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New York Pitch Assignments - December 2021

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Eight Months

1.       Story statement

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

2.       Antagonist sketch

a.       Mitchell encountered a very large, crass, autistic classmate freshman year, whom he keeps at hands length because "He is utterly terrifying." He refers to this classmate as "Vampire" due to "Vampire's" long hair, lack of hygiene, and constant, stumbling drunkenness, as he does not know his real name or origin, yet feels sympathetic due to this imposing character's lack of friends and willingness to blame their shared autism for his loneliness. Mitchell would tell "Vampire" of his prior history in relationships, including repeatedly cheating on his high school girlfriend, which makes "Vampire" both jealous of Mitchell's social success and enraged at his infidelity. "Vampire" often manipulates Mitchell out of spite, especially once he learns that Mitchell cheated on a pregnant Molly, and has started a new relationship. Vampire seeks to ruin Mitchell's life completely, by way of gossip, manipulation, and threats. 

3.       Breakout title

These titles are remarkably tenuous

a.       Option 1 – Eight Months

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

c.       Option 3 – What a Waste



The Bride Test by Helen Hoang centers an autistic man named Khai Diep who feels he is incapable of reciprocating his lover's affection, much like Mitchell. Mitchell's actual level of care for his lovers is very questionable, as he prefers to provide women with what society tells him they generally want so they will pay him compliments and love him unconditionally. In other words, he is in love with the idea of being loved. Both Mitchell and Khai suffer from insecurities, and holding a very absolutist definition of an abstraction such as romance.   

b. Mitchell's profound androgyny and nonchalance towards social norms draws strongly on such works by DH Lawrence as "The Rainbow", as well as contemporaneous works such as Jeannette Winterson’s "Written On the Body", and LGBTQ+ works such as "None of the Above" by Gregorio, I. W. Others make their thoughts on Mitchell's feminine physical features and overtly sexual dress and mannerisms known. He must also beware of predatory advances made upon his person by by large, burly men such as "Vampire."  "Vampire's" innate sexual attraction to Mitchell and uncertain sexuality are a frequent conversational point. 

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


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

Core wound
Mitchell feels that he needs to form a new committed relationship to fill his need for approval and affection. He behaves like a recovering addict: living in self denial to overcome his history of infidelity, hard drug use, and escapism. 


Sketch the inner conditions for the protagonist’s inner conflict


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

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


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

7.       Setting

a.       The timeframe is 2006-2007, making this a period piece for the mid to late 2000s. There will be a very limited number of pop culture reference from the time, mostly to point and laugh at how tacky this era was. The setting is Connecticut Polytechnic Institute, or CPI, an elite, fictional private engineering University located in the desolate small city of Waterbury Connecticut. Waterbury suffers from having one of the highest poverty rates and lowest average amounts of sunshine within the otherwise very wealthy United States eastern seaboard. Unlike its older sibling engineering schools of the northeast such as MIT or Worcester Polytechnic, CPI was established in the 1980s, and formed by reclaiming abandoned warehouses and factories of the troubled city. This paints shades of drab, postindustrial grey for a depressing story where not only do many of these characters find themselves in self-imposed poverty by the end, the villain also wins, consequence free.  

The only moments spent outside of Waterbury or CPI are when Mitchell returns to his hometown of Darlington, SC, a small, dying tobacco town of the deep south for December break. Here, his parents are divorcing and moving, his childhood friends who did not leave are spiraling into drunkenness and criminality, and Mitchell sees he has no reason to maintain any connection to his roots. 

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Pitch Conference Assignment Work


First Assignment – Story Statement

A year after a virus known as the Affliction has decimated humanity, a group of ordinary survivors must brave a dangerous post-apocalyptic United States to follow the clues left behind by its creators in hopes of finding a vaccine for Leah, who is the only human ever known to display resistance to the Affliction, before she succumbs to it and takes what could be humanity’s last chance to develop a vaccine with her.


Second Assignment – The Antagonist / Antagonistic Force

In the novel, the role of Antagonist is fluid. The group of survivors is made up of clashing personalities, and they are in often conflict with each other, pushing each other’s arcs forward and progressing each other as characters. The character of Jay is a good example of this. He is as much a brother figure as he is disparaging, foul mouthed unwilling mentor to Ben, and as much a protector as a figure of distrust towards Leah.

The Afflicted are the constant Antagonistic Force. They are humans mutated and driven mad by the Affliction. As far as the characters know, the Afflicted only have two goals: spread the virus, and infect or kill every human they encounter. This makes them in constant conflict, with the Afflicted driving every aspect of the group’s adventure. In truth, the Afflicted are a far more complex force then they know, something that is hinted at throughout and brought to the forefront in the final act. Part of this force is a particularly dangerous type of Afflicted the group call a ‘Boomer’, who has been chasing the group since their first encounter in Philadelphia to their final conflict in Chicago, and who plays a large role in expanding their understanding of the Afflicted later on.


Third Assignment – Breakout Title

The title of this novel was one of the first ‘decided’ parts about it. Since the story revolves around one of the survivors getting the Affliction, to me it only made sense to call the novel an iconic title:





Assignment Four – Genre and Comparables

Part of the initial concept for the novel was that I felt as though I’d identified an area of the market that could be oversaturated with low quality, but very much underrepresented in high quality. The novel is broadly a science fiction, action adventure-thriller, with its sub-genre determined by its setting: a Post-Apocalyptic United States of America. I wanted to incorporate certain story elements that were more familiar to readers and fans of the post-apocalyptic genre, but otherwise tried my best to have unique or not widespread concepts (such as Leah, a POV, being ‘resistant’ to the Affliction, and her arc consisting of a firsthand look for the reader into how the virus changes a person). If I had to, from my knowledge, describe Afflicted compared to other media, I would call it “The Last of Us meets I Am Legend with a sprinkle of Dune.”

This isn’t a novel, but instead a video game franchise called The Last of Us by Neil Druckman and Naughty Dog is my favorite comparison to Afflicted. The franchise has won many awards and has sold over 50 million copies worldwide, and is being made into a TV series at HBO for 2022 starring Pedro Pascal. The ‘vibe’ of the world setting of The Last of Us has influenced how I see the Afflicted world; nature reclaiming the structures of humanity, a very open, sparse world where death can occur with one careless move, and one in which most of humanity is either dead, or ‘turned’, with very little left of our race. The fact that the antagonistic force in both titles isn’t ‘undead’, but mutated humans that can further mutate into more dangerous and powerful versions of themselves. The familiar trope of ‘the journey’ in this genre is also on display in both titles, but the comparable between these is that both journeys undertaken are forced by an external event impacting the characters so that they can’t ‘go home’ or ‘stay where they are’.

I am Legend by Richard Matheson is also be comparable in the ghostly nature of the setting. The character of Jay bears some similarities to Robert Neville, and a theme of ‘infected’ people being much more than they seem, enough to be intelligent and capable of a society, is one that will become prevalent as my series goes on. In my novel it is merely hinted at until the final act. The deserted feel of the world is also similar to my novel.

While certainly not a comparable for story, I’m including Dune by Frank Herbert for two reasons: structure similarities, and the hero’s journey. As Denis Villeneuve has done with the recent film adaptation, Dune can easily be structurally split into two halves that, while they make up a fantastic whole, are also two quite independent stories of their own right. My novel follows a similar structure, wherein the first two Acts could essentially be their own novel outright, and two large events occur at the end of Act 2 that fundamentally changes the direction of the story, and ‘forces the issue’, so to speak, making characters undergo a change in their arcs and driving the plot forward. The hero’s journey and development of Leah also bears resemblance to that of Paul Atreides in Dune. Both are forced to evolve by extreme circumstances, and both face the prospect of unknown powers and abilities not normally present in a human, and both grapple with the knowledge that in their future they face a terrible purpose that does not necessarily make them ‘the good guy’.

While there may be other comparables I am not aware of, these are what I think of when I review the novel, and where I draw the most influence from.


Assignment Five – Logline

 A year after a virus known as The Affliction has brought humanity to the edge of extinction, a young woman finds out she is resistant to the virus. Together with the remaining survivors of her group, they must find a way to work together to follow the trail of a long dead virologist and survive the trials of the post-apocalyptic United States in the hopes of finding a vaccine before she loses her mind and becomes one of the Afflicted monsters who haunt their every step, and takes the world’s last chance of salvation with her.


Assignment Six – Sketching Inner Conflict & Secondary Social Conflicts

The main protagonists and POV characters of the novel are Ben Colefield and Leah Hogan.

Ben is haunted by survivors’ guilt, which motivates his more morality focused actions and views. He struggles with the hypocrisy of doing whatever it takes to survive, and staying true to his idolized values of humanity, which he clings to out of fear that he isn’t worthy to be alive in the Afflicted world, and that he’s only alive and wasn’t trapped in Philadelphia with his family by pure luck.

A broad example of Ben’s survivor’s guilt and unwillingness to abandon his principles is displayed in Act 2. After the incident at the hospital, where they find the proof that Alex was telling the truth about who he is and what his quest it, he offers Jay and Ben the chance to join his journey. Jay accepts readily, but Ben is extremely conflicted and initially refuses to go. He believes the members of the group back at the farm will be helpless without Jay, and he sees leaving for a cause, albeit a ‘higher’ cause, as abandonment, and he believes that abandoning those who are weak just because it’s convenient is wrong.

Leah’s abandonment issues and early childhood death of a parent has led to her becoming an independent young woman who is also quite selfish in terms of her actions and how she reacts to most other people. She is constantly determined to be seen, and that leads to her determination to prove that she ‘knows best’. On top of that, she constantly evolving both physically and mentally due to the Affliction, and she is struggling between what she is expected to do – fight it, remain human, verses what she knows she must do – accept the best of both worlds knowing it will drive her to insanity.

An example of Leah’s selfish nature occurs in Act 1 of the novel when, despite orders to go home immediately after her Patrol is done, she disobeys and sneaks off the property to the nearby creek for a swim. As she is leaving the property, Hannah asks to go with her, but Leah refuses, not wanting an eleven-year-old to deal with, and doesn’t make sure she gets back to her Dad, instead only caring about her adventure and just leaving her. Thinking that she’ll hear or see any threats at the creek, she doesn’t take proper precautions, which leads directly to the confrontation with Afflicted that causes her to become infected with the virus.


b) Secondary

It is alluded that Leah is attracted to Jay in the story; however, it is very much not reciprocated. Jay views people as risk/reward, and even before Leah became Afflicted, he considered her too selfish to be reliable, only caring about herself and her need to be ‘right’ or ‘the independent lead’ in a given situation. This leads to an altercation where, separated from the group, Jay threatens to kill her, and tries to make her see that her selfish personality puts all of them at risk when she doesn’t consider anyone but herself. This is important for Leah’s development, when she begins changing and realizes how selfish she is. The tension between them remains constant throughout the novel, with both often exasperated with the other’s attitudes.

For Ben, at a certain point in the novel, the group find a safe place to stay for the night with a pastor and his family and grandchildren. He sees a family in a safe environment and proposes that Hannah stay with them. He projects his own, “Old World” beliefs into the situation; Hannah is a child, they can’t keep her safe, she should have a childhood, etc. The group reacts poorly to the suggestion, especially Hannah, who runs away in tears. Ben is forced to deal with his hypocritical beliefs, old world verses new world: the Afflicted world doesn’t care how old you are, Hannah herself has at this stage already saved all of their lives, does age equal immaturity anymore, etcetera. He is forced by the social conflict to examine his own attitude and prejudices. There are more instances where Ben tries to revolve a conflict or view a situation as he would ‘Pre-Affliction’, but ends up realizing those views are no longer compatible with their new world.


Assignment Seven – Setting

The setting for Afflicted is a post-apocalyptic United States of America. The story is a product of its setting. I do mention some specific locations, and take some liberties with the interiors of those locations, but I try and keep city layouts and exteriors as faithful as possible (I have also at least walked past, if not been inside, many of my locations in real life. Using the comparables in Assignment 4, it does help that there is a popular, more visual medium that the audience for the novel can fall back on to aid their imagining of the setting. My goals with setting is more about the feeling of it, how does it change character’s actions and emotions, what feelings can I evoke?

The Affliction was a viral wildfire that tore through the world and left billions of dead in its wake. The world is presented through the eyes and knowledge of the main characters. As far as they’re concerned, there is no governmental structure left, no militaries, no operational power grids; no society: just a small number of humans in hiding, living off the land and scavenging what they can find to survive. As the characters world expands and the story progresses, the world will naturally evolve and open up as they travel.

The story begins at close to a year after the months where humanity collapsed. The Afflicted world is a haunted world, where death is a constant, and monsters stalk from every shadow. With no human caretakers, nature has already begun to reclaim the land, but that process is only in its infancy, so most of the destruction is man made from the initial short lived ‘war’ with the Afflicted. Many places appear deserted from the outside, but buildings often hide Afflicted within. Physically, roads are generally packed with abandoned vehicles, overgrown vegetation, trash, and decayed bodies. Mentally, for the characters, the world feels like an abandoned ghost town to which they are uninvited strangers. Indoor environments are meant to feel tense and menacing, and for a ‘we’re a day late for the party’ feel to their condition. Altogether it is meant to project a world that is harsh, bleak, and unforgiving. The characters are a contrast to the world, in that they fight against the negative emotions the world projects upon them. They choose to believe in the hope that they will succeed.



In Act 1 and 2, the story flips between Ben and Jay, who are in Philadelphia on route to Jefferson Hospital, and the West Chester farmstead the group resides on, and where Leah remains. The city is alien and dangerous in contrast to the safety and normality of the farmstead.

Philadelphia is presented through Ben’s eyes. It is his hometown, and his first time back since the end of the world. It is hard for him to contrast the decaying city he sees to the vibrant home he knew before. They can just about navigate the streets in a vehicle, and there aren’t many roaming Afflicted. The Three main settings in Philly are:

Jefferson Hospital – while I’m sure I’ve taken liberties with the interior layout; the hospital is the perfect ‘starter building’ for Ben to earn his stripes. It is presented as chaotic and crowded with gurneys, medical equipment and remains scattered within, though has windows so has natural light and easy to see. It also has limited power, so flickering lights illuminate the dark spaces.

Chestnut Street – The main road between Jefferson and Penn hospitals, which Ben and Jay have to walk after Jay’s car is stolen. It is presented as a ‘valley in the shadow of death’, and allows Ben to get a closer look at the buildings and damage to the city street.

Penn Hospital – Penn is presented as, at first, a military stronghold, known as ‘The Noah’s Arc of the Apocalypse, that was massacred in the early days of the Afflicted. As night approaches, the atmosphere becomes darker, more foreboding, and more claustrophobic. As Ben and Jay help Alex explore, they find a secret underground lab hidden within the hospital. This hidden lab jumps all of the above to the extreme, adding in the limited power that only powers the deep red emergency lights, bathing the tight corridors in an ominous glow, foreshadowing the violence to come.

Even when outside in Philadelphia, the atmosphere is presented as close and claustrophobic. Every environment is designed to emit the tense and anxious feelings that come with that closeness, to produce the feeling like you are trapped with no way out, and the sense that it is only a matter of time before something goes awry.

The Farm, in an undisclosed area of West Chester, Pennsylvania, is presented as a rural farmstead that is isolated enough to generally not be noticed.  The house itself is a modest, aging home that can just about fit all 12 of the group inside of it. From the main barn that serves as a lookout post, one can see most of the main property. The group have tried to plant crops, but it is all done by hand without farm machinery. A forest surrounds the property on all sides. It is a recluse; a haven from the post-apocalyptic nightmare of the Afflicted world, a safe(ish) space for the characters.

Part 3, set on ‘The Open Road’, encompasses a few different locations. A common theme of the novel is this: the further west you go, the worse the condition of the environment gets. As they travel west out of Pennsylvania, many of the roads prove difficult to drive on, with nature beginning to reclaim the rural areas. Many of the more rural they go turn out to be deserted, even without much Afflicted presence lending to the eerie, haunted sense of the world.

Chicago is where Act 4 and Act 5, the climactic acts of the novel, take place. Chicago is presented as different from Philadelphia in that it is a ruined city that never had a real quarantine, but instead had many small factions of the armed forces and private citizens ‘holding’ different ‘zones’, and as a result the city is largely an impassable logistical nightmare clogged with wreckage. Specific locations in Chicago are Cornell Square Park, a small park in the South Side set up as a safe zone and CDC camp (long abandoned by the time the characters arrive), and the John Hancock building/360 Chicago, a well-known tourist destination in real life (I have been to it) which presents a unique ariel view of the city as well as having a cool restaurant on the 95th floor of the building. The setting here goes hand in hand with the notion that the characters, upon arriving, get to broaden their ‘view’ of the conflict they face, and Leah becomes further enthralled with the Affliction and is able to more broadly sense her new found abilities.

AFFLICTED Assignment Anwers NYC Event Dec 2021.pdf

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Living as an expat in the serene Bavarian countryside, popular Christian blogger Grace Alexander has two things she can’t share with her readers: one is that her husband is obsessed with the end of the world; and two, she has a crush on the woman who runs the summer resort in Switzerland. When her husband’s obsession with end times prophecy spirals into psychosis, Grace believes the only way to both maintain appearances and obtain freedom is through death—but she’s not sure which one of them will go first. 


Having joined the military at age seventeen to escape an alcoholic family, David Alexander has used discipline to run a godly home. But his wife of twenty years has become polluted by the world. He thought a summer in the Swiss Alps with their church group would renew her dedication to him and to God. Instead, Grace takes part in a dangerous mountain race and allows her mind to be tainted by non-believers. Meanwhile, he has calculated the day of Christ’s return, and she doesn’t seem concerned. David attempts to control her financially and socially, but she becomes even more secretive and rebellious. To remind Grace of her role as wife and mother, David forces her submission in the bedroom, but the more David shows his authority, the further she slips. It can only be the work of demons. They have taken control of his wife and threaten to take his mind too. With the rapture coming soon, David is desperate to save his family, while they are still in a state of grace. 


The State of Grace

Husbands Aren’t Forever

Saving Grace

Like Anne Patchett’s Commonweath, this novel is inspired by real-life events. The theme of family secrets reaching the boiling point, and the mess that eventually bubbles over, is evident in the narrative style. This novel shows the desperation of families to keep secrets, only to cope with the consequences later. This novel also carries notes of Elizabeth Strout’s My Name is Lucy Barton, as the narrator learns to embrace the memories of a painful home-life. 

When her husband’s obsession with the end times takes a cruel turn, popular Christian blogger Grace Alexander believes the only escape is death—she’s just not sure which one of them will go first. 

Grace Alexander was raised by an overbearing religious mother. Her co-dependency was transferred to her husband when she married at a young age. For most of her life, she has played a role scripted by someone else. But the author of her wifely role is becoming mentally unstable, which causes Grace to contemplate her own desires, including her burgeoning crush on one of her best friends. She is caught between her outward religious ideals and the inner glimmer of freedom. When her husband’s obsession turns psychotic, she exploits the only loophole in the marriage contract: death. 

The Alexander family has lived in Germany for nearly ten years, and they are preparing to move back to the US. But change isn’t easy for David. He becomes obsessed with end times prophecy. Convinced of Christ’s impending return, David tightens his grip on his wife, as Grace struggles harder to break free.

David must reign in his wife before Christ’s return, and Grace must escape the marriage while maintaining her image. As David becomes more unstable, Grace stops waiting for god to rescue her and takes measures to save herself. 


As her religious beliefs erode, Grace believes the only way out of her living hell is through death. After an accident on the mountain trail, she realizes she doesn’t want to be the one to step into the hereafter. Grace begins to fantasize of the freedom that would come through widowhood. But can she still be a good person if she wants her husband to die?

Convinced demons have taken over his wife, David becomes increasingly paranoid. In an effort to assert control, David uses money, social life and sex to reign-in his wife before she drags them all into the pits of hell. With Christ returning soon, he will do anything to get his house in order. But does he have the faith of Abraham to wield the knife? 

Grace has enjoyed her role as a mom, but at the same time, motherhood has trapped her in a marriage that is becoming increasingly abusive. With her oldest preparing for college, she realizes just how isolated she has become. When she suspects she’s pregnant, she fears being tied down even longer to a mentally unstable husband. Can she make choices about her own body when her husband has divine rights to it? 

Grace has garnered a decent following on her blog about biblical motherhood and the luxurious challenges of living abroad. As her beliefs begin to crumble, her desire to write without omission grows stronger. She begins writing under a fake name and starts to see success. But David has money and power, and he would certainly take the kids if he found out. While the anonymous writing comes from the heart, she begins to feel like an imposter in her own life. With the leader of her prayer group breathing down her neck, can Grace keep her vibrant writing life a secret?

Grace can’t seem to control her desires these days. She fantasizes about a local man she meets on her trip to Switzerland. But the closer she gets to him, the more she realizes her true feelings for her best friend, who is a married woman. According to her religion, Grace’s desires are a one-way ticket to hell. But how can something God calls “unnatural” make her feel more like herself? It is a coming-of-age story in mid-life, as Grace struggles with her sexuality.

The Swiss Alps are postcard perfect, as well as unforgiving. This setting is reflective of Grace’s life. The tourists see the perfection without fully comprehending the dangers. 

Yet, it is the brutality of the alps that draws Grace. Running those dangerous paths is the only time she feels alive. She becomes addicted to pushing boundaries, both on the mountain paths and in her biblical ideals. Her life, both literal and eternal, are at stake. 

The centerpiece of the Swiss village is the alpine lake, where Grace likes to swim. She feels both the numbness of the body (the facade) and the heart-pounding exhilaration of inner life. 

In their isolated country home in Bavaria, David is free to rule the household with no interference. This is their protective bubble, and because they will be transferred back to the US soon, David feels a loss of control. When Grace throws out mementos of their old life, David is pushed to the brink. His inability to keep the family in this isolated place reflects his loss of spiritual control. The impending move from the idyllic countryside home is, for David, like the fall of Eden. 

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December 2021 Assignments


Murder Goes Retrograde

Trish O’Sullivan


#1 Story Statement


In the crosshairs of both a killer and the police, Nla must stay out of jail so she can find her uncle’s murderer and save her own life.


#2 Antagonist depiction


Tom Harris is an embittered, intelligent psychopath and master manipulator who knows how to get people to gladly give him what he wants. With  a history of date and other types of fraud he relishes the power of his duplicitousness. He came to NYC with the intention of  inserting himself into Louie Montgomery’s life to determine if he is his unacknowledged son, as his mother claimed and, if so, to get revenge and take what he can from him. After all, he tells himself, “he never paid child support and owes me.” Montgomery is a famous science fiction writer and a newly sober alcoholic. Tom pretends to have long term sobriety and gets Louie to anoint him as his sponsor. He puts his plan in place to kill Louie and inherit his million dollar apartment as the next of kin. Nila Gay, Louie’s niece back in NYC from travel abroad is a complication. When a will is discovered listing her as the beneficiary, he must kill her too or all will be for naught. But first he must ingratiate himself into her life.


#3 Breakout Title


Murder Goes Retrograde


#4 Genre and Comparables


Murder Goes Retrograde is a traditional mystery with cosy elements.


People who like “Only Murders in the Building” and “Manhattan Murder Mystery” will like my book.


Three amateur sleuths meet regularly to plot their next moves to solve a murder. Lots of action takes place in the victim’s building, filled with eccentric characters, on the Upper Westside of Manhattan near the Hayden Planetarium. The primary suspect is a neighbor. Murder Goes Retrograde is an exciting and fun romp around Manhattan.


#5 Hook/Log Line


A young aspiring writer loses her last relative when he is murdered in Central Park. She embarks on a quest for justice and in the process learns the true meaning of family.


#6 A) Conditions for Inner Conflict


Nila is estranged from her Uncle when he is murdered. She has unresolved anger towards him. She has for years sought information about her mother, his twin sister, who died during her birth. Since she first met him, at the age of 13, he has been a serious alcoholic and always blew her off when she asked about materials he had or stories he could tell her. She has now returned to NYC because he is sober and wants to reconcile. But he is murdered before they can talk. The most important source of info about her mother is now gone forever. Her anger complicates her grief for the loss of her uncle—her last living relative.




Nila has lived every summer since age 13 with Janet and her daughter Zoe. Janet is her uncle’s literary agent. She has bonded with them and they feel like family to her. However, now that Louie is dead, her primary link to Janet, and Janet is focused on Zoe’s unavailability, Nila worries Janet and Zoe will slip away from her.  A New York Times obituary for her Uncle, wherein Janet is not mentioned highlights the fact they are not real family. Nila is now without any living relative which stimulates her vulnerability in this area.


#7 Setting


This is an easy one. My novel takes place in exciting New York City. It is centered in a building on the Upper West Side across the street from the Hayden Planetarium. The building houses a mix of assorted eccentrics, some used to work in the planetarium.  Some still have a stellar connection--an astrologer, a therapist who works with people who think they have been abducted by aliens, etc. And more recently monied corporate types etc.

There are many scenes in a gated cul de sac in Greenwich Village, and various scenes about town—The Strand Bookstore, The Frying Plan restaurant on a pier on the Hudson, the 79th Street Boat Basin, Central Park, etc.  Two chase scenes—one down the Hudson River and one within the planetarium and Museum of Natural History. Think I have it locked as far as setting!


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When The Fires Cease (women’s fiction)


1) Story Statement:


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



2) The Antagonist:



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




3) Title:


When the Fires Cease

Lavender’s Gift

The Lonesome Tree


4) Comps:


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


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



5) Hook line:



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





6) Matters of Conflict:

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

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

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

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

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


7) Setting:

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


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



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FIRST ASSIGNMENT: story statement.

The story follows a Kuwaiti mother as she tries to keep her two unyielding teenage children safe during the brutal Iraqi military occupation. It is told in three alternating points of view: the mother, the drug-addicted teenage son, and the teenage daughter who falls in love with a religious zealot.

SECOND ASSIGNMENT: sketch the antagonist or antagonistic force

In the summer of 1990, the antagonistic force in this novel, a war-hardened, hungry, and bitter Iraqi military force occupies Kuwait, a rich and peaceful neighboring country. The goal is to subjugate the protagonist, her family, and everyone in the country to Saddam Hussein’s rule by any means necessary. They harass, steal, and humiliate Kuwaiti citizens at checkpoints. As the Kuwaiti resistance movement builds, and efforts are made by the natives to poison, shoot, and plant bombs that kill occupying soldiers, the invading army becomes increasingly brutal, using random imprisonment, beatings, torture, and even death to break the will of the people. One of the soldiers shows up at the home of the protagonist, seemingly in peace, and demands cooked meals. He is mocking and disrespectful, but never quite seems violent, except in those moments, when light humor turns dark, and his hand hovers over his pistol. He straddles the line between sympathetic and horrifying. No one knows his intentions.

THIRD ASSIGNMENT: breakout title
1)    The Daughter of Kuwait
2)    Every Single Grain of Sand is Ours
3)    Desert Daisy

FOURTH ASSIGNMENT: comparables for your novel
Genre: Literary fiction / Book club fiction
Thematically, this novel is in the vein of A Place for Us and The Lies We Hide. I imagine the book belongs on the same bookshelves that carry Isabel Allende, Elif Shafak and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s books. Like me, those authors wrote novels that explore family dynamics, feature strong female protagonists and are set against non-western backgrounds. 

FIFTH ASSIGNMENT: write your own hook line (logline) with conflict and core wound 
During a military occupation, the line is blurred between protective and humiliating as a mother tries to protect her headstrong children from the invaders and their own choices. In this family-centered literary drama, characters struggle with rage, helplessness, the balance of traditional versus liberal customs, and the betrayals small and large to which the occupation drives them.

SIXTH ASSIGNMENT:  inner conflict & "secondary conflict" involving the social environment
Amal, the mother, wrestles with how to handle her son’s addiction. She doesn’t want to tell her husband because he is prone to violence, and she doesn’t want to seek help from family or friends because it will scandalize her son. She handles everything on her own, which is not handling it well at all. Her resentment toward her husband’s blissful ignorance and lack of involvement grows. The son, Sami, does not see himself as addicted and thinks his mother is protective to the point of being humiliating. He wants to join the Kuwaiti Resistance and fight Iraqi soldiers himself but he is only 17 and an addict. The daughter, Zaina, is in love with a zealot who refuses to marry her unless she changes her lifestyle to become more conservative. She loves him, but is conflicted about his request and she resists it. The invasion separates her from him, but she still seeks him out, at all costs. 

 FINAL ASSIGNMENT: sketch out your setting in detail. 

Setting: Kuwait, in the summer of 1990. When the novel begins, it is the warmest time of the year and temperature easily hits 100 F. The main characters, Amal and her two children and husband, live in a medium-sized villa with a front yard that has a large thirty-year-old palm tree. In date season, the palm tree births enough dates to share with the whole neighborhood. The villa sits at the mouth of a cul-de-sac shared with a small mosque and twelve other houses – newer structures, all flat-roofed and in varying shades of camel. A couple of owners tried to make their homes look like palaces adding oversized columns and decorative urns – an attempt at grandeur that fell painfully short given how small the two-story houses were. Other homes used up every square of footage permitted by the municipality, making no room for parking, and forcing all their guests to park on the street, thus thinning a road that barely fit two cars side-by-side. The only unbuilt plot in the neighborhood, a sandy rectangle facing the protagonist’s villa, hosted street cats that sometimes hissed and growled and swatted each other to assert reign over the trash. When they tussled among themselves, rolling around, kicking, biting, and screaming, the whole neighborhood heard it. All the houses were cuddled together, and there was hardly any room between the protagonist’s and her neighbors’. When it’s quiet, they could hear everything.

Five times a day, the muezzin’s voice is heard through the mosque’s minaret, reciting the Islamic call to prayer. The men in the neighborhood shuffle out of homes, and head to the neighborhood mosque. It is so safe in this neighborhood that people often sleep with their doors unlocked. Everyone knows everyone.

This neighborhood setting changes when Iraqi Republican Guard storm Kuwait and invade the country. Checkpoints are placed at different street entrances and cars are stopped and inspected. Soldiers are seen at the local supermarket and tanks sometimes show up in the street. Kuwaiti Resistance members remove the signs on the streets and homeowners remove the plaques on their doors to make it difficult for soldiers to find their way or know who owns which home. The neighborhood turns from a peaceful neighborhood to one where people sneak peaks behind drawn curtains, and half the homes are missing their residents, most cars are confiscated, and people wake up, eat, and sleep in constant terror. Walls of schools are spray painted with anti-invasion messages, pamphlets are distributed by the Kuwaiti Resistance, cash is smuggled and distributed to Kuwaitis at mosques, house rooftops are used to shout protests against the invasion and Kuwaiti men, most of whom used to work white collar jobs, now pick up street garbage, make bread at the bakery, and distributed smuggled cash or guns to their neighbors. 

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        New York Pitch Conference Seven Assignments

1.    Survivor’s Guilt Story Statement: In an America where every child is provided a firearm, disgraced hunter Frank Accardi wants to kill the nation’s shadowy dictator, Guild Master Krast, for harming his younger sister, Cassidy.


2.    The United Guilds of America serve as the primary antagonistic force in “Survivor’s Guilt.” Both Krast and Zarx are spawns of a manipulative system abusing its citizens with a combination of biological and loyalty tests, the latter of which are enforced via strict firearms laws.  Angelica Krast is a hidden antagonist for much of the book, disguising herself as leader of the rebel organization, the Actualists.  She was once married to Rudolph Krast, founder of the miracle drug, Kronos.  The UGA government conspired to kill Rudolph Krast, steal his research, and use it for the acceleration of their own power.  Vengeance is introduced as a motif, as Krast seeks vengeance against other members of the UGA much like Frank seeks vengeance against her.  Alternatively, the antagonist of Zarx is a mentally damaged, psychotic foe who begins the story as Frank’s confidant and ally.  His father mentally and physically abuses him over the course of his life, molding Zarx’s thinking of what strength and loyalty mean in this dystopian world.  Frank relies on Zarx for protection from the UGA and for weaponry he can use against Krast.  When Frank is captured by rebels, Zarx abandons his worship of Frank’s past successes and see’s him as an embodiment of treachery and a vehicle for perpetuating weakness.  He is wild, erratic, foul, selfish, and burdened, his mind a chthonic lair of unpredictability and horror.

3.    Breakout Title: Survivor’s Guilt, The Golden Serpent, Legend of The Grand Seeker, The Grand Seeker, Seeker’s Wrath

4.     Survivor’s Guilt similar to “One Man’s War” by Steven Savile and “Tribe” by Jeremy Robinson.  The latter blends elements of science with mythology, yet grounded in known place like Boston.  It also pairs two main characters, a male and female, who start the novel unaware of their heroic roots.  The intense, fast-paced action Robinson weaves throughout the work is similar in many sections to the gun warfare the dystopian world of “Survivor’s Guilt” demands.  “One Man’s War” contains a similar world-build to “Survivor’s Guilt”, including a dystopian world controlled by powerful corporate conglomerates and “kill” teams set on missions for power.  “Survivor’s Guilt” is slightly different in its utilizing of sci-fi concepts (nation-destroying diseases and an ever-mutating cure that solidifies the government’s control over its citizens).  However, both works feature a strong protagonist searching for answers in a dark, unforgiving world.  Both works are blends of dystopian, sci-fi, and thriller, while providing ample action and character intrigue to justify the genre and ultimately entertain the reader.

5.    A gunslinging government contractor seeks vengeance against the tyrant who killed his sister by joining a rebellion to expose the totalitarian government and its wicked experimentations that ultimately led to his sister’s demise.


6.    Prior to the events of “Survivor’s Guilt”, Frank Accardi spends years supporting the UGA (United Guilds of America) and its propaganda, believing he is honoring those who saved the nation from certain biological doom with their miracle cure, Kronos.  Ignorant to the wicked experimentations and discrimination, Frank hunts down Intangibles with his firearms, using his family as further justification for his actions.  As Frank’s title as the Grand Seeker grows, his younger sister Cassidy begins to question the government’s intentions.  Frank tries to quell his sister’s uproar, but is unsuccessful.  As the UGA pursues Cassidy, Frank begins seeing this corrupt nation for what it is.  Cassidy’s demise is the catalyst to Frank’s slow transformation into a rebel and believer in how the UGA’s harsh gun laws and discrimination have caused true psychological damage in the minds of its citizens, including his best friend and future antagonist, Ben.  To complicate matters, Frank suffers from a form of PNES called KIA’s (Kronos Induced Attacks).  Complications from his time as Grand Seeker absorbing Kronos from his victims forces him at inopportune moments to relive moments of his hunts, and unfortunately, the fate of his sister.  Another subplot comes in the form of a love interest.  The Dark Archer, or as we soon learn her name, Veronica begins as Frank’s enemy, holding contempt for his past deeds to the UGA.  As pieces of Frank’s past manifest themselves, both within and around Frank, Veronica grows sympathetic toward him, finding similarity in her own isolating situation to Frank’s seemingly endless pain and guilt.  Overall, within Frank is a desire to kill Guild Master Krast and avenge his fallen sister.  At first, he doesn’t consider the bigger implications of the government’s wrongdoings, selfishly focusing on only his situation.  What Frank truly needs and is exposed to throughout the novel is a purpose to serve those wounded by the UGA and undo the corrupt system he once supported, finally realizing why he was wrong to ever support it from the inception.


7.    Survivor’s Guilt is a dark, gritty nation-spanning journey providing numerous settings of varying intrigue.  The first chapter places Frank on the streets of South Boston where he infiltrates an underground educational facility teaching youth expanded firearm training.  After the chilling process of wiping is introduced to the reader, we follow Frank through the dark, bone-chilling streets to an abandoned manor, a rickety wooden hole in which our main character lives with his grandmother and those impoverished she’s rescued from the streets.  In the next chapter, we come to understand the societal structure of the nation’s youth in a barracks compound known as the Youth Learning Center.  This is where the reader witnesses every student holding a firearm and obediently reciting the creed of their tyrannical government.  To further paint the grip the United Guilds of America has over its citizens, the setting shifts to Ryol Coliseum, the modern day TD Garden transformed into a battle arena.  This is where Frank hopes to kill Krast until he realizes tragically that Krast will not be attending.  We then take a dive into the warped mind of our antagonist Ben by visiting his home.  He remains allied with Frank at this point in the story, but we peer into the frightening and unstable nature of this character.  The basement scene is the pinnacle where we see how Ben treats his Intangibles and the wicked philosophy he has chosen to justify his actions.  At Ben’s party, we see his house utilized to its maximum potential, including exotic lights, drinking, and party games utilizing firearms.  Once we leave the party, the story shifts into its next big act, in which the rebel Ally sets a trap for Frank and Ben.  The abandoned railyard acts as a relic to the Old World but also a high-intensity action sequence when Ben signals Ryol’s Rangers, a private military force loyal to Ryol Guild.  The battle between the rebel Actualists creates a new dynamic between Frank, The Dark Archer (Veronica), Ally, and Justin.  Separated from the rest, Frank is taken prisoner and moved through the suburban forests surrounding Brookline, Massachusetts.  Sequences unfold in which Frank ferries Justin across a busy highway, then a battle at an abandoned motel upon a hill.  There are periods of contemplation for Frank and the rest in between the action to give each scene its rest.  The next setting transitions us to one of our focal locations in the Colony, the Actualist’s secret base beneath the Cadillac Mountains of Maine.  Here, Frank meets various characters, including the rebel leader, Angelic the Wise. Different areas of the Colony are explored, including an old theater where Veronica sneaks away to play her musical instruments, the subbasements where the Wiped are stored and observed, and Angelic’s office where she spins her existential philosophy.  A tragic scene occurs in a nearby village a few scenes later where a rescue mission ends with a boy’s shocking suicide. Only when Frank feels welcomed and situated at the Colony does a key character betray him and leave him for dead in the icy tundra north of Novia Scotia.  Frank encounters the Mi’kmaq Native American tribe staying true to its ancestral ways despite government control.  Unfortunately, Ben returns with a vengeance, wielding a new weapon and bearing a new name in Zarx.  Frank pursues Ben to Augusta where he’s situated himself in a military fortress.  The Actualists rescue Frank from this horrid place, staging another heightened battle.  However, none can compare to the Battle of Colony Hill, an epic chapter-long fight in which Zarx bombards the Colony and kills many rebels, including some main characters.  This forces Frank and the rest to retreat west in hopes of evacuating to their allies in the Chinese Federation.  They stop briefly at a bunker in the mid-west and finally an the Mausoleum, a massive villa situated on the coast of Malibu, California where Frank must make the ultimate decision to save his newly found family and friends.  As shown here, the setting is meant to match the journey, taking the reader to many dark places but sprinkling in bits of hope and promise throughout the chaos to keep them thoroughly engaged.

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Ghost Hacker

1.    Story Statement

New York prosecutor Allie Walker must uncover the identity of the hacker who killed her boss and plans to unleash a ghost trading algorithm that will destroy the financial markets. 

2.    Antagonist Force
There’s the upper 1%, and those who got left behind. At BlaineBlade Trading, there’s both. Its president, Alexander Blaine, made an overnight fortune from developing the fastest high-speed trading systems in the world. His obsession for success is fueled by his background: his notorious mother ran a Ponzi scheme that destroyed thousands of lives. Blaine will go to any length to restore his family’s riches and power. But will he do it legally, or has he crossed the line to hacking and murder? 

BlaineBlade’s chief operating officer, Frank Nelson, is old school. He paid his dues, grinding his way through decades in finance, and has nothing to show for it but a country club membership and stories nobody wants to hear. He knows all about the trading industry. He has a politician’s grin that hides his jealousy of stratospheric success of sneaker-wearing thirty-year olds. Has Frank turned to hacking and murder to break into the billionaire’s club? 

3.    Breakout Titles

Ghost Hacker
Ghost Algo
Before You Blink

4.    Two Smart Comparables

A modern legal thriller like Wanda M. Morris’s All Her Little Secrets, where a young lawyer gets caught up in a conspiracy after the sudden death of her boss. Fast-paced and set in the murky underworld of financial trading and cybercrime, similar to Matthew Mather’s Darknet. 

5.    Hook Line

A ghost hacker wants to wreck the world’s economy but a young prosecutor won’t let him get away with murder.

6.    Conditions for inner conflict

Inner conflict: Allie’s childhood was rocked when her family was defrauded by Alexandra Blaine. This gave her a strong sense of justice. But in order to track down her boss’s killer, she must trespass into the dangerous underworld of hackivism. An example is when Allie decides to infiltrate a secret meeting of men who just staged a violent raid of a technology forum. She does it, but not without a heavy dose of apprehension that she’s stepping on the wrong side of the law.  

Secondary conflict involving social environment: Allie has a chip on her shoulder against the uber-rich. Investigating the ghost algo and her boss’s death means coming face-to-face with the new titans of Wall Street, people she despises under any circumstance, especially now that one may have murdered her mentor and boss. She’s also disturbed by people at the opposite end of the spectrum, dangerous activists protesting economic disparity. She feels they’ve corrupted her brother, Josh. Allie’s attempts to stop Josh’s spiral into hard crime is a subplot, along with a romantic subplot with the city’s celebrity District Attorney. The DA’s anti-corruption liberal ideals align perfectly with Allie’s but that doesn’t necessarily mean she can trust him. 

7.    Setting

Contemporary New York City and nearby New Jersey during a cold and wet November. Specific places include a newly-built downtown skyscraper, a penthouse trading firm office decorated with medieval weapons, a high-security computer server farm where trades are electronically matched, a riotous street protest, the District Attorney’s office, Central Park, a hole-in-the-wall Chinatown restaurant, an elegant Upper East Side co-op, and the top of a satellite tower during an icy rainstorm. 


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The Identity Guide: Forbidden Love

By: Ramneek Dimen



It is up to Raina to transcend religious and cultural barriers to discover who she truly is, even if it is met with severe disapproval from her traditional Indian family, and distinctly different from that of her Western peers.


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

This is a coming-of-age story of a young teenage girl named Raina, as she struggles to balance her conflicting identities as an Indian Canadian Punjabi-Sikh teenager entering her first year of university. She was raised by her traditional Sikh family but socialized by her liberal Western peers. Raina is constantly finding herself at odds in both of her worlds, questioning her place within each community. She tries to battle the voices in her head of her mother telling her what is right or wrong, as well as the expectations of her peers who also have their own convictions of what they view to be ‘normal’ teenage behaviour.


Raina has mastered the art of concealing her identity so much so that her own needs and wants to have become foreign to herself, and she struggles to cope with her reality. She acts on what she believes is expected of her in each of these worlds afraid to confront the reality that she may be letting herself down in the process.


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


“The Identity Guide: Forbidden Love”

“Taboo Love”

“What Happens When Love and Culture Collide.”


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?

The Identity Guide is where Balli Kaur Jaswal's 'Erotic Love Stories for Punjabi Widows' meets S.K.Ali’s “Love from A to Z”. It contains the dichotomy of modern verses traditional value systems from Jaswal's novel, with the complexities of young love, and internal identity conflicts contained within “Love from A to Z.” While these two comparables share certain elements with my novel,“The Identity Guide” is completely unique in one monumental and plot-altering way; this novel is about the religious and cultural complexities that alienate cultures and, at times, outright forbid intersectionality between religions. This novel tells a tale of a forbidden first love involving two vastly different cultures and religions. Raina and Reggie both come from very traditional families that refuse to accept the connection that bond these individuals, which ultimately threatens to tear them apart before they have even formed their relationship.


“The Identity Guide” tells a tale about one young woman’s pursuit of freedom and independence, with the looming fears of exile and the binding effects of tradition. Underlying all of this is the complex dynamics of family and society that mold Raina to question every aspect of her being.


The idea of feeling tethered to two realities that are constructed by the views of our elders, our culture, and our society. But what happens when her two worlds don’t exist in isolation, but rather, are completely intertwined. She has been forced to methodically navigate and exist in these two dissimilar worlds. Presenting a different version of herself in each, so that she can seamlessly integrate, appeasing all parties involved. Well, almost all parties. Maybe not herself. Compromising a piece of herself each time she stepped in and out of these two worlds. Presenting the version of herself that has been crafted to meet the needs of someone else, someone else’s expectations.


In this novel you observe Raina grappling with not knowing the difference between a noble act of rebellion or simply being self-righteous? Voluntary and involuntary exile. Observing her peers having the ability to exercise their right to choose without fear of punishment, and having no choice in the matter.


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.

Hook line: A young, Indo-Canadian, girl learns that the balancing act between the identity she reserves for her family and the other for her friends was more precarious than she could ever imagine possible when her two worlds collide, and she is forced to face the stark reality that her identity can no longer be compartmentalized.


Core wound: Raina is constantly finding herself at odds in both of her worlds, questioning her place within each community. She tries to battle the voices in her head of her mother telling her what is right or wrong, as well as the expectations of her peers who also have their own convictions of what they view to be ‘normal’ teenage behaviour. At the core of her issues is her inherent lack of self-awareness or identity. She often feels pushed and pulled by bits and pieces of both her worlds, and she is unable to decipher where she truly stands in either one.


Primary conflict: This story is told from the perspective of each of the main and peripheral characters in the book, so the reader is given a well-rounded perspective of the issues, conversations, and internal struggles that take place in the minds of the characters. The complexities that surround interracial and interfaith relationships are uncovered for the reader, with Raina and Reggie’s love connection being the primary dramatic conflict. That being said, there are many parties involved and each one brings a different perspective, so I think it’s important to tell this story not only from Raina’s perspective but from the perspective of Reggie, their parents, and their closest friends.


Raina’s roommate, Almaz, is also a woman of colour that comes from a traditional family. So, while you see her character empathize, and at times, encourage Raina to be her authentic self, internally she, too, is struggling to come to terms with her own sexual identity.


Tanvir is upset by Raina’s love interest because she is bound by her traditional values, that were passed down from her family and her upbringing in India. You see her severe response to Raina informing her that she has struck up an interest in Reggie, and her immediate visceral reaction is to condemn Raina, vocalize her disapproval in a state of anger, and the preceding fallout.


Raina’s high school best friend, Poppy, doesn’t understand why Raina is so conflicted about wanting to date Reggie because her Western upbringing has influenced her more liberal views on dating, and her parents don’t have any limitations on inter-faith/cultural dating. Poppy’s inability to relate to Raina from a cultural perspective is a sore spot for their relationship, and often results in many conflicts throughout the novel.


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.

Raina has mastered the art of concealing her identity so much so that her own needs and wants to have become foreign to herself, and she struggles to cope with her reality. While Raina engages in this daily balancing act between her friends and family, she often finds herself dreaming about the days of true independence to come when she is whisked away to university and free to be her authentic self. However, after entering her first year of university, she learns that the balancing act she thought she had left behind in high school will in fact prevail for as long as she resists coming to terms with her identity.


Raina is forced to confront her identity struggle when she meets Reginald while studying in her university’s library. They have an instant, undeniable connection. But she must resist out of the fear of her parent's reaction and being disowned by her family.


Reginald is a Catholic-Filipino boy that faces similar internal conflicts and identity struggles. Raina and Reginald itch closer and closer to building a romantic relationship but, out of the fear that their union would lead to the destruction of their families, they resist the temptation to enter into a relationship, and continue to deny their connection to themselves and to others. They both struggle to come to terms with their relationship, and Raina is faced with the stark reality that she can't escape who she is, and must instead confront her fears head on and accept the risk of potentially losing her friends and family in the process of finding herself.


This story is told from the perspective of each of the main and peripheral characters in the book, so the reader is given a well-rounded perspective of the issues, conversations, and internal struggles that take place in the minds of the characters. The complexities that surround interracial and interfaith relationships are uncovered for the reader. There are many parties involved and each one brings a different perspective, so I think it’s important to tell this story not only from Raina’s perspective but from the perspective of Reginald, their parents, and their closest friends.


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

The reader is introduced to the protagonist, Raina, on a late Wednesday evening in the Gurdwara. It is school night and Raina is in harmonia practice being scolded by instructor as she is off-key with the hymns. There aren’t many others present with her in class, however her mother is standing with her arms crossed at the back of the room with a glaring look of disappointment on her face. The instructor threatens to pull her out of the upcoming recital as he feels Raina is not ready for an audience. Raina’s mother is able to coax him into reconsidering and they agree to let Raina participate, but she will be seated in the back row so as not to distract from the other more talented students. Raina looks out into the dark hallways as her fate is being negotiated distracted by her thoughts about what her friends have planned this weekend.


The setting of this story tethers between all aspects of Raina’s complex Indian and Western young adult world. The reader is immersed in both her home and social life, observing Raina in the hallways of her high school, spending time with her friends at her first high school party, and then eventually see her in her first year of university, in her residence, in class, and in the library. The reader is fully entrenched in Raina’s world the entire way through, as you weave effortlessly in and out of these settings.


When the reader is introduced to Tanvir, Raina’s mother and one of the antagonists in this novel, you are taken to where she grew up, a small rural village in India. In this place you learn more about Tanvir, where her value systems stem, the culture, and environment that influenced her upbringing and shape her thinking.


This story will take you back to your time in school, but you will experience it in a whole new light; through the eyes of all the different characters that shape Raina’s world. You will be able to relate to these highly complex and nuanced characters in some small or major ways, and you will be introduced to realities that exist outside the scope of your imagination, deepening your understanding of cultures or even people in your own lives.

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The Family Who Trusted a Spy

by Ron Leshnower


1. Story Statement

Thrust into an unusual and harrowing position to help a French spy thwart a terror attack against the United States, a suburban New York family must rise to the occasion in more ways than they could have ever imagined.

2. Antagonist Sketch

The antagonist, a mysterious new terrorist organization named 829921, is mainly unseen. The threat it poses, a terror attack on the United States timed to take advantage of anticipated disorder within the young Trump administration, creates an anxious urgency that drives the plot forward while the lack of details adds to the horror of the unknown. From the outset, readers learn that 829921 has been quietly infiltrating the government, and it appears that somehow only Antoine (the spy) and the unsuspecting family he recruits are in any position to respond to this threat. As the story unfolds, readers gain a clearer understanding of 829921, Antoine's disturbingly complicated history with the organization, and how and why Antoine came to recruit this family.

3. Breakout Titles

The Family Who Trusted a Spy
The Winter That Changed the World
To Trust a Spy

4. Comparables

Churchill's Secret Messenger: A WW2 Novel of Spies & the French Resistance by Alan Hlad (pub. 4/27/2021)

This book is about a woman who is drafted into Winston Churchill’s overseas spy network during World War II. She helps the French Resistance behind enemy lines and works to liberate Nazi-occupied Paris. It is similar to my book because it is about unlikely heroes needing to rise to the occasion and use talents against a dire conflict, and it is a thriller that relies on a true-life setting (1941 in Europe in the midst of WWII; my book is set in the opening months of the Trump administration).

Enemy at the Gates (A Mitch Rapp novel) by Vince Flynn and Kyle Mills (pub. 9/14/2021)

This book is a spy thriller about Mitch Rapp, a top CIA top operative who must find a high-level mole to prevent the rewriting of the world order. Similarly, my book is about a family who must work with a spy to prevent an attack that would trigger the rewriting of the world order while knowing the government is already compromised by members or sympathizers of the terrorist organization planning the attack. Both works involve people operating under near-impossible circumstances to save the United States and prevent the triumph of evil over good.

5. Logline

When a home intruder in suburban New York claims to be a French spy on an urgent, secret mission, a father must race to figure out how to protect his family, keep his sanity, and save the world.

6. Inner and Secondary Conflict

The father, Ethan Starker, is a law professor on sabbatical, who mourns his wife and lives with his 12-year-old son (Asher) and their French au pair (Joelle). A loving father, Ethan is committed to supporting Asher's attempts to overcome his disability, and he strives to shield him from others' misguided observations. Ethan struggles to ensure Asher and Joelle stay happy while Antoine is living with them and keep the family together after disaster strikes close to home. He must also handle the stress of harboring Antoine while eluding authorities. Over the novel, Ethan returns to pondering the morality of his decision to help Antoine, ultimately taking a risk by trusting a disgraced rabbi and then a New York Army National Guard medic (Mackenzie) with the mission while revealing his deepest fears. Ethan continuously questions whether he should trust Antoine, suspecting that he is probably not exactly who he claims to be. While he tries to work with Antoine, Ethan encounters problems as he views him as a competitor for Asher's attention and affection. As Ethan begins to fall in love with Mackenzie, he must suddenly face his demons from his recent marriage. As life becomes increasingly sorrowful and unbearable in their town after disaster strikes, Ethan also struggles with how to honor the milestones and traditions of the Jewish faith in a time of crisis.

Other major characters also face important conflicts over the course of the story. Joelle must deal with a worsening anxiety disorder as she helps Ethan harbor Antoine, and she must live with the uncertainty of her boyfriend's whereabouts even as she learns of an unexpected pregnancy. Joelle also faces fears that her Muslim background will lead to visa complications under the new Trump administration. Asher must deal with the distress of Joelle's imminent return to France a year after his mother's untimely death, as well as overcoming challenges posed by his disability. Antoine continuously battles against the threatened success of his mission, his uncertain future and a new serious illness. Mackenzie must accept the apparent death of her ex-husband and young son even as she struggles to heal her beleaguered community as a National Guard medic. She and Ethan also run into difficult decisions as their romance begins to blossom in the wake of unspeakable tragedy.

A subplot involves a single mother (Shannon) and her adopted daughter (Avayan) from China living in the Seattle area who are flown to the White House to meet President Trump following Avayan's unsolicited letter. When the pair wind up rushed into an underground bunker with the president and a Secret Service agent (Sam), they struggle to figure out what is happening. Avayan, who is deaf, must ultimately realize a unique opportunity to become a hero as she deals with the apparent death of her mother. In the meantime, Sam must overcome doubts as to where his loyalties lie.

7. Setting

This book is a 96,000-word espionage thriller set in an alternate 2017, with most of the action unfolding on Long Island, New York, and in Washington, D.C. The book explores complicated human relationships and the growth of diverse characters who must work together under highly unusual circumstances, under the backdrop of the political tensions of the period. The book's main themes include overcoming the odds, faith, heroism, death and loss, love, disability, and parenting.

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