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margaret wiley

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    Aspiring fiction writer; retired academic; abuser of semi-colons

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  1. #1 Story Statement Chrissy Donovan, long terrorized by a serial killer wandering her hometown, must make peace with the fact that her detective father has bungled the investigation and the killer may soon be out on the street. #2 Antagonist The antagonist in this story is Eddie Coolidge, a rage-filled, 27 year-old vet who finds relief in torturing and killing teen girls. Eddie’s a Jekyll-Hyde character. By daylight he’s a truck driver, delivering soft drinks and baked goods to local businesses and schools where he chats up young women. Eddie after sunset is a different guy. No casual killer, he plans his attacks. He keeps tabs on the students and young women he sees when he makes his deliveries, catching them up in conversation to find out where they live, casually querying them about their mode of transportation when they get off work/school. He has an easy charm about him which enables him to get information from unsuspicious young women. He tortures and murders his victims at a local farmer’s pigpen which lies in a wooded area a good half mile from the house. No one can hear the girls’ screams, the pigs lap up the blood at the scene, and Eddie dumps the bodies on the roadside. He kills only in the evening and only during snowstorms. That way, the crews plowing the roads all night will bury the body which will go undiscovered until weeks later when the snow starts to thaw. Eddie looks like an accountant. Brown eyes, brown hair that is receding, and the beginning of a paunch. He’s about 5 ft 9, a guy that would be easy to overlook in a line-up. #3 Break-out titles Flashbulb Memories The Woods on a Snowy Evening Between the Dark and the Daylight #4 Two smart comps Comps Agatha of Little Neon Claire Luchette Sister Agatha has much in common with my protagonist Chrissy Donovan. Both novels are first-person narratives. The protagonists start off as true believers in the discourses shaping their lives: Catholicism, the patriarchy and the importance of being good girls. Catholicism befuddles both characters. They want religion to save them but rather than being a life jacket, religion seems to be more of a strait jacket, dragging them into murky waters. Both books take potshots at the patriarchy: the priests in Luchette’s book are weak and full of platitudes; ditto for the Catholic men in Chrissy’s life. Even Chrissy’ beloved father proves to be an ineffective, Dudley Do-Right kind of guy. Although Chrissy and Agatha shed the didactic religion of their childhood, neither become hardened or rage against their faith. They remain, to the end, thoroughly decent people. When We were the Kennedys Monica Wood Wood’s memoir is a good comp for my novel. Both are first-person narratives: both have a similar sense of place. Although Manchester, NH, is bigger than Mexico, ME, they have much in common: large blue-collar French-Catholic and Irish Catholic populations, mills on the fritz, and important male figures being laid waste by alcoholism. In both, the protagonists lose their secure moorings. In Wood’s memoir, Monica’s father dies and her mother sinks into depression. In my novel, Chrissy’s detective father screws up the investigation of a serial killer, with the potential for him to go scot-free. The Kennedys are pivotal in both books, yet in different ways. In Wood’s memoir, the Kennedys bring the family together. Monica and her mother fixate on Jackie’s glamor as a way of self-validation. In my novel, the Kennedys exude a bigger-than-Hollywood kind of glamour but do not play any redemptive value in term of Chrissy’s heroic growth. In addition, reading as a way of self-knowledge is an important theme in both works. #5 Hook line and Core Wound Chrissy realizes that neither her religion, her detective father, nor the US Supreme Court can protect her from violence, so she sets on a career to protect victims of sex crimes. # 6A Inner conflict Chrissy spends most of the novel battling fear. Tom Donovan, her dad, is a police detective who promises the world that he and the Manchester Police Department will find and arrest the serial killer terrorizing the city. Chrissy is “not to worry her pretty little head” about that. At school Chrissy hears that JFK will protect the country from “peril,” but then her parents build a bomb shelter in the cellar and start stock-piling food. Chrissy becomes obsessed with murdered women and reads everything she can about the Boston Strangler, student-nurse killer Richard Speck, and the Tate-LaBianca murders in southern California. SCENARIO Pamela Mason was all we talked about at recess. “Did your father say anything?” I asked Missy. “Not really. He had yesterday off but is going in tonight. And he was on the phone all day yesterday.” Probably talking to my dad, I thought. Patty Carmody said that Pam had put up a sign in a laundromat saying that she wanted to babysit. Although my father wouldn’t talk to us about Pam, the Union Leader covered her daily. They interviewed Pam’s parents sitting on her bed next to one of her dolls. I liked Pam’s floral print wallpaper and the way her ceiling slanted down. Her mother was pretty and seemed nice, and Pam had a younger brother just about Joe’s age. In one photo her mother showed the police the Christmas present Pam gave her: a statue of praying hands. When I read this, I knew that Moe was right. No one who gave their mother a statue of praying hands would run away from home. I could tell that Sister Xavier was worried about Pam. During morning prayers after we prayed for the repose of JFK’s soul, she’d ask God to safely return all who were lost to their families, to which we replied “amen.” By not mentioning Pam’s name, Sister made whatever had happened to Pam grow bigger and scarier. Moe told me that girls in her school said that police had come to their homes asking questions. I knew that Dad was questioning people because I heard him tell Mom that the last person to see Pam alive was her little next-door neighbor. He was out shoveling when a car pulled up in front of Pam’s house, and she ran out and got in. Dad and Mr. Callahan interviewed him. “I felt sorry for him, Helen. He’s just Joe’s age and sat with eyes like saucers when we questioned him. I had to stop Callahan from pushing the boy too hard. The kid just didn’t see much.” That night in bed I wondered what would it be like to be this boy who was the last person to see Pam alive except, of course, for the murderer. I wanted to ask Dad a bunch of stuff about Pam, but I knew he’d just get mad. We were only supposed to know to know what he told us. #6B Secondary conflict: all deal with FAMILY Chrissy finds her parent’s Catholic faith confusing and arbitrary. The nuns are either batty or cruel, and the priests are poor shepherds of their flock. She feels her religion makes little sense, but she goes with the flow because she knows her parents are good people and doesn’t want to raise a ruckus. Chrissy’s relationship with her Dad is most important. Tom is a decent, 50s kind of guy who misreads 60s politics. He’s a police detective and is frustrated by his inability to find the guy who is killing teen girls. He thinks blacks should have civil rights but can’t understand why race riots are erupting across the country. Vietnam war protests have him around the bend. He’s the head of the household and expects to be treated as such. Once she hits high school, Chrissy chafes under his sway. Helen, Chrissy’ mother, speaks up to Tom only when provoked. Like Chrissy, she is horrified by Vietnam. Unlike Chrissy, her religious faith sustains her. Helen in a kind and loving woman. Moe, Chrissy’s older sister, is a “material girl,” too interested in fashion and her boyfriend to bother following politics, or to question either her faith or the patriarchy. Chrissy loves her but looks down on her as being foolish. Joey, Chrissy’ little brother, is a hot mess, but Chrissy is the only one who sees it, because her parents are too enmeshed in their own problems to notice Joe. SCENARIO Dad frowned as he watched guys with long hair and braless, doe-eyed-girls in gypsy skirts burn a flag. “I’ll bet most of them are high on marijuana,” he fumed. “Imagine burning the flag!” And it seemed like there were even more race riots than anti-war protests. Martin Luther King was on TV a lot, saying that racism and the Vietnam War were two parts of a whole. He said that racism made negroes poor, and the poor got sucked up in Johnson’s draft to fight in an immoral war. “King’s right about negro poverty.” Dad stretched his legs out. “But the military gives young negroes discipline, a paycheck, and the offer of a cheap education. Just like the military is doing for Dan. The military gives men honor.” “Not all of them return home, and some have terrible burdens.” Mom picked up Agatha Christie’s Peril at End House to let Dad know that she didn’t want to talk. I picked up the newspaper. I didn’t want to talk, either. The photo on the front page of the Union Leader showed a South Vietnamese cop holding a gun to the head of a Viet Cong soldier. The young soldier faced the photographer. He had high round apple cheeks, and his eyes were squinted shut as if that would prevent him from hearing the gun go off. Looking at the photo gave me the sense that time had frozen. It seemed that the cop and the soldier had days and weeks and years leading up to this moment. Next to the Vietnam photo was an article about Ground Hog Day, and how Punxsutawney Phil had seen his shadow so more winter would be coming our way. How could anyone know what the groundhog saw or didn’t see, I wondered. Maybe the groundhog’s vision was bad. He could have been an old groundhog and going blind. Or maybe the morning sun was too bright for his little eyes, so he squinted just like the Viet Cong soldier and thought he saw his shadow. #7 Setting The novel opens in the 1960s in Manchester, NH a conservative Catholic city who saw better days when its mills were booming. The Merrimack River divides the East Side from the West. The East side is primarily Irish; the West side is predominantly French NH has a hot summer and a wild winter with a muddy spring that goes on forever. Chrissy lives in a two-story single-family house on the edge of Manchester’s North End. Her neighbors and relatives live close by. She shares a room with her sister Moe. Her Catholic grade school classrooms are filled with religious art. Her church has dark, ornate confessionals with purple curtains. The kneelers are scratchy because the coverings are ripped in so many places. A huge altar, bedecked with flowers on special holy days, stands in front of the pews. Places of Interest: The Wayfarer: this once-elegant hotel-restaurant was the scene of Chrissy’s prom and in her 1990 high school reunion she stands with friends on its bridge, watching the ducks below as well as watching the cars beetling down 293 to Boston. The Wayfarer has wild carpeting and red-jacketed staff serving beer and wine from tables decorated with white table cloths, candles, and flowers The China Dragon: a legendary watering hole in Manchester for roughly 70 yrs. Dragons on the carpet, waitresses in silk sheaths, koi swim under the bridge one must cross to enter IHOP: inexpensive, open-all-the-time hangout for under-age young adults to sit for hours drinking coffee and yakking. Lots of dark brown wood, low lighting The 88: Manchester’s most elegant restaurant from 1960 to about 1972, when it closed. Copper kettles hang from ceiling, dark wood chairs and tables Zylas: Kind of like a 1960s Dollar Store. Very popular with families who watched their pennies, shelves crowded with inventory; no emphasis on décor Windham Castle: home to nun great-aunt. Brick with formal garden, reconstructed from ruins of an English castle. One can see where turrets once attached to the building, but it is now just an unprepossessing brick structure where old nuns and young novices live. Immaculately clean. All nuns have their own rooms that they can decorate as they choose. Elm Street: the main drag. The city puts up elaborate Christmas decorations each year, and stores decorate their windows. All the city buses run on Elm St, so it is a big interchange for residents.
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