Editor’s Note: In honor of Women’s History Month, Barbara Hambly recounts memories of her inspiring ninth-grade history teacher, Mrs. Blair. Hambly has gone on to pursue her passion for fantasy and science fiction, writing several New York Times bestselling titles. To read a sample of Hambly’s work, check out Open Road Media’s new “Spotlight on Science Fiction and Fantasy” collection in Scribd.
A number of women would qualify for the position of mentor in my life.
Many of them have been my editors, starting with my lifelong friend Laurie, who later edited most of my Del Rey fantasies and taught me things like a) there is such a thing as too many adjectives and b) the only things we really have are time and one another. My agent Fran has mentored me for over thirty years in the business of writing. Kate Miciak, the Bantam editor who handled my Benjamin January series, taught me invaluable lessons about story structure and different ways to tell the same... story.
But lest this turn into an Academy Awards speech, I’ll just mention one of my earliest and most memorable mentors, my ninth-grade history teacher, Liz Blair.
I remember she had red-gold hair, a sort of slouchy way of standing, and very bright eyes. At the time she seemed old to me—“grown-up” to my fourteen years—but I’m guessing she was somewhere between thirty and forty. I wouldn’t describe her as pretty, but she was unforgettable. She loved history, and everything to do with it. She collected scrapbooks of Life magazine articles before Time-Life started putting them together in sets of books, and dug up filmstrips WAY before the invention of PowerPoint, so that we could SEE this stuff instead of just reading about it.
She took me on as a sort of assistant—God knows I had few friends at school—and had me do the scut-work of teaching. This was before the invention of the photocopy machine; I mimeographed worksheets, using the ditto master with its strange purple gel and luminous (and probably alcohol-based) sweet smell. Looking back, I realize she must have had infinite patience with me, as this was before I learned what few social skills my friends eventually pounded into me. (Basically, I never shut up, and I only talked about what interested me, rather than asking people about their interests.)
That was the memorable, important thing about Mrs. Blair. I think she was the first adult who treated me as an adult, a fellow devotee of history, a fellow scholar who happened to be about twenty years behind her on the road. But it was the same road, and she was the one who let me know that there WAS a road, and that it was one worth traveling.
She traveled that road herself, firmly and happily. I’m sure there was a Mr. Blair somewhere, but she was very much her own person. Seeing an adult woman who was that independent was something new to me, too.
I don’t even know if Liz Blair is still alive or not. But either way: Thank you, Liz. God only knows where I’d have ended up if I’d taken another road than the one you traveled ahead of me.