Categories: Creativity

Scriva Scribblings: A Book in the Works and The Blog on Hiatus

by Amber Keyser
Published on: January 7, 2016
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As 2016 begins, the Scrivas always take time to reflect upon the past year and set writing goals for the new one.

We have a retreat in a few weeks during which we’ll talk about what’s working and what’s not in our writing lives. We’ll think on the strengths we have as a group and as individuals, and of course, we’ll eat chocolate and stare at the mountains and even do some writing.

In the last year, we’ve been talking about our blog presence. Is it reaching the people that we want to reach? Is it filling a need for writers who don’t have a critique group or want to make the one they have function at higher and higher levels? Do we have more to say?

We started the Scriva blog in 2011 in response to the frequently asked question: Do you have room in your group? Since then, we have had a lot to say about critique and the writing process! As a group we have written 339 posts. That is pretty crazy!

 

But 2016 will bring something new! The Scrivas are going to take a break from blogging for awhile. We’ve decided to comb through our posts, pick the best and brightest, write some more content, jazz it up, and publish an e-book!

We are all really excited about this new project. If you have topics you want us to address or if you are interested in hiring a Scriva to critique your manuscript, send us a note through the contact page. We always love to hear from you!

Big hugs and huge thanks for joining us on the journey,

The Scrivas

Get Ready, Get Set, Retreat!

by Ruth Tenzer Feldman
Published on: January 4, 2016
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wilderness-cabinSee that red-roofed cabin nesting in the forest by the river? I took this photo in the Wallawa Mountains in Northwest Oregon, nowhere near the next site of the Scrivas retreat, which is a house in the high desert near the Warm Springs reservation. Still, the retreat factors will be the same. Relative isolation. Quiet. Nature. Room to let the mind expand. A comfortable setting so the body won’t interfere.

We Scrivas have been on retreats before, and we’ve blogged about them a bunch. Liz’s A Tale of Three Retreats is a good example. Why another post? Frankly, I can’t give myself enough reminders to carve out the time and space needed to let creativity blossom. True for you, too?

So, here’s the deal. Resolve this year to give the writer side of you a treat on a regular basis. You don’t have to go to some cabin in the woods or desert. Find a quiet space with another writer friend, carve out a couple hours of non-con (no conversation), and settle in. Write. Repeat the treat. Re-treat. Retreat.

Happy 2016, and as John Ciardi used to say, “Good words to you.”

Writer Wanted—A Job Description

by Amber Keyser
Published on: October 16, 2015
Categories: Challenges, Creativity, Humor
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Requirements of the position:

  1. Navigate social media with authentic (non-threatening) mastery
  2. Engage constantly (except during twice weekly showers)
  3. Market yourself and your work with love (not slime)
  4. Advance causes without being didactic or confrontational (use hashtags)
  5. Teach at every opportunity (schools, libraries, conferences, bus stops, laundromats)
  6. Juggle everything (deadlines, family, second jobs, fire, occasional small carnivores)
  7. Manage complicated projects (including life) on extremely limited funds (the reward is the doing)
  8. Be a role model for everything (all the time)

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Snark aside, I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what it means to be a working writer. There are many expectations (see above). Some of them (maybe not juggling fire) do seem to be required of the position. But what does it really mean to do this job? What are my “responsibilities”?

Only this… to think hard about what makes people tick, to open myself to deep emotions, to tell stories that move me, and to wrestle with words until a world is born anew on the page.

This is my job.

And it is good.

irvine-welsh

I Want To Pick Your Brain

by Ruth Tenzer Feldman
Published on: September 4, 2015
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brain-in-handCritique groups offer a font of knowledge, and Viva Scriva is no exception. Of course, there are the usual bits about writing, editing, publishing, and marketing. That’s likely why you started your critique group in the first place. But there’s also the mojo factor. What “feels right” when it comes to asking about, or revealing, the non-writer parts of the individuals in your group? I might want to pick your brain, but should I? I see three aspects to this form of “sharing.”

  • Factoids. Nearly every work-in-progress I’ve seen, even sci-fi or fantasy, is grounded in some aspect of reality. Your critique group members might have just the factoid you are searching for, which recently for me was whether chickens would use human hair as nesting material. I could have googled chicken behavior, which I did without much success, or interviewed a poultry farmer, which I didn’t try to do at all. Instead I had a quick conversation with a Scriva who happens to raise chickens. When it comes to most factoids, go ahead, pick your colleagues’ brains. Expect them to pick yours.
  • Emotions. This area gets trickier. Let’s say your manuscript involves a teenager who suffers from bi-polar depression, and you have no first-hand experience with this situation. First off, count yourself lucky! But then, what kind of comments should you expect from your critique group colleagues? What’s private? What should be shared for the sake of a better manuscript? We are not talking chickens here. We’re talking painful stuff. Perhaps it feels more comfortable to ask for, or convey, information one-on-one rather than in a group setting, or in an email rather than face-to-face. Pick brains with care.
  • Life. Yes, there is life beyond writing. And, yes, shit happens. Now we are talking definitely tricky. What’s intrusive? What’s supportive? The Viva Scrivas over the years have developed a mojo that I’d like to think recognizes that we writers are people first. When one of the Scrivas is going through a hard time, we want to be there for her. That’s part of who we are. But prying is not on the agenda.

I’m picking your brain now. What works for your group? What doesn’t? Happy writing!

 

Happy Birthday, Percy Bysshe Shelley

by Ruth Tenzer Feldman
Published on: August 4, 2015
Categories: Basics, Creativity, Inspiration
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Painted by Alfred Clint

Painted by Alfred Clint

I take you now to Field Place, the West Sussex country estate of Sir Timothy Shelley, a member of the House of Lords. The date is August 4, 1792. The French Revolution is in full swing; the Americans are figuring out what to do after their new independence; and Timothy’s oldest (legitimate) son and heir is born: Percy Bysshe Shelley. Dear, dear Percy. Quite a character. Impetuous, charming, radical, creative, and, oh, so romantic!

Google the guy, and you’ll learn about his poetry, his politics, his loves, and his adventures. You’ll learn that the 16-year-old girl who ran away with him (he was married at the time) and later bore his child before the two married (after Shelley’s first wife, hugely pregnant, committed suicide), is in fact Mary Shelley of Frankenstein fame. And that’s not the half of it.

What intrigues me about Shelley, however, is his “critique group.” They didn’t all sit around the table together and comment on works-in-progress, Viva Scriva style, but Shelley was eager to thrash out his philosophy and writings with others. His “critique group” included Mary, of course, as well as Lord Byron, John Keats, Leigh Hunt, and Thomas Love Peacock (how’s that for a name?). Throughout his tumultuous (and short) life, Shelley spurned the chance to follow his father’s path into Parliament. He wrote like crazy, sometimes alone, often in collaboration with others.

On July 8, 1822, Shelley drowned when his small, custom-built sailing boat (dubbed Don Juan) sank off the coast of Italy. He was a month shy of 30. Some number of years later, on July 8, somewhere on Long Island, I was born. I grew up and did a bunch of stuff, and then I joined a critique group. I’d like to think that Shelley and I share the same pleasure in a gathering of writers. So, here’s to you, Percy Bysshe Shelley. Happy birthday.

 

An Ironic Evolution of “Grandma”

by Ruth Tenzer Feldman
Published on: June 4, 2015
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Grandma-case-cropI remember decorating this plastic case for Mother’s Day, 1955. I used glue and glitter back then, a basic art form that survives to this day. Everyone in the group was supposed to write GRANDMA, and dutiful me complied, even though my grandmothers were “Nana” (an English alternative to grandmother) and “Bubbe” (grandmother in Yiddish).  I figured that “grandma” was the correct term of address in America, the nation of white Anglo-Saxon Protestants, the kind that inhabited the Dick and Jane readers in my elementary school. I was white, so I was part way to respectability. I could pass.

Flash forward sixty years to an America that at least recognizes more diversity, although we still have a long way to go. The Scrivas and I write for a wider audience, with characters that are drawn from a broader slice of humanity. I, however, am still me. What would I write on my plastic box now?

A key benefit of being in a writer’s critique group is exposure to the backgrounds and perspectives of creative people who observe the world around them. OK, all of the Scrivas are white and female. Still we have a lot that’s not in common, and it’s that lack of commonality that “feeds” me. Among the “grandmothers” and “grandmas” in the Scriva world, we have a few Nanas, an Adyl (meaning precious) and Emme, and a Gram B.

Dick and Jane evolved over the years to include African American characters, which is a small step, I grant you. Just ask Walter Dean Myers, whose essay in the New York Times is entitled “Where Are the People of Color in Children’s Books?” And yet, here’s the irony about “grandma.” Our characters have to be true to themselves as well as to the times and places in which they find themselves.

My latest work-in-progress includes an woman, Ly Tien, who was born during the Vietnam War era to an African American GI and a Vietnamese woman. She is later adopted into a white family in the United States, a Jewish family with roots in Denmark, Germany, and Turkey. It’s 2059 Portland and Ly Tien has a granddaughter. What does Ly Tien want to be called?

Grandma. It figures. Adamant as she is about preserving her mixed heritage, Ly Tien wants to be called by the same name that she called the only grandmother she knew, the one who was born in the U.S. in 1919 and wanted to be called “grandma.” Despite the current trend to sound anything but old, there’s still that pull to take on the title that is familiar and perhaps beloved. So, Ly Tien, this plastic box, which came back to me when my Nana died about fifty years ago, is for you.

REVISING SCENES

by Elizabeth Rusch
Published on: April 20, 2015
Comments: 1 Comment

While revising my middle-grade novel April Fool, I have found Donald Maass’ THE FIRE IN FICTION to be enormously helpful. The whole book is terrific, but I’ve been focused on Chapter 3: Scenes that Can’t Be Cut. I have heard many times that a character should want something in every scene and that something should change for the character in every scene, but I haven’t always been sure about how to accomplish that. Using exercises Maass offers at the end of this chapter, I have created a scene worksheet that I have found helpful. Pick a scene, answer the following questions, and then revise the scene with your answers in mind.  I hope you find it as powerful as I do! The questions from my worksheet, adapted from The Fire of Fiction, follow below:

The Fire in Fiction: Passion, Purpose and Techniques to Make Your Novel Great

WHAT DOES YOUR CHARACTER WANT IN SCENE?

3 HINTS THAT HE/SHE MIGHT GET IT:

3 HINTS THAT HE/SHE WON’T:

NEW STRONG FIRST LINE:

NEW STRONG LAST LINE:

WHAT IS THE TURNING POINT, WHEN THINGS CHANGE?

HOW DOES THE CHARACTER SEE HIMSELF/HERSELF BEFORE TURNING POINT?

AFTER?

THREE SENSORY DETAILS DURING THE TURNING POINT:

FIVE SETTING DETAILS:

I hope you find this exercise as powerful as I do!

Elizabeth Rusch

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.

The Wonder Cupboard of Amy Baskin, an occasional series

by Amber Keyser
Published on: February 12, 2015
Categories: Creativity
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The creative process is endlessly fascinating. Get a bunch of writers together and they end up talking about how it works for them. I was lucky enough to become partners in midnight, low-tide wanderings with the Mudflat Heathens, a group of writers in the Pacific Northwest. Thanks to editor Andrew Karre’s inspiration, we got to talking about the flesh and bones from which we work.

We’ve launched this occasional series to give you a peek into our secret stash of inspiration–our Wonder Cupboards. May I present to you Amy Baskin:

The Wonder Cupboard of Amy Baskin

view from a caveAmy Baskin’s Wonder Cupboard includes a rickety fire escape balcony, the view from inside of a cave, moss, heart-shaped rocks, Tuck Everlasting, Gilead, The Snow Child, mustard seeds, sock monkeys, and a quote from Lyle Lovett: “Well God does, but I don’t. God will, but I won’t. And that’s the difference between God and me.”

Amy reads to escape or help interpret reality. She writes for the same reasons. Her limited concept of home decorating involves stacks of books- in corners, on tables, where the TV used to be. Her work has appeared in various publications including Stories for Children Magazine and Reading Local: Portland. In September, she won the Pacific Northwest Plein Air Writers People’s Choice award for her poem, Snowbound: Day 6, Imagined. She enjoys collaborating, particularly with Jason Baskin, her husband and in-house illustrator.

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