Sunday, December 27, 2015


By Laura P. Valtorta
It took me ten days to write and perfect my two-minute pitch.

In Washington, D.C., I stayed at a hotel called the Windsor Inn that was the dumpiest hotel I’ve ever slept in. My room was underground. The so-called “window” looked out into a hallway. The television didn’t work.

I was the second pitcher to arrive at the venue. Soon all five of us were there, sitting around and twitching. Three pitchers were women, two were men.

One of the organizers came over to announce the order in which we would pitch. I was to go last. That meant an extra hour of sitting around and stewing.

We filed down to the auditorium to check out our video presentations.

How does my video look?” I asked Josh, the organizer.

YOU don’t have a video,” he snarked.

Yes, I do! I have a two-minute promo that I sent in last week. It’s an important part of my presentation.”

It’s not here. Do you have a copy with you?’

I rushed to my notebook and retrieved a jump drive. Luckily it uploaded quickly.

Things were ready to go, but I thought I would pass out from fear.

Meanwhile, the auditorium was filling up. I was glad to be seated on the aisle, and that I had memorized the route to the bathroom.  During the other people’s presentations, I got up twice and headed to the restroom.

None of the other presentations grabbed me, even though several presenters had great ideas. Great ideas were being wasted because of stage fright.

What the hell. I walked to the podium.

Hello, I’m Laura Valtorta,” I began. “Attorney turned filmmaker. My project is ‘Queen of the Road,’ a reality television series about commercial truck drivers.”

My first joke was “These drivers lead exciting, dangerous, and difficult lives, and that’s just trying to find a place to park!” The audience (starved for entertainment) roared with laughter.

I smiled into the camera and made my way a few minutes later to the second joke. “Donna the driver warns me she’s very conservative, but her wife, Carol, is much more liberal.” Big laughter.

The audience loved my video. Several audience members came up to speak to me afterwards.

The bad part was, I lost!

The winner was Ann Marie Dinardo, with her show called “Hostage Heroes,” a narrative re-creation of people taken hostage who talk down the shooter.

After the winner was announced, one of the panel members gave us detailed critiques. He grabbed the arms of me and the winner. “It was between these two,” he said. “They knew what their shows would be, from beginning to end.”

The panelists did not find my truck drivers compelling characters. Jeesh!  If my truck drivers are not entertaining women – I don’t know who can be.

Delivering the pitch was fun, and the cocktail party that evening was a blast.  I met Morgan Spurlock and a bunch of D.C. film people.


Sunday, December 20, 2015

Writing A Novel: Dealing With A Time Thief

By Kimberly Johnson

Yesterday, I browsed the webpage of Writers Digest. Brian Klems’ article, How Long Does It Take To Write A Novel? piqued my curiosity. Mind you, I‘ve toyed with writing a novel, but I lack the discipline. I can write a blog. I can write a magazine article. I can even craft a brief for work. The whole frustrating thing reminds me of the 70s tune: How Long (Has This Been Going On) by Ace. 

After reading that article, I realized that writing a novel is like a Premier League soccer fan in a tattered East London pub. The mate can give you a black eye, if you’re not careful. I want to share some of my time poachers:

Thieves #1 - 2: Outlining and Drafting. It took me Sunday morning and afternoon just to create an outline and draft two chapters. Somebody told me to just write and worry about the grammar, the consistency and other stuff later. That sent me back to the keyboard.

Thief #3: Self-editing. How am I to replace every finely chosen word that I took all day to write? Well, I’m not. Well, maybe. Somebody told me to print out my draft and read it out loud. Hearing the mistakes is a good thing. Somebody also told me to hire an editor.

Thief #4: The 'experts' say a standard novel has 80,000 to 100,000 words. I don’t know if I have that in me. What I’m really saying is that I need to get organized. Carve out some time after work and focus. Somebody told me to write 1,000 words each day as a goal.

Thief #5: The 'experts' say the re-writing process varies: a few weeks to a couple of years. Really?! I guess I’m used to a deadline and then it’s over.  Somebody told me to not put added pressure on myself. If you do, you will rush the process and that’s not cool. Somebody also told me to reward myself each time I hit an “ah-ha” moment.

Thief #6: Listening to the 'experts'. I would typically write three to five pages and stop. Go online and read a few expert-related articles. Talk to some of my old newspaper friends. And get frustrated again. Somebody told me that I am a procrastinator. Set a deadline and stick with it.

Thief #7: Writer’s block. Again, I would type three to five pages and stop. I would watch CSI: Miami, Law & Order, or reruns of Friends. Nothing could get my fingers tapping on the keyboard. Somebody told me that there is no such thing as writer’s block. Somebody also told me to respect my writing skill and put in the hard work.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Cover Stories

By Kasie Whitener 

Several years ago, publishers sought texts that reimagined literary classics with new pop-culture elements in what Time Magazine called a literary land grab.” The frenzy was in choosing which classic texts to twist.

There are a million ways to tell the same story such as Marissa Meyer adopting Cinderella to cyborgs in the futuristic “Lunar Chronicles” (2012). Fairy tales are expected to be revived and re-told (think “Into the Woods”), but really good bent-classic fiction focuses on universal themes to achieve cohesion in the story.

Well ahead of the surge, Gregory Maguire’s Wicked (1995) looked at the Wizard of Oz from a different perspective, examining tyranny and disenfranchisement. Seth Grahame-Smith’s Pride and Prejudice and Zombies (2008) deftly made zombies as real a threat to Jane Austen’s characters as money, gender roles, and polite society.

Despite some authors’ lament that writers who use another’s work are unoriginal at best and plagiaristic at worst, I’m thrilled by the literary acrobatics of such work.

Recently one of my favorite musicians, Ryan Adams, re-created the Taylor Swift album 1989. This undertaking was remarkable for two reasons: 1) the original album was only recently released (2014) and Adams’ version followed only a year later and 2) he covered the entire album, every song.

A lot of musicians do cover songs. Colbie Callait did this mash-up of “Break Even” and “Fast Car” in 2011. Chris Cornell recently released a cover of Prince’s “Nothing Compares 2 U,” a song made famous by Sinead O’Connor in 1990. Many even do it better than the original. Stevie Wonder recorded “Higher Ground” in 1973 but the Red Hot Chili Peppers released the definitive work in 1989.

Musicians cover songs to pay homage to the original artists, to experience the emotions and complexity of the work, and to redefine the art itself. While Johnny Cash’s version of the Nine Inch Nails song “Hurt” seems like a wild mismatch — the former being country music legend and the latter heavy-metal gothic rock band — the subject of addiction created a bridge between the artists and the two interpretations are equally haunting.

When writers interpret one another’s work, either through critique and discussion or analysis and debate, we elevate the art. By identifying and examining themes, we sew ourselves into the fabric of our craft. We are redefining old stories and paying homage to the work that came before ours.

It’s sometimes called ‘fan fiction’ and writers like Stephanie Barron (The Jane Austen Mystery series) have made a living at it. But it’s more than imitation, I think. It’s a way of covering another artist’s work and by doing so, elevating the entire artistic medium of storytelling.

I like the idea that all writers are part of the same quilt, wielders of the same needle and thread, blanketing the world in our stories. When we break out of strict marketing genres and mix styles and elements, we create a world where anything is possible. A fictional world.

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Save the Cat

By Rex  Hurst

"Save the cat" is a term coined by the late Blake Snyder in manual of screenwriting of the same name. And while it was created for the purposes of screenwriting I feel that it works just as a well for a longer work of fiction.

The term is used to describe the scene where the audience (or reader) first meets the protagonist. The idea is that the character has to do something nice to make the hero like the character and begin to sympathize with them- that it is important to make the reader's first impression of the protagonist a positive one.

The term incidentally comes from the opening scene of Alien, where the hero Ridley saves a cat named Jones.

This technique also helps to insulate the character from backlash later on if that person makes a decision that is morally questionable, arrogant, or even downright evil. The initial impression is supposed to linger and the audience remembers that the protagonist is not all bad, because he saved the cat.

I recently did an experiment where I wrote two similar short pieces where the main character is attempting to escape from a sinking ship. In one I had him furiously attempting to escape as fast as he could. In the second the only difference was that I had him attempt to save the life of a person who was on the verge of death by carrying him, thus slowing him down.

Overwhelmingly people preferred the version where the hero saves the cat. I know this is just anecdotal evidence, but I'm convinced.

Saving the cat works!