Archives: September 2011

Short and Sweet Mini-Retreat

by Ruth Tenzer Feldman
Published on: September 28, 2011
Categories: Other Topics
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Aaaaah, such a pleasure! This coming Sunday, the Viva Scrivas will crowd into my place around high noon and wander off into the night after dinner. Guinny the Welsh corgi mix will guard their every move—it’s in her DNA even though the Viva Scrivas don’t need herding.  We’re having a mini-retreat, a day out of the ordinary, with each of us tackling a writing project. Writing is a lonely occupation that also benefit from company.

I admit that it’s harder for me to concentrate when the mini-retreat is here. But once two or three Scrivas are typing away or staring into space with what, I imagine, are deep literary thoughts flooding their neural synapses, then I can overcome the pull of my non-writing to-do list. I need not multi-task. I don’t have to put in the laundry. And—oh, horrors!—I don’t even have to make everyone happy.

A critical mass of writers creates an ambiance that pulls me in and makes me want to write, revise, rewrite, and write some more. Yes, at some point in the afternoon I’ll stick vegetable lasagna in the oven. Then I’ll get back to the activity du jour.

This isn’t magic. If you have a writer’s critique group, pick a day and go for it. If you don’t, then simply invite a few like-minded writers over for a few quiet hours together. Provide writing surfaces, sitting surfaces, and quiet. Do not clean anything but the bathroom.

Report from KidLitCon 2011 – CONNECTION and AUTHENTICITY

by Amber Keyser
Published on: September 27, 2011
Categories: Events, Inspiration
Comments: 6 Comments

KidLitCon 2011 was all about CONNECTION and AUTHENTICITY.  It was invigorating like this killer mural I passed in Seattle.


Unlike many writers’ conferences, which are tinged with an air of desperation, the path to publication was NOT the focus.  Instead KidLitCon attendees are primarily bloggers focused on connecting authors and their books to readers.  Not as marketers (though some authors assume that every blog is a lightly veiled form of advertisement) but as matchmakers devoted to getting the right book in the right hands.  Need proof?  Take the passionate conversation with Colleen Mondor about how her review of a book she loved could “best serve the book.”  Inspiring!


It was deeply satisfying for me to meet others (in person, since I had connected with many via Twitter) who are committed to the tripartite nature of story-telling.  There must be a story, a teller, and an audience.  CONNECTION—I love it!


Another key take home for me was that these connections had to be AUTHENTIC.  Truth starts with the story.  The panel on diversity (Lee Wind, Sarah Stevenson, Brent Hartinger, Sara Ryan, Justina Chen) reminded us that the heart of the story is inhabited by authentic, non-stereotypical characters whatever their ethnicity and orientation.  Writers (no matter their ethnicity or orientation) must get it right for truth to infuse the story.


Much discussion on authenticity circled around how we review books.  Bloggers make many choices about their own process and the key is transparency.  If you only discuss books you like (book recommendations vs. critical book reviews) then say so on your blog.  If you’re taking on the crucial job of true book reviews, remember that critique is not a litany of failures.


Authenticity was also a theme of Holly and Shiraz Cupala’s presentation on DIY marketing.  They urged authors to focus on giving value to bloggers, potential readers, book store buyers, and librarians.  We shouldn’t be trying to trick people into switching tooth paste brands.  We should be trying to fill a need.  Shiraz shared a quote from Simon Sinek: “People don’t buy what you do.  They buy why you do it.”  Isn’t that another way of saying we all want the heart of the story?


Perhaps the best gift of KidLitCon 2011 was the synergy with Angel Punk.  Devon Lyon, Matthew Wilson, Jake Rossman, and I presented a panel entitled The Future of Transmedia Storytelling: Angel Punk, Pottermore, and Skeleton Creek.  (For those of you who weren’t there, transmedia tells interwoven but non-overlapping story lines through multiple forms of media.  In our case, film, comics, novel, and online.)  Transmedia is about CONNECTION because of fan participation in the story-telling process and because each form of media engages and unites a different set of fans.  It was exciting to see the enthusiasm of other KidLitCon attendees for both our approach to story-telling and the heart of our story itself.  (Thanks, you guys!)


I’m still flying high from KidLitCon 2011.  I left with real, true, new friends—CONNECTION and AUTHENTICITY.

10 Reasons to Write a Book Proposal BEFORE Writing the Book

by Elizabeth Rusch
Published on: September 20, 2011
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ScrivaLiz will be teaching a seven-week intensive workshop at the Attic Institute in Portland, Oregon, on How to Write a Book Proposal, Thursdays 5-7 pm starting October 6.  To learn more or register, go to

Say you have an idea for a nonfiction book for children or adults. What is one way to greatly decrease your chances at getting it published? Write the book. It sounds counter intuitive, but if you want your nonfiction book published, you should write a book proposal BEFORE writing the book. Here’s why:

10. Your book will likely be better organized. Most proposals include an outline. The exercise of planning what are going to cover and how you are going to organize it will help your manuscript read more smoothly.

9. You can nail the voice. Most proposals include a sample chapter, giving you a chance to find and hone your voice before producing the whole book.

8. Your book will be more different from other books. Most proposals include a competitive analysis, where you identify and describe other books on the same subject matter and point out how your book will be different and better. The exercise will keep you from writing a book that has already been written and will help you make your book stand out from the rest.

7. You will know your audience better. Most proposals include a description of the target audience. The exercise of asking yourself who exactly your book is for and why they would be interested in your book will help keep your writing on target for the audience.

6. Proposals are meant to be discussed and fine-tuned. If you submit a whole manuscript and it’s way off-base in length, tone, or focus, the publisher will likely say no. If the proposal is an interesting idea but is off-base in length, tone, or focus, the editor can talk to you about changes before you have invested in writing the full book.

5. You will be ready to write the book. The proposal is a road map for your writing – a clear, well-thought out road map that you and the editor agree on. This gives you a to-do list that can help you tackle the book step-by-step.

4. You can be paid to write the book. If you sell a book project based on a proposal, you will probably get half of your advance on signing. That is welcome money that can help support you or pay for research as you write.

3. Your editor will ask for fewer revisions. If you and editor agree on a proposal and you write what you said you would write, there should be fewer surprises when you turn in your manuscript and the editor asks for revisions.

2. It is the way the majority of nonfiction books are sold. Many publishers ask for proposals. Giving a publisher what they want shows you are knowledgeable about their business and a real professional.

1. You can get it done! Proposals are generally shorter than book manuscripts. It is something you can do quickly and relatively easily to get your idea out into the market.

ScrivaLiz can help. Join her for a seven-week intensive on how to write a book proposal. Come with an idea. Leave with a draft.

Elizabeth Rusch is the author of five books sold based on proposals. She is currently writing three more book proposals, and plans to write many more. Her workshop starts October 6.

Ack! My group members disagree about my mss. What do I do?

by Amber Keyser
Published on: September 16, 2011
Categories: Craft
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Often the Scrivas are unanimous in their feedback.  If they all suggest killing characters, then I oil up the guillotine and start hacking off heads.  That’s a no-brainer.

Then there are the “other” times when conflict reigns supreme.  Confession: we have actually called votes.

“Who likes it in first person?”
“First person it is.  Get on that revision, Scriva!”

For Angel Punk, my YA novel-in-progress, consensus has been a fleeting thing.  There was an even split between love and hate on the first prologue.  I ditched it and tried again.  Half the Scrivas missed the old prologue.  The new had one “aye” vote.  That one’s going in the crapper too.  Point of view (POV) is also an area of contention.  Some lobby for 1st person, others for close-in 3rd person.  I was hoping for 3rd person omniscient but it looks like that is making me lose the voice.  Ack!

So what do you do when you get contradictory feedback?

First, I try to understand the feedback behind the feedback.  Do they hate the prologue because they miss the main character’s voice or because it seems to offer superfluous information or because it distracts from the main themes that I’m trying to address? I need to find out what I’m actually trying to say.

One approach I sometimes use is to write it in plain language so I’m not distracted by fancy-pants words or attempts at subtlety.  For example, “Mara acts tough but she’s on shaky ground because she doesn’t really know who or what she is.”  I know I can’t use that verbage in the book but it might give me clarity to know that the prologue should show Mara’s confusion without her losing face by being too weepy or confessional.

Second, I check out books that have succeeded in areas where I struggle.  Again thinking about Mara, she has personality qualities that are similar to Katniss in The Hunger Games, Katsa in Graceling, and Karou in Daughter of Smoke and Bone.  What was the POV for those characters?  Can that help me figure out which POV will work best for Mara?

Third, I have to accept that the Scriva majority may be most representative of my readers. In my first draft of Angel Punk, I tried to use short, fast-paced scenes – each of which shifted POV – to give a comic book, action-adventure feel to the story.  One Scriva loved it.  The others were lost.  I loved it too and was tempted to stick with my experimental style, but I want people to read my book.  If a handful of brilliant Scrivas were lost, then chances are many of my readers would be too.  I went back to more traditional approach.

The take-home from this (at least for me) is that sometimes contradictory feedback is the best feedback because it forces me to go deep, analyze more, and find absolute clarity on what I’m trying to achieve with the work.

“I Wonder What Other People Think About X…”

by Elizabeth Rusch
Published on: September 14, 2011
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When A Critique Raises a Question

In a recent Scriva meeting, ScrivaNicole gave her usual lucid, organized critique of a bunch of chapters of ScrivaAddie’s YA novel. But she ended with a question. “I love the murder mystery stuff,” she said. “But I wonder if it dominates too much here. I worry that Carlos’s personal story is getting lost in this section. What do the other Scriva think?”

This happens often during Scriva meetings. When I or other Scrivas critique, we have many solid comments and suggestions that we are super-confident about. But once in a while we read something we love, but something bothers us…something we can’t quite name or put a finger on. So we give a vague reaction, but ask other Scrivas what they think.

These critique questions can open up the most interesting and enlightening discussions. In this case, Nicole’s question encouraged us all to consider and express what we thought about the murder mystery and how it fit into Carlos’s character development and the novel as a whole. The discussion was quick, lively, detailed, and rich – and probably wouldn’t have happened without Nicole’s question.

So if you are critiquing a piece of writing and you’re not sure what you think about a particular section or character or plot point, consider asking the group to weigh in. Sometime a pointed question can spur focused, fruitful discussion.

Happy Critiquing

Elizabeth Rusch



Read Your Way to Great Writing

by Addie Boswell
Published on: September 13, 2011
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This just in: Portlanders read like fiends! For the ninth year in a row, Multnomah County Library patrons checked out and renewed more items than other city our size; only the New York Public Library circulates more books. This is probably one of the reasons I feel so at home here. People love books and they love to talk about books.

The Scrivas are no exception; just consider Sabina’s bookshelves (double parked stacks) or Liz’s library card (known to top 200 check-outs) to see how voracious we are. I suspect that all writers share this trait; for as author Richard Peck puts it, “You stand on the shoulders of every book you’ve ever read.” Another phrase I’ve heard repeatedly is, “You must read 100 books before you can write one.” I took this advice particularly when I started writing my first young adult novel, a genre I hadn’t touched since 1988 when I finished the last Sweet Valley High book. (YA has come a loooong way since then.)  Two years later, I’ve read 158 YA novels.

I know the number because I also started doing something new with my reading: recording what I thought. In my mini-notebooks, I jot down a grade for each book and what I liked/didn’t like. While I’m sure all the reading has improved my manuscript, the note-taking has given me a better handle on the market. (So when I write my query letters this month, I can cite books and authors that are comparable.) But just as importantly, I’ve rediscovered a lost love, and become such a convert to YA that I’ve nearly given up adult fiction altogether. Some mornings, I marvel at the sheer joy of this profession– a job that beguiles me to read all I want. (And soon after, I start to feel guilty and return to my computer.)

If you’re just entering the genre, here is a list of YA novels that people passed on to me and I fell in love with. (most fall in the gritty contemporary category for ages 14-up)

  • Graceling, Kristin Cashore
  • Speak, Fever, Chains, and everything else by Laurie Halse Anderson
  • Tallulah Falls, Christine Fletcher
  • 13 Reasons Why, Jay Asher
  • When You Reach Me, Rebecca Stead
  • The Book Thief, Fighting Ruben Wolfe, and everything else by Marcus Zusak
  • The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau Banks
  • Lost, Jacqueline Davies
  • Whale Talk, Chris Crutcher
  • How I Live Now, Meg Rosoff
  • The Adoration of Jenna Fox, Mary E. Pearson
  • Goose Girl and others by Shannon Hale
  • Nothing, Janne Teller
  • Revolver, Marcus Sedgewick
  • The Chocolate War, Robert Cormier
  • Ship Breaker, Paolo Bacigalupi
  • Dark Water, Alice McNeal,
  • Tomorrow, When the War Began, John Marsden
  • The Knife of Never Letting Go, Patrick Ness
  • Crank, Ellen Hopkins
  • Tales of the Madman Underground, John Barnes
  • Punkzilla, Adam Rapp
  • Chime, Franny Billingsley

Sharing Inspiration

by Nicole Marie Schreiber
Published on: September 8, 2011
Categories: Creativity, Inspiration
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Being a member of Viva Scriva means sharing things with one another that help to inspire us, whether they be interesting blog posts, special speakers that we hear at a conference, articles that we read, books on the writer’s craft, etc…  This past week I actually watched something on the dreaded “T” word that helped inspire me to write.

What is the “T” word, you ask?  It’s the ultimate time suck, of course (besides the internet).


I don’t watch a ton of T.V., but I do like certain shows, and one of them is “America’s Got Talent.”  I enjoy rooting for my favorites, and sometimes I actually do go online and on the phone and vote for them.  I was saddened this week by the magician Landon Swank getting the boot, since I really enjoyed his performances and appreciated his artistry.  My husband is a magician, and I have acted as his assistant on numerous occasions, so I always appreciate watching a good magician.

My other favorite act this season is a dance troupe named “Silhouettes.”  They are a mixed –age group, the youngest being three-years-old, and mix dance with shadow play that looks almost like puppetry at times.  What I love most about the group is the way they tell a story with their dance.  This week’s performance was no different.  It is a story about believing in your dreams, with a boy struggling with his studies in the beginning of the act and then thinking about all he can accomplish if only he finish his schooling.

Though the craft of writing fiction is never mentioned or shown throughout the performance, I couldn’t help but think about my dream of being a full-time author while watching it.  I know what that boy feels like when he is struggling while sitting at his desk at the very beginning of the act.  I picture myself sitting there, struggling with a line of dialogue or how my main character should feel in a particular scene or what the best word would be for an action I am trying to convey.  Writing is HARD, and it’s easy to want to give up.  Heck, it would be SO easy to give up.  I would only need to close my laptop, stand up, and walk away to the infinite number of other things that beg for my attention at all hours of the day and night—cleaning, children, teaching, husbands, dogs, errands, and everything else in the world that needs me besides my writing.

But as the act progresses, and the audience sees how the boy can accomplish his dreams if he only keeps to his work, it makes me know that I too need to keep my bum in my chair and stick with it.    I too can be an author—if I work hard enough, long enough, keep on dreaming, and always, always BELIEVE.

I hope that all of you keep your belief in your dreams alive, too.


(Click here to see the video of the Silhouettes on YouTube. Enjoy!)


-Nicole Marie Schreiber




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