Categories: Creativity

The Wonder Cupboard of Cora Goss-Grubbs, an occasional series

by Amber Keyser
Published on: January 12, 2015
Categories: Creativity
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Creativity–it’s the core of our process as writers and artists. The raw materials for the creative process are gathered in every corner of our lives. Memory, images, experiences, the work of other artists, dreams… The brilliant William Gibson said that he had a kind of dumpster attached to the back of his head. He through all that raw material in there and after it had been tossed around in the mess, what came out were ideas, ideas, ideas.

Gibson had a dumpster. The Mudflat Heathens have a Wonder Cupboard (thanks to Andrew Karre’s inspiration). In this occasional series, we share its contents, the raw materials from which we work. Let me present Cora Goss-Grubbs.

 

The Wonder Cupboard of Cora Goss-Grubbs

Cora’s wonder cupboard includes Eucalyptus trees, the Pacific Ocean, long seaside drives (feet out the window, ocean breeze wafting through), Santa Cruz (CA), the unintentional killer, adolescent trauma, the Sex Pistols, the Thompson Twins, car sex, nostalgic romance, drag queens, Swallowing Stones (Joyce McDonald), Magic Words (a short story by Jill McCorkle), and this quote—don’t know the author—“Hard work in the service of your dream is deliverance. It delivers you from meaningless, and into the hands of your highest abilities.”

 

Cora Goss-Grubbs writes young adult novels, short stories, poetry and essays. Her essays can be found in She’s Shameless: Women write about growing up, rocking out and fighting back by Tightrope Books; Calyx: A Journal of Art and Literature by Women; and online at Literary Mama. Her poetry has been published in Here, There and Everywhere; Pontoon 10, an anthology of Washington state poets; and online at The Far Field, the Washington state Poet Laureate’s website.

 

 

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!

The Wonder Cupboard of Brent Swartz, an occasional series

by Amber Keyser
Published on: December 17, 2014
Categories: Creativity
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Recently I attended the SCBWI-Western Washington Novel Retreat at Dumas Bay in Federal Way. There were crisp skies and sea smells and autumn leaves and all the good things a retreat entails. I blogged here about the kindness of book people at the retreat. In one presentation, Andrew Karre asked as to consider what was in our Wonder Cupboard. What have we as creative people secreted away for inspiration, for solace, for nourishment, for stories?

A small group of retreat participants and I (who call ourselves the mudflat heathens for reasons I can’t divulge) decided to start this occasional series, in which we open up our Wonder Cupboards. Today’s post is from Brent Swartz:

 

Why I Write, and the Wonder-Cupboard Run Down

They say the only pure moment of memory is the instant of an experience. Everything that follows is painted and altered by memory bias, expectation, and cognitive physiology.  As each memory drifts deeper into the past it is further muddled by how it fits into the broader experience, how the broader experience fits into the bigger picture of your life, and finally, it is completely jumbled as we attach meaning.  It is a process of distortion because, being human, we are not a catalogue of events.  We are rather a catalogue of poignant moments which we hang meaning upon like overburdened hooks and hangers.  We use our imagination to envision our own history, a process akin to writing, where we imagine memories that make up a story.

I did not arrange my wonder-cupboard with any particular theme in mind and I have no idea who put in the those tacky, chevron shelf-liners, but if they are tied together it’s that they represent the most intriguing stories I don’t know.

The Ship in my Living Room, sails tattered and drifting among the ice-flows and an otherworldly sky, makes me want to scream, ‘What the hell happened to you?’ Although I don’t have a precise understanding of ‘teeth gnashing’, I like to think of myself as gnashing teeth as I scream this.

The Calaveras of Jose Guadalupe Posada, the Mexican folk artist, are a satire of wealth, elegance, and life itself.  His art is both hopeful and sobering, and a reminder that life is fleeting.

The lyrics of Carmina Burana (you know the tune) capture a certain intensity to the waxing and waning of love, the seasons, and fortune… ‘O Fortune, empress of all’ (spoiler alert: Fortune’s a real bitch.)

If you’ve ever flown into the Denver International Airport, then you may be familiar with the Devil Horse From Denver, the blue mustang whose devilish, red eyes follow you as you drive by.  What you may not know is that this sculpture killed it’s own creator, a tragic if not parabolic story of intensity and art.

As with Cemeteries, an epilogue never feels like the continuation of a story.  At their best cemeteries and epilogues are sorts of echoes.  After spending Dia De Los Muertos in Mexico I have a new appreciation for cemeteries and the act of remembering the dead and their stories.  Dying is a drag and a lonely affair, and the tradition of Dia De Los Muertos is the kindest thing people can do for the living; a coat against the chill of loneliness.

Don Quijote is the original maniac, and his character honestly helps me to understand mental illness, the wild type that lands you in jail or the emergency department, where I come across these souls.

Now for Ducks: Wildflowers, birds of paradise, lake symphonies of croaking frogs, and dung beetles competing for mates by rolling up the biggest ball of shit.  If it has to do with sex, it’s probably awesome.  But when it comes to love, there’s nothing like a duck.  Remarkable little creatures who travel on the wind, the water, and the ground, crossing entire continents just to get laid.

Finally Tidal Zones, places I’ve always been infatuated with, made fucking magical by the mudflat heathens.

As the moments of our lives fall from the present they fall further into something like fiction.  For the life of me, I cannot remember what I had for breakfast yesterday, but on August 25th, 2013, I had pie and milk.  The historian and data analyst in me simply notates the dates and the facts of my life and they sink into a sea of forgetfulness.

But the storyteller knows what to hold on to, what is indelible.  Where time dispenses with the facts of life the storyteller is collecting the pieces, looking them over, and either setting them back adrift or burning them into memory.  What sticks and what drifts?  I don’t think it even matters why, but this question is what compels me to write and something that gives life a sense of mystery, constantly asking yourself: am I going to remember this?  And if so, how… and why?

Gift of Gratitude: Thankful Beads

by Elizabeth Rusch
Published on: November 20, 2014
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[This is a post that ran a few years ago about a gratitude activity that I think is worth repeating in case you missed it. Happy Thanksgiving! Scriva Liz]

One holiday season, a couple years ago, I had a strong urge to give something to the Viva Scrivas to thank them for all the ways they have helped me and my writing.  What I had in mind would take some time, so it wouldn’t work during a normal critique group session. I saved it for a writing retreat.

After dinner the second night of the retreat, after the plates were cleared but the wine was still flowing, I gathered the Scrivas back to the dinner table and pulled out a box of beads and some thin wire.

I felt a little awkward, kind of dorky, at first. What if they didn’t like the activity? What if they thought it was tiresome or corny? But I went ahead and explained that we were going to make Thankful Beads. Each person would make a string of beads, each bead signifying something they were thankful for in their writing life. They could start by picking beads that inspired them or by making a list of things that they were thankful for and then choosing beads that best represented each item.

The Scrivas got quiet, and I got nervous.

Then they slipped into the work, jotting notes, fingering through beads. I swear I have never seen these writers so quiet unless they were writing – and with wine goblets at hand, noless. They wrote:

Writing time

Health

My beautiful desk

 

A husband’s support

Great books

The outdoors

 

Writing conferences

My editor

The Scrivas

Someone chose a brown, lumpy bead for a faithful dog. A shiny sparkling amber bead for Ideas. A red bead for her mother.

When we were finished, we each shared our string of beads, touching each one as we said our thanks aloud.

And the next day, as the Scrivas wrote, their Thankful Beads were right nearby.

Happy Thanksgiving,

ScrivaLiz

 

 

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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Comments: 1 Comment

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.

 

“Make friends with other writers…”

by Melissa Dalton
Published on: August 8, 2014
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“The right alliances will save your spirit — not to mention your career — during the dark nights of the soul. Spend some time getting to know what you want. It’s a shifting-sands industry, so you’ve gotta take responsibility for being familiar with your own priorities. And never, never, ever let the word ‘rejection’ apply to you. It’s not a rejection, it’s a pass, and they happen every day. But so do offers.”

I thought this was great advice from a newly published writer and it reminded me of the value of a critique group (and great group of friends :). You can read the rest of the interview here.

Writing: Pregnancy and Other Metaphors

by Sabina I. Rascol
Published on: July 29, 2014
Categories: Creativity, Inspiration
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2014-07, lithography - 2 childrenThere we were. Seventh-grade Health class, the section on sex education. I could finally ask the question I had puzzled over since I was ten.

 

COULD a woman be pregnant and get pregnant again? Meaning, could she, WHILE carrying a baby, get pregnant with a second one? So that she would give birth in nine months to the first baby, and, say four months later, birth the second one? COULD such a thing happen?

 

No, is the short answer. But our teacher clarified that simultaneous-serial pregnancies [my term] CAN actually happen. In very, VERY rare cases.

 

Ha! She knew squat about writers. We as a race carry multiple simultaneous-serial pregnancies all the time. For years, I thought of my books as babies, all lined up in the birth canal, waiting to be born. The second and third and seventh books, crowding behind the first, keep pestering it: “Psst! Hurry! Get out already, so we can be born too.”

 

So, though I have no physical children, that’s my first and longest-enduring writing metaphor: writing as PREGNANCY and GIVING BIRTH.

 

*

More recently I thought of my writing as that magic trick (Danny, Scriva Nicole’s husband, told me how it’s done!) where the illusionist is PULLING OUT KILOMETERS OF RIBBON FROM HIS MOUTH, HIS BEING. That’s how I feel when I’m writing: that I pull out of myself mysteries that I never would have imagined all existed and fit in me.

 

*

 

Or a similar, but more profound image, is that I am LIKE GOD, WHO SPOKE THE WORLD INTO BEING. By no means do I think I or any of us are gods. But I believe that humans were created in God’s image (check out Genesis 1:26-27), so we share some of the Creator’s qualities: a desire for relationship, a sense of infinity, of right and wrong, and the ability to create, for a start.

 

God spoke a universe that didn’t exist into being. I, on my end (though with much more travail) write into being a story and world that didn’t exist beforehand.

 

*

The next metaphor I got from a new writing buddy, Carl. He spoke of writing as BUILDING A HOUSE. Everything that goes in a book must serve the building we’re trying to raise. The house can have interesting add-ons, but it must have the basics, and balance. We can keep an open mind and explore interesting paths, but must continue to refer to the blueprint to end up with the intended house.

 

The written house though is malleable, like something out of a Diana Wynne Jones fantasy. I can set down the rooms as they first come to mind. Then I give them a shove, bump them with my elbow, nudge them this way and that, and the rooms change position. Or  size, or shape or function, whatever is needed… All through the wonderful power of revision.

 

*

 

The current image I hold in my mind? Writing as LITHOGRAPHY. In chromolithography, separate stones (or plates) are prepared for each color. Each color is applied to the paper separately, one on top of the other, lightest to darkest. You need all the colors (plates, layers) for the full color image.

 

That’s how I see my writing right now, though in writing one starts with the strongest color. In this first go-through, I’m setting down the main story line. Of course I’m trying to do it perfectly, to put in everything needed from the beginning. Of course I fail, which is why I need a critique group. In future passes, I will add the additional colors to create perfect shape and shading: more sensory details (per Scriva Mary), more geography (per Scriva Amber), more motivations (per me), more likeability (per Scriva Ruth), and so on. The other week the Scrivas offered wonderful suggestions for my current novel. “Thanks!” I said about one of the changes I need to implement. “Though it will take a few passes before I get there.”

 

*

So what are your metaphors about writing?

 

-Sabina I. Rascol

 

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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