A New Life

by Elizabeth Rusch
Published on: September 22, 2015
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Candlewick biography coverToday I want to share something that I didn’t know happened in the publishing world.

In September 2013, Candlewick Press released my picture book biography ELECTRICAL WIZARD: HOW NIKOLA TESLA LIT UP THE WORLD. The book has sold well, but to reach a broader audience they decided to  repackage and re-release the book in a new format.

The design has been changed to a smaller chapter book format, and the story has been broken into chapters and spread out to fifty-six pages. The book will publish as part of the Candlewick Biographies series for readers ages 8-12. While this is older than the original audience, the text has always skewed older and in the new format it looks just right.

We’ve been able to make an improvement, too. Early reviews complained about a lack of dates, so we added a timeline.

The new version has recently released simultaneously in hardcover and in paperback, the latter priced at a very affordable $4.99.

So with a bit of repackaging ELECTRICAL WIZARD gets a whole new life – ready to reach older readers and with the new low price, I hope a lot more readers!  I think it’s an example of a publisher doing something remarkable—and right – for a backlist book.

Thanks Candlewick!

P.S. The new version released September 8!

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Pushing Beyond What We Think We Can Do

by Amber Keyser
Published on: September 12, 2015
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Writing–at least Scriva-style writing–is NOT about playing it safe. We push each other to go deeper, to cross boundaries, and to trust in the story to carry its own weight. Pushing beyond is about offering encouragement and being a kind listener, but its also about thinking of the reader and what he or she may need.

As I worked on THE V-WORD, an anthology of essays about first time sexual experiences, the Scrivas and I had many conversations about what readers needed from the collection–good experiences and bad ones, unplanned and planned, and even stories of waiting to have sex.

The Scrivas supported me as I worked with contributors to meet those needs. As the editor of THE V-WORD, I was frequently in the position of having to push the writers to go deeper, to reveal more, to find the right words.

It was hard for me and even harder for them. Contributor Karen Jensen says this about the process:

If I’m being honest, this was one of the most difficult things I have ever written. On this blog I have shared about my history of sexual abuse, I have shared about my economic woes, and I have even shared about my struggles with depression and generalized anxiety disorder. But writing about having sex for the first time was hands down the hardest writing I have ever done. It’s so personal. Sex is something that is still so taboo to talk about…

Read the rest of her blog post here.

But I think all of us would agree that pushing beyond was worth it. We grew as people and writers. The book is far better because of it. And it is what readers (at least some readers) will need. Look for THE V-WORD on February 2, 2016. It is full of brave writers and honest writing.

 

The V-Word Cover

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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!

 

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How to Deal with a Huge Pile of Comments

by Elizabeth Rusch
Published on: August 20, 2015
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Have you ever felt buried under a pile of manuscripts comments? My two critique groups generously agreed to read my whole middle-grade novel April Fool. So I had 10 copies printed and mailed them off.

All 10 members read them, poured their hearts, souls and intellects into reading and commenting. And now I face this:

Pile of April Fool manuscripts

(Wow, it looks so much more intimidating on my desk…believe me, its a huge pile.)

When I met with the two groups, the members gave me oral comments and I took notes furiously. But I don’t want to miss anything they may have written in addition, so I have to go through this huge pile. Did I mention that it is huge.?Or at least feels huge…

So how do I take a pile of marked up manuscripts and turn it into a plan? I start by pulling the first manuscript off the pile. I begin to read the comments. In Word I start two files: One is a list of notes on comments that I know I want to address. These comments and suggestions resonate with me, and I have a hunch that by making these suggested changes the manuscript will not only be better but will also be closer to what I want the book to be. The second Word doc is a list of notes on suggestions that I think are interesting but that I’m not sure I want do.

The first list becomes my master TO DO list for revision. The second list I will consider again after I have finished those revisions. After working with the manuscript on the first set of notes, I usually have a better idea of whether these suggestions will take me in the direction I want to go.

There is one more step to this manuscript mountain climbing process. The height of the pile is partially my own fault. Instead of printing the manuscripts double-sided to save paper, I print single-sided. That way I can flip through a manuscript, taking out all the pages that have no comments or that have comments or edits that I don’t want to do. This leaves me with a much smaller pile of the pages that have important comments or line edits that I want to input. Ahh, a smaller mountain.

This reviewing and sorting and weeding process helps me both ponder comments at my own pace and sets me up with a clear list of revisions I know I want to make.

And when I’m done with all these revisions and I’m ready to print out my new improved manuscript, I’ll have lots of recycled paper to print it on 🙂

Happy revising.

Elizabeth Rusch

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Still Making the Magic Happen

by Ruth Tenzer Feldman
Published on: August 12, 2015
Categories: Basics, Critique Process
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ATTENTION! ATTENTION!  This is not my post. It’s brought to you by ScrivaAmber; I’m just the cyber go-between. Four years ago, Amber clued you in to the general model of a Scriva meeting. Not much has changed since then, which is a good thing, a very good thing. In case you didn’t follow this blog back then, here is a repeat of the basics, aka Amber’s “Scriva Structure: This Is How We Make the Magic Happen.”

Amber-spiralThe Scrivas tend toward free-form in our meetings, but we do have some structure in place.

We submit mss via email 1 week prior to meetings.  These are critiqued on a first-come, first-served basis (Liz is almost always first!)  Late?  Scrivas try to read but are not obligated.  Almost all of us print the mss and mark up with ink.  Maximum length is around 30 pages.  We deal with whole novels in a different way (see tomorrow’s post).

Along with the mss, we ask for the kind of critique we want (line edits, help with voice, general comments on approach, etc).

We meet once a month, in the evenings, at an undisclosed location with coffee, cocktails, food, and chocolate!

During our two and a half hour meetings, we look at the number of mss we have (usually 4-6) and divide up the time.  If we have a lot of mss, one of us (usually me) gets out a whip to keep us in line. We don’t share our comments in any particular order though we try to take turns going first (and getting the fun of saying all the meaty stuff).

While receiving comments, the writer scribbles notes, asks questions, and generally participates in an in-depth discussion of the work.  We try to let each person finish comments, but often ideas are bouncing around like the Weasley brothers fireworks.

If you were at the next table, you would hear lots of laughter, weird comments like I’m not sure about the characterization of the desk or you’ve got to kill that guy, and frequently squeals.  You would never, ever hear sobbing.

Oh, and one of our favorite things is to see the mss again after revision.  Scrivas have read many of my mss four or five times.  It is incredible how we can take the chaos of a first draft, add several iterations of critique and revision, and reveal an exquisite order.  It inspires me every single time it happens in a Scriva mss.

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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.

 

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Present to Past Tense

by Elizabeth Rusch
Published on: July 20, 2015
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Ah, the tense tango continues. You may remember in an earlier post how I rewrote my nonfiction picture book manuscript called THE MUSIC OF LIFE: BARTOLOMEO CRISTOFORI AND THE INVENTION OF THE PIANO from past tense to present tense. That rewrite breathed life into the manuscript. Writing about late Renaissance history as if it were unfolding made the story so much more lively.

tenseWell switcho-changeo, now I’m rewriting a middle grade novel from present tense into past. The novel, APRIL FOOL, about a serious kid with practical jokester parents, is something I’ve been working on for more than a decade. And for more than a decade people have been saying: “I’m not sure about the present tense. It feels awkward — a bit self-conscious.”  And for about a decade, I ignored these comments.

Then at a recent meeting of my other critique group, where we read pages out loud, the member seemed unanimous in their desire to see the chapter I read in past tense. So I rewrote a chapter. And lo and behold, once again, my critiquers were correct. The original tense I had chosen (and clung on to for dear life) was not the best tense for the story. The past tense actually added a measure of mystery to the story that keeps you reading.

So the last few days have seemed like one long grammar lesson as I have plowed through changing present tense to past. Will this exercise help me get the tense right the first time around? I don’t think so. But it does remind me, once again, that in writing not to get too tense about tense. Change it up and see what happens.

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What You Get from the Analysis of First Pages

by Amber Keyser
Published on: July 10, 2015
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When I was first getting started in this business, I thought it was terribly unfair to get a conference critique or agent feedback on just a chapter or two. After all, how could they know what I’ve done with the rest of the story?

Now, I’ve been doing this long enough to understand that issues which occur early in the story are almost always carried throughout. That’s why it is possible to give feedback on a few chapters. If the author can carry the changes throughout, they are usually end up with a much much better product at the end.

Most of these large scale issues are things like narrative voice, consistent POV, realistic dialogue, and showing vs. telling. When the Scrivas do critiques (for each other or through our paid critique services), we point out issues and try to offer ways to strengthen the manuscript. Ideally, these suggestions are things that the writer can implement on their own in the rest of the manuscript.

After a few thorough revisions, we Scrivas turn our eyes and little red pens to line edits, parsing through each sentence for word choice and phrasing. This is the stage at which the writer has the opportunity to make every line sing.

And when the book sells, launches, finds readers… when the book itself soars… then we celebrate this amazing process that begins, as all true stories do, with a blank page and ends with the creation of a new world we can all inhabit.

It turns out that it is true: first pages are the key to everything!

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Dear Wayback, I Knew You When…..

by Ruth Tenzer Feldman
Published on: July 4, 2015
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Way-Back-from-Broken

July 4, 2015

Dear Wayback,

I hope you don’t mind your nickname. The Way Back from Broken is a great title, but I’ve known you since before you even had a title, and Wayback is how I think of you now. The Scrivas are swamped with works-in-progress at the moment, as Liz wrote recently. We all seem to be on a roll, especially Amber. Wayback, you’ll soon have several more of Amber’s works to keep you company on the bookshelves. Still, you’ll always be special to me.

The other Scrivas and I were there at your beginning. Well, not exactly. Amber wrote you into being first. Then the rest of us went over every part of you word by word, coaxing and critiquing, encouraging and suggesting. We watched your characters take shape and your subplots change. We cried at your tearful parts and sighed with deep satisfaction at your deeply satisfying parts. I’d like to say that we Scrivas nourished you until you were ready to nourish us…and soon the rest of your readers.

I hope to take part in your official launches, promotions, and social media buzz. That’s what Scrivas do for each other, with enthusiasm and delight. But this is a letter between you and me, a quiet celebration in the midst of July Fourth fireworks. Wayback, I just want to say that you snuck up on me halfway through your first draft and you snagged my heart.

Thank you.

Sincerely yours,

Scriva Ruth

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A Lot to Read

by Elizabeth Rusch
Published on: June 20, 2015
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There have been times in the history of the Viva Scrivas when only one or two people were submitting work to be read most months. We wrung our hands about what to do about it, how everyone should be able to get something out of the meeting even if they didn’t submit, how to keep the group vital while reading only one or two people’s work.

Pile of PapersThe pendulum has swung recently. Everyone is super productive and super eager to get feedback on mostly long work. In our last meeting, we had 60 pages of an alternate history YA, 92 pages (single spaced) of a YA with documentary film making teen, 100 pages of a YA coming of age novel, and the last hunk of a YA novel set in Brazil.

The next month we’ll be tackling a whole MG novel (150 pages) and two chunks (50-100 pages) of two of the YA novels.

That’s a fair amount of reading.

So how do we do it?

First of all, when things seem to be heating up, when it seems like a lot of people want to share big chunks, we sketch out a schedule for submissions. That way we know what is coming when and can set aside reading time. It also helps prevent meetings with nothing to read and others with too much to read.

Also, we have a guideline (sometimes followed, sometimes not) that if you are submitting a large chunk (50 pages or more) you must submit a month, rather than just a week, before. Also as a courtesy, we offer print outs for longer chunks, especially full novels.

How do I personally manage all that reading? For one thing, I really look forward to it. I am excited to read my fellow-writers work, whether its pages I’ve never seen or a revision where I can see a work getting better and better.

I also print out all the submissions as the come in and put them on a table in my livingroom with a pen nearby, so I can curl up on the couch with the pages in the evening, away from my desk.

I try to get everything read a few days before the meeting so I have some time to let my thoughts percolate. I will often add a few notes last notes a few days after reading something or at the meeting itself.

Mostly I welcome a lot of reading from the Viva Scrivas. It means the group and the individual writers are on a roll. It means I have lots of great reading ahead. And finally, it means that I will likely learn a lot as I read and as we gather to share our thoughts on all this wonderful work. As ScrivaAmber once said: We learn as much by reading and commenting as we do by getting comments on our work.

Elizabeth Rusch

 

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