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A chance encounter by two writers, one young, one older, develops into a wonderful friendship neither expected. Frank Conroy, the author of the classic memoir Stop-Time, meets Tom Grimes, an aspiring writer and an applicant to the Iowa Writers' Workshop, which Conroy directs. First as teacher and student ? and gradually as friends?their lives become entwined, and through both successes and disappointments, their bond deepens. Exquisitely written, Mentor is an honest and heartbreaking exploration of the writing ...
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Mentor: A Memoir

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A chance encounter by two writers, one young, one older, develops into a wonderful friendship neither expected. Frank Conroy, the author of the classic memoir Stop-Time, meets Tom Grimes, an aspiring writer and an applicant to the Iowa Writers' Workshop, which Conroy directs. First as teacher and student – and gradually as friends—their lives become entwined, and through both successes and disappointments, their bond deepens. Exquisitely written, Mentor is an honest and heartbreaking exploration of the writing life and the role of a very important teacher.
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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
"You don't choose the writer's life, the writer's life chooses you."

When Grimes first meets Frank Conroy (then director of the legendary Iowa Writers' Workshop), he tells him he recently applied to the program.

Conroy's response? "Yeah, you and eight hundred others." But Grimes was not only accepted; he was offered the top scholarship — an auspicious beginning. Grimes wanted to write big books, masterpieces. While he was still a student, his second novel sold at auction, with four prestigious publishing houses bidding. Conroy, who had taken Grimes under his wing — first as a student, and later as a friend and surrogate son — reveled in his protégé's success, and promised more to come.

Thus Grimes was ill prepared for what came next: poor and mixed reviews, dejection, and abandonment from the publishing maw. Few writers experience Grimes's triumphant rise into the life that had chosen him, but many share his failures. What sets his story apart is his relationship with Conroy, whose support and encouragement were unflagging. "It's taken me twenty years to understand that our unexpected friendship, rather than my novel, was the real work of art," writes Grimes. Mentor is both touching and sobering — an honest book about writing, packed with excellent advice. And a fascinating and heartfelt tribute to a man—not for the books he wrote but for the gruff, often unspoken love he gave.

From the Publisher

"From now on, anyone who dreams of becoming a novelist will need to read Tom Grime's brutally honest and wonderful Mentor."—Michael Dirda, The Washington Post

"Employing a constant tension of ambivalence—shame and tenderness, pride and humility—Grimes proves in this stunningly forthright, forlorn memoir that his great subject is Conroy himself."—Publishers Weekly, starred review

“Grimes delivers an eloquent portrait of the writer's life. . . Without wasting a word, Grimes presents a thoroughly readable view of how stories and writers, at least of a certain kind, are made.”—Kirkus Reviews, starred review

"Grimes' staggering self-critique, keen tribute to Conroy as writer and mentor, and hard-won insights into the true demands of writing and the deep resonance of literature are arresting and cautionary, inspiring and affecting."
Booklist, starred review

"Refreshingly genuine and engaging. A-"—Entertainment Weekly

"With beautiful simplicity he describes the surreal, physical experience of writing a last sentence and knowing your book is done."—The San Francisco Chronicle

"Like all good memoirs, Mentor reveals more than its ostensible subject. The relationship between the two men offers a vivid illustration of the personal struggle at the core of a creative life."—The Oregonian

". . .couldn't put Mentor down."—The New York Times

"An eloquently confessional memoir."—The A. V. Club

"What's important about Mentor is that it takes the freighted terms of a place like Iowa and a man like Conroy and examines their character not with the grand stakes that make for a debate but the intimate ones that forge an artist."—Time Out Chicago

Mentor is inside baseball for rabid fans of the writing life.”—Texas Observer

Mentor is the story of acceptance and, as with any writer’s life, a tale of brutal rejection. And it is something I never expected from a writer’s memoir of mentorship: It is one of the finest books I have ever read. Period.”
Texas Books in Review

"Mentor is a must read for any aspiring novelists to understand the persistence and strength of character needed to survive as a career novelist. . . It's delightful, heartbreaking, and ruthlessly honest."—The Longest

"One of the truest accounts of a writer's life--of two writers' lives--I've yet seen. A poignant and beautiful book."—T.C. Boyle

“What Tom has produced has surpassed all my expectations: it is intensely personal, moving, powerful and insightful. Mentor is a must read for people who write and for every reader who has wondered about the mysterious alchemy that produces a writer.” —Abraham Verghese, author of Cutting for Stone

"It's astonishing how much insight, passion, pain, joy, self-doubt, and sheer love Tom Grimes has managed to pack into this tightly made memoir of his relationship with the writer Frank Conroy. Not only does Mentor offer an honest and compelling account of the struggles of a writer at the onset of his career, but this immaculately composed memoir also draws an enduring and eerily lifelike portrait of Frank Conroy. For me, it was as if Conroy had somehow risen from the dead before my eyes, with all his impish zest and stern earnestness and voluble wisdom. Mentor is a beautiful, beautiful book—a monument both to Frank Conroy and to the writer's terrifying quest for artistic excellence." —Tim O'Brien, author of The Things They Carried

"Mentor is a touching memoir about one of those rare encounters in life, where the deep connection between two human beings transcends time and death. It is about artists and their arts, fathers and sons, families and friends, and above all, love that allows each generation of artists to dream and create on the shoulders of their mentors."—Yiyun Li, author of The Vagrants

"Tom Grimes has written a most affecting book. Part memoir and part homage to his mentor, Frank Conroy, it is also an extremely candid meditation on the writing life, both its joys and its pains. Anyone who has ever been on either side of the mentor-student relationship will catch glimpses of himself in this remarkable memoir." —Scott Anderson, author of Triage

"Tom Grimes has written a beautiful book, as muscular, honest and lasting as the gift he received. Mentor, A Memoir belongs on the shelf of every writer, every teacher, every reader."—Jayne Anne Phillips, author of Lark & Termite

"Mentor is a tender, tough, and appropriately bewildered look into the heart of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop—indeed, into what it means to be a writer of ambition altogether. It is also a magnificent double portrait of two fiction writers, rendered in fine, piercing, fond, and ruthless prose—and, above all, a love letter to a teacher."—Elizabeth McCracken, author of An Exact Replica of a Figment of My Imagination

Mentor is a fine and unique achievement. It's moving as the record of a first rate writer's early career. But its uniqueness lies in its treatment of something quite ineffable, the way in which a major artist can nourish the talents and maintain the confidence of a younger one. . . . Frank Conroy was a wild, wildly talented, phenomenal artist. Tom Grimes has served his memory superbly."—Robert Stone, author of Dog Soldiers

"Ultimately, Mentor: A Memoir can best be summarized in the following: I couldn't put it down . . . Mentor captivated me."—

"It's such a mesmerizing book I read it in one sitting." —John Matthew Fox, BookFox

"Inspirational for aspiring writers and an insight for readers, Grimes' book is a true writer's memoir." —

"[Grime's] humanity and heart form a moving testament to his story. It is a memoir of friendship, faith, time, writing and reaching out to others."—

"Mentor describes a writer at full strength. . ."—Las Vegas City Life

"This book is about striding up to the brink of success, only to have it disembowel you."—Register-Guard

"The dynamic between [Grimes and Conroy] is fascinating, but for our money, the best bits are about Grimes' own journey to publication and beyond." —McSweeney's

"Mentor is undoubtedly a book that appeals to writers."—Bomblog

"Without being whiny or petulant, [Grimes] explores the all-too-human desire to want, and the all-too-familiar agony that comes when, despite our very best efforts, we can't get our dreams to cohere into reality." —Fort Worth Star-Telegram

"An honest memoir. . . Grimes has perhaps written a memoir that exceeds its own bounds, delivering more than he set out to write."—The Austin American-Statesman

Dwight Garner
What Mentor is really about…is the slow-motion derailment of Mr. Grimes's own once promising literary career, a process that took his pride before it took his sanity. This is a book about striding up to the brink of success, only to have success disembowel you with a dull steak knife, bow, and then skip away, cackling.
—The New York Times
Michael Dirda
From now on, anyone who dreams of becoming a novelist will need to read Tom Grimes's brutally honest and wonderful Mentor. While there have been plenty of books on how to write, or how to get published, or how to promote your work, as well as a number of triumphalist accounts of "making it," this is a story of what it's like to just miss succeeding…"For me," [Grimes] says, "writing is a necessity. I exist in sentences. I forget my sense of failure. I forget time. I forget that I'm aging. I forget that one day I'll die. Revising sentences is an act of hope, and connecting with a reader is the only leap of faith I'll ever take." In Mentor he not only leaps, he soars.
—The Washington Post
John Matthew Fox
It's such a mesmerizing book I read it in one sitting.
Ultimately, Mentor: A Memoir can best be summarized in the following: I couldn't put it down . . . Mentor captivated me.
Grimes' staggering self-critique, keen tribute to Conroy as writer and mentor, and hard-won insights into the true demands of writing and the deep resonance of literature are arresting and cautionary, inspiring and affecting.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780982504895
  • Publisher: Tin House Books
  • Publication date: 7/29/2010
  • Pages: 200
  • Sales rank: 1,023,327
  • Product dimensions: 5.70 (w) x 8.40 (h) x 1.20 (d)

Meet the Author

Tom Grimes

Tom Grimes is the author of five novels, including Season’s End, City of God, and Redemption Song, and the editor of The Workshop: Seven Decades of Fiction from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. His work has been selected as New York Times Notable Books of the Year, and he has twice been a finalist for the PEN/Nelson Algren Award. He directs the MFA Program in Creative Writing at Texas State University.
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Read an Excerpt

Jody and I found a small house with a second-floor room adjacent to our bedroom where I'd work. I assembled my makeshift desk in front of a window that looked down on a narrow dirt road and the backyards and wooden garages bordering each side of it. It was August, and the leaves of the treetop outside the window partially obscured my view, but they left enough natural light for me to write by each morning. Before classes started, I prepared my syllabus and began to read the novels I would teach. On the first day of classes, I opened a spiral-bound, red-covered notebook. After ruling out notebooks with cerulean blue and pea green covers, I'd bought five red ones. I'm superstitious writer. I didn't want to switch colors as I wrote the novel, and my intuition had drawn me to red, which I believed would bring me luck, as would the new pack of twelve No. 2 pencils, a thumb-sized pink eraser, and a handheld pencil sharpener with a transparent plastic casing that allowed me to see the sharpener's blade peel away thin slices of wood each time I needed to write with a finer point.

I was determined to work three to four hours per day, seven days a week. At 8:30 am, when Jody left for her new job at a design firm, I carried a cup of milky coffee and a slice of toast lacquered with jam into my office, closed the door, and waited. The air still, the room quiet, my pencil ready, the page blank and patient. An hour passed. Then for ten minutes I watched a squirrel leap from branch to branch and occasionally pause to scratch one ear with his rear claw, or else perch on a limb, looking attentive and slightly paranoid. As cars exited garages and rolled down the dirt lane, I studied them with sniperlike concentration, noting their grimy windshields or polished hoods. Gradually, the sun crept toward its noonday peak and brightened my window. Shadows no longer slanted. Instead, they stood as erect as cadets. And I developed a layman's interest in avian life. I'd been unaware of my interest in blue jays and cardinals. Why hadn't I noticed their vibrant plumage before? Maybe I could become an ornithologist. And why were sports teams named after birds, fish, and marine mammals? The blue jays, the cardinals, the marlins, the dolphins? From time to time, I summoned the energy to focus on my novel, on the empty page, and on the words I needed to fill it. Hemingway eluded this mental blankness by stopping work midsentence. The next morning, he'd have to finish the sentence. By the time he did, he'd be into the novel again, its tempo, its rhythm, its groove, its landscape, its characters' thoughts and their actions. I had to find that first word. And I'd made a rule: I would never leave my chair until I'd pressed enough graphite onto a page to form a paragraph. I'd staked my future on this book. I either wrote it and succeeded, or I failed to and was finished.

Five years earlier, I'd begun the novel without a clue as to what, if anything, it might become. Immodestly, I wanted to rewrite The Great Gatsby, and for several days I mimicked its sentence rhythms, its restrained, romantic, yet morally upright cadence, which perfectly articulated Nick Carraway's view of the world. I imitated Fitzgerald's linguistic fluidity and the nuanced felicity of his prose. In an abstract way, I focused not on plot or character, but on money, and a grandiose, and no doubt nave, insight into its place in American life. I continued this, filling perhaps twenty notebook pages, until a sentence escaped from Fitzgerald's parade of flawless sentences and became my own. I heard my narrator say, "A word of advice: Don't appear on the cover of Sports Illustrated when you're twenty-one." And then I listened and wrote. I wasn't taking dictation; I revised phrases and chose more accurate or appropriate words before committing them to paper. But I had a character, although I didn't have his story, only the genesis of it. I'd never expected to write about baseball. My imagination had surprised me, and so I made a decision. If baseball was to be my subject, then baseball would be the lens through which I examined America. Baseball would be my great white whale. And as I was writing the novel's initial pages, I discovered a passage in John Cheever's diaries that summed up my task. At least, I believed it did. And so, at all times, I kept it tucked in my notebook, and I reread it often, to assuage my doubts and to remind me of what I'd set out to accomplish.

Cheever had written: "I think that the task of an American writer is not to describe the misgivings of a woman taken in adultery as she looks out of a window at the rain but to describe four hundred people under the lights reaching for a foul ball. This is ceremony. The umpires in clericals, sifting out the souls of the players; the faint thunder as ten thousand people, at the bottom of the eighth, head for the exits. The sense of moral judgments embodied in a migratory vastness."

Now, at my desk, I waited. Several hours later I wrote my first sentence in Iowa City. From there, I continued. Calm, euphoric, terrified.

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