Tag Archives: books

Party for the Oscars – Presented my book!

What an amazing weekend! I had the honor of presenting RADIO HEAD to Oscar nominees, actors, recording artists and press at a pre-Oscar Awards party at the W Hotel in Hollywood! I met some fabulous people, from the legendary Maria Conchita Alonso, to up and coming actors who score roles pretty much everywhere – hi, Austin Mincks and Bill Parks! As a Middle Grade writer and fangirl, I was thrilled to meet Dee Wallace, star of the show, Just Add Magic. My sons and I binge-watch the excellent MG-targeted Amazon series. Thanks to visual artist and dear friend Jason Mascow for taking photos and going above and beyond.
(Love these? Check out my pics from the Grammy Awards party at REN Gallery!)

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My book selected as a gift at New Media Film Festival

newmediafilmfestival-logo-press-downloadI’m so excited to announce that Radio Head was selected as a gift for the judges of the 2016 New Media Film Festival.

The only book included in the gift bags, the judges for the Film Festival represent HBOThe National Academy of of Television Arts and Sciences (the Emmy’s), Broadcast Music, Inc. (BMI), The Screen Actors Guild (SAG-Aftra), The Grammy awards, Marvel, and The Oscars.

About New Media Film Festival®

All Ages • All Cultures • All Media

For years, The New Media Film Festival has led the way in the pursuit of stories worth telling, the exploration of new media technologies, boundary pushing resulting in new distribution models. The New Media Film Festival embodies the transformative power of the cinematic arts and it reaches across cultural bridges to wed story and technology for everyone. What people are saying:

  • “The New Media Film Festival seemed like an outlier when it started in 2010, with their strange categories, web series, 3D storytelling, digital comics, now all of a sudden these phrases are the new normal. The NMFF is always looking to the future, challenging creators, the market and the audience to discover new storytelling. There are not many festivals pushing the limits – go NMFF!” ~ Nicholas Reed
  • “Festival worth the entry fee.” ~ Movie Maker Magazine
  • “Makes the cutting edge accessible” ~ Huffington Post
  • “Stories that exemplify the power of the cinematic arts to inspire and transform” ~ Hero Complex

Judges from

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10 Mother Figures in new novels – Great literary examples for writers

Writing a believable mother figure can prove, shall we say, “therapeutic” for some writers. Delving into the details of our first primary relationship can shed light on our sense of nurturing, and inspire ways to help our protagonist reach her goal. It can also uncover old hurts. Let’s look at how some new novels showcase memorable fictional mothers. From loving, supportive mothers to complex, trailblazing mothers to selfish, vindictive mothers, this list from Andrea Lochen, author of The Repeat Year (Berkley, 2013) and Imaginary Things (see below) has it all!

1. The Perfect Son by Barbara Claypole White (Lake Union, July 2015)

cpwElla Fitzwilliam, the mom in The Perfect Son, quit a successful career in jewelry design to be full-time parent, mental health coach, and advocate for her son, Harry, who has a soup of issues that include Tourette syndrome. She has devoted 17 years of her life to his therapy, to educating teachers, to being Harry’s emotional rock and giving him the confidence he needs to be Harry. Thanks to her, Harry is comfortable in his own skin, even when people stare. After Ella has a major heart attack in the opening chapter, her love for Harry tethers her to life. But as she recovers, she discovers the hardest parenting lesson of all: to let go.

2. Rodin’s Lover by Heather Webb (Plume, January 2015)

HWIn Rodin’s Lover: A Novel, Camille’s mother, Louise Claudel, is spiteful, jealous, and disapproving of Camille’s pursuit to become a female sculptor in the 1880s. She also shows signs of mental illness. Because of this relationship, Camille struggles with all of her female relationships the rest of her life, and ultimately, to prove to her mother that she’s truly talented.

 

 

 

3. Imaginary Things by Andrea Lochen (Astor + Blue Editions, April 2015)

ALIn Imaginary Things, young single mother Anna Jennings has a unique power that most parents only dream of—the ability to see her four-year-old son’s imagination come to life.  But when David’s imaginary friends turn dark and threatening, Anna must learn the rules of this bizarre phenomenon, what his friends truly represent, and how best to protect him.

 

 

 

4. The Magician’s Lie by Greer Macallister (Sourcebooks, January 2015)

GMCAIn The Magician’s Lie, Arden’s mother is remarkable both for what she does and what she doesn’t do. As a young woman, she bears a child out of wedlock and runs away with her music teacher, never fearing the consequences. But later in life, her nerve fails her—just when her daughter needs her most.

 

 

 

 

5. Five Days Left by Julie Lawson Timmer (Putnam, 2014)

JLT In Five Days Left, Mara Nichols is, in some ways, a typical mother: she loves her daughter fiercely, thinks about her constantly and goes to great lengths to balance her high-stress legal career with her daughter’s needs. But there are two ways in which Mara isn’t typical at all. First, she adopted her daughter from India, making good on a lifelong promise to rescue a baby from the same orphanage where Mara herself lived decades ago. And second, when Mara is diagnosed with a fatal, incurable illness that will render her unable to walk, talk or even feed herself, she has to make the kind of parenting choice none of us wants to consider—would my child be better off if I were no longer alive?

6. House Broken by Sonja Yoerg (Penguin/NAL, January 2015)

SYIn House Broken, Helen Riley has a habit of leaving her grown children to cope with her vodka-fueled disasters. She has her reasons, but they’re buried deep, and stem from secrets too painful to remember and, perhaps, too terrible to forgive.

 

 

 

 

 

7. You Were Meant for Me by Yona Zeldis McDonough (Penguin/NAL, 2014)

YZMIn You Were Meant For Me, having a baby is the furthest thing from Miranda Berenzweig’s mind.  She’s newly single after a bad break up, and focused on her promotion at work, her friends and getting her life back on track.  Then one frigid March night she finds a newborn infant in a NYC subway and even after taking the baby to the police, can’t get the baby out of her mind.  At the suggestion of the family court judge assigned to the case, Miranda begins adoption proceedings.  But her plans—as well as her hopes and dreams—are derailed when the baby’s biological father surfaces, wanting to claim his child.  The way she handles this unforeseen turn of events is what makes Miranda a truly memorable mother.

8. The Far End of Happy by Kathryn Craft (Sourcebooks Landmark, May 2015)

KCIn The Far End of Happy, Ronnie has hung in there as long as she can during her husband’s decline into depression, spending issues, and alcoholism and he will not accept her attempts to get him professional help. She is not a leaver, but can’t bear for her sons to witness the further deterioration of the marriage. She determines to divorce—and on the day he has promised to move out, he instead arms himself, holes up inside a building on the property, and stands off against police. When late in the day the police ask Ronnie if she’ll appeal to him one last time over the bullhorn, she must decide: with the stakes so high, will she try one last time to save her husband’s life? Or will her need to protect her sons and her own growing sense of self win out?

9. Your Perfect Life by Liz Fenton and Lisa Steinke (Washington Square Press, 2014)

LF&In Your Perfect Life, long-time friends, Rachel and Casey wake up the morning after their twenty year high school reunion to discover they’ve switched bodies. Casey is single with no children before becoming an instant mom to Rachel’s two teenagers and baby. Despite her lack of experience as a parent, and her often comedic missteps with the baby in particular (think: diaper blow outs and sudden sleep deprivation) Casey’s fresh perspective on her new role helps her connect with each of the children in a very different way than Rachel. And when the oldest, Audrey, is almost date raped at her prom, it is Casey’s strength that she draws from an experience in her own past that ultimately pulls Audrey through. Although it is hard for Rachel to watch her best friend take care of Audrey when she so desperately wants to, she realizes that Casey can help her daughter in a way she can’t. And Casey discovers she might have what it takes to be a mom to her own children someday.

10. The Life List by Lori Nelson Spielman (Bantam, 2013)

EBElizabeth Bohlinger, the mother in The Life List, is actually deceased. But she still has a big presence in her daughter’s life—some may say too big! With heartfelt letters, Elizabeth guides her daughter, Brett, on a journey to complete the life list of wishes Brett made when she was just a teen. Like many mothers, Elizabeth has an uncanny ability to see into her daughter’s heart, exposing buried desires Brett has long forgotten.

 Do you have any book recommendations for stories with memorable moms? Comment below, or tweet me at @TheRJLacko!

Andrea Lochen is a University of Michigan MFA graduate. Her first novel, The Repeat Year (Berkley, 2013), won a Hopwood Award for the Novel prior to its publication. She currently teaches at the University of Wisconsin-Waukesha, where she was recently awarded UW Colleges Chancellor’s Award for Excellence in Teaching. Andrea lives in Madison with her husband and daughter and is at work on her third novel. For more information visit www.andrealochen.com

Book Links for Imaginary Things:
Publisher:  http://bit.ly/1HJ3VW9
Amazon:  http://amzn.to/1FOikjL
B&N:  http://bit.ly/1DXghMZ

 

 

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How to Sell More Books – 10 Question Checklist for Authors

 

How to Market a Book, by Joanna Penn

How to Market a Book, by Joanna Penn

It’s time to get the party started, an author friend of mine quipped. She was referring to the independent publishing party, the one where our lovingly written and agonized-over manuscripts become honest-to-goodness books for sale.

I couldn’t agree more.

Joanna Penn, author of several best-selling thrillers and book marketing expert (see Penn’s book, How To Market A Book) at The Creative Penn offers some of the best advice on the web for publishing and marketing your books.

Penn says she is asked on a nearly daily basis: How do I sell more books? “There are 10 questions I think you need to answer,” she explains. Note there is nothing on Penn’s checklist of questions about blogging or platform building on Facebook. These are the fundamentals critical to setting the stage for sales.

Here are the first 5 questions an author must ask:

1) Is your book available as an ebook? Penn uses Scrivener for formatting in Kindle, ePub and Word formats and publishes on Amazon KDP, Kobo Writing Life and Smashwords, BookBaby and B&N Nook PubIt.

2) Has your cover been professionally designed? Penn believes this is non-negotiable if you want to stand out in the crowded market. Check out the ebook cover design awards at TheBookDesigner.com to see some great covers and some truly awful ones. Then hire a professional cover designer, give them that information and work with them to create a professional cover.

“If you don’t have a budget for this, then work extra hard until you have that extra money,” she says.

3) Has your book been professionally edited? According to Penn, “You should edit your books until you can’t stand them any longer, and then you should consider hiring a professional editor to help you take it further, because you cannot see your own words after a point because you know the story so well.”

You need other eyes, preferably professional eyes who will critique you honestly and tell you where the problems are. “Here’s some more articles on editing and my recommended editors,” says Penn.

 4) Have you submitted your book to the right categories on the ebook stores? Sorry, but not everyone will like your book. The category/genre reader has expectations and if you don’t ‘fit’ they will be disappointed. Match your readers’ expectations and the promise of what your book delivers with what your book is actually about. A great book on categories and Amazon algorithms is David Gaughran’s Let’s Get Visible.

 5) Have you optimized your Amazon sales page with a hook, quotes from reviews and other material? Treat the product description like a sales page. “People will not buy your book if your description is badly written or hard to understand because it’s an indication of the quality of your book,” explains Penn.

Read the other 5 questions you need to answer and find out how you can action them here. Number Ten is especially important, so please do read on!

As you can see, there is a significant investment the writer must make beyond writing the book itself. A professionally-produced book will earn a loyal readership, and excite the reader to explore your backlist.

Joanna Penn is a New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of thrillers on the edge, as well as non-fiction for authors. I’m also a professional speaker and entrepreneur, voted as one of The Guardian UK Top 100 creative professionals 2013. Follow her on Twitter at @thecreativepenn.

Interested in more tips on selling books? Check out Sell More Books with Calls To Action at the End of Story

Let’s connect on Twitter! @TheRJLacko

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How to Use an Unreliable Narrator in Your Story

The character who is an unreliable narrator can be one of the most powerful tools available to a writer, telling the readers a story that the reader cannot take at face value. In this post, Now Novel, an excellent resource for writers, explains: “The unreliability may be obvious to the reader throughout the novel, may be revealed gradually or may come as a single revelation that results in a major plot twist. This may be because the point of view character is insane, lying, deluded or for any number of other reasons.”

In my novel, Radio Head, protagonist Shelby has undiagnosed schizophrenia. From her point of view, everyone has a song inside–and she can hear it. The reader is drawn into what may prove to be magical realism, or possibly the delusions of a mentally ill young woman.

illusions

What does the writer stand to gain from using an unreliable narrator to tell a story?
What is the purpose of the unreliable narrator in fiction? How can the writer ensure that the reader understands that the narrator is unreliable?

Here are highlights from the post:

The narrator is unreliable by the very nature of who that character is. Some stories are related by narrators by who are such terrible people that they cannot tell their stories objectively. In general, even people who commit the worst crimes do not go around thinking of themselves as monsters; they justify their actions to themselves. In Lolita, Vladimir Nabakov signals Humbert Humbert’s unreliability to the reader in a number of ways such as his outrageous claims, his endless justifications for shocking acts and his contempt for others. Alex from A Clockwork Orange is another example of a reprehensible character sharing his unreliable narrative of violence and mayhem with the reader.

The unreliable narrator can also be used to great effect in stories of crime and mystery. Both Agatha Christie’s classic novel The Murder of Roger Ackroyd and the recent Gillian Flynn best seller Gone Girl employ unreliable narrators whose lack of reliability is crucial to the construction of the mysteries at the hearts of both novels. In these types of books, the reader starts out trusting the narrator and it is only as the story goes on that something begins to seem amiss.

The unreliable narrator is not always deliberately deceptive. Sometimes, a narrator is unreliable due to youth or naïveté. The young autistic narrator of the Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon or the five-year-old narrator of Emma Donoghue’s Room are simply reporting the world as they understand it. These books rely on the readers to make inferences based on clues from the narrators and an assumption from the outset that due to the ages and circumstances of these characters, they are not always accurately interpreting what is happening around them.

The unreliable narrator can be of particular use to the writer of horror and supernatural fiction or fiction in which the writer wants the reader to question the line between fantasy and reality. A  recent example is Yann Martel’s novel The Life of Pi in which the reader may increasingly wonder about the reality of events as described by the narrator.

A narrator can be unreliable due to having incomplete or incorrect information although initially neither the narrator nor the readers is aware that this is the case. The narrator of Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier initially misunderstands nearly everything she learns about her new husband’s dead wife, and therefore, the reader does as well.

Read the remainder of the post to learn how Lionel Shriver combined several of the above types in We Need to Talk About Kevin. The post also outlines the dangers of using an unreliable narrator and how to avoid them.

How have you used the unreliable narrator in your own writing?

Now Novel  is an organized, easy to use novel writing method. We help motivate and structure your writing process. Follow Now Novel on Twitter @nownovel.

Follow me on Twitter! @TheRJLacko

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Kill Writer’s Block Now: The Fast Track to Creativity Starts Here

Staring at a blank page?

No me, my friend; I’m already off and writing this blog post, charmed by the prolific Charles Bukowski, “Writing about writer’s block is better than not writing at all.” (The Last Night of the Earth Poems)

Garnering the wisdom of two of my favorite writing instructors, I’m here to solve your blank-page-trauma in only five minutes. Yes, you can be power-typing a brand new story before a fresh pot of tea is ready. Here are my tried-and-true, never-fail rules for copious creativity:

Know what a story is. If you haven’t already (why haven’t you?) get yourself over to WiredForStory.com, home of famed storycraft maven Lisa Cron. You must learn, internalize and copy/paste at the top of your page Lisa’s mantra:
A story is HOW and WHY what happens (the plot) affects (the protagonist) who is in pursuit of a deceptively difficult goal (the story question) and how he or she changes as a result (what the story is about).

If your idea is “Mom makes a peanut butter sandwich,” then apply Lisa’s guideline as follows: Why does she make it?  Does she have a child who will order a burger and fries in the school cafeteria if no PB&J is offered? Slow down the action and tell us HOW she makes it. Make her think about the pattern on the plate, the weight of knife, and whether she’ll choose Tupperware or a ziplock and WHY. How does she feel about all this? When the sandwich is complete, how has she changed by the experience?  Satisfied in her parenting skills, or comforted after concern from pediatrician about high fat and cholesterol in child’s diet? Is she thinking about her own mother, or suffering any symptoms as a result of a nut allergy?)

Writing Prompt Helpers. That peanut butter sandwich prompt was genius Rebecca, but where can I get ideas so shiny and bright? Generally, I have a character or situation to begin with–especially when I’m starting a new chapter in an existing fiction piece. If I’m at ground zero, I Google “writing prompts,” like a trained chimp, ahem. The silliest prompt can elicit some profound thoughts, so don’t be afraid to grab the first one and go.

Brainstorm without borders. For no-nonsense writing advice from an accomplished writer and busy mom, you can’t go wrong with Author Jody Hedlund. I love her brainstorming plan, and I think it’s a must-do at the beginning of every creative venture. Jody says, “Before writing, I come up with pages of ‘what if’ possibilities for my story. I make long lists of all kinds of wild and crazy ideas that I could include in the story. I don’t limit myself. No idea is too stupid. I write down everything and anything… Usually the first few ideas we have are somewhat boring and cliched. So if we stop there, we’ll find ourselves frustrated. But if we list a hundred (or more ideas), then finally we’ll start digging deep enough into the creative well to pull out fresh ideas that excite us.”

This is solid advice, but one HUNDRED? (Yes!)
My next tip will save you from spending the entire weekend on that list…

The 5 Minute Miracle This is my own, personal, golden ticket. I set my phone or kitchen alarm for 5 minutes and I type as fast as my little fingers can. I don’t care about spelling, punctuation, capitalization–nada. I don’t stop to sip my coffee or pet the cat. I type without censure. You may call it stream of consciousness, but it isn’t. Why? Because of Lisa Cron’s mantra at the top of my page. I start with who, and I steer myself toward how, and that leads me to why, and then aha! Even I didn’t see coming the natural progression to the change experienced by my protag as a result. I type these scenarios as fast as I can, and when the alarm goes off, I have several ideas, a bunch of junk to be edited or cut, and some real, solid, satisfying fiction leads I may have taken HOURS to arrive at, without these tools.

Same goes for dialogue. If I’m working a scene and I don’t know exactly what my characters ought to say, I five-minute the heck out of them, and when the buzzer goes I’m surprised to learn what they “really” wanted to say all along.

Set your alarm, find a prompt, and let the five-minute-miracle unfold.

Oh, then tweet me about your adventure @TheRJLacko –or comment below, of course!

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4 Fun Tips for Inspiring Children to Read & Write Stories

Words are the foundation of any great story. Whether eloquent, blunt, allusive or rudimentary, words are the playthings of those new to the alphabet and MFA students alike.

photo by David Browning

I have two children, ages 5 and 7; both alphabet aficionados and no strangers to playthings. Like any book nerd, I do my best to feed their literary minds-in-training, beginning with picture books, and moving onto chapter books. I’ve had success; they can’t go—won’t go—to bed without bedtime stories, no matter the hour or my exhaustion. But I want them to love books, and—dare I dream?—writing, as much as I do. I figure my best hope is to reveal the magic of words.

  1. The Word Hunt: I picked up a book about palindromes
    and quite unexpectedly, ignited unbridled excitement for this surprising word configuration. Most children are intrigued by puzzles, and even early and pre-readers can get in on the action. Have your child scan the patterns of letters comprising a sentence; if they find a word or series of words that reads the same forward and backward, it’s a palindrome! Once my kids got the hang of it, they would spontaneously shout from the back seat of the car if they overheard me using a palindrome while talking to my husband up front. (*note: kids listen to everything you say. The only words which fall on deaf ears are your instructions and/or rules.)
  2. Compound words: My kindergartner is always on the lookout <<see? for two words glued at the middle to create a new word. Again, strong reading isn’t necessary to begin, but do point out compound words when you come across them in a book, or on signs and buildings during car rides. The one who finds the most compound words wins! (Note, my older son prefers instead to find words with prefixes and suffixes. My kindergartner doesn’t get this concept yet. To each his own.)
  3. Synonyms: This is another game we play in car or the grocery store, or anytime I need to keep the boys occupied. Choose a word they really like, and have them think of as many synonyms for it as they can. (Mistakes will happen—they will rhyme, for instance, or come up with a homonym without knowing it, but that’s fun too!) My children have a giggly blast thinking up synonyms for vomit, I regret to admit. Whatever it takes.
  4. The Human Condition: As a small child, I used to think stories were merely series of events. I didn’t think much about character  motivation, but understanding why a character responds one way or another when faced with conflict is essential. For young kids, character motivation can be taught simply by getting on the floor with them and asking questions during imaginative play.
    My boys have a Fisher Price jungle toy with an orienteering type action figure we’ll call Hemingway and a bucket of miniature animal figurines. They wanted to play a game where the Hemingway character searches for lost gold treasure in the jungle, and another action figure was to assume the role of “bad guy.” Awesome, we have the beginning of a plot.
    I asked the boys, “How will Hemingway find the treasure?”
    Boys: “The animals in the jungle are his friends! And they know where the treasure is!”
    I love their positive outlook, but here is the moment when an OK story gains momentum—with character motivation.
    Me: “How did the animals become his friend?”
    Boys: (thinking I’m crazy but trying to come up with a reason) “…he helped them find the baby tiger when she was lost and brought her back to her mommy?”
    To gain a clearer vision of the animals’ friendship and desire to help Hemingway find gold, we acted it out. We hid the baby tiger, the Hemingway action figure was posed through many heroic and dangerous stunts to save her, all the while the rest of the animals in the jungle fretted and cried out for the lost baby. Such gloom and doom among the animal kingdom, when wait! Hemingway returns with baby, safe and sound! The tiger mommy and daddy are forever grateful and vow to help whenever they’re needed. At the tiger’s homecoming celebration, my sons got the idea that the animals tell Hemingway about the bad guy hunting them. This was fantastic, because it added another stake to the race to find the gold, and further invests the animals in helping Hemingwat achieve his goal and overcoming the bad guy/hunter.

Create a balance of fostering independence while demonstrating interest in their activities by asking questions and brainstorming ideas. Throw your own palindromes, synonyms and compound words into the ring. Most importantly, have fun and laugh. Words are for play!

What games or techniques have you used to inspire a love of words in your children?

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