Archives: May 2012

What if My Novel Takes Over My Life (Again)?

by Addie Boswell
Published on: May 26, 2012
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I’ve got this idea for a novel. This really great idea. It’s been flitting in and out of my head for nearly a year now, wiggling its way closer to my heart. It has a title, and two strong characters, and a loose plot. Some days my fingers itch to write it. Once I pulled the car over to scrawl some notes on the back of a map. But I haven’t typed a single sentence. The novel keeps returning and I keep batting it away, afraid that if I start, it will swallow me up, taking my other projects with it.

At least that was how it was with my first novel. For nearly three years, I dove wholeheartedly in. It wasn’t hard like I thought it would be. The words nearly tripped over themselves in their haste to be written, some 85,000 at the fattest point. No, the hard part was living with my characters, in their hormonal teen minds, in their corrupt and confusing city. Not just watching them survive violence, prejudice, hunger, betrayal, and drug addiction, but actually pushing them in front of the train. I didn’t realize how wearying it was until I put the novel away for a few months. I didn’t realize how caught up I had been. I didn’t realize how ignored my smaller books felt.

Hugh Laurie, recently ending his role on “House,” said, “Having to inhabit a character who is that cynical and morbid and occasionally suicidal, a character that tormented, can get to you after awhile. It can start playing tricks on you. You start wondering why you’re doing it, whether there’s any value in it.  A sane person would say that’s ridiculous, it’s only a television show. But if we believed it was only a television show, it wouldn’t be a television show–it would be a cancelled television show.”

We have to love our characters, and worry and hope and dream with them. And there is such joy in being swallowed up. For me, writing that first novel was akin to falling in love. Sometimes I felt high. Some mornings I went straight to the laptop, not even stopping to brush my teeth. For idyllic weeks in the dead of winter, I ignored my family and put off my other jobs to be with my characters. They were always in my thoughts, keeping me up at night. And for them, I read over a hundred YA novels, took a research trip to Brazil, learned Portuguese, and wrote thousands of words more than I thought I was capable of. To them, I showed true dedication.

But still — in retrospect — it seems a lot of time to give up. A lot of time to give up with mere hope of monetary reward. Even if it was only ten hours a week I spent (a conservative estimate), that’s over 1500 hours, un-billable.  One thousand, five hundred hours of creative juice, spent. And the more I think about this, the more I think: it’s bat-shit crazy to write a novel. To do it again would be lunacy.

But I’ve got this idea.

This really great idea…

Out of the Mouths of Babes

by Mary Rehmann
Published on: May 23, 2012
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This month each of my thirty seventh-grade students selected a novel from roughly 10 options to read and discuss in small groups.   I’m amazed each time I do this because, regardless of the novels I select, inevitably the students end up split fairly evenly into groups of three or four.  I’d like to own to being just-that-good at knowing the literary needs of my students, but, in fact, I believe it’s due more to the wide-ranging tastes of these middle-grade-bordering-on-YA readers.  Many of them will go on to read most of the other novels over the summer; they’re hungry to read and willing to follow an author almost anywhere.

Every now and again I ask myself what it is they want more of.  (And then I remind myself not to end a sentence in a preposition.  Then I write a lesson plan on prepositions.)  So today, I asked them what they want to read over the summer, and here are their responses:

  • More books with strong male AND female main characters
  • More action/adventure books
  • More romance, less sex (Okay, I DO teach in a Catholic school)
  • Less romance (virtually every boy in the classroom)
  • Bibliographies that sound more like novels
  • Shorter time between series books
  • More scary, but not too scary, books
  • Biographies about athletes
  • Books that work in some sort of sport (“Athletes like to read, too, you know.”)
  • More comedies or books that are funny/humorous
  • Mysteries
  • Factual history books (esp. on war, hunting, sports)
  • Books that explain phenomena
  • Stories where a character clearly grows or changes (it’ll make writing essays easier!)
  • Books that explore friendships and how they change
  • How to books (on art, writing, songwriting)

Write on.

Everyday Inspiration: Jane, Lizzie, and Mozart

by Sabina I. Rascol
Published on: May 18, 2012
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“Focus.” A friend recently spoke this word into my life. Was that before or after I’d decided that, for Lent, I’d give up trying to pack everything in?


I hate missing out on stuff. Because of that, I once arrived late at a retreat with friends: I had over-extended myself to finish a task that later turned out to have had a flexible deadline. I then left that same retreat early so I could catch the first rehearsal of the choir I sang in. I missed nothing that weekend! Except the point: to savor my friends and the retreat.


Now, drawn to the lodestar “Focus” and deliberately not squeezing everything in, I aimed for single-mindedness. To come home from work and write. That’s it.  Forgo time-sucking trips to the library (I who have books practically oozing out of my walls) or to the store, except for produce (I’ve got a terribly well-stocked pantry). Pare down on impromptu long chats with dear neighbor-friends. Cook big pots of soup and oatmeal, let dust bunnies grow to adolescence. Forsake all my usual time dribbles to WRITE.


As I focused and wrote, three inspirational examples played in my mind:


-My friend and neighbor JANE, who just started cello lessons after playing the violin when younger. Now she comes home from work and sneaks to the cello. She plays when she should be starting dinner or doing other mundane tasks.


-LIZZIE, Jane’s daughter, who’s studying the violin herself with wonderful Grandma Ellie. She practices late sometimes, Jane says, and the quality suffers. Yet those mediocre evenings still count. She’s putting in the time, moving forward, cumulatively getting better.


-MOZART. We all know about him–or think we do. He’s the genius who effortlessly produced delightful music, right? According to choreographer and dancer Twyla Tharp (in her amazing book The Creative Habit: what’s any creative person doing without it right next to them, dog-eared from being studied?), “Nobody worked harder than Mozart. By the time he was twenty-eight years old, his hands were deformed because of all the hours he had spent practicing, performing, and gripping a quill pen to compose.”


Frankly, I’d prefer to keep my hands well-shaped. But I desire to come closer to Mozart’s devotion to his craft, Jane’s yearning for her cello, Lizzie’s practicing anyway, anywhen. It’s working. My book is—slowly—advancing. So is my excitement, as I get new insights and ideas to weave into my book. I can hardly wait to read it all. And for you to be able to read it, too.


And now… Excuse me, I have some re-focusing to do. What with longer days, new calls on my time, deciding about summer travels, new job possibilities, I need to remember Jane, Lizzie, and Mozart. To go to my writing as though to a tryst. To write even out of season. To feed my calling in various ways, becoming fully a writer.


Meanwhile, let’s toast all those who inspire us. Who are some who inspire you?


Sabina I. Rascol


On Yoga, “Home,” and Critique Groups

by Elizabeth Rusch
Published on: May 16, 2012
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In yoga class recently, my teacher read a passage from The Spirituality of Imperfection: Storytelling and the Search for Meaning by Ernest Kurtz and Katherine Ketcham. As she was reading, I thought, “Hey, she’s talking about my critique group!”

This is the passage:

Home is, ultimately, that place where we find the peace and harmony that comes from learning to live with the knowledge of our own imperfections and from learning to accept the imperfections of others. Such a place, such a home, can exist in various settings, but its ultimate foundation rests jointly within self and within some group of trusted others. Some places are more conducive to this experience than others. But wherever and whenever we do attain that sense of “being-at-home,” we experience a falling away of tensions, a degree of balance between the pushing and pulling forces of our lives. In such a place, we cease fighting—most importantly, we can cease fighting with ourselves. We find the space to be the imperfect beings that we are, and we discover that in such a space, we also become able to let others be who they are.

I realized that our critique group has become a sort of home for me personally and as an artist and writer. We literally share our imperfect work and our imperfect selves with each other. We are striving together to become great writers, great artists, and great people but there is an implicit acknowledgement and acceptance that we are not perfect. If we and our work were perfect, why would we bother meeting?

So what does this mean for you and your critique group? I don’t know exactly. But I think it has something to do with celebrating the imperfection of writing, the imperfection of critiquing, and the imperfection of being human.

Welcome home.


Off to Research in Belgium Next Month!

by Nicole Marie Schreiber
Published on: May 10, 2012
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The Ommegang reenactment in Brussels, Belgium


Earlier this month, I wrote about finding unusual ways to fund research for our novels-in-progress and about my experience using  I’m happy to report that through the help of Kickstarter, I received over $1800 in pledges, and I will be able to go to Belgium at the end of June to research and attend the Ommegang– a  reenactment of Charles V’s progress into Brussels in 1549!

I am very excited about having the chance to really enrich my novel and humbled at the same time.  Through this fundraising experience, I’ve been able to connect and talk with some amazing astronomers and scientists, many of them female  (women and astronomy being one of the themes in my book), lovers of historical fiction, art enthusiasts, people of Flemish descent, other writers, and people who simply wish to help another struggling artist pursue his/her dream with either words of encouragement, a small pledge, offers of places to stay in Brussels and Bruges, translator services, tour guides, babysitting (from friends and family of course), etc.

Sometimes a writer can wonder what the point is to his/her work.  Will the world really care if this book ever gets finished and published?  I care, and my critique group definitely cares, but after that, sometimes I fall into the trap of feeling like maybe my story just isn’t needed in the world, especially when I have the pressing needs of being a mom, wife, and teacher burying my need to write my story.  But now, I have an additional 36 people who have actually given small donations (on and off and something like an additional 40 + who have offered amazing words of encouragement and emotional support.

Add them together, plus my wonderful critique group, family, close friends, other supportive writers, and you get this blanket of support and encouragement surrounding me on all sides.  I feel like I have my own little cheerleading section, my own line of “story soldiers” ready to stand with me when the going gets tough, when the words won’t come, and life gets in the way.  Ready to say, “You can do it!  We believe in you!  We want this story to be told!”


It’s an awesome feeling.  A humbling feeling.

I think we all as writers need our own “cheerleading section” and our own army of “story soldiers.” It doesn’t take many, just a few, to really help us keep going– to make us feel like our stories really matter, and that they deserve to be in the world.

I will try my hardest to make them proud.

YA Goes to the Oscars

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

While watching the Oscars a few months back, I noticed something strange: a large number of nominations were for movies based on children’s books, particularly young adult novels. I counted and it was a whopping 21 nominations this year: 1 for Tin Tin, 3 for Harry Potter, 6 for War Horse, and 11 for Hugo.

And then there is the staggering success of The Hunger Games movie. Best-ever opening weekend. Already surpassed grosses for all the Twilight movies combined. I went to my very first midnight opening and was amazed to see hundreds of grown people standing in line for 5 hours. For a movie. On a school night!

What is going on? Why are these movies suddenly so popular, with adults as well as kids? I think it is the same reasons YA novels are so popular right now, with adults as well as kids:

Today’s YA novels are incredibly well-written AND incredibly fun to read.

Soon after the Oscars I came across a great piece in the New York Times that eloquently expressed my feelings about why YA is sweeping the nation (and the Oscars). Lev Grossman, book critic for Time Magazine, wrote an op ed that’s title says it all: “Nothing’s Wrong with Strong Plot and Characters.” In the article he admits to being in a YA-only book group (another trend I’m noticing these days) and lays out some ways that today’s YA novels are different from adult literary fiction:

  1. YA novels tend toward strong voices and clear, clean prose. Adult literary fiction, by contrast, can be more focused on style: dense, descriptive prose, full of carefully observed detail, which calls attention to its own genius rather than urging the reader forward.
  2. YA novels focus on storytelling. Much of adult literary fiction, on the other hand, explores ways to break down storytelling, fragment it and make it non-linear. This kind of reading demands a lot of work from the reader.
  3. YA novels are rarely boring. They are written to grab your attention and hold it.

These are the same reasons I believe so many people, young and old, are flocking to see YA movies these days. The stories are great. The characters are great. The themes are meaningful. And they are not boring to watch.

Grossman ends his piece with a sentiment that pretty much sums up why I love reading YA so much (and by extension, going to YA movies as well):

“I’m not as young as I once was. At my age, I don’t have time to be bored.”

And for those of you who, like me, love seeing your favorite YA books up on the big screen, you are in luck. The floodgates are open and just about every YA hit I can think of is “in production.” Here’s a short list of what I found on IMDB:

The Perks of Being a Wallflower, Sept. 2012 (starring Logan Lerman from Percy Jackson, and Emma Watson from Harry Potter)

Uglies, Nov. 2012

Incarceron, 2013 (starring Taylor Lautner from Twilight)

The Giver, 2013 (starring Jeff Bridges)

Ender’s Game, 2013 (starring Harrison Ford, Ben Kingsley and Abigail Breslin)

Forest of Hands and Teeth, 2013

Maze Runner, 2013

Divergent, 2015

The Fault in Our Stars (TBA)

Re-thinking When to Say “Cut!”

by Melissa Dalton
Published on: May 3, 2012
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In a Scriva critique, it’s not unusual to hear me suggest: “You could cut this out,” or to get pages back with slashes through paragraphs of text. These kinds of suggestions can be incredibly helpful. “Cut” written in the margin of a manuscript lets you see where you’re losing the reader or going off topic.

However, I was recently reading Alice LaPlante’s book The Making of a Story: A Norton Guide to Creative Writing, and it’s making me re-think the suggestion to “Cut.” She says:

“Then there’s the fact that the kind of advice parceled out during workshops isn’t always appropriate for the stage that a work is in. You may be trying something new that doesn’t work — yet. But a workshop may well decide that a section that isn’t working simply needs to be removed. “Take it out!” is a common phrase heard in workshops. Yet the passage in question, when refined, could become a critical part of the story or essay or novel in question. Just because it isn’t working now doesn’t mean it won’t work in the next draft…or the next…or the next.”

Now, I’ll be asking myself the following questions when I want to suggest “Cut.”

1) What is the writer trying to do here?

2) Does she do it better elsewhere?

3) Do the ideas here just need to be broken up and inserted in other places?

If the information seems completely unnecessary, a suggestion to cut would be in order. But if it is information that is just slowing down the narrative pace or could use rephrasing, that is a better distinction to make for the writer rather than just “Cut.”

As a writer, I’ll also have to think about when I receive the suggestion, rather than just reaching for the delete key. Only you, as the architect of your story, can know if that particular section is really integral to the story as a whole. If anything, LaPlante’s is a good reminder to always be true to your creative vision, to listen to the little protest that might niggle at you when you see “Cut” next to a particular passage in your manuscript. Sometimes, it seems like, no matter how many critiques you receive or creative writing books you read, it is really that little voice that you have to heed the most!

The Hundred Languages of Children

by Nicole Marie Schreiber
Published on: May 1, 2012
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A few weeks ago I went to a teacher training workshop through the Portland Children’s Museum called, “Nurturing the Creative Capacity of Children with Lella Gandini.”  It is part of the “Wonder of Learning” exhibit at the museum which is an exhibition of the infant-toddler centers and preschools of the Instituzione Municipality of Reggio Emilia in Italy.

The work and learning displayed by the children of Reggio Emilia was awe-inspiring.  Here is a description of the philosophy from Wikipedia.


“The Reggio Emilia Approach is an educational philosophy focused on preschool and primary education. It was started by Loris Malaguzzi and the parents of the villages around Reggio Emilia in Italy after World War II. The destruction from the war, parents believed, necessitated a new, quick approach to teaching their children. They felt that it is in the early years of development that children form who they are as individuals. This led to creation of a program based on the principles of respect, responsibility, and community through exploration and discovery in a supportive and enriching environment based on the interests of the children through a self-guided curriculum.”


And here is more from


“In Reggio Emilia they don’t lock their view on children, the pedagogue or the learning process. The world and its people are always changing and that’s why they are against set programs and methods. You can work Reggio Emilia-inspired. You cannot copy the way they work in Italy because you have to consider the people, the environment and culture.”

In Reggio Emilia they have a coined expression: “A child has a hundred languages”. They try to unite and develop all these languages; innovation, construction, fantasy, art, music, dance, building, writing, talking, signing, science, body and soul… The multiple languages are used to help children build knowledge and understand the world around them. The natural environment is incorporated as much as possible.”


Now you may be wondering, “What does this have to do with writing?”


For me, learning about this early childhood teaching approach is the first time when my “artist self” blended into my “teacher self” seamlessly.  When I am writing, I try to remember all of the senses in my scenes.  In Reggio-inspired teaching, one tries to nurture all of the senses in children.  “Joy” and “Wonder” are key components in these classrooms, and I always want to convey a sense of joy and wonder in my writing.

Young children in these classrooms use the arts to express themselves, and in Reggio classrooms, the use of symbolic languages is encouraged.  As it says in Wikipedia:


“As children proceed in an investigation, generating and testing their hypotheses, they are encouraged to depict their understanding through one of many symbolic languages, including drawing, sculpture, dramatic play, and writing. They work together toward the resolution of problems that arise.”


I absolutely love how the arts in these classrooms are so central to the children’s learning. Sometimes, with today’s cuts in librarians, art teachers, music teachers, etc…, the arts are becoming virtually non-existent in children’s lives.  And children really do have “a hundred languages” that they express themselves with.  One of my languages is my writing, and one of my goals is to help children find their own languages to express themselves, too.


Here is a poem from Loris Malaguzzi that describes these languages, and I will be shocked if it doesn’t touch your soul reading it.  I know it touched mine.  It is something we as writers for young people should always remember about children, since they are our primary audience.




The Hundred Languages of Children

This poem by the founder of the Reggio-Emilia approach beautifully conveys the important roles imagination and discovery play in early childhood learning. Much of Reggio-Emilia philosophy is based on protecting children from becoming subjected too early to institutionalized doctrines which often make learning a chore rather than an extension of natural curiosity.

The child is made of one hundred.
The child has
a hundred languages
a hundred hands
a hundred thoughts
a hundred ways of thinking
of playing, of speaking.

A hundred.

Always a hundred
ways of listening
of marveling, of loving
a hundred joys
for singing and understanding
a hundred worlds
to discover
a hundred worlds
to invent
a hundred worlds
to dream.

The child has
a hundred languages
(and a hundred hundred hundred more)
but they steal ninety-nine.
The school and the culture
separate the head from the body.
They tell the child:
to think without hands
to do without head
to listen and not to speak
to understand without joy
to love and to marvel
only at Easter and at Christmas.

They tell the child:
to discover the world already there
and of the hundred
they steal ninety-nine.

They tell the child:
that work and play
reality and fantasy
science and imagination
sky and earth
reason and dream
are things
that do not belong together.

And thus they tell the child
that the hundred is not there.
The child says:
No way. The hundred is there.

-Loris Malaguzzi
Founder of the Reggio Emilia Approach





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