{Feature} THE MAGIC OF MENTORSHIP – A Transformative Experience: Daron Kappauff

The beginning of April, Award-winning author-editor, three-time Bram Stoker Award® nominee and the international Horror Writers Association (HWA) Mentor of the Year Award winner for 2019, Lee Murray gave us some insight into the mentorship relationship and offered Kendall Reviews a sneak peak at a new wave of horror writers emerging from this cycle’s intake. One of those authors, Daron Kappauff, has written a wonderful response piece.

You can read the original piece from Lee Murray by following the link Demystifying The Magic Of Mentorship

THE MAGIC OF MENTORSHIP: A Transformative Experience

By Daron Kappauff

In the summer of 2019, I was finishing the 2nd draft of my novel, Children of the Dreamer, a supernatural crime-noir, and thinking about next steps. A friend recommended looking into the Horror Writers Association (HWA), as they offered a slew of resources to their members. After a quick scan of the HWA website, I found something that piqued my interest: the Mentorship Program. How could I pass up the opportunity to work with a professional horror writer?

So I joined and applied to the Mentor Program shortly thereafter.

I was notified in December that I’d been accepted into the spring 2020 semester, at which point I was finishing the 3rd draft of the novel. I learned I’d been paired with Lee Murray, an award-winning author-editor and a three-time Bram Stoker Award nominee. As you might imagine, I was blown away. I’d had writing mentors before, in both my undergrad and graduate programs, but even from the word go, this seemed to be on another level, more focused, more personalized.

When I’d applied to the program, I’d indicated that readability was my primary concern. Prior to starting Children of the Dreamer, I’d spent the last couple years writing comic book scripts. And after switching gears to the novel, I quickly found that my prose-writing skills were a bit rusty. Even after three drafts, and countless workshop discussions with a group of talented writers, something seemed off, something I couldn’t quite put my finger on.

Enter Lee Murray.

Almost immediately, Murray identified the issues, and we began fine-tuning the manuscript. We overhauled the POV, moving from an omniscient viewpoint to third person limited––focused on the protagonist, Special Agent Paul Davidson. This came with some challenges, though, as I hadn’t worked with this POV before. My previous stories had been written in either first person or with an omniscient narrator. So, even when I thought I was writing from a close, limited viewpoint, I was still filtering Davidson’s perspective through another narrator.

My a ha! moment came when Murray gave me a simple piece of advice (and I’m paraphrasing): write it as if it were in first person, but with he/she pronouns. Such a little thing, but it was the connection I needed. It transformed my thinking, along with the prose. It allowed me to put myself––and in turn the reader––directly into Davidson’s head, which injected some much-needed immediacy into the text. I, honestly, felt silly for not thinking of it myself.

The following passage is an example of how I applied the concept to tighten my first scene in Children of the Dreamer:

Special Agent Paul Davidson stepped out of his FBI-issued 1974 black Ford Galaxie 500, cringing as his freshly polished wingtips crunched on the gravel driveway. It was mid-morning, and the sun was cresting the trees on the opposite side of the cove, its rays shimmering on the water’s surface. The stench of rotting fish wafted up the shore, so strong Davidson nearly clamped his nose with his fingers.

Red and blue lights flashed, bathing the area. Police and paramedics milled about: some with purpose, transporting equipment and cataloguing evidence: some with a distinct lack of purpose—jaded public servants counting the minutes until shift change. He straightened his tie, adjusted the shoulder strap attached to his Polaroid camera, then flagged down a Camden County deputy.

The other issue we tackled was my tendency to write hyper-detailed descriptions. This was a revelation to me, as I’d long fancied myself as a minimalist. Problem was, even though my descriptions were sparse and focused on propelling the narrative forward, they included excessive and unneeded details that bogged down the story. Of the two concerns, this one was the harder to correct and continues to be a focus area. But like all aspects of writing, with practice comes improvement.

To say the skills I’ve learned from Murray are invaluable would be a vast understatement. Her help also boosted my confidence––something all writers can use from time-to-time––and I’m already seeing her lessons take hold. I’ve started working on a collaboration with another author, The Wicked Rex of the West––a bizarro horror novel that draws inspiration from The Wizard of OZ and Jurassic Park. In working on this new project, as well as finishing the last few chapters of Children of the Dreamer, I’m finding I’m implementing all of Murray’s lessons without even thinking about it.

I went into the HWA mentorship program not really knowing what to expect. I came out the other side with a completely new perspective on writing and the mentor/mentee relationship. It’s truly been a once-in-a-lifetime experience, and I couldn’t be more thankful for my mentor’s guidance, patience, and friendship. I’ve definitely gained more than I ever could have imagined.

If you’re a writer who’s serious about improving your writing, and even considering a mentorship program, you should go for it. Jump in with both feet and don’t look back. That said, anyone entering a mentorship really needs to have an open mind and thick skin. You can’t go into a relationship like this looking for praise––leave that to your mother. The point here is to elevate your craft, to make it sing, and to do that you have to put your ego in check. You have to understand that writing is a learning process, and it’s constant. Critiques aren’t personal attacks; they’re necessary to learn and grow. In fact, I’d argue constructive feedback is one of the most valuable aspects of the writing process. It should be welcomed, not feared.

Before I go, I’d like to leave you with another passage from Children of the Dreamer. This was a favorite scene of mine before I began working with Murray. Since reworking it with her, though, that distinction has become solidified. I hope you dig it.

His hands on his head, Trenton crouched on the balls of his feet, his breath rapid and shallow. A pool of blood still seeped across the width of the basement, oozing into every crack and crevice and trickling over the edges of the foundation. It burbled like a lazy creek.

It was a sound only the damned could love.

Dismembered human remains were scattered across the pool as if they’d been tossed without a care. Davidson counted at least four victims, based on the number of severed heads. All of them shrouded in white hoods.

There were no bloody footprints, no basement doors leading out of the house, nor any windows large enough for a human adult to escape through.

In the center of the carnage, a teenage girl rocked back and forth on a rectangular altar, humming a nursery rhyme. Her knees were pressed against her chest, her arms wrapped around her shins. She was naked, her blond hair and skin covered in gore.

Mentorship is a key component to helping a horror writer navigate the bloodied waters of writing for publication. It gives you touchstones to focus on, tips you can use to resolve specific issues and craft a stronger story. Take it from me, you have nothing to lose and all manner of worlds to gain.

Daron Kappauff

Daron Kappauff is a content editor by profession and a member of the Horror Writers Association (HWA). His work has appeared in numerous short fiction and poetry publications, and his comic book, Eternal Autumn, was created and funded through Kickstarter. He’s currently working on Children of the Dreamer, a supernatural crime-noir novel set in the 1970s and 1980s.

He once had a lunch date scheduled with Cthulhu, but the Old One overslept and missed the meeting. Daron lives in O’Fallon, Missouri where he dabbles in conjuring the occult and raising a pair of toddlers.

He tweets @daronk77

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