The Mark Blog

Bookmark This: Chelsea Hodson on Being Mentored by Ron Carlson

Chelsea Hodson, 2012 Emerging Voices Fellow, recalls being paired with her mentor, author Ron Carlson. Because she primarily writes creative nonfiction, Chelsea explains was she was reluctant to work with the short story writer, but her doubt was soon quelled after their monthly meetings at an IHOP. 
“’Would I keep writing if I’d been rejected for ten years?’ That’s what I asked myself after the other Emerging Voices Fellows and I met with Janet Fitch at her home to discuss her work. We talked about her novel Paint it Black, but she also told us she was consistently rejected for nearly a decade. And then, one day, Oprah called to tell her White Oleander was the next Book Club pick.
There are only so many Oprah-level opportunities for writers, and I think it’s hazardous to expect one to arrive someday. But perhaps it’s helpful on some level to buy into the myth that good work will eventually be recognized. The truth is, geniuses go unnoticed all the time. But what the Emerging Voices Fellowship helped me realize was that the work itself was what really mattered. If I worked to make my writing as good as it could be, that was enough. Maybe Oprah would call one day. But probably not.
I was still discovering how difficult it was to write honestly about my own life, and how hard it was to find the much-talked-about, impossible-to-pin-down “voice.” But as an Emerging Voices Fellow, we spoke to different authors each week and realized how many struggles they dealt with on a daily basis as well. Perhaps I used to think it got easier, and perhaps that was a relief to me. But I soon understood writing would very likely never get easier, and that was also a relief. Writing wasn’t difficult because I was a novice, it was difficult because the translation from mind to hand is an unreliable process.
So I asked myself, ‘Would I keep writing if I’d been rejected for ten years?’ I couldn’t say for sure, but I thought that I would. In the past, logic and money had made convincing arguments, but I’d always returned to writing. 
I felt apprehensive about being paired with my Emerging Voices Mentor, short story master Ron Carlson. I thought, ‘What can a short story writer teach me about writing personal essays?’ That question is proof of my ignorance about what a mentorship could accomplish.
Every few weeks, I’d drive from Los Angeles to Huntington Beach to meet Ron at IHOP. I’d order scrambled eggs and toast, Ron would ask the waitress, ‘Which one is that healthy omelette again?’ She’d bring him the omelette with spinach and tomatoes, and we’d discuss my latest essay.
Once, he flipped the pages over and drew a visual representation of what the essay’s structure should look like. As he went on to suggest certain narrative changes, my first instinct was to resist his advice to reign in the collage elements of my essay. I thought, as many inexperienced students do, ‘You just don’t get it.’ But once I turned off that voice in my head, I could hear his, and I continued to hear it as I edited my formerly messy essay into a cohesive piece that worked the way I wanted it to.
In his book, Ron Carlson Writes A Story, he writes: ‘The most important thing a writer can do after completing a sentence is to stay in the room.’ I think that’s true, because the longer you stay, the longer you have to live with your words, so they might as well be good words.’
Chelsea Hodson was a 2012 Emerging Voices Fellow. Her latest chapbook, Pity the Animal (Future Tense Books, 2014), is available from Powell's and as an Amazon Kindle Single. Her essays have been published in Black Warrior Review, Vol. 1 Brooklyn, Sex Magazine, and elsewhere. She lives in Brooklyn, New York. 
Chelsea’s mentor Ron Carlson will be hosting the Emerging Voices Final Reading on Wednesday, July 30th at 7PM at the Hammer Museum. Please join us! Click here for more information