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New York Pre-Event Assignments - June 2021

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1. Story Statement- When a Voodoo God of Death abandons the Underworld to entertain himself, death spirits are being killed and humans can’t die.


2. The Antagonist- After Baron Samedi abandons his duties for a life of debauchery in the human world, death spirits are being randomly slaughtered. As a result, humans cannot pass into the afterlife, having been forced into longer excruciating deaths. A young Jamaican high school student, Taroen Stewart, trying to impress a girl by stealing graveyard dirt, encounters a Congolese spirit, who, along with an assortment of other grim reapers, force him to search for Baron Samedi to compel him his return to the Underworld. Taroen is uniquely unqualified for the task, having no experience in the voodoo or the occult. He resents being pressed into service and hostilities dramatically increase when he finds out that he actually the son of Baron Samedi.


3.  Breakout Titles-Death Spirits Rising: The Books of Samedi

      When Death Walks Out

 The Voodoo Prince

4.  Stormfront by Jim Butcher, the Netflix Series Lucifer


5.  Hook line: Dead people bore him, sunrises intrigue him, but when death quits his job, the living will suffer.


6.  Inner Turmoil: Taroen Stewart wants to be a normal teenager, but instead he is forcibly dragged into an world he wasn’t aware even existed. With his life on the line, and forced to deliver a wily, wanton voodoo death god to a cemetery, Taroen is terrified when certain powers arise in him. He later learns that an entity he is the son of Baron Samedi.


7. Social Conflict: Baron Samedi has taken over the body of handsome thirty something lawyer.He spends time enjoying human carnal, culinary and intellectual pleasures. He has no desire to the “go back to dead guy land.”


Other death spirits, an Irish banshee, a French grim reaper, and Charon the Greek Ferryman, cannot fulfill their respective duties, escorting the newly dead to heaven, hell or purgatory. The death spirits are as terrified as Taroen because they are being killed by the necromancer who possessed a knife that kills them. A Catholic priest from Taroen’s school who is familiar with all the parties involved attempts to strike a balance between the spirits, Taroen and Baron Samedi.


8. Setting- Dark Spirits Rising enters world of dark, urban fantasy.


The story occurs in urban cities of Newark and Jersey City, New Jersey. The opening scene occurs in the Underworld as the Baron is digging a grave for a newly executed murderer. After he sends the murderer’s soul to hell, he then sees the open grave as an entrance to the living world. Assuming the body of a young handsome lawyer, he seeks out a voodoo priestess to enjoy expensive booze, sex, fine cuisine, and interacting humans in the city streets. One of the Banshees is murdered on the streets of Chelsea by the same necromancer who is responsible for the killing other death spirits.


The final scene in the book takes place in an old, converted gymnasium in Jersey City where the death spirits led by Samedi fight the necromancer to prevent Taroen’s girlfriend from being a human sacrifice for the necromancer.



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1.     Before you begin to consider or rewrite your story premise, you must develop a simple "story statement." In other words, what's the mission of your protagonist? The goal? What must be done?

To assert her presence in a society that dismisses her as invisible and voiceless

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.

The antagonistic force is the Philippine class system as embodied by various characters. Among the primary ones are members of a wealthy family – Bart (father), Elena (mother), and Rina (daughter) Borgas. Bart is the president of a bank that is under the control of a dictatorial government. His status rewards him with a wealth and recognition that absolve him of past failed business ventures. Elena comes from poverty. With her chicanery, she has buried her history with fabrications of a privileged upbringing and is now a dominating force in high society. Rina is trapped between her own wishes and those of her mother. She shares sincere feelings with her beau, who hails from a pedigreed family. When he proposes marriage, her mother considers this a personal triumph, scoffing at Rina's insistence that it is love, not social standing, that joins them.

There are three maids in the Borgas mansion. Elena and Rina treat them with imperious airs. Bart is genial but with an ulterior motive. The brunt of their target is a maid named Celeste (protagonist). Plain and poor, with an independent spirit and the mettle to speak her mind, Celeste represents a threat to the social hierarchy.

3.     Create a breakout title (list several options, not more than three, and revisit to edit as needed).

A Voice in the Storm

Because of You

Music Beyond the Stars

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?

The Girl from the Coast by Pramoedya Ananta – This is the tale of a poor girl from an Indonesian fishing village who is forced to marry a wealthy man. Little communication occurs with her husband. She is nothing more than his possession.

Miss Burma by Charmaine Craig – The novel explores human relations in the midst of a political drama. The protagonist is Burma's first beauty queen, who survives a civil war and a dictatorship.

My novel is set in the Philippines during the final year of Ferdinand Marcos's 20-year dictatorship (1985-1986). The protagonist is a provincial girl who moves to Manila to pursue her ambition of becoming a singer. She first earns her keep with a wealthy family, then flees their mansion after the master of the family attempts to violate her, finding her community in the tourist district, where as a club singer, she voices the woes of the working Filipino.

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.

Invisibility for being plain and poor ignites the creative fire: songstress Celeste shines with music that unites Filipinos against a despot. But she will betray her country if she succumbs to love with an American and flees West.

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.

Celeste's American lover has proposed marriage and promises a life of comfort and happiness in America. She has accepted but has misgivings. Lyndon is also half Filipino. Accounts of discrimination when he was new to America as a child informs her that, even if she were to take on his American surname and be granted American citizenship, Americans may not be so welcoming of her because of the color of her skin. She also sees through daily media coverage of Western pop celebrities – Madonna, Schwarzenegger, an ever-whitening Michael Jackson - that she and her music would have no place in the United States. Though the love between her and Lyndon is true, Celeste realizes that her place is in the Philippines. The everyday working folks and Filipino laborers are whom she wishes to touch with her songs. She needs them and they need her.

7.     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?

Celeste's father has run for mayor in their small town. Her grandfather was once mayor before World War II, and her father wants to reclaim the family name. At the same time, the current mayor has been promising the town a better life, but his promises remain unfulfilled. She sings to win her father votes, but he loses due to corrupt voting tactics on the part of the current mayor, who eventually plunders the town in search of gold purportedly buried there during the war. Celeste vows to avenge her father and to restore the town's pride by making something of herself with her voice.

8.     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.

Calinte – A hilltop province. Homes are made of wood and stone. An 18th-century church constructed of volcanic ash with a belfry dominates the town square. Fauna grows through the belfry fissures, and the crucifix affixed on the façade spire resembles a giant X against the dizzying clouds and blue sky.

Celeste's home is a ramshackle structure the gray of gravel and grime. It was once a mansion, for her maternal grandfather had been an influential man with wealth. World War II brought the family to ruin. The only remnants of the home's former glory are a stained glass window in the living room and the ceiling socket from where once hung a chandelier. The furniture is now plastic with duct tape that seals tears, an old Singer sewing machine, and a makeshift altar of Jesus and Mary. The family quarters on the second level are furnished with bare essentials. Bunks beds for the boys and girls. (Celeste has three sisters and three brothers), a cot for the parents, and a bureau in each room.

Forbes Park – A high-class residential area in the capital of Manila. A high gate and stone walls border the Borgas mansion, with a long driveway that swerves up to double portals. The mansion has limestone walls and a patio with French doors that open into a garden. Mango and palm trees are in full bloom, and beds of bougainvillea plants and hibiscuses line the walls and dot sloping hillocks.

Portraits of Ma'am Borgas's ancestors adorn the living room. A statue of the Madonna stands in the patio. Dining chairs and furniture in the living room as well as in the family quarters on the second level are upholstered in brocade. The maids quarter downstairs consists of a sitting area with an oven and a black and white TV.

Celeste's room has a bunk bed and a drawer set. A calendar that bears the image of Jesus Christ is tacked on the door along with a magazine cover cutout of her favorite singer, Nora Aunor (a Philippine musical icon). The images of Jesus and Aunor are directly across from the window for daylight to shine on upon each sunrise.

Ermita – The red-light tourist district. Ermita was once a high-class district before World War II. It contains abandoned lots with crumbling palatial homes juxtaposed with drive-in motels, karaoke bars, plastic encasements above brothel entrances, and money exchange venues. Buildings are covered in grim with laundry hanging on window grids.

Cherry Bar – The first establishment where Celeste earns a reputation for her voice. It is a low-class bar that caters to the working class and laborers. A placard with scratch marks and an illustration of double cherries hang on the front door. The inside is dimly lit in red light, with four tables and chairs on the right, a bar to the left, and a stage behind the bar. Posters of Conan the Barbarian and other Western media icons are taped on a mirror wall behind the bar. Her own room has a cot, a ceiling bulb with a cord switch, and a door mirror that has a horizontal crack at the middle.

White Palace – A high-end establishment that Celeste later works at. It is a white structure with a harem-like dome and opaque windows to black portals. Inside, strobe lights illuminate the stage, which is adorned with papier mache trees and plants. The dining area consists of tables covered in floor-length cloth. Her own room is painted white with a bed, a bureau, and a color TV.

The juxtaposition of wealth with decay makes for a dramatic backdrop for a story about class, oppression, and race.


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Truth Writer

1. In Truth Writer, Layla Whittaker must harness her new super power and use it properly. Set on solving the mystery behind the death of her crush’s mother, Layla must decide how far she is willing to go to figure it out.


The antagonistic force in The Truth Writer is the magic of truth writing. A psychological twist to a young adult fiction motif of having a villain character, Truth Writer dances with the idea of classmate enemies, but ultimately looks inward. Layla’s super power opens up a world of possibilities for her.

Throughout the entire novel, Layla is determined to use her new super power to uncover the cause of Caleb’s mother’s death ten years prior to the novel’s setting. She is set on using her power for good, but it eventually consumes her. Doing some research into her family’s past, Layla learns that her father was similarly consumed by truth writing, so much so that he fled human connection altogether. Truth-writing drove a wedge between him and his family, friends, and Layla’s mother. 

Layla must decide what’s most important to her: being there for Caleb or knowing how his mother died. In the end, she chooses friendship, the peak of human connection, over truth-writing. Her special powers could never replace natural human connection and its incomparable ability to uncover truth. In the end, her decision to be there for Caleb in a way that no one ever has before is what gives her the answer she had been searching for all along.


Breakout Title Options:

Truth Writer

The Truth Writer

She Cries on Paper

Not Her Memories


 4. Comparables

My Young Adult Contemporary Fiction novel is set on showing the many complexities of being a teenager, relating to one another, and communicating with your parents. Layla Whittaker, the main event of my novel, should be the strong, confident student we all watched accept awards from Leadership, to Creative Writing, to Math in high school. In 2018, she should be the kind of girl who is as quick to win over her fellow students as she is their parents. We stan a girl who does it all! But throw her into a new school where she’s not the smartest student anymore, and she might not be as loud. Show her a crush whose past is shrouded in mystery, and she might not be able to focus on her Calc assignments. Oh yeah, and throw in a new superpower that seems to have chosen her to solve the mystery, but also has her questioning her own past, and she may be more than a little lost. Suffice it to say, Layla has more on her plate than the average student. She is a complex teenager, with a sharp wit and the grades to match. She has routines she can’t stray from, but loves to jump out of her comfort zone a little too. She loves Springsteen and coffee and a well-placed Shakespeare quote. She bravely steps off of the path that is assumed of her, albeit a little clumsily. 

Emma Lord, “You Have a Match”

These character complexities and the dialogues that nurture them very deeply resemble those of Emma Lord’s novels, most notably “You Have a Match.” Layla is similar to Lord’s characters in fiber and drive, which are the two things I like most about her. I strive to achieve the quippy dialogue and snarky commentary that Lord has so effortlessly won in “You Have a Match”.

John Green, “Turtles All the Way Down”

It goes without saying that John Green’s character depth and attention to detail are unmatched, except for by other big names like Neil Gaiman and David Foster Wallace. Not Brigitta Estelle Burguess. Layla is similar, however, to John Green’s Aza Holmes. To be a fly on the wall with those two young ladies would be a treat.



Newly gifted with a unique ability to write for others, Layla must decide if using it to solve the case of her crush’s mother’s death is worth risking their budding friendship and romance.




After learning the power of her new magic trick, truth writing, Layla decides to use it for a greater purpose. She hopes to write for Caleb and eventually uncover some of the memories he has repressed surrounding his mother’s death. This plan seems like a no-brainer, as it will solve a mystery that has been lingering unsolved for years, and it will bring her closer to Caleb. But when Caleb finds Layla’s writings and sees that they are somehow his own thoughts on paper, he is distraught and upset. Layla wishes she could undo everything in an instant. She sees that her obsession with solving the mystery has clouded her judgment. Ultimately, she has to decide if continuing to truth-write is more important to her than being a good friend -- the kind who takes the time out to actually get to know someone the hard way. This internal conflict mirrors one her father experienced many years before. We learn that Mr. Whittaker had this magical gift as well, and as a poet, it only enhanced his work. As a friend, however, it did him no favors. He began to resent his gift and wished he didn’t have the ability to know others so well. As a result, he shut himself off from the world, even refusing to spend time with family and friends. This drove a wedge between Mr. and Mrs. Whitakker, which was unbeknownst to Layla up until recently. Layla sees that truth writing is not more important than being there for those you care about. She explains her magic to Caleb, and promises not to use it around him anymore. 

The secondary conflict occurs between Layla and her mother. Their relationship has always been extremely close,  more friends than mother and daughter. They tell each other everything. Because of this, Layla is distraught to learn that her mother and father’s marriage was not going well before his death. Her picture-perfect view of her parents is shaken as a result of her ability to write her mother’s thoughts on paper. Interestingly, Layla’s father also had this power. Layla’s mother didn’t know about the power then, and she doesn’t now. But Layla suspects that truth writing might have been the crux of her parent’s rocky marriage. She must decide whether to include her mother in her present, and in so doing, shed an important light on the past. Layla ultimately decides to share this information with her mother, as they have always been a team. Just like that, her mother is on the inside, where she can help Layla navigate this power. Because of this, Layla and her mother are able to grow together in a way they never thought possible.



My YAF novel is set in Portland, Maine. It is a unique setting, as it is large and complex enough to offer a great deal of variation in landscapes. For instance, Layla lives in a quaint, little house in Farmouth, Maine with her mother. Farmouth is a small town, with cute little shops and the Casco Bay nearby. Layla has led a simple, predictable life there with her mother for years, attending school, frequenting the local cafe, and knowing (perhaps too much) about the townspeople. When she gets into the prestigious Burroughs Academy in Portland, she is shifted to a new environment. At a 15-minute bus ride, it’s not so far to terrify her, but it is far enough to remove her from the small town lifestyle. Portland, Maine is a mix of poorer families (like Layla’s) and more affluent ones (like the ones she meets at Burroughs). 

Much of the story occurs in two locations: Burroughs Academy and The JBC. Burroughs Academy is a wealthy prep school, with heavy doors, Gothic halls, and archways. It’s a very traditional school setting, with teachers in tweed and school uniform flare. Voices always seem to be echoing against the stone walls in the hallways, which makes having loud friends like Mia somewhat difficult. The JBC, or Julia’s Bakery and Cafe, is the Farmouth haunt that Layla and her mother have been frequenting for years. It’s half-bakery, with everything from scones, to muffins, to quiches filling the glass display cases. Pale pink all over would be a cutesy theme anywhere else, but with the wild cast of characters behind the counter at the JBC, it just works. Julia Strauss, the original owner and head baker, passed away ten years ago. But the wildly-scrawled recipes falling off the kitchen walls, the pink flower mugs, and the family photo-lined calendar hanging on the back door keep her legacy alive inside its walls.

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1) Story Statement:


To avoid losing the love of her life - for the second time - Corey Collins must come to terms with her twisted past and the tragic murder of her four-year-old brother and learn how to restore her trust in the world around her.



2) The Antagonist:


Growing up, Judy Collins was the black sheep of her family, always falling short of her well-to-do parent’s lofty expectations. In Judy’s own words, “she’s always been a bit of a fuck up.” When Judy has a daughter of her own who is blessed with the traits that Judy had longed for; beauty, likability, intelligence, and good sense, Judy rejects her daughter and treats her with a snide and jealous disregard. Rather than celebrating her daughter’s admirable traits, Judy sees her daughter as a reminder of all she never was and never will be. Lost in a constant state of low self-worth yet starving for acceptance, Judy spends her free time in bars getting drunk and latching onto any man who will show her attention. Judy’s sense of pain and rejection from her past, and her inability to find love in the present, have left her with a rough exterior and thick walls that act as a deterrent to all around her, including her own children. 



3) Title:


When the Fires Cease

Lavender’s Gift

The Lonesome Tree


4) Comps:


Where the Crawdads Sing – Similar atmospheric composition that plants the reader into the mysterious solitude of an ‘off-the-grid’ environment, where one never knows what may lie around the corner. Additionally, my story’s protagonist is a young girl who grew up in a violent home and, as a result of the destruction, lives in total isolation and has trouble trusting those around her.


The Great Alone — This story thrusts its readers into the unforgiving Alaskan backcountry where a family must quickly learn the ways of the land or essentially risk dying. With no electricity, running water, or other amenities, life in the Alaskan wilderness requires a thick skin and a lot of elbow grease. Similarly, my main character Corey has chosen a life of isolation, living on a self-sustained ranch in the backcountry of northern Arizona. Daily water hauls from her well, canning her seasonal bounty, meals by candlelight, and a hard-earned life, are a shared theme here. Descriptive writing elements about the tedious details that go into living off the grid run through both stories.



5) Hook line:


After the brutal murder of her younger brother, a fear-stricken and wounded young woman must learn how to let go of the past in order to not lose her future and the love of her life.  


6) Matters of Conflict:

Primary Conflict: The horrific murder of Corey’s little brother, Mason, and the social-emtional impact it has on Corey.

Secondary Conflict: Unbeknownst to her, Corey is living her life in the same manner as the person she despises most in the world; her mother. 

Inner Conflict: After the murder of her little brother, Corey loses all trust in people and operates from a place of fear and avoidance in order to prevent herself from ever having to experience the harrowing pain she endured as a child. If she is ever again to feel safe, and connect with others, she must confront her past.  

1)     Inner Conflict Scenario: When twenty-eight-year-old Corey is unexpectedly reunited with her former high school love Jack, she is flooded with emotions from the past, emotions that she has spent most of her life trying to forget. Jack was there on the night that Corey’s younger brother Mason was brutally murdered and will forever be a reminder to Corey of the horror from that evening. One morning, shortly after their chance reunion, Jack and Corey set out for a walk. Corey finds herself lulled back into the undeniable attraction she felt for Jack, yet when Jack tries to bring up the past, Corey pulls away, too frightened of the pain it will reignite. Corey ends up in a push-and-pull relationship with Jack, wanting him yet unable to confront the pain linked to him. 

2)     Secondary Conflict Scenario: Corey visits her mother Judy, who is serving life in prison as an accomplice to the murder of her son, Mason. Upon their first sit-down talk in ten years, Corey comes to realize she is living her life in the same manner as her mother; suppressing all emotions and avoiding the past. For the first time in her life, Judy encourages Corey not to repeat her own mistakes and instead, go make something of her life. With this new, unfamiliar encouragement and the bold determination to be nothing like the woman who raised her, Corey sees her life before her in a whole new light.


7) Setting:

Sedona, Arizona, is a tranquil yet mysterious setting with awe-inspiring rock formations at every turn. These dramatic mountains, peppered with ponderosa pines and swaying cypress trees, distinguish this touristy desert town from that of anywhere else. In Sedona, the sun defines each day but can quickly become your worst enemy if you are not respectful of its power as it sears through the thin air at four thousand feet. Miles and miles of forgotten backcountry allow characters to seep into the desert terrain and hide from the world around them, as does Corey Collins on her primitive twenty-seven-acre ranch. Corey’s slice of heaven reflects that of a mousy homesteader, much different than touristy Sedona, just an hour south. With fields of wildflowers, starry nights, yet rattlesnakes, and bears, Corey’s setting is one of both simple pleasures and unpredictable wild danger. Her ranch has no electricity or running water and requires full days of grueling manual labor to meet the needs of her land and livestock. But above all else, Corey’s rugged, remote ranch is where one goes when they wish to hide from the world around them.


Mesa, Arizona, is your typical Phoenix suburb, full of schools, parks, and strip malls, but within this town sits the apartment complex that Corey, her four-year-old brother Mason, and their mom Judy, reside. Their two-bedroom apartment reflects that of a careless, broke mother who has zero regard for any details that make a home. A stingy couch and an always-on TV are the epicenters of their apartment. The refrigerator is always in a state of near vacancy, and each night young Mason rests his head on an old mattress, atop the floor next to his sister in the bedroom they share. Their home is defined by rickety screen doors slamming shut, a cranky old neighbor who sits out front in a lawn chair reading the paper every day, and an atmosphere thick with the scent of cigarette smoke, booze, and anger. Adding additional complexity to this setting is that fact that Judy likes to bring home Jerry, a frightening, drug-dealer, after their nights out drinking. His presence adds a whole new dimension of fear and aggression into their world.



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On 7/26/2021 at 10:46 AM, Catherine Bennett said:


First Assignment

They’ll cross any line for money, including putting her wealthy sister away in a decrepit nursing home and orchestrating her other sister along with her son arrested for kidnapping.    From childhood, sisters Sophie and Elizabeth built a strong bond against their mother and older sister, Nancy.    But when Nancy and her preacher husband Charles, sign Sophie into a nursing home, leaving her trapped there, Elizabeth takes a stand, running toward Sophie, unwittingly walking herself and her son straight into a web of corruption.  A raw and compelling true story of a loathsome antagonist, Nancy, and Charles who take advantage of the elderly and vulnerable, stalking their prey in their church and community.  Both use their fake charm and sexuality to scour the town for anyone with money.  Will Elizabeth go to prison for life while trying to save Sophie?  How far will she go to help her sister and son while being tried for kidnapping?   This is a harrowing true story riddled with messy money, stolen conservatorships, corruption, kidnapping court hearings, romance, healing, and hope.

Second Assignment

Nancy and Charles need massive amounts of money to maintain their luxury lifestyle.  As her mother’s favorite child, Nancy follows in her mother’s footsteps for acclaim and wealth.   Soon after marrying Charles, and losing sight of her moral compass, the couple is reassigned to a rural area church.   His reassignment is clouded by the gossip of improprieties and affairs involving other married men.  Poor and living in a small dying town, she hones her skills of coercion, manipulation, and stealing from wealthy family members and churchgoers.  Scheming her way toward the bigger and better and desperate for acclaim for her “nonprofit” work, she is committed to swindle even her sister.  Arrogant and manipulative, anyone with money will do.


Third Assignment; Twisted Sisters and Stolen Conservatorships, House of Fire, Guilty by Birth

Fourth Assignment

Let Him Go by Larry Watson   Determined to save her grandson, the protagonist puts herself and her husband’s life in danger.  Gutsy story of trouble and revenge.

A Nearly Normal Family by M.T. Edvardsson - The story pushes the family to its limits.  Murder charges, characters tested to the limit.

Call Me Tuesday by Leigh Byrne - A true story of endless abuse, punishment.

If You Tell: A True Story of Murder Family Secrets and the Unbreakable Bond of Sisterhood by Gregg Olsen A true story of sisters trying to survive their mother’s house of horrors.

Netflix’s, I Care a Lot


Fifth Assignment


That super bowl Sunday no one won.  The minister made sure of that.  Corruption and handcuffs found their way around Elizabeth’s wrists along with her son’s.  What happened next would shake up her life and a multi-million-dollar conservatorship.

A true story about a sister getting her sister along with her son arrested for kidnapping another sister from a hellhole nursing home.


A true story about greed, desperation, and betrayal among sisters and family members that commenced the day they were born.


Sixth Assignment

Elizabeth, even after being accused of kidnapping, is willing to do anything in her power to keep her sister Sophie out of the nursing home she rescued her from and away from their older sister Nancy who wants conservatorship.  But her hands are somewhat tied as her son, Liam, was charged along with her.  Mothers, sons, grandmothers, and ex-husbands are coming out of the woodwork and picking sides.

Seventh Assignment

Archaic laws, courtroom dramas, and estranged family members are vying for Sophie for various and sinister reasons.  Sophie, a 43-year-old who loves alcohol and pills, is trapped in a backward Mississippi opioid-infested small town decrepit nursing home where the patients are kept in their wheelchairs to deteriorate to death.   Her older sister, Nancy, has left her in this hellhole facility as another money and conservatorship grab. 

Final Assignment need help with this one.

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First Assignment: Story Statement


Michael must become his grandfather’s son.  After his salt-of-the-earth, Italian-immigrant grandparents’ death, he rejoins a driven, ambitious immediate family whose life has largely moved on without him.  His mother feels guilty for having left him so much in his grandparents’ care as a child; his father, though a good man, has no way to approach the complex family problem in front of him.  Michael’s oldest brother, heroic in the grandfather’s mold, aggressively claims the patriarch’s legacy for himself; while he welcomes Michael at first, he grows cold toward him quickly, recognizing the problems he brings in his train.  Michael’s twin sister, a strong-willed, gorgeous, talented young woman, tries to be kind to him but is justly suspicious.  And the youngest brother, a true musical prodigy, with all the arrogance and fanfare that may entail, constantly, pridefully, involuntarily goads and irritates him.  These are the external forces ranged against Michael in his attempt to become his grandfather’s son – guilt; uncomprehending goodwill; downright aggression; apprehensiveness; arrogance.  But the internal forces are much more pernicious.  The shame, humiliation, envy and resentment he comes to feel when thrust by his grandparents’ death into a family constellation that damns his heart’s desire to failure drive him to set the house on fire.     


Second Assignment: Antagonist


I admit a potential weak point in that there is no real, physical antagonist in this story.  The young man is divided against himself.  That being said, I believe the story does not lack for drama, internal and external (i.e., interpersonal), though the purely internal may be hard to communicate – particularly in a character so persistently silent.  He is trying to show himself that he can in some sense be, or resuscitate, or redeem what was formerly the most valuable thing in his world – his grandfather.  The problem is not simply that he can’t, but that his siblings, specifically his older and younger brothers, so conspicuously, and vividly, and literally, can.  Nothing on earth will stop the former from becoming some variation of the Marine, builder and New York City firefighter that his grandfather was; and nothing on earth will stop the latter from becoming some variation of the gifted, feted musician that his grandfather might have been.  The pride of these two brothers (in themselves, through their grandfather) does, then, in a sense, collide with the desire of the protagonist to somehow get that pride or status, to somehow learn it or earn it, to be worthy.


Third Assignment: Title


Fire in the House


Fourth Assignment: Comparables


Mahmoud Dowlatabadi, The Colonel; Duong Thu Huong, Paradise of the Blind


Fifth Assignment: Hook Line


A young man orphaned by his heroic, Old-World grandfather tries and fails to fit back into his ambitious, twenty-first-century immediate family, all of whom claim the lost patriarch for their own.


Sixth Assignment: Conflict


The conflict is between a not yet fully formed young man cast adrift by the death of his grandfather and a family (his family) that is driven, and ambitious, and rip-roaring along – and yet is still totally loyal, on its own terms, to the memory of the dead patriarch.  The problem is that his grandfather is all the young man has, and now that his grandfather is gone, he can find no trace of the man in himself.  He cannot believe in the man in himself.  And so he sets out, disastrously, to try to prove it.  Meanwhile, his brothers, especially, show the most conspicuous signs of their heritage – physical gifts, musical gifts, courage, grit.  The conflict involves not just the brothers, however, but also the parents and the sister - the whole family.  The father tries to help but is stymied.  The mother is overwhelmed with guilt; her hands are tied.  The sister, after a while, is creeped out by the young man’s strange behavior.  The point is that the family is convulsed by this event, by the return or re-emergence of the long-lost son and the unhappiness he has carried with him.  The solution of that misery lies in himself; in the realization that the visible signs of his grandfather that he sees in his brothers, for instance, are nothing more than signs.  The tragedy of the story is that, because of the extremities of emotion to which this situation gives rise, neither he nor anyone else lives to see this realization happen.


Seventh Assignment: Setting


The house on the beach on the island.  Where nearly all the action takes place.  A beautiful, old, handsome beach cottage – like Chief Brody’s house in Jaws.


Scene opens on the beach back of the house.  The beach is a constant part of the story – with the oldest brother, doing his intense training swims; with the weather, whose moods may reflect or reinforce the action; with the sister and a beau, on an ill-fated summer day; with the boat, lying in wait at the dock.


So.  The house – the kitchen, where most action inside the house takes place.  But also, the living room – where the piano is, and where the piano man (the youngest brother), for hour after unremitting hour, plays.


The protagonist goes on walks – out from the house.  Along the coast road.  The bushes, and flowers, and trees, etc., i.e. the natural world, again, may reflect the mood.


His circuit takes him past a firehouse, which is also important.  The inside appears, later.  As well as a house that the father and the oldest brother are working on, on another part of the island; as well as a neighbor’s house, the former Fire Chief’s, which goes up ominously in flames (again, later).


Back to the circuit.  It takes the young man through the town – again, something like the quaint, old, island-style town center depicted in Jaws.


And then over the bluffs, with their precipitous drops, and the churning surf at their base. (Bad news.)


But most of the action just takes place at the house.  I found it to be more than enough.  If there is something claustrophobic, and stifling, and suffocating, at times, in that kitchen, there should be.

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Eight Months

1.       Story statement

a.       Eight Months covers one of the most interesting stretches in the life of Mitchell Watkins, his sophomore year of college. He is often disparaged by his football teammates and fraternity brothers due to his autism and androgyny. He wants to enter into a new committed relationship this school year with someone who cares deeply for him. He meets a freshman named Molly who dotes on him. She is very fixated on him physically and emotionally, and both grow a quick aversion to birth control. 

2.       Antagonist sketch

a.       Mitchell encountered a very large, crass, autistic classmate freshman year, whom he keeps at hands length because "He is utterly terrifying." He refers to this classmate as "Vampire" as he does not know his real name or origin. Mitchell would tell "Vampire" of his prior history in relationships, including repeatedly cheating on his high school girlfriend, which makes "Vampire" both envious of Mitchell's social success and enraged at his infidelity. "Vampire" often manipulates Mitchell out of spite, especially once he sees that Mitchell cheated on a pregnant Molly, and has stated a new relationship. Vampire seeks to ruin Mitchell's life completely, by way of gossip, manipulation, and threats. 

3.       Breakout title

a.       Option 1 – Eight Months

b.       Option 2 – Did you Hear About that Kid?

c.       Option 3 – What a Waste

4.       Identify Comparable Authors/Titles

a.       Eight Months takes place at an insular university with a more traditional set of expectations in relationships. This relationship dynamic hearkens back to Victorian and Gothic Literature such as Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte. Here, an innocent Gothic heroine such as Molly dates a flamboyant and extravagant character such as Mitchell, in spite of how he hides his autism and history of infidelity, much as Mr. Rochester hid his former fiancée in the attic. 

b.       Lady Chatterly's Lover by DH Lawrence was a landmark title in Victorian Literature for both overt sexual scenes and placing emphasis on woman's pleasure and orgasm. Mitchell makes it a very frequent note, one could almost say, his entire personality, that he will be everything society tells him a woman could ask for in a relationship, beautiful, charming, glib, independently wealthy and placing her needs well above his own sexually. However, much like the Gamekeeper, Mitchell's actual level of care for his lovers is very questionable, as he prefers to provide women with what society tells him they generally want so they will pay him compliments and love him unconditionally. in other words, he is in love with the idea of being loved. 

5.       Hook Line

a.       In August, Mitchell Watkins had a scholarship, wealth, teammates, and a new lover. Eight months later he has debt, no home, no friends, and two pregnant ex lovers. 

6.       Sketch the inner conditions for the protagonist’s inner conflict

a.       The primary conflict in Eight Months is Mitchell struggling to keep his autism and history of cheating a secret from Molly. Mitchell's autism very much colors the way he views others and the world around him, such as struggling with self-awareness, or how he views the world in very concrete terms, and lacks empathy. But he wants to emphasize that he is not socially awkward, nor does he have obsessive, unproductive or age inappropriate fixations, as he is quite apt to deny himself any sort of escapism, and looks down on others who take to these unproductive hobbies. He believes stereotypes color the way others view autism, and that by revealing his autism, he will come across as a stereotypical social leper, or "Sperg." For instance, Mitchell gets defensive when Molly brings up his understated, blunted emotional state, and inconsistent eye contact. 

Mitchell is only occasionally aware he does not care much for Molly, and is using her devotion to supplicate his ego. Mitchell only grasps social norms on a "Letter of the Law" sort of level, and understands that he should try not to harm her or make her feel uncomfortable, but many of these are just half measures with little emotional investment. He also believes himself to be sterile, and that he will not get Molly pregnant, no matter how many times she asks him to come over to her room, or on dates. Three months in once Molly reveals her pregnancy with their daughter, Mitchell feels some emotional attachment to his unborn child, but only on the level that his daughter to be is his family, and he feels obligated to be a breadwinner husband for his new family. This is still a stated improvement, and shows that Mitchell is capable of being emotionally attached to his partners, such as in his relationship in which his new partner, Malee, or May is not forthcoming about her intentions with him beyond physicality and will dodge Mitchell's concerns about her wellbeing. This gets worse when she reveals she too is pregnant with Mitchell's daughter, and she suffers from bouts of emotional pain, and crying, with no explanation given. This culminates with her dropping out of school and repatriating to her home country, with no reason given. 

b.       The secondary conflict comes between Mitchell and "Vampire",  who makes no effort to hide who he is from others, and sees Mitchell as self hating and a hypocrite. He will coerce Mitchell into producing methamphetamine for his enterprise, and spread much worse rumors about Mitchell's person after Molly leaves him for his infidelity. Mitchell comes to realize how vindictive and and cruel "Vampire" is. But only after he remorselessly ruins the lives of many classmates and other local college students with disguised methamphetamine, as well as Mitchell's new relationship with May by intimidating her out of the school and country. Once he has bankrupted and socially isolated Mitchell, he takes out his aggression by provoking him to fight, and beating him into a coma

7.       Setting

a.       The timeframe is 2006-2007, making this a period piece for the mid to late 2000s. There will be a very limited number of pop culture reference from the time, mostly to point and laugh at how tacky this era was. The setting is Connecticut Polytechnic Institute, or CPI, an elite, fictional private engineering University located in the desolate small city of Waterbury Connecticut. Waterbury suffers from having one of the highest poverty rates and lowest average amounts of sunshine within the otherwise very wealthy United States eastern seaboard. This paints shades of drab, postindustrial grey for a depressing story where not only do many of these characters find themselves in self-imposed poverty by the end, the villain also wins, consequence free. 

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New York Pitch Conference, 7 Pre-event Assignments

1. Story Statement

Louisa must solve the mystery of “the thickening of air” to escape a dark faerie realm and return home to Pennsylvania.

2. Antagonists

As the first human to fall into Faerie in over a hundred years, Louisa comes to the attention of King Mal and Queen Mab, immortal wraiths who keep their subjects trapped in a never-ending war. The unknown curse that prevents them from dying has transformed them into unnatural beings whose thinning physical substance is as disquieting as their cruel reign. They force Louisa to ride in the sadistic ritual of the Wild Hunt, endanger Lysander (Louisa’s love interest) in deadly war games on Midsummer, and keep close watch over Louisa through the Malfeasants – Mal’s personal, deadly guard. Mal and Mab act as the ultimate antagonistic force, tying into the greater mystery of the thickening of air and the fate of Faerie.  

Lord Aelfric Hargrave, Louisa’s master at Hargrave Hall, is a secondary and more personal antagonist. Having possession of Louisa’s full name, he can control her with a geas – a naming magic that compels its victim to obey the caster’s command three times. Lord Hargrave is a petty tyrant; he abuses his staff, keeps his wife’s stolen selkie coat hidden so she can never escape his rule, and is grooming his heir, Lysander, to be a ruthless goblin soldier.  

3. Breakout Title

The Thickening of Air

Alternative title: The Servant

4. Genre Comparables

Drawing from Scottish, Welsh, and Irish folklore, The Thickening of Air will appeal to fans of high fantasy, fairytale retellings, and coming of age stories. Like Neil Gaiman’s The Problem of Susan, Seanan McGuire’s Every Heart a Doorway, and Lev Grossman’s Magicians trilogy, The Thickening of Air addresses the trauma of those who return from the Otherworld. While the folklore draws from the same well as Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, the bildungsroman within an epic fantasy setting and the intimate, single-perspective narration evoke Robin Hobb’s Farseer trilogy.

5. Core Wound/Hook Line

An upper-class horse girl from Pennsylvania is trapped as a scullery maid in a dark faerie realm where she navigates a forbidden love with a goblin soldier and confronts immortal kings and queens in her struggle to get back home.

6a. Inner Conflict

Much of Louisa’s inner conflict comes from navigating her lowered position. While trying to maintain a sense of personal dignity despite her servitude, she is faced with the ways in which she previously benefited from others’ service. This culminates in a falling out with a fellow servant and close friend who tells her, “You don’t mind the order, you mind you’re at the bottom of it.” Louisa is constantly reevaluating the moral conflicts of class, privilege, and power.   

Another source of internal conflict central to the novel stems from parental abuse and generational trauma. Louisa was raised in a strict, wealthy suburban household, with a workaholic father and resentful mother whose high expectations have cultivated her perfectionist tendencies. Lysander, a pious, obedient, and disciplined squire, suffers from an emotionally and physically abusive father and a distant mother who sees him as an extension of her abuser.

6b. Social Conflict

A social conflict that drives much of the plot is Louisa and Lysander’s inability to be together despite their growing feelings and shared secrets. As a servant in a feudal society, Louisa cannot be in a legitimate relationship with a baron’s son. When Lady Hargrave catches them kissing, she slaps her son and scolds him for putting their vulnerable staff at risk. Their feelings for each other escalate slowly throughout the narrative, causing a rupture in the household and fostering their character development.  

7. Setting

The primary setting of The Thickening of Air is the Unseelie Kingdom in the Greene Isles, an alternate world, British-Isles-equivalent filled with beings from Celtic folklore, including sidhe, brownies, djinn, fauns, dryads, selkies, and kelpies. We experience several settings within this world, including Hargrave Hall, Unending Bog, and a skerry governed by a selkie pod.

Louisa first finds herself at Hargrave Hall, an old manor house with mullioned windows, dark chimneys, and hanged man heraldry, with a courtyard that “gave way to a desolate stretch of moorland that was dotted soft white with sheep and sharp white with frost… Farther out was the woods, overrun with thorns.” In the second half of the story, she comes to live at Castle Fenn in Unending Bog, the training grounds of the Redcap Goblins. The castle is supported by a foundation formed of thousands of blackened bog bodies, the necromantic magic preventing the fortress from sinking into the marshy depths. Will-o-the-wisps haunt the desolate stretch of wasteland and the harsh terrain is reflected in the castle’s inhabitants.

Contrasting this world is the Brandywine Valley region of Pennsylvania, the setting of the frame story (prologue, interludes, and epilogue). This region is made famous in the paintings of Andrew Wyeth -- bleak Americana landscapes, rolling hills, lone colonial farmhouses, deer hanging over tree branches waiting to be dressed. Wyeth’s artistic tradition, inherited from the fairytale illustrations of his father NC Wyeth and his father’s tutor Howard Pyle, creates an uncanny connection between Chadds Ford and Unseelie. The local history of English colonialism, Quaker settlements, and fugitive slaves and freedmen living just north of the Mason-Dixon line sets the backdrop of both the portal and the stories of those who’ve fallen in. The local environs have shaped Louisa’s personality, from horse culture to WASP stoicism, self-denial, and entitlement.


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1.       Story Statement     

Arts journalist Piper Morgan must prove the unknown Lisha Lovington the true composer of the 1899 Requiem, both to ensure that a neglected woman’s work will be heard and to triumph over a killer set on stopping her.

2.       The Antagonist

British musicologist Hunter Bell wants glory without earning it, wealth without working for it. Erudite, handsome, and charming, he glides through life giving glib lectures with enough feminist zeal to make women swoon. He stakes all on a family letter passed down four generations and promising riches if he finds a certain trick manuscript written by the famed Edward Elgar under the name of Bell’s long ago aunt, the rejected composer Lisha Lovington. He deludes himself to persuade others, commits crimes to prove himself innocent, and brings massive determination to an evil project. His skill set is obfuscation and invention combined with a pretense at outrage. Matching wits with the protagonist, arts reporter Piper Morgan, he holds sway by withholding evidence and twisting facts. Piper may lack his store of musical knowledge, but she’s miles ahead in clear-eyed integrity.

3.       Breakout Title



ANGELS’ BLOOD: Murder in the Chorus

4.       Comparables

MURDER DUET, by Batya Gur. Two musicians are murdered. The writing is steeped in the music world with Brahms and Vivaldi woven into the narrative. As a music nut myself, I will buy any book that promises to envelop me in music and musicians, and when murder is involved it’s irresistible. (I have loved Gur’s books since before beginning to write my own.)

MURDER IN G MINOR, by Alexia Gordon. A classical musician forms a school orchestra in Ireland while the ghost of a man falsely accused of killing his wife haunts the house she’s renting. One reviewer said “If you’re a music nerd you will love the musical references.” My book aims at that same enjoyment.

AN UNEQUAL MUSIC, by Vikram Seth. A romantic drama set in the world of classical performing artists. No murder, but a mystery based in a relationship. PW says the story’s told with “intelligence and sensitivity,” which sold it to me immediately. I aspire to those values in my writing.

5.       Hook (logline)

A successful arts reporter must choose between staying objective and writing on behalf of an unknown 19th century female composer who might have been a plagiarist.

6.       Inner Conflict


(Part 1) Piper Morgan chose journalism to find a more stable life than she had with her wildly creative and unpredictable mother, a painter. At 29 Piper has achieved a respected position as chief arts reporter for The New York Vines, but a feeling of dissatisfaction nags at her. She stays at an objective distance from the artists she writes about but dreams of producing an artistic “grand opus” of her own.

When she hears about an unknown 19th century female composer whose music was rejected by the sexist music academy of her time, and whose 21st century premiere might be cancelled due to a an unproven suspicion of plagiarism against her, Piper is appalled that this woman’s music may never be heard—that in fact many women’s creative works have never and will never be heard—including her own potential grand opus.

A feminist professor Piper admires urges her to write on behalf of the composer, saying only she can bring justice to a suppressed woman, but Piper struggles against taking sides without proof of the composer’s innocence. Then she hears the music played one night at a chorus rehearsal…

(Part 2) To prove the composer Lisha Lovington innocent so her music can be heard, Piper must get hold of a letter Lovington’s distant relative Hunter Bell, a present-day musicologist, claims to own, written by Edgar Elgar, the composer she is suspected of plagiarizing, to Lovington. Bell is smooth and glib, eluding each effort Piper makes to get the letter, which is a missing link in the Lovington-Elgar story. Normally not one to lie or connive, Piper must now do so in her conflict with Bell, as she struggles to understand what really happened 120 years ago. As Bell grows increasingly desperate—millions of dollars are at stake—Piper becomes increasingly bold, putting herself in harm’s way not only for the sake of a dramatic newspaper story but of women everywhere. (Note: Maybe this is the primary conflict?)

7. Setting

My murder mystery novel is set in a volunteer chorus abounding in moving parts: prima donnas, earnest fellows, ambitious singers (who futilely aspire to be soloists), and a brooding married conductor madly in love with the star chorus soprano, while his feminist and woke wife sings with his beloved in the soprano section. Classical requiems, glorias, and stabat maters rouse the emotions, so it’s no wonder romance arises on the risers. Couples in various stages of meeting, joining, and breaking up form an unending backdrop for chorus gossip.

There is a fraught Messiah dress rehearsal where the vocal warmups resemble a bizarre tribal ritural. Off-key mistakes lead to embarrassment during the rehearsal, and the high-strung conductor broods some more. The chorus is his only instrument, and an unwieldy instrument it is, with water bottles rolling out from under chairs, people talking during instructions, and complaints ranging from too much perfume to the perennial “I can’t see the conductor.”

The chorus performs in a gleaming new performing arts center where somehow the chorus ladies room was an afterthought, winding up at the bottom of a rickety staircase that must be negotiated by singers in long concert skirts and high heels. The men’s dressing room is relatively calm, while the woman’s is chaotic with pre-performance jitters: misplaced music books, lost lipsticks, and not enough chairs to sit on before curtain call.

The 35-piece professional orchestra adds bulk and sound but is a study in cool by comparison. The players long ago learned the ropes of performing several times a week, while the chorus performs only once or twice a year on this grand stage, and it goes to their heads.

The stage is the powdered face of the massive center, while backstage is where the body’s systems throb and churn, a maze of stairways, rooms, and closets where rendez-vous happen along with the occasional murder.

Might a weapon be hidden under a staircase? Will a trail of blood on the stairs lead to a killer? Did anyone notice whether the conductor used his very polished and special baton in the second half? And why did the conductor pause so long before the downbeat in the second half of Messiah? The audience even noticed.

So many moving parts, and don’t forget the stagehand who makes sure to flick the conductor’s dandruff from his tux, and the deep, professional voice that announces: “Ladies and gentleman, this is your final call. Please line up for the stage.”




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