SEVEN SHORT PRE-EVENT ASSIGNMENTS
1. The Act of Story Statement
If you could go back, what would you tell your teenage self?
2. The Antagonist Plots the Point
Maisie Rudenko is the mean rich girl who has it all. Through jealousy and pure sport, Maisie makes Lenny's days a living hell. Her misdeeds finally push Lenny enough that she starts engaging in revenges of her own, but not taking these new humiliations well, Maisie deals a very public, very personal blow that drives Lenny right to the edge.
Dr. and Mrs. Vikram Birk, or Bhapujee and Biji, are the rich and famous grandparents Lenny can't please. She isn't brilliant like her brother, and she reminds them of her father, their deceased son. While Lenny's grandmother does evolve, helping her truly shine for the first time, her grandfather can't separate her from the fractured relationship he had with his only child, and thus his own parenting failures. When Bhapujee's secret of the truth of Hollis' death comes to light, Lenny discovers just how like her unstable father she really is.
Cecilia Birk, Lenny's mother, unable to cope with her husband's death, drinks and completely withdraws, leaving Lenny on the hook with adult duties she isn't ready for. Mired in the past and harbouring her own guilt, Cecilia's darkness further isolates the child who needs her most.
3. Conjuring your Breakout Title
Title One: My Name is Lenny Birk
My first alternate title is a verbatim theme throughout the story. The main character often runs this line through her head to make sense of her surroundings, remind herself of what she feels she needs to do, and maintain her grip on reality.
Title Two: The Songs Repeat
My second alternate title is from Thomas More's poem Echo. It draws on the heavy musical presence throughout the story, as well as the theme for repetition, or constantly repeating one's actions only to come up with the same result. This rings true for several of the characters in the story, and the paths they have chosen.
Title Three: Until I Come to it Again
My third alternate title, also inspired by poetry, is this line from Christina Rossetti's Shut Out. This poem speaks of a soul departed from this life, "thirsting" for those they've left behind. It also speaks of how what we have lost attains its own status simply through being lost. We want what we cannot have. Wanting what we cannot have is an integral theme through this story, for the protagonist and most of the pivotal characters, as is the "spiritual" aspect; there is the heavy reminder of Hollis Birk, Lenny's father, now almost one year dead, and the near-constant presence of the mercurial Ruby, who Lenny feels may be a ghost. I also like the literal meaning of this line/title as it speaks to me of work unfinished, which is yet another crucial element to this story.
4. Deciding your Genre and Approaching Comparables
My first comparable is You've Reached Sam, by Dustin Thao.
Much like the story I've written this is a heartfelt coming of age novel, and a debut one at that, of love and loss, the tangled process of grief, letting go, and the impossible task of moving forward even when it seems all the odds are stacked against you; all with a touch of magic.
My second comparable is Milk and Honey, by Rupi Kaur.
The fluid writing of this collection, for me, blurs the lines between poetry and prose, and talks of love, of family, pain, mental health, being a minority, what it means to be a girl, how there is sweetness everywhere if you try and see it, and what it is to live.
5. Core Wounds and the Primary Conflict
Lenny Birk wants to die. But with the help of the mysterious blue-haired girl who lives in her room, she may figure out how to live.
6. Other Matters of Conflict: Two More Levels
Lenny's main theme running throughout the book is that she thinks she wants to die, stemming from the inner conflict that she believes she truly is her father's daughter. Although told her father died of a brain aneurysm just one year prior, deep down Lenny knows he killed himself. Her constant battle is the one she has with herself, where she believes that like her father she will only ever be a failure, and the only good she can contribute to this world is to leave it.
Lenny's social environment illustrates her secondary conflicts, be the people badly or well-intentioned. There are the battles she has with her antagonists: Maisie Rudenko, the girl who bullies her, isolates her and makes her feel ugly; Lenny's grandfather, to whom she can never measure up; the school's headmaster, who never believes her, and her basket case mother, all contributing to Lenny's own feelings of worthlessness. But then there are those who want the best for Lenny: her genius brother, Liam Dubray, who eventually becomes her boyfriend, her English teacher, (eventually) her grandmother, and Ruby, the blue-haired girl/entity who lives in Lenny's room. But despite their good intentions Lenny can't believe what they see in her until she tries to see it for herself, nor can she understand the true danger of the path she is on, until Ruby shows her.
7. The Incredible Importance of Setting
This book is set in 2018, primarily in the fictional town of Emerson in upstate New York, Finger Lakes region, which I loosely based on two towns: Ithaca, New York, and Hamilton, Ontario. In the center of Emerson is "The Hill," an area separating the upper southern and lower northern portions of the city, or, the ultra wealthy from everyone else. Lenny and her younger brother live at the bottom of The Hill along with the rest of the middle-class but go to school at Knox Academy, the prestigious prep school at the top of The Hill, with the kids of Emerson's elite and where their father was once a teacher. Other areas within Emerson used as setting are Lenny's house, Liam Dubray's house, Maisie Rudenko's house, Skiff Market, Farmer Hutchins' pumpkin patch, the Imperial Arms Hotel and the very real Seneca Lake.
New York City is where Lenny's grandparents currently live and where her parents once lived. It's the special place Lenny shared with her dad, and the city of his greatest disappointments.
London, Beaconsfield and Eton College in the UK are past settings, mainly in family flashbacks, illustrating the stratospheric rise of the Birk grandparents, and Hollis Birk's misery growing up.
India is where Vikram and Parvati Birk grew up, only mentioned as past setting.
Berkeley, California, also used in family flashbacks, are where Hollis and Cecilia Birk met, and where they went to school.