Archives: March 2013


by Sabina I. Rascol
Published on: March 29, 2013
Categories: Other Topics
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What is longing made from?

What cloth is put into it

That it does not wear out with use?


Gold wears out, and silver wears out,

Velvet wears out, and silk wears out,

Yet longing does not wear out.


The moon rises and the sun rises,

The sea rises in vast waves,

But longing never rises from the heart.


This old Welsh poem stayed with me since my late teenage years, when I found it in a novel I loved, Ann Moray’s The Rising of the Lark.


I thought of it recently when I glimpsed a slip of paper in one of my files of miscellaneous writing-related information. “Writers,” it said, “would $2,500 help? Oregon Literary Fellowship applications will be available in January 2008.” I was now a 2012 Oregon Literary Fellowship winner, but in the years since 2008, I had forgotten about once having picked up that Literary Arts announcement. Now my feelings from when I first saw that slip of paper came rushing back. I had felt longing. Not hope—just longing. It was, “Wouldn’t that be nice!” not “One day I’m going to do this.”


It made me think of years further past, when, back from a Fulbright fellowship in Romania, I was startled to come across information about Fulbright fellowships collected by me even longer before. I had considered a Fulbright for something entirely different, that never happened. Then I had forgotten about it. In that first context, the Fulbright idea had been a “Oh, that would be great—but I don’t think it will happen” thing. Later, amazingly, it did, though for a different project, in a different country. I had forgotten having longed for it before.


Some weeks ago I amused myself by deciding on the dress I would wear to an event that is so impossible that I would be shocked to attend it even as a guest. Yet in my mind’s eye, I move in folds of black lace towards the podium, about to give a speech. When that image flits across my mind’s eye, I chuckle at my temerity. Or I shake my head at myself: “Yeah, right.” But though I don’t believe it, regarding it ruefully or wryly, I let that picture be.


I am far from thinking that because I long for something I will get it. Had that been the case, I would be the most satisfied person imaginable, while in fact I continue to long deeply. Yet recently I felt fierce gratitude for all the longing I’ve known in my life. My writing will be richer and resound more deeply because I’ve longed and continue to long. That’s because we all long. Writing, like life, is about longing. So what if among my longings is a likely-impossible one of me, older, but still looking good, about to give a speech in a classy black lace dress?


What is longing made from?

What cloth is put into it

That it does not wear out with use?


-Sabina I. Rascol

Goodbye, Facebook

by Addie Boswell
Published on: March 25, 2013
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I’m actually going to do it. images

Take the stand I’ve been wavering on for months. It was the book Quiet that finally gave me permission. Author Susan Cain quietly argues that we inhabit a world where extroverts make the social rules, and the rules don’t necessarily suit the introverts. This is an excellent, excellent book for writers, guaranteed to change the angle from which you see your world.

For example: for years, I’ve felt I need to “bite the bullet” and take more part in social media. But, in spite of the camraderie and enjoyment Facebook offers to millions of people (and most of my friends), it only makes me feel uncomfortable and uneasy. Like I’m standing at the side of a very large party where everyone is talking at once. There are various images flashing on a big screen and somehow, someone has pictures of me I didn’t know existed and I’m being invited to vote on a popularity contest while analyzing the characters of True Blood.

Yet I’ve remained standing here, not contributing to the party but unwilling to leave it completely. Why? Of course there is the adolescent fear that I’ll miss something cool. But more than that, I’ve been afraid that jumping off the bandwagon equals social and professional suicide. Especially, disobeying these two unspoken rules:

1) Writers must also be marketers. Publishing remains so difficult that authors are expected to build their own audiences as early as possible. Recent publishing successes have even convinced some that marketing is more important than the writing. (This echoes an idea in the book that America has shifted from a “Culture of Character” to a “Culture of Personality,” citing historian Warren Susman.) But let us not skip ahead of the true-er idea: What writers need to do first and most is to write. And to write, one needs the spaciousness of silence: not just a quiet room (as ScrivaLiz wrote about), but a quiet mind. For me, technology invades that at every chance. Even when I avoid it, I often feel that vague panic that I’ve missed doing something important, that somewhere in the world someone wants something from me, and if I don’t check my laptop right now, I might miss the opportunity or fail at my job or let someone down.

2) Social media is the only/best/most effective/socially acceptable form of communication. Twitter and Facebook may be the fastest way to relay information to the largest amount of people, absolutely. And that may be exactly what rock stars and politicians, and even average Joes, want to do. But I don’t think that speed and volume are my purpose. The books I write take years and maybe decades to finish. The conversations I love spill and meander over long meals. And the most interesting people I’ve met in the last ten years — they’ve been 3-D people, not their wittier avatars. Being perpetually interested and engaged by the world is not the same thing as being constantly at the party, chronically awake.

I have been awed and annoyed by social media, and mostly I have been waiting to see what happens. Maybe Facebook will police itself, maybe Smartphones will stop interrupting conversation, maybe cyberspace will learn to abide by certain humane boundaries. But probably not. I’m getting smarter myself these days, and I know the world will continue to clamor. The volume will not lessen, the pace will not slow. The party will not stop. The only thing that will change? I won’t be there. I didn’t even see the invitation. I was in my studio with my earplugs. Writing.

Peace and Quiet and a Place to Write

by Elizabeth Rusch
Published on: March 20, 2013
Categories: Other Topics
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I’ve been wondering for a while about two quirks I’ve noticed in my writing process. One is that even though I’m an almost-full-time writer who works at my desk virtually every weekday, there is one day a week when I do most of my writing—and most of my best writing. It’s Wednesdays, when I go to the Sterling Writers Room at the library downtown. The room has four solid oak desks, four chairs, four lamps and not much else. Use is by application only, the door is locked, and you check in to get a key, so it’s very quiet and very private.  My other big blip productivity-wise is during the Scriva’s writing retreats (we had one recently in Terrebonne, Oregon) where we Scrivas work in parallel in virtual silence for about 10 hours each day. Though only two and a half days long, sometimes I feel like I do about three weeks of work.

Now I think I might know why. I’m reading a fascinating book by Susan Cain called Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking.  In it she cites a study from a coding competition among computer programmers from different companies (stick with me; this really is relevant to a writing life.) There were huge differences in performances. When the researchers tried to account for the enormous range, all the usual suspects – years of experience, salary, time spent on the project – were irrelevant.  What really mattered: “privacy, personal space, control over their physical environments and freedom from interruption.”

I have a lovely home office that can feel very private, except that it is on the main floor of our house, and near the front door. It is a wonderful personal space, except that chaos from the house can drift in. During school hours, I am mostly free from interruptions, except for the ringing phone, knocks on the door, dirty dishes in the sink, laundry that needs to move from the washer to the drier, etc.  Overall, it’s a good space and I do some good work there. But maybe not my best.

I don’t have much control over the environment of the Sterling Writers Room except for the locked door. But the room is lovely and it is a place where I choose to work, so it does feel like I have control. And it has privacy, personal space and freedom from interruption in spades. I’m in there all day, mostly alone, and I can go 6-10 hours without uttering a word to anyone.

You might think the writing retreats would not fit the bill. It’s usually four to eight women all in one house together. Not very private. Yet it feels private, because we all nestle into a chosen work space (personal space) where we stay most of the day. Though we adore each other, we don’t talk during the day. Someone puts out breakfast, someone puts out lunch, and we break at an agreed-upon time for dinner. Otherwise, we work quietly and separately – without interruption.

According to Cain’s book, I may not be alone in my need for privacy, personal space, control of my environment, and freedom from interruption.  How do these factors affect the quality of your writing or your productivity? Do you have these elements in your writing life? Or is there somewhere interesting you go to get them?

Elizabeth Rusch

Manuscript Shape-Up: How to Get Your Story Ready for Critique

by Nicole Marie Schreiber
Published on: March 16, 2013
Categories: Craft, Other Topics
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Today I was pleased to present a workshop called, “Manuscript Shape-Up: How to Get Your Story Ready for the SCBWI Oregon Spring Conference.”  The talk focused on how to get a piece of work ready for a conference critique if you have never been critiqued before.  I covered everything from proper manuscript format to critique groups and beta readers to correct critique etiquette.

Also, I shared my favorite self-editing and style books along with these self-editing tips in order to help writers new to the critique process get their manuscripts in the best shape possible before attending the conference and having their consultation with another author, an editor, or an agent.

Hopefully,  these tips will be helpful to our blog readers as well.  Enjoy!


Quick Self-Editing Tips:

1. Spelling and Grammar

Having another reader really helps with this. Don’t just rely on Spell and Grammar Check on your computer! Use them, but check each line carefully yourself and hopefully have another pair of eyes do it, too.

2. Show/ Don’t tell

Use active verbs and sentences
Circle all of your “to be” verbs in your manuscript and really try to use another verb.
Keep dialogue tags simple instead of using too many “inflated words”
(she admonished versus she said)

3. Point of View and Verb Tense

If using a single Point of View, do you stay in that same point of view the entire time? Do you keep the verb tense you have chosen the entire time? (such as third person omniscient, third person past tense, first person present tense, first person past tense, etc…)

4. Watch out for Adverbs!

This goes back to show, don’t tell. Try to show what is happening in your story with action, not an adverb.

5. Basics of Story Development

By the end of your piece, can a reader decipher who the main character is and his/her age, approximately how old the main character is, the setting of the story (including time period), the genre (can be a mix), the intended audience of the book (picture book, middle grade, YA), and what the character WANTS!

Don’t avoid conflict, even on the first page.

Make sure your main character is an active participant in his/her life. Don’t just have things “happen” to them.

6. Read Your Piece Out Loud

Does your piece flow well? Can you hear the VOICE of the piece? If your not sure about whether the piece even has a voice, you many want to go back over your work and try to decipher it. Listen to not only your main character’s distinct voice, but the voice of the entire work. Watch out for an “adult” or an “authority” voice trying to tell the story of a child. Also, don’t talk down to children (your readers), either.

Listen to the pacing of your story. Is it too dialogue-heavy in some places, or narrative-heavy? Sometimes, just looking at a page of text and noticing how much or how little white space there is helps.

Check the beats within your dialogue. Do you have too many? Not enough?

7. Remember the Five Senses!

Use the five senses in your description to really make it come to life.

8. Read Your Very First Line Again!

Does it grab you? Does it make you want to keep on reading? IT SHOULD!

What you need to know about the BIG, BAD market

by Amber Keyser
Published on: March 12, 2013
Categories: Business of Writing
Comments: 2 Comments

Old father Wolf eyes up Little Red Riding Hood. Illustration: Tyler Garrison

Once upon a time…

We writers love diving deep into our stories.  We create worlds and characters.  We prefer to live in fairytale lands.  But sadly, our stories eventually crash headlong into the BIG, BAD market.

Mine just did.

Here’s what you need to know:

The market is slow.  The books that you see being released today were drafts 3-4 years ago and were acquired by editors 2-3 years ago.  Right now thrillers are hot, but if you think you can start writing one now and catch the wave, think again.

The market is conformist.  Once something (say vampires, for example) hits.  Most houses want a vampire book on their list–but just one.  I got a very nice rejection letter from an editor who said, “I love your manuscript but I just bought a book on this topic.”

The market is fickle.  Paranormal is out.  Thrillers are in.  YA was hot, hot, hot.  Now middle grade is the thing.  For years, nonfiction has been a nonstarter.  Suddenly (and thanks to the new Common Core standards) every editor wants narrative nonfiction.  Don’t even get me started on the rumored death of the picture book.

What does this mean for Little, Red Writing Hood?

Get to know the wolf, I mean, market.  One great way to do this is to join Publishers Marketplace.  The price seems steep, but I know of no better way to get your finger on the pulse of what is selling right now.  Daily deal emails will show you that we’ve run out of steam on ghost stories and teens solving murders but there are hints that Westerns and animal stories might be the next big thing.  Follow #tenqueries and #askagent on Twitter.  You’ll get a sneak peek into the slush piles.

Don’t try to game it.  Unless you are an established writer who can call up her agent and say, “Let’s pitch a Western.  Here’s a four page proposal” (which, by the way, is how The Hunger Games was sold), you can’t game it.  New writers need finished, polished manuscripts.  That takes too much time to write to a trend.

Learn from the editors who march to their own drummers.  These are the trend-makers.  These are the people who ferret out innovative writing and create the fads.  Publishers Marketplace allows you to search deals done by specific agents and manuscripts purchased by specific editors.  Explore.  Who is a free-thinker?

Remember that the market cycles.  Your time WILL come if you are crafting compelling stories that fit the appropriate genre guidelines (no 20,000 word YAs, no sex in MG, no 5,000 word picture books, etc).  There will ALWAYS be a market for good writing.

Going back to our fairytales…

I want you to write stories you love.  I don’t want you to be paralyzed by the big, bad market.  But promise me… please… that when you delve into that deep, dark forest you will take the time to get to know the landscape.

Late Night Reading: Steal Like An Artist

by Melissa Dalton
Published on: March 8, 2013
Categories: Craft, Creativity, Inspiration
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Blog post pic

Steal from anywhere that resonates with inspiration or fuels your imagination. Devour old films, new films, music, books, paintings, photographs, poems, dreams, random conversations, architecture, bridges, street signs, trees, clouds, bodies of water, light and shadows. Select only things to steal from that speak directly to your soul. If you do this, your work (and theft) will be authentic.

— Jim Jarmusch


The upside of insomnia is that I seem to get more reading done. And lately, as I’ve been working on revisions on the first draft of my WIP, I’ve been dipping into lots of craft novels. I just picked this one up at the library: Steal Like An Artist: 10 Things Nobody Told You About Being Creative  by Austin Kleon. You can check out his website here. Here are his 10 things listed below. What would you add?


1. Steal like an artist

2. Don’t wait until you know who you are to get started.

3. Write the book you want to read.

4. Use your hands.

5. Side projects and hobbies are important.

6. The Secret: Do good work and share it with people. (**Thanks Scrivas!**)

7. Geography is no longer our master.

8. Be nice. (The world is a small town.)

9. Be boring. (It’s the only way to get work done.)

10. Creativity is subtraction.



Permission to Err

by Sabina I. Rascol
Published on: March 5, 2013
Comments: 2 Comments

limits & infinity, red asymptotesSome weeks ago, I stumbled against these extremely freeing lines in Hugo Lindgren’s New York Times Magazine * article “Be Wrong as Fast as You Can‘:

I recently saw a Charlie Rose interview with John Lasseter, a founder of Pixar, about the creative process behind his movies. Pixar’s in-house theory is: Be wrong as fast as you can. Mistakes are an inevitable part of the creative process, so get right down to it and start making them. Even great ideas are wrecked on the road to fruition and then have to be painstakingly reconstructed. “Every Pixar film was the worst motion picture ever made at one time or another,” Lasseter said. “People don’t believe that, but it’s true. But we don’t give up on the films.” [Emphasis mine]


I think of ScrivaRuth when I read this, though her prose is the opposite of “worst.” When we began critiquing her first novel, Blue Thread **, one of us said that we have to be careful because her prose is so beguiling that it can lull us into overlooking things that need to be addressed. From first draft, Ruth’s writing is extremely polished.


Yet even such good writing is capable of improvement. As I mentioned once, the Scrivas give each other the benison of repeated critiques of works-in-progress. It’s satisfying to see works unfurl into full leafage as we comment, re-read and comment—and as the writer writes, and re-writes. When Ruth submitted a later draft of a section of her second novel, The Ninth Day***, the only word I could find to describe her writing was “masterly.” Even naturally polished writing can improve as one writes, opens oneself to feedback, and goes back to rework things. Ruth’s story is just the most recent example I’ve lived among the Scrivas.


It’s been many calendar pages since I last submitted something for critique. For months, I wanted to wait till a) I’d finished an entire draft of my novel-in-progress, and b) I’d polished it as much as I knew how before submitting it. (Yes, there just may be a touch of perfectionism in my make up.) Now, challenged both by the  paragraph quoted above and by a conversation with the Scrivas as we drove home from a writing retreat, I decided to plunge into the dance again. I submitted part of my novel.


I got most helpful feedback, as I knew I would. There are good things in my manuscript—and lots of work to do. Things to re-think. To re-write. To try in different ways.


I’m going to do it again. And again. It’s alright that my manuscript still has many steps to take to become the wonderful book it wants to be. Lasseter’s and Lindgren’s words give me permission to err. Permission to join in the dance, despite being neither finished nor perfect. Permission knowing that steps will be tottery and awkward starting out, maybe even spinning out of bounds now and then. My paces will become smoother and more polished as I continue, practice my steps, and learn new ones. As I joyfully twirl, turning my ideas into a story as good as it can be; like an asymptote, getting ever closer to the desired ideal. One day, I hope my own novel will be…masterly.


~ ~ ~

*           Cheryl Klein referenced the article ‘Be Wrong as Fast as You Can’ in her blog, Brooklyn Arden. (BTW, Cheryl’s excellent website is now live again.)

**        Blue Thread, by Ruth Tenzer Feldman, is currently an Oregon Book Award finalist—check Literary Arts’ OBA page after April 8 to learn if she received the prize we think her book deserves!

***      The Ninth Day, by Ruth Tenzer Feldman, will be published by Ooligan Press in fall 2013 (not 2014–thanks for the correction, Ruth).


Sabina I. Rascol

Virtual Reality Dances with Death

by Ruth Tenzer Feldman
Published on: March 1, 2013
Categories: Challenges, Craft
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This past week I was faced with writing an article on a topic about which I knew very little and the loss of a loved one, about which I know a lot. A stressful time, no surprise. But the surprise came in how one challenge helped me to cope with the other.

The article was for ODYSSEY magazine, and it’s about virtual reality (VR), more specifically immersion VR, in which at least three of the participant’s five senses are manipulated by computer-generated simulations. I discovered something called SnowWorld (pictured here), which is used primarily to help burn victims during wound care. Cleaning a burn wound is both physically and emotional painful, as many patients relive the horrors that resulted in their burns. Virtually interacting with a cold world helps to put out the fire. It also draws the brain’s attention away from receiving those pain signals. Pain, I learned, really is in part about attention.

My pain this past week came from the loss of Guinevere LaPoochessa Feldman, Her Royal Furriness. She was a rescue dog, a corgi mix, who has been a part of my life for 13 years. I’m still not sure who rescued whom.

Usually we writers are told to write what we know, to put our emotions into our craft, to open a vein and let the inner realities of our life flow onto the page. That’s excellent advice, and I did have a chance to put that to good use, as I’m also revising a grief scene in a novel I’m finishing. Blarch!

But let me tell you, there can be an overload of grief and pain, when channeling it onto the page is great for your writing but woefully insufficient comfort. This week, help came from that serendipitously timed article on immersion VR. I got lost in the research and the writing, in crafting sentences and making sense. I got relief.

My first thought, in looking back on this week, is how odd to use writing to draw my attention away from life rather than using life to enrich my writing. But on second thought, if writing is meant to transport the reader, doesn’t it also transport the writer?

Death is about life. Writing is about understanding life. Virtual reality can be about both escaping and facing life. It’s all connected.

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