Archives: April 2013

Unsure? Try a Smorgasbord

by Sabina I. Rascol
Published on: April 30, 2013
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smorgasbordI know what my work-in-progress is about: war and friendship, status, wanting others’ approval, fathers, and family, and growing up… Because it’s about so many things, it’s been just a tad difficult nailing down the core of my story.

One exercise I inadvertently used in searching for my story core is The Smorgasbord. I decided to write a series of short synopses combining my story elements in various ways, to get closer to what my story is ultimately about.

The first synopsis (long) set out the material I already had drafted: my basic story, containing most of the elements above. The next synopses would be short paragraphs. They weren’t going to be anything important, I reassured myself. They would just explore directions. Thus I shoved my inner critic in a closet, slammed the door behind, and spit out my first new direction. I wasn’t sure about it. The Scrivas aren’t going to like this, I thought. It’s too obscure, including data from a country’s history which no one knows anything about. Yet I was just exploring directions, so I kept the draft. I wrote few more “treatments” over the course of some days. Whether I felt inspired or not, I continued playing with the weight, placement, and order of the different elements which are this story.

Something happened as I pressed on. The last couple of synopses felt different. This may be it, I thought! This may be the direction I want to go in as I mix and slant all my story elements: war and friendship, status, wanting others’ approval, fathers and family and growing up…

You may have a writing buddy, a spouse, or a critique group that you so trust that you want their version of your story. You want them to weigh in on the maelstrom roiling around in your head. I ended up sending all seven of my synopses to the Scrivas. What do you know? The Scrivas most liked the version I was most unsure about–and another that combined elements of it with my starting story.

As I mull over my work-in-progress and write it home, I just may include bits from the interim drafts. Some were far-out possibilities and others were written tongue in cheek, but they have promise. I continue to be on a Pixar kick and read David A. Price’s The PixarTouch: The Making of a Company. I learned there how they took story elements discarded from Toy Story to create the sequel, Toy Story 2.

The advantages of a smorgasbord are manifold. Giving yourself options which you’re merely exploring can send your inner critic on a long stroll letting you work in peace. It can give the trusted people in your life, whom you invite to comment on your story, an idea of where you think you’re going with your story. Then their versions of your story can be in step with the story you want to tell. And your setting out a smorgasbord may inspire others to try one too. I don’t know—was I avant garde? Or was there something in the air affecting several of us Scrivas? A month after I offered my smorgasbord synopses to my critique group, Addie and Ruth gave us variations of their works-in-progress for us to react to: Addie, a sampler with four versions of the first chapter of her boy-protagonist novel that she’s re-revising; Ruth, options about how to craft a short work  that will bridge the end of her Oregon Book Award-winning novel Blue Thread with the beginning of The Ninth Day, a sequel to be released this fall.

Call it a sampler or a smorgasbord, but try it. You may like it.

-Sabina I. Rascol

Essa Vida and Editing Class

by Addie Boswell
Published on: April 24, 2013
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clipart**This post contributed by guest blogger Tina Morgan, a student in PSU’s Graduate Publishing Program

I had edited exactly nothing of note until our entire editing class at Portland State read Addie Boswell’s YA manuscript, Essa Vida. For weeks we used Addie’s manuscript as a classroom text, culminating with the writing of individual developmental letters. It was an immersive and illuminating experience for us, and (I hope!) a useful one for Addie.

Our editing class didn’t focus exclusively on developmental editing. “Editing” contains multitudes, and we explored a little of everything: copyediting, editing marks and digital markup, acquisitions, rights and permissions, fact-checking. Our final assignment and long-term project for the class, however, was an exercise in what I think of as “real” editing: a big, broad, developmental edit of a fully-realized work.

We received Addie’s novel in increments. We saw her query letter and plot summary. We copyedited the first chapter, then the first three chapters. When we got the entire book, our assignment was to read it, discuss it in groups, and write a developmental letter to Addie. Our group had a rollicking, wide-ranging discussion of the book at a local bar. We talked about what we liked and what confused us, what was strong and what we thought could be stronger. We took copious notes. I can’t imagine that this is typical part of the process on the editorial side, but it was really valuable for us. It was a lot like the workshop process in a writing class or writers’ group: it made us aware of the strengths of our individual perspectives and equally aware of our blind spots. Some things that bothered me in the manuscript didn’t bother the rest of the group, and vice-versa. This didn’t always change my mind, but it was instructive. I think that as a rookie editor, you like to think of yourself as a representative for the reader, but often you are simply representing yourself, a reader. You notice the things that always bother you, and you love the things you always love. I imagine that as you become more seasoned, your perspective evolves and broadens, but since everyone involved was a first-time editor, having us meet as a group to discuss the book was a helpful exercise in discovering our own editing quirks and prejudices.

We had some guidelines about writing the developmental letter, but they boiled down to this: Be constructive, be specific, and don’t be mean (useful advice for approaching just about anything.) To this I would add: Begin with a sincere appreciation for the tremendous effort it takes to complete a novel. Picture how long it takes you to produce a few cogent sentences for the inside of a thank-you card and multiply it a thousand times. When you have stopped hyperventilating, begin.

I was impressed by how serious Addie was about her manuscript. Allowing a classroom full of students to read your work with the express purpose of critiquing it is the kind of nightmare I wake from in the dead of night, so I respected her willingness to take novice opinions seriously. It was also extremely generous of her, as she could have no guarantees about the quality of said critiques.

I enjoyed the process: the first reading, the group discussion, composing my individual analysis. Most satisfying was the final meeting with Addie, where the entire class discussed the manuscript and our developmental letters. We learned about her process and experience, and she was able to engage us individually and as a group about the issues that we mentioned in our letters. I think ultimately that’s what the process offered for Addie. Our developmental letters focused on different things, but by studying the places where they intersected, she was able to determine some of the “universal” strengths and weaknesses in the manuscript.

It was a great experience to edit collaboratively, during our group meetings and ultimately with Addie. In that final discussion, I asked Addie if she knew how she was going to tackle a particular issue with a character, and she said that she wasn’t sure yet. “Do you guys have any ideas?” she asked us, and the entire class was silent. I can’t speak for the group, but I had nothing. In the end, the writer does the heavy lifting. Thank goodness, I thought in that moment, I’m only an editor.


The GOLD Sheet

by Elizabeth Rusch
Published on: April 20, 2013
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As faculty for the SCBWI-OR conference in May, I offered to critique manuscripts. When I opened my packet of manuscripts I found something VERY interesting inside: THE SCBWI Gold Form. It is one sheet of paper with a series of headings to help guide faculty in making their notes for critiques. I found that it very closely captures what I often cover in a critique (and what the Scrivas often cover, as well).

SCBWI-OR generously granted permission to reprint it, so here it is:

Gold sheetI love that it starts with “Positive aspects of the work.” I always do this and I think every critique should. How else will a writer know what is working, or what the strengths are to build on? The second item: “The elements that require attention and improvement.” When I (and the Scrivas) do critiques, we always highlight the biggest issues that we have identified in a manuscript.  While I don’t always cover all four of the next items (“Notes on Character Development, Notes on Plot/Structure, Notes on Voice, and Notes on Marketability”), they are important for a critiquer to consider while reviewing a manuscript. (These items will often fall under “the elements that require attention” part of my critique, which is the biggest part of my critiques.)

I would add one category to the Gold Form: Helpful Resources. I will often highlight books, website, and exercises that might be helpful to the writer. And some of the best guidance Scrivas have given are suggestions of similar titles to read.

But all in all, I think the Gold Form is an excellent guide for critiquing. If you struggle with critique or want to encourage your group to give better critiques, this is a great form to follow.

Thanks to SCBWI-OR for sharing it! (SCBWI stands for the Society of Book Writers and Illustrators. You can find the national organization at The Oregon chapter website is:

Happy critiquing!

Elizabeth Rusch

A Little Writerly Therapy

by Nicole Marie Schreiber
Published on: April 16, 2013
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In need of some “Writerly Therapy” due to recent events? Read on…

As I sit outside on my porch swing right now during a rare springtime sunbreak here in the Pacific Northwest, I am truly “counting my blessings.”

I know… this term is SO cliche.

Then why am I using it in this blog post of all places– when I could come up with some other unique and clever way of saying the same thing as a good writer should?

Because I don’t want to waste my time today trying to think of something else after another day of horror has happened, this time in Boston. I simply want to get down to the business of appreciating what I have during this precious time that I am here on this earth, which is funny, because our last blog post by Amber touched on what she appreciated in her writing life. I guess we Scrivas are like-minded in that way.

My list dives a bit more into my “other life” besides writing, because of where my mind is currently due to recent events, so I hope you will bear with me. Here goes… (and this list is in no particular order and is not conclusive, but it’s what’s on my mind right now.)


I am thankful for my husband, my children, and my extended family.

I am thankful for the air I breathe, my home in beautiful Oregon, and my neighborhood.

I am thankful for my health and my family’s health.

I am thankful for the sunshine warming up my legs as I write this.

I am thankful for every word, every sentence, every paragraph, and every story that I write, no matter what the outcome of them happens to be.

I am thankful for every idea that I have.  They are gifts.

I am thankful for my wood-burning fireplace and my slippers.

I am thankful for spring in Oregon– trees, azaleas, “rhoddies”,” and tulips blossoming into such vibrant colors—with my favorite, the lilacs, soon to follow.

I am thankful for my part-time day job where I work with children and read aloud the very best in picture books everyday.  What a fabulous way to study them, even if it does take writing time away.  And being around the kids isn’t bad, either!

I am thankful for being a part of the world of children’s literature and playing a part in its content.

I am thankful for my writing community, including the Scrivas, other writers I have been in critique groups with, writers I studied with at Vermont College where I earned my MFA, and new writing cohorts and acquaintances that I am getting to know.

I am thankful for my husband’s oatmeal cinnamon chocolate chip cookies (which I am eating right now.)  I want to remember to appreciate the little luxuries in life.

I am thankful for being 40 years old now.  I actually like myself more than at any other time in my life.

I am thankful that my Boston cousins and family are all safe.

I am thankful for still being in “the writing game.”  I pray I can be for the rest of my life.


If you’re feeling down because of recent events, writing your own simple “thankful” list today or in the next few days may help ground you. Consider it a little “writerly therapy” and give it a try.  I’d love to hear a bit of what you’ve come up with in the comments, too, if anyone feels compelled to share.


Happy Writing.


-Nicole Marie Schreiber












Building community through critique

by Amber Keyser
Published on: April 12, 2013
Categories: Celebrations
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IMG_0013Here at Viva Scriva, we focus on using critique to improve your craft, but this week I’ve been feeling very grateful for my circle of writer friends.

It’s a weird business.  We write alone so strangers can read our words.  We endure rejection after rejection so strangers can read our words.  We put our very selves out into the world so that strangers can praise or curse us through those words.

We do it because we believe in the power of stories to touch people.  We do it because we must give voice to our innermost dreams and fears.  We do it because it is often fun and maybe because we’re a little crazy.

But it is hard sometimes so I want to say thank you.

Thank you, Twitter Friends (especially @Heidi_Schulz @quickmissive @kiersi @teribrownwrites and @catwinters), for injecting humor and insight and cupcakes into every day.

Thank you, SCBWI, for providing a community for ALL writers and illustrators, regardless of where we are on our professional trajectories.

Thank you, Portland Kid Lit, for the way you celebrate each other’s successes, buy each other’s books, and know how to rock a schmooze.

And most of all…  Thank you, Scrivas, for believing in my work, for making my books into “our” books, for cheering me on, for commiserating when it sucks, and for whipping my manuscripts into shape.   I couldn’t do it without you!

Monday night, when many of us gathered to cheer on Scriva Ruth at the Oregon Book Awards, we were a family, embedded in the larger community of Oregon writers.  When she won the OBA for YA Literature, we shrieked and hugged and cried.  OUR BOOK WON!

The many hours we have spent together talking about our work have also been hours when we have become friends.

I am so grateful.


Congratulations, Ruth!

by Melissa Dalton
Published on: April 9, 2013
Categories: Celebrations, Events
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“Ruth Tenzer Feldman won the Leslie Bradshaw Award for Young Adult Literature for “Blue Thread,” published by Ooligan Press, a student-run program at Portland State University.”


Read about Ruth’s win (and her fellow winners) at the Oregon Book Awards last night here.

Who Is the April Fool?

by Ruth Tenzer Feldman
Published on: April 4, 2013
Categories: Business of Writing
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parkerbooks-500x218While looking for material about April Fool’s Day, I came across the story of Philip M. Parker. According the March/April 2008 issue of the Annals of Improbable Research, Parker had by then written more than 85,000 books. Written? Really?

Marc Abrahams, a staff member of Improbable Research, notes that Parker “has authored some 188 books related to shoes, ten about ships, 219 books about wax, six about sour red cabbage pickles, and six about royal jelly supplements.”

Parker is also the author of the 677-page book The 2007-2012 Outlook for Bathroom Toilet Brushes and Holders in the United States.

Parker is a professor of management science at INSEAD, the international business school based in Fontainebleau, France. He invented a machine (U.S. patent  #7266767) that writes books. Each book takes about twenty minutes. Abrahams quotes Parker as saying:

There is a need for a method and apparatus for authoring, marketing and/or distributing title materials automatically by a computer…. Further, there is a need for an automated system that eliminates or substantially reduces the costs associated with human labor, such as authors, editors, graphic artists, data analysts, translators, distributors, and marketing personnel.”

It costs Parker about 23 cents to write a new book. Only the title need exist for someone to order a copy. Then a computer assembles the book’s content and prints up a single copy.

Hmmm……  This is real. Rather, in my estimation, this is surreal. Here I sit, writing page after page, writing and revising, asking others to read and revise, and still others to print and publish and sell.

Who is the April fool?

Perhaps none of us is. Perhaps I write books and Parker produces info-products. Perhaps there’s a place for both. Perhaps I am being too generous. On second thought, perhaps I will create a fiendish genius in my next book, and I will name him Professor Parker.

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