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New York Pitch and Algonkian Pre-event Assignments - 2022

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FIRST ASSIGNMENT: write your story statement. 

Just before the end of the world, a modern, witty God writes us to set the story straight on Jesus. He wasn’t his son, but with the pleading of his ex-wife, the Holy Spirit, God came down, disguised as men, women, even a camel and the cross, to witness and spy on Jesus’ true adventures and message: For us to live communally and with love before our apocalyptic judgement day.

SECOND ASSIGNMENT: in 200 words or less, sketch the antagonist or antagonistic force in your story. Keep in mind their goals, their background, and the ways they react to the world about them.

God, the satirical narrator, acts as a main antagonist. His ex-wife, the Holy Spirit, named Asherah, has suitably picked a messiah for the world, she just needs God’s ok, but he’s reluctant. God spies on Jesus’ struggles (often taken from gnostic and lost gospels) and changes to be more present and loving with Jesus’ message and his ex’s urging, all while he humorously fills us in on the back stories of prophets Jesus references to the people, like fiery old Elijah and a frustrated Moses.

(Another antagonist is Herodias, the bad king’s wife, who ordered Jesus’ mentor, John the Baptist’s, head off and wants Jesus crucified before he escapes again with Mary Magdalene.)

THIRD ASSIGNMENT: create a breakout title (list several options, not more than three, and revisit to edit as needed).


FOURTH ASSIGNMENT: Develop two smart comparables for your novel. This is a good opportunity to immerse yourself in your chosen genre. Who compares to you? And why?

71K word complete SATIRE comedy/historical fiction inspired by a scholarly 1960 article describing Jesus being chased around and out of the kingdom of Galilee as a rabble-rouser. 

For fans of the satires Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff by Christopher Moore and Tom Robbins’ Another Roadside Attraction

Though not a satire, Sue Monk Kidd’s Book of Longings, has the narrator marrying Jesus in a beautifully detailed historical fiction.

FIFTH ASSIGNMENT: write your own hook line (logline) with conflict and core wound following the format above. Though you may not have one now, keep in mind this is a great developmental tool. In other words, you best begin focusing on this if you're serious about commercial publication.

Jesus is “just a guy” but takes on the clothes of the world’s Messiah a little too impulsively as he communicates with God’s ex, the Holy Spirit of Wisdom, Asherah, who is giving him power and the gift of prophecy. Jesus’ odyssey through the gnostic accounts parallels the familiar story with surprising twists and characters as Jesus contends with married life and planning with Mary Magdalene, his own brothers (also apostles) who think he’s a bit crazy, the bad king (and his ambitious, murderess wife, Herodias) and the high priest family cartel in Jerusalem. Will God finally adopt Jesus (as the Gnostics believed happened?)

SIXTH ASSIGNMENT: sketch out the conditions for the inner conflict your protagonist will have. Why will they feel in turmoil? Conflicted? Anxious? Sketch out one hypothetical scenario in the story wherein this would be the case--consider the trigger and the reaction.

Jesus suffers from anxiety, panic attacks, and agoraphobia while continuing the mission his mentor, John the Baptist, started him on, changing the world, while traversing Israel with his wife, brothers, and other disciples, some of who don’t trust his sanity, seduce, and betray him.

FINAL ASSIGNMENT: sketch out your setting in detail. What makes it interesting enough, scene by scene, to allow for uniqueness and cinema in your narrative and story? Please don't simply repeat what you already have which may well be too quiet. You can change it. That's why you're here! Start now. Imagination is your best friend, and be aggressive with it.

The setting is one of the books strongest points. The Jesus story takes place entirely in the ancient world of first century Roman Palestine which is exotic enough and highly detailed, but this narrative follows the Gnostic accounts and lost gospels, presents rare scholarly theories of the historicity and even leads to new ones, all while God impresses the odyssey with recounting the prophets who traveled the holy lands before Jesus. Finally, the story brings in a divine plane with God and his ex, the Holy Spirit, Asherah, as they glide between the physical and spiritual realm presenting themselves as passersby, kindly animals such as a dove and a camel, and even the cross.

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Algonkian Conference homework – First 7 Assignments

1)Story Statement

Weave a story to convince people that an acquaintance killed in a terrorist attack was a close friend and that her child should be entrusted to an unlikely caretaker.

2) Sketch the Antagonist

My antagonist needs to be fleshed out. The original conflict concept was that the protagonist has created life based on half-truths and secrets that catch up to her. But I believe I can expand the role of a one of the characters into an antagonist.

C is the love interest of Anna. He is well off, in a position of power in the company where they both work and enjoys the “game” he and Anna have of keeping their relationship a secret. He uses her professional to further his career while letting her believe that the intimate relationship they have is one of a kind – but in fact is just one of many relationships he enjoys.

While charming, he is used to getting his way and when confronted turns mean. He enjoys playing people and considers deceiving people a talent. This something that he and Anna do together but what she doesn’t realize is that she is also part of his game.

3) Create a breakout title - not more than three

The Lies we Tell

The Fractured Life of Esperanza

Could this Life be Mine?

4) Develop two smart comparables for your novel.

The Art Forger – Barbara A Shapiro

This story of a woman keeping secrets in order to get something very important to her and the unraveling of lives as those secrets start to be revealed. The people she trusts may or may not be trustworthy. And her web of lies gets harder and harder to maintain. Her love interest initially seems a dream come true but his lack of ethics puts her in danger.

This work is similar in theme – in my work the woman has kept her personal life secret and has allowed people to believe things about her, in particular a key relationship, was something it wasn’t. Both novels are set in current times in major US cities.

Intimacies – Katie Kitamura

A quiet story (I know ;-) about self discovery after a less than perfect but not tragic childhood. In this story the protagonist, a professional working in the Hague, is trying to understand the truth about her current love interest as well as other characters in the novel who are not what they seem.  She is also trying to figure out what “home” means to her, another theme of the novel I’m working on.

Other Novels that might work

More than words – Jill Santopolo

Not her daughter – Rae Frey

The Address – Fiona Davis

My Name is Lucy Barton – Elizabeth Strout

The Glass Hotel – Emily St. John Mandel

5) Write your own hook line (logline) with conflict and core wound following the format above.

The Lies we Tell by Stephanie Douglass

After a chance meeting in a hotel, two women who at first blush seem very different, develop a budding friendship. When one of the women is killed in a terrorist attack, her new friend embellishes their history in order to take her child.

6) Sketch out the conditions for the inner conflict your protagonist will have. Next, likewise sketch a hypothetical scenario for the "secondary conflict".

Anna has always told herself and others that she prefers to be alone. But as she finds herself in the company of a woman and her daughter, her fondness for the child starts to tug at something her in she thought was buried. Initially she feels denial and then longing. And when she has the chance at having the child to herself, fear and determination.

In the secondary conflict we will see into Anna’s childhood. One that was not bad, but where she was unwanted; an afterthought to parents who were more interested in their work and each other.

7) The Setting

The main setting for this novel is an upscale hotel in New York where the protagonist lives when she is in NY. Anna will, in the opening scene, talk about how seamless her life is in the hotel and thinks of The Hotel as taking care of her. The hotel provides a place where she can be known but also anonymous.

The other places we will visit in the novel are her small condo in San Francisco where in her other life she has a mix of interesting neighbors.  And when we see her in her childhood, in a slightly run down home in a poor farming community in California’s Central Valley.


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STORY STATEMENT: As Wesley leaves home for college, he longs to shed any likeness to his abusive, deadbeat stepfather and become a successful, legitimate man — if someone could just show him how to do it.

ANTAGONIST: Gianni DeCrescenzo was a former lieutenant in a Kansas City crime family who was rewarded with a little tract of land in a small town in Southeast Kansas for being a good soldier and protecting his boss. He took that small town and turned it into his turf. To those on the outside, Uncle Gee is an entrepreneurial family man and County Commissioner who seeks the flourishing of his town and its economy. To those on the inside, he’s an insecure and violent dictator — dangerously jealous of his brother — who uses family to justify making money and expanding his empire by any means necessary. When Uncle Gee meets Wesley, he sees an affable, cunning kid in need of money who can take on the low-level tasks of his lazy nephew, who just wants to get drunk with his fraternity brothers. Wesley thinks Uncle Gee is a legitimate businessman who will teach him how to be dignified and get rich — the masculine role model he’s always longed for. He learns, instead, that Uncle Gee may have been involved in a heinous crime against his own flesh and blood, which he purports to love so much.


A Guy Like You

The New Guy



My novel is adult Bildungsroman fiction set in 1978 with elements of mystery. 


My novel and MYSTERIES OF PITTSBURGH are both set in the past, following college-aged boys as they strive to define and fulfill what it is to be a man. The novels explore themes of masculinity and generational trauma against the backdrop of organized crime. Similar to Chabon’s work, my novel also seeks to blend literary prose with commercial plot.


Like Tartt’s, my novel is set in the past, written in first person, and follows an outsider in his first year of college as he tries to find his place, keep up his grades, and solve a mystery. Where THE SECRET HISTORY’s protagonist is trying to solve a murder, my novel’s protagonist is trying to uncover who’s threatening his boss — and who his boss truly is. The prose is of a similar tone.


LOGLINE: When a poor, fatherless college student learns his dignified new boss may be embedded in the mob, he struggles to unearth his boss’s bloody past while fighting to keep his job, decide what kind of man he wants to be, and make it out alive.


INNER CONFLICT: Wesley is looking for someone to teach him how to be a man. He knows he doesn’t want to be like his stepdad — a gambling, abusive drunk — but his stepdad was the only role model he’d ever had. Wesley’s high school jobs were hustling poker for cash and smuggling liquor over state lines to sell to upperclassmen. He sees college as an opportunity to straighten up and put himself on a gentleman’s trajectory toward love, riches, stability — and the fine brothers of Chi Gamma Alpha are to be his guide. But when he’s rejected from Chi Gamma and too broke to pay tuition, Wesley falls into a job with Gianni DeCrescenzo. Wesley sees Uncle Gee as the father he’s always wanted, but soon realizes his mentor and boss is not the upstanding businessman he presents himself to be. Wesley is crushed and must struggle to prove to himself that he’s meant for more than a life in the underworld. Can he decide for himself what is good? Can he make himself into a man he’s never seen modeled?


SECONDARY CONFLICT: Little Gee – Gianni’s loose cannon of a nephew — has hated Wesley since the moment Wes nearly hit him with his car on Orientation Day. Little Gee is the president of Chi Gamma Alpha and makes sure Wesley doesn’t get a bid to join the fraternity even though Wesley saves his life when he gets too drunk and nearly drowns at a rush event. Uncle Gee invites Wesley over to dinner to thank him for saving his nephew. Uncle Gee is charmed by Wesley, which makes Little Gee — who can’t seem to earn his uncle’s affection — hate Wesley even more, not to mention the budding romance between Wesley and Little Gee’s mysterious sister, Cecilia. Wesley soon begins to suspect that Little Gee is behind some of the threats to Uncle Gee — and more dangerous than anyone could have possibly guessed.  


SETTING: 1978 Frontenac, Kansas: A tiny hamlet outside the college town of Pittsburg, Kansas, populated with 1st and 2ndgeneration Americans who immigrated from Europe in the early 20th century to work in the coal mines. The area has a strong European influence and operates more on a padrone system than a typical civic framework. The town is rumored to have been an outpost for the mob to send their low- and mid-level members into retirement as a reward for their service.

1978 Pittsburg State University in Pittsburg, Kansas: A D-II school that brings in students from all over the state. It’s home to a thriving Panhellenic community, whose chapters run the campus and compete against each other for preeminence. 


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Story Statement

Kate must break old patterns of choosing self-destructive coping methods and learn to heal.


The Antagonist Plots the Point

In ALL THE MOMENTS IN BETWEEN, Kate, our Protagonist, is her own worst enemy and also the main Antagonist. 

Since she was a teenager, 38-year-old Kate has drank, smoked, and screwed her way out feeling anything. Drinking started as a way to avoid her abusive drunk parents and evolved into a method of “disappearing” from her emotions. But the body keeps the score and eventually she ends up pregnant with estrogen driven cancer. After she chooses to have an abortion, her fiancé dumps her. She reacts the only way she knows how – by drinking, smoking, and screwing until her life becomes such a disaster that she has no other choice than to break old patterns and learn to heal.


Breakout Title


(I pulled it from dialogue and it works beautifully as the MC often thinks about her childhood of protecting her sister while she was just a child herself, ultimately filling in all the moments in between then and now.)



(This is SO hard. I would LOVE help with this!)

Fleabag X (Tone of) Where of the Crawdads Sing

Flight Attendant’s Cassie X (Tone of) All the Ugly and Wonderful Things


Hook Line

After discovering she’s pregnant with estrogen-driven cancer, choosing to have an abortion, and being abandoned by her fiancé, a woman uses all the wrong strategies to cope until they no longer work and she finally has to learn to heal.

Other Matters of Conflict: Two More Levels

Kate feels turmoil because she wanted the baby she chose to abort. Even though she wasn’t sure she would be good at it – after all she’d spent her childhood terrified of her parents – she wanted to marry Will and be a good mother. When he disappeared on moving day, Kate once again felt unworthy of love and compassion. So, she falls back on the only coping tools she knows; drinking, smoking, and screwing.

This time, she’s screwing a married man she met at her cancer support group. Joseph says he loves her and shows it by sneaking off to spend time with her and taking her to a doctor appointment, but when it comes to actually leave his wife, he falters, catapulting Kate into another blaze of self-destruction.



ALL THE MOMENTS IN BETWEEN takes place in Hollywood at Christmas time. Not the glitzy glam people see on TV, but the real Hollywood. It’s a shithole. Loud, dirty, and run down. Kate loves Hollywood because no one will judge her for pounding tequila in her favorite dive bar even though she has cancer. In that dark grungy bar, she befriends the bartender, Allie, a beautifully gritty aspiring actress who yells at customers, makes fun of tourists, and offers pretty good bar-top therapy.

Christmas music, twinkle lights, and sagging Christmas trees only make Kate’s Hollywood sadder. A never-ending rainy season becomes its own character as it destroys Kate’s roof and relentlessly pounds on, confining her to the ramshackle bungalow she was supposed to renovate with her fiancé before he disappeared on her.

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Looking forward to the conference in two weeks! Here are my assignments:

Assignment 1: Story Statement 

Giselle must discover why the spirit of a young girl lingers in a Civil War manor, convinced that the ghost holds the key to cure the unnamed fear that has always plagued her.

Assignment 2: The Antagonist/Antagonistic Force Sketch

Antagonistic Force - Giselle's unnamed fear, or the "Anxiety": Giselle doesn't remember much of her young childhood other than having abdominal attacks that still get triggered sometimes. She connects the attacks to the Anxiety, which has plagued her for years. It often starts as anxiety/fear, but then leads to obsession with some idea that she latches onto along with an amorphous belief that it means something. The Anxiety has been such a tangible presence in her life, she thinks of it as an animate object -- specifically, a mangy dog that is always following her. She can't bring herself to chase it away, but she also can't let it catch her.

Antagonistic Force - Brynn Mancini (one of Giselle's best friends): Giselle met Brynn at the Nashvile-based global CPA firm they both joined after college. Brynn is fearless, strangely insightful and also aggressively spontaneous, and she becomes determined to distract Giselle from her ghost obsession by dragging her into adventures designed to show Giselle how to live "bravely" without fear. Instead, brynn's increasing recklessness feeds Giselle's Anxiety, which then further drives her need to cure it, and the corresponding obsession with Emily Ruth. Brynn's antagonistic influence is pushing Giselle, subconsciously, toward her core wounds, and the true source of the fear.

Assignment 3: Create a Breakout Title


Title selected because it represents a recurring motif in the story, one with multiple levels of significance, including to the twist in the climax.

Assignment 4: Genre and Comps

THE SUNFLOWER PATCH is a psychological suspense novel in the spirit of Lucinda Berry, Tana French and Liane Moriarty, with a hint of Joe Hill. It combines the complex friendship intrigue elements of The Lying Game with the slow-burning, gothic supernatural suspense of The Woman in Black

Assignment 5: Hook Line/Logline

A young woman drags her best friends into her growing obsession with a haunted Civil War manor, believing a young girl's ghost holds the key to unlocking her own troubled soul.

Assignment 6: Primary and Secondary Conflicts

Primary Conflict: Giselle Lewis should be happy. She's got her own apartment with coordinating throw pillows, she's halfway to becoming a CPA, and she's found two amazing friends, Brynn and Crosby, at her new job in Nashville. But instead, anxiety grips her stomach, the physical manifestation of the Fear that never leaves, and a sign that an obsession is forthcoming. Previously, it was seances, and then past lives, both in search of wisdom that could help her conquer that fear. This time, she latches onto Calloway Manor, a haunted Civil War plantation nearby, compelled to find the ghost of young Emily Ruth. When Giselle investigates Calloway Manor and makes contact with Emily Ruth, she's convinced it means something, and that she'll finally find the answers she's been looking for. As her connection with Emily Ruth intensifies, Giselle becomes obsessed with finding the answers, even as she begins to question why it's so important to her.

Secondary Conflict: Her friends are worried about Giselle's growing fascination, and that her interest in the dead is because she's fearful of life. So Brynn pulls her into crazy adventures designed to show Giselle how to live bravely, while Crosby challenges the scientific validity of her investigative process. But when Brynn's quest for adventure turns dangerous at a paranormal investigation, the three friends put to the test the strength of their own connection. And Giselle has a choice: face parts of herself and her past that could forever redefine what it means to be brave, or lose herself forever in the fear that is waiting to consume her.

Assignment 7: Setting

Principal Settings:

  • Calloway Manor - a Civil War-era plantation in rural Tennessee, including the rutted gravel road leading into the past, the crumbling barn, an old cemetary, and a small defiant sunflower patch that doesn't quite belong
  • Audit room where Giselle works with Brynn and Crosby
  • Nashville bar scene
  • Woods/bluff/waterfall (on camping trip)
  • Giselle's apartment
  • Giselle's dreamscapes - rural woods, not unlike the grounds of Calloway Manor, with sunflowers and a sinister pond

Many of these settings are intended to be immersive and atmospheric, and all of them represent aspects of who Giselle is, as follows:

  • the rural plantation grounds, not unlike where's she from in Kentucky;
  • the audit room, where Giselle works with lots of young professionals, all eager to define these new adult versions of themselves;
  • swanky Nashville bars with her friends, where Giselle feels a sense of belonging she's never quite had;
  • the bluff and the waterfall on their camping trip, where Brynn triggers Giselle's deepest fears (and which, in turn, reinforce Giselle's Anxiety and corresponding obsessive need to cure it);
  • Giselle's apartment, which she's decorated herself, hoping it reflects who she is and who she wants to be;
  • the haunted house, with the little girl ghost that both fascinates Giselle and torments her, a representation of her inner psyche/suppressed past; and
  • her dreamscapes, which reveal the missing links to uncovering her core wound.







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Story Statement: 
In a world where people can share thoughts and feelings with the touch of a hand, a young man without this ability seeks love and acceptance, while also trying to hide his disability from the world.


There are three main factors keeping Phoebus, the primary protagonist, from reaching his goal.

Achamal - A priest who believes all those with Phoebus’s condition are cursed and must devote their lives to God to redeem themselves. He simultaneously shows the readers how society, in general, responds to people like Phoebus while also providing a genuine obstacle in Act 1 of the story when Phoebus’s goal is to escape his role as a servant to the priesthood.

Tikazoma - Phoebus’ first love interest. Knowing his condition, Tikazoma treats Phoebus poorly. She constantly points out that he is physically incapable of solidifying their romantic bond, and thus requires him to prove his love to her in other ways. As a result, Phoebus puts himself in danger time and time again to impress this woman who will never see him as her equal.

Internalized Self-Hatred - When Phoebus does meet people he can connect with, he often pushes them away for fear they will discover who he really is.

The Dragonsilk Sea Route


Genre and Comps: 

Adult Fantasy with Romance elements

Cold Steel, Kate Elliot (Worldbuilding)
Warbreaker, Brandon Sanderson (Magic Systems)
A Court of Thorns and Roses, Sarah J Maas (Romance)

Attempting to run away from the societal consequences of having a magical disability, Phoebus seeks a nomadic life where he can comfortably have few personal attachments as a merchant sailor along the famed Dragonsilk Sea Route; however, he is forced to confront his past when he finds himself drawn to an enigmatic young woman from the other side of the world.



Inner Conflict:
Growing up, Phoebus was taught that the fact he couldn’t “share souls” meant he was less than human – a member of an underclass called the Lightless. He is told that because he can't communicate his thoughts with a touch like everyone else, he is doomed to live a lonely life where no one can really know him. These fears are confirmed when the first woman he falls in love with treats him poorly because of his condition.

After escaping the priesthood who treated him like a slave, Phoebus is determined to do whatever he can to avoid his condition being discovered. Everyone wears gloves to save themselves from sharing souls accidentally, but as a Lightless child, he was not allowed to. So the first thing Phoebus does when he escapes is to get a pair of gloves. For Phoebus, those gloves become a sort of emotional armor. Phoebus eventually falls in love a second time, this time with a woman the reader knows would accept him as he is, but he ends the relationship because he doesn’t want to take his gloves off for her. He can't bear the thought of her knowing he's Lightless.

Secondary Conflict:
Phoebus’s job as a merchant sailor (and occasional magic smuggler) exposes him to a variety of societies and societal taboos, including those that mirror his own. For example, he meets people who have gone mad from sharing their soul too many times and a woman who would face death if her family knew she had shared her soul with a man outside of marriage.

Phoebus’s own history has caused him to be irreverent towards such rules and taboos. As a result, he tends to leave chaos wherever he goes and is wanted in several countries. 


The book takes place in a secondary world that technology-wise roughly mirrors our late medieval or early Renaissance period. The physical substance of the soul is called “Light.” Light is studied as a science and can be used to perform a variety of magic. The most common expression of this magic is when people touch hands and share souls. This allows both people to immediately share each other’s memories, thoughts, and ways of thinking.

Inspired loosely by the silk road, the book takes place along a trade route that primarily focuses on getting magical goods from one side of the world to another. Phoebus was born in the Imperial Capital of a country that takes inspiration both from ancient Rome and Mesoamerica circa 1400. He eventually travels to countries loosely inspired by India, China, North Africa, and Scandinavia.

In addition to a story of self-discovery and romance, The Dragonsilk Sea Route is meant to be a bit of a fantasy travel

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Hi! I'm Michele Sullivan. I'm a journalist of 35+ years (ummm you know you're old when you use '+' instead of exact numbers). I'm very happy to be included in this group! My WIP is a historical novel based on a long-hidden manuscript written by the wife of my great great-Uncle Don Robinson. It's a tale that was often told in my family, but with few details. Before he died, my dad discovered that Aunt Ann had written a 500-page memoir of her adventures on Basilan Island and Zamboanga Peninsula during WWII. I retrieved the manuscript from the Dolph Briscoe Center for American History in Austin in June 2019. In January 2020, I quit my job to move there and conduct research on the ground. Unfortunately I had to leave due to COVID, but while there, I made enough progress to gain great confidence in the manuscript's validity - and Im going back in May to stay for the summer, research more, and write. Amazingly I'll be staying in Aunt Ann's house, which still stands on the coconut plantation she and my Uncle Don founded in 1912.

Attached - the house on the former Yakan Plantation,  and pics from Aunt Ann's little photo book - when they came out of the jungle and about 8 months later on a visit to the US.

FIRST ASSIGNMENT: write your story statement. 

Ann Hodges Robinson  - the Berlin-educated concertmaster of the Dallas Symphony Orchestra – left her privileged life behind when she married Don Robinson, a footloose young attorney with a distaste for office work and an itch for adventure. Together they move to a remote Philippine island and create an enormous, lucrative coconut plantation on land once owned by the  indigenous people of Basilan Island. But WWII forces them to leave everything behind as they flee into the jungles, relying on their wits and the kindness of strangers to survive four years of wartime horror. She loses everything  that once defined her - her son and social circle, her home, her wealth, and eventually, her husband – but learns, in the end, who she really is.





Primary antagonist: Relentless change

 The changes wrought by progress, by war, the changes wrought by time itself – all of these are things against which Ann struggles. Inside, she carries the privileged world of her youth, and for 30 years, she has recreated and maintained this on Basilan. Even as she flees her home in the middle of the night, she struggles against change: bringing her violin, her cat, furniture, a stove. But over the next four years, all these things fall away – in the end, all she has left is irrevocably altered self.

Secondary antagonists:

Benson Masaganda: Yakan teen, named after Don, at whose birth Don was present, a boy he always favored, who brings Don news of the death of their son during their flight; 3 years later, when Don reveals this to Ann, it fundamentally alters their relationship. After the war, Don appoints Benson foreman of the plantation. In 1949, Benson murders Don.

Obata: Longtime Japanese friend of Ann, the character who puts the plot into motion by betraying Ann and Don to the invading Japanese forces

Muksin: Bandit who sells the location of their first hiding place to the Japanese, forcing them to flee Basilan Island.

Shigeo Sugio: Japanese Ace pilot, fights Ann’s son, Bill, in several attacks and eventually kills him.

Hassan and Japanese patrol: Another betrayal brings a patrol to their hideout; they flee just in time, and the patrol murders Hasaan in Ann's hearing
Hunger, earthquake, flood, and locust and mice plagues exert their own tolls




Heart of the Balete

The ancient balete (strangler fig) tree is a central character in the novel. In nature, these trees use other species as supports while growing, eventually subsuming and killing them as they spread their own offspring through the forest.

Old Balete is the sole survivor of this ancient clan. When Don acquired the land from the Yakan tribe, a balete forest covered much of the riverside acres where he built the house and coconut processing buildings. However, the Yakan who were helping build the plantation held the balete tree in a place of fear and wonder, as home to trickster beings who exert powerful and dangerous forces. The prologue opens with Don cutting all of Old Balete’s children and sending them to the sawmill. This sets up a tension between the Colonialist Robinsons and the last surviving tree of the ancient forest, whose story is woven throughout the novel. He is intimately connected with the fates of Don, Ann, and Benson. The tree is the readers’ link between the ancient primeval Basilan and the modern, encroaching world. He is also the method by which we explore secrets, revenge, and perseverance. Finally, Old Balete is also the metaphor for Yakan family ties – the reason Don never goes home. As the balete subsumes all of the trees around it grow its own family, the Yakan, in Ann’s absence, grow a new family around Don – one that eventually kills him

The Coconut King of Zamboanga

This title focused much more on the concept of being a Colonialist “king” in the small world of Basilan. It’s a great hint about what Don ultimately becomes and why he never goes back to Texas to join Ann, who left in 1946 and never returned to Basilan.  It’s actually the headline of a feature article about Don that appeared in the January 1948 issue of The Saturday Evening Post. That article ends with a discussion between the reporter and Don about why he isn’t going back to the US as his wife keeps writing him to do. The final sentence is a highly prophetic quote by Don.  “Well, Ann’s the boss, so if she says Come home, I guess I’ll have to. But if it was up to me, I’d die right here and be buried underneath that old balete tree.”





My book is a novelized memoir with a strong thread of magical realism, paying homage to the virtually unknown indigenous people of Basilan, the Yakan. I accomplish this by weaving the tribe's history and traditions into the narrative.



1) Angels of the Pacific; Tess Hooper, released March 8. Author’s third book.

A novelization of the wartime experiences of a young Army nurse who joins with a Filipina to survive 2 years in St Thomas prison camp, the largest Japanese forces established in the country. It’s based on memoirs and interviews, and includes a 20-page “rest of the story” afterword revealing what happened to the two protagonists after they were evacuated in 1945.

Like mine, it begins a few days before Pearl Harbor. Like mine, it contains a description of the bombing of Clark Air Field and Cavite Naval Base. These are told from an observer’s standpoint. My chapters are told from the viewpoint of  Naval pilot  Bill Robinson (Ann’s son), who was engaged in the battle. This is the first scene in which he encounters his nemesis, Shigeo Sugio, who will ultimately kill him.

As with virtually all American-written memoirs and novels of this time in the Philippines, it’s written from the American POV. Mine incorporates characters, storylines, and mythology of indigenous people as well as the Americans with whom they are inextricably entangled.

Another key difference – setting is largely Manila and Luzon. Mine has scenes in Manila but largely takes place on Basilan and Zamboanga Peninsula.

2) When the Elephants Dance; Tess Uriza Holthe, 2002, Crown Publishers

  Set in the waning days of WWII, this novel follows three Filipino siblings struggling to survive and maintain their family and culture under Japanese occupation in Manila. It’s based on stories the author got  from her grandmother, who lived through this time, and those of her father, who was then a small boy. Unusual in that it’s told from a Filipino point of view, the story includes elements of folklore and local mythology, and contains some lovely lyrical passages.

3) My Faraway Home ; Mary MacKay Maynard; 2002

Based on the author’s experiences as the 8-year-old daughter of an American employed as a mining engineer in Mindanao. When the Japanese invaded, Maynard’s family and other Americans fled into the bush to escape capture. Her story tells of two years living in the bush, dependent on local families for news, trading for food and clothing. The book contains all sorts of fascinating details of how these families survived by using locally gathered foods, making soap and sugar, dealing with boredom, sickness and fear. Lots of informative details about Mindanao as well, and some references to a character who appears in my own book, Capt. Frank McCarthy. A former mining engineer, McCarthy became a friend of Don’s and the leader of a guerilla unit on Zamboanga. Maynard’s book is a very interesting read, not a novelization. A good example of the vast majority of literature on this topic: first-person memoir.


It’s tough to find comps for this novel, because very few authors have chosen to explore this part of American and Filipino history. The largest portion of books about this era and place are personal memoirs. These are fascinating and compelling, but typically not very well-written and certainly not novelized.

Something else makes comping tricky. My vision for sales of this book isn’t just the book. Readers will get exclusive access to a library of videos and photography taken during research. Several are already completed (see links). These videos will include:

·       Explorations of Yakan culture and mythology (creation myths, weaving, music). EXAMPLES: Secrets of the Balete    What Makes a Tribe? 

·       Interviews with elders who provided first-hand accounts of the years covered in the book (including people who knew Ann and Don) EXAMPLE: Pangilan’s Pira – story of Yakan warrior who killed a marauding Japanese soldier

·       Yakan Plantation’s post WWII history: how after Don’s death  it was stolen from the Yakan people still living there by President Marcos’ military strongman, Ponce Enrile. Enrile sent the Philippine Army to chase Yakan off the land and burn their villages in order to get it for himself, and repopulated it with his Christian constituents, who still work the farm.

·       How Basilan became the birthplace of Abu Sayef, the terrorist group that was the object of the American Army’s Special Operation Enduring Freedom.

·       The current bandit repatriation program that’s bringing the remaining Abu Sayef into the fold of community with medical assistance, education, jobs and paths to leadership. This also includes re-formatting of madrasa  curricula to focus on Islam’s messages of peace and co-existence, rather than a militant interpretation.

·       Travelogue-style videos of Basilan’s untapped international tourism potential.



From 1912-1942, wealthy American planters Ann and Don Robinson cultivated a paradisical home on a seductively beautiful Philippine island.  When WWII breaks out,  Japanese invaders force them to hide in the jungle they have struggled to control for 30 years.







The coddled daughter of a moneyed Dallas family, Ann was well-educated in the States, and as a young woman, set to Berlin to study violin under the masters at the Stern Conservatory. Returning to Dallas, she took a position as the concertmaster for the primordial Dallas Symphony Orchestra, and was well-positioned to pursure this career. However, she gave it all up when she met the charismatic young attorney Don Robinson, a celebrated football star from the University of Texas, anda  footloose wanderer who had already seen the world by age 25. He takes to to the completely undeveloped Basilan Island with a scheme to grow coconuts.  Throughout the next 30 years, the spouses are universally pulled in different directions: Ann determindly recreating her upper-crust American life, complete with servants, fancy parties, music, and gardening. Her primary goal is to maintain her status quo despite heat, mosquitos, snakes, crocodiles, and  typhoons. Don cossets her and is compeltely devoted to creating this world for her. Nontheless, while her nature is to stay and maintain, his to to relenetlessly pursue life and change. This tension between them - and within themselves- is always visible. Ironically, by the end of the book, the two have swapped places. Don is the one seeking the status quo: he can't leave Basilan, can't face the change he would undergo as a washed up old post-war Colonial in America. He stays firmly planted on Basilan, despite Ann's pleas and the lies he tells her - and himself. Ann, on the other hand, has been through enough hell - losing her home, her son, her friends, her money, and her social status. She is completely focused on going back to Texas and starting a new life - completely committed to moving on, which she does. Don stays, and the Yakan build a new family unit around him - until he is eventually murdered by Benson Masaganda, the young Yakan man named after him, on April 17, 1949.



Benson loved Don completely, because he bore the big American’s name and carried his special favor. Ann hated Benson deeply, for exactly the same reasons.

Apu Don roBENson, as the Yakan called Don, had been present at baby Benson’s birth, a very unusual situation - a coincidence brought on by an unusually heavy afternoon downpour. Don had been riding in from the far rice fields and, caught in the shower, took shelter beneath Masaganda’s sturdy house. Made  of bamboo, with walls of woven nipa palm, it stood on four tall and sturdy palmwood posts. Masaganda was squatting by a smoky little fire beneath the house, chewing betel nut as his wife labored in the room above. When the baby arrived, Masaganda invited Don to meet the tiny boy. Don’s only son, Billy, was 8 at the time. Ann had borne two other babes who perished shortly after birth. When Don held the squirming newborn, the infant fit right into the hole of sadness that these little lost ones had left behind.

Seeing the instant connection, Masaganda named the baby Benson, after Don’s Yakan name. Thereafter Don took a special interest in the boy, visiting with little gifts and later, taking Benson into the fields, riding in front and gripping the horn of the big stock saddle. This became a common sight around the farm. Don even paid for Benson to attend school in Zamboanga. As he grew Benson developed some unique characteristics that set him apart from other Yakan boys: his eyes were lighter, more of a golden brown with some hints of green, and his hair was not the typical raven’s wing black but sometimes took on rusty highlight in the sun.

Ann, who invested all her love into her one remaining son, was annoyed by the attention and affection Don lavished on the Yakan boy. When his unusual coloring began to show, her annoyance deepened into something darker. She had no obvious reason to doubt Benson’s parentage, but Don’s family history stuck in the back of her mind like a festering thorn. His brother  Claude Robinson, had fathered two children by his housemaid. Alma, Claude’s wife, accepted Hazel and Claude Jr and the legal adoptions that placed the children in her care. Secretly, though, Ann always wondered whether Don had followed in his older brother’s footprints.

This distrust surfaces in several places in the novel, and is a key turning point toward the end, when Ann decides to leave Basilan and never return. With Don’s support, Benson becomes a scout for an American Army unit during WWII. He is actually the one who brings Don the news of Billy’s death in action the spring of 1942. Don withholds the news, believing that it would be too stressful for Ann to hear this while they’re running for their lives and hiding in the jungles. She doesn’t find out until they are back at Yakan Plantation in 1945. When she learns that Don knew, and that Benson had carried the news –combined with all the other destruction war had wrought in her life – Ann decided to leave Basilan and never return. We further explore this relationship in the years 1946-1949, until the moment that Benson murders Don in his office on Yakan Plantation.



The novel is largely set on Basilan Island, one of the most southerly of the Philippines islands. A volcanic island, Basilan in this time period is surrounded by prime reefs full of succulent crustanceans and teeming with fish. The forests are full of deer and wild boar. The air is full of parrots and toucans and the trees are full of chattering monkey tribes. The iron-rich volcanic soil is so ridiculously fertile, the rain so plentiful, the air so warm, that crops sprout and mature in weeks instead of months. The forests are full of virgin timber, including centuries-old wild fruit trees, enormous groves of ancient balete (banyan) trees, impenetrable thickets of nipa palm, which provides both food and material for building. Mangrove forests filter the tidal flats and protect the island against the seas when they rage – though that is infrequent, as Basilan lies below the typhoon belt.

The Yakan have made Basilan home since the 1200s. They are a Muslim people, but retain animist beliefs from pre-Islamic times. They have a strong belief in trickster spirits – kokoks – who inhabit the ancient balete trees. They mark important ceremonies and prayers with the sacrifice of white roosters. Loyal and gentle with friends and family, murderous with enemies, the Yakan are a mountain people who also cultivate the coastal plains. The coastal region is home to a related tribe, the Samal. Called “sea gypsies” this group of people live entirely on boats, which gather and travel in large family groups. The Yakan and Samal trade their produce: vegetables, fruits, and root foods for fish and shellfish. In the early 1900s, Basilan – untouched by industry -  is so bountiful that hunger is virtually unknown.

Yet the jungle is full of danger. Crocodiles crowd the rivers and we know from  eyewitness accounts that residents regularly harvest them, not only to eat the tail meat but to keep some control on the population. Cobras sighed through the thick grass of the open plains, and pythons draped themselves over thick and mossy branches, waiting to drop onto an unwary passerby. Bandits and sea pirates also make life miserable, and occassionally, someone will "run amok," in the ritualistic killing spree that always ends with the perptrator's suicide by kris - the long and flexible, wavey-bladed Yakan war sword.



Yakan Plantation- 1,200 acres of the Lamitan Valley, formerly land of the Yakan tribe, which Don acquires from the clan of Datu Unding in the early 1900s. Over the years, he and Yakan employees built a 6-mile irrigation system and planted 100,000 coconut trees, in addition to cultivating rice, coffee, chocolate, and fruit. Ann's house sites on the banks of the small Bohe Gubawang river in the shade of Old Balete, the only banyan tree left on the land.


Manila - Ann's son Bill Robinson is a Navy pilot stationed at Cavite Naval Base with his young wife Gertrude and his adopted son. We have a brief scene in Manila at their their home, with additional scene of aerial combat and bombing over Manila Bay.


Small unnamed village NW of Manila, near Bataan - Amalia, a secondary character, the pregnant Filipina fiancee of Bill's co-pilot, leaves Manila after the attack on Cavite, returning to her parents' home. She witnesses the Bataan Death March and in fact is killed for trying to give water to some of the American prisoners forced to walk from Manila to the prison camp in Bataan.


USS President Pierce - Gertrude and her little boy leave Manila just days before the bombing of Pearl Harbor, after Bill spies Japanese activity on a reconnaissance mission. The ship is bound for San Francisco but takes elaborate evasive action after news of Pearl Harbor, including running with no lights, passengers required to wear life jackets 24/7, no passengers on deck, and course changes every hour. They do stop at Honolulu to pick up some survivors of the PH attack, and arrive in San Francisco on Christmas Day 1941.


Bohe Langgung - the hidden Yakan village where Datu Unding, the Yakan chieftain, hides Don and Ann when rumors of invasion begin to swirl. The village is set around a spring that flows down the mountainside, and  has been terraced into 5 levels, each for a different use. The founder of the village is an ancient Yakan man who, with his brother, cleared some of the virgin timber and planted an Eden-like assortment of fruiting trees and bushes. Houses are on stilts, made of bamboo and palm leaves


Zamboanga City - a small and lovely, white-buildinged Spanish Colonial city off the very tip of Zamboanga Peninsula. Home to an American Army base and a stop on Asian tourist cruises. Lovely white beach, Westernized hotels and restaurants, a golf club that has a room set especially aside for plantation owners and other Americans to socialize and drink. A laarge Japanese-owned fish cannery turns out to have been operating as spy headquarters for several years. The city is utterly destroyed - bombed once by Japanese forces in 1942, and pulverized by American strokes in 1945. Many of Ann and Don's friends die in the first bombing. Those who do not are imprisoned.


Tungawan - The Robinsons must flee Bohe Langgung because their whereabouts are discovered by a bandit named Muksin, who threatens to sell them out to the Japanese. Under cover of night, they escape Basilan in their copra transport boat, taking along about 30 others who are similarly fleeing. Ann and Don then go up the coast of Zamboanga to a region called Tungawan. Here they enter into an underground railroad of sorts, protected and hidden over the next 4 years by three different families.


Dallas - We visit Dallas of 1910 at the beginning of the book, and then again, Dallas of 1949 and 1974, when Ann died.


Here’s Ann’s description, as she sees Basilan from the steamer leaving Zamboanga CIty.


Basilan was blue the first time I saw it.

Floating blue on the blue sea, blue in the blue sky, misty and untethered to the earth. The staggered mountains embraced each other in deep blue folds, set off by a ring of pearly beach. The peaks grew ever lighter blue, as if they longed to join the white and pearly clouds all ringed all around by blue blue sky. Basilan could have been a mirage floating in a blue desert. But as we made our way across the blue-glass water of Basilan Strait, the mirage grew larger and more solid instead of dissolving in a misty shimmer. As we neared the shore, broad sunlight fell across the face of Punu Lapurap, the largest mountain, revealing Basilan’s truth: Not blue but green. And not just green. The color of the living world.

To call Basilan a jungle island is a simplistic error. Basilan is riotous, unrestrained, impetuous. It's both impenetrable and vulnerable. Tender and fierce.  Passionate and dangerous.

 As Don discovered early on, Basilan can seduce.

And as we both discovered later, it can also kill.


Don’s first impressions:

“The island drifts in the sea, so blue you can’t tell if you’re looking at the sea or the sky – all the time getting bigger and bigger as you sail toward it and suddenly, it’s not blue at all. It’s the greenest green you can imagine, with blazing white beaches made of crushed coral and foamy with the waves. Why a man hardly needs to worry about food. You walk the beach or through the jungle and the trees just bend down and drop fruit right in your hand. You put a bent pin on a string and catch fish all day long. Pick up a green coconut, whack it open, and the cool sweet water inside slakes a thirst you never even knew you had.”

That first day exploring, Don wore a white sun hat and a half-buttoned linen shirt tucked into tan riding pants, pants tucked into tall black boots. He was cantering Coronet along a white beach. Palms cast cool gray shadows on the hot white sand. He dismounted and picked up a green coconut, cut the top away with a machete, put it to his mouth and drank. As he lifted the nut, sweet water spilled over his chin and down his chest, soaking the linen. He dropped the nut and stared down the beach, absently wiping his mouth with the back of one sun-browned hand. His face was brown too, and his eyes burned blue like the flat sea, like the bowl of the enormous arching sky.




ann and don.jpg.






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Attached are my working responses for Hidden Depths. Looking forward to workshopping and capitalizing off the wisdom of this group. 



Joy Solmonson

FIRST ASSIGNMENT: write your story statement. 


When an American naval destroyer becomes the fifth ship to vanish in the Arctic during the Cold War, the ship’s lone surviving officer must battle both paranormal and geopolitical threats to save her crew and keep the ship’s warheads out of enemy hands.


SECOND ASSIGNMENT: in 200 words or less, sketch the antagonist or antagonistic force in your story. Keep in mind their goals, their background, and the ways they react to the world about them.


Dr. Kransiv and Dr. Ivonov represent the opposing American and Soviet forces during the Cold War and the competition in the sciences and global positioning. Both countries have received intelligence of strange occurrences and energy spikes in the Atlantic. The Soviets investigated first—research vessel Volksov, led by Dr. Victoria Ivonov, covertly investigated in the Atlantic and found the source of the strange disturbances: the Rusalka, a mythical species of sea creatures that use a form of energy fusion to feed off sailors but are capable of controlling human thought and action. Ivonov discovers the creatures first, and strives to harness their capabilities, sacrificing her crew to them for their allegiance. Ivonov miscalculates and when she tries to leave the area, she finds the creatures, and now herself, trapped. Ivonov begins capturing ships, knowing eventually a ship with enough firepower to release the Rusalka and their abilities will come to investigate.


Dr. Kransiv leads the USS King into Ivnov’s trap, the American’s believing they have the lead on a new energy source in the Atlantic. Kransiv also sacrifices the Kings crew in pursuit of the energy source, and in doing so, leads them into Ivonov’s trap. 


THIRD ASSIGNMENT: create a breakout title (list several options, not more than three, and revisit to edit as needed).


Hidden Depths

The Sixth Sea

Red Sky in Morning


FOURTH ASSIGNMENT: Develop two smart comparables for your novel. This is a good opportunity to immerse yourself in your chosen genre. Who compares to you? And why?


Kit Brightling Novels by Chloe Niel: Supernatural seafaring series with a female protagonist. 

Kate Daniels Novels by Illona Andrews: Urban fantasy novels based on lore with a strong female protagonist. 


FIFTH ASSIGNMENT: write your own hook line (logline) with conflict and core wound following the format above. Though you may not have one now, keep in mind this is a great developmental tool. In other words, you best begin focusing on this if you're serious about commercial publication.


When the rest of her crew vanishes in the Arctic during the Cold War, a lone female officer must navigate rough seas and paranormal threats to save her ship and keep its ballistic missiles out of enemy hands. 


SIXTH ASSIGNMENT: sketch out the conditions for the inner conflict your protagonist will have. Why will they feel in turmoil? Conflicted? Anxious? Sketch out one hypothetical scenario in the story wherein this would be the case--consider the trigger and the reaction.


Cat had always had an aversion to the “noise” of the mainland, feeling far more comfortable at sea than land. These feelings magnify ten-fold when they begin searching a remote section of the Atlantic. Already facing a great deal of scrutiny as the ship’s lone female officer, Cat begins to feel self-doubt, exacerbated when she begins to be physically affected, hearing and sensing things in the area. When Cat begins to sense strange events in the area and hear voices, she wonders if she is actually bad-luck for the crew, and maybe she isn’t capable of command. 


SIXTH ASSIGNMENT (B): Next, likewise sketch a hypothetical scenario for the "secondary conflict" involving the social environment. Will this involve family? Friends? Associates? What is the nature of it?


The only woman on the USS King, Cat is isolated by her gender and has to battle the perception that 1) women are bad luck onboard a ship, and 2) women don’ t belong in the Navy. Not everyone in the crew is against her, but even her allies unintentionally isolate her at times.


FINAL ASSIGNMENT: sketch out your setting in detail. What makes it interesting enough, scene by scene, to allow for uniqueness and cinema in your narrative and story? Please don't simply repeat what you already have which may well be too quiet. You can change it. That's why you're here! Start now. Imagination is your best friend, and be aggressive with it.


The story takes place in the North Atlantic Ocean between the Faroe Islands and Norway. The islands in the novel are fictional, located in the middle of a cold ocean current that circulates arctic water down into the Atlantic and back up to the arctic. The main island lies in a rift, hidden from the main world and accessible only through  a dangerous sand bar, which is full of wrecked ships, lured to their demise by the Rusalka. Much of the story takes place on various ships: 


USS King: A US Naval Destroyer equipped with a nuclear ballistic payload. 


Cargo Ship Venture: A landing craft type cargo ship carrying several loads of luxury goods. 


Volksov (USSR): A salvage vessel.



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#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


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. 



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.  




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. 



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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1. Story Statement: Alistair must find a way beyond the Seventh Ring of Reality, reach The Garden at its center, and prevent the Decay from devouring life itself.



2. Antagonistic Forces:

The opening chapter ends with Alistair badly wounded by the primary antagonist of the series, The Shadow. A mirthless, masked, marauder set in direct opposition to Alistair. Stalking the Wanderer in the hopes of making him suffer and eventually killing him before he reaches the Garden. But trapped in infinity like Alistair, he struggles with the decision to kill Al even when granted the perfect opportunity to do so. Out of fear of returning to infinite futility, he stays his hand.

However, the antagonist of the bulk of this book is Michael. The self-proclaimed last Mapper. As the last of an ancient creed of reality traversing geniuses, he grapples with the desire to finish his people’s misguided work and discover the fate of his once-proud race. Intelligent, prideful, and ruthless in both his ambition and skillful manipulation, he challenges Alistair’s view on what type of evil is truly necessary in order to accomplish their partially aligned goal of moving beyond the Seventh Ring. However, while Michael secretly pulls the strings of the entire City of Teles, he has also torn a hole in reality which threatens to destroy the entire city unless Alistair can stop him.


3. Breakout Titles:

The Wanderer

The Wanderer, Book One: Echoes of Eternity

The Wanderer, Book One: A Necessary Evil

The Wanderer, Book One: The Price of Progress


4. Comparables:

The Gunslinger by Stephen King: I know we said not to use big authors, but this is genuinely both the book and series that aided me in finally finding the proper tone for The Wanderer and shares a very similar tone.

Blindsight by Peter Watts: While The Wanderer is slightly more fantasy than sci-fi, it’s Peter Watt’s writing style and ability to use character conversation and inner dialogue to explain challenging concepts in an anecdotal manner that I feel closely relates to the voice used by Alistair to ground readers in what could otherwise be a daunting and foreign reality.

The Vagrant by Peter Newman: Similar thematic ground and sense of traveling solitude. The challenge of maintaining individuality in the face of purpose. Likely similar readerships.


5. Hook Line:

A weary Wanderer burdened with great purpose agrees to aid a young girl in finding her mother, but when he uncovers the insidious plot of a mad sorcerer he must choose between his own destiny and the fate of an entire city.



6. Inner Conflict:

Alistair will face inner turmoil throughout the novel. Having traveled on his own for so long, wearing many different faces, and having come up against all manners of cruelty, he will struggle to trust others or put them before his own purpose.

He is also at his wit’s end; lost and wounded, he begins to fear that the cause isn’t worth fighting, and perhaps slipping into anonymity may be his only recourse. This inner conflict makes itself especially apparent in matters concerning the young girl, Sofia Brennan. He promises, out of sympathy and gratitude, to deliver her safely back to her mother. Feeling an affinity for the girl and empathy toward her struggle, he begins to fear that his affection for her is at odds with his primary purpose to get to the Garden no matter the cost. This results in him abandoning her before the start of Act 3. Only for him to eventually come to her aid, risking his life and even culminating in his willingness to face his Shadow and sacrifice himself to keep her safe. Finally realizing that aiding her was not straying from his path at all, but rather a reminder of the very reason he walks it.

All of this is without mentioning the ideological differences between Alistair and Michael and the temptation to become as depraved and malevolent as the pragmatic Mapper dares him to be. An ideological conflict which drives much of the second act.


Secondary Conflict:

The Free City of Teles is not the bastion of progressive liberty and unity it presents itself to be. Within its massive walls dwells one of the most corrupt and detestable cabals of aristocrats one can imagine. Everything from a sadistic Sheriff, megalomaniac Prime Minister, and of course the mad scientist Michael. Slowly gaining more power and allowing the Decay to poison their own citizens, they seek ultimate power and find it in the ability to transcend reality with Gate Technology. As fate would have it, Alistair arrives in the city only days before the conflict between the rebels- led by the spiteful but brave Vivien Porier -and the aristocracy comes to a head in an epic conclusion of fire and blood. While Alistair faces off against Michael to save Sofia, Vivien and the other rebels lay siege to the city.

Throughout Alistair and Vivien will verbally clash on what’s best for the City of Teles as he quickly realizes that while she is admirable, her focus is more vengeful than righteous. A friendship and mild romance bloom as a result of their shared struggles and willingness to challenge one another.


7. Setting:

The settings and sub-settings change dramatically throughout allowing for a kinetic and jarring feeling to resemble the disorientation of Alistair’s psyche after years of traversing so many realities.

Opening Scene: We begin in a bar in a setting best compared to Victorian-era England. Rattling oil lanterns bob about in the thick mist, and horse-drawn carts clop along cobblestone. But by the end of chapter one, Alistair has fled through a portal leaving this world behind.

Countryside: He arrives in a barren forest which leads to an expanse of grasslands largely submerged beneath the floods of a vicious rainstorm. Here he meets the feral child, Sofia Brennan.

Market: A colorful bizarre outside the walls of the city where villagers trade goods and services. It will be the setting for the first major action set-piece. An explosive confrontation between the rebels and city guard ensues.

City of Teles: First seen through the eyes of secondary character Ira Edavane. The city is a technological marvel. In an era akin to that of ancient Rome, The City of Teles has managed to construct a public tram system, clockwork and steam fueled machinery, that allows the city to teem with life. Thanks to Michael’s otherworldly contributions, the city appears a metropolis completely out of its time. Opulent, marble-white, the city is a symbol both of technological advancement as well as political corruption, wealth stratification, and hubris.  

The Old Sewers: Ancient ruins of the former city of Teles which the rebels have used as a haven that eventually matured into a city of its own. Even including some stolen technology from the city proper, the sewers serve to show the cost of Teles’ opulence.

The Catacombs: This is where Michael conducts his experiments and hides the many doomed souls afflicted with the Decay. It is also the site of the Gate he created which secretly threatens to destroy the city.

City of Portsmouth: The city that lies beyond the gate, which both Michael and Alistair cross through in Act Three. A seaside province that is rapidly destabilizing and threatening to implode into a black hole. As it is only actually the memory of a dead city being artificially sustained by Michael’s crude Gate Technology, the city itself is wickedly alive. The citizens within are reduced to violent mutated husks and the ocean swells hungrily devouring the cliffside as the sun rapidly dies overhead.

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file:///C:/Users/contessa/AppData/Local/Temp/msohtmlclip1/01/clip_image001.jpg FIRST ASSIGNMENT: write your story statement. 

A pre-teen girl is in love with her father’s world of fishing, drinking, freedom, and passion and strives to be a part of it, particularly since it is such a contrast to the meek and sensible life she sees her mother and other women living.   But when her father’s passion spirals into destructive violence, she chooses to cut herself out of that world and her father out of her life.  She learns about a different kind of strength, but also loses a central part of herself.  Only by recognizing her father’s humanity and acknowledging her love for him, despite believing that he has done the unforgiveable, can she also learn to accept herself. 


SECOND ASSIGNMENT: in 200 words or less, sketch the antagonist or antagonistic force in your story. Keep in mind their goals, their background, and the ways they react to the world about them.

This is where I am floundering. I can see how not having a clear antagonist makes it hard to develop a storyline and harder to keep the readers interest or make them care.  So, I end up with something that is a Frankenstein collection of short stories, vignettes, and nostalgic prose of a way of life that’s over, all at times lovely, but ultimately unsatisfying because it’s hard to know what’s at stake.

There are multiple antagonists.  Both parents, poverty, gender roles, the town itself….


THIRD ASSIGNMENT: create a breakout title (list several options, not more than three, and revisit to edit as needed).

Salvaging the Joy


FOURTH ASSIGNMENT: - Read this NWOE article on comparables then return here.

- Develop two smart comparables for your novel. This is a good opportunity to immerse yourself in your chosen genre. Who compares to you? And why?

I read the article and I'm working on the comps.  I could probably find some memoir comps but in general I don't like the older, wiser memoir narrator who provides context and meaning to the action of the story. So I'm struggling.

file:///C:/Users/contessa/AppData/Local/Temp/msohtmlclip1/01/clip_image001.jpg FIFTH ASSIGNMENT: write your own hook line (logline) with conflict and core wound following the format above. Though you may not have one now, keep in mind this is a great developmental tool. In other words, you best begin focusing on this if you're serious about commercial publication.

After seeing her father smash her mother’s teeth out, Bones renounces him. But she also recognizes the violence that she saw that night in herself and ultimately has to find a way to forgive him in order to accept herself.


file:///C:/Users/contessa/AppData/Local/Temp/msohtmlclip1/01/clip_image001.jpg SIXTH ASSIGNMENT: sketch out the conditions for the inner conflict your protagonist will have. Why will they feel in turmoil? Conflicted? Anxious? Sketch out one hypothetical scenario in the story wherein this would be the case--consider the trigger and the reaction.

file:///C:/Users/contessa/AppData/Local/Temp/msohtmlclip1/01/clip_image001.jpg Next, likewise sketch a hypothetical scenario for the "secondary conflict" involving the social environment. Will this involve family? Friends? Associates? What is the nature of it?


FINAL ASSIGNMENT: sketch out your setting in detail. What makes it interesting enough, scene by scene, to allow for uniqueness and cinema in your narrative and story? Please don't simply repeat what you already have which may well be too quiet. You can change it. That's why you're here! Start now. Imagination is your best friend, and be aggressive with it.

I grew up on the outskirts of a town that celebrated the beginning of hunting season like Christmas and distrusted anyone who wasn’t at least a third cousin.  Main Street – 3 bars on one side and 2 churches on the other – fought over salvation, the towns sole grocery store sat on the corner as if it could referee. 

Located on a bent finger jutting out into the Chesapeake Bay the town was named after a fish.  Tons of Striped Bass – also known as Rockfish or simply Rock – were caught in the water surrounding the land and hauled to shore.  They called the spot Rock Haul Harbor and a town was created around it, built on marshes and fill dredged from the bottom of the bay.  But the dirt retained its affinity for the water - having come from it, it wanted to return.  No matter how many bulkheads the town built, a little more of it was eaten by the bay every year.    Huntingfield Island, where I waded as a little girl, catching soft crabs and having picnics, will be gathered up by the bay, eventually becoming nothing more than an uncharted shoal.  An absence that, because it is no longer there, boaters will run aground on and curse.

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1.     Write Your Story Statement

Writes essays to reconcile his past traumas.


2.     in 200 words or less, sketch the antagonist or antagonistic force in your story. Keep in mind their goals, their background, and the ways they react to the world about them.


Personal weakness betrays Darius’s true intentions at keeping relationships. Compound that with a negligent mother, a conniving half-brother, and the lies and deceits of friends both old and new and what you get is a clusterfuck of people screwing Darius out of the fulfillment that loving relationships bring. 


Sometimes the lies he’s told have backfired, stymying his trail. Sometimes his sincerity has provoked ridicule. Either way, the forces against him hinder even his best laid plans, sending him into his psychiatrist’s office, into sullen seclusion, and ultimately on a quest for redemption and reconciliation through the narratives he writes in his personal essays. Will his reflections help him overcome his personal traumas, Or will they only plunge him deeper into despair and isolation?


3.     Break Out Title


Confession Is Not Betrayal


It’s My mouth


Trauma Mia: The Stories Of How I Learned To Accept Vulnerability As My Superpower.


4.     Develop two smart comparables for your novel. This is a good opportunity to immerse yourself in your chosen genre. Who compares to you? And why?


Real Life by Brandon Taylor. We share similar emotional content, and characterization. He’s black and from the Midwest, I’m black and from the Midwest, He’s a college student, I’m an MFA student. We both share messy relationships and try to reconcile them with what we respectively desire to achieve in them. 


She Memes Well: Essays by Quinta Brunson. Hers is childhood dreams, mine is childhood nightmares—foils of the same time but with very different connections.



5.     write your own hook line (logline) with conflict and core wound following the format above. Though you may not have one now, keep in mind this is a great developmental tool. In other words, you best begin focusing on this if you're serious about commercial publication.

Confession Is Not Betrayal is an account by Darius Chitison, a 40-something writer, a man of unique life experience, a man saddled by unanswered questions, struggling to live in the fallout of his previous wounds. He’s lost friends and gained new ones. He’s lived a life full of love and laughter, heartache and harrow. And through a series of true stories, he attempts to reconcile the charms and traumas of his past.


6.     sketch out the conditions for the inner conflict your protagonist will have. Why will they feel in turmoil? Conflicted? Anxious? Sketch out one hypothetical scenario in the story wherein this would be the case--consider the trigger and the reaction.


The turmoil in Confession Is Not Betrayal comes from the disparity between the relationships he has and the ones he’d like to have. The ones he has are fraught with deceit and neglect and confrontation. It’s a confusing set of circumstances that sees him cling to the ideal of the past while viewing it through the cynicism of his present. It’s a detached searching, a casual stroll through the traumas of the disappointing people who’ve set him up and let him down.


7. sketch out your setting in detail. What makes it interesting enough, scene by scene, to allow for uniqueness and cinema in your narrative and story? Please don't simply repeat what you already have which may well be too quiet. You can change it. That's why you're here! Start now. Imagination is your best friend, and be aggressive with it.


 The settings range as the essays do. From family reunions to elementary school classrooms to a convention center to a college lecture theater—the settings process through a series of real life locations and offer a back drop for the action to unfold. They aren’t so grand as to be characters themselves. No New York in Sex and the City. More a canvas, blank as a cloudless sky, where emotional turmoil is stained through reflection.




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Story statement: Brunhilde has to wrestle the man and the country she loves from the clutches of an ecstatically revered tyrant.

The Antagonist:

Sieglinda grows up in an orphanage run by the Bavarian Soviet Republic - until she discovers that she is the daughter of Bavarian royalty, murdered by revolutionaries. Gifted with innate charisma and ethereal beauty, she manipulates guards to escape from the orphanage and rallies underground aristocrats into a counter-revolution with the goal of establishing a new ‘monarchy of the people’ , with her and her mad cousin Ludwig as co-rulers who keep each other in check. Through her inspired policies she quickly manages to ‘make Bavaria great again’ - by manipulating plebiscites she overhauls the Bavarian economy, gender roles, beauty ideals - and even finds a solution to deal with those pesky foreigners that take aways Bavarian jobs - building a wall around the state and enslaving those foreigners already in Bavaria.

But, political giftedness and a savior syndrome can come with a dark side. Sieglinda grew up getting tortured by orphanage guards and this has left her with a dark desire to oppress men and torture them in her castle. This is how she locks into the fight with protagonist Brunhilde, who has no chance at happiness if she cannot free Ed Sherbert from Sieglinda’s mean, manicured hands.


 Bridget Jones meets Harry Potter

  • Plot: A middle-aged woman who struggles to find love in the face of cruel beauty standards has to master her new found magical powers if she wants to save the man she loves and their world from an evil overlord.

  • Protagonist: A self-deprecating character overcomes oppression and discovers her worth when she sees herself with the eyes of a new world/ a new, more worthy, love interest

  • Tone/Setting: A quirky, humorous tone and a beautiful, magical world where the oppressed protagonist finally finds a home 

‘Dumplin’ by Julie Murphy 

  • Theme: The triumph of confidence over debilitating beauty standards

‘Carnival Row’ amazon TV show

  • Theme: An alternate world shows us to what degree ‘invisible’ social standards affect who we can love



A desperate woman

Trouble brewing in Bavaria

If thoughts could kill



A down-trodden woman escapes suspicions of murdering her abusive father, by cocktailing herself into a parallel world where she has to fight a psychopathic killer for the life of the only man who has ever shown an interest in her.

Inner Conflict

Our protagonist, Brunhilde is suffering in silence - never knowing how much of the mistreatment and lack of opportunity she experiences is due to her gender, her race or the vicious rumors her own father has spread about her. Growing up in a small Bavarian village, always kept within the reins of her father who despises her because she reminds him of his indiscretion as a missionary in Africa, she never gets the chance to start her own life. Her one attempt at rebellion, age 7,  to get help when her mother disappears, is ignored by the police chief - her father’s drinking buddy. Decades later when she has been rejected by a man she had hoped could love her, and is unfairly persecuted for her father’s murder, her misery combined with her late mother’s mysterious drink recipe, lead to an explosion that transports her into a different world. When Brunhilde realizes that the man who rejected her in Bad Kissingen, Ed Sherbert, also exists in Gut Kissingen, she begins to believe she was sent to this parallel world for a second shot at love. But right before she can use the fact that this new world seems to have much more favorable beauty standards to score a date with her dream man, he gets abducted. As an isolated, middle aged woman who derives most of her knowledge of social situations from romance novels and cop shows, now thrown into a situation where she is the only one who can save Ed Sherbert, she needs to use all her strength to overcome her shyness, make social connections, trust people who were her bullies in her previous life and exert her new found magical powers over people who don’t want to tell her what they know about the abduction. All for the faint chance of saving a man who we suspect might be a weak and superficial windbag. Her overall challenge is not knowing her own worth, not believing in her own power to save those she loves, as well as the false belief that all she can hope for is to be loved by a flawed man like Ed Sherbert.

Secondary Conflict

To wrangle the man she loves from the hands of the killer before it’s too late, Brunhilde is forced to work together with the handsome but haughty police officer Ingwer-Brad Block, the man who mercilessly persecuted her for her father’s murder back in Bad Kissingen. But Ingwer-Brad is not much more approachable in this new world of Gut Kissingen - in fact, he is even more arrogant, skeptical, and incorruptible and doesn’t see any reason to let Brunhilde, a civilian, be part of the investigation into the missing men.

Desperate, Brunhilde blackmails Ingwer-Brad with knowledge about his past, into letting her be part of the investigation. The ensuing investigation is flawed by the angry sparks flying between these two who couldn’t be more opposite. 

Brunhilde is a simple working class woman with explosive emotions, little social graces and shaky confidence. Her only certainty is the iron-clad conviction that Ed Sherbert needs to be saved - even by unconventional means. And because she realizes she can get results quicker if she slips people cookies made based on her mother’s voodoo recipes, which may or may not contain drugs, her desperate acts to find who is holding Ed Sherbert are not just unconventional but likely also illegal.

Officer Ingwer-Brad Block is first and foremost an upholder of the law. He is an educated and supremely confident son of a policeman and an army commander, an objective observer and man of action and honor, who believes emotions are not to be felt, and definitely not shown. He does not believe in voodoo magic and forbids Brunhilde to bring any of her hocus pocus near the investigation. Of course, her science is not an accurate one, so he learns again and again that she has attempted but failed to enchant him or their witnesses, provoking his rage.

Eventually, both will realize that the other has something they desperately need to complete them - unfortunately this realization only hits Brunhilde when Ingwer, too, has also fallen into the hands of the killer.


The story begins in a fictional version of present day Bad Kissingen, the seemingly perfect small Bavarian town. But its picturesque gingerbread facades hide some ugly prejudices. For 39 years Brunhilde has felt captive by the frosty atmosphere of the mountains enclosing her in her town and her small wooden cabin she shares with her father. 

When she hears the police are looking to arrest her for her father’s murder, she ventures out to a darkly lit backalley in the bad parts of Bad Kissingen to score drugs for one last hurrah before facing the rest of her life in prison. On her last night of freedom, heavy snow begins to envelop her cabin on the foot of Mount Zuckerhut. After some drunk baking, an explosion happens.

She wakes up in Gut Kissingen - it’s her hometown, but different. In this parallel world, Bavaria is run by an aristocracy of the people (monarchs rely on plebiscites to inform governing decisions), women seem to be in charge of everything. Commercials, magazines and billboards feature not the skinny, perfect, white models that have made Brunhilde feel inadequate all her life, but round, chocolate colored women like her. Where Bad Kissingen was stale, stuck and dusty with the only jobs in the outdated car industry, Gut Kissingen seems to be a hotspot of commercial activity where the streets are buzzing with ideas of start-ups and innovation. The mountains that once made her feel locked in now feel like they can hardly contain this hotbed of activity. But soon Brunhilde realizes that there is a downside to this magical new world. Men and  ‘Foreigners’ ( easily recognizable by who isn’t wearing the traditional dirndl and lederhosen embroidered with the symbol of two golden lions shaking hands) are discriminated against, and rumors are going round that princess Sieglinda is even intending to build a wall around the state of Bavaria in order to keep out those not born in the state, and enslave the ones who already live there.


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The Act of Story Statement

A gallery assistant in a bitter marriage, unable to progress in her career and frustrated with her inability to connect with her teenage daughter, finds a time portal to her adolescence and thinks she can change her past to better her present.


The Antagonist

The external antagonist is Scott, Alexandra’s husband, who is disappointed in how his life turned out and resents anyone around him who is trying to better themselves or their circumstances. He is the personification of inertia. He wants to do as little as possible: be a passive parent, slack at work, play video games rather than talk to his wife, not participate in disciplining their daughter.

The secondary antagonist is herself, who in the past made poor decisions and resulted in her dissatisfying present life. She has hubris to think that she could make so many changes in her past when she is still the same flawed person. Yes, she does make some of the changes she sets out to. But she makes other bad decisions because she is a normal, broken person.


Title Options:

The Peach Tree
From The Inside



Set within one person’s life as in Ken Grimwald’s Replay, our protagonist tries to make better decisions her second time around. The story revolves around how one woman’s time travel affects her story and the people around her, but the focus is on her internal experiences and struggles, as if Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander met Sally Rooney’s Conversations with Friends.


Core Wound and the Primary Conflict:

I‘m not entirely sure the difference between this and the Act of Story Statement. Mine is:
A gallery assistant in a bitter marriage, unable to progress in her career and frustrated with her inability to connect with her teenage daughter, finds a time portal to her adolescence and thinks she can change her past to better her present.

Character: Gallery assistant
Core Wound: Feels that her decisions growing up brought her to her present crappy life
Conflict: Bitter marriage and bad parenting
Distinction: Adolescent time portal
Setting: Present/25 years in the past


Primary Conflict: Alex travels into her past and relives her adolescence so that she can avoid the expulsion and subsequent aimlessness that she believes led to her bad marriage and unsatisfying career. After making these changes, the time portal is destroyed and she has to relive her entire adult life. Her hubris made her think that she could play around with this time portal to make her life and didn’t consider unintended consequences. After living a different young adulthood, she tries to orchestrate meeting her husband and conceiving her daughter again, but of course she is a different person by then and she is unable to make it happen. She realizes she will never see her daughter again. She is finally free.

Secondary conflict: She has an ongoing flirtation with a man at work. She admits her feelings to him and he rejects her. When she is stuck in her past, she encounters him again, falls for him again, and he rejects her, again. Her preoccupation with him prevents her from one of the things she wanted to correct in this new life: stopping her sister from meeting her future husband, who will die too young and leave her sister an emotional wreck.


Major Setting 1:
Present day. An abandoned apple orchard outside of a small town in the Sierra Nevada foothills, where Alex lives with her family. Her husband grew up in this farmhouse, and Alex has never felt like it was hers. Deep in the orchard, after a bad fight with her husband, Alex finds a hollowed-out peach tree, and hides from him inside it. She falls asleep and wakes up in another peach tree a mile from her childhood home in her 16-year-old body.

Major Setting 2:
25 years ago. An unincorporated town outside of Gilroy, California where Alex grew up. After testing the mechanics of this portal, she decides to go back and relive a few months of her adolescence to make some changes that will hopefully result in a better career and more fulfilling adult life.

Other Settings:

The art gallery where Alex works: She has a crush on a co-worker which tempts her to be unfaithful. She also is trying to work with an upcoming visiting artist that inspires her.

Baylor Court, a rural lot where kids go at night to get drunk and hook up. She has to navigate high school interpersonal relationships and having sex with her high school boyfriend, neither of which she considered when deciding to go through the portal.

The artist collective in Germany Alex joins as a young adult. Once she is stuck reliving her young adulthood, she makes the most of it and really starts to pursue her artistic dreams.

The art camp in Montana that Alex’s mentor helps her attend, and where she runs into her crush from her adult life.

Chicago, in and around art galleries and cafes, where she has a brief relationship with that crush.

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1. Act of Story Statement

A young woman must track down the one person who can make her feel alive and save him before he dies.


2. The Antagonist Plot

Grey is a minor rock star, a big fish in a small town. Yet despite his celebrity status, he suffers from constant depression that tells him he’s not good enough. Not for his father, not for his ex-girlfriend, not for his fans. And so the story begins with the decision having been made to finally end his own life. His plan requires a few preliminary steps, however, such as donating clothing to the local thrift store, which is where our protagonist is first introduced to Grey. As Gretchen repeatedly crosses paths with Grey, he begins to find himself questioning his decision to die, discovering more reasons instead to live.


3. Breakout Title

fave: The Sound of Grey

alt: Echoes of You

alt: The Invisibility of Grey


4.  Genre and Comps

Contemporary fiction, Romance

Comps: Deb Caletti, Colleen Hoover, Nghi Vo

Musical Comps: Chasing Cars by Snow Patrol (Grey) and Car Crash by Matt Nathanson (Gretchen)

“All of the complicated love of Colleen Hoover, mixed with the magic of Tahereh Mafi“


5. Logline(s)

A young woman with the uncanny ability to experience the memories of others through second-hand clothing, embarks on a journey to find the source of the most intriguing clothing she’s encountered yet.

A young woman, addicted to the rush she gets from wearing second-hand clothing, chases down the one person who’s clothing gives her the highest highs, only to be surprised by what she finds.


6. Inner Conflict & Secondary Conflict

Inner: Gretchen’s relationship to her echo ability has morphed over the years from something she feared to something she needs and craves. The withdrawal-like symptoms that present when she goes without an echo for days are miserable. And so she is always chasing the next item of clothing, that next high. When she stumbles upon Grey’s echoes, the obsession is immediate and drives her to seek him out in real life. However, he’s not the person she was expecting when she finally meets him (playing guitar with his band at the bar) and is compelled to prove to him his worth through whatever means necessary.

Secondary: Gretchen has convinced Jonah to join her at the Whiskey Stop as she tries to see Grey for the first time in real life. Jonah knows she’s been re-living the memories from Grey’s clothing, but doesn’t think she should be traveling down this path of finding him in the real world. Gretchen doesn’t understand the train wreck Jonah feels coming. They bicker in the car on the way to the bar, and Jonah attempts to put his foot down once more outside the door. Ultimately they both go in, but this scene cements the notion that Jonah, who’s very open and accepting of Gretchen’s freak abilities, disagrees strongly with her decision to act on impulse.


7. Setting

Two main settings.

The first is the Nifty Thrifty thrift store, where Gretchen works. It’s run down, in need of new paint and updated fixtures. Smells a heady combination of moth balls and Febreze. Despite all of this, it remains a staple in the small community, a name that’s been there since before many of the residents can remember. Along with a steady flow of customers is a healthy supply of incoming clothes dropped off from families constantly cleaning out their closets. It’s here that Gretchen and Jonah work, and where Gretchen supplies herself with new clothing for echoes.

The second is The Whiskey Stop, the bar where Grey’s band plays every weekend (Friday’s and Saturdays). While it runs a thin crew during the week, The Whiskey Stop boasts very busy weekends, with Grey’s band being the popular house entertainment. The bar also serves as a location for Gretchen and Grey to meet, as well as stars in many of Grey’s echoes.

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My seven assignments before the Monterey 2022 retreat:

FIRST ASSIGNMENT: write your story statement. 

  • Stop the Devil from escaping Hell, and redeem herself and save her friends while doing it.

SECOND ASSIGNMENT: in 200 words or less, sketch the antagonist or antagonistic force in your story.

  • The Devil has been the boss of Deep Hell since it began. While he’s kept the baddies down, he’s effectively a prisoner himself, and even an immortal can absorb the nastiness of others over millennia. He’s mad in more than one way and wants out. While most of the baddies who try to escape go for the smash-everything route, the Devil intends to do it intelligently. He’s been using his minions to test the Bells’ reactions while quietly poking around himself, until he’s ready to make his break for the living world. Unfortunately, he’s realized there’s only one way out, and a being such as he will not survive the journey. He requires a soul and its spark to hide inside: one that won’t be promptly noticed by the Bells–whose duty it is to round up any escaped baddies–and whipped back to Deep Hell. His objective is not to start a war; he just wants out. He needs a Bell, a new one whose defenses are low, whose spark he can hide inside, who he can command to take him to the one way out to the mortal world: the tree of life.

THIRD ASSIGNMENT: create a breakout title.

  • Hell’s Bells (this is the title, or potentially the series name, but inventing other options for the assignment)

  • Chime of the Bluebells

  • Ring the Devil Down

FOURTH ASSIGNMENT: - Develop two smart comparables for your novel.

  • Sherri S Tepper (older works like True Game and Awakeners) for inventive and bizarre worlds, hints of feminist themes

  • Jim Butcher (Dresden Files) for witty underdog first-person MC, some magic, somewhat modern, fantasy creatures, holding evil at bay

  • Genre of Hell’s Bells: low fantasy, a bit of urban, a bit of paranormal, dash of Gothic, but not a romance

FIFTH ASSIGNMENT: write your own hook line (logline) with conflict and core wound.

  • A soul who struggled to find self-worth in life escapes damnation by earning a place in the purgatorial City of Bells, but must now prove herself and save her friends as the Devil of Deep Hell tries to break free.

SIXTH ASSIGNMENT: sketch out the conditions for the inner conflict your protagonist will have. Next, likewise sketch a hypothetical scenario for the "secondary conflict" involving the social environment.

  • Inner conflict of protagonist: she struggled to feel valuable and worthwhile in life, and has now barely dodged damnation of one kind or another. Once again, she faces living in a society where she is expected to contribute and feels the same self-doubt. One critical determining factor in a Bell’s usefulness is what beast they can shift into for fighting demons. The MC is afraid she will be useless, and the first time she shifts, she can only bring her shape into that of the cat she raised as a child, who was small and sickly. Her fears are confirmed; such a beast form is useless.

  • Secondary conflict: she is stunned to encounter a man she knew in her time alive, but he doesn’t recognize her. She had quite an infatuation for him when alive several decades ago, but although they were friendly and even affectionate, he never chose her as a romantic partner. This contributed to her sense of not being good enough (see main inner conflict). In the City of Bells there are no physical bodies, no gonads, no sex, no romantic love, no marriage, so it’s not like she has a “second chance,” but she does have the opportunity to become his friend again and to fight beside him–in fact, to form a deeper bond than the superficial crush she had before. One thing she must decide is whether to tell him who she is. True names are not supposed to be shared–not even uttered–because with a true name comes some control over the soul. She wants an explanation of why he didn’t want her, but she also wants to stop ruminating over what she perceives as failures of her time alive.

FINAL ASSIGNMENT: sketch out your setting in detail. 

  • Summary: setting is in pre-Hell sorting and testing caverns, the City of Bells, the Hell desert, and possibly Deep Hell (but I don’t think the MC gets there in this story).

  • Pre-Hell is where the story starts, with the arrival of the MC down a waterfall, into a pool with dozens of other dead souls, ringed by jagged black rock. The rest of the cavern is also black rock, including a spit of it bisecting two lakes and a big rocky spur with the mechanisms for raising and lowering a dozen gibbet cages. From there, a swim across one of the lakes, which appears bottomless, no signs of life, and up a stone stairway behind the far wall. From there we enter a series of tests, all with a rushing river below in caves or somewhat finished stone rooms. To start, a seesaw test, then a cave squeeze, into a circular room with a pattern test and three doors to choose from. Two of course lead to destruction. Upon picking the correct door, there begins a descent using heavy chains through unfinished jagged and dark tower-like caverns. At the bottom of this descent, we enter the City of Bells.

  • The Bluebell House is a major set piece for this story, and we enter it in the bell room, where a bell dangles at the end of the last chain the MC descends upon. The Bluebell House is three stories (can add on a fourth if needed later) and the bell room is the bottom floor at the very back. Construction materials are wood and stone and metal, no plastics anywhere in this realm. Architecture is plain, worn, and pre-industrial revolution, vaguely British. Also on the bottom floor is the bathing chamber, used by all house inhabitants, with partitioned tubs and showers from various eras. Water enters through stone channels like aqueducts and is mixed with ancient stone and metal levers. No boiler, water arrives constantly in three temperatures: cold, warm, and hot. There are also communal bathing and resting pools in the center of the room. It’s a very old room, so there are lots of mineral deposits from the water, but there’s no mold or rot, as there is no life here. Spiral stairs connect the floors. Second, or main floor, is a common room and hallway with five similar bedrooms off each side. All fabrics are in shades of blue, mostly light blue, no synthetic fabrics. No electricity, lighting is by oil lamp. There is an old, rotary-style telephone, but no plastic used in its construction. The common room has windows on three walls and looks out over the city, river below, and desert in the distance. The third floor of the Bluebell House is where the maintainer and leader have their quarters, and a library with a wall of windows and skylights in the ceiling.

  • The rest of the City of Bells: the Bluebell House is but one building in the city. The city is built mostly of stone, but with many different styles, as it has been added to over the last several thousand years as the population increased (by immigration, not babies). All buildings have a bell tower. Architecture from all over the living world can be found there. The inhabitants were all human (now they’re dead), and are equally from all eras and cultures, all races, sexes, and appearances, though most choose to appear to be between the ages of 20 and 50. They dress however they want, and their colorful clothing (within the abilities of natural fabric and simple dyeing techniques) are the brightest colors in the city. There is no life in the city–no trees, flowers, or even weeds or fungi or bacteria. This is a dead world. There are, however, many small waterfalls cascading through the city, between the buildings and under pedestrian bridges. There are no vehicles. The sky is not a real sky at all: actually a stone roof to the realm that glows white like daylight, and fades into a day-night cycle. The city curves to hug a high cliff, like the side of a steep mountain, so there are lots of ramps and stairs going up the terraced levels. It is at least a few miles long. At either end the rock wall becomes vertical and curves forward, making the city sort of a crescent shape if viewed from above. From tip to tip of that crescent, in a straight line, runs a frothing river, as powerful as though it were in floor stage, in a chasm twenty feet deep and two hundred feet wide. This is the Peace River. From the river rises thick mist, up a hundred feet. Many bridges cross the river, most of a drawbridge type, others suspension type and easily destroyed. At the center point is one stone bridge twenty feet wide. There are guard posts at the end of all the larger bridges. There is a wide walk between the edge of the river chasm and the start of the city. Nearest the main bridge are the oldest, most castle-like mansions. Up the hill from them in the center of the city is a large fountain with a pyramid of stone animals, larger animals on the bottom, smaller ones standing on their backs, birds at the top, all spouting water. This is one of the sources of holy water, which is only found in the City of Bells. Uphill from this fountain, still at the midpoint of the city, there is a fenced courtyard where a pillar of water falls from above.

  • The Bell Arch: at the very back center of the city is a rib of stone that rises along the cliff wall until it curls forward in a promontory, through which falls a pillar of water from the sky above. Stone stairs wrap the rib, going through tunnels at its backside, in a spiral to the top. A guardian of a holy water well lives at the top with a cave-like room decorated like a medieval-style studio apartment. There is a small spring of holy water there that emerges from a mound of rock carved with a variety of symbols. The rib continues its curl out to form the promontory. Stairs are cut into the first steep part. It forms a sort of loop, or circle, at the end, through which falls the water. It is from this fall of water that the inhabitants of the city acquire their bells. Also in the cliff wall are tiny hollows where black hummingbirds rest. The black hummingbirds serve the bells by carrying messages in Morse Code. Despite looking like living birds, they do not breed or eat. They drink only the holy water.

  • The Hell desert: beyond the City of Bells and the Peace River is an enormous desert. Like the rest of the realm, there is no life there, but there are inhabitants. In addition to aforementioned black hummingbirds, there are cuckoos and other small animal-like creatures, but they do not eat and do not breed. Hellhounds also patrol there. They are dog-like, though they can resemble many different breeds, but they only come in shades of gray, sometimes spotted or in other patterns. Hellhounds are the police of Deep Hell and work to capture any escaped baddies. To that end, they have created a few walls and trenches, and even some simple defensive structures, but most of their work begins about halfway across the desert. There is no water in the desert, but there can be other liquids such as pits or rivers of acids or molten rock. It is not all sand, though there are sections of dunes. Some parts are rocky, including large plateaus or deep chasms.

  • Deep Hell: the place where evil is contained and punished beyond the desert. A place of horrors, not just endless rows of prison cells and dungeons, all the myths of human religions have described the place, and it is all there. Lakes of fire, boiling pits, monsters and demons: it can be found there somewhere. The MC and other Bells do not venture there.

  • The railway: the city is supplied by rail once every ten days. The rail line is on the desert side, just beyond the bridges. There is a train depot. The train itself is short, and the locomotive is not powered by coal (no fossil fuels in this realm) but by a dragon-like creature that breathes fire to stoke the boiler. It is chained to the engine.

  • The Tree of Life: there is a story of a massive tree whose roots drink from the Peace River, but the Peace River vanishes into a tunnel at one end of the city, and it is so full of boulders that to try to navigate it by boat would be reckless.

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1st assignment

Story Statement

At first it seems there are three unrelated stories about coming of age in the 60’s and 70’s.  The three protagonists come from very different places, have nothing in common, and each is unaware of the other two’s existence.  Connections begin to be hinted at, circumstances steer the three into contact, and eventually conflict.



2nd assignment



Lenny comes from an affluent suburb and has it all figured out.  Get an MBA, become a CPA, and concentrate on having as much fun as possible.  The Vietnam war intrudes, and many of his friends (especially one special, outrageous woman) are taking a stance.


Jean grows up on a farm in New Hampshire.  He plans to become an engineer and modernize the plumbing business his father and uncle own.  His dad suffers a fatal heart attack during Jean’s senior year, and he needs to reorder his priorities.


Steven’s father and grandfather are members of the Brooklyn mafia, and expect Steven to follow.  Steven uses his extraordinary intelligence and athleticism to become a leader in his neighborhood.  His father’s aspirations for Steven include law school, professional athlete, and politician, which could be useful to the mafia.


All three protagonists have clear and attainable goals.  But one uncontrollable antagonist throws a  monkey wrench into their plans.  Vinny is the original Bad Boy, the kid no one was allowed to play with.  Tough, mean, and a head taller than every one else, Vinny was always in trouble and couldn’t have cared less.  And he was in the same mafia family as Steven.



3rd assignment



It’s Music


When I read James Taylor’s advice to students at the Tanglewood Music Center in August of 1998, I knew I had my title.

“Stay out of small Italian sports cars, avoid a major drug habit, and keep your overhead down. Don’t marry and have children until you are ready for that.  Render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s, but no more. And always remember the path back to the well. This is not investment banking, it’s music.”



4th assignment



I need a combo genre, Historical Fiction/Crime Novel.  Crimes are committed and people die, but the backdrop of it all is the tapestry of a seminal period in our nation’s history woven by three protagonists with very different perspectives.


The characters and their stories in It’s Music are fiction, but the events that shaped them are fact.  In Caleb’s Crossing Geraldine Brooks blends fictional characters with historical facts to effectively imbed the reader into a different time period.  In Paula Hawkins’ The Girl on the Train the main character is unwittingly drawn into a criminal world she knows nothing about, and struggles to make sense of what’s happening around her.  Lenny and Jean find themselves in a similar situation in It’s Music.  I’ve also reached back to a couple of my favorite Golden Oldies and incorporate the generational disconnect central to Philip Roth’s The Graduate, and the combination of whimsy and gravitas reminiscent of Joseph Heller’s Catch 22.



5th assignment



Three twenty-somethings walk into a bar in 1969, a plumber from rural New Hampshire, a wannabe hippy from an affluent New York suburb, and a mafioso from Brooklyn.  The bartender asks, “What do you three young bucks plan to do with the rest of your lives?”  The plumber says, “I grew up on a farm and studied engineering so I can modernize my family’s plumbing company.  I live my life according to the traditional values of rural New England.”  The hippy says, “I have no use for traditional values.  I’m starting a new type of family based on peace, love, and communal living.  I’m a Baby Boomer, and we’re gonna’ change the world!”  And the mafioso spits out, “My family has controlled our Brooklyn neighborhood since the turn of the century.  We’re in need of some big-time cash right now, so I’m gonna’ dupe these two losers into helping me build a Las Vegas style casino on that useless farm in New Hampshire.”


This novel has neither the bar nor the bartender, but it does have the three young bucks.  The “useless farm in New Hampshire” is the farm where Jean’s family has lived for three generations.  Lenny’s merry band of hippies, which eventually includes Jean, hope to locate their commune there.  But Steven has used bribery and coercion to obtain an option on the farm because the site is uniquely suited for a Las Vegas style casino, and he will stop at nothing to get the property.



6th assignment

Primary and Secondary Conflicts

Steven has to deal with constant intrafamily grudges that go back numerous generations.  Steven’s Uncle Vito and his son Vinny are time bombs waiting to explode, and Vinny’s not interested in waiting.


New Hampshire’s mores are stuck in the 50’s, but “the times, they are a changin” and Jean’s high school sweetheart is intrigued by the possibilities.  Jean is unsure, having thrived under the old order.  His father’s untimely death puts pressure on Jean to make decisions about his future.


For Lenny it’s the Vietnam War that forces him to commit one way or the other.  Can he really be a hippy and live on a commune?  Or should he fulfill a childhood fantasy of being a fighter pilot?  The upcoming draft lottery is imminent, and the rest of his life will depend on his decision.


Lenny’s decision is difficult because he’s constantly questioning himself.  Does he have the courage to “Tune in, Turn on, and Drop out?”  Or be a fighter pilot?  Or just get his MBA and become an accountant?  What do his arty friends in SoHo think of him?  They’re an outrageous group, and his girlfriend Sheila, the queen of outrage, is egging him on.


The death of Jean’s father makes him the man of the house before he is ready.  He’s always done the right thing, but now he can’t be sure what that is.  Everything seems a half bubble off

level.  His rock solid girlfriend is the steadying force helping him over the hurdles


Steven was on the OCD spectrum before “OCD” and “spectrum” was a thing.  His ability to focus intensely on one thing is enabling and disabling.  His teenage romance is a bewildering struggle of self-inflicted stops and starts, amplified because his connection to the mafia forces him to live a double life.



7th assignment



It’s Music takes place in an era of protests, assassinations, nuclear saber-rattling, war, peace, drugs, and love, clearly defined by the music we heard and sang, gospel that still elicits exuberant sing-alongs  The three protagonists offer three unique perspectives on this seminal period in American history as they wend their separate ways through the tumultuous decade spanning the mid 60’s and 70’s.


Lenny’s friends are a group of aspiring actors, writers, singers, dancers, artists of all shapes and sizes who live in Soho.  The establishment - politicians, bankers, police - are their enemies, clearly clueless about the real meaning of life.  He sees the world through their eyes, and so does the reader.


Jean was raised in rural New Hampshire, where The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet and Leave it to Beaver exemplified the ideal American family.  Mary Tyler Moore and her TV husband had to be in separated twin beds when shown on The Dick Van Dyke Show.   While the hypocrisy inherent in these shows was being challenged by a new wave of entertainers, they were mostly confined to independent venues in larger cities.  Small town America was still living in the 1950’s.  Jean is tentative, even fearful, of the new world order espoused by his peers.


Steven is a city kid from a mafia family.  He deals in facts and reality and has no time for the social and political noise confusing his peers.  His on-again off-again romance with Gail forces him to grapple with the changes happening around him.   The combination of his extraordinary intelligence and elite athleticism push him into leadership roles in the gang-centric streets of Brooklyn.  He is frequently overwhelmed, but has the fortitude and the ability to push through.

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Tina Zemla

1.       Story Statement:  A young man and his family must overcome the stain of Nazism caused by his SS officer father.

2.       Antagonist:  Heinrich Hofmann is the antagonist character in the story, and the evil policies of Nazi Germany are the antagonistic force.  Heinrich was raised in an anti-Semitic, nationalistic household, and he follows in his father’s footsteps in joining the newly revitalized Nazi party.  Heinrich’s goal is to rise in the ranks of the party and raise a perfect Aryan family.  Heinrich forces his wife, Greta, to belong to Nazi social circles, his son, Albert, to join the Hitler Youth, and the family to forsake Christianity.  Heinrich’s alcohol and drug use causes him to be aggressive and violent.  He reacts with authoritarian coldness and a sense of entitlement to the world around him.  His choices lead to tragedy and the family’s near ruin.

3.       Titles:    The SS Officer’s Son

                       From The Ashes Of Edelweiss

                       Leni’s Cat

4.       Comparables:    WWII Historical Fiction

                                                             The German Wife – Debbie Rix:  This novel is about a young German woman who falls in love with a doctor who becomes an SS officer and must work at the Auschwitz concentration camp.  She becomes disillusioned with life as a Nazi wife and seeks to be with a Russian POW she has fallen in love with.

                                                             The Boy In The Striped Pajamas – John Boyne: Boyne writes from the POV of a young boy who is the son of the Auschwitz camp commandant during WWII.  Bruno meets various Nazi officer characters including Hitler, but doesn't quite understand what he is seeing when he looks over at the prisoners behind the barbed wire fence at the camp.

5.       Core Wound: The core wound suffered by the protagonist (Albert) is his father’s abandonment of the family and the lies he told to his children about the nature of their lives as Nazis.  Hook Line: The son of an SS officer must keep his past secret while at the same time grapple with his father’s crimes against humanity.

6.       Secondary Conflicts:  Albert’s mother Greta, the other protagonist in the story, is in constant conflict with her Nazi existence while she deals with the fallout of her life choice with her parents, brother, and best friend.  The evils of Nazism adversely affect everyone in her life, including her children.

7.       Setting:  Inside Nazi Germany from the Aryan family’s perspective – it shows how myopic and surface-driven it is.  In the 1920s, we go from the bucolic German countryside to the wild and decadent nightlife of Weimar Berlin. The beauty of Germany is only skin-deep in the 1930s and 40s.  The opulence of Hitler’s Berghof Castle and the pageantry of the Nuremberg rallies hide the evil bubbling beneath the surface.  Cracks in the surface begin to appear when Greta and Albert start to question Heinrich’s lies and the ugly truth explodes their perfect façade. After the war is over, Greta, Albert, and Albert’s sister Leni suffer the consequences for Heinrich’s actions through the dismal setting of post-war DP camps and the life of immigrants on the run.

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First Assignment: Battle prejudice, disease and ostracism to survive.

Second Assignment: The antagonistic force for Anna begins with her parents who forbid her marriage to the man she loves. But after she defies them and marries him anyway the community in which they live becomes an antagonistic force against her as an outsider. When Charles deserts her then the harsh realities that befall single mothers in 1913 are the antagonizing forces, these are personified again, by her mother, a hateful neighbor, and a sexually assertive boss.

The antagonistic force for Charles (the other POV character) is Tuberculosis and the other characters that inflict prejudice on him throughout the novel.

Third Assignment :

Saving Grace (I'm pretty attached to that one after 10 years of title changes)

Fourth Assignment:

The Orphan Collector by Ellen Marie Wiseman

As Bright as Heaven by Susan Meissner


Fifth Assignment :

In 1913, a white girl and a Greek immigrant defy her parents and buck society by eloping, but when Tuberculosis rips them apart the young couple must battle, prejudice, disease and ostracism just to survive.

Sixth Assignment:

Charles: his love for Anna would propel him to both want to stay with her and desert her to keep her safe.

Anna: Not knowing whether Charles loved her or left her, Anna will lie to her friends to cover his disappearance.

Charles: His need for acceptance will drive him into the arms of another woman, which will jeopardize his reunion with his wife.

Anna: Her pride will drive her to steal to feed herself and her child costing her the network of support she once had.

Seventh Assignment:

Much of the novel is set in the West End of Boston, which is a dramatic change from Anna’s homogenous white neighborhood in the suburbs. The West End is teeming with immigrants from Greece, Italy, and Russia among others.

The rest of the novel is set in a TB sanatorium in Upstate New York


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First Assignment: Battle prejudice, disease and ostracism to survive.

Second Assignment: The antagonistic force for Anna begins with her parents who forbid her marriage to the man she loves. But after she defies them and marries him anyway the community in which they live becomes an antagonistic force against her as an outsider. When Charles deserts her then the harsh realities that befall single mothers in 1913 are the antagonizing forces, these are personified again, by her mother, a hateful neighbor, and a sexually assertive boss.

The antagonistic force for Charles (the other POV character) is Tuberculosis and the other characters that inflict prejudice on him throughout the novel.

Third Assignment :

Saving Grace (I'm pretty attached to that one after 10 years of title changes)

Fourth Assignment:

The Orphan Collector by Ellen Marie Wiseman

As Bright as Heaven by Susan Meissner


Fifth Assignment :

In 1913, a white girl and a Greek immigrant defy her parents and buck society by eloping, but when Tuberculosis rips them apart the young couple must battle, prejudice, disease and ostracism just to survive.

Sixth Assignment:

Charles: his love for Anna would propel him to both want to stay with her and desert her to keep her safe.

Anna: Not knowing whether Charles loved her or left her, Anna will lie to her friends to cover his disappearance.

Charles: His need for acceptance will drive him into the arms of another woman, which will jeopardize his reunion with his wife.

Anna: Her pride will drive her to steal to feed herself and her child costing her the network of support she once had.

Seventh Assignment:

Much of the novel is set in the West End of Boston, which is a dramatic change from Anna’s homogenous white neighborhood in the suburbs. The West End is teeming with immigrants from Greece, Italy, and Russia among others.

The rest of the novel is set in a TB sanatorium in Upstate New York


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