Categories: Celebrations

Gift Giving

by Sabina I. Rascol
Published on: December 25, 2013
Categories: Celebrations, Inspiration
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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

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

Dedicate Your Writing to Someone

by Elizabeth Rusch
Published on: November 20, 2013
Comments: 2 Comments
Sheila Schmid of NW Yoga in Portland, Oregon

Sheila Schmid of NW Yoga in Portland, Oregon

O.K., so I’m on a little yoga/writing roll, so I thought I’d share something else from a yoga class that I have applied to writing.

At the beginning of several recent yoga classes at Yoga NW, my teacher Sheila said:

“Take a moment to think about why you are here. Consider dedicating your yoga practice today to someone.”

Cool idea, I thought. I pictured several people in my head and tried to keep them in my heart as I practiced. The class, though challenging, was a joy. I didn’t do anything differently in class – the class just felt more meaningful and more joyful.

After a shower and breakfast, I headed off for a day of writing at the library. I liked Sheila’s idea so much that I decided to dedicate my writing day to someone. Since I write for children, I picked a child I know and tried to keep that child in my heart as I wrote.

That writing day felt more meaningful and joyful.

I am trying to make this a regular practice. Sometime I pick a family member or a friend. Sometimes I choose a child I know. Sometimes I pick a fellow writer, like one of my beloved Scrivas. Sometimes I choose a group such as kids who are passionate about science, or kids who live in poverty, or kids who read books to escape something horrible in their lives, or kids who love the ocean, or kids who have never been to the ocean. Sometimes I hold in my heart other people important to our world or somehow connected to the book such librarians, English teachers, science teachers, pianists or historians.

Dedicating a writing session to someone is like sending a prayer for them out into the world. I will never know if my writing, my dedication to them, my prayer for them made any difference in their lives. But I know it makes a difference in mine.

Elizabeth Rusch

Revision Gurus

by Amber Keyser
Published on: November 12, 2013
Comments: 1 Comment

Revision is hard for me.

I worry myself in circles about the right way to reorganize plot points.  My stomach knots as I scissor my manuscript to pieces and tape it back together.

Voice haunts me.  I will stare at a sentence for many minutes, knowing it is not right but clueless about how to make it right.

I agonize over every sentence, rearranging words, substituting images, deleting.  The word count hardly changes, but slowly, subtly, change is coming.

I am learning to embrace revision because of the way it makes the work better.  Today is my paean in praise of Revision Gurus–because that’s what the Scrivas are to me.

I just finished reading Scriva Ruth‘s newest novel, THE NINTH DAY (Ooligan Press, 2013).  Now let me clarify, I have read this story before multiple times, but today I read it within a glossy cover.  Published.  Complete.  And…

Wow!  I kept chuckling to myself that I couldn’t put the book down even though I already knew what was going to happen thanks to my many reads of early drafts.

I already loved this book, but what I could appreciate this time through was the absolute mastery of Ruth’s revision.  I could see the delicate way she’d laid the groundwork for each storyline so that every action and reaction seemed “real.”  She brought me along on a journey of self-discovery that was both surprising and utterly believable.  Like a Cirque du Soleil performer, Ruth never lost her balance or let me, her reader, fall.

As much as I might dread revision, I want to be Ruth’s padawan.  I want to learn at her feet. I want to make my story sing like Hope’s does!


The Ninth Day

Berkeley, California, 1964. While the Free Speech Movement rages, Hope, a shy, stuttering, teen scarred by an accidental LSD trip, plans to keep a low profile. Risk compounds reticence when she meets a time-traveler who claims that Hope must find a way to stop a father from killing his newborn son in 11th century Paris.

“The story is riveting… and, speaking as someone who was arrested in the Free Speech Movement, the Berkeley sections feel true and authentic.”

—Margot Adler, NPR correspondent

“Reading this book… [reveals] constellations rich with story, myth, and magic.”

—Jen Violi, author of Putting Makeup on Dead People


Beginning Again

by Addie Boswell
Published on: October 25, 2013
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imagesIt is around this time of year, when weather and work starts to wind down, that I start to jump ahead in my mind. To 2014’s clean slate, the sparkling, blank planner I get to buy, and the new set of goals I might just accomplish. It is a new year! The sky’s the limit! I love beginnings so much that it is often an uphill battle to finish things. (Starting to dream about a new manuscript is so much more fun than revising the old one for the 17th time…)

So, not to get ahead of myself, there are two more months in 2013. If your holidays knock out some of your productive time (as they do mine), you really might have only five or six weeks. Along with a last chance to knock tasks off the 2013 list, these weeks are a good time to sit down and reflect on all that you have accomplished and traversed this year. A good way to start is to browse through your planner or calendar, remembering all the appointments, deadlines, trips, celebrations, high points, and low points. Then, sit down with your journal and some open-ended questions like these (which I’ve picked up from various books and coaches.)

When I think about my business in 2013…

  1. What surprised me?
  2. What disappointed me?
  3. What worked?
  4. What didn’t work?
  5. Where did the business excel?
  6. Where did the business fall short?
  7. When was I happiest?
  8. What does this tell me about the next year?
  9. Looking at the disappointments, what do I want to turn around in the next year?
  10. Which means I have to change…..
  11. Looking at the successes, what do I want to continue doing next year?
  12. What do I remain sure about in my career?
  13. If I could accomplish only three things in 2014, what would they be?

If data makes you happy, you might also start compiling some numbers to make your accomplishments more tangible. Some possible categories: royalties made, copies sold, submissions sent, author visits scheduled, words typed.

World Building Meets the Real World

by Ruth Tenzer Feldman
Published on: October 4, 2013
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Florrie-crop-lo-resThe woman in this photograph had a real name and lived a real life that I have yet to learn. In my enthusiasm to build the world behind my historical novel, Blue Thread, I named her Florence Steinbacher (“Florrie”) and made her the never-seen best friend of Miriam Josefsohn, the main character in the story.

When the Blue Thread story was over, Miriam was ready to melt back into my brain, but Florrie was not. Maybe it was because I still had her photograph. Maybe it was because she was part of the backstory for a companion novel, The Ninth Day, which is told by Miriam’s granddaughter. Maybe it was because I didn’t have the creative energy to jump into writing the next book, but I wanted to keep crafting narrative.

Whatever the reason, Florrie sprang to life. She took over my blog on July 11 this past summer and posted four times a week through Sept. 27. Florrie continued to tell us about her best friend “Mim” from 1912 (when Blue Thread ended) through 1950 (14 years before the start of The Ninth Day). Florrie’s blog posts turned into about 36,000 words. You can download her story as a free e-book or a pdf when you sign up for my mailing list (with no obligation to actually read my infrequent newsletters!). Florrie would like all that attention.

Here’s what I’ve learned in the process of letting Florrie have her head (or mine):

  • Following a character through several decades, in memoir style, is easier than building an entire world for a particular era. The real world of events gives us plenty of material to supplement the fictional world of the characters’ lives.
  • World building tools work on the macro level as well as the micro level. In a post about world building, Cat Winters suggested giving your character a birthday party. What gifts would (s)he get? What would be served? How would (s)he react? In my world building, I gave Florrie (and, through Florrie’s eyes, Miriam) World Wars I and II, and the Russian Revolution, and the Berkeley fire of 1923, and chronicled their reactions.
  • The real world seems ready to embrace the fictional world we writers craft for our characters. At least one blogger, for example, “interviewed” Mary Shelley Black, the fictional protagonist of Cat Winters’ In the Shadow of Blackbirds. In Istanbul, Nobel laureate Orhan Pamuk has constructed a real museum to house artifacts from his novel, The Museum of Innocence. Go see all 4,213 cigarette butts touched by a fictional character. And Florrie, I must admit, still has a Twitter account.

What will come of all this world building within the real world? Will technology and imagination conspire to inextricably entwine reality and fiction? Does anybody care? Hello, out there….

While I wait for an answer, Florrie is content with her compilation of blog posts, and I’ve started to build the backstory and world for my next full-length narrative.





A Safe Place to Share OBSESSIONS

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

We all have them:  Subjects that fascinate us. Topics that we can’t get enough of. Areas that grab our interest whether we’re browsing headlines, blogs or twitter – or overhearing a snippet of conversation.  If you will read anything on a subject, click any link that deals with a subject, and if you feel compelled to write on a subject, you are probably OBSESSED. Obsessions haunt, possess and preoccupy us. And the sad truth is that not everyone around us shares our obsessions (can you believe it?!)

So that’s where critique groups come in! They have to read and discuss everything you write about your obsession!  There is no way out!  Ha, ha, ha (evil laugh here).

Someone asked me recently how I became obsessed with volcanoes.

“Me? Obsessed with volcanoes?” I was truly puzzled. I read about and write about a lot of topics.

“Uhm, don’t you have like three volcano books?” she said. “Writing three books about a topic constitutes an obsession.”

Oh! You mean THAT obsession. I didn’t think it was the right time to tell her about idea I was developing for a fourth volcano book…

So yes, my name is Elizabeth Rusch, and I’m obsessed with volcanoes. And if you didn’t know better, you would think every single Viva Scriva was obsessed with volcanoes, too. They must be, or why would they so gracefully and enthusiastically read draft after draft of book after book?

That’s why critique groups are such wonderful, safe places to share your obsessions. There is an unspoken code: If you let me explore my obsessions, I’ll let you explore yours.

Obsessions can become contagious. We Scrivas tend to get interested in each other’s obsessions.  I will always scroll through the cool historical photos emailed by historical fiction writer Scriva Nicole. I find myself reading, rather than passing over, articles on the violence in Brazil’s favelas after critiquing Scriva Addie’s gripping YA novel Essa Vida. And I couldn’t wait to learn how to shoot a bow and arrow when Scriva Amber, author of the middle grade novel Archer, pulled hers out at a retreat.

But here is the reality: Nobody in the group is anywhere near as obsessed with volcanoes as I am. Their enthusiasm is most likely one part shared-obsession and nine parts generosity and graciousness.

For their generosity and graciousness, I am truly grateful.

On June 18, Houghton Mifflin released my second volcano book, Eruption: Volcanoes and the Science of Saving Lives.


And August 1, Charlesbridge will release my third: Volcano Rising.

Cover Final

Volcano Rising is dedicated to the Viva Scrivas. Thank you for sharing my volcano obsession – or at least indulging it. You are the very best Enablers 🙂

Scriva Liz


Building community through critique

by Amber Keyser
Published on: April 12, 2013
Categories: Celebrations
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Comments: 4 Comments

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
Tags:No Tags
Comments: 2 Comments

“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.

Some Literary, Bawdy Fun

by Guest Posts
Published on: February 20, 2013
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When a member of my critique group announced she was getting married recently, we threw her a bachelorette party. But not just any bachelorette party, a literary/bawdy bachelorette party. If you find yourself somewhere with your critique buddies and paper and pens, and you’re looking for some laughs, try these games:

Two Lies and a Truth: Easy for creative types who love to make things up. Each person makes up two lies and remembers something unbelievable that really happened. Everyone tells their three stories and people try to guess which one is true.  (Can be as clean or naughty as you want.) You could also do this for your characters…but just don’t forget which stories are the made-up truths and which are the made-up lies.

Poetry Prompts: On 20-30 small note cards write a romantic word on each (like roses, fire, smooch). On another 20-30 cards write funny domestic words (like nose-hair, laundry, compost). Everyone takes a card from each pile and must compose a poem with the two words.

Dirty Balderdash/Dictionary: This requires a bit of prep. Someone must do some internet research to find some naughty terms or slang phrases that they think no one would know. Write each with its definition on a note card or slip of paper. To play, someone picks one out of a bag and reads just the word out loud. Everyone writes the word down and makes up a definition. The one who knows the correct definition collects the definitions and reads them all aloud with the real definition mixed in. Vote on which is the real definition (if you can stop laughing long enough!)

Dirty Pictionary: Great for author-illustrators. Someone writes a bunch of sexy words on small notecards or pieces of paper. Break into teams of two or more people. The “artist” picks a card, reads the word silently and tries to draw it while the other teammates guess out loud. Teams can race to successfully draw the same word or you can set up a timer and teams get points if they guess in the allotted time.

Dirty Scrabble: My guess is that you can figure out how this should be played.

Have fun!




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