Tags: Viva Scriva

The Vicarious Release!

by Ruth Tenzer Feldman
Published on: October 5, 2015
Categories: Celebrations, Inspiration
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Amber-signingThe vicarious release. Sounds kinda sexy, no? Anyway, I can tell you this: the vicarious release is a delight. It’s like playing with someone else’s puppy or watching your team’s winning soccer goal, only a lot better.

The vicarious release happens when another Viva Scriva launches a book into the world, particularly a book that has grown up and come to fruition under the Viva Scriva mojo.

Vicarious release is what happened a few days ago when Amber’s debut novel, The Way Back from Broken, officially left the nest. Here’s the gal herself signing the title page.

Viva Scriva has had the pleasure of numerous releases. One of the most memorable recent ones was Liz’s Muddy Max: The Mystery of Marsh Creek. Let me just say that mud was involved. There will be more releases to come, for sure, from every member of Viva Scriva. With luck, even from me. I will celebrate and enjoy, and be inspired by, every single one.

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.

 

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

 

An Ironic Evolution of “Grandma”

by Ruth Tenzer Feldman
Published on: June 4, 2015
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Grandma-case-cropI remember decorating this plastic case for Mother’s Day, 1955. I used glue and glitter back then, a basic art form that survives to this day. Everyone in the group was supposed to write GRANDMA, and dutiful me complied, even though my grandmothers were “Nana” (an English alternative to grandmother) and “Bubbe” (grandmother in Yiddish).  I figured that “grandma” was the correct term of address in America, the nation of white Anglo-Saxon Protestants, the kind that inhabited the Dick and Jane readers in my elementary school. I was white, so I was part way to respectability. I could pass.

Flash forward sixty years to an America that at least recognizes more diversity, although we still have a long way to go. The Scrivas and I write for a wider audience, with characters that are drawn from a broader slice of humanity. I, however, am still me. What would I write on my plastic box now?

A key benefit of being in a writer’s critique group is exposure to the backgrounds and perspectives of creative people who observe the world around them. OK, all of the Scrivas are white and female. Still we have a lot that’s not in common, and it’s that lack of commonality that “feeds” me. Among the “grandmothers” and “grandmas” in the Scriva world, we have a few Nanas, an Adyl (meaning precious) and Emme, and a Gram B.

Dick and Jane evolved over the years to include African American characters, which is a small step, I grant you. Just ask Walter Dean Myers, whose essay in the New York Times is entitled “Where Are the People of Color in Children’s Books?” And yet, here’s the irony about “grandma.” Our characters have to be true to themselves as well as to the times and places in which they find themselves.

My latest work-in-progress includes an woman, Ly Tien, who was born during the Vietnam War era to an African American GI and a Vietnamese woman. She is later adopted into a white family in the United States, a Jewish family with roots in Denmark, Germany, and Turkey. It’s 2059 Portland and Ly Tien has a granddaughter. What does Ly Tien want to be called?

Grandma. It figures. Adamant as she is about preserving her mixed heritage, Ly Tien wants to be called by the same name that she called the only grandmother she knew, the one who was born in the U.S. in 1919 and wanted to be called “grandma.” Despite the current trend to sound anything but old, there’s still that pull to take on the title that is familiar and perhaps beloved. So, Ly Tien, this plastic box, which came back to me when my Nana died about fifty years ago, is for you.

See the Tree? No? I Do! A Lesson in Revising

by Ruth Tenzer Feldman
Published on: May 4, 2015
Categories: Basics, Challenges, Craft
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no-treeHere’s the thing about revising. Taking another look…and yet another look…at a draft of your own writing deals with more than what’s still on the page. For me the harder part of the revising and revisioning process is dealing with what’s no longer on the page.

Take this picture, for instance. I’ve walked along this path about 3,000 times over the past few years. For the first 2,800 times, I saw a small fir tree in front of the metal screen. I barely noticed the screen. Instead, I enjoyed that tree. I watched it thrive. Then, for some reason, the tree sickened and died. One day the tree was gone, erased from the scene. All that was left was the screen, but I still kept remembering the tree. I still focused on what was gone rather than on what remained.

It’s that way with my writing. Sometimes I get rid of a character that’s not needed, or dialogue that doesn’t pull its weight, or a bit of backstory that bogs down the action. I know I’ve made the scene better, but I can’t yet wrap my mind around what I am sharing with the reader and what is still stuck in my head.

Do I have a foolproof plan for dealing with this after-image syndrome? No. Not really. I wish I could be more helpful here. I do have some tools, though.

  • The critique group. I take advantage of the mindset of every one of the Scrivas. They aren’t as wedded to my “fir tree” as I am, because I thought up that fir tree and they only read about it.
  • The know-nothing reader. I find another reader, preferably someone who doesn’t know much about the story, and I ask them to read the “with tree” and “without tree” versions. I want to get out of my head and into theirs.
  • Desensitizing. Bear with me on this one. It sounds like a weird technique, but it does work for me. I deliberately put the “fir tree” back in the scene, then take it out, then put it in again, then take it out again. Eventually I get to the point where I am good and sick of that tree. I am more interested in every other part of the scene. The tree is so yesterday’s draft.

Every once in a great while something that I’ve removed from a scene insists on returning. What happens then is… the subject for another blog.

 

 

While I’m Sleeping….

by Ruth Tenzer Feldman
Published on: December 5, 2014
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janey-night-crop2Indulge me a moment. I’ve got to add to Sabina’s sentiments and to the gratitude that Liz expressed in her recent post. This is the “little elves” version of a critique group.

Do you know Grimm’s fairy tale about the shoemaker and the elves, first written down about 200 years ago? It seems there was a poor shoemaker and his wife who needed money for their rent, but had no shoes left to sell. The shoemaker cut leather for his last pair of shoes, and during the night little elves came and sewed the shoes for him. And he sold the shoes and…well, it’s a satisfying ending.

This photo of a construction crew at night reminds me of those elves and of the wonders of working within the collective creativity of a critique group. Yes, it’s true that my own brain keeps making connections and reworking my story while I sleep or engage in almost anything other than writing. There’s a neurological term for that process, which I’ve forgotten but to which I am enthralled. What I mean here, though, are the thoughts that flows through other people’s brains while I’m taking down time from my work-in-progress. My words are zapping through their synapses. Even in the middle of the night. Scrivas as little elves? Definitely!

So….  Once upon a time there was a poor writer lady who searched in vain for the right words with which to craft the scene she so dearly wanted to create. Exhausted from her efforts, she put her words aside and feel into a deep, deep sleep. Then, in the middle of the night…

Here’s to another satisfying ending.

Generosity

by Ruth Tenzer Feldman
Published on: November 4, 2012
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I have a passion for words. So do the other Viva Scrivas and, I imagine, so do you. Words, history, and culture intertwine. Examine the etymology of a word and you’ll often find a good story.

No wonder I was delighted to come across an essay from the University of Notre Dame that included the historical uses of the word “generosity.” Entitled “Science of Generosity,” the essay explores “an essential human value.” Here’s the link.

“Gener”—the essay explains—grows out of the Indo-European root “gen” meaning “to beget.” Until sometime in the later Middle Ages, “generous” referred to being of noble lineage. The word described a status. You had the luck of being born into the right clan.

Then sometime in the 1600s the meaning of generosity, as it described humans, began to shift to the supposed qualities of the highborn: courage, gallantry, and fairness. Anyone could strive to be generous, no matter his or her accident of birth.  Over the next two hundred years, the English usage of “generosity” took on the meaning of open-handed sharing of wealth and possessions.

Now, as I meet more and more authors in Oregon and beyond, I am struck by the generosity with which many of them share advice on writing, information on agents and editors, and suggestions for professional opportunities. Viva Scriva is my gold standard—isn’t that what a writer’s critique should be?

And here’s the big bonus for me as a writer. The generosity of my critique group and many in my expanding community of “creatives” fosters my own creativity. I feel more generative. My ideas beget ideas. Words turn into story. A book is born.

Thank you.

 

Once the Baby Is Born

by Ruth Tenzer Feldman
Published on: March 31, 2012
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This is how I often envision my newly published book. What a sweetie! Family and friends, as well as assorted strangers, want to take a peek. They ooh and aah, and sometimes handle my creation less gently than I’d wish. They compare the wee babe to others they have seen. They ask me how I am doing. They have all sorts of suggestions about child rearing. They wonder if I plan to have another.

Yes, I am delighted to have Blue Thread out in the world. And, yes, I am delighted that other people notice! Still, this new baby stage is a mega-shift from the years of control I had over my story.

I am slowly assimilating the message that authors, like parents, have to learn to share and to let go. Readers, each with his or her unique mindset, complete a book. That’s what publication is all about. The public. Duh!

Viva Scriva, like any excellent critique group, has helped with the transition. The very act of my sharing chapter after chapter was the first step in wresting my manuscript from my iron grip of authorship. As readers, the Scrivas added their point of view and saw things in the manuscript that I couldn’t see or didn’t want to see. I can still hear Scriva Sabina saying, “In my version of your story….” As writers, the Scrivas offered “constructive criticism” in the very best sense of that phrase.

I know I’m stretching the baby analogy here, but it reminds me that “my baby” wasn’t ever all mine to begin with. The very spark of creativity was ignited with the help of someone else. Babies are not clones. You catch my drift. And on that delicious note, I shall finish this post and get back to my new work in progress.

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