Archives: February 2012

Karen Cushman and To-Do Tips

by Ruth Tenzer Feldman
Published on: February 28, 2012
Comments: 3 Comments


I’ll start with the backstory: Once upon a time, the folks at Ooligan Press asked me for a list of potential reviewers for Blue Thread. Reaching for the stars, I included Karen Cushman. Much to my amazement, Karen gave Ooligan a blurb, such a great blurb, in fact, that it landed on the front cover of the book. Yes!

Karen Cushman

Fast forward to a few weeks ago. I sent Karen an email about Blue Thread and thanked her again. In reply, she wrote, in part: “I wish you great success with the book and all the to-do that comes after.” All the to-do that comes after. Oh, Karen, you are so right!

There’s the celebratory kind of “to-do,” the recent launch of Blue Thread. Exciting and kinda scary. I’m not comfortable being in the spotlight.

Then there’s the so-much-to-do kind of “to-do,” which involves thoughtful, gracious, and time-consuming attention to spreading the word about the new book. Not so exciting. Not so scary. But, in fairness to Blue Thread, necessary and important.

Finally, there’s the big item that’s not on the Blue Thread “to-do” list, and that’s writing the next book.

I’ve learned a lot in the past few weeks, since Blue Thread appeared on the scene. Here are my “to-do” tips for you:

  • Give yourself time, permission, and encouragement to enjoy your moment in the spotlight, even if it’s scary. Relax! No one’s going to remember if your hair wilted or there’s a quaver in your voice. They will remember your enthusiasm and your smile.
  • Eat well, exercise, rest.
  • Say “yes” to nearly everything, but remember that it’s OK to say “no,” too.
  • Commit to bringing spirit to your audience, whether there are two hundred people attending or two. Give them what in Hebrew is called ru-ach, a soulful, zesty, uplifting experience. Good for your audience; good for you.
  • Find your balance between doing right by the new book and “doing write” with the book-to-be. You might decide to stop working on your manuscript entirely for a few weeks, or you might decide to write 250 words on your manuscript every day. Your call.
  • Thank people. Thank your critique group, your editor, your publisher, your friends, your family, your audience, your muse.

So, with that it mind, I’ll end this post by saying, “Thank you!”



Tips for Creating Buzz

by Addie Boswell
Published on: February 24, 2012
Categories: Other Topics
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Comments: 3 Comments

Have you heard about Blue Thread, Ruth Tenzer Feldman’s romp through time and social politics? Scriva Ruth’s book is getting great local buzz, thanks to the book itself–and some very smart marketing by the author and her team at Ooligan Press. (Read more about Ruth’s partnership with Portland State students here.) “Buzz” is that nebulous term we all want: other people to find, talk about, and share our books with their ever-expanding networks. We assume good books will create their own buzz, but still: what can an author do to help?

The main thing I’ve learned by watching Ruth is: Involve all the people you can! While having 30 students critique your book may sound like a particular form of torture, think of an extra 30 “agents” invested in the book’s success. Think of those agents as young, connected, and well-versed in social media, and you’ll start to wonder where you can find your own college class. Here are some other people you might think about involving:

  • Your neighbors. If you frequent a library, restaurant, or small business in your neighborhood, they might be a good fit. In Ruth’s case, she connected with her neighborhood branch of Albina Community Bank, to participate in their “First Thursday” art walk (details below).
  • Groups that fit your niche.  This works especially well for nonfiction titles: in Blue Thread‘s case, Ruth sought out Jewish-themed organizations and publications across the country, as well as organizations celebrating the women’s suffrage movement. (Set in 1912, the book’s publication date was set to coincide with centennial events in Oregon.)

    Ruth in 1912 costume

  • A local non-profit. ScrivaLiz did this when she launched For the Love of Music: The Remarkable Story of Maria Anna Mozart. Not only did Liz involve a guest musician, she benefited Ethos, a nonprofit that spreads music to kids. (She and Ruth also both developed historical costumes for their events — always a big hit!)
  • And finally: your FAF — my shorthand for the “Friends and Family” network. Don’t underestimate this gold mine of support. Your FAF wants your book to succeed just as much as you do, and it feels great to support other people you believe in. You also get a secondary benefit when you link up with friends: the reassuring faces take some of the stress off “pushing” yourself. For the First Thursday event, Ruth invited local women authors and artists (including me) who fit the theme of women in history. Now you’re invited too!

Nest of Words, paper

Thursday, March 1, 6-9 p.m.

Artists and Writers CelebrateWomen’s History Month

Albina Community Bank (in the Pearl)

430 NW 10th Ave., Portland

Authors will sell and sign their books, which are primarily, but not exclusively, for children or young adults. Joining Feldman are Carmen Bernier-Grand (Alicia Alonso: Prima Ballerina and Frida [Kahlo]: ¡Viva la Vida! Long Live Life!), Pamela Smith Hill (Laura Ingalls Wilder: A Writer’s Life), Barbara Kerley (The Extraordinary Mark Twain (According to Suzy) and What To Do about Alice [Roosevelt]), Michelle McCann (Luba: The Angel of Bergen-Belsen and Girls Who Rocked the World), and Elizabeth Rusch (For the Love of Music:  The Remarkable Story of Maria Anna Mozart, a biography of Wolfgang’s musical sister). All of these women have won state or national awards for their work.

Artists Addie Boswell and Sine Morse will display vibrant oil paintings and paper designs inspired by children and by Portland. Their work, as well as Feldman’s suffrage book, will be available for sale for the month of March.

On Missed Meetings

by Elizabeth Rusch
Published on: February 20, 2012
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Comments: 2 Comments

I have a confession to make (now I’ll be able to tell if the Scrivas are reading this). I almost bagged a Scriva meeting for no good reason. I was tired. (Was that a scratchy throat? Could I say I was sick?) I felt busy and wanted to spend an evening with my kids. I hadn’t read everything yet and I didn’t feel like reading. I mean, I really didn’t feel like reading. I had a good novel on my bedside and that seemed a whole lot easier and a whole lot more pleasant. And I hadn’t submitted anything, so I wouldn’t miss any important comments.

But I wasn’t sick. My kids weren’t sick. And my husband even said: You have a Scriva meeting tonight, right?

So I picked up the reading. And guess what? I kind of got into it. The Scrivas are super creative people and great writers. I jotted some notes, got my lazy arse out of the house and went to the meeting.

And I loved it. We laughed. We bitched. We argued (in a good hearted way). We discussed points of view. Our responsibilities to young readers. The nuances of an LSD trip. I was so glad I went.

Sometimes you have to miss a critique group meeting. And that’s OK. But:

1. Don’t make it a regular thing. Missed meeting are not good for your writing or your mental health.

2. Do let your critique group know ahead of time. Duh! Common courtesy. If you don’t, they might wait for you or get into a fist fight saving you a chair.

3. Do try to read and comment on the submitted material anyway. You can mail or email your comments before or after. (Sometimes we Scrivas do this, sometimes we don’t. It hasn’t been a problem because we have so many dedicated members. In a small group, this could be essential.)

4. Do have a good reason. You know when you really need to miss a meeting. But a critique group is a commitment. Don’t do it lightly.

5. Don’t miss too many in a row. You’ll lose the thread of a novel-in-progress, miss some fabulous discussion and weaken your ties to the group. If you know you have to miss six months in row, let your group know that you have to take a breather.  Most likely they’ll have a seat waiting for you when you get back.





Know Thyself

by Sabina I. Rascol
Published on: February 17, 2012
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It’s mid-February, with ten full months still ahead in which to accomplish goals for this year. Writing In Search of “Efficious last month, I stumbled across several insights about what I ideally need in order to write. Self discovery while communicating… It reminds me of my burning need to speak up in college classes so I could crystallize the important truths I was perceiving. Good thing my alma mater fostered small classes that invited participation. Even now I still need to “speak to learn” in small discussion groups I’m part of.

Here are my insights about what I optimally need in order to write.



To be able to write, I need mental space.
I don’t do well when work leaves no time except for sleep, or leaves me as emotionally or mentally dehydrated as baccala (dried codfish), requiring ages to “plump up” again. Nor can I write well when time is plentiful but chewed through by financial concerns.

For me, unrealistic goals can be worse than no goals.
I need realistic goals. Goals that stretch, that challenge, but that yet are accessible, reachable.

Sometimes I set an overly-big goal for myself hoping I’ll do at least some of it. Deep inside, though, I know when a goal is ridiculous. I then run far from it. Why bother when I know it’s impossible? I probably stay away longer from my writing when I set an impossible goal than when I set no goal at all.

I need real accountability with meat and muscles on it.
I always turned in my papers in college. Often enough they were a little late—though I was in good company. A Bryn Mawr joke goes: “How many Bryn Mawrters does it take to screw in a light bulb? One, but she’ll need an extension.” My papers may not have been as brilliant as they would have been had they been started earlier. But they always got done, because THEY HAD TO BE.

I wish I had something like that now.

If I had to submit to the Scrivas every couple of months or so or lose my place at the table, the Scrivas would receive “product” from me much more often than they do now.

If I knew hungry readers waited each month for an installment of my novel, as American readers in the 1800s waited each month for the ship that delivered the latest installment of a Dickens novel, that installment would get written.

If Literary Arts required that Oregon Literary Fellowships recipients submit their completed, or at least MUCH further-along work-in-progress at the end of the grant year, I would be cranking along.

I’m working on setting something like that up for myself.

I need to embrace the truth within my schedule.
Recently I created one of those color-coded schedules I’d make each semester in college. (I am revisiting those days, aren’t I? I guess knowledge and college go together.) On the schedule, classes were blocked out in one color, as were the two hours of study time allotted to each class hour. Sleep and meals were blocked out in another color, church and small group in another, all commitments accounted for. Then one could see how much time there really was available.

Re-engaging in this exercise showed me that right now I only have about four hours a day in which to do anything I’m going to do that day. Everything: cook or clean, see friends, write… So, if I’m going to write, I HAVE TO DO IT WITHIN THOSE FOUR HOURS! Furthermore, I need to write sooner rather than later within those hours, as by their tail end my brain cells are turning in.

INSIGHT #5 (late-breaking news)
“Sleep, optional” doesn’t work in the long run.
I am like a kid when it comes to going to sleep. I push against bedtime, stinting on sleep to do other things. Currently my schedule is such that, even if I want to go to sleep at a timely hour, doing any evening activity means I no longer have enough hours left for a full night’s sleep. Late to bed and early to rise, though, only works for a while. After too long on a “low sleep” diet, life begins losing its savor. I need to like my life, not merely survive it, to want to write and enjoy it.

These insights are leading me to consider changes in my life that will help me write more, with verve. What are things you’ve come to realize that you optimally need in order to write?

-Sabina I. Rascol-


Book launch for Scriva Ruth’s new YA historical fantasy BLUE THREAD!

by Amber Keyser
Published on: February 13, 2012
Categories: Events
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Blue Thread

Ooligan Press invites you to celebrate
the launch of our newest book, Blue Thread.

Please join us in the Miller Pavilion
at the Oregon Historical Society
for light refreshments and a reading
by Ruth Tenzer Feldman.
Monday, February 27th, 5–7 p.m.
1200 SW Park Avenue
Portland, Oregon 97205
by February 21st

At South Coast Writer’s Conference, Scriva Amber covers graphic novels & reading for writers

by Amber Keyser
Published on: February 11, 2012
Categories: Events
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Scriva Amber will be teaching two workshops on Saturday:

Learning to Read for Writers & Illustrators – Amber Keyser

One of the first pieces of advice given to new writers and illustrators is “read what you want to write or draw.” What does that really mean? In this talk, I’ll dissect this cryptic (and overwhelming) suggestion into a series of activities that will help you get a handle on current books in your genre. These activities will help you spot trends, understand what works in children’s literature, and identify publishing houses that might be interested in your work. Plus, you’ll discover some gems for your bookshelf. Click here for a flow chart to guide your research efforts.

Graphic Novels: Get a Grip on a Rising Genre – Amber Keyser

There’s currently a lot of hype about graphic novels for kids. What’s it all about? In this talk, I’ll introduce the genre and discuss the ways in which graphic novels do things differently (and often better) than traditional prose. I’ll share how writing graphic novels has improved and enhanced the way I write my other books. You’ll leave excited about this growing phenomenon in children’s literature.

What I learned about publicity from John Green

by Michelle McCann
Published on: February 7, 2012
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Comments: 2 Comments

Last Sunday I ungraciously fled our annual Scriva business meeting to join my students at the John and Hank Green “Tour de Nerdfighting” event. If you write children’s books, you are probably already familiar with bestselling YA author John Green (Waiting for Alaska, Will Grayson Will Grayson, The Fault in Our Stars). But unless you are a “geektastic” teen or twenty-something who spends too much time watching YouTube, you may not be familiar with the Nerdfighters phenom.

John and Hank (a musician) are “the Vlogbrothers.” Beginning in 2007, they have hosted a popular YouTube channel together, where they vlog back and forth to each other. Their vlogs sometimes involve the books and music they create, but mostly not. Their vlogs are some of the most popular on YouTube and their million-plus fans/community are known as “Nerdfighters” (check them out at

I went to their sold-out Portland event first and foremost, because I am a John Green fan: I love his books and think he is a unique voice in contemporary YA lit. Second, he is hysterical. Third, I am in awe of his ability to promote himself and his books without seeming to be promoting himself and his books. Even when driving around in this not-so-subtle tour bus!

But the biggest reason I went to see John is that we share one significant character trait: we both suffer from social anxiety. Unfortunately for me, it makes doing book events something I dread for months in advance. Thanks to fellow Scriva Ruth, I have two such events looming in March. I am filled with dread already. Here is what I worry about:

  1. I’m afraid no one will come.
  2. I’m afraid I will be boring.
  3. I’m afraid people WILL come and see how boring I am.

If John Green truly has social anxiety (as he claims), how can he possibly go on tour across the U.S. and “perform” in packed theaters full of strangers every night? Well, here is what I learned:

1. Stage lights help. The Bagdad Theater seats nearly 600 people and was so packed I had to sit in the aisle. But because of the lights John couldn’t see us so he claimed to be less nervous.

2. The audience was filled with his community. True to the Vlogbrothers’ slogan “Raising nerdy to the power of awesome,” the audience was full of… you guessed it, nerds. But not the embarrassed, shrinking-violets, stand-on-the-sidelines nerds of decades gone by. These millennial nerds were loud and proud. They wore their geekiness as a badge of honor. They screamed like it was George Clooney and Brad Pitt on stage. They loudly sang along to Hank’s songs about Harry Potter, physics, and lovelorn anglerfish. They freaked when John read this fan question “What would you do if zombies attacked you right now?” John and Hank have created a strong community, as John called it “a refuge for nerds.”

3. He didn’t try to be cool. John copped to his enormous stage fright right off the bat, causing the audience to root for him all the way through the show. He also stuck to doing things he was comfortable with. He talked about his inspiration for the book, read from it, answered fan questions. All pretty basic author event stuff (albeit the Q&A featured a machine that shocked whichever brother was left holding it when the time ran out, kind of like Hot Potato). Hank was the one who wore the tutu.

4. He brought a friend. It seemed easier to spread the burden of entertainment between two people. They supported each other onstage during their nervous moments, they each attracted their own fanbase to the event, and by alternating their “performances” they kept things moving along.

5. He was nice to everyone. I can’t tell you how many author events I’ve been to where I came away totally disillusioned. It’s surprising how many authors, even children’s book authors, can be rude and downright mean to their fans, not realizing (somehow) the permanent damage they are doing. Not John. Even though they still had to drive to Seattle after the Portland show, and even though John was suffering from pretty severe carpel tunnel syndrome, and even though there were 600+ eager fans waiting to meet him afterwards, John was kind and gracious to every person he met (my students were at the very end of the line and they confirmed it for me). He even looked me in the eye before signing my book. I left the event liking John even more than I had before and went right home and started reading The Fault in Our Stars. Mission accomplished, John.

So even though it is highly unlikely I will ever attract 600 screaming fans to the Bagdad to hear me talk about my books, I can incorporate some of what I learned from John into my own publicity:

* Be myself, don’t pretend to be cool.

* Do events with other authors.

* Invite my community for emotional support.

* Be nice to everyone who comes.

* Perhaps blind myself with some stage lights.

I can do that.

Days after returning home from the tour, Hank vlogged about how difficult it was to be on the road for 3 weeks and asked himself, “Why did we do it?” His answer was this:

“It’s vital to do things that are outside of your comfort zone… whether that’s volunteering in a homeless shelter or just going someplace you wouldn’t normally go, like somewhere where they line dance. Go somewhere where they line dance!”

So, it’s good for me to get outside my comfort zone. Doing promotional events is like eating spinach. Now if I could just work in some line dancing…

When You Don’t Know How To Say It — A Quick Primer for Brainstorming Helpful Comments

by Melissa Dalton
Published on: February 3, 2012
Categories: Basics, Critique Process
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Comments: 1 Comment

Sometimes, it’s hard to know how to phrase your critique comments so that they are helpful to someone else. Here is a little cheat sheet on critique language to help you get started…

1) Start with a positive: “I like the way…[the plot is advancing, this character is demonstrating XY, etc].”  You can then follow this with a related point, if you think there’s something that needs work: “But I am concerned about…”

2) Ask a question: “Do you want to think about…” “What’s the character arc?” “I ask because…” It’s good to follow this with a specific observation about the text and your points of confusion, to help illustrate why you’re asking this question.

3) State an observation and follow this with the reason your observation matters: “Sadie seems a bit non-reactive in this scene. This makes it hard for me to know where she is coming from.” Give examples from the text (i.e. Where is the character non-reactive?) to help your fellow writer.

4) Feel free to point out your own strong reactions: “Wow! Love this detail here!” “This is making me laugh aloud on the bus.”

5) Offer block suggestions for revisions: “You might want to trim here…” “Can you add some sensory detail here?” “I wanted to see more XY here…”

6) Commiserate. “I know it’s hard to rhyme, but perhaps looking at your word choices here and here will…”

7) Encourage, encourage, encourage: “Keep up the good work!” “This book is turning out awesome!” “I can’t wait to read more!”

What critique language do you find especially helpful?

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