Tag Archives: Viva Scriva

I’m a curious bird

I haven’t been blogging much lately because of the double whammy of deadlines and burnout, but I did a recent interview with Ruth Tenzer Feldman, the author of an amazing trio of books that link near past and ancient past Jewish history through time travel and feminism. You definitely want to read Blue Thread, The 9th Day, and the forthcoming Seven Stitches! Anyway, here’s the interview we did (which originally appeared here). It was lots of fun! Thanks, Ruth!

So, Amber, with all you’ve done, what has brought you to writing?

I am pretty sure that Mo Willams based one of the characters in The Pigeon Finds a Hot Dog on me:

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I write because I am curious about so many things. I want to know about Ama divers and Antarctica and the history of women explorers and Nordic biathlon and dog genetics and how toilets are made. I love documentaries and memoirs because they plumb people’s obsessions. The writing life gives me an excellent excuse to learn and experience all the things I’m interested in.

I write for teens because I like them better than adults (present company excepted). Young adults are on the cusp of the world. So many possibilities are on the horizon. It’s an exciting time in life when you get to figure out what you stand for and carve your own path. The problem with many adults (again present company excepted) is that they get entrenched in ways of thinking and being and living. I love the brilliant energy young adults bring to the world.

Do you have a favorite piece of your writing?

If so, what is it and why? There is a scene in The Way Back from Broken (the beginning of chapter 33) that is really important to me. It began as a picture book manuscript in the very early days of my writing adventure. I took it to a manuscript critique at a writing conference. The literary agent who read it told me (to my face) that the world doesn’t need another ugly duckling story and that I wasn’t a very good writer anyway and that it would be best if I quit immediately.

I probably wasn’t a very good writer back then but I ached to write about how we can live with our own brokenness. It was a story that I needed to tell whether the world needed it or not. And that’s the thing about writing… it is an audacious act that proclaims: My story matters. I matter. My voice will not be silenced.

Every time I read that section of the book, I want to simultaneously offer a rude hand gesture to that agent and a fist bump to my own pugnacious self.

If you could change one aspect of the publishing business, what would it be and why?

So many things… First… Oh, wait… What did you say? I only get to change one thing? Well… shoot (actually I’m saying a bad word here)… Here’s the deal: Writing a book is hard. Selling books is even harder.

Thousands and thousands of books are published each year. Some are amazing. Some are boring. Some are downright terrible. Helping your book—your blood, sweat, and tears on the page—swim to the surface and into the hands of the right reader often feels like an impossible task. I wish that it were easier to sell books. I wish less of the publicity work fell on my shoulders. I wish that good books always sold well and that writers could create without the looming threat of unpaid bills.

Word-of-mouth (direct or via reviews on Facebook, Amazon and Goodreads) is still the primary driver of book sales. If you know and love a writer, the most helpful thing you can do is share your appreciation for their work with your friends and family. Plus, it’s cool to talk about books with interesting people. Books are awesome!

In praise of Scriva Liz, kayaking, and straight talk about tough books

I have this spectacularly epical (thanks MB for coining the best word ever) critique group called Viva Scriva and each and every member is someone I want to hug tightly and feed cookies for ever and ever.  Today, however, I must call out Scriva Liz for straight talk.

In the past few weeks, I’ve been trying to find my way back into a manuscript about a teen boy and an eleven-year-old girl thrown together by tragedy.  The lovely Kiersi B. calls it THE FAULT IN OUT STARS meets INTO THE WILD–an apt pitch.  Anyway, I worked hard on it during the winter and had made it to about 50K words.  The first two parts were in decent shape.  The last part was a hodge-podge of disconnected scenes and gaping holes.

As I re-read those 50K words, there was no glimmer or spark.  I felt flat and worried that it was crap.  I complained to Scriva Liz (who has read early pieces of it) about how unenthused I was to work on it (even though my agent wants me to finish it right away).  I wondered aloud if my poor response to it was because it wasn’t good or didn’t have the legs to carry a novel-length story.  She looked at me and restrained herself from a dope slap (I’m extemporizing here) and said, “You feel that way because it’s such a hard book to write.”

Face palm.


This book draws heavily on my own grief following the death of my first daughter, Esther.  It’s not a fun one to write.  No swash-buckling.  No make-outs.  Lots of pain, and I hope, lots of heart.  But it is a story I need to tell, and thanks to Liz, I got to work.  I’m making great progress.  I’m in the zone, and I’m even glad to be writing it.

What does this have to do with kayaks, you ask?  Well, also thanks to Liz, I jammed through my writing goal early this morning (1300+ words, thank you very much) and played hooky for the rest of the day.  We kayaked from Hayden Island up to a floating restaurant, drank margaritas, and gabbed.  It was 80 degrees and we were feeling the love.

As I send you off into the weekend, I hope you have a good one, and I hope you have a Scriva Liz!


Writing retreats are serious business even in bikinis

I spent Saturday and Sunday at Cannon Beach in a rented house with the Viva Scrivas on retreat.  Lest you think it was all cocktails and bon bons and Scrabble, let me tell you a little story…

Saturday was the kind of day that happens once or twice a year on the north Oregon coast.  75 degrees.  Clear sky.  No wind.  A day for bikinis.  Seriously!

And we worked, wrote our fingers to the bone.  When I paid our bill at the rental office, the woman said, “I saw you all working away yesterday.  How did you do it?  The day was too nice for work.”

How did we do it?  One word at a time…  Some of us are on deadline (yikes).  Others making good use of the time away from demanding jobs and small children.  Another getting back to writing after a long absence.

Our group tries to get away 2-3 times a year for writing binges followed by those aforementioned cocktails and bonbons.  It’s a great way to be together and make major accelerations in our writing progress.  I wrote nearly 5,000 words to give me nearly 45,000 words written in my newest novel.  I’m into the last 1/3 and let me tell you… IT FEELS GREAT!