Tag Archives: novel

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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Cara Lopez Lee’s Thoughtful Rules for Compassionate Critiques

I have a small, trusted circle of critique partners. I know I’m lucky, they’re hard to come by. I met two at Writers’ Studio at UCLA, a couple of years ago, and I count them dear friends. Two others, I met when I began volunteering for Field’s End, a non-profit literary event group. In all cases, I found my partners by magic, or universal synchronicity, or dumb luck–I really don’t what alchemy transforms strangers to trusted allies. All I can I say is it is extremely difficult to both find and BE a good critique partner. That’s why I’m sharing ideas from author and HGTV-writer Cara Lopez Lee’s excellent post, Feedback with Compassionate Detachment.

Here are excerpts:

“I’ve discovered that providing feedback with the goal of serving both writer and story can be fast and easy, if you know how…
Creative writing is always deeply personal, fiction or non, and I’ve learned that’s why it’s important for feedback to be both compassionate and detached.

I’ve since developed a reputation among coaching clients, writing colleagues, and students for giving feedback that encourages and motivates. Here are a few tips that have helped me:

1.  Take responsibility for your opinion by emphasizing “I” statements over “you” statements.
This helps writers take feedback as opinion, rather than personal blame or praise, encouraging them to decide whether their writing needs to change or just needs another audience. For example:

  • I’d like to know more about this character’s relationship with his father.
  • I’m confused here. Is it possible to clarify?
  • I find myself wondering how this character felt when she saw the body
    (Note: If you only adopt one technique, let this be it. You will win friends and influence writers! -RL)

2. Address what you observe in the writing rather than your opinion of the writer.

  • The opening effectively introduces the character’s motivation: her father betrayed her, and she has never trusted men since.
  • The dialogue in this section didn’t feel realistic to me. I had a hard time believing a three-year-old would talk that much about death.
    (Note: I love when readers tell me WHAT they think they just read. Often what we are trying to imply in a scene comes across differently to different people, and this technique helps me gauge whether I’ve nailed it–or not. -RL)

3. Spend less time making suggestions than asking questions.

  • What do these people really want in this relationship?
  • What’s at stake for the protagonist?
    (Note: This technique is also effective for blocked writers. -RL)

4. Clarify that your intention is to serve the story, not to prove you’re right. Try phrases like, “As a reader…” or “From an audience’s perspective…”

  • I like that she notices his cologne. As a reader, I’d be interested to know exactly what he smells like to her and how that scent affects her.”
  • From a female audience’s perspective, this kind of language might sound sexist, which might make it difficult to root for him.

5. Instead of pointing out what’s missing, ask for more information.

  • I don’t understand why he reacted that way. I’d like to know more.
  • How does meeting someone else who has lived with this kind of secret affect him?
    (Note: I have a habit of showing more action than emotion. Phrases like those above could help guide me to consider my character’s internal conflict. -RL)

6. Offer no more than three challenges the author faces to take the writing to the next level. It can be difficult to remember more, and the writer may shut down.

7. Try to spend as much time on strengths as challenges. It’s important for writers to recognize what’s working, so they can lean into that. What’s more, writers who regularly receive feedback want to know whether their changes are effective.

“By giving feedback with compassionate detachment, I’ve discovered something unexpected,” says Lee. “When I emphasize what’s working and simply ask questions about the rest, my students improve faster.”

Cara Lopez LeeCara Lopez Lee is the author of the memoir They Only Eat Their Husbands. Her stories have appeared in such publications as The Los Angeles Times, Denver Post, Connotation Press, and Rivet Journal. She’s a book editor, a writing coach, and a faculty member at Lighthouse Writers Workshop. She was a journalist in Alaska and North Carolina, and a writer for HGTV and Food Network. An avid traveler, she has explored twenty countries and most of the fifty United States. She and her husband live in Denver.


Filed under Best Writer Tips, For the love of writing, Guest posts, Your highest potential

Finally, a Simple Solution to Handling Backstory

cslakinbookI spend a lot of time thinking about my character’s motivation. If you don’t believe me, you should see some (unpublished) stories I wrote a few years back, where character origins and backstory flood the pages where plot and emotional reaction ought to be. I’ve learned much about when and how to reveal the past, and have reined myself in considerably–but apparently not enough. The other night at my critique group, I was reading Chapter One of my new book aloud and felt my cheeks warm as I realized what I was reading was straight-up backstory–in my opening pages! Ugh. Como dices, “info dump?”

Author and editor C.S. Lakin solved my problem with her post, How the Rule of Three Can Help Writers Avoid Backstory Slumps

Here are Lakin’s ideas:

Rule of Three “For every three sentences (or in some cases, paragraphs) of backstory, go back to the present scene at least briefly, to remind readers where the character is actually on stage,” she says. Don’t leave the present action to go on a long tangent. Keep the present action active, even when indulging in a flashback.

First Chapter Backstory Rule “My colleagues all agree that first chapter backstory, if used at all, needs to be short and woven in and around the present action,” she points out. I will be examining my first chapter to see what I can cut or streamline. “For every detail but the most crucial, save the backstory for after readers are committed to your character.” I think this is incredibly important. In my case, I think I was trying to build sympathy for my character for what he’s been through in the past. If I dig deeper and write with subtlety and compassion, I ought to be able to win my readers’ “commitment” without playing that victim card. Lastly, Lakin recommends we, “Use the past perfect (had) only at the beginning and the end of a backstory bit.”

Double Backstory Have you ever read a story within a story, and became confused or read it twice? A word about backstory within backstory: don’t do it. C.S. Lakin has a great approach to handling this dilemma. She calls it her Cold Mashed Potatoes Rule. Read about it in her full post.

C.S. Lakin is the author of several books (contemporary fiction, fantasy, and YA SciFi). She’s  a copyeditor, a writing coach, a mom, a backpacker, and a pygmy goat expert. She teaches workshops on the writing craft at writers’ conferences and retreats. If your writers’ group would like to invite her to facilitate a workshop, contact her here.

Do you have your own formula for where or when backstory should appear? What methods of revealing backstory do you use? Comment below or chat with me on Twitter at @TheRJLacko.

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Filed under Best Writer Tips, Fiction Novel Writing, Guest posts

Using Dream Analysis to Develop Your Fictional Characters

Have you ever been chased by someone in your dreams? Been naked in public? Flown like a bird around a city? Or just felt utterly lost in a maze-like building? There are twelve basic dream patterns that all of us dream, regardless of who we are, what we do or where we live.

Olessia Kantor of EnigmaLife.com

Olessia Kantor of EnigmaLife.com

An in-depth knowledge of our characters enriches every story we write. Most writers begin with a detailed Character Traits worksheet. Whether you use every item on your worksheet in your story isn’t as important as getting to know the heart of your fictional characters. Once you have a firm connection with and understanding of WHO they are, it makes the labor or drafting your story easier: you know how they will react to event or obstacles, you’ll know what they might retort and what they’d never say. You know what they’ll eat in a restaurant, or why the color chartreuse makes them crimson with fury. Even better, when you’re stuck, looking for ways to add tension or motivation, looking deeply into your characters’  hearts and minds helps uncover possible plot turns, arcs, and revelations.

Dream interpretation guru Olessia Kantor, founder of EnigmaLife.com explains, “Universal dreams are shaped by local forces in your life.” Your character s dream could be influenced by four things:

  • His/her biological heritage
  • His/her general cultural heritage
  • His/her local subculture
  • His/her personal experience

There are 12 universal dream patterns that all of us dream:

1. Being chased and attacked/Being in love or embraced: Often these dreams occur when you are trying to understand circumstances that you cannot overcome.

2. Getting injured or dying/Getting healed or reborn: Reflect the dreamer passing from one stage of life to another.

3. Having vehicle trouble: These dreams indicate you may be overspending energy on a situation

4. Damaged or lost property or on fire/Property improvements: Reflections on personal changes

5. Poor performance/Outstanding performance: To pass or fail at something important to you

6. Being naked or inappropriately dressed/Looking great: You feel concerned about other people s judgment or opinions.

7. Missing transportation/Happily traveling: This dream denotes your life s journey

8. Machine malfunctions/No malfunctions: Points to a passive approach to life, giving others your power

9. Natural disasters/Natural beauty: Reflect an appreciation for the world and happiness

10. Being lost or trapped/Finding new places: Indicates you are struggling to find a sense of direction or are losing your internal compass

11. Haunted by the dead/Guided by the dead: There is unfinished business with a loved one

12. Falling or drowning/Flying or swimming: The dream is facing a major choice they must make that defines personal failure or success

Olessia provides free personalized dream analysis via her website, EnigmaLife.com. Former journalist Olessia Kantor went on to become an art historian, a gemologist, an entrepreneur, and always a storyteller. “I have a passion for the unknown, for mysteries, for the enigmas in our world.” Follow Olessia on Twitter @EnigmaLifeWorld, or email her at OK@enigmalife.com.

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Filed under Best Writer Tips, Guest posts, Writing Prompt, Your highest potential

Revise Your Novel in One Month with PlotWriMo


Congratulations on completing the draft of your novel! That messy hunk of love is ready for polishing. Literary agent Jill Corcoran and Plot Whisperer goddess Martha Alderson have joined forces to help you maintain the swift progress of NaNoWriMo as you edit, revise and sweat your way to a book you can be proud of!

Want to know how to get started? Jill and Martha offer two video series with more in production

1. PlotWriMo: Revise Your Novel in a Month

8 videos, 5.5 hours + 3- hands-on exercises

Congratulations! You have written a draft of a novel. You’ve accomplished what many writers merely talk about and dream of doing – you have written an entire story from beginning to end.

When you finish celebrating, it is time to revise: to re-envision and rewrite what you’ve written into a novel that agents, editors and readers will devour. Writing a great plot involves craft and skill and know-how. Before you undertake a major rewrite, first consider your story from all angles with the help of step-by-step instruction and daily exercises. You know you’re ready to rewrite when you’ve checked all the essentials elements for creating an exciting story with compelling characters and a meaningful plot.

2. How to Write and Sell a Picture Book with a Plot

7 videos explain how to plot, write and sell picture books + provide exercises how to immediately integrate the concepts into your own unique story. Learn about all the different kinds of picture books, examples of character-driven and action-driven picture books, how to develop winning picture book concepts, what are the major turning points in every great picture book with a plot, writing, voice, character goals and motivation, how to revise, testing your theme and take-away, who to submit to and so much more…

Here’s How the Video Series Work

Each video includes an in-depth look at the specific elements promised and how to consider these essential story principles as you write, revise, rewrite, sell your story. Writing assignment(s) guide you with step-by-step instruction. Whether you decide to watch all the videos in a row and then go back and do the exercises or jump right in to the 1st video’s exercise, work at your own pace and take more or less time on the step-by-step exercises. The series are designed to fit into even the busiest of schedules. Sign-in and watch video lectures, complete homework assignments, and ask questions in a public forum on a timetable that fits your needs.

Reviews of the series

“The amount of time, heartache, frustration, and hell that these videos are saving me from is immeasurable.”

“Don’t wait until you have a first draft to get the video series. If you have an inkling of a concept, get the video series. The videos will show you how to define your energetic markers. You’ll learn the difference between crisis and climax. The 8 videos constitute a ‘top to toe’ writing course.

Jill Corcoran & Martha Alderson, thank you for giving me the opportunity to call myself a writer with pride.” Dolly D Napal

“I have been writing, writing, writing, and reading about writing, but I knew I was still missing the mark. How I write and rewrite books will be forever changed for the better. ” Wendy McLeon MacKnight

“I felt overwhelmed with my latest revision. I feel like a weight has been lifted and I’m just on day one.”

Your wrote your first draft. Now revise your story from every angle.

Jill Corcoran is the founder of Jill Corcoran Literary Agency and co-founder of A Path A Publishing

Martha Alderson, author of The Plot Whisperer: Secrets of Story Structure Any Writer Can Master, is known as “The Plot Whisperer” for the help she offers writers worldwide. She is the founder of PlotWriMo: Revise Your Novel in a Month and the award-winning blog The Plot Whisperer


Filed under Best Writer Tips, Fiction Novel Writing, Guest posts, Your highest potential

Boiling Down Story – Creating a Pitch

As a competing mentee in this year’s Pitch Wars, I’ve been working on formulating a pitch. It would seem that, having dreamed up, outlined, and written an entire novel (and I won’t even go into the number of revisions I’ve done) that I should be able to write a sentence or two about what the novel is about. It should be cake, am I right? It isn’t. Or at least, it isn’t for me.

Photo by Alexander Tikhomirov

Photo by Alexander Tikhomirov

I wrote a handful of ideas to communicate the heart of my story. I’d prefer to share its emotional payoff, more than the plot points, but I seem to revert to the temptation to describe action. I’d like to arrive at the “benefit” of what the reader will gain from my book, but I also want to avoid being vague. Le sigh. What’s in it for the reader? A story about finding a place to belong, when everyone calls you crazy. But that doesn’t fulfill the book’s title, RADIO HEAD. It is truly a story about the redemptive quality of music. I’ve also tried to keep my pitch ideas between the recommended 17-25 words.

I NEED YOUR HELP! Do any of these jump out at you? Do you have any thoughts about what would make them more intriguing? Do any turn you right off? Your advice is appreciated!

Pitch Ideas for RADIO HEAD:

  1. Haunted by the burden of hearing a song inside anyone who touches her, mentally disturbed Shelby Rey searches for a place to belong.
  2. When you hear music in everything and everyone, the white-coats call you crazy.
  3. Everyone has a song inside. Can Shelby Rey silence hers before narcissistic rockstar Zac Wyatt convinces her to help him write his solo album?
  4. Mentally disturbed Shelby Rey will never be normal, not when she can hear everything, including the songs of everyone who touches her.
  5. Music is the only thing Shelby Rey can trust. When her headphones are bagged as evidence, all she can hear is herself.
  6. Mentally disturbed Shelby Rey can hear rockstar Zac Wyatt’s next album. All she has to do is touch him.
  7. Mentally disturbed Shelby Rey can hear what rockstar Zac Wyatt can’t—his next album. All she has to do is touch him.
  8. A narcissistic rockstar seeks musical healing through a mentally disturbed woman with a secret, and a heroin-addicted prodigy.
  9. Music is a healer, both transcending and transforming. RADIO HEAD is a contemporary adult novel about how we hear.
  10. Blurring the lines between music and self-expression, RADIO HEAD turns up the volume on finding a place to belong.
  11. Shelby Rey can hear music everywhere, and it’s making her crazy.
  12. An unforgettable contemporary novel about finding your song in someone else
  13. Homeless Shelby Rey is haunted by the burden of hearing the songs of anyone who touches her.
  14. Everyone has a song inside. Mentally disturbed Shelby Rey is haunted by the burden of hearing the song inside anyone who touches her.Please let me know if any of these speak to you–and any advice you’d like to share! Leave a comment below, or tweet me @TheRJLacko. Thank you, and happy writing!


Filed under Fiction Novel Writing

Is a Writer’s Retreat for you?

When was the last time you walked through a meadow? Not a cut-lawn city park expanse, or your own back yard just before mowing, but an honest-to-goodness meadow? Last weekend I attended an intimate writer’s retreat at Prue’s House at Hilltop Park on Bainbridge Island, WA, led by author Margaret Nevinski.

The drive up wound through a forest so dense and lush the woods shadowing my car tripped the automatic headlights in otherwise broad daylight. The attendees were instructed to turn off at a dirt road next to a sign indicating the entrance to a conservation area–the kind of dirt road only park rangers and city employees in designated vehicles can use. (Yes, the invitation to such minor exclusivity makes me giddy.) Once past the sign, there were others, saying not to go any further, that the road ended, to stop and turn around. Beyond these warnings, at the top of the hill, was Prue’s House, a beautifully restored historic panabode cabin. Beyond it, lay a meadow. When I walked across it over a break from writing, tiny insects took flight, only ten inches or so in the air, to land on other patches of the soft wild grass, swaying in the light breeze under a blue sky. Ferry_landing_at_BainbridgeIS-700x251 photo (3)

The Writer’s Retreat was well-timed. I’d just had a break-through  with my novella, Carter Danforth and the English Viola. My Pitch Wars mentor, author S.K. Falls had returned her exhaustive notes on my manuscript for my novel Radio Head. Prue’s House is known for being “rustic.” Warmed by a fireplace, there are no restaurants around, no baristas, and no wifi (therefore, no posty-posty/peeky-peeky on FB and Twitter timelines.) Writers were asked to bring cushions because the seats are “hard.” When I lived in Southern California, most events were catered to a point of excess. If you prefer lattes and wine bars, you’re in luck. Most US cities host various writing events; you can have your wordcount and your bagel tray, too. At a stripped-down retreat like Prue’s house, I knew I’d have plenty of time to play and ponder, and the accountability of writing instead of being distracted.

photo 2 photo 1

The beauty of a writer’s retreat, supportive critique group or small writing class for that matter, is the grounding of our words. Read within a circle of trust, we get to see and hear what we’ve been working on in a new light–and be inspired by the projects of others. One of the participants was Tyler McNamer, high functioning autistic author of the book Population: One. I believe it’s true that every person who walks this earth is carrying some worry, some burden we will probably never know. Compassion for all humankind is possible when we remember this. As writers  spending countless hours alone, dreaming up burdens for our protagonists (and antagonists!) it is imperative to find and participate in some sort of writers’ exchange. Reading and listening to the works of our peers is as critical to deepening our craft (and compassion), as reading is to bettering ourselves as writers. I encourage each and every one of you to find at least one event, group, or class per year and bravely give your writing over to others, and listen to theirs.

Too shy? Find one kindred soul who’s work you admire. A few years ago, I was fortunate enough to meet author Lisa Manterfield at a Novel Revision intensive at the Writers’ Studio at UCLA. When the following years’ Writers’ Studios did not offer topics pertaining to our writing projects, we branched out on our own. For us, we prefer a hotel near excellent restaurants and scenic walking/running paths. The first year, we picked a Hyatt in Newport Beach, CA. The following year, we chose one in Del Mar, CA. (Next year, it’s my not-so-secret plan to lure her to our little island guest house in the woods. Shhh!) Holing yourself up with one other person who is as committed to her writing and as focused on wordcount as you is a wonderful way to jumpstart your writing project, and get real-time feedback on your writing (which does a bang-up job of kicking self-doubt’s ass.)

Have you been to a writer’s retreat? What was your experience? Comment below or tweet me: @TheRJLacko


Filed under Best Writer Tips, Fiction Novel Writing, For the love of writing