A Lot to Read

by Elizabeth Rusch
Published on: June 20, 2015
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There have been times in the history of the Viva Scrivas when only one or two people were submitting work to be read most months. We wrung our hands about what to do about it, how everyone should be able to get something out of the meeting even if they didn’t submit, how to keep the group vital while reading only one or two people’s work.

Pile of PapersThe pendulum has swung recently. Everyone is super productive and super eager to get feedback on mostly long work. In our last meeting, we had 60 pages of an alternate history YA, 92 pages (single spaced) of a YA with documentary film making teen, 100 pages of a YA coming of age novel, and the last hunk of a YA novel set in Brazil.

The next month we’ll be tackling a whole MG novel (150 pages) and two chunks (50-100 pages) of two of the YA novels.

That’s a fair amount of reading.

So how do we do it?

First of all, when things seem to be heating up, when it seems like a lot of people want to share big chunks, we sketch out a schedule for submissions. That way we know what is coming when and can set aside reading time. It also helps prevent meetings with nothing to read and others with too much to read.

Also, we have a guideline (sometimes followed, sometimes not) that if you are submitting a large chunk (50 pages or more) you must submit a month, rather than just a week, before. Also as a courtesy, we offer print outs for longer chunks, especially full novels.

How do I personally manage all that reading? For one thing, I really look forward to it. I am excited to read my fellow-writers work, whether its pages I’ve never seen or a revision where I can see a work getting better and better.

I also print out all the submissions as the come in and put them on a table in my livingroom with a pen nearby, so I can curl up on the couch with the pages in the evening, away from my desk.

I try to get everything read a few days before the meeting so I have some time to let my thoughts percolate. I will often add a few notes last notes a few days after reading something or at the meeting itself.

Mostly I welcome a lot of reading from the Viva Scrivas. It means the group and the individual writers are on a roll. It means I have lots of great reading ahead. And finally, it means that I will likely learn a lot as I read and as we gather to share our thoughts on all this wonderful work. As ScrivaAmber once said: We learn as much by reading and commenting as we do by getting comments on our work.

Elizabeth Rusch

 

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Shut up? Keep talking? Delilah Dawson’s straight talk to authors about social media

by Amber Keyser
Published on: June 11, 2015
Categories: Business of Writing
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Book-LoveIt’s magical when you find a book that you love. You finish the last page and want to fall on your knees and propose. Be mine forever! I will never forsake you!

As an author, I want this relationship for my books. I want them to find their way into the arms of readers who will love them.

But how does this magic happen?

When it comes to which books make it big and which go out-of-print sad and alone, there is serious black magic involved.

Recently author Delilah Dawson wrote a series of blogs on book promotion. She talked about what works and what doesn’t, offering sound advice for authors everywhere.

In a nutshell, her black magic answer is “time + hard work + great books + luck.” I recommend you read further. Here are links to her posts.

Please shut up: Why self-promotion as an author doesn’t work

Wait, Keep Talking: Author self-promo that actually works

I also think you should follow her on Twitter (@DelilahSDawson) and check out her website.

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An Ironic Evolution of “Grandma”

by Ruth Tenzer Feldman
Published on: June 4, 2015
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Grandma-case-cropI remember decorating this plastic case for Mother’s Day, 1955. I used glue and glitter back then, a basic art form that survives to this day. Everyone in the group was supposed to write GRANDMA, and dutiful me complied, even though my grandmothers were “Nana” (an English alternative to grandmother) and “Bubbe” (grandmother in Yiddish).  I figured that “grandma” was the correct term of address in America, the nation of white Anglo-Saxon Protestants, the kind that inhabited the Dick and Jane readers in my elementary school. I was white, so I was part way to respectability. I could pass.

Flash forward sixty years to an America that at least recognizes more diversity, although we still have a long way to go. The Scrivas and I write for a wider audience, with characters that are drawn from a broader slice of humanity. I, however, am still me. What would I write on my plastic box now?

A key benefit of being in a writer’s critique group is exposure to the backgrounds and perspectives of creative people who observe the world around them. OK, all of the Scrivas are white and female. Still we have a lot that’s not in common, and it’s that lack of commonality that “feeds” me. Among the “grandmothers” and “grandmas” in the Scriva world, we have a few Nanas, an Adyl (meaning precious) and Emme, and a Gram B.

Dick and Jane evolved over the years to include African American characters, which is a small step, I grant you. Just ask Walter Dean Myers, whose essay in the New York Times is entitled “Where Are the People of Color in Children’s Books?” And yet, here’s the irony about “grandma.” Our characters have to be true to themselves as well as to the times and places in which they find themselves.

My latest work-in-progress includes an woman, Ly Tien, who was born during the Vietnam War era to an African American GI and a Vietnamese woman. She is later adopted into a white family in the United States, a Jewish family with roots in Denmark, Germany, and Turkey. It’s 2059 Portland and Ly Tien has a granddaughter. What does Ly Tien want to be called?

Grandma. It figures. Adamant as she is about preserving her mixed heritage, Ly Tien wants to be called by the same name that she called the only grandmother she knew, the one who was born in the U.S. in 1919 and wanted to be called “grandma.” Despite the current trend to sound anything but old, there’s still that pull to take on the title that is familiar and perhaps beloved. So, Ly Tien, this plastic box, which came back to me when my Nana died about fifty years ago, is for you.

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Daily Rituals

by Addie Boswell
Published on: May 24, 2015
Categories: Other Topics
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UnknownI happened across this gem of a book, Daily Rituals: short entries on how 161 artists, writers, musicians, and other creatives do their work. Reading each entry is like dipping into a bag of the most exquisite chocolate.

— Jane Austen wrote on little notebooks — in the main living space — that she could hide beneath the blotter when company came.

— Benjamin Franklin sat naked in the cold air each morning.

— George Balanchine liked to iron his clothes to start the day.

— Chopin raged, Cheever drank, Capote write lying down.

Read them alone or ready them in one long gluttonous line. The thing that’s always the same? There isn’t one. Artists take lots of naps and long walks in the country. They hold to the strictest of schedules. They procrastinate. They sleep too late. They drink too much wine. They drink too much coffee. They isolate themselves. They doubt. Most importantly friends, they are just like you an me.

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The Problem with “Butt in the Chair”

by Elizabeth Rusch
Published on: May 20, 2015
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I’ve heard at least dozen writers talking about overcoming writers’ block with one simple rule: Sit your butt in the chair.

I have two problems with this advice. First of all, I don’t really get writers’ block, I get writers’ inertia. Writers’ block is when you don’t know what to write…you don’t have any ideas or any direction. Writers’ Inertia is MUCH worse. You  have ideas, you know what you want to do, you know the direction you want to take…but you just can’t get started during a given writing day or session. Putting my butt in the chair does not solve my Writers’ Inertia.

 

 

That’s because when I get my butt in the chair with my computer on and ready to go in front of me, I can do SOOOO many things other than write or revise!  I can:

Check my email.

Check facebook.

Check twitter.

Post on facebook and twitter.

Research lodging, flights, car rentals, and things to do for upcoming schedule trips OR trips I would like to take some day…

Answer some emails.

Check to see if an article of clothing I want has gone off-season and on-sale yet.

Clear out my email.

Check the weather.

Check the hourly forecast.

Check the forecast in someplace I’m visiting in the future or hope to visit in the future.

And now, look!, I found another one! I can write a Scriva post!

Writing this post kind of counts as writing — and it serves another purpose, too. For me the only way to overcome writers’ block or writers’ inertia is to write.

Thanks for the warm up. I’m going back to what I SHOULD be doing, which is revising my novel. Chapter 11 is next.

Elizabeth Rusch

 

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Needs Updates

by Amber Keyser
Published on: May 11, 2015
Comments: 2 Comments
Urquhart Castle at Loch Ness Scotland

Needs updates

I am in the process of moving. Putting my current house on the market is turning out to be way more stressful than I anticipated.

First, I had a bunch of workers fixing all the little things that I should have fixed for myself long ago. Then the stagers rushed through, moving furniture and rehanging art. I get kicked out of my home with a one-hour notice as strangers walk through my home, poking and peering at all of my stuff. Shortly after each showing, my realtor sends the “feedback” and I get to to hear how the driveway is all wrong or the kitchen needs updating.

I feel homeless and violated and judged all at once.

I am also in the process of sending my debut novel, THE WAY BACK FROM BROKEN, into the world. It releases October 1st, and I have a sneaking suspicion that the experience is going to be much like moving. In some ways it already is. Selling a book to a publisher is the first step into a wider world. Editors and designers, publicists and marketers all get into the mix. They move things around. They re-envision the way the book will look and feel. They change things.

Unlike the home selling process, I have enjoyed the collaboration with the team at my publishing house. I know it is a better book because of their expertise. I also have valued the distance it has created between me and the book. Just as my house doesn’t feel like my home anymore, the book doesn’t feel like as much a part of me, of my very sinews and bones, as it did before.

I am hoping that this helps.

Because soon, terrifyingly soon, readers will make their way through my book. They will examine its rooms, poke in its dusty corners, and lift the sheets. And they will decide, just as the strangers walking through my house will decide, if they like it or not, if they want to live here.

I try to remind myself that tastes differ and that this is a good thing, but I anticipate it will be hard when the reviews start coming in. I may wish I had updated the kitchen after all.

 

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See the Tree? No? I Do! A Lesson in Revising

by Ruth Tenzer Feldman
Published on: May 4, 2015
Categories: Basics, Challenges, Craft
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no-treeHere’s the thing about revising. Taking another look…and yet another look…at a draft of your own writing deals with more than what’s still on the page. For me the harder part of the revising and revisioning process is dealing with what’s no longer on the page.

Take this picture, for instance. I’ve walked along this path about 3,000 times over the past few years. For the first 2,800 times, I saw a small fir tree in front of the metal screen. I barely noticed the screen. Instead, I enjoyed that tree. I watched it thrive. Then, for some reason, the tree sickened and died. One day the tree was gone, erased from the scene. All that was left was the screen, but I still kept remembering the tree. I still focused on what was gone rather than on what remained.

It’s that way with my writing. Sometimes I get rid of a character that’s not needed, or dialogue that doesn’t pull its weight, or a bit of backstory that bogs down the action. I know I’ve made the scene better, but I can’t yet wrap my mind around what I am sharing with the reader and what is still stuck in my head.

Do I have a foolproof plan for dealing with this after-image syndrome? No. Not really. I wish I could be more helpful here. I do have some tools, though.

  • The critique group. I take advantage of the mindset of every one of the Scrivas. They aren’t as wedded to my “fir tree” as I am, because I thought up that fir tree and they only read about it.
  • The know-nothing reader. I find another reader, preferably someone who doesn’t know much about the story, and I ask them to read the “with tree” and “without tree” versions. I want to get out of my head and into theirs.
  • Desensitizing. Bear with me on this one. It sounds like a weird technique, but it does work for me. I deliberately put the “fir tree” back in the scene, then take it out, then put it in again, then take it out again. Eventually I get to the point where I am good and sick of that tree. I am more interested in every other part of the scene. The tree is so yesterday’s draft.

Every once in a great while something that I’ve removed from a scene insists on returning. What happens then is… the subject for another blog.

 

 

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Why Attend Writing Conferences?

by Addie Boswell
Published on: April 23, 2015
Categories: Other Topics
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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!)

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REVISING SCENES

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

WHAT DOES YOUR CHARACTER WANT IN SCENE?

3 HINTS THAT HE/SHE MIGHT GET IT:

3 HINTS THAT HE/SHE WON’T:

NEW STRONG FIRST LINE:

NEW STRONG LAST LINE:

WHAT IS THE TURNING POINT, WHEN THINGS CHANGE?

HOW DOES THE CHARACTER SEE HIMSELF/HERSELF BEFORE TURNING POINT?

AFTER?

THREE SENSORY DETAILS DURING THE TURNING POINT:

FIVE SETTING DETAILS:

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

Elizabeth Rusch

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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……

 

 

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