Archives: January 2014

Imagine That! Images for the Writing Life

by Sabina I. Rascol
Published on: January 30, 2014
Categories: Creativity, Inspiration
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The other week, home from a library book sale (which I love, love, love, Book Junkie—and now Bookseller!—that I am), I spread out my haul to savor. Cook books—yum! Art books—beautiful! And a travel guide to Seville (LEFT) and the region of Andalusia—one of those colorful guides, chock-full of intriguing photographs, that I can’t resist. This particular guide was in Spanish, and though I can figure some out (courtesy of my knowledge of Romanian), I mostly looked at the pictures. And I became lost in a reverie…


Graceful hands and swirling skirts of flamenco dancers…

Matadors in ornate, fitted suits…

A candle-lit procession moving at twilight through the streets…

An elegant store with shelves reaching to tall ceilings…

Which of “My Books” could these images illuminate?

One thing to know about me as a Writer is that I have several works-in-progress in the wings, waiting for their turn once the historical middle-grade novel I’ve mentioned here finishes its time in my writing spotlight. These are fantasy and fairytale retellings that I can hardly wait to finish and read myself. The stories are informed by various places, moods, and images. So, as I leaf through the Seville guide, I wonder: which of my future novels will best be served by the image of that elegant tall store? By the mood evoked in me by the movement of people in that candle-lit street?

Of course, the same images could be used in a very different way—as factual documentation—if I were writing a book set in the real Seville.

You probably already use images to support your writing. To inspire you further, here are some ways Scrivas capture helpful images.

You can have a bookshelf or section thereof devoted to a particular project. Scriva Liz I believe does so, with all the books she buys or endlessly renews from local libraries as she researches her fabulous non-fiction books.

You can store images online. One time Scriva Amber showed photographs she found on the Internet of people who looked as she envisioned the characters in her first novel.

You can make a binder book. Scriva Nicole photocopied and printed out in color so many images related to her book set in mid-16th century Flanders that she ran out of printer ink. Or you can tear out pages from magazines, as you come across people or places or other images that remind you of your story.

And perhaps more than one method will best serve your book.

Which do you like best, or want to try first—or next?


I don’t want to leave this post about a writer’s use of images without mentioning an important last one: the collage—be it on posterboard, accordion foldout, repurposed or artist’s book—where you imagine dreams or goals for yourself as a writer.

The collage can help focus you, or show you things may not quite have realized are important to you. It can be a snapshot of where you are now as a writer (“I will pursue my own way!” emerged for me at our Scriva January 2012 goals meeting); of goals; or of ridiculous, wonderful dreams that you barely dare dream but would be thrilled to see happen.


So this year, how will you use images to help further along your fantasy novel, or realistic story, whether fiction or non-fiction…or you?


-Sabina I. Rascol

Celebrate “Gift Offset Day” This Weekend

by Addie Boswell
Published on: January 24, 2014
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What do these things have in common? None of them were being used!

What do these things have in common? None of them were being used!

What is that?

“Gift Offset Day” is a little made up holiday my husband and I observe on a Sunday afternoon every January. The idea is to clear out the clutter that has accumulated all year long, and to make up for the influx of stuff the holidays tend to bring.

What do you do?

Find the number of items of your age. So, at 35, I need to find 35 items in my house that I no longer use or need to get rid of. You can choose how strict you are going to be with the definition of “item.” In our house one item = a pair of socks = a bunch of unused pens = a shirt = a recliner. We also allow vetos. (Hey! I saw the bottle opener first!) My items will likely come from the bathroom cabinet, the kitchen cupboards, the bedroom closet, and my studio, but if you have a serious clutter problem, you can choose one room (like the garage!) to cull from. Here are some simple rules.

1) Choose a day early in the year. Pick a time when the whole family has two or more hours to devote to the endeavor.

2) Give yourself a time limit. This is especially important if you have someone in the family who is prone to sentimentality and will get waylaid by the process. For kids, set a 30 minute limit and make it a race!  

3) Pile all your items in one place in the house — somewhere you are forced to deal with them immediately (like the kitchen table.) You might photograph your pile for posterity, before boxing and bagging to donate, recycle or trash.


If you’re getting excited about this holiday, you’ll have your own very-good-reason for participating. Think about this: how many new things enter your house every year in the normal business of living and shopping? And how many times every year do you go through the house and take things back out? If the answer is “never” or “almost never” you can imagine that someday you will walk into your basement and realize you have grown a monster. Gift offsets let you face down the monster on a smaller scale every year.

What if I can’t find 35 (or X) items?
This really can’t possibly be a problem for anyone in America. I promise you. Try harder.

What if I find 200 items? 

Yippee! Way to enter into the spirit of the holiday! Your age should work as the minimum, but there is no maximum.

And how does this relate to writing exactly?

Maybe it doesn’t. But if you’re like me, you can’t start on a new project, or a new year, in a messy space. I think old stories and drawings can have the same “cluttering” effect as actual stuff. So choose old drafts, dead pens, and that printer you’ve been meaning to sack. Sometimes clearing out your office is just what the editor ordered for getting back to business.

What Do You Want In Your Circle?

by Elizabeth Rusch
Published on: January 20, 2014
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In a recent, early-in-the-new-year Scriva meeting, we did two short activities that are meant to sharpen focus, boost spirits and build community.

The first was inspired by, which has some wonderful goal-setting exercises, which you can check out here.

In the simple exercise that we tried, you draw a large circle on a blank page. Inside the circle you write all the ideas, emotions, things and qualities that you want in your life. You can do this for your writing life or your life in general – or both! Outside the circle you can write what you don’t want in your life. Then spend some time just thinking on what you wrote in your circle. How can you welcome those things into your life?

The second exercise is meant to shift the focus a bit to some very important people in your life – your beloved critique group members. This exercise is designed to build community and boost spirits by recognizing each member’s strengths and sharing your hopes and dreams for them.  For each member, complete the following sentences (write out your thoughts):

* I really admire/am inspired by the way you…

* The words that come to mind when I think of you are…

* The words that come to mind when I think of your writing are…

* If I could wish anything for your writing life this year, it would be…

Then give these slips of paper for people to read later.

Writing these thoughts down made me think about what I appreciate about each person, made me grateful that they are part of the group, made me hopeful about what the year might have in store for us.  And reading mine made me feel understood, appreciated, supported. And that is something we can all use more of in our lives.

Elizabeth Rusch


Surviving as a Starving Artist…with Kids

by Nicole Marie Schreiber
Published on: January 17, 2014
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THE POOR POET by Carl Spitzweg


I am a starving artist with two kids…by choice.

Rereading the sentence above, guilt fills me. How can one be a “starving” anything BY CHOICE when you have two kids??

Okay, just to clarify, my family is not technically “starving.”  Not in the least.  My husband and I have a home that we bought during good economic times. We have food.  My kids have gifts on their birthdays and at Christmas.  They have clothes. Holes in their clothes come from them playing hard outside.  We even get to travel sometimes due to all the hotel and airline points that my husband accumulates through his work. But we do live paycheck to paycheck, we pay for our own health insurance, we have had to borrow money in the really, really hard times from family, everything we buy MUST be on sale and bought with a coupon, we rarely eat out, we have OLD computers and no smart phones, we apply for class and camp scholarships, etc…all due to me not having a full-time teaching job in order to pursue my writing.

And at times, the guilt drives me crazy.

My husband works full-time, but he is a freelance journalist, so the money comes in waves.  My job many, many years ago as a full-time public school teacher was stable and secure.  But I left it all behind before I had kids in order to pursue art.  Now I often wonder if I’m being too selfish about my art.

Here’s a little backstory…


It seems that Wikipedia really does have a definition for everything.  Take its definition for “a starving artist.”

“A starving artist is an artist who sacrifices material well-being in order to focus on their artwork. They typically live on minimum expenses, either for a lack of business or because all their disposable income goes toward art projects.”

Truthfully, I’ve always felt a bit of romanticism about the bohemian lifestyle and starving artists.  I love the mod Parisian poet lifestyle showcased in the Audrey Hepburn movie “Funny Face” (as well as the swell ponytail, black slimming pants, long-sleeved turtleneck, and ballet flats she wore.)  I love artist enclaves and neighborhoods in big cities, the bohemian vibe of many indie coffeehouses, and those lovable artists in the film, “Moulin Rouge.”

What’s interesting (and I have no reasoning for this that I am aware of right now) is that I didn’t actually follow that way of life when I was in college and early adulthood.  I was raised and trained by my family and conservative university to want a stable career and, God forbid, health care! So I buried my dreams of pursuing art and went into elementary teaching, got my first full-time job right after I graduated, began my new adult life in September wearing a conservative “vest dress”  (very popular in the early nineties for forty-something year-old women, yet  I was only twenty-one) and donning an apple necklace and earring set.  I knew in my heart that I loved books and loved writing since I’d been doing it since I was in elementary school, but I NEVER thought of ever risking stability in order to pursue my art. My conservative choice in career felt safe, and since I had just gotten married right out of college, I wanted security for our new life together as well as money for all those student loans I owed.

After seven years, writing and the artist life called to me so strongly that I couldn’t resist its advances anymore. Even though I was a teacher by training, I desperately wanted to become an artist by choice.

My road to the starving artist life began, albeit slowly.

I cut my full-time, public school teaching job to part-time in order to work on an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from the Vermont College of Fine Arts.  After two years, having finished my MFA, I decided to quit my part-time teaching job and be an on-call substitute, which enabled me to have more free time for my writing as well as become by all definition what I had romanticized about earlier in my life– a true “starving artist.” Finally, I could be a bohemian in pursuit of truth, beauty, freedom, and love in my writing (as they say in the film, “Moulin Rouge.”)

No, it wasn’t easy.  My husband and I had loved eating out.  I had liked shopping at Whole Foods Market. I had liked going to lots of movies.  But I also liked my new writing time, and my husband was (and still is) a good deal-finder and coupon clipper.  We made do and still were able to have few little luxuries.

Less than a year later, my first son was born.  As any artist with kids most likely understands, my writing went by the wayside as I began my new life as a mother.  It came back in tiny spurts, and after two years, a little more.  The economy was strong when I had my son, my husband was doing well in his work, and the “starving” part of my artistic life disappeared.  I became more concerned about how to be a “writer and a mother.”  Besides, it felt good that the starving part of the equation wasn’t there since I had a kid now…and another kid  three years after the first one.  How could one ever have kids and be a starving artist?  The two just didn’t go together.

Two years later, the economy, and my husband’s job, tanked.  Forget trying to find writing time and having an “artist’s life”.  Now we needed money in order to live.  I searched and searched for a full-time teaching job again, but could only find a part-time one.

Slowly, after a few more years up to the present, my husband’s work has come back, as has the economy.  Both of my children are now in school, and more teaching jobs are available again. I could look for a full-time job now.  I could go back to stability and security.  A part of my brain says I should.  I have kids.  Kids cost money.  They have needs.  College funds.  Cub Scout dues.  Soccer and baseball clubs to join.  Drawing classes to pay for.  Swim lessons.  The list goes on and on.

But I choose my art.  Surviving this fact is hard.  But my heart says that I must do it.  I must keep at this artist life, this writing thing.  Or there will be a hole in my soul.  And I don’t think I could be a very good mother at all with such a void inside of me.

I don’t have a tidy ending for this blog post.  I wish I did.  I wish I could leave you with “Ten Tips About How to Survive as a Starving Artist with Kids” or something like that.  But I don’t have any answers. All I have is hope. 

A never ending hope that…

my art will someday find a home,

my passion and priority for the arts will inspire my children to become creative and have an appreciation for the arts into adulthood,

my children will pass a love for the arts onto their own children,

my children will learn to follow their dreams and passions in life and that money and material possessions aren’t everything,


not denying my artistic self will make me easier to live with,

a happier, more-fulfilled person,

and a better mother overall.


-Nicole Marie Schreiber


Let the Lady Scream: Showing vs. Telling PART II

by Amber Keyser
Published on: January 14, 2014
Categories: Craft
Comments: 3 Comments

Guest blogger Mary Cronk Farrell continues our occasional series on “Showing vs. Telling,” the eternal bugaboo of the writer.  (Read PART I here).  Take it away, Mary!


This is from my biography of Fannie Sellins, a labor organizer. It’s a longer picture book for older readers.  It’s actually non-fiction, which presents a different challenge than fiction, in that you must comb the facts for the details to bring your scenes to life.



Fannie Sellins went on a national tour speaking about the garment worker’s strike and asking for donations. Everywhere she went, she saw people working long hours for low pay in unsafe conditions. Her message was always the same—If we stick together, we can make change.



"A little spinner in the Mollohan Mills, Newberry, S.C. " Photo by Lewis Hine, 1910

“A little spinner in the Mollohan Mills, Newberry, S.C. ” Photo by Lewis Hine, 1910

Fannie Sellins traveled from city to city by train. She saw girls in Chicago button factories cut their fingers on the jagged shells used to make buttons. There was no medicine to treat infection. Girls in New England cotton mills got hurt or even died when their hair or arms accidently caught in powerful weaving looms.

“Help us fight,” Fannie told coal miners in Illinois.  “We women go into factories among dangerous machinery and many of us get horribly injured or killed. Many of your brothers die in the mines.”

The miners stomped and shouted agreement. Some wiped tears from their eyes.

In Iowa, union carpenters listened to Fannie. “If we stick together, we can win,” she said. People jumped to their feet, clapping and whooping.

“Pass the hat,” someone hollered and it went hand to hand. Coins jingled and bills rustled. Fannie collected one thousand dollars to help striking garment workers feed their families.

Wherever she went, working people interrupted her speeches with cheering.

“You need new pants?” Fannie asked. “Don’t buy from Marx & Haas. Buy union label.”

People did. Orders for pants went down so much, Marx & Haas had to close one factory. With the money Fannie raised, strikers held out for two years until Marx & Haas agreed to re-hire union workers and raise wages.


Thanks, Mary!  Great example!

Sensory details are particularly important in bringing nonfiction to life.  Notice that Mary wasn’t there when the union carpenters passed the hat, but she knows that coins jingle and bills rustle when you throw them together.  Those sounds really put us in the scene.

Don’t forget to pre-order Mary’s newest book:


American forces on Corregidor Island surrendered under a hot sun at noon, May 4, 1942.
After five months of brutal combat nursing, 68 American women became Japanese prisoners of war.

The women had arrived in the Philippines unprepared for war and expecting a tropical play land. Rising to the occasion, they were driven to the limits of endurance nursing wounded and dying American soldiers. Now the woman faced the horrors of prison camp–disease, starvation, and humiliation by their guards.

With ingenuity and dedication to duty, the U.S. Army and Navy women set up a hospital for other prisoners, nursing as long as they had the strength to rise from their pallets. For three years behind barbed wire the women would turn suffering into humor, hope and the will to survive. Their pure grit testifies to the resilience of the human mind, body and spirit.



She’s an award-winning author of children’s and YA books and former journalist with a passion for stories about people facing great adversity with courage. Her books have been named Notable Social Studies Book for Young People, SPUR Award for Best Juvenile Fiction about the American West, Bank Street College List of Best Children’s Books, and NY Public Library Best Books for Teens. Her journalistic work has received numerous awards for excellence from the Society of Professional Journalists and two Emmy nominations.  Find her at her website and on Twitter.



What are you reading?

by Melissa Dalton
Published on: January 8, 2014
Categories: Other Topics
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It might be a hazard from working in a library but I’m always curious about what people are reading. I asked the Scrivas to share and here’s our round-up of current reads. Maybe you’ll find something new…

Here’s to a whole new year of reading and writing!

Amber is reading:

Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking, by Susan Cain. I am “in” every page. It’s nice to hang out with “my” people.

The Woman Lit by Fireflies, by Jim Harrison. Damn! Every one of Jim Harrison’s words hits me in the gut. It demands that I do better in my own writing.

Liz is reading:

The Ocean at the End of the Lane, by Neil Gaiman. Creepy, cool fiction.

5: Where will you be in five years, by Dan Zandra. Good start of year visioning exercises with inspirational quotations.

Calling Dr. Laura, by Nicole Georges. An interesting graphic novel memoir.

Building Stories, by Chris Ware. A cool box of stuff from the cartoonist who is coming to Portland Arts and Lectures…

Melissa is reading:

Life After Life, by Kate Atkinson. In this book, the main character dies repeatedly only to start her life over and over again, and the reader glimpses the changes wrought by her different decisions. Though the premise can wear sometimes, I am loving Atkinson’s language. I sit down to read and look up 75 pages later.

The Not-So-Big House, by Sarah Susanka. I love all of Susanka’s design books and eat up her suggestions for customizing your smaller space. I find her to be an excellent, clear, and engaging design writer.

Ruth is reading:

If You Find Me, by Emily Murdoch This is one of ten “finalists” for the Mock Printz Award workshop that I’m part of at the Multnomah County Library in a couple of weeks.
It’s required reading. It’s also inspired reading. Murdoch makes writing a young adult novel look so easy!

Jews, Turks, Ottomans: A Shared History, Fifteenth though the Twentieth Century, edited by Avigdor Levy. Research, research, research. The history part of my next work of historical fiction. (I relax by reading another chapter in If You Find Me….)

Sabina is reading:

Together: Annals of an Army Wife (1946), by Katherine Tupper Marshall, wife of WWII General George Marshall. As far as I’ve gotten, it’s an interesting evocation of Army society life during the ’30s, and of a very capable man, awake to, and having an impact on, everything around him. For example, when he’d be sent to a run-down base, he’d spruce up his own garden and lodgings–and soon enough, the rest of the base followed suit. Or, when he oversaw CCC camps during the Depression, he advocated for the young men’s dental health–AND urged the dentist overseeing their care to write up a study about dental health across America, based on the representative young men he treated. This study ended up being published again and again, even in Time magazine.  (As a writer, I guess this book shows me some things about how to build a character (through actions!) — and how to give the sense of a time and way of life so different from my own.)

Life in a Jar: The Irena Sendler Project, by Jack Mayer. While the writing is just OK, the story is amazing. An ordinary young Polish woman, a social worker, managed to smuggle out of the Warsaw ghetto 2,500 Jewish babies and children. Remarkable, the impact of one person’s decision and will for good. (I guess this shows me the importance of an emotionally-gripping narrative–and the power of Very High stakes!)

Various titles, by Georgette Heyer. A decades-long favorite — I began the year by re-reading a couple of titles by Georgette Heyer, the novelist who OWNS the Regency period. I’ve read Arabella and The Foundling numerous times, know exactly what happens in each novel, and continue to read them, and many other Heyer titles, with the greatest enjoyment. (I guess they show me the importance of voice–and that when a book comes together well, in the hands of a master, it is vastly more than the sum of its parts.)

Thanks ladies! Happy reading! Please feel free to share what you’re reading in the comments below…

Exploring Narrative Arcs? Leap!

by Ruth Tenzer Feldman
Published on: January 2, 2014
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Amber-danceOkay, this isn’t exactly how it looked at our last critique meeting of 2013, when Scriva Amber choreographed the narrative arcs of several subplots in Scriva Nicole’s manuscript. First off, we were in my dining room, and Amber was wearing her coat. Still, Amber is a former ballerina, and when she performed her brilliant “show, don’t tell,” this is how it felt: Awe-inspiring.

We Scrivas have charted each other’s works. We’ve made graphs and drawn pictures. I think, however, this is the first time that we’ve turned to interpretive dance. I wish I had had the presence of mind to capture Amber on video.

The best part of this unique critique is that Amber completely captured her proposed narrative trajectories for a love story, a friendship story, and the protagonist’s main inner and external challenges. Her dance got the point across with equal parts enlightenment and entertainment.

So, my advice to you for the New Year is bring it on! Look at your work in a new way. And show your work to others, so that they can use their gifts to enhance yours. Who cares that 2014 isn’t an official leap year? Leap anyway. Leap!

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