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New York Pitch Assignments - December 2021


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Introduction to Pre-event Assignments 

New York Pitch The below seven assignments are vital to reaching an understanding of specific and critical core elements that go into the creation of a commercially viable genre novel or narrative non-fiction. Of course, there is more to it than this, as you will see, but here we have a good primer that assures we're literally all on the same page before the event begins.

You may return here as many times as you need to edit your topic post (login and click "edit"). Pay special attention to antagonists, setting, conflict and core wound hooks.

And btw, quiet novels do not sell. Keep that in mind. Be aggressive with your work.

Michael Neff

Algonkian Conference Director

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att.jpg After you've registered and logged in, create your reply to this topic (button top right). Please utilize only one reply for all of your responses so the forum topic will not become cluttered. Also, strongly suggest typing up your "reply" in a separate file then copying it over to your post before submitting. Not a good idea to lose what you've done!

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THE ACT OF STORY STATEMENT

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?

What must this person create? Save? Restore? Accomplish? Defeat?... Defy the dictator of the city and her bury brother’s body (ANTIGONE)? Struggle for control over the asylum (ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO’S NEST)? Do whatever it takes to recover lost love (THE GREAT GATSBY)? Save the farm and live to tell the story (COLD MOUNTAIN)? Find the wizard and a way home to Kansas (WIZARD OF OZ)? Note that all of these are books with strong antagonists who drive the plot line (see also "Core Wounds and Conflict Lines" below).

att.jpg FIRST ASSIGNMENT: write your story statement. 

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THE ANTAGONIST PLOTS THE POINT

Antagonist (Photo Javert from "Les Misérables")

What are the odds of you having your manuscript published if the overall story and narrative fail to meet publisher demands for sufficient suspense, character concern, and conflict? Answer: none. You might therefore ask, what major factor makes for a quiet and dull manuscript brimming with insipid characters and a story that cascades from chapter to chapter with tens of thousands of words, all of them combining irresistibly to produce an audible thudding sound in the mind like a mallet hitting a side of cold beef? Answer: the unwillingness or inability of the writer to create a suitable antagonist who stirs and spices the plot hash.

Let's make it clear what we're talking about.

By "antagonist" we specifically refer to an actual fictional character, an embodiment of certain traits and motivations who plays a significant role in catalyzing and energizing plot line(s), or at bare minimum, in assisting to evolve the protagonist's character arc (and by default the story itself) by igniting complication(s) the protagonist, and possibly other characters, must face and solve (or fail to solve).

CONTINUE READING ENTIRE ARTICLE AT NWOE THEN RETURN HERE.

att.jpg 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.

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CONJURING YOUR BREAKOUT TITLE

What is your breakout title? How important is a great title before you even become published? Very important! Quite often, agents and editors will get a feel for a work and even sense the marketing potential just from a title. A title has the ability to attract and condition the reader's attention. It can be magical or thud like a bag of wet chalk, so choose carefully. A poor title sends the clear message that what comes after will also be of poor quality.

Go to Amazon.Com and research a good share of titles in your genre, come up with options, write them down and let them simmer for at least 24 hours. Consider character or place names, settings, or a "label" that describes a major character, like THE ENGLISH PATIENT or THE ACCIDENTAL TOURIST. Consider also images, objects, or metaphors in the novel that might help create a title, or perhaps a quotation from another source (poetry, the Bible, etc.) that thematically represents your story. Or how about a title that summarizes the whole story: THE MARTIAN CHRONICLES, HARRY POTTER AND THE CHAMBER OF SECRETS, THE WORLD ACCORDING TO GARP, etc.

Keep in mind that the difference between a mediocre title and a great title is the difference between THE DEAD GIRL'S SKELETON and THE LOVELY BONES, between TIME TO LOVE THAT CHOLERA and LOVE IN THE TIME OF CHOLERA between STRANGERS FROM WITHIN (Golding's original title) and LORD OF THE FLIES, between BEING LIGHT AND UNBEARABLE and THE UNBEARABLE LIGHTNESS OF BEING.

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

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DECIDING YOUR GENRE AND APPROACHING COMPARABLES

Did you know that a high percentage of new novel writers don't fully understand their genre, much less comprehend comparables? When informing professionals about the nuances of your novel, whether by query letter or oral pitch, you must know your genre first, and provide smart comparables second. In other words, you need to transcend just a simple statement of genre (literary, mystery, thriller, romance, science fiction, etc.) by identifying and relating your novel more specifically to each publisher's or agent's area of expertise, and you accomplish this by wisely comparing your novel to contemporary published novels they will most likely recognize and appreciate--and it usually doesn't take more than two good comps to make your point.

Agents and publishing house editors always want to know the comps. There is more than one reason for this. First, it helps them understand your readership, and thus how to position your work for the market. Secondly, it demonstrates up front that you are a professional who understands your contemporary market, not just the classics. Very important! And finally, it serves as a tool to enable them to pitch your novel to the decision-makers in the business.

Most likely you will need to research your comps. If you're not sure how to begin, go to Amazon.Com, type in the title of a novel you believe very similar to yours, choose it, then scroll down the page to see Amazon's list of "Readers Also Bought This" and begin your search that way. Keep in mind that before you begin, you should know enough about your own novel to make the comparison in the first place!

By the way, beware of using comparables by overly popular and classic authors. If you compare your work to classic authors like H.G. Wells and Gabriel Marquez in the same breath you will risk being declared insane. If you compare your work to huge contemporary authors like Nick Hornby or Jodi Picoult or Nora Ephron or Dan Brown or J.K. Rowling, and so forth, you will not be laughed at, but you will also not be taken seriously since thousands of others compare their work to the same writers. Best to use two rising stars in your genre. If you can't do this, use only one classic or popular author and combine with a rising star. Choose carefully!

att.jpg 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?

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CORE WOUND AND THE PRIMARY CONFLICT 

Conflict, tension, complication, drama--all basically related, and all going a long way to keeping the reader's eyes fixated on your story. These days, serving up a big manuscript of quiet is a sure path to damnation. You need tension on the page at all times, and the best way to accomplish this is to create conflict and complications in the plot and narrative. Consider "conflict" divided into three parts, all of which you MUST have present in the novel. First part, the primary dramatic conflict which drives through the work from beginning to end, from first major plot point to final reversal, and finally resolving with an important climax. Next, secondary conflicts or complications that take various social forms - anything from a vigorous love subplot to family issues to turmoil with fellow characters. Finally, those various inner conflicts and core wounds all important characters must endure and resolve as the story moves forward.

But now, back to the PRIMARY DRAMATIC CONFLICT. If you've taken care to consider your story description and your hook line, you should be able to identify your main conflict(s). Let's look at some basic information regarding the history of conflict in storytelling. Conflict was first described in ancient Greek literature as the agon, or central contest in tragedy. According to Aristotle, in order to hold the interest, the hero must have a single conflict. The agon, or act of conflict, involves the protagonist (the "first fighter" or "hero") and the antagonist corresponding to the villain (whatever form that takes). The outcome of the contest cannot be known in advance, and, according to later drama critics such as Plutarch, the hero's struggle should be ennobling. Is that always true these days? Not always, but let's move on.

Even in contemporary, non-dramatic literature, critics have observed that the agon is the central unit of the plot. The easier it is for the protagonist to triumph, the less value there is in the drama. In internal and external conflict alike, the antagonist must act upon the protagonist and must seem at first to overmatch him or her. The above defines classic drama that creates conflict with real stakes. You see it everywhere, to one degree or another, from classic contemporary westerns like THE SAVAGE BREED to a time-tested novel as literary as THE GREAT GATSBY. And of course, you need to have conflict or complications in nonfiction also, in some form, or you have a story that is too quiet.

For examples let's return to the story descriptions and create some HOOK LINES. Let's don't forget to consider the "core wound" of the protagonist. Please read this article at NWOE then return here.

  • The Hand of Fatima by Ildefonso Falcones
  • A young Moor torn between Islam and Christianity, scorned and tormented by both, struggles to bridge the two faiths by seeking common ground in the very nature of God.
  • Summer's Sisters by Judy Blume
  • After sharing a magical summer with a friend, a young woman must confront her friend's betrayal of her with the man she loved.
  • The Bartimaeus Trilogy by Jonathan Stroud
  • As an apprentice mage seeks revenge on an elder magician who humiliated him, he unleashes a powerful Djinn who joins the mage to confront a danger that threatens their entire world.

Note that it is fairly easy to ascertain the stakes in each case above: a young woman's love and friendship, the entire world, and harmony between opposed religions. If you cannot make the stakes clear, the odds are you don't have any. Also, is the core wound obvious or implied?

att.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.

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OTHER MATTERS OF CONFLICT: TWO MORE LEVELS

As noted above, consider "conflict" divided into three parts, all of which you should ideally have present. First, the primary conflict which drives through the core of the work from beginning to end and which zeniths with an important climax (falling action and denouement to follow). Next, secondary conflicts or complications which can take various social forms (anything from a vigorous love subplot to family issues to turmoil with fellow characters). Finally, those inner conflicts the major characters must endure and resolve. You must note the inner personal conflicts elsewhere in this profile, but make certain to note any important interpersonal conflicts within this particular category."

att.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.

att.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?

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THE INCREDIBLE IMPORTANCE OF SETTING

When considering your novel, whether taking place in a contemporary urban world or on a distant magical planet in Andromeda, you must first sketch the best overall setting and sub-settings for your story. Consider: the more unique and intriguing (or quirky) your setting, the more easily you're able to create energetic scenes, narrative, and overall story. A great setting maximizes opportunities for interesting characters, circumstances, and complications, and therefore makes your writing life so much easier. Imagination is truly your best friend when it comes to writing competitive fiction, and nothing provides a stronger foundation than a great setting. One of the best selling contemporary novels, THE HUNGER GAMES, is driven by the circumstances of the setting, and the characters are a product of that unique environment, the plot also.

But even if you're not writing SF/F, the choice of setting is just as important, perhaps even more so. If you must place your upmarket story in a sleepy little town in Maine winter, then choose a setting within that town that maximizes opportunities for verve and conflict, for example, a bed and breakfast stocked to the ceiling with odd characters who combine to create comical, suspenseful, dangerous or difficult complications or subplot reversals that the bewildered and sympathetic protagonist must endure and resolve while he or she is perhaps engaged in a bigger plot line: restarting an old love affair, reuniting with a family member, starting a new business, etc. And don't forget that non-gratuitous sex goes a long way, especially for American readers.

CONTINUE TO READ THIS ARTICLE THEN RETURN.

att.jpg 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.

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Below are several links to part of an article or whole articles that we feel are the most valuable for memoir writers.

We have reviewed these and agree 110%.

MEMOIR WRITING - CHOOSE A SPECIFIC EVENT (good general primer)

NYBOOKEDITORS.COM

Are you thinking of writing a memoir but you're stuck? We've got the remedy. Check out our beginner's guide on writing an epic and engaging memoir.

MEMOIR MUST INCLUDE TRANSCENDENCE

MARIONROACH.COM

MEMOIR REQUIRES TRANSCENDENCE. Something has to happen. Or shift. Someone has to change a little. Or grow. It’s the bare hack minimum of memoir.

WRITE IT LIKE A NOVEL

JERRYJENKINS.COM

When it comes to writing a memoir, there are 5 things you need to focus on. If you do, your powerful story will have the best chance of impacting others.

MEMOIR ANECDOTES - HOW TO MAKE THEM SHINE

JERRYJENKINS.COM

Knowing how to write an anecdote lets you utilize the power of story with your nonfiction and engage your reader from the first page.

 

 

Michael Neff
Algonkian Producer
New York Pitch Director
Author, Development Exec, Editor

We are the makers of novels, and we are the dreamers of dreams.

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Respite – Memoir by Michael McCormack (preface and first chapter).pdf

Story Statement:

An environmentally conscious, psychologically damaged photographer spends a quarter century capturing epic landscapes and iconic cities on film, while trying to escape the memory of a traumatic 1970’s summer and its closely guarded family secrets. Eloquent pictures gradually become a trail of thirty-five-millimeter breadcrumbs spread across each page, foreshadowing loss, betrayal and violence. Those same secrets force the photographer into making a devastating choice between madness or permanent estrangement from all he has known, in order to become a better man and retain his humanity by embracing nature instead of conflict.

 

Antagonist:

The principal antagonist is gradually revealed to be the protagonist’s brother (J.P.), while chronic untreated depression serves as a formidable co-antagonist throughout. The biblical story of Cain and Abel (though never referred to in the narrative) will be brought to mind, as two emotionally crippled young men struggle to overcome a highly dysfunctional, Irish Roman Catholic upbringing by finding solace in their respective creative talents. As the men age, the bonds that once intimately bound them, are slowly undone by the suicide of a cousin and the crucifying death of the family patriarch from dementia. The photographer’s guilt over not having saved his younger brother from the family’s neurotic grip when he once had the chance, poignantly echoes throughout the story. The reader will come to see this failure as the source of J.P.’s eventual betrayal of his brother, as well as the senselessly violent confrontation near the book’s conclusion that nearly destroys them both.

 

Breakout Title:

Respite – A photographic memoir of madness and resurrection

Magic Hours of the Loon – A memoir of madness, love, and pictures

Shutter – One man’s journey from madness to mercy through a camera’s lens

The Crying Manifesto - A man's photographic journey through mental illness to redemption

 

Comparable Books:

Molly Crabapple – Drawing Blood

Sally Mann – Hold Still: A Memoir with Photographs

(Both of these well received books are comparable to my manuscript because they are beautifully written by professional artists who overcame personal adversity through creativity, and found larger truths about family, society, and themselves within their art)

 

Hook line/Core wound & primary conflict:

A.     Hook line – An eccentric male nature photographer passionately attempts to emulate his artistic hero’s life by embracing his own untreated mental illness as a creative muse, with eventual tragic consequences (imagine Vincent Van Gogh with a camera instead of a paint brush, transplanted from 19th century France to contemporary New England).

B.     Core wound – At age twelve the protagonist witnessed his mother’s infidelity, keeping the secret to protect her, and save his parent’s marriage. With a thirty-five-year vow of silence came the betrayal of his father, and a lifetime of guilt. The experience undermined his trust in women, a belief in the concept of family, and fostered years of self-reproach. As an adult man, disappearing into the creation of a photograph becomes his drug of choice (the way in which he deals with the wound), as the photographer forgoes intimate relationships in favor of beautiful images that cannot cause pain. But emotional dissatisfaction and loneliness only intensifies his chronic depression, for which he refuses treatment.

C.     Primary conflict This story’s principal dilemma can be summed up with a sardonic line from its ninth chapter: Untreated depression is the logical extension of my citizenship – like so many men walking amongst us, I have a concealed carry permit for madness.” The photographer wrongly believes American men cannot speak of their emotional pain without losing their dignity and stature as men. The conflict in this narrative comes from the photographer’s growing self-awareness, understanding that his despair will ultimately lead to self-destruction of one form or another, yet depression fuels his desire to create pictures – his work with a camera providing the only meaning or joy in his life. Great care is taken to show – through metaphor and physical descriptions – how rapidly a depressive’s mind can turn against them, even under the most benign of circumstances. The protagonist struggles (and ultimately fails) to keep a darker nature hidden within, with near disastrous results as the story progresses to its redemptive conclusion.

 

Other matters of conflict:

A.     Inner conflict – The great inner conflict of this narrative comes from the photographer’s gradual understanding that the better part of his adult life has been spent hiding behind the protective bubble of a camera lens. He can only view life as an artistic observer, but doesn’t yet possess the psychological tools needed to actually live it fully. By the middle of the book, while photographing the Eiffel Tower at night from the Seine the photographer realizes a camera can no longer shield him from the great flood of human longings. There is a growing, dramatic awareness within this man’s soul, of beautiful places and passing moments seized on film only being appreciated for their value as a potential work of art. Yet the distraught photographer can only shut the cacophony of voices in his head off for any appreciable length of time when he is actively taking pictures – the source of his inner conflict.

B.     Secondary conflict – The secondary conflict within this story is slowly revealed to the reader with clues plainly spread out across the page, as in a novel. Throughout the story, vital information about family dynamics, the protagonist’s mental state, human nature, and society are rather seamlessly blended into evocative interpretations of individual photographs – photos symbolic of grief, and portents of dramatic change. This secondary conflict is between the photographer and the story’s antagonist, his younger brother J.P. 

In the last part of this proposed book, the author makes the prescient observation “Most American men are only one humiliation away from having this distinction of being a man rendered utterly meaningless. One job loss, one catastrophic illness without health insurance, one failure to respond in a situation that demanded immediate action, and you are Sisyphus rolling that same stone up the hill again and again.” Those two sentences encapsulate how even brothers can come to blows in the worst of times. When their father is committed to a psychiatric ward against his will after a mysterious violent altercation, the story becomes a reckoning with ancient family secrets, long simmering resentments, and the evolving nature of American male identity.

 

Setting:

One of the many strengths of this 75,000+ word literary memoir is that its setting is in a constant state of flux (a larger reflection of both the photographers growing creative ambitions and raging psychological states). Locales and environments (both interior and natural) shift dramatically to great effect, keeping the reader on edge and heightening curiosity about where the next page might take them. A first chapter humiliating confrontation in a jail cellblock awakens the young would-be photographer to America’s social inequalities, before cinematically merging with the abandoned winter streets of a northern New England mill town; here, he aspires to create meaningful art as social commentary for the first time, where “sidewalks were covered in garnishes of broken glass, grimy alleyways displayed forsaken pieces of decapitated furniture, strewn about like dead fish after a hurricane. The detritus of an America where twelve years of neoliberal, supply-side economics had failed to trickle down to the lives of its working poor.

Gritty factory floors with “sweat extracting furnace ovens and cool chambers of poisoned air” eventually become stunning high mountain ridges where the protagonist begins the long process of teaching himself a new trade as a landscape photographer. The visceral presentation of the White Mountains to the narrative presents them  as an antidote to dysthymia (his specific depression diagnosis).

*The reader may begin to sense by the end of the memoir, that mountains have been a metaphor for depression all along, and he has been climbing them since the summer of 1995 to be on equal terms with the hardships they exact – something he has never been able to accomplish with depression

Much attention is paid to the aesthetic details of how a landscape photographer selects a subject (often a symbol of unfulfilled longings), and the subject then becomes a portal on the page that bridges nature with concealed emotions or disturbing past events. For example, A lyrical rumination on an idyllic childhood of the early 1970’s living beside a wooded Connecticut riverbank is then contrasted with more details from the summer of 1977; A specific date (July 27, 1977) is noted for disturbing revelations hinting of danger to the family (children sleep in closets less susceptible to bullets).  The imagery from this span of time is revealed in fragments throughout the memoir (deliberately throwing the reader off balance) as the photographer ages, coming to terms with an unsettling childhood as he moves deeper into middle age alone.

The photographic shoots written about are geographically diverse, and no less revealing for their emotional, philosophical, or technical insights. A photographic capture of birch trees becomes the fulcrum for the memoir’s strong environmentalist ethos. The photographing of a Vermont pasture in fading summer light four days after 9/11, is linked to much larger themes, such as environmental degradation and Americans denial of their own history. In this way, the photographer’s mental illness (and unwillingness to treat it properly) is subtly merged in the text with the untreated neuroses of his own country. There is a jarring contrast between this man’s deeply conflicted psyche, and the utter guilelessness of the beautiful landscapes he obsessively photographs, in the same way Van Gogh once painted Provence. Evocative sentences such as “Sun burnished the scenery with an impressionistic confetti of autumn light that fell through the leaves onto a riot of earthen colors,” are followed by blunt declarations like “Empty beds and ring-less fingers are the cost for becoming a half-mad artist.” These literary contrasts foster an understated tension within the storyline.

The author is drawing a parallel between toxic masculinity and the human race’s destruction of the Earth’s fragile ecosystems in favor of an economic system bent on unlimited consumption of finite resources.  By now, the photographer’s political awakening has aligned his work with the antiwar and environmental movements. The author provocatively asserts that America’s mentally ill continue to be stigmatized as weak in the same way that those who question the necessity of its endless wars are. In this way, he begins to tie the circumstances of his own life (and photography) to a growing awareness of America’s more corrosive myths about itself.

*One of this proposed book’s unique narrative devices is that the author has combined the highly descriptive prose of a well-traveled journalist with the literary sensibilities of poetry to firmly establish setting, and bring to life for the reader the imagery of photographs and how they came into being. On the page these photographs serve a dual purpose: Illustrate the photographer’s creative growth over a long span of time, while providing a set of clues as to the psychological chaos that lies beneath the surface.

Great cities like New York and Paris are then explored in detail by the now professional photographer, as he seeks out more challenging motifs beyond the natural world. Photography is now being examined, not just as an artform, but as a philosophical plea for greater understanding. The contrasts between rural landscapes and city are dramatic and intentional, but no less emotional. The city settings are where the reader will begin to interpret echoes of pending tragedy on these pages of elegiac prose lit by Paris twilight and New York skyscrapers. The unique dynamics of a New England Irish catholic family are showcased for the reader with flashbacks – an “ancient heritage of suffering” that only ensured “we were doomed to piss blood together in heaven or link arms across hell.” He reimagines his father and himself again in early-1970’s Manhattan, “disappearing into a gauzy haze of cigarette smoke, suede suits, and soft pretzels lying on steaming charcoal grills.

Iconic New England locations are then featured, such as Cape Cod’s National Seashore, Down East Maine, Boston’s Italian North End, Gloucester, rural Vermont in autumn, the White Mountains, Cape Elizabeth, and ultimately, Death Valley for the memoir’s surprising epilogue. These settings are all constructed around descriptions of a psychiatric ward where the photographer’s father spends his final days. The ward is a precursor to a final confrontation between brothers. The author uses the confrontation to posit the idea that men are prone to violence because of an outdated belief that it’s the only way the world will acknowledge their pain without reducing their masculinity in the process.

By the epilogue set in the transcendent California desert, the author concludes after surviving four decades of depression, that the neuroses of modern life are inextricably linked to mortality and man’s omnipresent fear of death – a belief nature photography has only reinforced. The memoir concludes that it is in nature where human beings are most likely to overcome their worst characteristics, like conflict, resentment, and selfishness. He has finally found the courage to stop hiding behind a camera, live fully in the moment, and embrace a life of meaning through his travels and relationships.  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Story Statement

15-year-old Whitney Graham finds herself on Ésperin; an island that provides an utopian home to those with tragic pasts. It welcomes new citizens with stones that allow them to control an element. Though a fantasy nerd, she's stunned to be on a magical island in real life. Not only does she try to comprehend the island itself, but two voices suddenly speak in her head and guide her in opposite directions on how to live her new, bizarre life. On top of all of this, she's proclaimed as the supposed Chosen One, one who'll lead Ésperin into continued peace, as the first person to ever control Water. Plus, a shunned girl also wants revenge on Whitney for stealing everything she wanted. With her life flipped upside down, she's determined to understand more of Ésperin, why two voices conflict against each other, and what they and she have for their fates to intertwine with the island.

 

Antagonist

Vega is a supernatural voice who speaks to Whitney ever since she arrived to Ésperin. She claims she is commanded by God to watch over Whitney since she's the Chosen One, but not only manipulates her, but also holds a deeper grip on Ésperin and everyone in it, including Carnelia.

Carnelia Brown is one of the thousands of lucky survivors to enter Ésperin, who was physical and verbally abused by school bullies and her own mother and sister. She only wanted to be loved in her old life. Arriving there, she was finally accepted and respected by others, especially when they assumed she was the awaited Chosen One. But once people mysteriously treat her similarly to the bullies and her family back home, the flashbacks were too real and she goes on a killing spree, causing her banishment from Ésperin. Living on a cavernous cliff, Vega also talks to Carnelia, but tricks her into thinking Whitney is the Chosen One and stole the acceptance Carnelia always wanted. After all this happened, her soft side hardens and will harm anyone who tries to hurt her again.

 

Breakout Title

Mystic Shadows - current title

Shadows of Ésperin

Wander Lost

 

Comparables

The Magicians by Lev Grossman - the main character is a big fantasy nerd and finds himself in a magic world, but there's a secret darkness that lies in his new world and realizes it's not what he hoped it to be.

Mirror X by Karri Thompson - the main character enters a new world, discovers new lifestyles, both good and bad, of others, and she is a similar Chosen One who only she can save the world, or so she is told.

 

Core Wound and Primary Conflict

A shy, introverted girl who escapes in fantasy books finds herself on an unrealistic, hidden magical island, but her anxiety is challenged when she's proclaimed as the awaited Chosen One. Two opposing voices also speak in her head who guide her into this new life.

 

Other Matters of Conflict

Whitney must confront her anxiety by being the highest recognized person in Ésperin, along with leading and protecting the entire society from any conflicts. 

The secondary conflict are Shadow and Vega, the two voices who speak to Whitney saying they were sent by God to watch over her. Shadow guides her on one path, but Vega warns her not to trust him, and vice versa. She's not only stuck between the two, but she also crosses paths with Carnelia, who only hears Vega and is misguided to hate Whitney for stealing her fate.

 

Setting

Ésperin is an island unknown to the world who bring people to it through mysterious scenarios, taking them away from their tragic lives and giving them a fresh one. And Ésperin gifts every citizen with a stone that can control an element from nature. Whitney not only is the first person to control Water, but she's the only person to hear Shadow and Vega. She learns more about both Ésperin, Shadow, and Vega, but slowly realizes there's more to both them and their purpose to Ésperin.

 

 

 

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Story statement:  After the brutal murder of my brother and the subsequent airing of the investigation by The First 48, I must keep my brother’s homicide case alive after the prosecutor drops all charges on the arrested suspect.  

Antagonist:

The driving antagonist is the prosecutor, representing the criminal justice system, who drops all charges on the arrested suspect. This feeds my innate need for justice, constantly challenging her identity and life purpose.  A seasoned prosecutor, hippy at heart, more aligned with the objectives of public defender’s office than the state attorney’s office where he would spend his career.  Seeing himself as a champion of the underdog, he found himself in support of the arguments of the defense. He is firmly rooted in his convictions and unbending in his ethics, which I continually test and challenge as he allowed himself to bear witness to my suffering and, at times, destruction. 

Titles:

1. Shadows -  A memoir of murder, destruction and the absence of justice.

2. Still I Breathe  - A memoir of murder, destruction and the absence of justice.

3.  The Absence of Justice  - A sister's journey to rebuild her life after unsolved homicide. 

Comparables:

A similar title in this genre is: A Rip in Heaven, by Jeanine Cummins.  This story is a true crime memoir told by the family member of the murdered and the sister of the wrongly accused. The author enlightens the reader to the inner-workings of the criminal justice system as the case goes to trial and the aftermath of the trial. The story thoroughly describes how lives change dramatically as a result of the crime and lack of closure, even after a trial. This story mirrors mine in relationship to the victims’ experience with the police, personal transformation from the event, long-term impact and search for closure.

Another similar title in this genre is: Shattered, Reclaiming a Life Torn Apart by Violence by Debra Puglisi.  Kidnapped and raped by the same man who murdered her husband the author details her profound trauma and her attempt to recover from it. Through the trial of the assailant, the author exposes the treatment of victims in the criminal justice system.  This book resonates with mine in its description of the short and long-term ripple effect of violent crime in the journey to rebuild one’s life.

Logline:

When The First 48's (true-crime reality show) filming of my brother's horrific murder resulted in a botched investigation and all charges dropped on the suspect, I catapulted into a self-destructive path to keep the case alive until my fight became salvaging what remained of my life. 

 Inner Conflict and Secondary Conflict:

The primary conflict and core wounds are the traumatic loss of my brother coupled with the exposure of that wound via The First 48's airing of his murder. I avoid grief and defeat by immersing myself in the investigation (placing myself center stage in the legal systems' losing battle) and increasing my desperation and risk taking.

When the prosecutor drops all charges on an arrested suspect, secondary conflicts arise by the actions I take to avoid this wound. I penetrate the Miami methamphetamine world for leads and confront witnesses and suspects.  I protest the violation of privacy and damage done to the investigation by the presence of The First 48's television crews. Conflicts arise in family relationships as my identity of wife, mother and school teacher morph to include my developing role of investigator.

Setting:

This memoir originates in the middle of the Miami meth trade in 2005 at the home of a homicide victim.  The story traverses between Miami and the idyllic NYC suburb of Nyack, New York, as I pursue information and justice: from behind my computer screen and in meetings around Miami searching for potential witnesses. The classroom where I read stories to children is in stark contrast to my meetings at the Miami State Attorney's Office, City of Miami Police, or visiting an inmate at FCI Miami.  Conversations, held out of earshot of others occur in my car before I greet children arriving on the bus, on the playground, or under the canopy of oak trees in my yard.  The most revealing setting is that of my mind; exposed, raw and honest, as destructive as it is life-affirming. 

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Fragments of Quinn by Peggi Peacock

1.     STORY STATEMENT

Young scientist Quinn is uploading her mind to erase her painful past and a life where she is unlovable but, when she is blackmailed, she refuses to do what is asked and escapes. Quinn realizes her escape has put the life of Jaskaran, the one person who may actually care, in jeopardy and she must choose between her plan and saving Jaskaran, which also means facing her past. 

What she doesn't know is that, in his desperate attempt to find and save Quinn, Jaskaran has unknowingly revealed fragments of her past by downloading Quinn's uploaded data into the minds of three dream research subjects. The fragments of Quinn the friends experience reveal the misinterpreted history she was trying to escape and provide clues in the race to save her.

2.     ANTAGONIST & ANTAGONISTIC FORCES

Fragments of Quinn flips between past and present. 

Not only is Quinn Beckett trying to escape the blackmailers who are trying to force her to take down the very project that is the key to Quinn 2.0, she also faces her own demons etched from a family history of lies, omissions and misunderstandings. 

Past—Quinn’s mom, Amelia Slater, is manipulative, controlling and totally disconnected from human emotion. She is a brilliant and highly successful woman, used to controlling everything in her world, that is until she became a mother. When Quinn’s father, a former Olympian and Quinn’s primary caregiver, descends into deep depression after nearly letting Quinn drown, Amelia sorts them both out in her usual, efficient manner. But her actions nearly destroy both Quinn and her Dad, resulting in a family rift that, over the ensuing years stretches into a chasm of distrust and betrayal. Amelia believes all her choices are made to protect both Quinn and her father but what they have really done is destroyed Quinn’s ability to trust or to love herself. 

Present—Zeke the aging hired gun leading the blackmail attempt, didn’t really want any more jobs. He wanted to retire in peace. But his damn ex-wife is draining him dry. This one final job, forcing this wunderkind Quinn to take down the freakingly cool DreamDraw clinical trial, sounded like easy money. But the religious fanatics paying Zeke’s bill are about the worst clients he’s ever worked for. And he’s being forced to work with an amateur, another damn geek with local and technological knowledge Zeke doesn’t possess. Not his fault he can’t keep up with the world. And this damn target, this Quinn kid, she’s a lot tougher than he anticipated. That pisses him off royally, but she’s earned his respect in a weird way.

 

3.     THE BREAKOUT TITLE

Fragments of Quinn. 

Mind Share

DreamDraw

 

4.    COMPARABLES

Near Future Kate Morton X Black Mirror 

 Fragments of Quinn is: 

       a near future Kate Morton tale, full of family secrets and lies;

       like the series Black Mirror, ratcheting up ordinary human experience with plausible near-future tech;

       like Paula Hawkins’ Into The Water, revealing secrets and lies through first and close third POV;

       like Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go, built on a Sci-Fi backstory simply to provide the mechanism necessary to make the story work.

5.     HOOK OR LOGLINE

Young scientist Quinn is uploading her mind to delete her painful past but, when she’s blackmailed, she refuses to take down the very tech enabling her plan. Quinn escapes her blackmailers and disappears. 

Her friend, Jaskaran, desperate to find Quinn, downloads the very memories she hoped to delete into the only system possibly able to interpret the data: other human brains.

Three friends participate in DreamDraw, the clinical trial for the cool new tech that turns dreams into images. After DreamDraw, things change. Dixon, the commitment-phobic player, pukes his brains out every time he attempts a new conquest. Beth’s carefully constructed grief vault quakes, about to blow. Ali, the painter of muted watercolours, presses intense oil images onto massive canvases with her fingers. When Beth and Dixon attend Ali’s art show and see the images from their heads on graphic display, it becomes clear that DreamDraw is at fault.

They confront Jaskaran and the braided narratives collide.

Realizing their experiences originate in the mind of Jask’s missing colleague, a sad young woman they now feel connected to, the friends decide to help Jask find Quinn and save her from the blackmailers and herself. 

The fragments of Quinn the friends experience reveal the misinterpreted history she was trying to escape and vital clues in the race to save her from the blackmailers and the potential fatal impact of her accelerated mind upload.

6.     INNER & SECONDARY CONFLICT

Inner Conflict – Unworthy of Love or Life but Desperately Wants Both

Quinn’s misconstrued view of her past has led her to believe she is unworthy of love, perhaps unworthy of even living. In turn, this view has led her to the plan to upload and edit out her past, a plan that could really be viewed as a veiled suicide attempt. Quinn’s plan creates direct conflict with her true desire to be loved. She rationalizes that her mother will be so proud of the academic accomplishment – being the first human SIM – that she will finally love Quinn. Quinn’s father, the former Olympian, spent the first five years of Quinn’s life, before he abandoned her, training Quinn to be the strongest girl in the world. Quinn rationalizes that creating a better, stronger, more lovable version of herself will make her Dad proud, perhaps enough to return to Quinn’s life. Quinn refuses to admit to herself that her plan to wipe out her history will eliminate the possibility of earning that love as she won’t even know who her parents are. 

This conflict is evident throughout the story. 

For example, why does Quinn not just let blackmailers kill her if she is truly unworthy of living? Because she must be strong and justifies her desire to defy the blackmailers with the rationale that she must protect the technology that will ensure Quinn 2.0.

Secondary Conflicts

Jaskaran. Damn him. Abandoned by her parents and grandparents and even her dog, Quinn has vowed to not let human connections get in her way ever again. And then Jaskaran arrived in her campus office. She knows that, once her mind is uploaded and she can live as the first human SIM, there will be no chance of physical relationships. But until that time, she must figure out how to deal with Jaskaran. It wasn’t until she realized that she’d put him in grave danger that the true nature of her feelings for him whack her upside the head. But she tries to convince herself that she is only striving to protect him so he can complete the creation of Quinn 2.0, not because she loves him and wants to be with him. She can’t possibly allow herself to love Jaskaran, or anyone, as history has clearly demonstrated that she will only hurt anyone she loves.

Additional Conflicts

Quinn’s inner conflicts are mirrored by each of the three friends who unknowingly receive her neural download.

Emotions Under Wraps—Beth, who lost her mother to cancer, has refused to face her grief, to accept that loss, and has created a psychological grief vault to keep it under control. Quinn’s life has been full of loss and pain that, at such a young age and all alone, she has been incapable of processing. Instead, she has kept it locked away behind her facade of strength. 

Maintain Strength and Control—Ali, the artist, lives her life under strict control, behaviour typical of the child of an alcoholic. Her father’s chaotic impact left Ali in fear of not having control. In her very early years, Quinn’s dad worked hard to make his daughter strong. His rapid departure, when Quinn was only five, left a need for Quinn to always be strong, what her Daddy wanted and what he, himself, failed to demonstrate when he attempted to take his own life. Quinn has vowed to never be weak like him.

Unlovable But Needs Love—Dixon is a serial dater, not because he’s a bad guy, but because he can’t quite believe any woman would really want him long term. He moves on before they do. Dixon still sees himself as the geeky little kid with the buck teeth and coke bottle glasses. He believes himself to be unlovable, just like Quinn. Quinn believes she has caused great harm to everyone she has ever cared about. She refuses to allow herself human connections, they are dangerous. But, deep down, she desperately longs for love and connection.

7.     SETTING

Fragments of Quinn required a moody, bleak setting with opportunities for optimism and I knew just the place. Simon Fraser University (SFU), my alma mater and childhood playground, sits atop Burnaby Mountain, just west of Vancouver. Designed by famed architect Arthur Erickson, it is a study in concrete and grey, often shrouded in mist and forever damp. But, like Quinn, SFU has moments of brilliance and clarity when it is bathed in sunlight as the city below lies beneath a blanket of fog, mirroring Quinn’s desire to shroud her history and live as a new, bright and shiny version of herself.

Perched on top of a mountain, SFU’s concrete campus, like Quinn is solid and strong yet isolated, lonely, and unique. 

SFU first opened during the height of 1960s unrest and has a history of radical responses to world events. The school is known for leading—and even bleeding—edge research so fits as the location for DreamDraw and for the protests by those opposing the technology.

Vancouver, a young, vibrant city, provides a parallel to what Quinn aspires to be: fresh, new, clean, if she can just wipe out her fog shrouded past.

Water and woods play a major role in the story, particularly for Quinn and Beth. The Metro Vancouver area is a perfect location, fringed with forest and dotted with lakes. 

Water is both Quinn’s love and nemesis. It can wash away the past but forms a significant part of Quinn’s traumatic history. 

The sparkling turquoise expanse of Kitsilano Pool, where Quinn’s story starts, mirrors her childlike optimism and joy. Beyond the pool, the cobalt waters of English Bay lay before Quinn like her life, an endless sea of possibility. 

But as things start to go wrong, the coastal evergreen forest becomes her happy place, somewhere she can hide

The interplay of light and shadow, the physical obstacles and the hidden dangers of the forest perfectly represent Quinn’s inability to see herself and her life clearly. 

Vancouver and SFU are the home to a large Indian diaspora, including many brilliant young academics and researchers, some who have been my lifelong friends. Jaskaran Menon would fit right in. 

Sasamat Lake and Camp Howdy, a deserted kids camp, echo Quinn’s lost childhood. The camp is isolated and lonely but possesses great potential for joy when the sun comes out and the children come back.

 

 

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FIRST ASSIGNMENT: 

Marni struggles against stereotypes, rejection, and loss as life forces her into an unexpected home.

 

SECOND ASSIGNMENT: 

Grumpa has always been a constant roadblock in Marni’s life, long before they ever met. As a lawyer, he is skilled in choosing a side, arguing his stance, and never giving up. He is always right, especially when it comes to his family’s reputation. His controlling hand interfered with Marni’s family once before and now he stands in her way again. His stubborn, old man prejudices are the perfect catalyst to Marni’s story, creating a hostile environment where his picture-perfect family is threatened by her existence. He openly refuses to accept Marni and tries to keep his wife from meeting Marni as well. He doesn’t hold back when they are together, reminding her that she doesn’t and will never fit in to the mold of the perfect southern family he’s created. His tenacious mind slowly recognizes a spark of familiarity that eventually reveals aspects of his own character within her. He watches from the outside as she struggles, knowing he’s played a part in her pain, but still wanting nothing more than to send her back home. He needs life to go back to the way it was before because Grumpa has never dealt with change positively.

 

THIRD ASSIGNMENT: 

1)     Never Enough Time  (current title)

2)     Not-So Picture-Perfect 

3)     Her Best Kept Secret

 

FOURTH ASSIGNMENT:

1) Lauren K. Denton’s “Glory Road”—women’s fiction. Like my novel, Denton’s story is told through 3 generations of southern women, each with her own perspective and issues. Denton’s main character struggles with self-worth and self-acceptance which is similar to one of my characters’ personal struggles. When Lauren, the stepmother, meets Marni, the shock of who Marni is immediately reopens old wounds from her father’s infidelity. When Marni learns of her father and finally meets him on her doorstep, she is terrified that she’s in the wrong place. After discovering that these white strangers are in fact family, she struggles with her identity and the rejection her Mama faced years ago. Denton’s writing is easy to read, digest, heartwarming, and sensitive. She dives deep into the waters of women struggling to define their self-worth while recognizing that they deserve to be loved for who they are. I feel we have similar views on life, love, and family which are seen in the themes and details we’ve woven into our novels. I see a clear parallel between her established audience and the readers my book will draw.

2) Ashley Clark’s “The Dress Shop on King Street”—women’s fiction. Like my novel, Clark’s story is told through three people. She weaves an inspirational story of love and mercy despite the hardships and obstacles that life threw at each character. Her tale, much like my novel, highlights how easily a mother’s secret can cause her children to doubt their identity and place in this world. We see the extent a mother will go to, the lies, the secrets, the sacrificial choices she’ll make to ensure her child is safe and well-loved. With the death of Marni’s Mama, her 15-year-old secret is finally revealed so that her daughter can be loved and fully known by her father. Clark’s novel also parallel’s my novel in illustrating just how much people struggle to find their place in the world. In both of our novels, the issue discussed is a bi-racial heritage. The audience that loves Clark’s writing style and storytelling techniques will similarly love my novel content, relatable characters, and underlying theme that highlights the universal language of a mother’s love.

 

FIFTH ASSIGNMENT: 

After the death of her mother, Marni is forced to move out of state to live with the father she never knew existed, raising alarming identity questions while she struggles to overcome rejection.

Torn between her mother’s final wishes and an unrecognizable family, Marni comes face-to-face with a world that rejected her and her Mama.  

 

SIXTH ASSIGNMENT

Marni’s inner conflict: Loss

Lost—lost her mother, lost her home, lost the security of her aunt, loses faith in her personal identity.

a.      Trigger—the realization at the lawyer’s office, the reading of her Mama’s will, that she has a father and will be moving to Texas to live with him and his family.

b.     Reaction—confused and furious. She begs her aunt to step in and take her because they are all each other has left. All she’s ever known is her Mama and Aunt Jo, so now she’s losing what little sense of home and family she has left. Living without her Mama is hard enough but sending her to live with perfect strangers in Texas, seems cruel and unimaginable.

Secondary conflict: Rejection

Rejected and unwanted—this involves her new family, specifically the grandfather, the head of the family. He is a stubborn, old, traditional man who sees the world as black and white. When Marni shows up, he will not entertain the idea of her, let alone be welcoming and hospitable. He refuses to accept her and lets her know that she’s not one of them, not like them, not family.

a.      Trigger—Marni finds out that her new grandfather refuses to acknowledge her presence and will not accept her as part of the family. However, the grandmother, Mrs. Ann, takes Marni out on a girl’s date and ambushes Grumpa on the golf course. She forces Marni to ride a few holes with Grumpa where she quickly understands that he doesn’t see her as a legitimate grandchild because she’s not a product of the marriage and love he approves.

b.     Reaction—Angry, hurt, and irritated. Marni challenges his stubborn view of love and acceptance by bringing up his dog, his half-breed that he adores. She feels rejected and unwanted not just because she’s different, but finds out he considers her a mistaken product of a relationship that he thought he had handled years ago.   

Third inner conflict: Identity

FINAL ASSIGNMENT

Setting: Book starts at a graveside. We feel the dirt beneath Marni’s feet as she approaches the graveside service, we see the flowers, the people, the faces. The scene allows for us to witness Marni as an adult and shortly afterwards, a flashback to when she buried her mother as a teenager. The setting allows us to feel her pain, setting the tone for the rest of the story.

This book has two main settings that are complete opposites of each other. Marni’s first setting is at her childhood apartment in downtown Chicago. Her small home has distinct smell, feel and sound. The greasy pizza joint and local food holes nearby produce competing smells that mask the dingy feel of the exhaust filled air that envelops her crowded block. Inside her apartment, the city sounds of traffic and trucks loading and unloading permeate their thin walls. Space is limited, but the space she and her Mama do have is full of love, laughter, and happiness.

Marni’s second setting is the complete opposite. She is sent to live in a small, conservative Texas town with perfect strangers, who don’t know the first thing about her. This new home is a massive mansion that sits among similar sized and beautiful houses. The openness highlights each house’s distinctive space with a sprawling front yard, huge trees, and colorful flower beds. The air is transparent and clean, no trace of exhaust fumes and the silence is almost startling. The streets are vacant, and she wonders about the people who live inside these homes. She’s used to people everywhere, practically on top of each, but that’s not the case in this small Texas town. The sounds inside her house are chaotic with the chatter and energy of two younger girls…siblings are a novelty. Inside, the house smells like a bakery, not a greasy pit stop. Her new home feels like a resort. She has her own bathroom attached to her bathroom and is marveled that she doesn’t have to share a bathroom with anyone. The giant backyard showcases a beautiful in-ground pool, a fancy play set, and a painted wooden swing dangling from the massive oak tree. This new Texas home is bigger than she ever dreamed possible, yet she feels so alone and empty.  

We are also introduced to multiple settings throughout this quaint Texas town. We experience the city through Marni’s eyes as she shops at specialty stores, as she takes in her surroundings, as she eats at new restaurants and hole-in-the-wall joints. We are taken to the uppity country club for meals and rounds of golf. Marni is taken to a unique spot along the Bosque River, Tonkawa Falls, where she admires the river against a backdrop of jagged limestone cliffs. The readers get to experience living in a small town, the people, the sights, and the food.

The book ends where it began, back at a graveside service. This setting reiterates loss, but also the acceptance to a family she never knew she had and never knew she wanted.

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FIRST ASSIGNMENT: write your story statement.

Accept and find peace with seemingly unfortunate fate.

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. 

The narrator/protagonist is her own antagonistic force when she refuses to accept that she died at birth. Stuck between the worlds of the living and that of the spirit realm, she resents her half-brother, who is born three decades later. She believes he has been given the life meant for her to live. In her resentment she wishes him dead and becomes an active threat towards his safety and well-being.

As she observes the family’s life in the home going on without her, other antagonistic dynamics become apparent—Mother’s mental illness and Father’s practice of the Holiness Signs Following tradition that includes serpent-handling and drinking of poison.

She engages the antagonistic forces at every turn. Sometimes supporting them, other times ignoring them and occasionally, becoming frightened and running from them. In every response to the forces, a life is at stake.

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

Beguiled Begats

Bandits and Brothers

When Serpents Fly

 

 

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?

Shiner meets Every Bone A Prayer by way of oldladyvoice, A Feast of Snakes and Lincoln in the Bardo

Appalachian/Southern fiction combines magical realist elements told in a literary style by a young, ghostly narrator.

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

An infant girl born premature and malformed to a newlywed, serpent-handling preacher’s wife, dies on the kitchen floor. Refusing to accept her fate, she becomes a haunting yet harmless entity in the couple’s home until twenty-seven years later, when her mentally unstable, middle-aged mother gives birth to a son. Threatened, the girl vows to end his life and restore her place in the home.

OTHER MATTERS OF CONFLICT: TWO MORE LEVELS

Inner Conflict:

The narrator is the protagonist. She is in conflict because she believes she was cheated out of having a life – she died minutes after being born. Her resistance to her fate causes her to be stuck between the physical and spiritual worlds where she interacts with other spirits in limbo and haunts her religious serpent-handling mother and father. When her mother has a second child much later in life, the narrator is triggered to fight for her place in the world and is determined to regain her parents’ attention by any means necessary even if it means the suffering and death of the boy.

Secondary Conflict:

The religious practices of the signs-following mountain church present its congregants with many physical dangers including the handling of venomous snakes, holding open flames beneath their chins or against their necks and the drinking of poison. Living by faith means living on the edge of dying by that faith. It creates a heightened sensory experience for followers. For some, the thrill of the practice may save lives by replacing pain killers or whiskey. For others, it is a dizzying validation of righteousness, regardless of what sins they’ve committed. And when someone convulses from drinking strychnine, catches their hair on fire or is bit and dies by a snake, the eyes of the community widen in suspicion if not everlasting judgement.

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?

 

The Old House and the Piney Point Church of God with Signs Following

The old house sits silent and still, save a creak or two in its rafters when the wind waves its wood. The yard’s long grasses are yellow in circle spots where cans of kerosene sit for days and weeks before Mother moves them onto the bed of Father's truck. Oily prisms form on the rain-watered, rusty tin lids of paint cans. A clothesline stretches from a nail in the left porch-column post to the right in a sad limp, with or without, soiled laundry Mother calls clean.

Not far from the old house, twenty yards or so, is a rusted iron water pump. Evidence remains in peeling speckles that over years it has been textured with Father's paint of various colors; mostly rust-red and white. But as it stands here now, in its twenty varying yards from the old house, it is merely an antique; a stick of a ghost where a well once bubbled beneath, making it clear where the water came from. To its right is a pile of ash in a cinder circle ten feet across, round and crisp at its edges, dry and dusty powder in its center.

The closest neighbor to the house is three rolling acres away and sits uphill; a chapel, made of concrete and peeling clapboard. A white-washed particle board sign, stroked with a shaky freehand of thick, black letters, declares the chapel’s name: Piney Point Church of God with Signs Following. Beneath the name of the chapel, in reflective mailbox number and letter stickers from the Home Depot, is a simple, powerful reference to the New Testament, calling on Believers: M A R K  1 6.

This is Father's church. A sad stranger saluting south, a quiet thing staring toward its neighbor, its owner, knowing its mission; just waiting. At its front door you can see the old white house's whole yard. Its goings-on are never secret from the sagging smile of its rickety front steps. Like eyes wide open, the chapel’s two arched windows are watching, waiting. From there the cinder circle of ash is nothing but a soft gray blemish in the blowing grass.

At night, the lights in the sanctuary stay on. Father believes in the power of the light to beckon to others, anyone, lost in the darkness of sin. The luminescence from inside pierces through the darkness outside, daring the lost. The arches of the windows shift into stiff, questioning brows raised over a set of staring eyes. It is the only light pouring into the thick blackness of night on Piney Point. Night so foreboding the mountaintop bows toward the steepest canopy of its trees— where man-made streetlights will never intervene in its dark pitch.

The windows of the chapel provide a view of the old white house’s backside, its lopsided addition— – an afterthought of a back room built with pieces of plywood and painted white. Three tiny, mismatched windows with varying panes of decrepit wood hang in a row, high enough to catch the morning sun as soon as it peeks at the mountain.

To the traveler and passerby, it is a home without charm. But behind the painted plywood walls, inside the back-room addition, a sound rises from shelf after shelf after shelf of Plexiglass aquariums. Inside each one there’s a collective popping and sizzle, a rhythmic rattling as the leathery scales of poisonous snakes slide through smelly cedar chips.

The new sun seeps through the back-room’s tiny windows and warms the glass as it strikes. The eyes of the chapel watch. Dawn calls out with a sweep of its heat and light and shadows: Rise! Greet the morning!

As the sun fills the back-room, there is an echo, one and then another, filling the room with waking, quaking sounds. Shh-shh rhythms. Shhhake shhhake shhhake like drips, the sounds begin to echo through the cool earth underground. Oh, the glorious sounds! The glorious, glorious sounds rattlesnakes make as they rise like a congregation and greet the morning!

And so begins each day at the old house. Serpents in the back -room addition answer the sun's call as it beckons. From inside their smelly, cedar bottomed aquariums, rattlesnakes vibrate good morning with hissy, hot breath: it'sss a new day.

The Great Waters

The Great Waters is where spirits go to stay attached to their soul from the last life lived; it’s where spirits wait to be born again and in so doing, in their sunken time in the Waters, the souls absorb the moments of conflict experienced in those lives; it becomes an imprint on the soul, the knowledge gained from the love, contrition and fruition of each lifetime. The Spirits in the Great Waters choose to be born and learn. The Great Waters is the wading place between incarnations.

The Great Waters are an infinite ocean of love, of knowledge, of peaceful understanding that buoys the souls as their individual spirits float, attached. The souls talk to the spirits, trying to get them to learn from the mistakes of the last life, and lives lived before. Some spirits, being comfortable where they are, refuse to listen to the soul speak, trying instead to forget their lives altogether; such is the comfort, restful space of the Great Waters.

Many spirits listen intently to the sound of their souls, noting the lessons recounted, the repercussions of choices made in their Born Again lives. They have moments in which great realizations occur and although they are at peace, they want to master those realizations in another Born Again life, impressing its truth even further within the soul, so they can experience being better spirits, perhaps even becoming masters of the souls – which has a great reward, a city home to only those, the Masters, on thrones. They walk on golden streets, peer into crystal waters, live in majestic mansions built just for them, for their mastery of the Born Again lessons. Some spirits, of course, do not desire wisdom or mastery; they simply become restless with the boredom of love.

Eventually, all spirits want out of the Water once again. They desire to be reborn.

There are different kinds of spirits with the souls.  Some are very old and some are being born brand new without names, with new souls.  They swim over to the edges of humanity and lift their noses above the Water.  They gulp for air while taking the Water in like a drink.  Feeling for their flesh, they ask to go above and about in every direction.  Most sink as they wait their turn.

I was swooped with a rushing force back toward the depth of Great Waters again, where I fought the tide and rose above, hovered in mists and vapors, envisioning, knowing if I did not fight, if I did not resist the force of the soul waiting to be attached to me, it would drag me down and I’d be gone --  in just a few bubbles, I would be descending in a swallow of the Great Waters.

I couldn’t accept such a fate -- sinking, drifting, down to where the land is muddy and the grass is ancient.  Down to where the earth is slime and the stones are soft.  Where Masters gather over souls and form plans for new spirit lives, stirring the salt of the earth. I was not going back to the land beneath the waters, away from Mother's arms, separate from her heart; I could not descend in bubbles and ripples without a basket, without a princess to claim me should I reach the shore.

Over the mists and vapors of the Waters, the soul I had been given for this life rose up and pulled towards me like a magnet.  It had no form but the density of fog, white and ghostly, sparking, screeching, becoming hot, white embers, then back to a dense, formless fog making gulping sounds, taking the Waters in the same time as it rose for me.  It grabbed for me then shrieked the most piercing cry and sunk back down again. Around the soul, spirits came from everywhere beneath the Waters.  I moved closer, turning to see the faces of the spirits who were there, attached to their souls -- some perhaps I could recognize, as I did before this time, when we were growing and waiting in line together, waiting to be born for the first and for the thousandth time.  But my soul was surrounded by spirits attached to other souls.  I could see them all, swimming around her in the Great Waters without me attached. They stroked up to the soul and nestled their faintness near her.    

"You abandoned your spirit?!"  One of the spirits, whose soul was attached, hollered to the soul.

"It is gone!" another spirit said.  

The soul began choking on the Great Waters.

"It did not come back!" another spirit said.   

"Oh…my…" they sighed together and began to sink. 

Rising beneath the waters, a choir of spirits appeared, souls attached, buoying them in the waters then quickly, before pulling them below only to bounce them up again, the spirits shake “no” in unison, then button their lips with their skinny fingertips, sighing, saying:

"OH.  Oh my..." their long arms stretching thinner than their fingertips, and their fingertips suddenly growing fat in the water, they reach out for the soul.

"Come to us," they said.  "Yes, yes," they whistled and sighed and softly, sang hallelujah as the soul waded nearer to their fingers, "Come to us… hallelujah…"  

The soul cried.  And went to them.  They began to sink with my soul in their arms. Long bubbles descending, each one with a hallelujah, then pop! Then gone.

I was stunned in the fog of the dead. I skimmed the Great Waters in doses and spurts diving with every force and wind.  One of the sinking spirits saw me, and pointed upwards, calling for the others:  "There!  It's the spirit!"   

When the others saw me, their thin spirit arms fattened out towards the tops and they reached for me, their spirit fingers breaking the tips of the water and sparkling across it like flat, shining blades.  

"It’s the spirit!" They said.  "LOOK!  It's the spirit!"  They tried to grab me. NOOOOOOOO! I screamed at them. I just got Born Again! 

They tried to grab me and make me go into the waters with the soul and the other spirits who already had lives with names!  They struck at me with foggy fingers and grabbed at me with ghost-palms.

I summoned all my will, using all of my force to fly away from them.

I flew high above the trees and looked for the old white house; when I saw the house, buried in the bough of green trees, peeking through light beams out of the chapel, I dove down, down to the mountain, spinning through the trees and the light beams in the direction of the house, whizzing through whirling greens, gold pinks and blues; it was a dizzying, frantic spiral but I knew a body was there, one meant for me; formed from the ancient mud, the slimy stones and grasses of the Great Waters.

And then, I was there, in the kitchen and there it was; the body, in the house, on the floor. I surged, breaking through, where across from Mother on the linoleum floor, a motionless pound of malformed flesh, cooled.

The Veil

The Veil is the space that exists between the living world and the spirit world of the Great Waters. The Veil is a place of being in limbo.

There are two kinds of Spirits. There are the spirits buoyed by their souls in the Great Waters; they don’t go far, but they do enter the veil from time to time. They peer at the other side then quickly return to the Great Waters where they are safe, immersed in other-worldly love to ponder things only souls know. They never push through like the Bandit Spirits do.

The Bandit Spirits go the farthest, they pop! themselves outside the veil, to the other side, where they can be with the living and engage with their last life, even if no body from the last life is still there. Even if nobody who is still there sees them. They’ve got no buoy to keep them in place. The Great Waters have a grieving pool for the souls who’ve lost their spirits. The souls cry and pray in its salty, shallow waters, begging for their Bandit Spirit’s safe return to them, so the Bandit Spirit can ponder the truths and lessons of the hundreds of lifetimes the soul endured to buoy each lifetime, and to be  each lifetime’s great teacher. It is all in the effort of the ultimate outcome: the spirits, united with the soul self, live and learn through millennia, become part of the Saints, the Sacred, the Holy, the Loa, the Orishas, the Powers, for eternity.

There are all sorts of smells inside the veil. They come from the scented memories released by the spirits, usually while they are glimpsing the other side; they see someone or someplace they know and a scented memory releases itself in an effervescence towards the living. If they are lucky, the scented memory reaches the living and the living recall: orange zest and cloves, Mother’s Easter ham; Wind Song perfume, Grandma in the car; burning engine oil and melted rubber, brother at the speedway; all sorts of scents from all sorts of memories are released as spirits recall their lifetimes.   It’s a favored form of communication with its instant confirmation: memory received. Helloooooo over therrrrre: smellllllllllll thissss, looookseeeeeeee? Inhale the memory! Aaahhh. Exhale, the veil.

Throughout the veil are sentimental floaties—they aren’t real things, but the shape of things, manifesting inside the veil. Shapes that pulsate when someone on the other side sees the thing, holds the thing, loves the thing—like Grandmothers’ hair pins and brooches, wedding bands and tin-plated photographs, old sports jerseys and pressed flowers, things spirits were clinging to on the way to the Great Waters, things they didn’t know they couldn’t take with them and had to let go just before the final dive. Those types of things, the sentimental floaties; conduits between the Great Waters and those living on the other side of the veil.

I met Jawn Henery in the veil. I was on my way to the boy’s closet and Jawn Henery was looking for a train to catch. “You see a train come this way?” he asked while waving off a sentimental floatie.

No!”

“You sure?”

Ain’t no trains here.”

 “No? Well then, loookseee?!” He popped! floated around me: “I show you where to find ‘em, pop! C’mon! You can help! pop! find ‘em! C’mon!”

“Nuh-uh. Busy.”

He laughs. “You ain’t busy! Busy with what?” He pulls me upwards away from my path to the closet. He pulls me and pulls and pulls until I feel all stretched and taffy-like and it starts to tickle, it starts to be fun and then he pop!pop!pops! me and him, right where he wanted to go all along, right where a train should be coming.

 

 

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#1 Story Statement:  Facing the grizzly reality of the Nazi “final solution” of WWII, the great Doctor Janusz Korczak must protect the innocence, dignity and very humanity of the two hundred Jewish orphans in his charge - up until their final march to the rail cars headed to Treblinka - even if it means sacrificing his own life.  

#2 Sketch the AntagonistRaised in Berlin by a brutally authoritarian father, a veteran of the first Great War, and a frail but adoring mother, Alrick Jung learns obedience, conformity to gender roles and a strictly male-centric social order.  Fueled by his father’s stories of battle glory and the promises of a brilliant and charismatic Fuhrer, Alrick beams with pride for Motherland as he grows into the splendid epitome of the new Aryan ideal.  His precious Germany struggles to recover from the humiliation of the first Great War and the injustice of the Treaty of Versaille.  Alrick eagerly embraces his small yet critical role in the “final solution” as a Gestapo officer charged with facilitating the deportation of all Jews from the Warsaw ghetto.   Alrick Jung will do everything in his power to make his father and his Fuhrer proud by ridding Germany’s newly occupied Poland of it’s abhorrent Jewish blight.  Germany will shine with a new splendor and the golden Alrick Jung will bask in her glory.

 

#3 Three Breakout Titles (okay, four):

The Railcars of Warsaw

The Innocents (of Warsaw)

The Trees of Treblinka / The Treblinka Forest

(God) Bless the Innocent

 

#4 Genre and Comparables:

Historical Fiction - based on the last two years of the life of Doctor Janusz Korczak, Poland’s national hero, and the time he spent behind the walls of the Warsaw ghetto caring for the two hundred Jewish orphans in his charge.

Kristen Hannah’s The Nightingale - Set during WWII and based on the true stories of little-known heroes who risked their lives off the battlefield to save the lives of others, or as in the case of my story, to find meaning and worth in the final moments for those facing certain death

Jim Sheppard’s The Book of Aaron - tells the story of Korczak but through the first person narrative of a feral and parentless street child who is taken in, civilized and introduced to his own humanity by Korczak in their final moments just before boarding the railcars. 

 

#5 Logline:

In the hell of the Warsaw ghetto, an aging Jewish doctor clings desperately to the few remaining scraps of innocence and humanity of the hundreds of orphans in his care.  Meanwhile, an idealistic and brash Gestapo officer, hell-bent on validating his rigid but rapidly deteriorating world view, aims to empty the ghetto of all traces of its Jewish inhabitants.

 

#6 Sketch out the condition for the inner / secondary conflict for the protagonist:

KORCZAK / PROTAGONIST - In the face of near starvation and deplorable living conditions comes the gradual but inevitable realization that Korczak, his faithful colleague Steffa, their staff and orphans all face a grizzly end.  While this sobering reality settles in on the Doctor, he relies increasingly on his faithful mistress, a bottle of Russian vodka to comfort him.  Then, when he drunkenly stumbles upon a severely injured Alrick Jung in the streets, Korczak, a battle seasoned field medic, must decide to honor his oath to heal and save Alrick’s life.  An unlikely father-son bond ensues as the pair polish off the precious last drops of the vodka while arguing questions of social order, gender roles, and their deeply conflicting worldviews.  

While struggling to face his own mortality and keep hundreds of mouths fed, Korczak juggles the incessant questions of one of his older wards, the objections of the staff and his need to ready those in his care for their inescapable truth - that Death is imminent but Death can be a gentle friend.  In order to accomplish this gargantuan task, he relies on one of his brilliant orphans, a little girl with a big imagination and the power to create and believe alternate truths.  Through Kasia’s vivid fantasies starring her homemade doll, Valery, she creates a constellation of worlds - worlds where glamorous trapeze artists swing their way to new homes, where mothers peacefully mourn their dying daughters, where daughters must say goodbye forever to fathers, and where famous adventurers see the beautiful lands beyond the walls of the ghetto.  Korczak harnesses the power of imagination and play to prepare them all for their certain end. 

Korczak is presented with multiple opportunities to save himself and avoid deportation into the forest to an unknown destination.  But each time, Korczak refuses, choosing instead to do everything in his waning power to make each moment that’s left of his orphans’ lives bearable, worthy, peaceful, even filled with joy and love.  

 

ALRICK /  ANTAGONIST who becomes a PROTAGONIST:  Alrick grew up believing that Germany was great, that German women served great men and great men deserved glory - a simple and Natural Order.  But the humiliation of the first war and the reparations demanded by the Treaty of Versaille left Germany battle scarred, his father jobless, his mother helpless, and he and his small sister hungry.  Years later, a brilliant new Chancellor makes promises of a brighter future for his beloved Motherland - a future where every German man would have a lucrative job and the Golden Ones would rule - a Golden Dream.  Alrick, truly one of the Golden Ones, looks forward to this bright future for himself, his family and his country - just as soon as they carry out the Final Solution and clean up the dark mess behind the ghetto walls.  Alrick has a role to play and he will do it with his customary excellence.  

But this Jewish doctor who saved his life talks to him about another Natural Order, one where children don’t learn through beatings but through love, and where every human being is deserving of dignity and care.  A Natural Order where tiny acorns grow to be mighty oaks simply because it is their nature.  Alrick sees the devotion of the children and of his staff and remembers the brutality of his upbringing.  Letters from his sister at home reveal that the suffocating and tightly woven fabric of his father’s dominion quickly unravels, the rent struggles to get paid, his mother drinks all night and his sister is relegated to unspeakable acts to help keep food on the table.  The luster of the Golden Dream begins to tarnish as Alrick is tasked with completing his duties behind the ghetto walls, duties that require him to deport his teacher, his mentor, his friend.   

 

KASIA:  Truly a flawed specimen of humanity, Kasia limps her way through life in the orphanage on her painfully deformed feet.  If it weren’t for Kasia’s gift of magnificent storytelling - or “pretendings” as the others call it - Kasia’s life in the ghetto orphanage just might be wretched rather than the grand adventure she makes it.  Accompanied by her scratch-made doll, Valery, Kasia weaves a reality where she is beautiful, victorious, brilliant, able-bodied, loved and deeply cherished.  Each fantasy is tailor made to reconcile the truth - that she is a damaged little Jewish orphan girl, that her father abandoned her and that she has developed an obsession for the glorious and golden Alrick Jung.  Tall, strong and glimmering with anticipated possibilities, Alrick is everything Kasia isn’t, but longs to be.  Alrick is everything her father wasn’t, but she wishes he had been.  Alrick is everything Kasia wants, but can’t have.  And he reminded her of it the day he smacked her down to the ground when she dared to touch the shimmering buttons of his uniform.  If only he would look at her, see her, say her name, then she would truly be brave and beautiful.  What Kasia doesn’t know is that one day soon Alrick will rely on her imagination to deliver him from the danger he walked into himself.

 

SISTER PHILOMENA:  Driven by the power of the Holy Spirit, devoted to the wellness of children and fueled by her unconditional faith that one true God unites all people, Sister Philomena is tormented by the events of the occupation and the treatment of the Jewish children in Warsaw.  She commits all her efforts to supporting the orphans’ home behind the walls.  But when she learns that the Mother Superior of her convent school wants her to take an orphan from the home and shelter her in the convent, blending her in with the Catholic students only to force her into a Catholic conversion, Sister Philomena struggles to discern the ethicality of this in light of the Nazi attacks on Judiasm as a whole but is conflicted by her desire to save them.  She realizes that her commitment to protect a child is not enough, she must secretly protect their true Jewish identity while shielding them from Mother Superior’s efforts to force baptism.  Finally, upon learning of the final march to railcars and the horrific fate of the orphans that she left behind, Sister Philomena rails against God and questions everything she has ever believed in.  It takes the fresh faith of one little girl in her charge to bring Sister Philomena to a new place of spiritual understanding.  


 

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NY Pitch 7 assignments

 

Story Statement.

A lonely young seamstress, struggling against her narcissistic great-grandmother’s tyrannical rule, must win her share of the senior cougar fashion beauty contest money in order to become independent from her great-grandmother, one of the contestants.

 Antagonist: 

Bedda Harris shares main character status with Skeeter, her great-granddaughter. At seventy-eight, Bedda sleeps with a bevy of young men who prefer senior cougars. Now in Ciudad de las Pumas Antiguas, a fictional South American resort where the 4th Annual Fashion Beauty Contest is underway, she suffers from ailing health and needs the painfully shy Skeeter to not only sew for her but to take care of her health-wise. Ever fearful that Skeeter may take male attention away from her, Bedda only allows her to wear baggy clothes in gray, brown, and navy blue, and permits no make-up whatsoever. She encourages Skeeter to see herself as someone who would never attract the young men Bedda wants for herself. 

When Skeeter shows up at one of the fashion challenges dressed in a form-fitting mini-dress she’s made for herself, and good Lord, wearing make-up and sporting a new hairdo, Bedda calls the hussy a tramp. Skeeter moves out, living and sewing in a storeroom. Bedda realizes she might have lost Skeeter,  and lies and cheats to try and get her back, fearful of dying alone. When a young man who has rejected Bedda later falls for Skeeter, Bedda connives to break them up in order to have Skeeter all to herself.

Title:

The Red Dress - The red dress that Skeeter makes for herself symbolizes Skeeter’s independence from her controlling, narcissistic great-grandmother with whom she’s lived for the past six years since her father has died. Bedda is threatened by Skeeter’s sexuality and tries to keep it from blooming by forbidding her to wear attractive clothing. Skeeter makes the dress from scratch, creating the pattern, as if she is making herself from scratch, creating a new Skeeter.

The Zero-Sexual - At 21, Skeeter has never been kissed much less had sex. She refers to herself as a zero-sexual because she fears she is unloveable and will always remain that way. 

The Contest - The 4th Annual Fashion Beauty Contest is underway, but in protagonist Bedda's eyes, she finds Skeeter a threat and competes against her for male attention.

Genre: women’s fiction, coming of age

Comparables:

The Accidental Beauty Queen by Teri Wilson (2018)

Both this work and my work share a pageant as the setting, and involve a young heroine who is used to experiencing life second-hand who is suddenly thrust out of her comfort zone. Both heroines are used to offering support but suddenly find themselves in the limelight.

The Vacationers by Emma Straub (2015)

In both Emma Straub’s funny yet serious family drama and in my work, the setting for the novel is a vacation spot with family relationships at the fore. Just like the Post family in Straub's novel, dysfunctional relationships abound in my novel. 

Hook or Logline:

A meek young seamstress, financially dependent upon her narcissistic great-grandmother, must win her share of the senior cougar fashion beauty contest money in order to escape her great-grandmother’s tyrannical rule and create a life, including a love life, of her own.

Core Wounds and the Primary Conflict:

Skeeter’s primary conflict is struggling with her grief after the death of her beloved father when she was fifteen.  As a result of his death, Skeeter has dropped out of school, has no friends and because of self-isolating has never been on a date much less been kissed by a boy. She perceives herself as ugly, and Bedda, her narcissistic great-grandmother who she lives with, reinforces this. Bedda dates young men, allowing Skeeter to only wear drab, baggy clothes and no make-up, fearing that Skeeter will draw attention away from her and steal her suitors.

Skeeter’s only outlet is through sewing, and she’s good at it. Secondary conflicts occur when in Ciudad de Las Pumas Antiguas where Skeeter is Bedda's seamstress for a fashion beauty contest for senior cougars. Here, Skeeter makes friends with a young woman her age who encourages Skeeter to sew beautiful clothes for herself as well as for Bedda, and she gives Skeeter a make-over. Skeeter struggles with this new self she is creating, having little confidence that she could be beautiful. When Bedda sees the new Skeeter, she tears away at her confidence by calling her a tramp. When Skeeter later has a love interest and Bedda tries to derail it, afraid that Skeeter will run off with someone and leave her to fend for herself in her old age. Skeeter moves out of the hotel room they share, fighting for her independence by sewing for tourists on the side so she can make enough money to escape Bedda’s clutches in case they don't win the contest money. By the end of the novel Skeeter has enough self-confidence to tell Bedda she will no longer live with her, and is beginning to have the courage to say goodbye to her father.

Settings:

Ciudad de las Pumas Antiguas:

Ciudad de las Pumas Antiguas, or City of the Ancient Cougars, is a fictional South American resort where the novel takes place. It is home to the 4th Annual Fashion Beauty Pageant for Women of a Certain Age Plus More. The resort caters to elderly women and the young men who travel there to be with them, either out of desire or because they are gigolos. The main street includes a breakfast hangout called Crone’s Scones, stores called Hag’s Rags, Spare Hair and Battle-ax Wax. At the town square is the big rent tent, a huge tent where the contest takes place, and at the end of town is a steep hill that leads to the Institute with its different departments, such as The Department for Failing Memory, The Department for Vaginal Rejuvenation, The Department for Hair Growth, The Department for Grief, The Department for Love, and even The Department for Impotence for men. Tourists stay at the sprawling Gina Lollobrigida Hotel, named after the famous actress known for her young boy toy. 

Example of the shops along the main street:

She passed a breakfast hangout called Crone’s Scones, people chatting inside, and at the town square a huge red tent-like structure was set up for the contest. Lanterns hung from trees, vendors sold food, the smell of meat filled the air. A string of boutiques lined the street. As Skeeter passed Hag’s Rags, she pressed her face against the plate glass window. Mannequins wore loose-fitting boho dresses in colorful paisley prints. Further down the avenue at Spare Hair, fluffy wigs in different shades of blonde were stretched over black plastic wig heads. Glancing in a window at the very end of the street, Skeeter was surprised to see a girl her age behind the counter. The girl’s skin was the color of coffee with cream, her dark eyebrows arched above her large round eyes. Skeeter saw herself reflected in the window, her red hair fiery in the sun, but her eyebrows and eyelashes were so pale they were almost invisible while her plum-colored eyes seemed empty. Next to this beauty, Skeeter looked like a glass of plain milk, or a ghost.

 Example of the Institute:

 Feeling sorry for herself, Skeeter hurried on. At the base of the mountain, a shuttle marked Institute waited, but Skeeter decided to walk, for after all, she was young. As she reached the halfway point, the shuttle passed her, gears grinding as it bucked up the hill. Ten minutes later, she reached the top and stopped to catch her breath, sweat dripping from her forehead as the sun beat down on her. A row of white buildings glittered in the sun, the shrubbery trimmed in the shapes of circles and stars, fairy lights strung around the trees, which must have looked beautiful at night. The place seemed magical, as if great things could happen up here, exceptional things, and she wished something magical and exceptional could happen to her. A manicured lawn, fancy wrought iron benches, a gravel pathway, a shiny marble directory... Old women in sun hats and sundresses strolled about.

She consulted the directory and found the Department for Vaginal Rejuvination listed in Building A2. She wound around the gravel path until she found it. “I need some...” she started, but couldn't get herself to say the words. Embarrassed, she opened her purse and handed the clerk the packet. “Six of them,” she said. She paid with Bedda's Visa card and hurried out the door.

 Example of the Gina Lollobrigida Hotel:

 The town looked forward to the revenue that would pour in from the pageant. While bellhops in dark blue uniforms privately rolled their eyes at the age differences and Father Miguel, the town priest, prayed inside his rectory for all these sexual sinners who had lost their way, the town was about to make more money in the next six weeks than at any other time of year. The sprawling Gina Lollobrigida Hotel with its orange fresco walls and tall arches, its chandeliers twinkling with tiny white bulbs that shone like diamonds, its red leather couches and plants with rubbery leaves stationed in every corner would be home to the tourists for the upcoming weeks. The hotel had tripled its staff, restaurants and cafes would soon be booming, nightclubs swelling, boutiques thriving, selling everything from evening gowns to micro-bikinis to G-spot vibrators to CandyMan thongs. The local shuttle, running every seven minutes from the hotel down the main street, would climb the grade to the world renowned Institute that loomed high on the hill with its many departments: The Department for Failing Memory; The Department for Vaginal Rejuvenation; The Department for Hair Growth; The Department for Grief; The Department for Love…

The shuttle came to a stop in the hotel’s circular drive-way, international flags hanging from the edifice, almost hiding the small simple flag of the host country with its diagonal red and black stripes separated by thin gold lines, plus Ciudad’s flag of a very old woman in a low-cut dress surrounded by smiling young men. Bedda rose to her full height of five feet ten and squeezed the driver's hand as she carefully stepped down. Skeeter, her great-granddaughter, whose only gift in life was that she could sew, trailed behind her.  

 The print shop and Reina’s kitchen:

 Skeeter became friends with two young townspeople her age. The first is Luna, who manages the local print shop, Imprenta al Final de la Ciudad, that does all the advertising for the contest. Luna, into make-up and hair, gives Skeeter a make-over in the print shop bathroom, boosting Skeeter’s self-esteem. It is at the print shop that Luna encourages Skeeter to like herself. Luna also allows Skeeter to live in the cave-like storeroom out back of the shop when Skeeter flees the hotel after Bedda calls her a tramp for wearing a pretty dress. Jamie, a close friend of Luna’s, lives with his elderly relative named Reina, last year’s winner of the contest. It is in Reina’s kitchen where Jamie cooks and bakes, nurturing Skeeter and encouraging her not to think of herself as a zero-sexual. 

 Example of the print shop:

 Luna had been sitting before the computer screen amid the familiar smell of heated paper, the copy machine whirring, spitting out copies into the waiting tray. Serving Ciudad for More than Thirty Years, a sign above her read, her uncle’s shop a fixture in the town. Ask About our Photographic Services, another sign read, displaying a picture of Luna behind a camera. She did everything from photo enlargements to private shoots for couples to events to taking shots for flyers and posters. Another sign advertised prices for prints, posters, copies, banners and business cards. 

She’d run the shop for the last five years, ever since leaving the States to get away from unwanted male attention. In Ciudad, the male tourists were rarely interested in someone young. To help with her nostalgia, she’d personalized the hallway between the shop and the bathroom with posters of New Mexico - one of a winding highway, the mountains in the distance, one of the Carlsbad Caverns with its hanging stalactites, another of adobe houses in Santa Fe like the one in which she’d grown up. She kept an Out of Order sign on the restroom door to keep that room private. 

 Example of Reina’s kitchen:

 Skeeter had made a friend through Luna. His name was Jamie and he was gay and young and perfect as a friend. 

She walked to his home through the wealthy neighborhood, houses like bright dresses lining the street, puffs of flowers with lime-colored hearts, trees with leaves like big red hats. When she arrived at the grape-colored house for the pie-making, Jamie showed her into the cheery yellow kitchen, the sun shining through the sliding glass doors. Outside, Skeeter could see Reina floating in the shade in an inflatable lounge recliner, five or six men hanging about the pool.   

So many cuckoo clocks on the kitchen wall, the pendulums swinging back and forth, ticking in unison... Skeeter eyed Jamie’s essentials on the kitchen table. A rolling pin, four Granny Smith apples, a glass pie dish, seasonings, a lemon, a bag of flour and one of sugar, mixing bowls, measuring spoons, a measuring cup. No one had ever shown her how to bake before. No one had ever explained how to get guys to like you, how to be a woman, except for Bedda’s ideas that most often made her feel weird. 

Jamie wore a full-sized apron, Baking Queen written on the front, a fancy gold crown above the words. He looked really cute, and as he peeled the apples and then cored them, tossing them in a bowl with the juice of half a lemon, along with the cinnamon and nutmeg, she asked him questions like what was his relationship to Reina.

 Ombu Park:

 Ombu Park, the local town park, has a special section devoted to grief ceremonies where widows arrive dressed in black, and assisted by Father Miguel, the town priest, plus paid cryers, also wearing black, speak of their late husbands before writing their husband’s name in something called The Book of Names, a large book sitting on a podium, its pages weather-proofed. It is here that Skeeter comes by herself, near the end of the novel, to write her father’s name in this special book, feeling she is finally ready to confront her aching grief. 

 Example of Ombu Park:

 She helped him with the dishes and they left. They walked down the road to Ombu Park. The grassy park was large, broad, with tall trees that extended way back, and a well-kept lawn and black metal benches. They walked inside the gate and came to a big ole tree with branches like a huge umbrella. Jamie said it was an Ombu tree, and it had these gigantic above-ground roots. 

When they sat down between the claw-like roots they heard chanting, women's voices followed by a chorus of men’s deep baritone ones. A procession led by a priest with dark wavy hair followed, women in black dresses with black veils covering their faces slowly moving behind him. As the women got closer, Skeeter could see rosaries hanging from their hands, and each woman carried a long-stemmed white rose. Soon, a group of men appeared behind them in lightweight black suits.

“What’s this all about?” Skeeter asked. 

“I’m not sure,” Jamie said.

They decided to follow from a distance. When the mourners came to a woodsy path with overhanging branches, the light grew dim, the trees forming a canopy overhead. The mourners formed a single-file line, she and Jamie at the end. A few minutes later they came to a small clearing with a podium in the middle, a few large glass vases in front of it. One by one, the veiled women placed the white roses in the vases. It seemed so formal. The mourners fanned out in front of the podium where one woman, her face hidden by a black veil, stood next to the priest. The woman was crying, her sobbing making small hiccup sounds.



 

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#1 Story Statement:  Facing the grizzly reality of the Nazi “final solution” of WWII, the great Doctor Janusz Korczak must protect the innocence, dignity and very humanity of the two hundred Jewish orphans in his charge - up until their final march to the rail cars headed to Treblinka - even if it means sacrificing his own life.  

#2 Sketch the AntagonistRaised in Berlin by a brutally authoritarian father, a veteran of the first Great War, and a frail but adoring mother, Alrick Jung learns obedience, conformity to gender roles and a strictly male-centric social order.  Fueled by his father’s stories of battle glory and the promises of a brilliant and charismatic Fuhrer, Alrick beams with pride for Motherland as he grows into the splendid epitome of the new Aryan ideal.  His precious Germany struggles to recover from the humiliation of the first Great War and the injustice of the Treaty of Versaille.  Alrick eagerly embraces his small yet critical role in the “final solution” as a Gestapo officer charged with facilitating the deportation of all Jews from the Warsaw ghetto.   Alrick Jung will do everything in his power to make his father and his Fuhrer proud by ridding Germany’s newly occupied Poland of it’s abhorrent Jewish blight.  Germany will shine with a new splendor and the golden Alrick Jung will bask in her glory.

 

#3 Three Breakout Titles (okay, four):

The Railcars of Warsaw

The Innocents (of Warsaw)

The Trees of Treblinka / The Treblinka Forest

(God) Bless the Innocent

 

#4 Genre and Comparables:

Historical Fiction - based on the last two years of the life of Doctor Janusz Korczak, Poland’s national hero, and the time he spent behind the walls of the Warsaw ghetto caring for the two hundred Jewish orphans in his charge.

Kristen Hannah’s The Nightingale - Set during WWII and based on the true stories of little-known heroes who risked their lives off the battlefield to save the lives of others, or as in the case of my story, to find meaning and worth in the final moments for those facing certain death

Jim Sheppard’s The Book of Aaron - tells the story of Korczak but through the first person narrative of a feral and parentless street child who is taken in, civilized and introduced to his own humanity by Korczak in their final moments just before boarding the railcars. 

 

#5 Logline:

In the hell of the Warsaw ghetto, an aging Jewish doctor clings desperately to the few remaining scraps of innocence and humanity of the hundreds of orphans in his care.  Meanwhile, an idealistic and brash Gestapo officer, hell-bent on validating his rigid but rapidly deteriorating world view, aims to empty the ghetto of all traces of its Jewish inhabitants.

 

#6 Sketch out the condition for the inner / secondary conflict for the protagonist:

KORCZAK / PROTAGONIST - In the face of near starvation and deplorable living conditions comes the gradual but inevitable realization that Korczak, his faithful colleague Steffa, their staff and orphans all face a grizzly end.  While this sobering reality settles in on the Doctor, he relies increasingly on his faithful mistress, a bottle of Russian vodka to comfort him.  Then, when he drunkenly stumbles upon a severely injured Alrick Jung in the streets, Korczak, a battle seasoned field medic, must decide to honor his oath to heal and save Alrick’s life.  An unlikely father-son bond ensues as the pair polish off the precious last drops of the vodka while arguing questions of social order, gender roles, and their deeply conflicting worldviews.  

While struggling to face his own mortality and keep hundreds of mouths fed, Korczak juggles the incessant questions of one of his older wards, the objections of the staff and his need to ready those in his care for their inescapable truth - that Death is imminent but Death can be a gentle friend.  In order to accomplish this gargantuan task, he relies on one of his brilliant orphans, a little girl with a big imagination and the power to create and believe alternate truths.  Through Kasia’s vivid fantasies starring her homemade doll, Valery, she creates a constellation of worlds - worlds where glamorous trapeze artists swing their way to new homes, where mothers peacefully mourn their dying daughters, where daughters must say goodbye forever to fathers, and where famous adventurers see the beautiful lands beyond the walls of the ghetto.  Korczak harnesses the power of imagination and play to prepare them all for their certain end. 

Korczak is presented with multiple opportunities to save himself and avoid deportation into the forest to an unknown destination.  But each time, Korczak refuses, choosing instead to do everything in his waning power to make each moment that’s left of his orphans’ lives bearable, worthy, peaceful, even filled with joy and love.  

 

ALRICK /  ANTAGONIST who becomes a PROTAGONIST:  Alrick grew up believing that Germany was great, that German women served great men and great men deserved glory - a simple and Natural Order.  But the humiliation of the first war and the reparations demanded by the Treaty of Versaille left Germany battle scarred, his father jobless, his mother helpless, and he and his small sister hungry.  Years later, a brilliant new Chancellor makes promises of a brighter future for his beloved Motherland - a future where every German man would have a lucrative job and the Golden Ones would rule - a Golden Dream.  Alrick, truly one of the Golden Ones, looks forward to this bright future for himself, his family and his country - just as soon as they carry out the Final Solution and clean up the dark mess behind the ghetto walls.  Alrick has a role to play and he will do it with his customary excellence.  

But this Jewish doctor who saved his life talks to him about another Natural Order, one where children don’t learn through beatings but through love, and where every human being is deserving of dignity and care.  A Natural Order where tiny acorns grow to be mighty oaks simply because it is their nature.  Alrick sees the devotion of the children and of his staff and remembers the brutality of his upbringing.  Letters from his sister at home reveal that the suffocating and tightly woven fabric of his father’s dominion quickly unravels, the rent struggles to get paid, his mother drinks all night and his sister is relegated to unspeakable acts to help keep food on the table.  The luster of the Golden Dream begins to tarnish as Alrick is tasked with completing his duties behind the ghetto walls, duties that require him to deport his teacher, his mentor, his friend.   

 

KASIA:  Truly a flawed specimen of humanity, Kasia limps her way through life in the orphanage on her painfully deformed feet.  If it weren’t for Kasia’s gift of magnificent storytelling - or “pretendings” as the others call it - Kasia’s life in the ghetto orphanage just might be wretched rather than the grand adventure she makes it.  Accompanied by her scratch-made doll, Valery, Kasia weaves a reality where she is beautiful, victorious, brilliant, able-bodied, loved and deeply cherished.  Each fantasy is tailor made to reconcile the truth - that she is a damaged little Jewish orphan girl, that her father abandoned her and that she has developed an obsession for the glorious and golden Alrick Jung.  Tall, strong and glimmering with anticipated possibilities, Alrick is everything Kasia isn’t, but longs to be.  Alrick is everything her father wasn’t, but she wishes he had been.  Alrick is everything Kasia wants, but can’t have.  And he reminded her of it the day he smacked her down to the ground when she dared to touch the shimmering buttons of his uniform.  If only he would look at her, see her, say her name, then she would truly be brave and beautiful.  What Kasia doesn’t know is that one day soon Alrick will rely on her imagination to deliver him from the danger he walked into himself.

 

SISTER PHILOMENA:  Driven by the power of the Holy Spirit, devoted to the wellness of children and fueled by her unconditional faith that one true God unites all people, Sister Philomena is tormented by the events of the occupation and the treatment of the Jewish children in Warsaw.  She commits all her efforts to supporting the orphans’ home behind the walls.  But when she learns that the Mother Superior of her convent school wants her to take an orphan from the home and shelter her in the convent, blending her in with the Catholic students only to force her into a Catholic conversion, Sister Philomena struggles to discern the ethicality of this in light of the Nazi attacks on Judiasm as a whole but is conflicted by her desire to save them.  She realizes that her commitment to protect a child is not enough, she must secretly protect their true Jewish identity while shielding them from Mother Superior’s efforts to force baptism.  Finally, upon learning of the final march to railcars and the horrific fate of the orphans that she left behind, Sister Philomena rails against God and questions everything she has ever believed in.  It takes the fresh faith of one little girl in her charge to bring Sister Philomena to a new place of spiritual understanding.  

 

 

#7 Setting: 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?

 

The Orphans Home before the ghetto: Like a loving matriarch, an aging oak tree spreads her branches in a loving embrace around the spacious and dusty yard where the children play in her shadow, never doubting that she will always be there to watch over them.  The dusty yard doubles as the Roman Forum as Kasia imagines a raucous chariot race around the arena, surrounded by cheering fans.  A puddle of mud under the back stairs always hides a generous supply of worms for Mikolaj to gather up in his tiny fists.  The ample kitchen is almost never silent as staff cleans from one meal only to begin preparations for the next.  A vast dining room is lined with tables and benches and a huge bulletin board flutters with announcements of student run activities, meetings, rehearsals and performances.  Upstairs, boys and girls sleep in separate wings, with clean tidy beds arranged in reliable and tidy rows.  A simple parlor off of the front foyer houses a tiny desk, a well worn chair and short bookshelves stuffed with books, journals and sketch pads.  A small wobbly coffee table holds a dish always supplied with sweets.  A pair of enormous windows in the parlor look out over the broad front walkway leading to the heavy front door.  The roomy front foyer is the setting for nightly story telling where the well-worn chair is brought out.  The Doctor takes his place in his chair as the children gather on the warm wooden floor to listen to another chapter of their favorite story unfold in the Orphans Home before the ghetto divides Warsaw.

 

The Orphans Home after the ghetto:  A meager patch of dirt and a weed patch struggle to find the sun.  Classrooms double as dormitories and mattresses stand against the walls making space for lessons.  The cramped foyer doubles as a dining hall and the tiny kitchen and pantry double as a parlor.  A flimsy front door leads out to a short stoop that dumps out into the busy sidewalk and noisy street.  The stench of grit and filth assault the masses of the ghetto, their heads down, their eyes barely seeing.  Hastily constructed ghetto walls stumble through the once elegant city like drunken soldiers staggering aimlessly.  As hope for the people of the ghetto wanes, their bodies litter the sidewalks like old stories, once cherished and shared but now forgotten. 

 

The Sisters of Mercy Convent and School for Catholic Girls: In the chapel on a gentle hill, sunlight filters through the stained glass windows, casting a rosy glow over the sisters as they join their voices in praise.  The warm spicy aroma of incense and wooden pews fill their lungs.  The gardens that surround the convent and school are laced by trails that weave through an orchard of pear trees and rose bushes heavy with fragrant and tender white blooms.  The Apostles' Garden is filled with life sized bronzes of the sleeping apostles surrounding a prayerful Jesus, hands held high in supplication to his Father.  Finally, the trails meet at the bottom of the hill at a gurgling grotto framing the elegant statue of the Virgin, in celestial blue robe and crown of gleaming white roses.  The statue is surrounded by flickering candles balancing on the rocks of the grotto, each offering up a silent petition for a miracle.  


 


 

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Title of Series -  SPAQRQE (Special People Always Responding Quickly Everywhere)

 

In the SPARQE tales, special needs kids sparked by the undertakings of genetic manipulators call upon their abilities, wrapped around a bit of science,  to become Special Purpose People (SPPs), with a wide variety of gadgets, vehicles and apparatus to accomplish superhero deeds, while avoiding capture by agents of the darkly evil Empty Vessel (EV). EV, who once lost an important promotion to a disabled kid, is a self-acknowledged and self-made sinister scientist. Using the scientific and energy resources of Technoprise, EV has constructed a Bio-Farm where he develops genetic modification technology aimed at eliminating the disabled, creating a “clean gene” society.  

EV must find the SPARQE lab and eliminate all the SPPs so that he can have unimpeded access to the disabled for experiments at his Bio-Farms, and to otherwise rid the world of—or make invisible—the disabled. So SPARQE fights a two-front war. In everyday life the SPPs are out there showing how they make important contributions to the lives of other people. Simultaneously, they are trying to learn of EV’s plot, the secrets behind EV’s science, and the location of the Bio-Farm so they can destroy it, topple EV and restore his kindly predecessor, Mr. Otterbach, as head of Technoprise.  

The year is 2029. EV has already taken over Technoprise, the SPPs are out in the world under SPARQE’s umbrella, and the conflict is engaged…

-          Book 1: Silence The Viper (self published Dec 2020)

-          Book 2: Conquer The Viper (Completing Nov 2021)

-          Book 3:  Harness The Viper (Completing Mar 2022)

-          Book 4 : The SPARK(QE) In Real Life (In progress Completing 2022)

by John Besold

Copyright Materials 2020/2021

Hi all, Look forward to meeting folks at the early December event. For this "First Assignment" I took Mr. Neff's challenge on to "be aggressive with it", so I've laid out the entire four (4) book planned series (1 written & self published less than a year ago and the remaining three (3) book plot lines, settings, conflicts, etc. It's all there in the attachment. 

Best to ye all

John B

JOHN BESOLD FIRST ASSIGNMENT 11-3-2021.pdf

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STORY STATEMENT

Miles must overcome his anxiety and mental illness in order to piece together repressed memories, survive high school, and find real beauty in life.

THE ANTAGONIST PLOTS THE POINT

The antagonistic force is Miles’ anxiety, depression, and mental illness. Miles' parents are recently divorced after many years of a broken marriage and Miles is soon diagnosed with anxiety and depression after living through the difficult circumstances. As time goes on, repressed memories of his past begin to reveal themselves and Miles struggles to come to terms with major traumatic events that he once lived through.

Another antagonist is Miles’ father who doesn’t seem to accept Miles for who he is. Miles’ father is a man of few words. He’s rigid, controlling, and tries to force Miles into playing high school sports, which Miles has zero interest in doing. Once Miles begins to understand the repressed memories from his past, he starts to understand his father’s actions a little at a time. By the end of the story, Miles’ father asks for forgiveness and the two begin to work on their damaged relationship.

CONJURING YOUR BREAKOUT TITLE

1. Dear Friend, Talk Soon

2. The Photographer’s Playbook

3. The Art of Exceptional Living

DECIDING YOUR GENRE AND APPROACHABLE COMPARABLES

Young adult fiction

Coming of age story

Two Comparables : JD Salinger and Stephen Chbosky have both written works that are comparable to mine because they are all created in stream of consciousness writing. Thus, the thoughts and emotions are written out so the reader can track the mental state of the main character throughout the story.

LOG LINE

Miles, an anxious and introverted teen, tormented by repressed memories, drugs, and abuse, goes on a life changing adventure to find real beauty in the world.

OTHER MATTERS OF CONFLICT

Miles deals with various inner conflicts including: anxiety, depression, and memory loss. As repressed memories begin to return, he dreams of his Uncle Benjy, his father’s brother, who died many years earlier from a drug overdose. Miles knew his Uncle Benjy struggled with alcoholism and drug abuse, but he remembers his uncle as a fun, eccentric person. His dreams reveal a different side to his uncle that showed an abusive side that his family was unaware of. Miles’ final memory of his uncle returns on the day of his Mom’s second wedding when he sees the whiskey bottle that his Uncle Benjy used to drink. Miles is found curled up on the floor of his bedroom in a catatonic state. He is told that he’s being sent away to a residential program and instead, Miles flees to Italy, since he finds traveling to be a form of therapy. Miles must decide if he wants to embrace his past and learn to heal or continue repressing it, feeling anxious, depressed, and not ever truly living a fulfilled life.

The secondary conflict is society. Miles feels antagonized by much of society, which to him is filled with inauthentic adults. Miles views children as young, innocent, and intelligent beings that see the beauty in life. However, once a child is no longer innocent, they become inauthentic adults who try to persuade kids to do what they want. Miles hates the fact that his sister goes to college and joins a sorority because he thinks it’s given her a reason to be more immature in life. The older she gets, the more difficult their relationship becomes, which is an additional conflict in the story.

INCREDIBLE IMPORTANCE OF SETTING

The majority of the setting takes place in a small town in New Jersey. Miles’ parents are divorced and he bounces back and forth from house to house. Miles regularly sees his therapist "Doc" who helps him to analyze his thoughts; and he attends high school in this town where he befriends his History teacher and two other unique characters: Ezra and Jessie. All three of them struggle with various inner conflicts and eventually decide to run off to Rome, Italy to see what else the world has to offer them. Upon return, Miles is sent to a residential program where he is evaluated for his mental health and the reader’s learn of his diagnosis.

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Assignment I: Story Statement: Defy the order to detonate a nuclear weapon in Las Vegas.

Assignment II: Protagonist Sketch:

Abu Zil, the devil in human form and commander of a terrorist group, kidnapped the protagonist, Muhammad Jihad, and conscripted him as a child terrorist eight years ago in Syria. Now, in Las Vegas where he sent Muhammad Jihad as a sleeper agent, Abu Zill recalls Muhammad Jihad to duty and charges him with detonating a smuggled nuclear weapon in Las Vegas. Abu Zil, who has assumed the identity of a UNLV professor killed in Syria, wants to use Muhammad Jihad to spread hatred in the world and prove himself to God. Through the use of brilliant logic, reason, dishonesty, double-talk, and other devious techniques, Abu Zil breaks down the mind and spirit of his protege. But when Muhammad Jihad continues to resist his orders, Abu Zil--omniscient, omnipotent, and ubiquitous--unleashes mayhem, destroying Muhammad Jihad's bright future of medical school and marriage and bringing him to the brink of madness. Abu Zil is willing to destroy whatever necessary to defeat Muhammad Jihad, but his fundamental weakness is the power of love to overcome his machinations.  If he cannot keep Muhammad Jihad brainwashed into believing himself unlovable, for Abu Zil all is lost.

Assignment III: Titles:

I, Muhammad Jihad

The Gifter's Bargain

The Roadblock

Assignment IV: Comparable Titles:

Kafka On the Shore (Murikami): As with my work, this title is a coming of age story in which a protagonist travels through darkness attempting to avoid a terrible destiny all the while struggling to discern between what is real and what is not, and to reconnect with family, and to discover love in all its forms.

Song of Achilles (Miller): As with my work, this title portrays the struggle of an epic hero to overcome powerful forces arrayed against him, to overcome destiny, and through acts of courage to earn the right to know love in this world and the next.

Assignment V: Hook Line

A university student, ordered to detonate a nuclear bomb in Las Vegas, bets his soul against the devil's promise to cancel the attack if he does the impossible: find one woman who truly loves him.

Assignment VI: Primary and Secondary Conflict

The primary conflict is internal. Muhammad Jihad must find the strength and courage to defy Abu Zil's summons to detonate a nuclear weapon in Las Vegas, but he must first overcome the self-loathing and sense of worthlessness that has burdened him since he committed terrible acts as a child terrorist in Syria. Abu Zil, recognizing Muhammad Jihad's vulnerability, attacks each and every one of Muhammad Jihad's relationships to reinforce his sense of isolation and bring him into a state of despair and near-surrender. Only if Muhammad Jihad is willing to silence Abu Zil's voice inside his head and face his deepest fears will it be possible for him to see things as they truly are and choose his own path.

The secondary conflict is external. Despite telling everyone in his life about the terrible circumstances and Abu Zil's order, Muhammad Jihad is dismissed as mentally ill, abandoned, and betrayed. Without external sources of validation and support, Muhammad Jihad is rendered even more vulnerable to Abu Zil's deceits. Only a last-ditch gamble, where Muhammad Jihad wrangles Abu Zil into giving him a reprieve if he can prove even one woman loves him, can prevent Muhammad Jihad from surrendering and carrying out the horrific order to nuke Las Vegas.

Assignment VII: Setting

I, Muhammad Jihad, is set temporally in the past, present, and future. Geographically, the story is set in war-torn, blood-soaked Gaza; in ISIS-controlled territory and terrorist training camps in Syria; in the Las Vegas metropolitan area from swank Summerlin to the Naked City in North Las Vegas to Lake Mead and the Hoover Dam; and in NYC at the Metropolitan Opera and Juilliard. The chaos of battle, the burning desert sun, the contrast between social classes, and the pull of contemporary popular culture help characterize the setting. Gaza contextualizes how Muhammad Jihad not only came to harbor ideologies that contribute toward his radicalization but also the countervailing knowledge and wisdom imparted by his aunt, who adopted him on the death of his parents. Syria describes the process of attachment formation to Abu Zil and the commission of the acts that undermine Muhammad Jihad's self-concept as a worthy, lovable person. New York is where Muhammad Jihad hits rock bottom and decides to battle against Abu Zil. Las Vegas is the grand stage upon which the important acts of the final month of Muhammad Jihad's life are played out.

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Story Statement

Fresh off the biggest win of his career where he put a child-killer on death row for the murder of Rachel Lighthall, star prosecutor Michael Trent is assigned to cross-examine a mysterious homeless man, known only as John Doe, who claims to be God. But as the cross-examination evolves, Doe signals to Trent that he is aware of a secret involving the last trial that makes clear that Trent has put an innocent man on death row. But how does Doe know? Is he the actual killer?  Or God as he claims?  Or something much worse?

 

 

Antagonist

It should have been the easiest cross-examination in the world—a homeless man, a John Doe who claims to be God.  But Trent quickly realizes that Doe is no common vagrant. He is brilliant and manipulative.  A surprisingly worthy adversary. When Doe drops a hint that he knows about Trent’s secret from the Lighthall murder trial, signaling that he knows Trent put an innocent man on death row, the game gets serious as Trent realizes that now his professional life hangs in the balance. As Trent tries to unravel the mystery of who or what John Doe is, pieces of evidence emerge, each one tantalizing ambiguous, each one suggesting that they are like chess pieces being placed and played expertly by Doe, and each one part of a bigger game that eventually threatens the lives of the people Trent loves most.

 

Title

1.     Crossed

2.     Doe

3.     The Trinity Mirror

 

Comparables

The Devil’s Advocate by Andrew Neederman.  This seems like an obvious comp but there are significant differences.  In Crossed Doe’s true identity remains elusive, even to the end.  And the major themes—will the protagonist in DA be seduced to the dark side versus will the protagonist expose the truth, even at great professional and personal cost, are very different.

Another comparable, although a bit if a stretch, is The Testimony of Gideon Mack by James Robertson.

 

Hook/Logline

During a cross-examination for the ages, a prosecutor discovers that the line between God, the Devil and a psychotic killer is a fine one that should never be crossed.

 

Core Wound and the Primary Conflict

The primary conflict is Trent Versus Doe, first with Trent trying to cross-examine Doe to prove he isn’t really God, then Trent trying to prove that Doe Killed Rachel Lighthall without somehow destroying his career in the process and finally the winner takes all showdown between Trent and Doe on the final day of cross-examination.

Secondary Conflict

There are several secondary conflicts. First, there is Trent’s only daughter falling mysteriously shortly after Trent encounters Doe. Eventually, Doe suggests that he may be able to help her, but only if Trent performs certain tasks, and does so with sincerity.  Trent must decide whether it is worth sacrificing his convictions for the crazy idea that a clear madman can help his daughter.

Another conflict emerges within the team that comes together to help Trent solve the puzzle, his long time investigator and a news reporter.  They each have their own theory about Doe—Trent is convinced he is a cunning murderer, the news reported becomes convinced that he may in fact be God and his investigator becomes convinced that they are actually dealing with the Devil.

The third secondary conflict is Trent quickly falling for the reporter who offers to help him find out who Doe really is.  There chemistry is combustible, but Trent soon realizes that he is likely putting her in harms way.  He must decide whether to hang on to the one person who is keeping him grounded during what seems like a descent into madness, or let her go because there are myriad warning signs that he is taking her headlong into danger.

The Inner Conflicts

After the Lighthall trial, Trent is giddy with success, and imagining a run for a soon to open Senate seat and then maybe a run for the Whitehouse.  But now, he realizes that a crazed, homeless man knows a secret that could ruin his life and maybe even get him disbarred. And Doe’s claim that he is God has re-ignited a storm inside of Trent, who eschewed a deeply religious upbringing for what seemed a more scientifically grounded atheistic set of beliefs.  With each new development, the battle between Doe and Trent intensifies, as does the war inside of Trent where he must reconcile irreconcilable belief systems. When the conflict is at its apogee, Trent must entertain yet a third option, that maybe Doe is neither God or the killer, but something much more malevolent.

 

Incredible Importance of Setting

Crossed takes place in Social Circle, Ga, a small hamlet east of Atlanta where the Old South and the Old Testament are still revered.  From the courthouse steps to the leaf dappled streets, the town gives off a vibe that maybe spirits could still manifest themselves like ghosts of the confederacy.

The courtroom is in the historic Monroe County courthouse where one can almost hear the footsteps of generations of southern trial lawyers past echo across the hardwood floors. Like everything about the town, the modern and technology succumb to the weight of southern history. The well of the courtroom, where the primary clashes with Doe takes place, is presided over by a judge who dislikes Trent and resents is meteoric rise. 

Other scenes include the historic Blue Willow Inn, The Varsity eating establishment, Trent’s mansion whose modern interior design aesthetic clashes with the home’s, and the town’s, antebellum exterior, a run-down abandoned home where the Lighthall murder took place and the GBI crime lab.

Sevenasnmnt.docx

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With regard to my work SPARQE, I recorded a podcast with Jessica Temple of Thriving in the Midst of Chaos – Parenting with Special Needs Kids which can be found at Special Needs Superheros with Guest John Besold - Thriving in the Midst of Chaos (midstofchaospod.com)

As leading characters in SPARQE are special needs kids, I felt it critical that those families with these kids find SPARQE an exciting and not an exploitive piece of fiction. As you listen to the Podcast you'll have an insight as to how that went.

See you all 12/2

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The seven Pre-event Assignments for The Price, thriller, 84,000 words

1. Story Statement: The Protagonist, Logan Tanner, must thwart a misguided plan to “save the country.”

2. The Antagonist: Cassandra Moon is a self-made, and proud of it, entrepreneur who built her tech company from nothing and now enjoys several military contracts for her devices and services, and complementary to that, a number of military and political contacts, as well as close ties to an extremist group. She has already convinced the US Army to buy and use her highly advanced UAVs. But her goals are much larger – to force the government to use her company’s software and hardware to help solve the gaping holes in the nation’s cyber and infrastructure security, a project she genuinely believes in. With her, her company, and her friends “justifiably” reaping the profits and accolades, of course. But Moon accepts, even enjoys, that fact that her methods will also result in unfathomable levels of human rights abuses, even murders, and will shove the country further along the road to autocracy. She also believes this is the best path to preserve America, its people, and ideals.

3. Titles: a) The Price b) Trojan Horse c) Bullet in the Machine

4. Comps: Similar plot and theme to Simon Gervais’ The Last Protector; similar writing style to recent David Baldacci and Lee Child novels, although the characters and themes are different.

5. Logline: When a former US Marine special forces operator, forced out of his beloved Corps for doing the right thing in the wrong way, witnesses a drone strike on a group of innocent hikers, his attempt to find those responsible pits him against a woman who is driven to protect the United States, her way, at any cost.

6. Inner Conflict: Deprived of being a Marine with a team, a family, and a purpose that matters, Logan must find not only a way to accept his new life, but to again find a purpose, worthwhile goals, and people to care about.

Secondary Conflict: While digging deep to fight their enemies, Logan falls in love with Dianne, a forest ranger who is helping him track down murderers. He also comes to question the loyalty of his best and only friend and former Marine sister, Aly.

7. The Price takes place in the Cascade Mountains of Washington State, along the Pacific Crest Trail in rugged terrain; at a cabin set on the eastern flanks of the Cascades; in a southern suburb of Seattle; and in Seattle itself, including the climax among the springtime crowds in Pike Place Market.

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Story Statement
On her way to bury the journal chronicling the last year of her mother’s life, Olivia finds herself transported to another world. In order to harness the power she needs to return home alive, she must finally grieve her mother’s death.

Antagonist

The antagonist Cala, like Olivia, has something to grieve. Her magic was brutally ripped from her as a child, and she wants it back. Essentially rendered a psychopath by having her essence stolen, Cala wants to replace the organic power of magic with political power by any means possible. Given that she was born into a politically powerful family, she believes that she can use political power to regain her magic. While Olivia struggles to grieve and hone her newly obtained magical skill ethically, Cala has given up ethics entirely. “People who think they’re doing good are the easiest to manipulate” she likes to say, and manipulate she does. Not only do Cala’s political moves threaten Olivia’s safety and make it impossible for her to return to her own world, Cala’s cruelty and lust for power acts as a reminder of what Olivia could become if she doesn’t undertake the training necessary to wield her own considerable power.

Titles

Valdesia
The Spaces Between Trees
Our Mother’s Fire
The Crow’s Tears

Comparables

The Newford Series by Charles DeLint
The Night Circus by Erin Morganstern.

Both these stories are fantasy novels that have one foot in this contemporary world, and another in a magical one.

The Newford series follows a group of creative artists in a town that looks a lot like the regular world, except that, like my story, the characters interact with magical realms, which are tied to folklore, mythology, and psychological healing.

The Night Circus is about a beautiful magical realm taking place right under the surface of ordinary life. Not only does Morganstern world build in a comparably fanciful manner, but her two main characters are trying to make sense of their own power in the face of overbearing parental figures.


Hook Line and Core Wound

A young woman, struggling to find her identity after the death of her mother, is thrust into a magical and dangerous world, where, in order to survive, she must learn to wield her new magical power by finally grieving her mother.

Other Matters of Conflict.

Inner Conflict:
After growing up in the shadow of an eccentric and larger-than-life mother, Olivia struggles to embody her own power. In Valdesia, the new world, everyone has the capacity to change into an animal version of themselves. After spending enough time in Valdesia, Olivia learns that she can turn into a mountain lion. However, because of her unprocessed grief and ambivalence toward her own power, the mountain lion is unwieldy, dangerous and overwhelming. Olivia has to face this inner ambivalence and learn to accept its power before it puts innocent lives in danger.

Secondary Conflict:
One secondary conflict is that Olivia ends up in Valdesia and can’t get back. There are those that could help her, but not only do they not want her to return home, but their lives are defined by the realms political upheaval. Olivia’s struggle to return home, ensnares her in several important and complicated relationships that she navigates for much of the story.

Setting

The novel begins in a burnt down forest in Southern Oregon. Not only is the imagery evocative: the burnt trunks jutting up through new growth, but the imagery parallels the main characters inner world (lost in grief between life and death).

Olivia is then transported into Valdesia (another world). There are a number of sub-settings within this world:

She arrives in the Woods of Or Beithe— a monolithic forest made up of huge elephant-bark trees with leaves made of real gold. The trees growing in a grid, which makes it difficult to distinguish any path or road out of there.

Next she is taken to the cottage lands, small farm holdings peppered with stone cottages, brooks, and copses of trees. After discovering she is in another world, she leaves a cottage she is staying in and wanders in a rainstorm. When the rainstorm clears, she discovers that in place of a moon is a sky full of purple swirling stars. In the grasses below are big glowing moths that mirror the patterns of the stars above.

Hampington, an ancient walled city made of stone and wood, is dense and full of citizens that can turn into both people and animals. The streets are packed with interesting characters. One can travel above ground or below in a series of tunnels. Olivia stays in an Inn that should be full of people but is empty. She visits a market full of strange wears and foods, and sees street performers enacting art that wouldn’t be possible in her world. There is a rough part of town surrounding a walled-off quarantine. At one point, later in the book, she experiences the city on fire.

Outside of the city is an occupying army’s camp. There are several scenes that take place inside the large central yellow tents, and below, in a dark stone cavern that’s being used as a jail and torture chamber.

The Path is a cobble stoned road, the only one that leads from Valdesia to the lands beyond the bramble-filled impassable forest, which makes up miles of Valdesia’s border. The path is cursed and littered with rotting abandoned carts and wears from the day the curse took hold.

But the Bramble forest is actually an illusion that masks a beautiful forest full of old growth trees, huge boulders, and prehistoric ferns. Olivia spends several different periods of time in the forest, once in at night in a glade full of powerfully magic dancers, some time in a stone circle, and another few days camped in a cave.

Chigalia is a city in the tree tops inside the hidden forest. The trees that make it up are the ancestors of the inhabitants. When a Chigalian dies, they begin a second life as a tree. The ancestor trees communicate dreams and prophesies by growing images in their bark. Their trunks grow as buildings that people live inside. Olivia visits an important Chigalian figure in their tree house that is full of tiny alcoves, containing animated stone crows. There is an enchanted chamber down a very long ladder, which houses sacred and powerful objects. And there is a root dungeon— a series of hollowed out chambers in the roots of the ancestor trees.

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1) Story Statement 

In August 2020, a 27 year old woman followed through on a plan five years in the making. Running away from the San Francisco tech world, the Crypto Castle, her broken heart, her shame, and who she had become, she sold everything she owned and booked a one way plane ticket. Nothing could stop her from escaping, not even a pandemic.

2) Antagonistic Force

The San Francisco tech mindset, the antagonistic force, is unavoidable the moment you enter the tech world. It promises a type of power that you desire more of, no matter who you were before tasting it. Nothing is good enough and everything must be hacked and changed for your own good. If you don’t obey the mindset, you are losing the game and getting ripped off. It hides its darkness behind the idea of greatness and success...who wouldn’t want those things? It’s more powerful than you are and is incredibly difficult to escape. It appears at the start of my travels in the goals I outline for myself (unknowingly presenting very "tech mindset" goals), it presents itself in fellow travelers who remind me of my roommates at the Crypto Castle and coworkers at the self-driving car startup. And when I’m finally making headway away from it, it tries to pull me back with conversations from two dear friends: a recent “classic Silicon Valley success story” and an old coworker. The essence of the conversations are both "stop wasting your time traveling, you’re going crazy. Come back and start a company."

3) Breakout Title

EMPTY WORLD

360 DAYS, 24 COUNTRIES, 37 COVID TESTS, 1 PANDEMIC

COVID TEST, MEET VIV AND GET ACQUAINTED 

4) Comparables 

To Shake the Sleeping Self: A Journey from Oregon to Patagonia, and a Quest for a Life with No Regret by Jedidiah Jenkins (Convergent Books 2018) - in this New York Times Bestseller, Jedidiah Jenkins shares his cycling adventure over the course of sixteen months from Oregon to Patagonia. While we both include stories about the people we meet along the way and what it is to grapple with our sexual identities, Jenkins travels with a friend through an open world. Strangers aren’t afraid he is going to be bringing covid into their home. Much of his trip, too, is about his relationship to God. Along my trip, I meet people who think similarly to Jenkins, but I look at God through very different lenses than he does. 

Uncanny Valley: A Memoir by Anna Wiener (MCD 2020) - Although Anna Wiener and I both find ourselves in the middle of the Silicon Valley bubble and mindset, she had left New York to find meaning in San Francisco and I left San Francisco to find meaning anywhere that wasn’t San Francisco. Wiener’s memoir is much more of a cautionary tale about Silicon Valley, and all the troubles that come with the reckless startup culture. While she discusses Silicon Valley in depth while still in Silicon Valley, I discuss desperately trying to escape the Silicon Valley mindset while out in the world.  

5) Hook Line

A worn out 27 year old tech exec follows through on a plan to travel as far as possible from the tech world only to be blocked by covid; she pursues the dream anyway and learns that no matter how hard you try, you can’t escape yourself when you travel through an empty world. 

6) Conflict 

Like most women in their late 20s, throughout the memoir I am consistently grappling with where I want to be in the world. Not physically, not even mentally, but if I’m lucky enough to choose, then where, in the playing field of the world, do I want to exist? This presents itself in different ways, starting with me trying to unlearn the San Francisco tech bro that I had trained my mind to become. It evolves into a complete meltdown after walking miles on end every day, convinced that it was the only way I could stay productive if I wasn’t in a classic job. Eventually, the internal conflict completely derails after experiencing the death of a mentor on the road and learning about the lies of a best travel friend. 

Secondary Conflict: 
I am not heartbroken, I convince myself over and over. I don’t want to process the brief and tumultuous relationship I had experienced in California to a woman in an open marriage. I always wanted to identify as strictly straight, but this heartache is making that more difficult to do. A lot of the people I volunteer with in exchange for food and housing are homophobic or deeply religious. I don’t want to be excluded from any group because of a potential partner, man or woman. Would the Evangelical Christians still invite me to stay with them if they knew more about me? Or the extreme right-winged Italian family on the Canary Islands? I have to grapple with these thoughts while I sleep under their roofs. 

7) Settings 

San Francisco: 
In 2015, the city was alive and magical. The air felt like it was freshly pumped with new ideas that you could inhale at any given time. No one hated Mark Zuckerberg, Instagram wasn’t the devil, and Bitcoin hadn’t garnered too much attention. Over the course of five years, everything changed very drastically for the city and for its inhabitants. I moved into the Crypto Castle in 2015 and saw the slow decline as well. The three story, light blue hacker home was in the middle of the Potrero Hill neighborhood. From the outside, nothing gave away its secrets except for a small Bitcoin sticker on the window next to the dark blue front door. Inside was a different story. Bitcoin magazines littered the dining table, a hookah was a permanent fixture of the coffee table, a stripper pole held up by statistics books graced the presence of the Master Tenant’s master bedroom. Price predictions for Bitcoin hitting $1000 in December 2015 were written on the windows. A massive glass dining table had remnants of ketamine and cocaine, and thankfully a fire extinguisher found its home next to the stairs. Although the wallets of the crypto boys were on the constant rise, the physical house was on a constant decline: the appliances and the dark blue carpet which matched the front door hadn’t been replaced since the 70s. This was mirrored in the declining city as well. Homelessness was at an all time high, but so was wealth. And they coexisted on the same block, 

Empty Modes of Transportation:
Airports, planes, stations, and trains were some of the more empty experiences I had while traveling throughout the pandemic. Economy seats all of a sudden felt like first-class upgrades since no one was within a six foot radius. Full rows to yourself became full beds. The bored flight attendants handed out extra glasses of wine to the passengers. Airports and stations no longer acted as hotels for travelers with a long overnight airport. They all closed early and kicked everyone to the curb. I would travel to farms and spend nights in nature, completely in denial that a pandemic was happening. Once I started moving again, I was harshly reminded. 

Workaway Homes/Kitchen Tables:
To avoid the difficulties of pandemic travel, I spent about 2.5 months at different homes around the world, volunteering in the gardens, as a nanny, building compostable toilets, picking mangoes, and a variety of other activities. The homes were all unique but had one major thing in common: they had housed at least 50 volunteers from around the world. The kitchen tables in these homes were always the most telling about the environment and what kind of open or closed family the hosts were. 


New York City:
New York City had always been the city that I compared every other city to. To me, it was the epitome of what a city should be. It was alive, bustling, and inspiring. New York as a setting occurs twice: once right in the middle in January 2021 and once at the end when I decided to move there. New York forced me to grapple with saying no, something I had just spent one year doing the exact opposite of. 

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1. Story Statement

Toni Bowman wants to ditch her business partner, grab all the glory for herself, and walk away with clients, staff and their thriving business.

 

2. Antagonistic Force 

Toni Bowman is both protagonist and antagonistic force to all others in this story. She is a highly talented graphic designer, and she knows it. Ruthless ambition drives her to undermine her ad agency business partner, Liz, and run roughshod over their staff.

Through all her hubris and showmanship, Toni downplays her humble family background and Liz’s ongoing contributions to their designer/writer duo. Even before starting their own ad business six years ago, she and Liz were paired as a team right out of college at the mega-firm AdVisors.

Toni’s own recent ad industry acclaim has gone to her head, and she clearly forgets that those surrounding her are talented too. Her success depends on their contributions, even if she doesn’t know it.

Toni plots to ditch Liz, create her own new solo practice, and entice clients and staff to follow her. She is particularly motivated to divert their newly-landed tech startup mega-client, Coagula into her fold. 

Coagula, with its new new cancer-detection “InstaTest,” is on track to become a billion-dollar “unicorn.” And since Coagula is headed by Toni’s college roommate and good friend Cassidy, she feels well-poised to succeed.

 

3. Breakout title

The Split  (Current title)

Creative Differences

SINKING the PartnerSHIP

 

4. Genre & Comparison Titles

Contemporary Women’s Fiction, Workplace Fiction

The Devil Wears Prada meets Then We Came to The End

 

5. Logline (Hook line) with conflict & core wound

She’s shrewd; she’s driven; and she’s plotting to ditch her business partner and take it all. If only she knew her most-coveted new client is actually a fraud…

 

6. Conflicts - internal & with another character

Toni Bowman bulldozes her way through life in a struggle to rise above her lower-class family background and prove her talent. A successful business partnership is not enough; she is determined to claim that business all for herself. Ultimately, when daunting roadblocks arise, she turns her talent in a new direction — striving to gain respect as a painter backed by a top-flight Manhattan gallery.

Secondary character conflict:

Toni’s last romance ended in an uproar over her insatiable career striving. It left her raw and determined to stay uncommitted and put her own needs first. But when her new relationship with Jonathan starts to catch fire, she wonders if she can actually find love again. In a nasty twist, she recruits Jonathan’s wealthy sponsors to invest in her own client, which ignites Jonathan’s anger. Her unfettered ambition appears to have thwarted her love life once again, unless she can find a way through the morass.

 

7. Setting

The novel flashes between three sleek, glass-walled Manhattan ad agency offices and a lavish New Jersey corporate campus. The Coagula corporate campus features outdoor walking trails, a stately boardroom, and a bustling product development department housing a high-tech medical diagnostic machine studded with dials, colored lights and a card reader.

Other scenes include:  

- A lavish fund-raising auction at the Naples, Florida, Ritz-Carlton, featuring world-class food and entertainment and populated with formally-attired guests winging in internationally on private jets. Auctioneers’ chants crackle with energy, leading Cassidy — in her display of bravado to prospective investors — to over-bid on a trip package she can’t actually afford

A prize trip where would-be investors join Cassidy’s group on a private jet that feels like a flying living room, with cushy leather seats, catered meals, and ample alcohol…

- Then aboard a cruise ship amid a confetti-send off, a champagne toast and speakers blasting Jimmy Buffet tunes

- Later, a formal-yet-trendy patron reception at the New Orleans Museum of Art honoring Toni’s new boyfriend Jonathan, a nationally-acclaimed photographer. Roving wait-staff hand-carry lavish hours d’oeuvre selections on silver platters, floating among jewel-bedecked blue-hairs while a tuxedoed musician at a grand piano plays soft background music.

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Regards to the Master

Story statement

The primary protagonist, Kirk Matthews, is a failed author and alcoholic who desires above all else to see his work published and himself validated as a writer.

Antagonist sketch

Tabitha Lake in Twisted Oak, Maine is home to an ancient, drowned muse. The protagonist moves his family to its shores in a desperate effort to shake up their lives and remove himself from the only relationship that matters: his relationship with alcohol. Kirk discovers almost immediately that his creative impulses and drive are heightened here. What’s more, he discovers his need to drink rapidly edged out by an overriding directive to write. Aware on an escalating level that he is channeling something from the lake into his creative work, Kirk eventually learns that all who’ve been called to these shores have gone on to critical and financial success with their work. It’s only after he’s too deeply invested in the promise of the life he’s wanted that Kirk comes to understand that only the first bit is free, and if he wants to continue creating, he will need to feed other creatives to the lake. To the black.

Breakout title

Regards to the Master

Black Tabby

Into the Black

Comparable Authors/Titles

1.            Micah Dean Hicks’s, Break the Bodies, Haunt the Bones (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company, 2019)

Hicks’s town of Swine Hill is so thoroughly haunted that each resident has his/her own ghostly companion. Protagonist, Jane, has been haunted since childhood and carries the weight of a family she is desperate to extricate from Swine Hill.

2.            Nick Cutter’s Little Heaven (Gallery Books, 2017)

Cloistered away in the woods of New Mexico is a place called Little Heaven. There, a religious cult dwells within the influence of an ancient and spiteful presence woken from its long sleep deep in the earth.

3.            Scott Carson’s The Chill (Emily Bestler Books/Atria, 2020)

The Chilewaukee Reservoir in upstate New York conceals a drowned village with a story. Founded in the early days of colonization, the town was erased in order to bring water to millions downstate. But there is a presence still alive beneath those waters, one with its own dark design.

Each of these novels takes place in a setting similar to my (fictional) town of Twisted Oak, Maine. In each, a dark and otherworldly presence has woven into the lives of normal people who can either submit to the conditions in which they live or get out forever.

Hicks’s style and literary flair are most comparable to my style of writing, while the atmosphere of Swine Hill and its residents’ general acceptance, even affection, for their dark domain hit similarly to the attitudes of residents in Twisted Oak.

Cutter’s Little Heaven touches on the larger themes in his books of ancient intelligence dwelling in the darker hollows of the world, and hits similarly to my antagonist LLORHEST, an ancient muse who has suffered millennia alone and cannibalized herself in the absence of souls to inspire toward creativity.

Carson’s The Chill most closely resembles the atmosphere of Twisted Oak and the novel’s main setting of Tabitha Lake. The deeper mysteries and building suspense as answers emerge in Carson’s novel very closely mirror the slow trickle of answers out of Tabitha Lake, leaving my protagonist similarly deep in LLORHEST’s designs by the end and nearly lost in the revelation of what he’s become.

Hook Line

Kirk Matthews is a failed novelist and alcoholic, determined to save his family from himself by shaking up their lives and moving to Tabitha Lake in Twisted Oak, Maine. To his surprise, the decision is an immediate success as Kirk finds his body literally rejecting its former poison, replacing it with an overriding directive to write. Soon Kirk is composing like his life depends on it, unaware he’ll soon be asked to reciprocate with an offering to the corrupted and famished muse feeding his work.  

Sketch the inner conditions for the protagonist’s inner conflict

Kirk’s primary conflict is with himself. He understands he’s lost, that he’s been hiding in the bottle to forget all he’d once used to define himself. He wants to be a better father and husband, but his need for success and validation as an author will always override the rest.

Kirk’s secondary conflict is with the ancient, drowned muse, LLORHEST. It speaks to him through his pets and the animals of the woodlands. He’s warned about it by his neighbor, an elderly artist once tapped by LLORHEST but able to dull out its influence through drink. Kirk is promised fame, riches, and validation, but warned that his new creative channel is a fickle one and will eventually require sacrifice. Determined to do anything required of him to attain the life he’s always wanted, Kirk must choose between protecting his family from the penetrating influence of the lake and riding its influence toward inevitable success. As Kirk grows more and more comfortable sacrificing lesser creatives to the lake, he soon realizes that the quality of these sacrifices matter greatly, and if he wants to produce something truly exceptional, it will require sending a greater creative mind to the black. Understanding this, it isn’t long before Kirk’s eye settles on the Master of Horror himself, Stephen King.

Setting

Twisted Oak, Maine is a fictional town occupying the area of real-life Arundel, Maine. It is a town with a black history tied to the protected lands around Tabitha Lake, a history its residents foam over like addicts. It is a town of secrets, most held by the descendants of its early landlords, the Rysher and Tromblee families, as well as those who still dwell along the shores of its only lake. From the blueberry plains along its western fringe to the ocean-washed strip of volcanic rock on its eastern border, Twisted Oak is a town alive and embedded in its own darkness.

Kirk Matthews arrives with his family at their new home on Tabitha Lake. Like other water-fronted property in Maine, their new home comes already (and ominously) named, White Specter. Kirk is set to drink his way through the unloading of the U-Haul, allowing himself to work through a twelve-pack of high ABV beer and leaving him fully wasted by the afternoon. But Kirk hides it well, as he’s hidden the true depth of his relationship with alcohol over the last eight years following his final rejection letter from a New York agent where his own query had been returned with a hand-written note in its upper margins reading: Sloppy. Unreadable. Won’t sell.

Tabitha Lake is home to a scattering of camps and cottages along a sliver of its eastern shore. The rest of the lake is protected by an iron-clad land trust in place since twelve boy scouts, two scout masters, and a German shepherd vanished there in the ‘40s. While Kirk’s family finds themselves quickly taken with the stories of Camp Rendwood, now swallowed up in the wilderness along the western shore, Kirk busies himself with a trip to the local mom-and-pop for the bottle of scotch which will push him over the edge on their very first night in White Specter.

Making his way into the basement of their home, Kirk discovers renovations that seem to have been left in the middle of work, and as he enters the utility room to hook up their washer and dryer, his body immediately rejects the booze in his system. Kirk is overwhelmed by a crushing dread in this place, doubling over and vomiting until he’s purged all he has consumed. He loses consciousness and wakes to his wife accusing him of blacking out. When she goes to bed, furious with him, Kirk lifts a pad of paper used for grocery lists and notes, and he finds himself lost in the first story he’s written in eight years. He works on it until sunrise.

Time passes and the Matthews settle in at White Specter. Kirk meets his neighbor Reggie Barber after nearly running the 80-year-old down filling potholes in their gravel camp road. Reggie recognizes Kirk as a creative immediately, and explains to him that the lake attracts those who’ve struggled to build a life around their art. He explains to Kirk that life on Tabitha Lake (Black Tabby as Reggie calls it) is one of give-and-take, and that while Kirk may be happy with his new muse, even guaranteed success if he fully succumbs, it will end up taking things from him which he’ll come to regret in the end. He tells Kirk that the only way to mute their creative channel to the lake is by drinking to excess.

Kirk ignores Reggie’s warnings and promises his wife Kennedy that he won’t touch another drop again. Not only is it easy to abstain here, it has afforded him a way to replace his addiction with creative work while easily juggling his roles as a father and husband in a way the bottle would never allow. Kirk digs into his work, praised by his family, and produces a handwritten first draft of his first new novel after only one month. During this period the lake begins to communicate with him using the family cats, Peanut Butter and Jelly, suddenly imbued with the powers of speech and sentience. Kirk’s relationship with the lake deepens, and his wife Kennedy drowns unexpectedly while swimming with the kids.

Kirk is left alone with his children, and over the following few months he finds himself active as a father in ways at which he’d only ever scratched. What’s more, he’s creating under the promise of a better life for himself and the children, who move on from Kennedy’s death with an ease that is almost otherworldly.

It’s only as autumn transitions toward winter that Kirk begins to feel his channel to the lake weaken. He has started another book, but over time the words stop flowing as effortlessly. He’s told by Jelly that the lake would demand a sacrifice, and he’s led back into the basement utility room, a place he’ll seldom venture, and instructed to lift the grille on the sump pump pit. Kirk discovers there a passageway through solid granite into the black of Tabitha Lake. He’s told by the cat that he is expected to feed a fellow creative to the black.

Though Kirk understands what he must do, he struggles with the act. He wants to continue feeding his work, but Reggie’s promises that he’d lose himself to this place begin to take on weight. It’s not until Kirk places his manuscript in the hands of an old friend and self-identified indie-publishing expert that things simply fall into place. Kirk’s friend Terry is a realtor and self-published novelist. Like Kirk, Terry defines himself with his art. Unlike Kirk, Terry seems happy self-publishing his print-on-demand paperbacks and soaking up the weak validation they offer. Terry spends a week reading and re-reading Kirk’s book, eventually arriving disheveled and stinking at White Specter to discuss its finer points. Terry begs Kirk to sell him the manuscript, insisting that Kirk will write others. Terry understands that this is a book which will truly sell, and he’ll do anything to have it.

Enraged, Kirk smashes a boiling pot of coffee over Terry’s face and drags him at the cat’s urging into the basement. There, Kirk works through his conflicting emotions, eventually offering Terry to the black. All at once Kirk’s creative juices are flowing again. Terry’s history of suicide attempts is manipulated by the lake to explain his disappearance. Kirk secures the very agent who’d demoralized him into quitting writing and started him on the bottle nearly a decade earlier, and by the start of the new year Kirk has sold his first novel.

Summer arrives in Twisted Oak to find Kirk editing his first release and wrapping work on his fourth novel since coming to White Specter. Everything is progressing exactly as he’d been told, with two strikingly new developments. His twelve-year-old daughter Michaela has started work on a book of her own. His fourteen-year-old son Jason has learned how to code video games. Kirk doesn’t simply suspect that the lake is flowing now into his children, he knows it. What he fails to see is how his new addiction to writing has replaced his former relationship with booze. Kirk begins making excuses for his children’s odd and obsessive behavior, assuring himself that they’d never be asked to do the things he’s now done in maintaining his bond with the lake.

Reggie re-emerges from his solitude farther down the lake and tells Kirk while draining a bottle of 18-year-old scotch that he’s been to Camp Rendwood on the western shore and he knows what lives beneath the lake. Kirk accompanies Reggie to the camp, with Jason tagging along at Reggie’s odd insistence. Upon arrival, Reggie is armed with an assortment of alcoholic nips, which he insists Kirk and his son imbibe if they’re going to pass onto the camp grounds. Kirk grudgingly accepts this only as that familiar dread from his basement settles over him. It’s his first drink in months, and as Kirk feels the alcohol weaken his connection to the lake, he realizes for the first time that he isn’t entirely himself.

Reggie leads Kirk and Jason into an old mess cabin, where he shows them a similar portal into the earth to the one disguised as a sump pump pit in White Specter’s basement. There, Kirk is overwhelmed with intuited information, learning that the force beneath the lake is an ancient and corrupted muse named LLORHEST. He learns that, after spending millennia alone in this place, LLORHEST has essentially consumed and perverted its own creative power. Where the muses of old lived once to spill their creative powers upon humanity, asking for nothing in return, LLORHEST is a resentful force and needs to feed.

Kirk returns with Reggie and Jason. Reggie tells him that he can only attempt to dissuade Kirk from remaining on Tabitha Lake, that the free will of man trumps all. He tells Kirk that he’ll have nothing more to do with him so long as he continues to send others to the black, informing Kirk that a final conversation awaits between them before all is irretrievably lost.

Not willing to turn away from his dreams, Kirk remains on Tabitha Lake, watching as his children’s obsessions deepen. As the summer months unfold, Kirk and his children meet their new neighbors, Derek and Carolyn Imperioli, a construction man and his daughter out of Lawrence, Massachusetts. The father and daughter nearly collide with the swimming Matthews in their boat, only to invite them along for a ride. Michaela and Carolyn become fast friends, while Derek and Kirk come to discover that they are both former slaves to alcohol.

The Matthews and Imperiolis become like one family. They are inseparable all summer. Kirk finds in Derek a kindred spirit who understands all he’s given up, and as they explore their relationship, the two men begin to circle feelings for one another. For the first time in his life, Kirk comes to understand the ties that bind certain souls in this world.

The months fall off the calendar with nary a blemish on the lake family’s summer. It isn’t until Twisted Oak’s autumn celebration and fair, Rysher Family Days, kicks off that Kirk notes a dramatic and dark shift in Michaela. He confronts her one night after tailing her into the basement with Peanut Butter. There he overhears her speaking to the cat, though he cannot hear the voice which answers. Michaela assures her father that she’s fine, even weaponizing his own relationship with the lake against him, and as Kirk often did when his drinking held up a mirror to the monster he’d become, Kirk presses beyond his reservations and finds frustration as his creative work once more begins to fail him. Another sacrifice would be required of him soon.

Kirk and Derek host a barbeque for the residents of the lake. There Derek learns that Stephen King (a regular attendee of Rysher Family Days and massive supporter of the Pine Hill Refuge League where flying fox bats are often showcased) doesn’t simply visit Twisted Oak once each year. The Master of Horror actually owns a camp at the edge of the land trust on the eastern fringe of Tabitha Lake. Derek rushes to tell Kirk but finds Kirk, Michaela, and Carolyn missing from the party.

Earlier that evening, Kirk senses something in his daughter. Something dark. He leaves the party to pursue the girls to White Specter, where he’d glimpsed them entering on his front door camera minutes earlier. Kirk arrives to find Michaela alone and insisting that Carolyn had ventured home on her own, but Kirk knows better. They return together to the party, where Derek is beyond distressed, still unable to find his daughter. Kirk and Michaela assist in canvassing the lake for signs of Carolyn, knowing that she’d been fed by Michaela to the black. Almost at the same moment, a fireworks explosion at the fairgrounds claims the lives of the entire Twisted Oak Department of Public Works. Something truly terrible has happened.

Kirk knocks on Reggie’s door that night to ask if the old man has seen Carolyn. Kirk knows she’s gone, but he understands on a deeper level that the time for his final conversation with Reggie has arrived. He finds Reggie in the final throes of cirrhosis of the liver, still drinking heavily and dying on his front porch. Reggie explains that he’d wanted Jason to accompany them to Camp Rendwood those months ago to show Kirk how dangerous LLORHEST was to the malleable minds of children. The old man dies in Kirk’s arms while spilling his secrets. He reveals that he’d never made it all the way down into the pit at the camp, that he couldn’t force himself down no matter how much he drank, but he’d left with enough intuited knowledge from the place to fill the heads of a dozen people. Reggie then tells Kirk that he’d lost a duffel of dynamite in the black, and that he’d intended to blow the caverns beneath the lake and flood LLORHEST out for good. He informs Kirk with his last words that he’s left something inside his house for him. Kirk ventures inside to find a crude painting of LLORHEST, a black and tumorous female form shedding tar-like sludge at her feet.

Kirk leaves Reggie’s house feeling conflicted and broken, but lacking the willpower to abandon all he’d worked to accomplish on Tabitha Lake.

The Matthews drift away from Derek, who falls into deep despair over the mysterious loss of his last living family member and surrenders once more to the bottle. Kirk, frustrated with his ever-declining productivity, sends Kennedy’s sister Scarlett, an amateur painter from Ogunquit, to the black. He’s instantly rewarded by an even heavier period of obsessive creation, and as he and his children settle further into LLORHEST’s designs, they alienate Derek entirely.

As autumn closes and Kirk is on the verge of seeing his first novel hit shelves, Derek visits him with a gift. Derek, the very embodiment of love in Kirk’s darkening world, places a Ruger pistol in Kirk’s hands and tells him to use it on himself. Derek explains that he can feel what has them, that he knows they were responsible for his daughter’s disappearance, and that he knows Kirk and his children are lost to it. He finishes by telling Kirk that Stephen King comes to Twisted Oak once each year for an entire month, alone. Derek seems to understand the course this will place Kirk on, and as he leaves Kirk forever, he explains that Kirk’s end will be far worse than anything they’d done to Carolyn.

Kirk begins to divide his time between his work and steady research into the travels of Stephen King. He learns that the Master of Horror will be in town according to schedule in only a month, and he realizes how easy it could be to send King to the black and absorb his creative power. Kirk Matthews would be the richest, most famous, most universally beloved author in the world. This consumes him, erasing the former gains with his children, who are themselves equally invested and already seeing success with their creative work. Michaela has landed a publishing deal of her own, gleefully likening herself to Carson McCullers and showing zero remorse at having sent her friend Carolyn to the black. Jason is receiving offers from game developers for the video game he’s coded, but hasn’t, to Kirk’s knowledge, sent a single soul to the black.

It’s as his time comes and Kirk prepares to murder Stephen King that he catches Michaela in the process of feeding her own brother to the black. Now little more than a monster driven by impulse and unimpacted by morality, Michaela turns on her father, who is able to stop her only as he dumps the notebooks containing her writing down the sump pump pit. As she dives for them he shunts her aside, and she lands knocking her head on the concrete, unconscious.

Kirk rushes his children to a hotel on the coast, just outside of Twisted Oak. There he abandons them to his task with Stephen King, listening numbly as Jason begs him not to leave them alone. But Kirk can only see the great future he’s been promised, and he’s unable to extract himself from what must be done. He needs King’s power. Only with this sacrifice can he channel the energy needed to crank out enough stories to flee Tabitha Lake forever with his children.

Having already sourced out the location of King’s camp, Kirk arrives with Derek’s Luger and a bottle of scotch, prepared to wound King and cart him back to White Specter. But Stephen King is waiting for Kirk when he arrives, and its only as Kirk sits down to palaver with his greatest hero that he learns King has been coming to this place every year since writing his first novel, Carrie. Not once has Kirk entertained the idea that King’s power and his own might be funneled from the same source, and as Stephen King explains that Kirk will not be feeing him to the black he lights into Kirk for not seeing the bigger picture in his life. King explains that the difference between himself and Kirk is that King understood the darkness of this place from the get-go and refused to bring his family to its shores.

Kirk leaves demoralized and prepared to take his own life. He understands as he breaks his sobriety and gives in to the bottle for the last time that he’s always been rich, he’s always had all he’d needed, and he’d squandered and corrupted it all. What were fame and success and validation without loved ones with whom to share them? It’s with these thoughts that Kirk travels to Camp Rendwood, intent on confronting LLORHEST once and for all to save himself and his children. He drinks the entire bottle of scotch and descends into the black.

Reggie’s voice speaks in his mind as he descends into the caverns and catacombs beneath the lake. It bombards him with so much information that Kirk nearly passes out under its crushing weight. He learns that LLORHEST, like the rest of the Greek and Roman muses, came into existence in love, but found no souls in its domain to touch. LLORHEST had fed upon herself over the centuries leading toward the first Micmac Native Americans discovering the lake. Kirk intuits that the Micmacs (and later the Abenaki) did not live on the lake, but would visit it for rituals of creation where they’d willingly offer up their best and most talented artisans to LLORHEST, stoking a hunger which would endure for all times.

Kirk spends what feels like years in the black. After collecting the duffel of dynamite Reggie had lost here decades earlier, he presses deeper into LLORHEST’s domain.

Kirk stumbles over crude pottery and snags his feet on elaborate weavings. As he explores the vaults beneath the lake, Kirk finds waterlogged paintings belonging to his friend Reggie along with a pile of discarded King first editions. These are not the collections of a benevolent muse but the discarded offal of its denizens. They are meaningless to the muse, who has kept them out of lost detachment to her former existence. Kirk comes to understand that LLORHEST sees them as the waste-product of its endless feeding, and is confronted then by the muse. LLORHEST is a non-corporeal shade taking the form of a woman. Her body is black and tumorous, exactly as it had been in Reggie’s painting. When she seizes Kirk, intent on devouring him, he’s overcome with the need to return home and write, but he’s able to use the liquor in his system to deaden it enough to follow through with his original plan.

Clutching Reggie’s lost dynamite to his chest, Kirk turn’s Derek’s Luger upon it and fires.

The next morning Derek Imperioli is walking the western fringe of Tabitha Lake, still searching for his daughter. He breaks through the trees at Camp Rendwood, noting a difference in the lake’s very character. Lifting a bottle of his own to his lips, Derek notes a shimmer of activity draws outside the mess cabin. There he see’s Kirk’s ghost and understands that something has happened on Tabitha Lake. The men share a moment together, both feeling the loss of what could have been between them, then Kirk vanishes and the darkness of Tabitha Lake lifts entirely.

Michaela and Jason sit within a police conference room in Twisted Oak. They are told that their father cannot be located, and on a level they understand what has happened. It’s as an email arrives from a Silicon Valley developer asking to option Jason’s game, and as Michaela produces a pad and pen, that Derek Imperioli arrives asking about them.

             

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Hospitable Strangers

By: Katie Hennessey

Story Statement

Discovering hospitable strangers in a world afraid of one another.

For Katie to discover the unfiltered truth about the nature of strangers met while cycling across the country, she must learn to silence the stereotypes and prejudices brought on by fear-mongering influences and let her real-world experiences be her guide.

Antagonist

While bike touring across Eastern United States and staying in the homes of strangers along the way, Katie finds a dissonance between the trend of xenophobia messages communicated by onlookers and the actual hospitable interactions she is having with strangers.

Fear-laden messages, seeking to obstruct Katie’s adventure and make an enemy out of the stranger, come up in conversations with passersby met along her trek. When in the North, Katie is told to be afraid of characters in the South. When in white neighborhoods, she is told not to enter black neighborhoods. While biking alone, Katie is repeatedly asked if she is carrying a weapon for protection.

Flashbacks throughout her adventure point to moments Katie has been fed misguided information about the nature of strangers, traveling alone, and interacting with the unknown world. These memories point to the greater conflict: a society afraid of one another.  

As Katie interacts with people from many different walks of life, internal dialogue reveals her own generalizations and hard-wired biases that have culminated from a culture riddled with fear.

When even the slightest leaf crunch outside Katie’s tent leads to a paralyzing night of fear, Katie must set a goal to protect her mind from falling victim to fear so she can clearly see the truth about strangers in her path.

Breakout Title

Hospitable Strangers

Dirty Feet in a Guest Bed

Muddy Tires, Warm Sheets

Tour de Truth, Moving Past Perceptions While Biking Touring Eastern U.S.

Comparables

To Shake the Sleeping Self, A Journey from Oregon to Patagonia, and a Quest for a Life with No Regrets, by Jediddiah Jenkins, Random House Publishing, Dec. 31, 2019

To Shake the Sleeping Self is one of the closest comparables to Hospitbale Strangers, both a travel memoir narrating the adventure of a long-distance bike tour that resulted in a new way to see people and the world we live in, but also overcoming a problem in society. In To Shake the Sleeping Self, the cultural problem Jenkins addresses is a stagnant American lifestyle, as he presents the questions what makes life worth living? In Hospitable Strangers, the flashlight is shined on fear in the American culture and how it works to divide us from one another and all that is unknown. Both of these memoirs highlight the role bicycling as a method of travel plays in the adventures and deeper discoveries along the way. Both of these non-fiction narratives though taking place on a bike trip, are much more than a book about a bike ride, but similarly address thought-provoking ideas about the society we live in.  To Shake the Sleeping Self was successful to audiences beyond the travelers and adventure-seekers, but to a broad group of individuals seeking a better life for themselves and the community they exist in. The hope is that Hospitable Stranger would also span across a wide range of audiences who are looking to break out of fear and be their own judge for the world they live in.

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The Kindness Diaries: One Man's Quest to Ignite Goodwill and Transform Lives Around the World, by Leo Logothetis, Published Dec. 30, 2014 by Readers Digest

While The Kindness Diaries is set on the seat of a motorbike, and Hospitable Strangers is by bicycle, the premise of these two travel memoirs is very similar in the way that both protagonists set out on an adventure to "fall into the arms of humanity" and rely on kindness along their journeys. Both protagonist are on a mission to renew their faith in humanity by way of leaning on the hospitality of kind strangers. 

What makes Hosptiable Strangers' concept different is the author's mission to point to a greater cultural problem of fearing one another. The Kindness Diaries doesn't address fear as much as it focuses on how to give back the kindness once received.

Both of these books narrate a travel journey in which is filled with kind interactions with characters met along the way.

The Kindness Diaries was very well received and was later made into a Netflix docuseries in 2017.

...

Kindness of Strangers, by Mike McIntyre, Published Jan. 10, 2014, Kite Press. Highest achievement: #6 on Wall Street ebook nonfiction

Kindness of Strangers and Hospitable Strangers have similar premises as in both travel memoirs the protagonist sets out on a journey in reliance on the kindness of strangers to create a sense of hope in humanity. Both nonfiction narratives took place in a journey across America, Kindness of Strangers on foot, while Hospitable Strangers on bicycle. Kindness of Strangers differs in that the major take-away was the discovery in strangers who have the most to give, usually have the least to share. Hospitable Strangers adds the element of the antagonizing force of fear that keeps the protagonist, and society, from seeing the kindness in one another. Also, HS' theme of vulnerability as a way of discovering kindness is complimented by the vehicle of the bicycle, which makes this novel unique. 

Hook

To disprove the "stranger-danger" warning, thirty-year-old cyclist bikes solo across America, surviving off the hospitality of strangers and believing in the magical vulnerability found on the seat of a bicycle.

Inner Conflict

As Katie seeks to reconcile xenophobic messages with the positive interactions she is having with strangers, she must allow her own personal experiences to dictate what to believe. Quieting the misguided perception of others causes Katie to look in the mirror at biases and her own fears she never realized were there.

When looking for a place to stay late one night in Providence, Rhode Island, Katie sent a message across a bike touring host network and the only person to respond was young female who offered her couch, but admitted she was an online sex worker and “tonight was a work night.” Never having to examine opinions on this type of work lifestyle, Katie found herself in the cross hairs of sleeping on the streets or accepting the hospitality of someone different than her. Despite her hesitation, Katie concludes shelter is better than no shelter, regardless of who’s offering. But when an unexpected friendship forms, Katie regrets her initial inner turmoil that pointed to shallow and narrow-minded preconceptions as she flashes back to her conservative Christian upbringing and sees ways this ideology has separated her from people of different walks of life.

Secondary Conflict

While Katie is enjoying the company of newly made friends joining her as she treks across the country, interpersonal conflict about different travel styles comes up as little annoyances and irritations, but this conflict ultimately points to an underlying issue keeping Katie from her mission of discovering her own truth about the nature of strangers.

Katie has a continuous internal dialogue about the nature of her trip. Is it to complete as many miles as she can a day to make for an efficient trek? Or is the purpose of her venture to take it slow, linger with new friends, unpack and explore a new city for a while? These questions become even more unanswerable as she shares the road with a companion, together they must balance their own desires about their individual journeys.

These interpersonal struggles reveal part of the nuanced makeup and flaw of the protagonist: Katie wrestles with two sides of herself, the side that enjoys spontaneity and surprising adventures along the way, and her competitive side that yearns for accomplishment, brought on by a childhood of rigorous tennis academy training.

When she gets the opportunity to finally bike alone, Katie grows mentally and physically stronger, more confident and she also learns more about her unique method of travel. She realizes that she has used her good fortune of companionship and kind hospitality as a crutch, as Katie has let the company of others keep her from looking internally, facing her own fears, and allowing herself to embrace a solo journey.

By being alone, Katie must face not only the fears within her, but what’s even scarier, the idea that she could be wrong about the altruism of humanity.

Being alone and vulnerable serve as a major theme and key to unlocking the truth Katie needs to see.

Setting

·       The Seat of a Bicycle

On the seat of a bicycle, there is no barrier between the traveler and the surrounding landscapes and communities. One could travel by car to see the world, I suppose. And when the scenery is redundant and neighborhoods seem a little sketchy, I suppose they can simply roll up the windows, press the lock button and get lost in the radio just as well. On a bicycle, everything is wide-open and unfiltered. There is not a glass-shield, but a 360-degree view invigorating sight, smell and sounds almost too intoxicating to take in all at once. There is no plastic box sheltering the traveler from the outside world, on a bicycle, you’re just out there, you’re in it, good and bad, the world is up close.

·       Bicycling as a method of intimate interaction with people- THEME- Vulnerability

Being vulnerable on a bicycle often leads to moments when you’re broken down without the right tool on the side of the road. In moments like these, the bicyclist is forced to turn to mankind and hope that they will be greeted with open arms.

·       Bike Touring Host Network: Warmshowers- THEME-Kindness, Diversity

Though strangers to Katie, the homes she took shelter in were a part of a bike touring host network, called Warmshowers. The community is based on the kind act of hosting, assuming those hosted will return the favor when they are back home. But each place she landed housed a person and world completely unknown to Katie. The people she stayed with represented an eclectic array of lifestyles, careers, political beliefs, religious ideologies and travel philosophies. The people’s lives and struggles told the story of the environment in which the lived.

·       The North

Northeast/Atlantic Coast

As Katie biked through the northeast, she hugged the Atlantic Coast for as long as the road allowed. Often it brought her through quaint touristy towns throughout New England, while other times she traced sand dunes and followed boardwalks along a stunning ocean view, taking an afternoon dip when the opportunity presented. Katie’s faces internal conflict with the diversity of individuals home’s she stayed in the North- including a sex worker in Rhode Island and a lesbian couple in New Jersey that pointed out Katie’s failed conservative Christian upbringing in determining the kindness and value of these people groups.

Delaware

Against the backdrop of the Indian River Bay, Katie watches dolphins play under the lights of Coastal Highway Bridge 1 when a disturbing call comes from her father, as his strict tone takes Katie back to being a punished teenager again. His voice was not his own, it was fear speaking, as this incident marks Katie’s first encounter with the antagonist of fear.

·       The South

Virginia and Maryland

It's not long after departing from ocean views and entering the farm-to-market backroads of Maryland and Virginia for the unruly stench of overcrowded chicken coups to permeate every particle of breathing air. Katie spent the night with oyster farmers living on the Chesapeake Bay whose livelihood was threatened by the absorbent amount of pollution produced by dead chickens and feces. Katie realizes she has a lot to learn in the road ahead, the people and the environment will be her guide.

Eastern North Carolina

Eastern North Carolina is a place where cotton grows, peanuts are boiled and folks, young and old, say things like “yes ma’am” and “who are you kin to?” It’s also a place where dogs run at large, making a game out passing cyclists, looking for a quick snack from meaty ankles. Sometimes, the words that slip from the mouths of locals wouldn’t fly in other parts of the country, one wonders if it’s because of racism, a lack of education or a product of living in the sheltered back woods. It’s conflicting, because there’s also this thing called southern hospitality, which is seen in the way people open doors for one another and stop and really talk to each other. Katie got a taste of this hospitality when a bike shop owner fixed her unruly gears and rusty chain at no cost, simply a good farewell for the road. But she wonders, would she receive this same treatment in Eastern North Carolina if she were traveling women of color?

Alabama

Further South, in Alabama, is a land of pipe-liners, peanut farmers, cotton producers and men who go home with sweat on their back. But also, Alabama is the heartbeat of American Conservativism, deep Christianity and strictly divided racial lines. Katie camped out with a group of boiler renovators when the alligators close to her campsite caused her to seek shelter with strangers. What she didn’t expect, was that she would spend the entire night befriending tobacco-spitting, Bud Light consuming, gun-toting Conservatives. As Katie grows stronger physically and mentally on her journey, she learns that she has more room for people’s stories, no matter where they are on the map, because she is no longer allowing outsiders to dictate how she sees humanity.

Mississippi

Racial separation and apparent paranoia of “the other,” is a trending observation as Katie rides though the South. Biking through white neighborhoods, she is told not to enter black neighborhoods. In black neighborhoods, she is warned about rude people in the upcoming white suburbs. While taking rest in a park in Biloxi, Mississippi, two black women ask Katie to join her at their table, where the pour out a 2-lb bag of boiled crawfish and teach her how to peal the creatures while they sip tall boys of Budweiser. But before they dig into the local flavor, one woman says, “Don’t worry, we like white people,” to Katie. Wishing this need not to be said, Katie later realizes that black people in the South have reason to be leery of white people.

·       Africatown, Alabama- CLIMAX

While in Africatown, Mobile, Alabama, where the supposed last slave ship was found, Katie meets members of the Elks Lodge Community when she stops for a water break. The community is working to keep their dwindling culture alive, fighting against air pollution killing trees once flourishing in fruit. The progression of gentrified neighborhoods has led to environmental degradation in Africatown. Their ancestors were illegally brought over to America in a sleazy bet, and they cultivated a land that resembled their homeland in Africa. Remnants of that land is becoming harder and harder to hold on to. This experience changes Katie. She has been fighting her own battle of learning to write her own story by silencing the divisive opposition for almost 2,000 miles, and here is a people group who has been actively trying to build their own habitat in the face of antagonism and xenophobia for the entirety of our countries existence. Their opposition, while not what it once was, is still actively working against them, and may always be. But this hasn’t stopped their efforts of creating a viable, fruitful world to call their own. In a sense, this is what Katie is trying to do with her thoughts and her own world, a lesson from the book of Africatown shows Katie that true resilience doesn’t wait for the opposition to respond or meet you half way, Africatown must fight to for their identify regardless, their lives depend on it, after all.  

·       New Orleans- Denouement

Storms plague Katie’s last day of biking into New Orleans, she is 50 miles out, exhausted and looking forward to cajun food, jazz music and celebrating the end of the journey, but there are no good roads into New Orleans and the weather is grim. At a rest stop, she does something she refrained from doing the entire ride, hitchhike. When she catches a ride from a trucker, who grew up in the 70’s, he informs Katie that hitchhiking was more common back in his time, people were less afraid of strangers, he said. In a final act of resilience, Katie spends the next hour sharing her tales of all the hospitable strangers she met along her trek.

·       Gulf Coast- Final internal takeaways

Dipping tire into the muddy, warm Gulf Coast as a celebration of arriving at America’s Southern coast. Watching the sunset, thinking about how far Katie has come from the northern part of the Atlantic Coast to now where she sits on the Gulf coast, reflecting on all she learns and inviting others to take their own journey into the unknown, encouraging vulnerability and emphasizing resiliency of hope.

 

 

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