Categories: Research

Critique as Creative Collective

by Elizabeth Rusch
Published on: August 20, 2014
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I read a wonderful article in the Sunday New York Times called “The End of Genius” that I think captures why we Scrivas, and you and other writers, thrive in critique groups.

It’s about how our brains are wired to be in conversation with others about our ideas, about our creative work. Though this researcher focused on creative pairs and many critiques groups include more than two people, the idea of creative conversation still applies, I think. When we Scrivas critique, we go around and give comments one at a time. We address our comments directly to the writer. The conversation for each critique is mostly one-on-one. People do pipe in (interrupt politely) and add comments. But in most cases these comments are productive, broadening, focusing or stirring the conversation.

I have heard that in some critique groups, the writer being critique is supposed to remain quiet the whole time, taking notes. In both my critique groups, the writer certainly listens quietly and take notes at first, but most critiques become conversations, and I think that is good thing. Do you?

Scriva Liz

Q & A with Ruth Tenzer Feldman

by Addie Boswell
Published on: April 24, 2014
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Ruth Tenzer Feldman, AuthorRead more about Scriva Ruth, and her love of both history and writing, as she is interviewed by writer and educator Sandra Bornstein. 

Today, I welcome Ruth Tenzer Feldman. She is the author of numerous non-fiction and fiction children’s books. In the last couple of years, she published the award-winning novel, Blue Thread and its companion The Ninth Day. Both books were written for a young adult audience, but adults can enjoy these historical fiction books as well.

In exchange for an honest review, I received a complimentary copy of The Ninth Day. I had previously purchased Blue Thread.

Welcome Ruth.

Your website mentions that you had a successful career as a legislative attorney. Why did you decide to shift gears to become a young adult book author?

Writing has been my first love since elementary school, when I did a report on eye care from the point of view of the eye. My work as an attorney was satisfying, challenging, productive…but still basically a job. Somewhere in mid-life, my first love won out.

You started your children’s book writing career by authoring numerous books that are part of various non-fiction book series. What drew you to these historically based projects?

When I was an international relations major in college I began to realize that what we are (as individuals, families, nations) depends so much on what we were—or what we think we were. There’s so much story in history.

Blue Thread and The Ninth Day catapulted you into the realm of fiction. What prompted you to take this leap?

Well, to put it baldly, I had an urge to lie. I was writing the bio of U.S. president Calvin Coolidge, and I wondered what it would be like for the secret service guys who had to deal with Cal’s pranks. He was a practical joker, even in the White House). Did they ever play a trick on the president? That’s when I knew it was time to write fiction.

Link to Finish this Article.


Query Advice from KT Literary

by Melissa Dalton
Published on: April 8, 2014
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  1. 1.
    guidance or recommendations concerning prudent future action, typically given by someone regarded as knowledgeable or authoritative.


Need help writing the perfect query for your middle grades or YA novel?

Go to this website, hosted by KT Literary. (They represent Maureen Johnson and Stephanie Perkins, two big names in YA.)

Every Friday, in the column About My Query, they critique a query letter from the slushpile.

Here are some tidbits:

I’d also always cut any mention of future books in a series in the query letter — save that for once you actually have an agent interested in the story.

— My first thought: Hooray! We won’t have to deal with a YA heroine looking in a mirror to describe herself!

— What I’d want to see in the author’s query is what sets it apart from the expected. In general, look to find a way to give us the details that make the main character’s specific story interesting, and her character one we’d like to hang out with for the length of a novel.

So helpful and addictive! Enjoy!

Gas and Brakes

How long does it take you to write a book? How fast do you work? I get asked these questions a lot, especially the first one by school-aged kids.  The answer is that it varies – dramatically.

My fastest book was a school library title on tennis (draft in a month, final in a few months) because that was how long the publisher gave me.  Next fastest was The Planet Hunter: The Story behind What Happened to Pluto which went from proposal to final approved manuscript ready to be illustrated in a handful of months. (My editor and I wanted to get that book out as fast as possible to explain the fascinating story behind why Pluto was no longer considered a planet.)

Typically, my books take much longer. I am working on a book now called Mario and the Hole in the Sky that will be published by Charlesbridge in 2016. I started working on it in 2007. That’s nine years for a picture book.  My graphic novel Muddy Max: The Mystery of Marsh Creek which comes out this year (YAY!) began as a middle grade novel in 2006. That’s eight years. My book The Mighty Mars Rovers took a similar amount of time. I’m working on picture book now that I literally started a decade ago.

The reasons for these long periods of time can vary. Many times, I am writing multiple, completely different drafts of the same book – and that takes a long time. (Thank you Scrivas, for reading version after version after version!) Other times I get discouraged after submitting something that doesn’t sell and I put it aside for a while.

In fact, it would be misleading to suggest that I was working on all these projects all the time in those years. What is much more typical is that there are times in the life of project when I put on the gas and other times I put on the brakes.

A current project in development on the inventor of the piano is a good example. When I got the idea in 2010, I start researching furiously (gas). I worked on it off and on through summer of 2012 (little pumps of gas), when I took a research trip to Florence, Italy (gas, gas, gas). When I got back, I did some writing and thinking (gas). Then I got stuck and I got busy with some other deadlines (SCREEECH! Brakes).

I have to be careful because brakes are easier to sustain than gas (things at rest like to stay at rest.) I didn’t touch this project for almost a year. And that really bothered me because I really loved the idea. So I started to put on the gas – writing, rewriting, problem-solving, polishing. I heard that an editor I wanted to share it with would be going on maternity leave. So I put on the gas big time, getting the book ready to submit.

Alas, she turned it down.

I was disappointed but also a little relieved. I just felt like I need a little more time with the project – to do a few more drafts and try to get it just right. So instead of submitting it elsewhere, I put on the brakes. But only gently. I want to slow down but not stop.

In driving you’re not supposed to put your foot on the gas and brakes at the same time. But for writing, I’m going to try it. I need the gas to keep momentum. But I need the brakes, too, to give me time to get it right.

Elizabeth Rusch

Writing a Novel: Which Way This Time?

by Sabina I. Rascol
Published on: July 31, 2012
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I just counted.

For a work-in-progress close to my heart (I call it My Book 2), I have over 160,000 words written. These are scenes in no particular order, written as I noodled around in the world of that story. Concomitantly I was writing scenes for other books, catching and running with whatever ideas occurred to me.

One day My Book 2 will occupy center stage in my writing life, and I will revisit all I have written in the past. I already know I won’t use all the scenes I’ve written. Rather, first establishing even more clearly in my mind the road these scenes built, I will unroll the narrative I now know I intend. Some of the scenes I have will be used, others will go. Some will serve as starting points for passages yet necessary to fill in the story.

I look forward to that process—or rather, to finally bringing forth that long-desired novel. Perhaps there were easier ways to have gone about writing My Book 2. But this is how I needed to write it at the time the idea first sang into my mind and I chose to follow its song.


My current work-in-progress is a historical middle-grade novel. For its sake I set aside all My Books (there are several), and I am going about writing it as differently as can be.


A couple of years ago I wrote an entire first draft, relatively fast, and, using an outline, entirely in order. The Scrivas as a whole never saw that version. I meant to do another pass-through before giving it to them, aware of much I could fix that I didn’t want to waste their time with. Scriva Nicole, though, was curious to read even that very rough first draft and I gave her the manuscript. With her excellent editorial eye, Nicole noted that in fact my novel was several novels in one: which one did I want to write?


I opted to develop the part of the story I most deeply resonated with. That is the novel I am working on now (and, if you’re wondering, what I won the work-in-progress Oregon Literary Fellowship for). The section I wrote so far of this brand-new version is also written entirely in chronological order. I felt I needed the discipline of plowing through the difficult patches in order to have a narrative that is cohesive already, rather than, like Aesop’s thoughtless grasshopper, merely jumping from easy scene to easy scene. So far, I am glad about how I chose to go about it, even though at times I am eager to get to later scenes that I see especially clearly or that have the deepest emotional resonance for me.


Right now I am doing field research to flesh out and nail down historical and geographical facts for my story. Once this time is over, I expect to make a couple of detours in my writing. A stop to organize the new information I collected. Likely contacting more experts to verify historical questions that are still unclear. Rewriting bits of the story, correcting them to fit newly-learned facts. And I’ve realized I’ll need to shift gears in places—I hope not grinding them too much—as I rethink parts of my plot so that they better mesh with what I’ve lately learned about the actual sequence of historical events.


Once these practical matters are sorted out, I will see how I will proceed with the writing. I continue to like the idea of writing my novel in chronological order, to know that what is written is more or less finished (for that draft, at least). I’ve thought, though, that it may help to write some later-along scenes ahead of time, to see more clearly where I’m heading, to make sure all my needed characters are introduced into the story early enough, etc. We’ll see.


So how are you going about writing your current work-in-progress—or how do you think you may write the novel you are thinking of starting?


-Sabina I. Rascol

Off to Research in Belgium Next Month!

by Nicole Marie Schreiber
Published on: May 10, 2012
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The Ommegang reenactment in Brussels, Belgium


Earlier this month, I wrote about finding unusual ways to fund research for our novels-in-progress and about my experience using  I’m happy to report that through the help of Kickstarter, I received over $1800 in pledges, and I will be able to go to Belgium at the end of June to research and attend the Ommegang– a  reenactment of Charles V’s progress into Brussels in 1549!

I am very excited about having the chance to really enrich my novel and humbled at the same time.  Through this fundraising experience, I’ve been able to connect and talk with some amazing astronomers and scientists, many of them female  (women and astronomy being one of the themes in my book), lovers of historical fiction, art enthusiasts, people of Flemish descent, other writers, and people who simply wish to help another struggling artist pursue his/her dream with either words of encouragement, a small pledge, offers of places to stay in Brussels and Bruges, translator services, tour guides, babysitting (from friends and family of course), etc.

Sometimes a writer can wonder what the point is to his/her work.  Will the world really care if this book ever gets finished and published?  I care, and my critique group definitely cares, but after that, sometimes I fall into the trap of feeling like maybe my story just isn’t needed in the world, especially when I have the pressing needs of being a mom, wife, and teacher burying my need to write my story.  But now, I have an additional 36 people who have actually given small donations (on and off and something like an additional 40 + who have offered amazing words of encouragement and emotional support.

Add them together, plus my wonderful critique group, family, close friends, other supportive writers, and you get this blanket of support and encouragement surrounding me on all sides.  I feel like I have my own little cheerleading section, my own line of “story soldiers” ready to stand with me when the going gets tough, when the words won’t come, and life gets in the way.  Ready to say, “You can do it!  We believe in you!  We want this story to be told!”


It’s an awesome feeling.  A humbling feeling.

I think we all as writers need our own “cheerleading section” and our own army of “story soldiers.” It doesn’t take many, just a few, to really help us keep going– to make us feel like our stories really matter, and that they deserve to be in the world.

I will try my hardest to make them proud.

“Kickstarting” your Historical Novel- An Alternative Way to Fund Research

by Nicole Marie Schreiber
Published on: April 22, 2012
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you blur my focus

Sometimes, a writer needs to “reach for the stars” and go outside her comfort zone in order to find the funds to research a book.

Most, if not all, novels demand some type of research. Whether it comes from mining your brain for memories of events or things that you have seen and wish to use in your story, feelings you have had that your characters need to feel, jobs that your characters have that you know nothing about or need more details about, settings that you want but either have never experienced or need more accurate details about, etc…

Historical Fiction is no exception.  Heck, it may very well be the queen of research novels.  (I know, non-fiction and fantasy and all other genres need a lot of research too, but they are another blog post.)

My middle grade novel, MERCURY’S DAUGHTER, tells the story of a Flemish girl with a love of science and the stars who struggles to find her place in her world, all while trying to free her astronomer father who has been arrested for heresy.   During this historical period of persecuting scientists and when women were not allowed to openly study science, the main character explores her fascination with the heavens in secret.   The story takes place in 16th century Bruges and Brussels in what is now modern-day Belgium, though at the time it was part of the Spanish Netherlands, and is the type of book that takes a lot of research to complete.

I know what it’s like to be knee deep in Dutch cookbooks of the 16th century just to see what my characters would eat, then actually attempt to make something and eat it just to experience it even more (Yes, I made a 16th century apple pie shaped like a fish, and it tasted surprisingly like the old McDonalds apple pies of my youth.).  I know what it’s like to read volumes about astronomical instruments and print color copies of art by Pieter Bruegel for inspiration about daily life in Flemish towns.  To contact scholars who can read and speak Middle Dutch to ask them how to say, “Good morning” and learn about the titles people of 16th century Flanders used for one another.  To really, really, really know the joys of Google Books, WorldCat, and universities that have actually scanned primary source documents so that I can print out a book about the constellations and planets written in the 16th century that my main character would have loved and read over and over and have it “in my hand” just the way she did– or the closest I can get to the way she did.

I am not a writer who waits for my research to be done before I begin to type.  I write as I go, always discovering more research that needs to be done.  Yet, after all of this, I find that in order to truly get the voice, the details, the daily life questions, and the rest of the novel finished to my satisfaction, I must take a journey to Belgium.  And that journey costs money that with the economy in a recession, my family does not have.

I know it is possible to write about a place you have never been to or have been very briefly to.  My visit to Bruges in November seven years ago was for one day, with a baby in tow and a story in its first inklings in my mind, with small amounts down on paper.  Brussels was three days—a little better—but not enough to see what I now know I needed to see for my novel.  I thought it could very well be enough, though.  Many writers do just fine having never set foot in their settings.  But I am a  “hands-on” type of writer, one who revels in the sensory details of a place and an event, and though I have researched tirelessly about my setting and the events that take place in my story, I know it would help my novel if I could actually walk in my characters’ shoes properly.  When I finally realized that I needed one more trip to Belgium by myself to focus on my research for a few days, the recession had hit my family hard, and I felt it was too late.

Last year, I attended an inspiring lecture about research from Oregon’s own YA author Emily Whitman (Radiant Darkness and Wildwing ) Together in small groups, Emily had us brainstorm about ways we could really do more “hands-on” type of research if money was no object.  I had heard about a 16th century historical reenactment in Brussels called the Ommegang that happened every year at the beginning of July and had dreamed of experiencing it.  Not only was it the largest historical reenactment in all of Europe, but it depicted Charles V and his court visiting Brussels in 1549, an event pivotal to my novel.  I knew attending this event as well as talking to some experts in person about daily life would really enhance my story, but money really was an object in the way. Emily had mentioned trying to “crowd source” the funds (asking friends, family, and others interested in your story to help fund with small donations), but I didn’t feel confident about that, so I hesitated to try it.

Grants can be a fabulous resource, if you can get one.  I had applied for a WIP grant from SCBWI previously and received a “Letter of Merit.”  Earlier this year I applied for a regional grant, only to be asked to definitely reapply the next quarter, which would be in October and three months after the Ommengang.

Maybe there was something to that “crowdsourcing” idea.  When I revisited the idea late this winter, I found the site, which is an online pledge system for funding creative projects.  It is a virtual platform where you can describe your project (my book and its research needs) using video, images, and text and ask for “pledges”.  You also must provide your “backers” with a gift that stems from or is inspired by your work.  A time limit must be allotted for a project to be funded as well.  If it is not funded, all monies go back to the original backer without any loss.

I decided to give it a try, and after creating a page, I allotted 35 days to fund the project.

I am an introvert when it comes to sharing about my writing projects when I am in the middle of them, so attempting Kickstarter is a HUGE leap for me.  So far, after writing to friends, family, and writing acquaintances about the project, I sent letters to mostly female and some male astronauts, members of the Belgian/Flemish, and Dutch groups around the world, and members of reenactment groups.  What has surprised me is how exciting it is to see letters from so many of them in my email box almost daily with good wishes and how my story touched them already in one way or another.  Yes, even over five hundred years later, female astronomers have it much harder over men!

So far, with 11 days left to fund my project, what I have learned the most is how much everyday people without big budgets or non-profits to work with really do care about keeping the arts alive.  In these recession days, they are really doing something about it.   And that is a good thing.

Today, my four-year-old said this while painting at his easel this afternoon.

“Look mommy!  I’m story paining!  You know, like the girl with the animals.  (Beatrix Potter)”

My hope is that an avenue like, a grant or fellowship, or whatever means necessary will help you to complete your research to give you the ability to “story paint” the heck out of your novel!

To check out my Kickstarter site, go to


Happy writing!


-Nicole Marie Schreiber


Women Channeling Teenage Boys

by Addie Boswell
Published on: October 24, 2011
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S.E. Hinton knows boys, in the Outsiders.

This year, the Scrivas have featured quite a few teen and preteen boy characters in our novels, along with multicultural, historical, and superhero characters of both genders. Considering that we are white, middle-class women spanning the middle decades (as many childrens’ writers, librarians, and teachers tend to be), I believe we do a good job of letting our characters speak in their own, distinctive voices.

But the fact remains: we’ve never been teenage boys.  And raising them, or befriending them, or having them as brothers and boyfriends (even wanting to be them, in my case) is not the same as walking the walk. When writing my current YA novel, I sometimes wondered if I was getting 16-year-old Carlos’s reactions “right”? And also, in an edgy, coming-of-age boy book, is it honest to avoid cursing and sex and (god forbid) masturbation altogether?

Even in fiction, writing “true” means doing your research. It is a lesson I have learned well, for Scrivas are painstaking and thorough when researching their nonfiction and historical fiction titles. This is what most helped me get closer to boy-think.

  • Read what boys are reading. There is a common belief in publishing that boy readers skip YA altogether and go straight to adult fantasy and nonfiction. But I hope not, because it would be a shame to miss the excellent body of YA “boy” books out there. One thing I loved in these books: Action Rules, plots move quickly, and dialogue is clipped and to the point. Note: I found sex and slang both understated; a little goes a long way.
  • Read kick-ass boy protagonists by kick-ass male authors. Some of my favorites: The Chocolate War, Robert Cormier, Chaos Walking series, Patrick Ness, Punkzilla, Adam Rapp, Tales of the Madman Underground, John Barnes, Ship Breaker, Paolo Bacigalupi, Whale Talk, Chris Crutcher, Fighting Ruben Wolfe, Markus Zusak. I’ve read plenty of kick-ass boys written by women as well — find titles at Guys Read or Guys Lit Wire.
  • Watch teenage boys in action. Recently ScrivaMelissa and I met at Burgerville during high school lunch hour and observed the species up close. What slang! What quick speech and movements! (We almost saw a fight!) I also hung out with some Brazilian teenagers, and was amazed by how affectionate the guys were with each other. Into the book it all goes.

It goes without saying that that the children’s publishing industry needs more racial diversity and gender balance. I would love to see teenage boys writing about their own lives. But in the meantime, we women have work to do, and we will strive to do right by our characters.

Generosity and Spreading the Wealth

by Elizabeth Rusch
Published on: May 16, 2011
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I recently got a wonderful email from ScrivaAddie that reminded me of an important part of our critique group. We look out for each other and share career boosting opportunities with each other. I am working on a picture book biography on glass artists Dale Chihuly and ScrivaAddie sent me a link to a grant offered by The Creative Capital to support literary work that addresses contemporary art. PERFECT!

In addition to giving me a warm-fuzzy that Addie was thinking about me, my work and my career, it is a really great tip and I am going to apply for the grant. Thanks so much Addie! 

Addie’s generosity reminded me of how often I think of the Scrivas and send them notices of upcoming workshops, talks, presenting opportunities, and even writing jobs. We all want all the Scrivas to succeed and we back up that feeling with real tips, help, ideas, suggestions and leads. It is a big part of what makes our critique group special…

Elizabeth Rusch

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