Tag Archives: writing

Writer love: 2nd Teen Story Slam was amazing

Last November, a small circle of writers and I tried something daring. We asked local teens to come out and read something they’d written to a live audience. It could be a poem, a confession, a chapter from a novel in progress, or a short story. The uber-talented (and literary award-winning!) teens in our after school program weren’t so sure about standing in front of a bunch of strangers, but a handful signed up. We thought we’d have an intimate circle of intrepid readers, and we were cool with that. Well, our literary event, Teen Story Slam, WENT OFF! We packed a giant house wall to wall,  on the night of the World Series no less. It was an historic outpouring of enthusiasm for the spoken word. Naturally, the students begged us to do it again.
With the support of Island Cool Frozen Yogurt, the Kitsap Regional Library, and the Bainbridge Artisan Resource Network, we threw another lit party, and packed another venue. The stories were outstanding!
As a teen writing mentor, I’m so thankful to each teen for making this special event happen–again. It gives me a such a warm heart to see these young women and men choose to come out with their parents and friends and share their creativity.
The peer support was overwhelming. Local teens and their friends came early and grabbed the couches and floor space directly in front of the mic. They demonstrated such love, encouragement and acceptance of one another’s words and efforts. Wow! I’m just so thankful for them and for our Teen Story Slam team of organizers. It’s a privilege to share these kids’ writing journeys. Teen Story Slam is good for the heart!

Teen writing co-mentor Margaret Nevinski said, “What a wonderful evening! Our teens are so incredible. So wonderful to see families and other teen supporters show up. These community events are so cool.” There were teens who came to listen but not participate. With the encouragement of friends and the support of a rapt audience, a few pulled up stories on their phones and took to the mic for an impromptu reading. “Nick F. decided to read because his friends did,” Margaret noted. “So proud of our teens.”

Will there be a Teen Story Slam 3? Definitely! We will return in the fall to Westside Pizza for another slam. If you’re considering fun ways to raise funds for non-profit programming, I’d be happy to provide info about organizing your own Story Slam. Just comment below!

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My HuffPo: Teens, Music & The Sober Curious Movement

Please read my latest article on Huffington Post:

Is the Sober Curious Movement the End of Teen Binge Drinking?

Created by JAVI_INDY – Freepik.com

For many teens, social activities never stop. With a smart device in hand, texts, posts, likes and shares are vital components of modern peer interaction. Parents often complain of adolescents glued to their screens, maintaining friendships, ironically, in a state of isolation.

When teens turn off their screens to join friends and peers for get-togethers and parties on weekends, many parents worry about the possibility of underage drinking – and for good reason. Social media has been linked to binge drinking, according to several new studies. On social media, young people can get unrealistic ideas about their peers’ seemingly “fabulous” lives, and posting of photos depicting drunken revelry serves to increase of the appeal of alcohol consumption.

Is underage binge drinking a problem? Let’s look at the statistics:

  • 1 in 6 teens binge drink
  • 90% of alcohol consumed by teens involves binge drinking
  • 4,300 underage deaths are caused by excessive drinking each year
  • Binge drinkers don’t drink alone. It generally requires peer pressure

“With neuroscience now showing that the human brain develops well into the mid 20’s, we can deduct that the introduction of alcohol into a teenage brain can cause permanent changes to its growth and function,” said Kristin Wilson, National Director of Clinical Outreach at Newport Academy, a teen treatment center. “Because of underdeveloped executive functioning, teens are often very easily influenced by peer pressure and are more willing to engage in high-risk behaviors.”

Dance Raves, Drinking and Drugs

The need to belong and experience social connections is a fundamental human characteristic, and while raves and teen parties have a long-held reputation for underage drinking, young people assert that the fundamental rewards of attending these events include meeting new friends and sharing one of the most highly valued aspects of teen life: music.

Fortunately, a shift toward a healthy lifestyle is trending. Over the last few years, there has been a decline in alcohol consumption for teens. Teens are experimenting with remaining sober while engaging in social activities that once highlighted alcohol use. The Sober Curious Movement includes day rave dances and juice bar crawls infused with the increased dopamine levels caused by up-tempo music and positive social interaction.

“If you’re used to hiding or escaping with alcohol, and then you discover that you can have genuine fun and make meaningful connections without it, that’s really empowering,” explained Annie Fabricant, coproducer of Morning Gloryville, a series of sober rave parties.

The Sober Curious Movement’s Impact on Teens

It’s all about building authentic relationships. “The Sober Curious Movement is a great step toward healthy living and overall wellness for teens. At fun, wellness-focused, sober events, teens can feel free to create face-to-face, authentic connections with one another, without the pressure to drink,” continued Kristin Wilson. “The relationships that are established within the Sober Curious community are based on mindfulness and a shared passion for healthy lifestyles.” The trend is proving universal among teens and millennials, building momentum across the US and around the world.

“Conscious clubbing” parties are popping up in cities all over the globe, encouraging dance fans to rave without alcohol, drugs or judgment. Parties are held in industrial clubs featuring mega sound systems and hipster DJs, and bars are stocked with raw coconut juice, water and green smoothies only. While many young people traditionally turn to alcohol to break the ice in social situations, today more teens are choosing to bust a move instead. The most common benefit cited by Sober Curious devotees: when sober friendships are formed, people remember making them.

Generation Z music fan Alexsys Chesnut has been in the Seattle rave scene since age sixteen. “A lot of my friends and I participate soberly. It’s about the music and losing yourself in dancing in an environment where you can be yourself, and dress like you want. It’s about all the new friends you make.”

Matthew Brimer and Radha Agrawal, creators of Daybreaker raves welcoming an average of 400 to 500 attendees said, “We want to take out all the bad stuff associated with raving – the drinking and self-destructive behavior – and just bring people together.” Healthy, sober fun translates into honesty at home. “There’s no guilt whatsoever here,” they added. “You can tell your grandmother about Daybreaker.”

Ready to Party Sober?

Here are Newport Academy’s tips for teens interested in creating positive social experiences without alcohol:

1. Surround yourself with friends who are living a healthy lifestyle, and like you sober.

2. Get outside. Plan a beach day, go on a hike, or try a juice bar crawl. Just being in the daylight helps increase serotonin levels, a brain chemical that boosts mood and creates feelings of overall happiness.

3. Listen to music. Music not only creates connection but can help you relax. Listening to music you love has also been shown to increase dopamine levels, a neurotransmitter that allows us to feel pleasure.

The more time young people use social media, the more likely they are to be depressed, according to new research from the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine. In fact, “engaging in activities of little meaning on social media gives many teens a feeling of ‘time wasted’ that negatively influences mood,” reported researcher Lui yi Lin. Music allows isolated teens to establish real friendships, crush the dangers involved with binge drinking and be their authentic themselves.

Did you like this? Read my piece about how music lessons can help get your teen into college here!

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Read on: Recommended media for fans of Ancient Rome …and opera

nero

Nero Claudius Caesar Augustus Germanicus

This is a collection in progress, a heartfelt, juicy and rewarding list of the pieces of research bringing me great joy, inspiration and explosive insights as I attempt to write my third book, a retelling of George Frideric Handel’s Agrippina. I’ve been digging deep since last September, and as many historical fiction writers will attest, it feels as though I’ve only scraped the surface. But that is the pleasure of it, isn’t it? Our books should inspire our curiosity. If our writing bores us, we’ve lost our way. So here is my scrapbook of treasures, which I’ll update as I move forward with my novel. If you share my passion for all things Italian, please comment with your suggestions!

Books (There are many excellent books about Ancient Rome. The following are those I find myself returning to repeatedly while I research and write:)

Agrippina: Sex, Power, and Politics in the Early Empire Author nthony A. Barrett is the go-to expert on Ancient Rome. This book is proving highly useful.

The Emperor Nero: A Guide to the Ancient Sources There are several texts about Emperor Nero, but this guide by Anthony A. Barrett, Elaine Fantham, and John C. Yardley is, in my opinion, one of the most insightful.

The Annals: The Reigns of Tiberius, Claudius, and Nero by Tacitus, and The Lives of the Twelve Caesars, Volume 06: Nero by Suetonius can be considered “required reading,” but I do prefer texts that compare their passages, along with Dio’s, and provide commentary. (Hat tip to Anthony Barrett and Stephen Phillips.)

Veni, Vidi, Vici by Peter Jones, is an infinitely enjoyable and digestible compendium of Ancient Roman history, beginning with the Etruscans. I picked up a copy at The Coliseo when I visited last summer.

Visual Media
Agrippina A DVD of the opera starring Véronique Gens, and Philippe Jaroussky, directed by Tiziano Mancini.

Rome This HBO series is superb.It follows the story of Julius Caesar’s triumph over Pompey, and the rise of Caesar Augustus, an introduction to Marcus Agrippa, along with the an unforgettable portrayal of Mark Anthony and Cleopatra. The fictional plot highlighting the friendship between two Roman soldiers creates a believable pleb view of life in Ancient Rome. It’s rumored that the period sets spanned a whopping 5 acres and that would make it one of the largest period sets ever. The joint BBC/HBO production had an estimated budget of $100,000,000. Highly recommended.

Da Vinci’s Demons This Starz series is a wonderful (extraordinarily fictional) story about Leonardo Da Vinci’s beginnings, primarily set in Florence. The acting, costumes and sets are wonderful. The view of Rome and the Vatican during the Renaissance offers an interesting counterpart to the Ancient Roman Empire. Actor Tom Riley is a compelling (and sensual) Leo.

 I, Claudius (35th Anniversary Edition). Rated one of the “100 Best TV Shows of All Time” by Time magazine, this epic BBC series spans the history of the Roman Empire from Augustus through Claudius, a stuttering scholar who learns early to play the fool and stay alive. Based on the novels by Robert Graves.

National Geographic When Rome Ruled 3-DVD Set I ordered this on my smart phone while standing in the shadow of the temple of Jupiter at the Palatino in Rome last summer. Tablets of communication have come a long way.

Music
Handel: Agrippina (3 CDs) featuring Alastair Miles, Della Jones, Derek Lee Ragin, Donna Brown, English Baroque Soloists, John Eliot Gardiner, and Michael Chance.

YouTube: George Frideric Handel – Agrippina

Web pages
About the opera Agrippina: Wikipedia; Synopsis at About Entertainment; NPR Music;
Julia Agrippina | Roman patrician | Britannica.com
heroinesofhistory – Agrippina the Younger
How Empress Agrippina the Younger Scandalized Rome
Roman Emperors – DIR Agrippina the Younger
Women in the Roman World: Agrippina the Younger
Nero – Ancient History – HISTORY.com
Nero | Roman emperor | Britannica.com
Emperor Nero – The Roman Empire
NeroEmperor, Theater Actor, Poet – Biography.com
Nero – Ancient History Encyclopedia
Roman Emperors DIR Nero
BBC – History – Historic Figures: Nero (37 AD – 68 AD)
Nero – Citation of Nero’s homosexual relationship with Marcus Otho
Marcus Otho, Emperor of Lusitania, lover of Nero; Poppaea
Roman Emperor Claudius
Synopsis of Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations

Italian and Latin
Italian words we don’t use in English

palatine

One of my favorite pics from my trip

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My HuffPost: 1 week of meditation boosts creative problem solving

Please read my latest article on Huffington Post:

Just One Week of Meditation Can Boost Creative Problem Solving

From deciding what to eat for breakfast to handling a complex dilemma at the office, there is always more than one solution to any problem

The paths linking a problem to any number of resolutions can become twisted with doubt, uncertainty, or fear. Choosing one solution means giving up other opportunities. How do we select the best course of action?

Divergent thinking is a style of thinking that allows many new ideas to be generated. It offers personal space and an outlet for creativity, making room tothink up as many uses as possible for a given topic or solutions to a problem. Or better, discovering solutions that provide unexpected gains, or minimize compromise.

“Creative breakthroughs are often reported to emerge spontaneously, when the mind is distracted and not focusing on the problem at hand,” says cognitive psychologist Mark A. Smith, Ph.D.

How can we get started with divergent thinking and produce multiple creative solutions to problems in a short time? The answer is as simple as breathing.

Please click here to continue reading…

 

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Teen Story Slam 2016 is coming!

teenstoryslam2016

On Bainbridge Island, we have a wonderful bi-annual celebration of storytelling called Story Slam. Held at a local restaurant, The Treehouse Cafe, friends and neighbors dare to take the stage to tell a 5-minute true story, without props. Random judges chosen from the always-packed-to-the-rafters audience tally scores to determine three winners. The stories are always memorable; funny, heartfelt, or downright frightening. The slam events are organized by the multi-talented Wendy Wallace, and benefits go to our Teen Writers Workshop and Teen Creative Writing Summer Camp. Earlier this year I thought, “Wouldn’t it be incredible for our talented teen writers to have a turn? No competition, no memorization, just pure storytelling awesomeness.”

That dream is becoming a reality!

In partnership with Bainbridge Artisan Resource Network (BARN) and the Kitsap Regional Library, we’re hosting our very first Teen Story Slam at Westside Pizza on Bainbridge Island on Wednesday, November 2nd!

We invite all Kitsap-area writers in grades 7-12 to share a story they’ve written. All participants will receive a prize!

Teens are welcome to read from their pages for a five-minute (or less) time limit. We want to hear short stories, poems, a chapter from their novel, a true story–anything goes! We welcome any genre as well, from Sci-Fi to Fantasy, contemporary, comedy, and crime mystery. (PG content only, of course.)

Beloved Bainbridge High School English teacher Noah Barfield will serve as master of ceremonies. Mr. Barfield has braved the Story Slam stage, and won. He is also known in the community for his achievements as a playwright, and among his students as a comedian.

WHEN: Wednesday, November 2nd, from 6:30 – 8:00 pm (Come early and get dinner!)

WHERE: Westside Pizza, 323 High School Road, Bainbridge Island 98110
Interested teens can SIGN UP at the Reference Desk at the Bainbridge Library. (Say hi to Teen Librarian, Jenny Bloom!)
Registration is required to participate.

Family and friends are welcome to come cheer on the writers! Donations will support the Teen Writers Workshop at Bainbridge Public Library.

 

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I met the cast who inspired me to write Middle Grade

Over the weekend, I was invited to present my book to 100 Emmy nominees. (Tune in Sunday, September 18 to see who wins.) Believe me, I was both excited and honored to share what I’d written. The day was spent meeting young actors, bands, and recording artists who have been tapped to pick up an Emmy.

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Enter a caption

A familiar face appeared before me, and I realized it was Sloane Morgan Siegel, the uber-talented young actor who played Gortimer on Amazon’s Gortimer Gibbon’s Life on Normal Street. My heart filled with the kind of happiness you feel when a kid you love graduates and you realize how impressed you are with the young person he or she has become.

I am on the author appearance circuit with my adult novel, but I’m especially proud to have recently completed my first Middle Grade novel, How I Learned To Play Guitar, after two years of writing and revision. It’s no coincidence that my children also entered middle grade over the course of writing my new book. But I owe tremendous gratitude to the writers of Gortimer Gibbon’s Life on Normal Street. The mix of magic realism, authentic relationships, humor, and thoughtful approaches to real-life family issues was hugely inspirational for me. gg-gf2

An excellent TV show is as transcendent and emotionally powerful as a beautifully written book. Siegel’s Middle-Grade show marked their transition from “little kid” stories to wrestling with bigger questions about friendships, family, and school. david-bloom-2While my boys liked the mysteries and laugh-out-loud humor, I couldn’t make it through a Normal Street episode without crying. The show depicts what growing up is all about, and often the lessons are bittersweet. Sloane’s portrayal of Gortimer, and the adventures and conflicts explored by the trio of main characters, including Ranger (Drew Justice) and Mel (Ashley Boettcher), riveted us. As I chatted with the cast, I thought, “I wish my boys were here. They would FREAK.”

I wish the cast, creator David Anaxagoras, and crew every success.

 

 

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Memoirs of Teen Writing Camp

There’s something magical and heart-warming about teens who choose to set aside a week of their summer break to craft their daydreams and ideas into captivating stories. I had so much fun teaching at the filled-to-capacity Teen Creative Writing Summer Camp last year, I couldn’t wait to do it again this year.

The Teen Creative Writing Summer Camp is the brainchild of co-host and Middle Grade author, Margaret Nevinski, MFA. Just as the previous year, we had a full house of 22 talented writers from Bainbridge Island, Bremerton, Port Orchard, and Kingston, Washington. I can honestly say that the talent of our participants is astounding. Modern students understand instinctively how to begin a story, building to an inciting incident, and setting tone and character. I learn so much from watching them do what comes naturally.

What I loved about Teen Writing Camp Held at my beloved local public library, each day, we met in small Writers Circles, an encouraging and safe setting to read our work aloud. Often, the writers created fantastical worlds with strange creatures, but the problems their characters faced were very close to the teens’ hearts. Teens tend to write about what’s troubling them, or explore unknown territory, or sort out fears and anxiety. When a story is shared as fiction, the peer group offers solutions to the character’s problems, and in the process, help the teen writer feel supported, heard, and understood. By the end of the week, the bond between writers grew profoundly, and it was an honor to witness.

The teen writers submitted pieces to our annual camp literary magazine. This year, the writers chose the name THE QUILL. Teen Librarian Stefanie Reddy provided fabulous snacks, writing craft books, laptops, and a good sense of humor.
Margaret Nevinski agreed that camp was a resounding success. “I was inspired by the talent, ideas, and caliber of writing,” she said. “Several pieces came from the writing prompts we started out with each day, and others were from their own works-in-progress. Writers met with Rebecca and me for 1:1 consultations, and several chose to share their work with the group in the Writers Circle. We also had a good day at Bainbridge Island Museum of Art, writing about a piece of art.”


todayDay 1:
The  writers had a mere seven seconds to scourge the Teen/YA section of Bainbridge Public library for a book. Their quest: find the seventh sentence of the seventh page, and write a story beginning with that one, random sentence. Some chose to apply the sentence to their work-in-progress. Others created fresh, new characters on the fly, crafting tense, energetic mini-stories.

Day 2: I lead a Fish Out of Water activity created by screenwriter Blake Snyder. This prompts deep, intricate story ideas, and often results in longer prose, including novels. The teens voted on proposed book cover designs for Lisa Manterfield’s A Strange Companion.

Day 3: Field trip! Our Teen Writers enjoyed lessons on Ekphrastic writing and book-making with Kristin Tollefson at BIMA. The stories that came out of the paintings, sculptures, and installations were astounding.

Day 4: The pressure was on! The writers worked one on one with me and Margaret Nevinski to edit and revise their pieces for our camp literary magazine, THE QUILL. Getting professional feedback is critical for writers at every level. Local editor Christina Tinling helped shed light on how new writers can open their work to constructive critique; “Consider any feedback a gift, not an insult. It’s assistance, help to make your story shine. Also, remember that each edit is just a suggestion, that it’s your story, and you get to make the final call. It’s not like English class, with your teacher marking something “wrong.” It’s just a “hey, I see what you’re saying here; it might connect more cleanly with readers if you put it/punctuate it/etc. like this…” Well said.

Day 5: The students learned the power of a deadline. All story submissions to THE QUILL were due, and the writers were eager to have us help them polish them. Some students were finished, and began new stories. We met in the Writers Circle and shared our best work. At first, some felt terrified about reading their private words aloud. But, in the safe and encouraging Writers Circle, our participants discovered they were on to something wonderful, that their peers admired what they’d written, and with peer feedback, they gleaned new ideas for taking their stories to the next level.

Would you like me to visit your classroom, book club, or libraBook Club or Classroom (1)ry? Learn more here or contact me at rjlacko (at) gmail (dot) com.

Live in the area? Margaret and I will be co-hosting the monthly Teen Writers Workshop at Bainbridge Public Library, the second Thursday of every month, 3:30pm -5pm.

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