Categories: Inspiration

“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



by Elizabeth Rusch
Published on: July 20, 2014
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Scriva Amber recently sold her wonderful YA novel THE WAY BACK FROM BROKEN in a two book deal (YAY!) and I asked her what she was going to do celebrate. The conversation went something like this:

Amber: Well, I’m not sure when to celebrate.

Liz: I know. If you do it when you get the offer, what if it doesn’t work out?

Amber: We both know that happens. I don’t want to jinx it.  Maybe when I accept the offer?

Liz: Or sign the contract?

Amber: But that’s just paperwork.

Liz: Yeah, kind of anticlimactic…

But we both agreed that we MUST celebrate these successes because we face so many challenges, frustrations, and yes, even failure along the way.

With that in mind, I want to invite you all (especially Portlanders!) to join illustrator Mike Lawrence and I to celebrate the launch of our first ever graphic novel Muddy Max: The Mystery of Marsh Creek on Saturday, August 2 at the Fremont Fest outside A Children’s Place bookstore at 4807 NE Fremont, from 12 pm-4 pm. Festivities will include:

  • * Tubs of mud for kids to dig through to discover what is in mud.
  • * Squirt guns for kids to test their demudifying skills on mud dunked dolls
  • * Temporary mud tattoos
  • * A raffle of original Muddy Max art

Good dirty fun for the whole family! Join us! Celebrate!

Scriva Liz


NEVER Give Up on a Book You Believe In

Don’t give upWhen I was pregnant with my second child, who is now 10 years old, I started writing a picture book called Squeaks, Stumps, and Surprises: A Big Brother’s Guide to Life with a New Baby. I was trying to see my second pregnancy and the appearance of a new baby in the family through my first child’s eyes. I asked him and his friends what they thought about pregnancy and new babies, especially new siblings. And I learned that little kids don’t see things the way we adults do.

In the book, I tried to capture the voice of a slightly older, wiser kid giving insider advice about what life with a new baby would really be like. I loved writing it, I loved revising it, and when I submitted it to publishers, I got nice notes back about the writing and the concept. But all agreed it wouldn’t stand out in the crowded New Baby market.

So I went back to it, revising it again, making the voice stronger, fresher, funnier. This went on for several years (I had a new baby at home after all) before I submitted again. This time I found a few editors who liked it, too. It went to acquisitions several times, but alas, no one bought it.

I got busy with other projects, busy with my two kids, and forgot about the manuscript for a while, perhaps years. If I happened to think of it, I would open the most recent version and read it. I’d think: “I still really like this book.” Sometimes I’d play around with it again. I changed the boy to a girl. I broke the book into sections. I added more dialogue, more funny lists, more punch lines. I cut it radically. I added more material. I cut again. I went from one narrator to two: a boy and a girl.

I started working with a wonderful agent who sold some of my manuscripts. When I first showed her this one, she said something to the effect of: “I’m not sure this would stand out in the crowded New Baby market.” Sound familiar? So I put it away again.

In the meantime, I started writing a graphic novel. (MUDDY MAX, coming this August!) Sometime while working on the graphic novel, I took yet another peek at the new baby book. I thought: “I still really like this book.” And I had an idea. What if the book was a picture book/graphic novel hybrid with some main narrative text and some funny scenes in comic form? I carved out some time to try this, got great feedback from my critique groups, revised again and showed my agent. This time she said: “All right, let’s give it a try.”

And I am happy, ecstatic, thrilled to report, that TEN YEARS after first writing the book, we got an offer on it. I am still in shock that it actually happened. Look for The Big Kids’ Guide to Life with a New Baby sometime in 2016!

And don’t EVER give up on a book project you believe in.

Elizabeth Rusch

P.S. In case it’s not obvious from the story above, it is OK to put a manuscript aside for a while (months or even years), play around with it a lot, try some radical revisions, get feedback, put it away again, revisit it again. But if you like it, if you believe in it, if there is something in there you think is special, don’t give up, don’t ever give up.

Editing…Without Touching a Word

by Addie Boswell
Published on: May 24, 2014
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imagesWhen writers meet up, one of the first questions parried is, “How’s the writing going?” Recently I had this conversation with another Scriva. Both of us have been overwhelmed with non-writing life, and said (rather dejectedly and a little shamefully), “I haven’t been writing.” And then we proceeded to talk about the new developments in the books we “haven’t been writing” for an hour or two. She was reading Writing the Breakout Novel and trying to decide which of her six plot elements was most important. (What story do I have to tell?) She was also thinking about combining characters and waking up earlier to steal some writing time. I have been ruminating on something an agent told me months ago. And though I haven’t sat down with my laptop for months, my main character keeps visiting me at odd times and explaining more of his backstory (I actually hear his voice in my head.) I’m getting more clarity on my main theme, all without touching a word.

It only really struck me the next day: We are still editing! I have missed my story in the months I have been away from it. That is a healthy thing. Not healthy is the feeling that I have betrayed myself by letting it languish. Less healthy still: the despair that I’ll never get back to my book, and it will never, ever be published. But stories are not quite the same as children or pets. They can be ignored and not perish. They can be argued with and not suffer. They can be put in a drawer and … Well, you get the point. Our characters can be trusted to rise again. If you are mourning your own writing, or just not sure where to go next, here are some non-traditional editing ideas.

  • Read an inspiring writing book that really gets your blood going.
  • Re-read authors in your genre who blow your mind.
  • Try to dream about your characters.
  • Imagine your characters interacting with the real world (like when you’re at the grocery store).
  • Talk about your book with your friends.
  • Talk to your characters, in your head or in your journal.
  • Watch movies that reflect the setting in your book.
  • Make a soundtrack for your main character’s life.

A Tense Surprise

by Elizabeth Rusch
Published on: May 20, 2014
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In an earlier post about how I sometimes do multiple simultaneous drafts of the same manuscript, I mentioned how a critiquer had suggested trying to rewrite my picture book biography of piano inventor Bartolomeo Cristofori in present tense. PRESENT TENSE? A biography from 1700s, late Renaissance Italy, in PRESENT TENSE? Sounds crazy. I balked, as did the rest of my fellow critiquers.

But I have a little rule for myself to at least give most suggestions, even the ones I don’t agree with, a try. Especially if its something I can do easily or test out with a small section. So I did it. I rewrote the whole thing in present tense.

I didn’t really look at the manuscript again until reading the two versions aloud at a critique group meeting. Wonder of wonder, miracle of miracles, the present tense version of the story came to life. It jumped off the page. It sang. I knew it as I read it and the comments were unanimous: “I didn’t think the present tense would work, but I love it.”

So there you have it. Two lessons for me from this experience: Even if you don’t agree with a suggestion, consider giving it a try. And play around with tense. You never what how it could transform your manuscript.

Elizabeth Rusch


The Power of Words– A Little Writerly Pick-Me-Up

by Nicole Marie Schreiber
Published on: May 15, 2014
Categories: Inspiration, Other Topics
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This short YouTube video really spoke to me about the power we writers have with our words.  If any of you are feeling down or stuck or like your work and words don’t matter, this will help pick you up.

Remember, “Change your words.  Change your world.”

We writers make a difference!  Our work MATTERS!



Happy Writing!


-Nicole Marie Schreiber

Rebar and Writing: John Green’s Model

by Ruth Tenzer Feldman
Published on: May 5, 2014
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Laying-rebar-cropFor months now, a slew of humans and machines have been constructing the Janey II, an apartment/condo building within sight of my dining room balcony. I decided to see which would be done first, the Janey II or my Book Three, and I’m tracking the progress of both on my website.

The Janey II is at the rebar (reinforcing bar) stage. This blurry photo shows a construction guy building the mesh of heavy steel wires that provide tensile strength to the concrete walls. (Yes, guy. I’ve seen no construction women on site. Sigh.) Rebar helps to support and spread the load. You don’t see rebar in the finished structure, but you’re glad it’s there.

I happened to be reading John Green’s first book, Looking for Alaska, at the same time the rebar guy was doing his thing. That’s when it hit me. John Green is a genius at enmeshing literary rebar into his work. Looking for Alaska is such a solid story in part because it’s been built to last. Here’s what I mean:

  • Time. The novel is divided into two parts, labeled “before” and “after.” The key event is almost exactly in the middle. Rather than chapter headings, the before and after parts are divided into sections leading up to, and away from, the main event. The first section is entitled “one hundred thirty-six days before.” The last section of the novel is entitled “one hundred thirty-six days after.” How’s that for a sturdy structure? Talk about a beginning, a middle, and an end. Nice.
  • Place. Most of the story is narrowly focused on Culver Creek Boarding School, giving the reader a chance to get familiar with a single (and singular) setting. You know when you are and where you are. By the time the characters go to the smoke hole for the third time, you can practically lead them there.
  • Characters. There are only a handful, and they are a handful. Each one is memorable, from Alaska Young, whose actions drive the “before” and the “after,” to Dr. Hyde, the religion teacher, who guides the main characters and the reader into an exploration of death, guilt, and grief.
  • Humor. Looking for Alaska is not what you’d call a light-hearted tale. There are layers upon layers of serious stuff crammed into 136 days before and 136 days after. That said, our trusty author/rebar guy adds enough of the funny bits to spread the emotional load. Our skin-and-bones protagonist is nicknamed Pudge. We get to see several hilarious pranks, including one involving a male stripper and another involving blue dye. We get the laugh-out-loud and relatively innocent antics of a first “blow job.” Green treats us with care. As a reader, I’m grateful. As a writer, I’m taking notes!

I don’t know whether my Book Three or the Janey II will be finished first. I do know that I’m learning a bunch about crafting a novel as I watch the construction site, not the least of which is John Green’s rebar.


Reading Up: Studying Writing

by Sabina I. Rascol
Published on: March 31, 2014
Categories: Craft, Inspiration
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blue studyingSome years ago I heard Kirby Larson speak about the genesis of her Newberry-Honor winning novel, Hattie Big Sky.

As I remember (though know that I do not have my mother’s phenomenal memory!)—as I remember from that talk, at one point Kirby had a long-lasting case of writer’s block. She was officially Not Writing. However, after her grandmother provided the “wild horses” kernel for the novel (read more about it here), Kirby did all sorts of things that moved her toward writing this story, all while continuing to tell herself that she wasn’t writing. She conducted research of one sort and another. She traveled to Montana more than once. And she typed out a copy of a novel she admired, intimately learning its timing, pacing, phrasing…  I guess it’s somewhat like art students copying master paintings to learn from the giants who had come before.

While I never yet took the time to learn by typing out a favorite book, I remain intrigued by the idea.

Here are a couple of novels I’ve read lately that I’d think of typing out–or, at any rate, studying more—and what it is I want to study further:


1)      A Girl Named Disaster, by Nancy Farmer

-I like the sweep of a longer novel for young readers, with an intricate plot and many places and stages in the heroine’s life.

-I like how so much cultural information about a world far removed from the North American reader’s is pocketed interestingly here and there, without the feeling of an information dump.

-And I like the satisfying ending that ties up questions from the beginning of the novel about the heroine’s parentage. Many novels, even for young readers, leave things open, which can be OK, but I’ve noticed that I like a good sense of rounding off, of closure in a novel.


2)      Come Sing, Jimmy Jo, by Katherine Paterson AND The Great Gilly Hopkins, AND

-I like how in all her books Ms. Paterson subtly paints people and the dynamics of the relationships between them, how she uses words to create in us, her readers, the emotions she wants us to have, the feelings her heroes and heroines have.


3)      Bel Canto, by Ann Patchett

-I like how Ann Patchett moves us along to being wholly enmeshed in the lives and fates of her characters, coming to care deeply about both the hostages and their captors.


What about you? What novels have you read recently that you would like to study more closely and apply their lessons to your own work?


-Sabina I. Rascol

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