The Attack of the Brain Snatchers

by Ruth Tenzer Feldman
Published on: April 4, 2015
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PDX-mind-control15-cropHere it is, folks, in black and white, like this sign I saw in a store window a block from my writer’s garret. I confess to you that my dream as a writer is to control your mind. While you are reading my book, I want you to forget about eating. I want you to forget about going to the gym or checking your e-mail. I want you to silence your cell phone. I want to get inside your head and not let go even after you’ve finished reading my book. In short, I want you 24-7. And then I want you to want more.

Oh, yeah……

 

 

Taking a Bubble Break

by Ruth Tenzer Feldman
Published on: March 5, 2015
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Bubbles-crop2I captured this shot a few days ago, during one of the gloriously (and weirdly) warm days of non-winter. In lieu of snowflakes or raindrops in Jamison Square Park, we had bubbles. Really big bubbles, floating up into the sky.

The rational side of me knows where bubbles come from and how to make them. Here’s a whole list of links to recipes from bubbleblowers.com. Still, the kid in me was entranced by the magic. Like the child in the photo, I wanted to chase after a bubble and touch it.

The writer in me wants to create a scene that engenders this much intense attention in the reader. I want to write a scene that pulls the reader into the action on the page (or the screen), and keeps the reader there. I want to meld craft and creativity, until I can write such a scene. And then of course the challenge is to write another scene after that until there’s a whole narrative arc of scenes. It’s easier to make bubbles, believe me. But it’s the scene I’m after, so the bubble break is over. I’d better stop blathering and get back to work.

Plagiarize, Plagiarize, Plagiarize!

by Ruth Tenzer Feldman
Published on: February 4, 2015
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With credit to Johannes Vermeer (1632-1675)

With credit to Johannes Vermeer (1632-1675)

PLAGIARIZE!

Now that I have I caught your attention, let’s clarify. I do not want you to take someone else’s work and pass it off as your own. Nope. Not good. A definite no-no.

Still, I offer you this ironic line from an old song by Tom Lehrer about a Russian mathematician. “Plagiarize, plagiarize, plagiarize. Only be sure to call it please research.”

Research is exactly what I’m talking about, research into how the best authors craft a sentence, paragraph, or scene. Here’s what Ursula K. Le Guin, writer extraordinaire, says in her “how to” book, Steering the Craft:

A rational fear of plagiarizing, and an individualistic valuation of originality, have stopped many prose writers from using deliberate imitation as a learning tool…. I think conscious, deliberate imitation of a piece of prose one admires can be good training, a means towards finding one’s own voice as a writer…. What is essential is the consciousness. When imitating, it’s necessary to remember the work, however successful, is practice, not an end in itself, but a means towards the end of writing with skill and freedom in one’s own voice.

Thank you, Ursula. Enough said.

Rest, Reflect, and Wait Now. Revise Later.

by Ruth Tenzer Feldman
Published on: January 4, 2015
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Heron-crop1As the Scriva who is the first to offer a post here for 2015, I suppose it would make sense to talk about new beginnings and resolutions. If you’re looking for that, here’s a link to a thoughtful post by Addie several years back. Thanks, Addie.

This post of mine, however, is about ending a project on January 1st, namely the first complete draft of my next book. A writer’s calendar is what it is, so now instead of gearing up to revise 70,000 words, in keeping with that New Year’s urge, I’m giving the muse a rest.

Am I exhausted? No, not really, In fact, my first thought is to go back to chapter one and start everything all over again right away. If I were on a tight deadline, that’s what I’d have to do, and that’s what I know other Scrivas are facing. But I’m lucky this year. I can afford to give myself a vacation from my manuscript, an emptying out of preconceived notions about characters and narrative. I will rest in still waters. Time away from text provides the distance that can bring a fresh perspective. I will wait to let the story “breathe.”

Revision, I remind myself, traces its origins to the Latin verb revidere, to see again, or to look at anew. It’s the “anew” part I’m aiming for as I rest, reflect, and wait. In the meanwhile, I wish you a year of your best writing ever!

While I’m Sleeping….

by Ruth Tenzer Feldman
Published on: December 5, 2014
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janey-night-crop2Indulge me a moment. I’ve got to add to Sabina’s sentiments and to the gratitude that Liz expressed in her recent post. This is the “little elves” version of a critique group.

Do you know Grimm’s fairy tale about the shoemaker and the elves, first written down about 200 years ago? It seems there was a poor shoemaker and his wife who needed money for their rent, but had no shoes left to sell. The shoemaker cut leather for his last pair of shoes, and during the night little elves came and sewed the shoes for him. And he sold the shoes and…well, it’s a satisfying ending.

This photo of a construction crew at night reminds me of those elves and of the wonders of working within the collective creativity of a critique group. Yes, it’s true that my own brain keeps making connections and reworking my story while I sleep or engage in almost anything other than writing. There’s a neurological term for that process, which I’ve forgotten but to which I am enthralled. What I mean here, though, are the thoughts that flows through other people’s brains while I’m taking down time from my work-in-progress. My words are zapping through their synapses. Even in the middle of the night. Scrivas as little elves? Definitely!

So….  Once upon a time there was a poor writer lady who searched in vain for the right words with which to craft the scene she so dearly wanted to create. Exhausted from her efforts, she put her words aside and feel into a deep, deep sleep. Then, in the middle of the night…

Here’s to another satisfying ending.

Shift to a New View with a Tattoo

by Ruth Tenzer Feldman
Published on: November 4, 2014
Categories: Basics, Craft, Creativity
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ada-tat-cropClearly I am better at writing books and articles than I am at taking selfies of a tattoo on my left forearm. The tattoo is a temporary one of Ada, Countess of Lovelace, daughter of English poet Lord Byron, and the presumptive first woman computer programmer in history. Ada is also the name of a particularly robust programming language, so when my husband chaired an international conference on Ada recently, the temp tats were a natural bit of swag. At least I thought so, because I was the one who suggested them.

What does an Ada tattoo have to do with Viva Scriva? First off, it reminded me of Scriva Nicole’s recent blog post. She wrote:

[T]ry something new and different, even something that others may think is crazy, unusual, and not you at all…“for the writing.”   Your present and future stories will thank you for it!

Nicole is taking her own advice (go, girl!) and I’ve done a bit of the same, mostly by treating myself to Turkish delight. But the main character in my work-in-progress doesn’t sport a tattoo. Instead, the Ada tat has provided a less direct influence on my writing. Wearing the tat in so prominent a spot has made me feel confident, stupid, out-of-place, over-the-top, bold, artistic, wild, sassy, sexy, secretive, ridiculous, and shy. The key is context, the people Ada and I were with, the places we went to, and why we were there. That, dear writers, did a ton of emotional work “for the writing.” The tattoo is temporary; the experiences much longer lasting.

The second reason this relates to Viva Scriva is that the Ada tattoo has been fun. I designed, ordered, and wore it on a whim. When I’m writing and rewriting, I rarely work in whim-mode. I wonder, though, what would happen if for no good reason at all I crafted a scene that was entirely disconnected from the narrative arc of the story. Would that ignite a creative spark or addle my brain? Whim. Worth a try, don’t you think?

 

Hail to Thee, Mighty Magnolia!

by Ruth Tenzer Feldman
Published on: October 5, 2014
Categories: Basics, Creativity, Inspiration
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magnolia-cropHere’s the bit about this photo. It’s of a magnolia tree in bloom. Not any magnolia, mind you, but the one and only magnolia I see on my walk around the ‘hood. I’ve probably stopped to engage in fauna-to-flora communion with this tree 3,000 times. And here’s why:

Magnolias are an ancient member of the plant family. They are older than the bees, so old that botanists think magnolias were originally pollinated by beetles. As a writer of historical fiction, I relish a good story from way back when. What was the world like before bees? And as I am now writing a book that also includes the future, I wonder what our world be like after the bees. (Horrors! No, I’m not including that in the book. Too scary.)

Magnolias are native to several spots around the globe, and in North America those spots are in the Southeast. Think Louisiana and the Steel Magnolias movie first released 25 years ago. So what’s this plant doing in the Pacific Northwest? According to Portland Parks and Recreation, the magnolia tree is “common in Portland.” Huh. The writer in me admires the unexpected, the tree where you wouldn’t think it would be, the character with the personality quirk that surprises readers (and sometimes the character’s creator), the unpredicted turn of events. Yes, indeed. Inspire me with the literary equivalent of a magnolia next to its moss-covered Portland cousin. I am so ready!

Sometimes life is 110 per cent better when you stop and smell the roses…and the magnolia blooms. End of story.

 

“I Bought It for the Book”

by Ruth Tenzer Feldman
Published on: September 4, 2014
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Hand-bowlRecently Scriva Nicole posted her thoughts on engaging in experiences “for the writing,” and I can attest to her enthusiasm…and courage…to practice her own advice. Way to go, Nicole!

My variation on Nicole’s theme rests in the selfie you see of my hand. It’s a small ceramic bowl from Turkey, and I had the pleasure of buying it in Istanbul a couple of years ago. No, I didn’t go to Istanbul merely for the sake of my next novel, although doesn’t that sound romantic?  But there I was, on a regular old tour with regular old folks (OK, folks of a “certain age”), and we went to the obligatory ceramics store.

I need yet another bowl like houseflies need yet another receptor in their compound eyes. Still, this little gem was hand made in the style of the Iznik porcelain famous during the 16th century, at just the time of my book-to-be. The flowers were right. The colors were right. And, because of the bowl’s size, the price was, if not right, than at least not outrageous.

I am finally writing that book which includes 16th Century Istanbul. My bowl does evoke memories of the city, and for that reason alone I’m glad to have spent the money. But there’s more. I find now that this bit of faraway with its long-ago design beckons me to sit down and write the story that’s in my head and the imagination that rests in the palm of my hand.

 

Laurie Ann Thompson: Scriva for a Night

by Ruth Tenzer Feldman
Published on: August 4, 2014
Categories: Critique Process
Comments: 2 Comments

laurie-thompsoncropped-Blog-header-2-1024x198Viva Scriva is a tight-knit group. After all this time together and our myriad critiques, how could we not be? Rarely do we invite others to attend a meeting, and usually it’s with an eye toward joining our group. We’re not snobs. We simply take our writing seriously. A few weeks ago, we made an exception, and I got more out of that meeting than I’d expected.

Laurie Ann Thompson, a Washington-based writer, was visiting Portland and staying with a Scriva during the evening of one of our meetings. We invited Laurie to come. I checked her out on the Web first (an addiction of mine), and this is what she has to say for herself:

I write for children and young adults to help my readers—and myself—make better sense of the world we live in so we can contribute to making it a better place. I strive to write nonfiction that gives wings to active imaginations and fiction that taps into our universal human truths. I believe that each of us is capable of doing amazing things once we discover our passion, talent, and purpose. Reading is a great place to start.

At the Scriva meeting, we talked a bit about Laurie’s upcoming book, BE A CHANGEMAKER, which offers young adults ways to effect social change in our world. Mostly, though, the conversation centered on the Scriva submissions, none of which Laurie had read beforehand. So how could she have contributed to the critique? I noticed two key ways that Scriva for a Night engendered creativity and added to the process:

  • We Scrivas for The Long Haul brought Laurie into the conversation by summarizing our latest projects and describing what we were trying to say in our writing. It’s amazing how much clarity comes from hearing yourself encapsulate your own work for someone else!
  • Like many good writers, Laurie has perfected the art of listening. She augmented our comments by synthesizing what she’d heard and adding her own thoughts with a fresh voice and a fresh angle.

Maybe having a guest at our critique meeting worked so well because Laurie Ann Thompson turned out to be the ideal Scriva for a Night. Maybe it would have been equally enjoyable and productive to have invited another writer of Laurie’s caliber. Who’s to say? Either way, if Laurie ever finds her way to Portland on another meeting night, I’d welcome her back for another Scriva for a Night critique.

Scriva Ruth

 

 

Good Advice Then; Good Advice Now. Thanks, Amber!

by Ruth Tenzer Feldman
Published on: July 16, 2014
Categories: Challenges, Craft, Creativity
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Bad advice isn’t worth a second look. Forget it. Done. Over with. But good advice deserves an encore, particularly when I could use some tactics for getting unstuck. Here’s good advice from ScrivaAmber in a post first published a couple of years ago, and presented to you once more with feeling. Thanks, Amber!

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IMG_0533Being stuck sucks!

We’ve all been there. A critique partner has made a good point and no solution is obvious. We know a scene is not working but are not sure what to do about it.

This is not the “I-can’t-write-a-word” kind of stuck.  It’s the “how-the-heck-do-I-fix-X” kind of stuck. Sometimes what we need is some experimentation.

Here are some ideas that you can use to change your writerly point-of-view on a scene (or a whole book).  They are also ideas that can help you self-edit more effectively.  Employ whenever a section gives you that gut feeling: “this isn’t working.”  In no particular order:

1. Change the point-of-view.  Literally.  Rewrite a scene from a different characters point of view.

2.  Try reworking the scene by hand (if you are mainly on the computer) or verbally by “talking” it into the voice memo function on your smart phone.

3.  Get someone (or your ereader) to read your scene out loud to you.

4.  Change the format dramatically and print it out.  For one example, check out this great post via Molly Greene and Christine Nolfi.  In it, they explain one technique:

“The key-line layout creates a paperback version of your novel. The end result is a landscape, two-column format. It’s an alternate way to review your manuscript that provides a fresh perspective after months (years?) reading in the traditional, vertical format.”

5.  Use scissors.  Print the scene and cut into pieces.  Rearrange.

6.  Highlight!  Use different colors for different POVs or for sensory details or for backstory or for showing vs. telling.  If you know the problem is voice, for example, get your critique partners to highlight the places where they best “hear” the voice.  That gives you something to work towards. Or highlight in three colors: active sentences (stuff/dialogue moves plot forward), flashback, and character’s thoughts.  You want more of the first than anything else.

Well that should get you started…  Other ideas?  I’d love to hear them!

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