Why Attend Writing Conferences?

by Addie Boswell
Published on: April 23, 2015
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logo-scbwiI recently attended a regional Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) Conference — something I try to do every couple of years at least. While sitting at breakfast, a first-time attendee asked me, “So what do you get out of these conferences?” Uh… great question. Here is the answer I didn’t quite have time to give.

1) INSPIRATION!!! Children’s Book Writers are not like rock stars: you can actually meet your heroes. Most conferences draw nationally acclaimed writers to give keynotes and teach workshops. David Weisner, David Shannon, Christopher Paul Curtis, Nikki Giovanni, Andrea Pinkney, and Brian Pinkney are just a few of the author/illustrators I’ve seen up close at conferences. Along with the greats, many conferences also feature local “success stories” that are equally inspiring. And then there are all the attendees you will meet, all working on interesting things. In fact, there is so much good writer juju in the air at conferences that I often get ideas for new books just by being there.

2) Tips, exercises and insights for my current works-in-progress. Workshops are led by authors as well as editors and agents, and tips come from all directions. I especially like attending workshops on genres outside of my own — like filmmaking or horror-writng — to get fresh ideas for my work. One of the most unique workshops I attended was how to analyze your characters through the Seven Deadly Sins (by writer Roseanne Parry).

3) Agent/Editor Contacts. Most conferences allow you to pay extra for agent/editor “pitches” or critiques. Meeting an editor face-to-face is so much quicker than wading through the slush pile and can lead to future books deals. At the least, presenters often give preferential treatment to submissions from conference attendees.

4) Critique Group Contacts. My illustrator critique group — based in Portland — started after three of us met at a Los Angeles conference. Often you’ll meet writers who work more specifically in your genre to provide good long-distance critique.

I find conferences especially valuable when I’m out of the writing groove, when I’m thinking about a new manuscript (especially in a new genre), and when I’ve finished a manuscript and am ready to market. (And if you are a children’s writer, join your national and local SCBWI chapters at once!)



by Elizabeth Rusch
Published on: April 20, 2015
Comments: 1 Comment

While revising my middle-grade novel April Fool, I have found Donald Maass’ THE FIRE IN FICTION to be enormously helpful. The whole book is terrific, but I’ve been focused on Chapter 3: Scenes that Can’t Be Cut. I have heard many times that a character should want something in every scene and that something should change for the character in every scene, but I haven’t always been sure about how to accomplish that. Using exercises Maass offers at the end of this chapter, I have created a scene worksheet that I have found helpful. Pick a scene, answer the following questions, and then revise the scene with your answers in mind.  I hope you find it as powerful as I do! The questions from my worksheet, adapted from The Fire of Fiction, follow below:

The Fire in Fiction: Passion, Purpose and Techniques to Make Your Novel Great











I hope you find this exercise as powerful as I do!

Elizabeth Rusch


The Attack of the Brain Snatchers

by Ruth Tenzer Feldman
Published on: April 4, 2015
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PDX-mind-control15-cropHere it is, folks, in black and white, like this sign I saw in a store window a block from my writer’s garret. I confess to you that my dream as a writer is to control your mind. While you are reading my book, I want you to forget about eating. I want you to forget about going to the gym or checking your e-mail. I want you to silence your cell phone. I want to get inside your head and not let go even after you’ve finished reading my book. In short, I want you 24-7. And then I want you to want more.

Oh, yeah……




Good Notes

by Sabina I. Rascol
Published on: April 1, 2015
Categories: Critique Process
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Creativity Inc.On this blog about critique (as well as very much about the writing process), I offer a plug for Creativity, Inc.: Overcoming the Unseen Forces that Stand in the Way of True Inspiration, by Ed Catmull. A graphic artist friend recommended the book, and indeed people of all stripes will find plenty to mine within. Animators, writers, managers, artists, moviemakers, CEOs… and members of critique groups!


There’s plenty about effective critiquing interspersed throughout. (The book has a good index: I recommend tracking “Braintrust” if you can’t take on reading the whole book.) But here’s a lovely summary by Catmull, the President of Pixar and Disney Animation, about the “good notes” that Pixar leaders offered each other from the beginning:


“A good note says what is wrong, what is missing, what isn’t clear, what makes no sense. A good note is offered at a timely moment, not too late to fix the problem. A good note doesn’t make demands; it doesn’t even have to include a proposed fix. But if it does, that fix is offered only to illustrate a potential solution, not to prescribe an answer. Most of all, though, a good note is specific. “I’m writhing with boredom,” is not a good note.” (p. 103).


May we all give, and receive, the best of good notes.


-Sabina I. Rascol



The Time of Day

by Elizabeth Rusch
Published on: March 20, 2015
Comments: 1 Comment

I’m not a morning person and I am committed to getting some exercise (walk, run, or yoga) almost every day. As a result my basic schedule for MANY YEARS has been: wake up, get kids off to school, workout, shower, eat breakfast, and then get to work.

Oftentimes this means I don’t get to my desk until 10 or 10:30 in the morning. After a couple of hours of work, I’m hungry, so I have lunch. By then, it’s 1 p.m. and my daughter gets out of school at 2:15, so I cram to get some work done. Work time per day: Two hours and then one hour — so three total.

But recently, I have made a tweak in my schedule that has changed everything. I don’t have any more time, and yet, I have more time!

Instead of working out when my kids leave, I get right to work at 8 am. At 12:30 or 1:00, if I’ve worked intensely, I am so ready for a walk/run/yoga break. I eat breakfast with my kids in the morning and then eat with them again when they are gorging on their snacks, so eating takes less of my work time and I gain nice mealtimes with my kids. But best of all I get FOUR TO FIVE HOURS of uninterrupted writing time each day!

Is that INSANE?! What took me so long to figure this out? I mean at least a DECADE!

The moral of this story is: Take a hard and creative look at your schedule. Forget your old habits and assumptions and try something new. You may have more writing time than you think.


Do I have to blog? The curse of the writer’s platform

by Amber Keyser
Published on: March 12, 2015
Categories: Business of Writing
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1188800347_z1One piece of advice that many, many pre-published writers hear is that they need to develop their online presence. They need a platform.


Most of us hate that.

But we love books, right? The logical first stab at blogging is often to review books that we read. Before you jump on this bandwagon, I offer a few words of caution.

First, this weird, wild world of interwebs that we inhabit has dissolved the traditional boundaries of publishing. There used to be a clear demarcation between readers and writers and reviewers, between editors and agents, between publishers and the rest of us. These lines have blurred. Many agents are “editorial.” Many editors also write. Some agencies have set up their own in-house publishing wings.

And this brings me to book reviews.

I don’t write them. Ever. I will tell you when I love a book. I will beg you to run out a buy a book that I adore (like OKAY FOR NOW by Gary Schmidt). But I don’t give stars and I don’t review. Let me tell you why.

Writing useful, constructive, intelligent reviews that analyze the craft within the pages is HARD. It takes skill, experience, and time. The reviewers who do this well are GOLDEN. If I were going to review, I would be compelled to be that kind of reviewer. But that would take immense time and energy away from writing my actual books.

Many reviews that you will stumble upon are of a different sort. They are a reader’s opinion, based not so much on analysis but on feelings and impressions and person connections. This is cool too. I love it when a reader connects with something I’ve written, but it’s different from a literary review. And there are so many of these blogs out there, that you will find it hard to make your voice heard among them. If you are doing this as a writer trying to build a platform, it probably won’t get you very far.

The other reason I don’t review books is that the book community is small and these people are my friends. I want to support them as artists more than I want to publicly critique their work.

But back to platform… do you have to blog?


I blog very infrequently on my main website, usually about experiences or thoughts that get lodged in my brain and require a little noodling on my part. I don’t have the illusion that this will win me millions of followers, but it will give the interested few a peek into my weird head.

We blog here because we saw a need. So many people over the years have asked us if we had room in our group (Sadly, we don’t) that we decided to lift the veil on our process so that other writers could look inside. This isn’t a platform for any of us. It’s a service. We’re trying to meet a need that we observed.

As you are thinking about building your base as as writer, think about what you have share, what need you could fill, and what would be fun for you to explore. Being online as a writer is about building relationships. There’s no need to force it.

And find me — on Twitter, on Goodreads, or on my author FB page! I love to connect with other story-tellers and other readers!


Taking a Bubble Break

by Ruth Tenzer Feldman
Published on: March 5, 2015
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Bubbles-crop2I captured this shot a few days ago, during one of the gloriously (and weirdly) warm days of non-winter. In lieu of snowflakes or raindrops in Jamison Square Park, we had bubbles. Really big bubbles, floating up into the sky.

The rational side of me knows where bubbles come from and how to make them. Here’s a whole list of links to recipes from bubbleblowers.com. Still, the kid in me was entranced by the magic. Like the child in the photo, I wanted to chase after a bubble and touch it.

The writer in me wants to create a scene that engenders this much intense attention in the reader. I want to write a scene that pulls the reader into the action on the page (or the screen), and keeps the reader there. I want to meld craft and creativity, until I can write such a scene. And then of course the challenge is to write another scene after that until there’s a whole narrative arc of scenes. It’s easier to make bubbles, believe me. But it’s the scene I’m after, so the bubble break is over. I’d better stop blathering and get back to work.


Reading Bad Books

by Addie Boswell
Published on: February 27, 2015
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Best-selling bad book threatens the very foundation of feminism or provides a titillating escape, depending on who you ask.

Should you or shouldn’t you? Or maybe the better question is: Do you or don’t you? Read bad books, by which I mean formulaic, cliched, stiff, tawdry, populist, immature, or otherwise embarrassing books. There is a belief that “real” authors don’t and shouldn’t read trash. That reading a bad book is the equivalent of feeding your brain junk food, and even worse, that the junk food might start clogging your arterial thoughts and make your writing stupider. Bad writing is catching.

I’ve never quite bought it.

Like most writers, I suspect, I want to write a literary masterpiece, the book that could win me a Printz, a National Book Award, even a Pulitzer. Huzzah! While I’ve read many prize-worthy books, I’ve put plenty of them back on the shelf too. On a given night, I reach for books more pedestrian. Books I might meet at a vacation beach house or an outdated doctor’s office. Young adult thrillers. Old school romance novels. I rarely stop reading them, even when the stilted prose makes me cringe.

Stephen King says, “Almost everyone can remember losing his or her virginity, and most writers can remember the first book he/she put down thinking: I can do better than this. Hell, I am doing better than this! What could be more encouraging to the struggling writer than to realize his/her work is unquestionably better than that of someone who actually got paid for his/her stuff?” (from his excellent On Writing)

So true! Though I don’t read bad books for that reason either. Not to make myself a better writer or feel a little righteous snobbery. I read bad books for the same reason I read good books: to escape reality. I am willing to extend almost any courtesty to a book that will pull me into another place and time. I can hate the character, scorn the dialogue, disdain the whole premise, and still I will read on. If the plot fails, I will read on in the eternal hope that it will improve. That might make me easy as a reader; some might even say sloppy. But I am an adult now, and I haven’t met a bad book I couldn’t read.

“One learns most clearly what not to do by reading bad prose,” from the Master King again. I would add that you sometimes learn what to do right as well. But you don’t have to read to save the world. You can read just to read. And you can eat Cheetos while you do it.


Bullet Journal Your Way Into Writing

by Elizabeth Rusch
Published on: February 20, 2015
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Do you find it hard to find time to write? When you do have time to write, do you waste time wondering what to do? Inspired by a blog post by the wonderful children’s book author Kate Messner, I have started bullet journaling.

Instead of reading my lame description of how to do this, watch the video here.

Take the time to think out your month, think out your days and week, and break down your writing projects into distinct steps, and you might find, like me, that you have more time to write when you make it a priority and when you know just what to do when you sit down.

Hope you find it as helpful as I have!



The Wonder Cupboard of Amy Baskin, an occasional series

by Amber Keyser
Published on: February 12, 2015
Categories: Creativity
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The creative process is endlessly fascinating. Get a bunch of writers together and they end up talking about how it works for them. I was lucky enough to become partners in midnight, low-tide wanderings with the Mudflat Heathens, a group of writers in the Pacific Northwest. Thanks to editor Andrew Karre’s inspiration, we got to talking about the flesh and bones from which we work.

We’ve launched this occasional series to give you a peek into our secret stash of inspiration–our Wonder Cupboards. May I present to you Amy Baskin:

The Wonder Cupboard of Amy Baskin

view from a caveAmy Baskin’s Wonder Cupboard includes a rickety fire escape balcony, the view from inside of a cave, moss, heart-shaped rocks, Tuck Everlasting, Gilead, The Snow Child, mustard seeds, sock monkeys, and a quote from Lyle Lovett: “Well God does, but I don’t. God will, but I won’t. And that’s the difference between God and me.”

Amy reads to escape or help interpret reality. She writes for the same reasons. Her limited concept of home decorating involves stacks of books- in corners, on tables, where the TV used to be. Her work has appeared in various publications including Stories for Children Magazine and Reading Local: Portland. In September, she won the Pacific Northwest Plein Air Writers People’s Choice award for her poem, Snowbound: Day 6, Imagined. She enjoys collaborating, particularly with Jason Baskin, her husband and in-house illustrator.

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Welcome , April 24, 2015