Angeles Times. This is my bit.)

Carolyn was a quintessential California writer, a literary sidhe of Topanga Canyon, and she was the first mentor who took me seriously, and more importantly, forced me to take myself seriously.  She stood at the front of a creative writing course at Loyola Marymount University and said “Oh my dear” — her students were all “dear ones” — “you can do better than this.”

She introduced me to the 1,000 words a day or 2 hours of editing rule.  She taught about the value of villains, of finding characters in the every day, and Getting It Done.

She told her students to write thank you notes to editors, even when they reject you.  She encouraged us to go to book launches, and even slipped us the occasional $20 if we couldn’t afford the hard cover.

When I was a struggling, unfocused underclassman at LMU, Carolyn gently pushed me to apply to the Professional Writing Program at the University of Southern California.  Unbeknownst to me, she also submitted one of my stories to John Rechy, one of the writers in residence.  I don’t remember the exact cover note, but it basically said, “Keep an eye on this one.” (To this day, I’m not sure if she meant “encourage this guy” or “this one is trouble.” Probably both.)

John Rechy returned the story to me —with a wink — during my first graduate seminar.  He eventually became my thesis advisor, despite his acknowledgement that he “didn’t do ‘fantastic fiction.’ ” (That was a polite lie.  He wrote amazing literary fiction, but not science fiction or fantasy.)

After I graduated, I kept in touch with Carolyn, and had the delightful experience of transcribing the first chapters of her collaborative novel Lotus Land (written with long-time partner John Espey and daughter Lisa See).  I will always cherish the memory of sitting at Lisa’s house, typing up the hand-written drafts.  I’d never seen writers actually write before.  It was alchemy.

Over the years, Carolyn and I met occasionally when she passed through town on a promotional tour, and she was a tireless supporter of my fiction, always ready to give me firm but gentle feedback on my writing.   She also gave me valuable advice during my brief tenure as an English teacher.

Her notes and book inscriptions often included the phrase, “To Karl, my almost-son.”

Goodbye, almost-mother.  And thank you.



Comments are closed.