Tags: DIY retreat

A Tale of Three Retreats

by Elizabeth Rusch
Published on: September 20, 2014
Comments: 3 Comments

Haven House, Hood River, OregonEvery fall, usually the first weekend in November, the Viva Scrivas gather somewhere fabulous for a weekend writing retreat. (If you’d like to learn more about these expeditions of extreme productivity and bonding, please check out earlier blogs such as DIY retreats, Insider View of a Scriva Retreat, and Gift of Gratitude: Thankful Beads, and posts about the retreats on their personal blogs such as Dreaming of a Scriva Retreat.

In a recent meeting, people began grumbling about how we had skipped our usual June retreat and that we all were starved for writing time and really needed to get a fall retreat on the books. The first weekend in November didn’t work for a few people so we started paging through our calendars.

“Well I could do Saturday the next weekend but not Sunday,” someone said.

“I could do Sunday that weekend, but not Saturday,” said another.

“How about midOctober?”

“Not ideal for me, but I might be able to make a day.”

And so it went, with no weekend being the perfect weekend. Amber suggested a one-day writing retreat at her house on a Friday. Miraculously everyone could make it. Then we thought about doing something close to home another weekend, so people could come and go as they needed to.   Two weekends seemed promising, so guess what we did? We booked both!

In midOctober, we will have four days at my friend Kate’s house in Hood River (Pictured above: a rental she is letting us use at cost).

Willamette Writers Scottland Yard writing roomAnd we will have three days and nights at the Willamette Writers house in West Linn (which by the way, offers six adorable writing rooms for rent all year round; we rented the whole house.)

So instead of one retreat with two or three days, we have three retreats with a total of eight full working days. What looked like an impasse turned into an abundance of writing time.

So if your groups is struggling to schedule a writing retreat, be creative. And think local.

Scriva Liz

Dude, Where’s My Website?

by Michelle McCann
Published on: June 5, 2012
Comments: No Comments

So I don’t know about you, but I’m one of those writers who is being dragged kicking and screaming into the digital age. My first children’s book was published twelve years ago and I STILL don’t have a website (oh, the horror!). As many other similarly Luddite-minded authors are finding these days, my publisher is no longer content to let me ignore this important marketing opportunity and is forcing me to get on the bandwagon. That means a website, Facebook page and Twitter action ASAP! I have my summer to do list.

Fortunately, two of my most brilliant former students recently started a company, Whirlabout New Media (http://whirlaboutnewmedia.com/), that helps technophobe children’s book authors like myself launch ourselves and our books onto these new “platforms” (see how much I’m learning already).

Along those same lines, last week my Intro to Children’s Book Publishing students researched and presented author or book websites they either loved or hated. I found their discoveries both reassuring (I’m not the only one out there who doesn’t know how to do it yet) and inspiring. Children’s book writers and publishers are doing some very cool things to engage their fans and get kids excited about books.

This is by no means a definitive list—more a small sampling. But if you’d like to see some of the interesting things happening online, here are some good ones to check out.


PICTURE BOOKS: Picture book websites need to please two audiences: the kid fans and the adult readers/buyers. There should be lots of imagery, games and fun interactive stuff for the kids, as well as printable freebies for the adults (lesson plans, etc.).


This one is aimed more at adults—the teachers, librarians and parents who read her books aloud—but there is still plenty of fun stuff for kids and lots of visuals and personal info and photos.


This is a rare publisher-run website that is actually really fun and creative. Tons of games and activities for young Seuss fans to do.


Personally, I think this is the best picture book website out there. It has stuff for grown-ups (titled “Boring Grown-up Stuff”), as it should, but the entire website is totally kid friendly (kids don’t have to be able to read to navigate), chock full of humor, awesome pictures, and hysterical games. I can waste hours playing Elephant & Piggie Dance Party (go to Mo Willems-Pigeon Presents-Fun).

BEGINNING READERS: This age group is one that really likes to play games on the computer, so if you can create book-themed games that get them excited about reading, great! This is also a genre with lots of teacher interaction, so having free lesson plans and other stuff for the educators is a must. Here are three sites where publishers are doing it right:




MIDDLE GRADE: Middle grade websites are aimed more directly at the kids. You will notice that the popular ones have the look and feel of a movie trailer or video game (their competition).


This local Portland author’s book site proves you don’t have to be a mega-bestseller to have a kick-butt website. Listen for the theme song he wrote and recorded himself! Movie is in development—yah Dale!


Tons of fun stuff for kid fans—layers and layers for kids to explore.


Girl spy series. Very stylish and cool!


Another very visually appealing, chock-full-of-activities website.


This site is kind of the holy grail of interactive middle grade book-website synergy. This was the beginning and it’s still pretty darn impressive.


Young adult websites are all about getting personal. Teens want to get to know their favorite authors more intimately, their favorite characters more intimately, and they want to interact. And they want free stuff, of course! A good YA website will give them all that in a stylish package.


An innovative, inspiring website for an innovative, inspiring book. And check out author Jay Asher’s blog link—it’s a good one.


This YA darling does it all, with style. She’s got personal info and photos, contests, music, home-made cut-paper videos, foreign edition covers and more! Fans can spend hours here and many do.


A newbie to the YA bestseller world, Marissa did her own website and it’s awesome. Our favorite is  contest she has where fans have to answer questions about things only found on her website (encouraging fans to explore every nook and cranny). She also offers free Skype Q&As.


John is the Don Corleone of YA social media, the undisputed King (just Google “The Fault in Our Stars” social media promotion to find out more). His website is just the tip of the online iceberg that is his presence. But start there and check out his Twitter, Tumblr, YouTube, etc. He is endlessly entertaining, whatever “platform” he is on.

Ocean, Mountains, or Desert? DIY Retreats (and Baked Oatmeal for Breakfast)

by Sabina I. Rascol
Published on: April 30, 2011
Comments: 3 Comments

Come. Grab your calendar and something to drink. We’re talking Viva Scriva retreats.

Our group started with the monthly critique evenings that are at the core of our existence. As our respect, trust, and liking for each other as writers and people grew, we were ready for something more. We gathered therefore one evening in Liz’s artsy attic to discuss Process.

This was a potent meeting. We opened up about personal obstacles to writing. We imagined, then shared, what our theoretical business advisers might say about our writing careers (thanks for the exercise, Addie!). It connected us deeper, and left us wanting more. More time together to talk, discuss process, and especially, to write. So, like Queen Esther’s banquet, this gathering led to another: our first writing retreat!

We decided to do everything ourselves in order to save money and have exactly the kind of time we wanted. You can learn what we consider essential, and “taste” a Viva Scriva retreat, by reading all the way down.

That late February, the Scrivas hunkered down to write at a relative’s house in the Oregon desert. We fell in love with the location, and that place and time became our official “annual retreat.”

The benefit of a writing retreat is solid blocks of hours to work on projects. Oftentimes, new works are started and long-suffered works are completed. (I myself began my main work-in-progress at our second annual retreat. I love seeing the date and location underneath the title on the first draft: “2/20/2010, ——, Oregon”.) Working together spurs us on. It’s inspiring to look up and see other Scrivas furiously typing, marking up manuscript pages, or staring off into space gathering story threads. Then after our satisfying labors, we reconnect as people and fellow writers.

In 2010, to our February retreat we added one in May, then another in October. We learned that three writing retreats a year are wonderful, but not everyone will be able to make them. That makes us sad, since we like all being together.

This January, several Scrivas jaunting off to job interviews abroad or East Coast writing conferences, we couldn’t take additional time away for our beloved February retreat. It was a mistake. Scrivas became cranky. We needed and wanted together time to write, talk, and process. We’ve planned a make-up retreat, which took a lot of juggling around. (OK, this is where everyone pulls out her calendar…and hair.)

As we’re entering our third retreat year, we’ve come to see that planning retreat dates by ear doesn’t cut it. Each of us has too many things going on: school, family, religious, holiday, and work commitments, besides writing conferences. We hate missing retreats, or having a dear Scriva not attend because of previous plans. The Scrivas therefore decided on weekends “set in…paper,” when we will retreat henceforth. Early November and late February work best for us, with possibly a third retreat in early June for all who can make it. Now we can guard those dates from the other good things that invariably will beckon. On those weekends, we’re booked. It’s time for our books.



-A FREE OR LOW-COST PLACE TO STAY. So far, family and friends have opened their houses to us while they were away. Soon we will go on a retreat at the Oregon coast, Addie having found a rental that’s reasonable when split eight ways.

-AS FEW CARS AS POSSIBLE. One year, when only seven of us went, we all packed light and squeezed into one van. Except for missing Mary, it was wonderful. The best advantage of carpooling is continuing the mix of book, craft, and personal talk that is the never-have-enough-time-for Viva Scriva conversation.

-SIGN-UPS FOR YUMMY MEALS. Wouldn’t you like:

Sabina’s baked oatmeal, by popular acclaim become the official Saturday breakfast (leftovers to be enjoyed the whole retreat long)?

Nicole’s tea sandwiches and scones for lunch?

Vegetable lasagna, chili, or Liz’s soup (drop in hominy and your choice of goodies in chicken broth), for dinner?

On top of that, everyone brings whatever snacks she wishes to help us survive from one great meal to the next.


Self-serve breakfast for each person to partake of as she wakes, then moseys to a chosen spot to write.

A whole morning to write!

Lunch together and conversation. But we don’t linger.

More quiet writing time in the afternoon (with Scrivas perhaps shifting around so others can relish favored spots, like the loveseat overlooking a desert vista, or the couch in front of the fireplace).

(Scrivas go on walks or runs as they wish, in the morning or afternoon.)

In the evening, it’s time for cocktails and letting down hair as Amber pours. Margaritas? Lemon drops? Chrysanthemums?

After dinner, a joint activity. One time, we discussed the creativity classic Art and Fear. Another time, each Scriva crafted a strand of powerfully symbolic Writing Beads and shared their significance. (One of us will blog about Writing Beads in the future.)

Before leaving, everyone pitches in to clean the house (unless it’s a rental where the cleaning fee takes care of it).

-THANK YOU CARD AND/OR SMALL PRESENT (copies of Scriva books?) for the absent hosts, who have meanwhile been added to the Viva Scriva “Patrons of Art” Roll.

There it is, the Viva Scriva retreat. No patent is pending, so jump right in, be inspired by us to craft your own based on your needs and resources. And, because every person who has ever savored the Black Rock Baked Oatmeal invariably asks for the recipe, you may as well have it now. Now your cup—and bowl—can run over.

BAKED OATMEAL (adapted from recipe from Black Rock Retreat Center in Pennsylvania)

For eight people, and because we love the leftovers, I triple the recipe below. One third (a regular recipe) is made without milk for those who don’t do dairy, and goes in its own 9×9” pan. The doubled recipe gets a bigger 9×13” pan. Everything can be prepped the night before and popped in the oven by the first person to wake. Enjoy!

1 / 2 c. oil

1 / 2 c. white sugar

1 / 2 c. brown sugar

2 beaten eggs

1 c. milk

3 c. oatmeal (quick or regular)

1 t. baking powder

1 t. salt

2 t. cinnamon


Mix oatmeal with baking powder and cinnamon, then add raisins and milk. Combine this with the egg mixture. Spread into a greased (optional) 9×9” pan and bake 30-45 minutes at 350 degrees. You may add chocolate chips, chopped nuts, dried or fresh fruits or whatever to this recipe. Serve with milk as a cereal, or, warm or cool, as a coffee cake.

–Sabina I. Rascol


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