Archives: December 2013

Gift Giving

by Sabina I. Rascol
Published on: December 25, 2013
Categories: Celebrations, Inspiration
Comments: No Comments

Santa reading with globeThese last few days, with the Christmas season upon us, the melody of the song “Santa, Baby” played in my head. You know, the one where she tells Santa everything she wants for Christmas.


I didn’t much feel like making a list of what I would like in life or for Christmas: I’d get what I’d get, and anything else could just rest. And I thought of the original Christmas. Though yes, it involved Jesus receiving gifts from the magi, ultimately Christ’s birth was about Him giving: He came to give His life as a ransom for many (see Mark 10:45 or Matthew 20:28 in the Bible).


So I mulled instead what I’d like to give the world, through my writing. And I remembered again what some writers important to me have given me. Most of these writers impacted me starting in my childhood or adolescence. For example:


-Jules Verne, whose books of regular travel, more than those of science-fiction, marked me. One of my favorite books at the age of ten was The Long Vacation, the story of a handful of New Zealand schoolboys stranded on an island for two years; then there was The Amazing Adventure of the Barsac Mission, which I won as a school prize in third or fourth grade, where a group of Europeans find this amazing futuristic city in the wilds of Africa; or Around the World in 80 Days… From Jules Verne, I received a longing for adventure, for travel, the desire for strange lands, and the taste of strange names in my mouth. You have no idea how exotic names like “New York” or “Smith” were to an eight-year old growing up in Communist Romania.


La Medeleni (At Medeleni), by Ionel Teodoreanu. This three-volume novel by one of Romania’s early 20th century novelists traces the fortunes of a Romanian upper-class family and their estate, Medeleni. Because the first volume treats the childhood of the three protagonists, children read it; I devoured the next two volumes, too, which treat adult themes, and, though it broke my heart, it became one of the favorite novels of my childhood. As the vibrant Olgutza dies and her brother loses Medeleni, La Medeleni pierced me with the bitter-sweetness of life.


-Patricia McKillip and the Riddle-Master of Hed trilogy: While I am just now working my way through—and deciding about—her later works, this fantasy trilogy has been one of my favorite books and a regular re-read for me ever since I discovered it in high school.  The beautifully-written story with a marvelous plot is evocative of other stories lurking beyond those McKillip tells.


-Patricia MacLachlan of Sarah, Plain and Tall and so many other lovely books gives a sense throughout them all that all’s right with the world, and all will be right.


-Elizabeth Goudge, a mid-century British novelist (Pilgrim’s Inn, A City of Bells, The Scent of Water, and The Rosemary Tree have been among my favorites), gives the sense in her novels that relating rightly or other things in life can be difficult, but one can choose to do the right thing and thus create beauty and rightness in the world.


-Eleanor Cameron and The Court of the Stone Children, which I’ve loved since my early teen years (and which I just realized won the National Book Award back in the 1970s), gives a sense of the reality and intricacy of the past.


OK, I’ll stop here with my list of presents I garnered from others’ writing.


What I want to give others through my writing, in turn, includes much of what I have received myself: I want to gift the world with beautifully, tightly written, evocative books that give a sense of hope, of the beauty of life; of destiny, and of one’s life mattering. That it matters what one does…


Hmm. Writing this post clarified something for me. Checklists by Cheryl Klein, fab Scholastic editor and writer about writing, asks writers to consider “the point of the book”: what truth, emotion, concept, do you want readers to go away with from your writing? I think I have a better sense of what she means as a result of this exercise.


So what about you? What gifts have you received the whole year long, even your whole life long, from other writers? And what gifts, what lingering feelings, do you want to gift your readers with?


-Sabina I. Rascol

The ULTIMATE Story Checklist

by Elizabeth Rusch
Published on: December 20, 2013
Comments: 1 Comment

I’m going to keep this short because I don’t want you to waste your time reading this when you could be reading Matt Bird’s AMAZING ULTIMATE STORY CHECKLIST:

Screenwriter Matt Bird has written a list of questions to ask yourself about the story you are writing. Read them. Print them. Post them near your desk. Let them rock your story and your world.  — Elizabeth Rusch

Let the Lady Scream: Showing vs. Telling PART I

by Amber Keyser
Published on: December 12, 2013
Categories: Craft
Comments: 7 Comments

mark-twain-author-dont-say-the-old-lady-screamed-bring-her-on-and-let-herIn the past few weeks, I’ve been doing a lot of YA manuscript critiques.  Multiple times in the margin of each manuscript I’ve scrawled, “Stay in the scene” or “Show me.”

Showing is hard.  It is so much easier to just tell the reader what you want him to know.  Both beginning and seasoned writers fall into the telling not showing trap.  Those with more experience fix it during revision.

But what does “showing not telling” really mean?

To me, it means staying in the scene.  Characters need to be doing and saying things that convey what the writer wants the reader to know.  Examples show this better than me blah, blah, blah-ing at you, so today I’m beginning an occasional series of posts that demonstrate showing vs. telling.  I’ve asked some writer friends to pony up before and after paragraphs over the next few months.

I’ll start with this example that one of the authors for whom I recently critiqued was kind enough to proffer before my revision knife.  (You know who you are.  THANK YOU!)

First, the original paragraph.  It is perfectly serviceable.  The writing is tight.  It tells the reader a lot about Tom and his dad.  I love the phrase “strict no-go territory,” which gives us some of Tom’s voice.

Dad was nothing if he wasn’t private.  From as soon as Tom was old enough to be held accountable for his actions, his dad made it clear that he was not to go poking around in his stuff.  Dad’s desk, his papers, and especially his briefcase were always off limits—a strict no-go territory Tom and never violated.

Now consider a rewrite that has turned this into a scene, which puts the reader smack-dab in the center of the action and Tom’s emotional state.

From the hallway, Tom saw the briefcase on top of Dad’s desk.  There might as well have been flashing neon arrows floating in the air.  The papers were there.  He knew it.  It would be so easy to walk across the office, to run his hands along the slick leather, to snap open the brass latches on the case.  

Tom shifted his weight from one foot to the other like a boxer getting ready to fight.  

A few seconds, that’s all he needed.  The papers could be swishing down the toilet before Dad got home.  Problem solved.  He flexed his fingers, balling his hands into fists.

Tom had been three years old the first time he’d gone into Dad’s office—his first spanking.  He’d risked it again at five and could still feel the belt.  The last time, he’d been ten, and Mom had sent him to Grandma’s for a week after.

Sweat soaked through the armpits of his Metallica t-shirt.  Tom smelled his own stink rising.  The desk was so close.  Like Antarctica close.  Which meant absolutely un-freaking-reachable.  God, I’m a pussy, Tom thought, turning away from the papers he needed to save his own life.

The rewrite still communicates the basic message that Tom knows better than to mess with his Dad’s stuff, but to explain why, I had to bring in backstory (his dad borders on abusive) and hint at the current conflict (Tom needs those papers).  I also added sensory details like the feel of leather and the smell of sweat and kept absolutely everything from Tom’s perspective.  The fringe benefit of the “showing” version is that you know more about Tom—a lot more.

Until the next installment of “Let the Lady Scream,” may we all stay in the scene.





YA Romance and Feminism

by Melissa Dalton
Published on: December 9, 2013
Categories: Basics, Challenges, Craft, Genre
Tags:No Tags
Comments: No Comments

Here are some links to chew on the subject:

1. Rachel Lieberman discusses writing active female heroines in your YA Romance here.

2. “Well, in a world where Twilight was universally adored by teenage girls for a brief period of time and universally hated by their male counterparts, I want to celebrate the part of this culture that encourages women to fantasize and dream and write, just as I want to criticize the parts of Twilight that are bigoted or simply foolish.” You can read more of Chelsea Condren’s discussion on The Hub.

3. And here is Bitch Magazine’s list of 100 Young Adult Books for the Feminist Reader.

Have a great week!


You’re a Big Deal…or Not

by Ruth Tenzer Feldman
Published on: December 5, 2013
Comments: No Comments

flb-times-adWay back at Wordstock in October, I had the good fortune (thanks to Ooligan Press), to share a presentation slot on stage with Francesca Lia Block. Yes, the same Francesca who is featured in this ad from the New York Times. A friend on Facebook commented: “With Francesca Lia Block! You’re a big deal!”

Ta da! I became a celebrity by association. I will say that Francesca was thoughtful and supportive, despite her hectic schedule. She spent most of what little time she had at Wordstock with her many fans, who were clearly thrilled to see her. Every one of those fans stayed to hear my portion of the presentation, an action that, frankly, surprised me.

I will also say that it is highly unlikely I will ever be as famous as Francesca. No one will make a big deal about my wearing a Space Mermaid ring, although I must say I am hankering for Space Mermaid’s whimsical little bird ring.

Would I like to be as famous as Francesca? Yes and no. In my fantasy life, I would like thousands of readers to devour my books. I would like to get so much in royalties that I set up a charitable foundation. I would like to enjoy the writer’s fame that author Fran Lebowitz is credited as saying is the best. “It’s enough to get a table at a good restaurant, but not enough to get you interrupted when you eat.”

Then again, I would like to be “a big deal” only one week a month. The rest of the time, I would like to go about my life unrecognized and unpressured. I’d like to have oodles of time to write and revise (and revise and revise), and watch Netflix in my pajamas, and enjoy my family. Would I feel the same way if I were 30 years younger with a career’s worth of writing ahead of me? I can’t honestly say.

In the meantime, while I wait for further enlightenment, I’ll end this meandering post here and get back to crafting the world for my next book. I wonder. Will anyone there wear a Space Mermaid ring?



Continuing Thanks

by Sabina I. Rascol
Published on: December 2, 2013
Categories: Celebrations, Inspiration
Comments: No Comments

sunny day-near SuceavaOn a beautiful morning this June, my heart swelled with gratitude for God’s many kindnesses to me. I was leaving the Romanian countryside after a very special trip there with my mother. She’d had the courage to travel again though much older and frailer than when she’d last seen her birthplace. I felt privileged to be there with her.


It had not been a perfect trip, mind you. My smart phone, which I used as a recording device, had been stolen. I still ache to think of the many stories and interviews that have been taken from me. Yet that June morning I was just grateful. Overall my mother was well, we’d spent time with many wonderful people, the sun was shining after a month of endless rain, our train compartment was roomy and comfortable… Now we were heading to Bucharest where we’d stay with a lovely friend of mine and I’d do research in a very restricted archive before returning home to the States.


I saw how much I have been given in my life, gifts and graces big and small. I also saw my tendency to want EVERYTHING, rather than being regularly and profusely thankful for the much that I have. Supportive family and wonderful friends. Basic provision. Peace with God. So many beautiful things. Books, and time to read. My mother still with us. And, as someone once pointed out and it stayed with me, that bombs aren’t falling in our backyards. In short, peace on many levels. Peace.


I remembered that June day and my feelings of gratitude again before Thanksgiving. What a good way to live! Rather than getting hung up on things, even important ones, that I’d like but don’t have in my life, I feel rich when I review and delight in the many, many good things, big and small, that I have been granted. That’s not my default, but I’d like it to be.


In the Bible book of Lamentations, though Jerusalem had just been totally devastated by the Babylonians, the writer includes one of the best reminders for gratitude: “The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.” (Lamentations 3:22-23) Isn’t that amazing? New graces every day. We can look for them, the whole year long. Whatever may be lacking, we can give thanks for what we have and be richer and more at peace for it.


On the writerly front, my big thanks this year go to:


-MY CRITIQUE GROUP: for the Scrivas’ example of diligence and delight in writing; for seeking ways to encourage me and all of us to write; and for their support and compassion when my family passed through hard times this year.


-JERROLD MUNDIS, author of Break Writer’s Block Now!: for properly identifying my various reasons for not writing as the decoys that they are; for helping me detach from my Baggage Train (about which I blogged this fall); and for the reminder that it’s best to aim small when blocked or starting writing again, but to be consistent.


-DONALD MAASS, author of Writing the Breakout Novel and Writing the Breakout Novel Workbook. I’ve thought of a few ways to apply his advice already that I am very excited about and know make my story stronger. I continue working through his books. If I can implement a fifth of what he advises, my novel will rock for readers, as well as for me.


-GREAT STORYTELLERS who have gone before and show me how it’s done. Right now two examples come to mind: The Sound of Music movie, which I saw again on Thanksgiving, and which reminded me that when you’re done with one important scene, you move on right away to the next important event. And the Harry Potter books, which I’ve been “chain-reading” over the last week or two, and which left me in awe again at J. K. Rowling’s weaving of sub-plots and just the general enjoyableness of her writing.


Thanks for staying alongside as I enumerate blessings. What are some of yours?


-Sabina I. Rascol

page 1 of 1

Welcome , March 16, 2018