Taking part in a mentor program is a wonderful opportunity to “up your game” by working intensively with a publishing professional. Today we’re going to introduce Hilary Wang, a writer from Germany, and get to know a bit about her work and why she chose to apply for a mentorship with Skila Brown.
Congratulations on being chosen as a mentee! We’d love to get to know you a little bit, so please tell us a bit about how you got into writing, how long you’ve been writing and what your preferred genre is to write?
I loved creative writing when I was a child, but have done very little since then. Most of my writing as an adult has been in the form of letters, journal entries and academic essays. Five years ago, I wrote a short novel to read to my son. It was full of things he was interested in at the time and very much informed by our time together. I had such fun writing it that I have wanted to write creatively since. When my family moved to Hamburg two years ago, I suddenly got the opportunity. I quit my job of 20 years teaching English and have had time to learn German and take up writing again. When I was a child, my favorite books all had magic and adventure in them. These are still my favorite books to try to write.
What a wonderful way for you and your son to bond over reading! Where do you like to write? What does a typical writing session look like for you?
When we moved into our apartment in Hamburg, my husband gave me a ‘welcome home’ present. It was a beautiful writing desk. This was probably the sweetest and most thoughtful gift that he has given me in our years together. It felt like such a tremendous vote of confidence. By buying me a desk, he was saying that he believed in my dream and my talent and he was giving me the freedom and time to explore it. Much as I love the sentiment behind the desk, I have never actually written there. I prefer to sit on the couch, where it is more comfortable, with my lap top on my lap. We have a sun room which is full of windows and is a beautiful place to work. It is also where my children play with their legos, so a typical writing session involves clearing a lot of sharp plastic pieces off the floor before I sit down.
There’s something to be said about the bond between writers and their couches. Can you tell us about the story you submitted to the mentorship program and the reason why you thought a mentor would be able to help you?
The story I’m working on is about girls finding their voices, speaking up and working together to overturn an unfair system. This is something I have been thinking about a lot since the ‘Me Too’ movement began. It’s also a story about the friendship and adventures of a 12-year-old and her grandmother. They have to face many dangers and frightening situations together but they’re able to help each other stay alive and ultimately bring down the corrupt regime. I had a great time writing this book, but since I’m a very inexperienced writer, I really wanted a mentor’s help with it. I think there is no better way to develop one’s craft than to have an accomplished and thoughtful teacher reading one’s work and pushing one to improve it.
That sounds like a fantastic story. What attracted you to Skila? Out of the other mentors available, what was it about her that made you think ‘that’s the mentor for me’?
I wanted to work with Skila Brown for so many reasons. First, she has a lot of teaching experience and a good teacher was what I was most looking for. Secondly, she loves the same kind of books that I do: fantasy stories with a subversive element. And finally, she has written two middle grade books about people surviving in the face of great danger. That was close to the theme of my own book and I knew she could help me raise the dramatic tension in my story and make it more suspenseful and exciting.
And finally, what do you expect to achieve by the end of this mentorship?
I love the way that Skila has structured our time together, similar to her MFA program. Right now I’m working on the first of four ‘packets’ she will be assigning me. I have a deadline to return it to her, then she has time to read it and send me feedback, and then we will meet on the phone to discuss and ask questions. I love that her approach is so structured, and born out of a proven method of mentorship which worked for her when she was studying as well. I’m really looking forward to all of Skila’s assignments and her feedback on my work. Other than investing in an MFA program, it is a rare and incredible opportunity to have a successful writer guiding one through one’s revisions. As someone who is very new to the process of writing a book, I am thrilled to have this chance to work with Skila and to learn from her. My very realistic desired end result is that I will become a stronger writer through this experience and that my book will become much better as well. Skila wrote in her interview that ‘Potential mentees should be prepared to … dig deep into revision.” I’m so excited to do that with her because I know that revision is what turns a mediocre book into a great one.
Sounds like you have your work cut out for you the next six months! Thank you for joining us, Hilary! We wish you lots of luck on your new adventure and we’ll check in with you again next Spring.
Interviewed by Patti Buff
A native Minnesotan, she moved to Germany in 2001 where she currently lives in disgustingly beautiful Bavaria with her husband and two teenagers.
She is represented by Hannah Sheppard of DHH Literary and is currently writing an adult crime series.