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New York Pitch Assignments - March 2022

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By Haisam Elkewidy


Story Statement:

Hydros, a hunter in the Basileon Hunting Party, joins his comrades on an expedition to search for The Lost City, a hydrothermal vent believed to be the origin of all life on the Seven Oceans, in the hopes of saving his family from a famine.


Antagonistic Force:

I would say there are two antagonistic forces in this story.

The first of which is the famine plaguing his home city, and making sure his family survives and gets through it. The shortage in food supply is putting him under immense pressure to try and find a way to put food on the table and keep his family alive.

The second antagonistic force is that of one of his close friend’s ulterior ambitions. It is later revealed towards the end that he had other plans throughout the entire expedition, which leads to him, and some of the other hunters, dissenting from the party and betraying their leadership.



Genre and Comparables:

Science Fiction/Speculative Fiction

Aquaman (content)

Daughter of the Deep – Rick Riordan (content isn’t the same but the setting is)

Clive Cussler novels

Log Line:

When his home city of Basileon is struck by a major famine, and little food is left to put on the table for his family, Hydros joins a hunting expedition to search for a legendary hydrothermal vent ecosystem, in the hopes that it will save his family from hunger.


Inner Conflict –

Hydros is trying to provide food for his wife and only son, in a city where dissent is growing widely because of the food problems. He had not been active on hunting duty for over a year because it was assumed that the surplus would last them a long time. It turns out that this is not the case.


Secondary Conflict –

Hydros’ superior, Commandant Lakness, has a gripe with the leadership governing the entirety of the Seven Oceans. The Vicegerent, in particular, has kept The Lost City a secret from everyone for years. The only reason why she knows this is because she was linked to the Vicegerent at one point, but then they went separate ways. Lakness has her own ambitions and power-hungry goals, which cause more complications on the hunting expedition than initially expected.



The story takes place on a planet Earth where the human populace now lives underwater, in our very own Seven Oceans. To do this, humans have evolved over the span of ten-thousand years to acquire gills, fins, swimbladders, and other physical features from different fish in the Oceans. The hunters in this world wield harpoons and go on hunting voyages to bring the game back home to feast upon.

The cities in this underwater world have borders that are inspired by the shapes of certain fish in the oceans themselves. For example, Basileon’s borders are designed to make the city look like a basilisk. The city of Galathaeon looks like a lobster crab. And so on and so forth.

Humans in this world can learn how to talk to certain fish by basically imitating their sounds at the same pitch, intensity, and frequency. Since fish communicate with sounds and not words, only humans can talk to each other via the written language. Fish do not talk in this story.

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1.     Story Statement

Nora must prevail against the firearms industry at trial when no one is playing fair.

2.     Antagonist or Antagonistic Force (goals, background, ways they react to the world around them)

Slick Vegas lawyer Lance Bettingcourt is always the smartest guy in the room – just ask him. He and Nora have battled it out on cases before, but now he is opposing counsel on the biggest case of Nora’s career. As lead counsel for the local gun store defendant, he uses every tactic he has to pressure the Plaintiffs to drop their case. Bettingcourt wants to win, and will leap over any ethical line to do so without any hesitation, despite his upstanding reputation.

Bettingcourt is representative of the antagonistic force of the firearms industry in general, the parties Nora sues following a mass shooting, and the laws that protect them. Those laws present an enormous challenge to her lawsuit against a gun dealer, which Lance will attempt to use to his full advantage.

Shadowy forces emerge as Nora refuses to drop her case, playing dirty and endangering her son. Bettingcourt and his client, gun store owner Francis Dodge, tell the Court that they have no direct knowledge of threats against the Plaintiffs, but don’t deny it as vehemently when speaking to Nora alone.

Bettingcourt is sure he knows how the world works, and of his place in it, and won’t suffer anyone who doesn’t agree with him.

3.     Breakout title


Gun Fight


4.     Comparables

Anatomy of a Scandal by Sarah Vaughan

Defending Jacob by William Landay (in tone, style and pace) X a fictional Erin Brockovich

5.     Hook Line (core wound and conflict)

Disillusioned Vegas lawyer Nora Jacobs finds herself pitted against the powerful firearms industry in a lawsuit she never intended to take to trial. Long ago, she lost any interest in the law, practicing only to put money in her pocket. But when the family of a mass shooting victim appears in her office, she takes their case, unable to turn them away. The case is a bigger beast than she imagined and when it goes to trial, she finds herself not only fighting for her clients, but also for her sanity and the safety of her family.

6.     Additional Conflicts

Nora is a divorced single mom to a four-year-old boy, Kyle. Kyle’s father, Jordan, is very present in Kyle’s life, and he and Nora remain friendly. They often spend time together as a family of three and Nora and Jordan spend the night together on occasion. There is no label to their relationship, but it’s what works for them. But, they don’t talk about the status of their relationship or lack thereof, as they are both unsure of what they want and what the other thinks of their situation. They both prefer to maintain the status quo. Also in play is Nora’s law clerk, Brian, with whom she also has an undefined relationship. They have worked together closely for years, and their relationship becomes physical when they spend more time together working on the firearms case. Unwilling to choose between Jordan and Brian, and unsure if there is a choice to be made, Nora continues to see them both, without any endgame in mind or consideration of the complications she could run into down the road.

Nora is a loving, if hapless, mother to her young son. Lawyering and mothering often pull her in different directions and she feels the strain. She wants to be more present as a mother, but also sometimes resents the responsibility she now has compared with the freedom of her childless life.

7.     Setting

Bulletproof is set in Las Vegas. It begins in a resort on the Las Vegas Strip and takes place in the Summerlin suburb and the courtrooms in the Regional Justice Center in downtown in Las Vegas.

In general, Las Vegas has an endless supply of settings and moods. Las Vegas is a study in extremes. The euphoria of a night out is followed by a wretched hangover and regret. People gamble money they don’t have, while trying to catch up in a race they will never win. Hope and despair mingle every night at the craps tables. The vacationers’ paradise on the strip is powered by people not making a living wage. Visitors die in hotel rooms every day.

The lush greenness and self-satisfied upper middle class existence of kids baseball games, private tutors and Christmases with too many presents on one side of town contrasts with the barren dust and sand covered lots where people with substance abuse problems and uncared for children suffer in Vegas’ heat, unalleviated by trees, grass or shade.

Vegas is about freedom, opportunity and living in the moment. People rise and fall and rise again, and more second chances are given in Vegas than anywhere else.

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Seven Assignments:

1. Act of Story Statement: Dustin must reconcile with the suicide of his past girlfriend while hunting down the people tormenting the new woman he loves.

2. Antagonists: The novel is about toxic masculinity and deploys several antagonists who both embody that idea and stand in the protagonist’s way. The novel has two parallel storylines, each with a major antagonist. Jenny torments Dustin’s ex-girlfriend, Aeni, until she kills herself. Jenny represents the brutal, self-policing conformity that women enforce against each other. She’s efficient, scheming, and will destroy anyone between herself and her dream to be a ballet dancer. The other storyline features Scott, a self-described incel. He’s translated his self-loathing into a hatred of women. Since puberty, the norms of masculinity have hung over his head like an axe, and he’s always found himself wanting. After years of not “getting” women, he’s part of a very real sub-culture of men who believe they deserve sex and should, thus, get it by any means necessary.

3. Title: Imagine Me Dead

4. Genre and Comparables: My novel is hard-boiled amateur private eye mystery. The best recent comparables are Rhode Island Red by Charlotte Carter and Winter Counts by David Heska Wambli Weiden. Both feature protagonists struggling not just to achieve their plot goals but with their own dark pasts. Both also find much of their power in strong first-person narrative voices deeply rooted in the personas of their protagonists.

5. Hook line drafts:

  • Dustin, reeling from the recent suicide of his ex-girlfriend, tracks down the attackers of a new woman he's fallen for, vowing never to let another life slip through his fingers.
  • Imagine Me Dead is Dustin’s journey to come to grips with the fact that the women he falls in love with—over and over—would be better off without him.
  • Imagine Me Dead (word count 106,000) is a hard-boiled mystery that tells the story of Dustin, failed poet and former boxer, on a journey to track down a cabal of men’s rights activists guilty of kidnapping and torturing the woman he loves.
  • Dustin, former boxer and failed poet, vows to make up for the suicide of his ex-girlfriend by tracking down the attackers of a woman he thinks he’s in love with.
  • Dustin, former boxer and failed poet, believes he can heal the wound left by the suicide of his ex-girlfriend by tracking down the attackers of a woman he’s just met.
  • Dustin, reeling from the recent suicide of his girlfriend, vows to avenge Robin, a woman suffering the aftermath of a brutal attack.

6. Inner and Secondary Conflicts: 

Inner Conflict: Dustin feels a combination of shock and guilt about the suicide of his girlfriend, Aeni. She killed herself at the culmination of a campaign of harassment by what appeared to be a stalker but was in fact a rival ballet dancer. Dustin feels like he didn’t do enough to help her. That guilt manifests metaphorically in a spider that bites him on his first night in Albuquerque after fleeing Portland, the city where she died. Whenever he sees a reminder of her, the venom festering in his flesh boils up, causing him to pass out and have a memory so distinct that he thinks he’s traveling back in time. During these visions, Dustin becomes convinced he can alter history to save her. His guilt about Aeni inspires him, for better worse, to track down the men who attacked Robin.

Secondary Conflict: The book has two primary conflicts: Dustin vs. Robin’s attackers and Dustin vs. Aeni’s stalker. The secondary conflict manifests in Dustin’s volatile personal relationships, all of which involve characters vital to resolving the novel’s plot:

  • Dustin and his best friend Mikey: Mikey sees Dustin as overshadowing and neglecting him. This leads to small disagreements that culminate in a big blow-up toward the novel’s climax. Dustin and Rudolfo: These two men team up to track down Robin’s attackers. They conflict with each other over differences in both approach and philosophy when it comes to accomplishing tasks. This boils over into a physical brawl towards the novel’s climax.
  • Dustin and Aeni: Aeni doesn’t want Dustin’s help with her stalker problems, nor does she want him to get too romantically attached. She keeps pushing him away until they have a big fight about it that gets physical just before her suicide.
  • Dustin and Robin: Robin doesn’t want anything to do with Dustin. She doesn’t want him to find who attacked her nor does she even want him to acknowledge she exists. He keeps pushing himself at her, which ultimately makes him realize that he’s, to an extent, in the same category as any other man who harasses a woman.
  • Dustin and Scott: Scott doesn’t like Dustin. He’s jealous of Dustin’s good looks, his charm, the way Dustin’s magnetism draws people in. Toward the end of the novel, this gravity shifts when Dustin helps Scott out of a bar-fight, setting up a false connection that throws the reader’s attention away from Scott’s identity as the man who kidnapped Robin.

7. Settings: 

Portland: this is the flashback setting, where Dustin tries to save Aeni during his spider-venom blackouts. Portland is stacked with weirdness. It’s a city of bridges, bicyclists, artists, dadaism, strip clubs, and startling indigence.

Albuquerque: this is the present-tense setting, where Dustin tracks down Robin’s attackers. It’s a high-desert city with blasting sun, sneak-attack storms, and explosive acts of violence characteristic of the American West. The narrative tramps through upscale natural grocers, seedy dive bars, abandoned RVs in the desert, bowling alleys, and trashed motels pulsing with the city’s underlife.


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(reposting here, after realising that I posted in the 2021 pre-event assignments by accident. apologies!) 


Four friends must grapple with individual griefs and hauntings within, in order to deal with the hauntings happening without.


The unknown and the spirit realm. The malicious side of this takes form through a grimoire-kind of book that promises secrets for a high price tinged in crimson. It also demonstrates itself in the form of the house itself, exploring the concept of a place as the origin of the tragic situation and a haunting ground that traps them within it. Stakes become raked across their backs the moment each of their feet cross over the threshold. There is the sensation of oppression in each corner of the rooms. There are weighted, hanging things dangling from the ceiling. Representations of the not-dealt-with internal struggles? True ghosts? Someone orchestrating this from the shadows who has a larger plan? It might go that far, it might not. It all depends upon their choices, how this antagonistic force works. It spies vulnerabilities and pounces on them and tears them apart. It is shaped by their hands, despite how their hands feel all tied up in it. Ironic, isn’t it? And does that not mirror the internal struggle we all experience? So is the point.

EDIT: It does go that far. Someone has been orchestrating this whole thing for quite some time. A feared emblem of folklore mixed with a sad case of being in the wrong place at the wrong time.


  • In Dark Rooms (current, working title)
  • The River Between Us
  • By the Skin of Our Teeth


Genre: Speculative (southern) Gothic fiction


  1. Donna Tartt’s The Little Friend. In pacing, cast of characters, underlying unease created by the familial dynamics as well as the initial tragedy that begins everything, it would be remiss of me not to include this one, considering it, and Donna Tartt in general, are a great inspiration to me, and to the manuscript as well.
  2. Gillian Flynn’s Sharp Objects. In sarcastic voice, morally-grey and bewildering cast of characters, antagonistic force, as well as the conflict coming both from within and without. The grit that layers over everything despite outward appearances. When I read the complicated family there, it tickled something that hadn’t been in a while.

Honourable mentions include Louise Erdrich’s The Round House, Edgar Allan Poe’s The Fall of the House of Usher, Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre, and Toni Morrison’s Beloved.


After the sudden death of one of their close friends, the four remaining friends swear a simple oath at her funeral: return to the house where it happened to make sure no one falls to shambles. What they end up receiving instead is a lot more than anyone bargained for.


The turmoil stems from the stages of grief. The unexpected death rocks them to their cores in various ways; one is the sibling to the deceased, the others are close friends. It was a tight-knit group, and now, there is an open absence that can’t be ignored for too long. This will be furthered by the conflict caused by the book, which one individual in particular uses a bit more than it should be used. Hypothetical causes of conflict will be literal ghost hauntings, in which they will be dragged in, and have to drag each other back out; the house closing doors to “trap” them in singular rooms; the outside of the house no longer becoming safe; and so forth. Anything to increase that sensation of isolation despite not being alone. 

Interpersonal conflicts are there from the start; there is a somewhat frazzled romantic relationship, a living-sibling relationship, a deceased-sibling relationship, and fractured friendships amongst the four due to a lack of communication (and other ridiculous things, that we as humans instigate amongst each other, when we love each other a lot.) There will also be tertiary conflicts re: ancestral history and family members that are not a core of the friendship group, but still bear witness (or perhaps know something more) to what happens. Tension, more miscommunication, attempts to help that are rejected. Symbolic, really. We cannot escape what goes on out there, we cannot escape what goes on in here. That’s just the long and short of it.


That border between the midwest and the south that gets lost in people’s minds. Deep, deciduous woods of Tennessee, Kentucky, Missouri. Corn fields, abandoned farmhouse, long, dirt roads. Rural. The house itself is located in the heart of the forest, close to a river. The nearby somewhat-small-town, a college town, will serve as a sub-setting, considering all of them are college students / of college age. The river will, as well as the forest, and the house itself. Potential for scenes to take place in a lot of accessible places, but also isolated places. The river itself, a conduit, a healing or not-healing place. Rooms within the house stocked full of memories. The café. The archives. The place where one of the boys works, the practise rooms with the tinny pianos. Endless possibilities in liminal spaces (or… are there?) These places will change with their decisions, the progression of the events, and reflect what’s going on within them — like Silent Hill, like Home Sweet Home. Considering this is also going to be a commentary about identity, well, we can imagine how that’s connected.

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Story Statement

In 1947, as the British prepare to leave India, a young Indian man brings his English bride, Johanna, back from Cambridge, where he has been studying law. He creates a minor cataclysm in his family since he has been engaged for years to his neighbor’s daughter, Sharmila. The turmoil in his family mirrors the intense communal disharmony on the streets outside, and soon both Johanna and Sharmila have to face an ordeal which is as shocking as it is revelatory. 

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Seven Assignments—Jeanie Davis

1.       Story Statement: Unseat the despotic governor and restore equality to a wounded society.

2.       Sketch of Antagonist: Kain Andilet governs American survivors of a global war (WWI) and a Spanish flu variant, which killed ninety percent of the world’s population. His iron-fisted methods make his motives clear: obtaining control, power and wealth. By favoring the residents of the City Center and relegating menial tasks to the people living on the outskirts of Pridineus—formerly New York City—he manipulates all situations to his advantage. However, he cannot obtain what he wants most—the woman he loved, and control over protagonist Daniel Camael. No matter how punishing and unjust Kain’s methods are, Daniel finds a way to level the playing field. The governor has banned religious freedom, claiming himself to be the only God of Pridinians. He exploits orphans, forcing them to grow and harvest food for the City Center. Ironically, he was reared in the orphanage he now abuses. He also mistreats a community of exiled citizens for his benefit. Kain is constantly baffled over the contented state of those he oppresses. He believes he can win his feud with Daniel and cause harm to those not of the City Center through rigged boxing matches—the entertainment of the walled-in city.

3.       Breakout Titles: The Killing Arena; Freedom Fight; Survivors, Sinners and Saints

4.       Genre & Comparables: Alt History Y/A. Comps: Rocky meets Hunger Games; Without Warning by John Birmingham

5.       Hook lines:  *How can a boxing match decide the fate of a nation? *He’s willing to die to save his people. *They must unseat a despotic governor and restore equality to a wounded society.

*Families are enslaved. Children are starving. A dictator must be overthrown for the survival of a war-torn, plague-ridden society.

6.       Inner conflict of protagonists. After they’ve survived a brutal banishment, Jake and Emma recognize the dire need to help others who have been oppressed by the governor. But every move they make toward this goal is wrought with fear and anxiety. Being caught means certain death—to them as well as those they are working to free from bondage.

Scenario: The shuddered underground subway system, unknown to the general public, serves as a way to transport goods and services from one ailing community to another. But everything changes when Jim, the man appointed to make the exchange for the Outliers, appears with his son, a pawn for the governor. Jake’s life is in danger once again.

Secondary Conflict: Emma Hammond turns up at Andreas. She comes with sensitive government information which can be helpful, but to whom—Jake and Daniel, or the despotic dictator.

Scenario: Just as Jake admits his love for Emma, he discovers government issued papers in her trolley, declaring her as part of Kain’s inner circle.

7.    Setting: New York City has changed. Once progressive and a land of opportunity, it’s now a walled-in territory governed by a despotic ruler. Post WWI and after a Spanish Flu variant has annihilated most of humanity, NYC, now Pridineus, is divided into classes—the entitled and the oppressed. Power hungry Governor Kain Andilet has abolished all modern forms of transportation, and the landscape resembles something from the 1800’s. The City Center dwellers wear olive uniforms. The air smells of strong perfumes. The outskirts reek of manure, and the residents wear threadbare clothing.

As boxing is the city’s greatest entertainment, the arena is large and comparably modern. A glassed-in area reserved for the city’s elite spreads across the second level.

The protagonists are banned to Andreas—a ghost town, literally. But Jake and his father find a secluded area near a river where they set up camp and live off the land.

Emma enters the settlement through the abandoned subway system. The tunnels become pivotal in connecting the outcasts. Some parts of the tunnels are dirty and small while the subway nearest the City Center is finished with stairways.

Unknown to most, sharecroppers toiling for Kain inhabit an area far beyond the city walls,  Lanton, and live under martial law.


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The Present Tense


Story Statement

Adam White, the black sheep of a politically powerful family, thinks he could solve a widespread psychological illness that causes people to think that they don’t exist, along with the help of Tecla Ghelli, a propaganda advisor who is harboring a dangerous secret.



In the year 3047, Geryon is the only existing continent after global warming has flooded the planet. A seemingly utopian society, the continent is governed by a single technologically advanced state that allows people – and sometimes forces them – to download the entirety of their memories on to computers and occasionally “delete” them, thereby censoring memories and knowledge bases. As such, memories are used to control people and what they know. In particular, knowledge of written language has been completely deleted since the Reconstruction; language was deemed divisive and had to be eradicated. Knowledge is exclusively transmitted orally or through images.


Antagonistic Force

There are three antagonistic forces:

  1. widespread psychological illness that torments huge swaths of the population
  2. Adam’s brother who secretly manipulates his father against him
  3. The state which covertly uses psychological warfare to control the population


Genre and comparable

Speculative sci fi with elements of political and psychological fiction


Yoko Ogawa's The Memory Police

Ted Chiang’s Story of Your Life

Esme Weijun Wang’s The Collected Schizophrenias

David Mitchell's The Bone Clocks

The manuscript will appeal to anyone who is searching for a psychologically acute, dark and satirical novel that verges on the absurd and questions the status quo.


Inner conflict

Adam grapples with the Affliction and the need to be accepted by his father, a former reality TV show tycoon and current Prime Minister. As a result, he agrees to work Tecla and rehabilitate his tarnished public image to help advertise the state’s questionable treatment plans for the Affliction


Secondary conflict

Tecla is part of a clandestine group that preserves written language. She is paranoid that she will be discovered and is conflicted about serving as head of propaganda for the State.


Log line

A cautionary tale of the stakes of democracy and the contagion of ideas, the novel reflects on the importance of memory and language in a hyper-technological state.


Alternative title

Ship of Fools

Raw Nerves


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 1. Story Statement:

Instead of getting stuck in the morass of grief, the widow Lisa orchestrates her comeback.


2. Antagonistic force:

Orchestrating her comeback means that Lisa has to fight against her enemies called grief and wallowing. She fights the urges to lay about in bed drinking her husband's bourbon and crying for her old life that was picture book perfect.


3. Titles:

The Widow’s Checklists

The Widow’s Comeback

Hope and a Future: A Widow’s Chapter 2

Orchestrating My Comeback: A Widow’s Slog of Laughter and Tears


4. Comps

Like in restaurateur Erin French’s memoir, Finding Freedom: A Cook’s Story; Remaking a Life from Scratch, Lisa’s draws her audience in by taking them on a raw and honest journey of survival.

In Stephanie Land’s Maids, we get a peek into the life of a maid and a domestic abuse survivor who refuses to let her circumstances dictate her future. So, in Lisa’s The Widow’s Comeback, we get a peek into the life of a widow as she refuses to let her status as a widow end her adventurous and fun life.

In Michelle Zauner’s breakout memoir, Crying in H Mart, she shows her readers they can forge their own way because of loss. In The Widow’s Comeback, Lisa shows her readers that whatever adversities come their way, they can create their own new life by having the temerity to persevere, solve problems and move forward whether they are crying or laughing. 


5. Hook line:

After living a near perfect life, can Lisa conquer villainous grief and emerge a new woman, ready for a second true love as her villain’s squadron of financial problems, emotional snags and children problems pile on?   


6. Inner conflict:

Can Lisa discover who she is without the man she has loved since she was 14?

Second conflict:

Can Lisa emerge from her husband’s debt and support herself and her family in the manner in which she was accustomed when her husband was alive?

Third conflict:

Can Lisa find room in her heart for love when she doubts her dead husband wants her to?


7. Setting:

The setting of this memoir takes place through the lens of a widow’s eyes. We see the world as she sees the world, completely skewed through grief and what she perceives as “widow scrutiny.” She badly wants to create a second chapter in her life with some of her old familiars: love, ease and financial comforts. Many of her successes feel like failures and failures turn to successes as she takes the little incidentals of life and examines them from the perspective of where her fight with grief has led her that day.

Life is in a comfortable suburban small town where she moved from Southern California just eight months before. Virtually everyone is a smug married. Lisa is the widow of a politician and small businessman, she is a former executive and newly house mommed, raising two tweens, and is a growing Christian. Lisa has lived her entire married life in the bubble of upper middle-class ease. She is grateful and enjoys her former life as she struggles to keep as much of the storybook for herself and her kids.

In the chapters we meet neighbors, friends, family, all of the usual cast of characters in a conservative Kansas small town, but we also are introduced to the stink of desperation that follows online daters.

In order to get her life back on track, Lisa questions the entrenched ways the staid institutions of her burb do business. She impersonates her husband’s voice to unlock bank accounts, sells her Porsche 911 to pay bills, dodges her husband’s $250,000 small business loan, submits to receiving welfare, gives her children swiggies of Benadryl before bed, and teaches them to yell out cuss words to deal with anger. Then the Holy Spirit leads her to challenge her church, and she begins her own ministry to widows and widowers.

As dating begins, the haughtiness of the professional men she encounters, men like her husband and friends, cause her to search elsewhere for companionship. She used to judge men by their wallets, she now thinks upper middle-class men are soft in the belly entitled and decides to date blue collar men with hard muscles, tattoos, and simple earnestness. She judges them by their capacity to withstand her floods of tears induced by a million memories of her husband.

Her life’s setting is the same as when she was married but the way she now succeeds at life is different.  

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Story Statement

In 1947, as the British prepare to leave India, a young Indian man brings his English bride, Johanna, back from Cambridge, where he has been studying law. He creates a minor cataclysm in his family since he has been engaged for years to his neighbor’s daughter, Sharmila. The turmoil in his family mirrors the intense communal disharmony on the streets outside, and soon both Johanna and Sharmila must face an ordeal which is as shocking as it is revelatory. 

Antagonistic forces

One of the early antagonistic forces in the plot is the resistance Ram’s mother exhibits towards accepting Johanna into her family.

It is early 1947 in Lahore, British India, and the Brits are on their way out. Ram is the spoilt scion of an elite Indian family, who had been sent to Kings college in Cambridge, England, to study law, just before the outbreak of the Second World War. He’s spent the war years in Cambridge, despite his family’s entreaties to return, and they are about to find out why. During that terrible time, he fell in love with an Englishwoman, Johanna, and he’s bringing her back to Lahore with him. He informs his family by sending them a letter announcing his marriage: however, fate decrees that the letter never reaches.

British India is on the eve of Partition, a cataclysmic event which will divide the subcontinent into the two countries of India and Pakistan, based on an arbitrary line. Communal rioting is just beginning to poison the city when the young couple arrives, but the turmoil outside is nothing compared to the reaction of Ram’s overbearing mother, Mataji, who is furious with her son for secretly marrying Johanna. Mataji angrily reminds Ram that he has been engaged since childhood to his neighbor’s daughter, Sharmila, who has practically grown up with him. She is determined to prevent this meat-eating foreigner, with the mousy brown hair and faded blue eyes, from invading her household in the guise of a daughter-in-law. From the moment, Johanna arrives, Mataji works hard at making her as uncomfortable as possible in the fiendishly hot and dry season, which is a typical Lahorian summer. The only friend Johanna finds in the household is Anand, Ram’s fourteen-year-old younger brother, who is curious about all things English, and is particularly interested in how she and Ram lived out the war.

An overarching antagonistic force which infuses the entire plot is the communal rioting and killing, which rapidly becomes widespread as Hindu populations make a mass exodus to newly created India and Muslim populations to what is now Pakistan.

 While internal tensions reach fever pitch in Ram’s household, the atmosphere on the city streets is disintegrating rapidly, into increasing episodes of communal violence. Ram’s family is Hindu, in a Muslim majority area, and British India is being brutally partitioned along religious lines. Hindus are being hounded out of Lahore towards what will likely become part of India; in the Muslim majority areas of India, it’s the Muslims who are being forced out. Ram’s wealthy enclave hasn’t been touched yet, but it’s only a matter of time.

Sharmila’s parents, who are Ram’s neighbors, leave the city; however, they leave Sharmila behind with Ram’s family. This is a ploy invented by Sharmila’s mother to make sure that her daughter, who she believes is the legitimate future daughter- in- law of the family, stays visible, and her welfare remains connected to Ram’s household. Mataji, who detests Johanna and wants Sharmila for a daughter-in-law, agrees to the arrangement.

A major antagonistic plot point occurs when Ram’s household is attacked.

While Ram’s household dithers about leaving, events escalate.  Law and order have almost broken down, and violence and looting become more widespread. Unknown to the family, a dark shadow is descending on them; their Muslim gardener’s nephew is attracted to a young maidservant in Ram’s household. He organizes a kidnapping, secure in the belief that he can pick her up with impunity, since the mostly Muslim police force will turn a blind eye to the abduction of Hindu girls (especially poor ones). Besides, there is extreme social chaos, with a mass exodus of Hindus from the area, who feel unsafe in the about- to- be created country of Pakistan. The kidnapping is bungled, and Mataji is wounded, while her husband is killed. The inept kidnappers force both Sharmila and Johanna (who try to save the maid) to come with them. Ram, who is in the house, freezes, and this is perceived as cowardice by Johanna. They are subsequently sold to the owner of a local Tawaifkhana (whorehouse), who believes she’s above the law because the Muslim Chief of Police is a frequent client.

A secondary antagonistic force is the tension between Johanna and Sharmila.

Johanna and Sharmila’s encounter with each other is laced with mutual contempt---Johanna is a tough, street-smart Englishwoman who has survived WW2 with Ram at her side, and she is condescending towards Sharmila who appears docile and sheltered, and speaks broken, halting English. Sharmila feels that Johanna is a corrupted, loose woman who’s ensnared Ram, and will divorce him from his roots and make him unhappy. 

 Another secondary antagonistic force is the abandonment of Sharmila by her family, and Johanna’s confusion and anger at what she perceived was Ram’s cowardice in coming to her rescue.

 Johanna and Ram encounter an English Colonel, William Sawyer, who has an Anglo-Indian mistress and a special sympathy for the plight of the local population. He becomes a friend of Ram’s family and represents an important glimpse into how a minority of the exiting British administration viewed the debacle of Partition.  Colonel Sawyer’s private criticism of the hurried scuttle or “shameful flight” of British personnel from the country (particularly those responsible for maintaining law and order), is an important insight into the feelings of a minority of the British population in India. He disobeys orders to be disengaged because he can’t turn away from the humanitarian disaster unfolding before his eyes. The indifference and culpability of the British in their hurried withdrawal, is a larger antagonistic theme, shadowing the entire novel.

 External Antagonistic Forces in the Plot

Mataji---her extreme resistance to accepting Johanna as her daughter-in-law.

The communal rioting where Hindu families like Ram’s are in a much weaker position and are being forced out of their homeland.

The kidnappers, who subsequently sell the women to a Tawaifkhana, or whorehouse. The owner of the whorehouse is a brutal woman called Zainab Bibi, whose cruelty has solidified into an organized system as a result the extreme abuse she received as a child at the hands of the owner of the whorehouse (whom she subsequently killed).

Internal Antagonistic Forces in the Plot

Johanna’s disillusionment about Ram’s perceived cowardice. Ram had stayed with her during the war and that’s when they had fallen in love. However, this was the first time he had been faced with a life-or-death situation where Johanna needed help.  His delay in coming to her rescue, which Ram later explained as ‘freezing’ due to shock, disturbed Johanna to the extent that she began to question her commitment to him.

Sharmila’s epiphany that the Great Patriarchy which had ruled her life so far, wasn’t around to rescue her. Sharmila had been suppressed all her life by a domineering, misogynist father, who hated the fact that he didn’t have a son. Her mother was feeble and submissive and directed a milder version of the same attitude towards her daughter. When they discovered that Sharmila had been kidnapped, they were willing to ‘let her go’ and mourn her as dead. Many families with abducted girls in those times did the same: they were aware that abduction meant rape, and that meant dishonor, and they were willing to let their daughters remain with their captors and consign them to whatever horrible fate would be their lot, as long as the family name was not dishonored.

Both Johanna and Sharmila come to the realization that the only way out, if there indeed is one, is through their own wits and courage. Johanna, because she begins to doubt Ram’s motivation and bravery, and Sharmila because she knows her family will likely abandon her now that she is ‘dishonored.’


The story takes place mostly in Lahore from Jan 1947 to December 1947. There are multiple settings, all over the city, and inside homes.

Lahore had been widely regarded for years as a cosmopolitan center of learning, a shining city which boasted the best of what British India had to offer. It was a sophisticated and tolerant city, where mosques rubbed shoulders with churches and synagogues. It had a large British presence, some of whom had been in the country for many years and had longstanding relationships with the ‘natives’ (as the locals were referred to). Their homes clustered together in ‘cantonments’ protected by the military police.

Lahore had large Christian, Hindu and Sikh and Muslim populations, and the architecture and planning of the city reflected this mosaic.

The bulk of the novel is set during the hot Lahore summer, where the streets are baked dry in the fierce sun, and the trees are coated with a coarse, heavy film of dust, under which the leaves quiver and rustle and seem to be whispering prayers for relief. It is the season of an infernally hot, dry loo, or summer wind, which sweeps across from northwestern deserts on its journey to Lahore and carries their heat and dust on its brow. It’s also set in the beginning of the monsoon season, when reprieve finally comes in the form of black clouds of rain and thunder, which unleash floods of sheet-like rain. They leave a brief, heavenly period of cool breezes in their wake, before a muggy, sweltering heat soaks everything in moisture and sweat.

A major part of the setting is inside homes; in English cantonment homes, in Hindu homes, in huts belonging to servants, in the Tawaifkhana(whorehouse). The setting is also city and its outskirts, where kafilas, or caravans of displaced refugees move towards India.  An important portion of the action is at the Lahore train station, originally built in 18  

The English homes depicted in the novel are in the cantonment area, a protected enclave for the British army and bureaucrats and businessmen. They are solid, whitewashed brick bungalows with high ceilings and pillared verandahs which provide deep shade. They have red gravel driveways and gorgeously kept lawns big enough to play a game of cricket on, bordered by manicured flowerbeds   The inside décor is devoutly English, with a few touches of local flavor, like the occasional tiger skin trophy, or carved elephant head table.  The English are attended to in the cantonment by a retinue of staff—cooks, bearers, orderlies, gardeners, maids, nannies, drivers, chowkidars, etc., all of whom are Indian natives. Their quarters are small brick huts, sometimes without running water or electricity, at the back of the homes.

Indian homes, including Ram’s, have similar bungalow contours. However, many of them are built around central courtyards, which is a typical form of architecture on the Indian subcontinent. Ram’s home has a central courtyard, with rooms on all sides, and a lawn beyond, on three sides. The inside décor is a mixture of heavy looking mahogany furniture, some locally carved, with chairs in the English fashion. The walls are whitewashed and mostly unadorned, except for a few formal photographs of the family.

The tawaifkhana is set in a haveli, or large mansion, whose architecture, like the neighboring Badshahi mosque, exhibits a strong Mughal influence. It has two main central halls, glittering with chandeliers, where clients sit on Persian carpets and smoke hookahs, while the tawaifs dance for them. The maze of inner rooms is where all the action of ravishing young, vulnerable girls takes place. The haveli is a beautiful building, with stained glass panes in some of the windows, delicately carved wooden balconies which are shaded by Mughal style arches, and a paved courtyard at the back where the bathing area is.  It is a world which hides its ugliness behind a massive wooden, iron studded door, behind which the air is scented with the smell of jasmine and marigold, mixed with the faintest hint of despair.  

The setting is also on the streets of Lahore, in tiny local teahouses and restaurants, as well as in Grand hotels like Fellatis, where balls and parties continued to be held and attended by the British and expat population, even as the streets outside became murderous and began to run with blood.

The train station in Lahore and the countryside near the train tracks, along with the routes taken by the endless convoy of refugees moving to each side of the border. The Lahore station is a sublime example of 18th century fort, which had been designed to protect the British colonizers of India, repurposed into a 20th century usage. It is huge, with a giant clock on its soaring façade, and the clock never stopped even during the massacres on the platforms, that happened under its vigil.


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1.     Story statement:

Chiyoko and Ellie struggle to come to terms with their traumatic histories to be able to find a a way to move forward with their lives.

2.     Antagonistic forces:

The antagonist for each woman is her own internal resistance to accepting what she has lived through and overcoming new setbacks and challenges.  Chiyoko, a visual artist who has made a career out of painting works that show the horror of the aftermath of the atomic bombings in Japan, is unable to paint or feel much of anything, while Ellie is still reeling from the suicide of her 22-year old son. Ellie is angry at herself, her  husband, and God.

3.     Title of  book:

The Frequency of Light


4.     Logline:

The Frequency of Light traces the unlikely friendship between two women in a state of stasis -- a survivor of the atomic bombing in Hiroshima, and an American woman still reeling from the death of her only son.  Their tenuous connection serves as a catalyst for each  to decide whether they are capable of moving beyond anger and grief to find a way to fully live.


5.     Conflict

Primary Conflict:  A letter from an old love, Kenzo, a fellow survivor of the atomic bombing in Hiroshima in 1945, sends Chiyoko, a visual artist living in Mahattan, into a tailspin. She becomes immersed in painful memories of the bombing and its aftermath, all the while wondering how to respond to Kenzo’s invitation to visit him in Japan. At the same time, she is unable to paint anything new for an upcoming retrospective of her work, and is at risk of having the show cancelled by the gallery owner, which would effectively, in her mind at least, end her career.

Secondary conflict: Ellie is lonely and is angry at God, as well as her husband, following the death of her son to suicide three years prior to the beginning of the novel. She and her husband have moved from their New Jersey home to create a new life in Manhattan, but she finds herself unable to do much of anything. Until she meets Chiyoko.


6.     Comparable books might be Shawn Nocher’s A Hand to Hold in Deep Water (2021), Meghan Kenny’s The Driest Season (2018), or possibly Elizabeth Strout’s Amy and Isabelle (1998), all debut novels that explore emotionally complex relationships and delve into how people grapple with psychic wounds inflicted by past events.


7.     Setting:

Most of the scenes in the novel take place in either Japan during and after WWII, and New York City.  Although Chiyoko is cut off from most of her emotions at the beginning of the novel, as she begins to awaken to the world around her, the vitality, sounds and colors of the New York begin to speak to her. In Japan, we see the world through Chiyoko’s eyes – the home that she loves, with her family; a wasteland filled with unimaginable horrors after the bombing; and the place where she falls in  love for the first time under the graceful shade of the trees and shrines of Kyoto.

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Pre-Assignments for Algonkian Retreat March 2022 by Debi Preston

Story Statement: A brand new professor struggles to prove that her new college is functioning with exactly zero students when she uncovers the disturbing motive behind the conspiracy.

Mount Olympus College has been functioning for three years without a single student—is that  a problem? It is for a new assistant professor when she discovers why.


Antagonist: The primary antagonist is the President of Mount Olympus College, who is involved in some kind of sinister activity that requires him to keep the college going in order to embezzle money and to maintain possession of the president’s house (which holds some kind of secret).  Another antagonist is a right wing conspiracist who poses as an ICE agent in an effort to track undocumented students at the community college and who ends up kidnapping the DEI vice president at the state university, who is also not a nice person.  (This is very vague, but I’m working out the details.)


Breakout Titles:

·       Summa Inlaudatus

·       Pass/Fail

·       (Un)Satisfactory Academic Progress


Genre and Comparables: Academic Satire

·       Dear Committee Members by Julie Schumacher

·       The Lecturer’s Tale by James Hynes


·       Lucky Jim by Kingsley Amis

·       Small World by David Lodge

·       Moo by Jane Smiley

·       Straight Man by Richard Russo


Hookline (Conflict and Core Wound)

Mount Olympus College has been functioning for three years without a single student—is that  a problem? It is for a new assistant professor when she discovers why.

A brand new professor struggles to prove that her new college is functioning with exactly zero students, but she soon finds a tangled web of danger and deceit that reaches well beyond her own institution.

Inner Conflict

Assistant Professor Selena Parva is bewildered and conflicted when she discovers that no (as in zero) students attend the college at which she has just been hired.  On the one hand, everyone seems either oblivious to or satisfied with the status quo, and she could certainly get a great deal of research and publishing done with no students to teach.  On the other hand, she actually cares about students, and her natural penchant for logic and sanity tells her that something is very, very wrong.  Will she do more harm than good by exposing the lie, or the other way around?

One example of an early internal conflict is when Selena corners Jeff, the almost- elderly groundskeeper, in an attempt to verify that there are no students on campus.  Jeff explains that he is 11 months from retiring and collecting his pension and is therefore willing to assume that all the students are either in their dorms sleeping or in the library studying.  Selena worries that exposing the charade will harm innocent employees like Jeff and waffles in her resolve.

Later in the story, Selena will be struggling not only with worry and guilt, but also with fear and anxiety as she discovers more (and more disturbing) information.


Secondary Conflict

A secondary conflict for Selena will be in her relationship with Andy, her “trailing” partner who is adjunct teaching at the local community college.  Andy thinks Selena is developing romantic feelings for Ronald, the colleague who is helping with the conspiracy investigation, but Selena has sworn not to reveal Ronald’s sexual identity b/c it would jeopardize his employment at the highly conservative college.


This novel has three settings with several sub-settings each.  The town in which the colleges are located is the super-setting, I suppose?

·       Small Private College (Mount Olympus)—nearly empty but functioning, with scenes taking place in the English department, on the quad, in the provost’s office, in the president’s house.

·       Local Community College (Spartan)—chaotic and bustling, with scenes taking place in the office of the student affairs dean, in Andy’s classroom, and ???

·       Regional State University (Titan)—Starbucks, campus book store (where important student character, Miles, works), Miles’ dorm, office of the DEI vice president

·       Locations in Town—Selena and Andy’s apartment, basement where right wing nutters meet, and ???


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Genre--The genre is historical fiction. The most comparable novels would be

Isabel Allende's House of Spirits

Amitav Ghosh's Sea of Poppies

I'm using 'comparable' in a very broad sense, but the premise of history wrapped up in the fate of the novel's main protagonist and antagonist is the theme I found comparable.

Possible Title--

The Last Rites of The Civilized World

The Lost Horizon

The Other Side of Midnight  

The Invisible Line

The Torn Earth

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The protagonist wants to get rich quickly on the modern currency of travel. He gets hired as a ramp agent at JFK for The Airline, which comes with free flights. He sets out to travel as much as he can and amass a fortune of social media-worthy memories.  



The Airline. A corporation that only cares about profit. It put the characters in physical danger and puts them in stressful situations that provide conflict. It looms large over the entire world.  






Kitchen Confidential, The Things They Carried, Falling: A Novel



The narrator will do almost anything to travel for free but working on the tarmac at JFK could unravel his comfortable life in the west village. The stakes of working at JFK escalate until the narrator watches a co-worker die in front of him due to a piece of malfunctioning equipment.  

His affair and a business venture with a flight attendant.    

What does it cost us to travel? How does it become part of our identity? It’s impact on the environment? The human cost?  



The protagonist struggles to keep his two worlds, the ramp and the west village, separate. He begins to resent both worlds and his complicity. 

He looks at the privileged life of his friends in the west village with contempt. He feels the need to lie to them about the truth of his job on the ramp. 



The reader is getting a behind-the-scenes look at JFK airport.

JFK is the size of a mid-size city. The center of imports and exports for NYC. Almost everyone who lives in New York has been to JFK and yet knows very little of the inner workings. The protagonist works at JFK and travels out of JFK. He is an employee and a passenger.   

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Tyrone Thomas


Story Statement

Detective Grace Edwards is bent on stopping the serial killer the Butcher before he strikes again.



The antagonist is a man named Nicholas Wolfe.  Nicholas is an educated former teacher who embraced the ideals of a satanic, white-supremacist group known as the Order of Nonagon.  One of his Professors was a member of this group and began to impart upon him their teachings.  Nicholas has dissociative identity disorder, and as he fell deeper into the group’s ideals, another identity surfaced, known as Tyler Kidwell.  Tyler loves children but hates women.  He refers to them as “beasts” and “corrupted.”  Seeing the world as full of dirty, inferior creatures and sinful miscreants, Tyler sees children as being the only source of purity this world has to offer.  He sees the only way to save these children’s purity from society’s corruption is to be intimate with them and then kill them.  He feels the need to kill them because in his words, “death is the last intimate thing we do.”



The Butcher of Nonagon


You’re Standing in Your Grave



You Did This – by Jamie Millen

The plot in this book is quite similar to mine.  The protagonist’s family member is murdered during their teenage years and they never get over it.  Years later, the protagonist is now a police detective and new victims emerge, murdered in a similar fashion, forcing a hunt for a serial killer.  It’s similar to Grace, who grows up to be a detective and hunts after a serial killer who also preys upon children.  They both know what it feels like to lose someone most important and never forgive themselves, but also, they are forced to revisit their terrible pasts in the present.  The writer’s style is not exactly the same as mine, but his cadence and attention to detail are a bit similar as well.



The Lost Sister – by M.L. Rose

Here is another book quite similar to mine in terms of plot and protagonist.  Though not set inside the U.S., there is still a female protagonist who suffers a childhood loss she never fully recovers from.  Just like Grace never believed the fire that killed her mom was an accident, Arla Baker never stopped searching for her sister following her disappearance.  Then sixteen years later a serial killer emerges who seems to be connected to the disappearance of her sister.  And as she gets closer to catching the killer, more secrets from her past are brought to the forefront.  It’s written as more of a suspenseful, exciting novel than a typical police procedural, like ‘You Did This’ and like ‘The Butcher of Nonagon.’



Hook Line

Young Detective Edwards must uncover the secrets of the mysterious Order of Nonagon to have any hope of catching vicious pedophilic serial killer the Butcher.


Grace, who had her own innocence stolen from her as a child, risks everything to stop the vicious pedophilic serial killer known as the Butcher before another child’s body is found.




Inner Conflict: Though Grace has no children of her own, she still cares about them a great deal.  It pains her to see a child victimized.  It’s personal to her because at fifteen years old she lost her mom in a fire.  She looks back on that day as the moment her innocence was stolen from her and she could no longer be a normal child.  As more children’s bodies are found, Grace is forced to revisit that pain from her childhood, where she was full or rage, hate, and fear.  It’s personal for her as this monster is stealing the innocence from those children, taking away any chance for a normal life even if any of them had survived.  It forces those terrible emotions from her past back to the surface.

Secondary Conflict: As Grace struggles to keep up with the Butcher, she is invited to her Aunt Ella’s home.  She wants to talk to Grace about something important.  The two already have a complicated history, as she blames her aunt for the separation of her parents and for her dad walking out of her life.  Now her aunt has dementia but wants to talk to her about the fire.  It catches Grace’s attention immediately.  Her aunt tells her that the fire that killed her mom was intentionally set like she always thought.  She tells Grace that her mom had stumbled on a local conspiracy and was silenced before she could make anymore trouble.  When she’s about to tell Grace the name of the person, Ella thinks she sees him in the window outside and then refuses to talk.  Grace, not seeing anyone gets angry and becomes that fuming fifteen-year-old again.  The two get into a massive argument before she’s kicked out of the house by Ella’s caregiver.  Grace decides to start investigating the fire again, much to the chagrin of her old friend, Allan, who fears this will take her down a self-destructive path similar to what she endured in her late teens.




The story takes place primarily in the Washington D.C. metropolitan area and a rural area in Pennsylvania.  The D.C. area scenes mostly take place in Grace’s loud, busy precinct and in a couple of city parks where the killer often stalks his prey and bodies are found.  I feel the quiet and serenity of the parks offset the brutality of the murders and chaotic crime scenes that follow.  Grace’s precinct is also very chaotic but is more of a nerve center where the team discusses the case in detail with their captain and formulates moves to make.  It’s meant to capture the fast-paced, overworked aspects of police work and overcoming this heavy diet of discordance to catch a dangerous high-profile murderer.  There are multiple parts of the setting which takes place inside a hospital.  It’s the same hospital both times.  The first time, Grace’s partner Hickson, gets in a dramatic chase with the killer, disguised in a surgeon’s outfit.  He catches them and they fight it out.  Grace gets involved once they end up in the common area surrounded by people and a shootout commences.  Her partner gets hit and she later goes to see him in that same hospital.  This time, the two share a somber, bitter stroll down their own personal memory lanes, where an important aspect of Grace’s past is revealed.  Whenever the story cuts to the country woods of Pennsylvania, it is for suspense and conflict to play out.  It can be in a decaying, antique mansion where Grace’s boyfriend stumbles upon a member of the Order of Nonagon and fight or flight is forced upon him, or in that same house where Grace later stumbles upon other members of the order.  There is even a later time when Grace escapes captivity and runs through those country woods to a cabin where she comes face to face with the woman from the order who has been protecting the killer and enabling his murderous rampage.



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FIRST ASSIGNMENT: write your story statement.


New Adult Novel, Romance with Enemies to Lover’s Twist


A young lady is driven for success and pushes herself up the corporate ladder in the hotel industry – leaving her with fragmented health and fractured relationships. Until she meets the one she hates – her new boss. In an effort to save her job and dignity, she slips to rock bottom and finds herself staring into the mirror at the only person who can save her – herself. In a story of love, she finds the most powerful love of all is self – love. With that missing puzzle piece she finally finds success and true love. 


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.

Kamala Spencer is driven to climb the corporate ladder in the hotel industry – her version of success. This gives her self-worth, that is missing and is trying to fill a void of not feeling good enough due to her narcissistic mother who is never proud of anything she does. She ignores all of the signs that point to the truth that the answer to her problems lies no further than herself. Self-love. Without that piece of the puzzle, she drowns herself into work so deeply that it creates health issues and dysfunctional relationships as a result.  

Aspen Alden is driven by power and control in his family made business. The power, or lack of it, causes him to make unwise choices to gain more control in his life. He finds himself falling for a sweet southern girl moving her way up in the hotel business, but when he feels his feelings start to bubble he self-sabotages to push away the one he is starting to love. His cold, emotionless self, is the one thing he can control and he wants to keep that control at all costs. Until it costs him more than he wants to pay. He finds himself in a dilemma of looking at his own demons in the mirror and figuring out what price he is willing to pay for the one thing he needs most. 



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


Seattle Mishap


Love Shattered





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?

The Fine Print – by Lauren Asher 

It compares to my novel with the same sunshine and grumpy, executive business, push away the true self in finding love type of setting. A lot of the same elements are in her book that can be found in mine.

Spanish Love Deception – Elena Armas

This compares to my novel with the same light that two people see themselves differently when put together. This love pushes out their blind spots that need to be fixed within themselves and it is up to them to decide if they want to face their inner demons to gain the life they both want most. 


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.

Kamala Spencer’s drive to be good enough creates fragmented health and fractured relationships until she finds the solution to happiness, success, and love. It has been with her all along, herself. Once she truly learns to love herself she is able to love the one she wants most, Aspen Alden. Will she find the truth in time to save her life and the love of her life? 


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. 

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?

Kamala finds herself drowning herself in overworking to compensate for the low self-worth she has inside. Whenever the red flags pop up she pushes them down and continues to push herself harder in her career. It is the one area she feels gives her self-worth. This type of inner conflict ends up damaging her health and she is in hospital with a mini-stroke from stress and overwork conditions. She has no one to blame but herself. For years she has pushed the blame to her mother who has never shown her any moments of how she is proud of her as a daughter, but it truly comes down to her own absence of self-love. When she faces the seriousness of her condition, she decides she has to find the solution instead of all the band-aids she has put on it all along. 


She begins to have fractured relationships with those around her as she pushes away anyone close to her as the inner demons of self-worth begin to work overtime in her new job. She plummets to drinking and partying as a way to cope. Her clinginess and depleted self-worth cause others to push her away instead of closer. This only creates a bigger problem for her and things begin to spin out of control. This behavior almost costs her a best friend and love of her life until she conquers her demons of self-worth. 


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.

This setting is opened in a small town of Florence, Alabama to give a starting point to the small-town girl who gets the big break for her career in a bigger city. The rest of the book is set in Seattle and in the fine older hotel in the downtown area. The hotel is nothing like the new ones popping up on every corner of the city, but has a long-time residence in the city equated with luxury and good service. The scenes constantly flip between her hotel life and her life outside of the hotel giving it variety. There is also the fact that she ends up in the hospital fighting for her life and standing over his dead body in a later chapter at the funeral home. The settings are fresh and inviting. 



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In order to find her missing daughter, Claire must figure out the mysterious circumstance involved in a local teen’s suicide.

ASSIGNMENT #2: ANTAGONIST SKETCH: (Potential Names: Lilith/Beverly/Mara)

Occupation: Surgical nurse

Age:  spans multiple decades – mostly takes place when she’s 22; then 38; then 54.

Personality Flaw: anti-social personality disorder with a hint of borderline personality and a dash of psychopath.

Bad Act #1:

At 22 years old, she falls in “love”/obsession over a colleague.  She must have him, and imagines that he is in love with her, but hasn’t come around yet.  She tricks him into thinking he’s impregnated her when he blacks out (roofied) in a social outing.  He wakes up in her bed totally unaware of what happened the night before.  

Long story short:  pressures into marrying her .

Bad Act #2:

Steals a newborn baby to present to her “boyfriend” as proof.

Bad Act #3: 

Cold mother, distant; only nice to child when father is around.  sends her to boarding school and returns after the death of her husband.

Bad Act #4: 

Kicks daughter out when she is pregnant

Bad Act #5

Steals the twin boy, and claims it as her own. Not revealed until the last 1/4 of the story.

Bad Act #6: Kidnaps Julia (girl twin), and plans to lure Claire, and kill both; all in the name of "love" for her man and son (Claire's lost twin boy). 



-       Legacy of Lies

-       Mothers Lie

-       Mending Lies




1.     Setting takes place in an American suburb; 

2.     Family with Secret themes

3.     Assumptions of loved ones

4.     Veneers of normalcy and banality are removed when truth reveals the broken-ness, and imperfections in our life. 


The Good Girl was her breakout novel.  Her use of multiple point of view is done well without punctuating the flow of the novel. Like her character, my character, Claire, is making decisions based on limited knowledge and her perceived sense of control.  The goal she is trying to achieve is not the actual goal she needs to achieve.

Reader demographic:  Women between the ages 18-50's


B.     LISA JEWEL- FAMILY UPSTAIRS – a bit detached from characters

1.     Setting takes place in suburbs

2.     Family Secret themes

3.     Use of first person to give intimacy (Multiple POV)

4.     Shifting antagonist




1.     Family relationship

2.     Suburban suspense



ASSIGNMENT #5:  HOOK LINE with conflict and core wound


            Solving the mysterious circumstances of a local teen suicide is the key in finding a mother’s missing daughter and revealing a gut wrenching truth about her own painful past. 





            Inner Conflict:  Claire has abandonment issues. Her mother was emotionally neglectful throughout her childhood, and was only counter balanced with the loving father who doted on her.  When he dies at 10 years old, she is sent away to school.  When she becomes pregnant at 17, she is kicked out of her home, and forced to fend for herself. She feels like she has never been good enough and it comes through in her relationship with her daughter.  (Co-dependency?...low self esteem; low confidence; she is lost without her).  


She is forced to confront her self worth when her daughter’s life is in jeopardy. She must overcome her paralytic doubts of her ability to find her when her confidence is thwarted along the way with a stalker and dangerous obstacles in her way. Finding her daughter with the help of the girl’s school acquaintance. What does he know about the suicide?


            Secondary Conflict: Wyatt was in love with Ryan, and wants to find what happened to him. Doesn’t believe it was a suicide, and thinks Julia’s kidnapping has something to do with it.  Raised by a single mom that’s also emotionally checked out, and left to fend for himself she feels a kinship with this kid. Joins forces to find Julia’s kidnapper and Ryan’s killer. 


            Conflict: Man will stop at nothing to find his missing daughter; and the teen suicide is the link to where his answers lie. 


            Conflict: Single mother (Mara) will do everything it takes to get the love of her life and secure her family. 



     The novel spans the time of 3 decades (1981-2014)

The prologue and back story develops in a suburb of Virginia during the 80’s and 90’s.  Not much in technology in aiding to solve crimes of kidnapping. 

Backdrop:  Suburb in California (Dana Point/Irvine/Laguna Niguel?) 2014

                      Suburb in Virginia 1981


Scene: Hospital in Virginia in 1981: hospital security not so great. So most likely easy to steal a baby. No DNA technology; difficulty in recovering missing children.

Bar scene in the 80’s: Were roofies a thing?... 

Suburb in Virginia during the 80’s and 90’s. : Middle Class neighborhood; but latch key kid situation vs. private school. 


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A British widow, devastated by her husband’s untimely death, moves to the Berkshires and struggles against falling in love with the Chief of Police as they solve the mysterious death of a famous violinist.

While a teenager, Bonnie Schott is traumatized by the premature death of her beloved brother, Marc, a brilliant violin student, who died unexpectedly in college of anaphylactic shock after winning a coveted music competition. Upon his death, Marc’s school rival, Justin Burton, becomes the competition winner and goes on to have a brilliant career. Marc’s family suspects Burton killed him to win the competition. Growing up, Bonnie had no friends due to her Asperger’s, and her brother was her only companion. After Marc’s death, Bonnie is distraught, and her mother makes her life miserable for many years as Marc was the favorite child. The mother bullies and harasses Bonnie and pushes her to become a scientist so she can find a way to kill Burton for revenge. Bonnie spends years studying and eventually becomes a forensic pathologist, but she is a miserable, unhappy person. She eventually she learns of an undetectable poison. After killing Burton, she is elated and believes she can finally earn her mother’s love and live in peace. However, the widow finds the poisonous plant near Bonnie’s home after learning of Bonnie’s profession and realizes Bonnie made the poison and killed Burton. Bonnie must now kill the widow so she can escape being caught by the police.


  • -  Death at Wildbough, a Berkshires Mystery, Book 1

  • -  Death in the Berkshires, Book 1

    4: COMPS Mystery

    • -  ML Longworth, Bonnet & Verlach series

    • -  Jean-Luc Bannalec, Kommisar Dupin series

      After becoming a widow, a woman must confront her loss and the trauma of her past and

      learn to love again while helping a police officer solve a murder.


      Primary conflict:
      Rose is broken and devastated by her husband’s untimely death. She moves to the US to be with her daughter but doesn’t like living in Boston. After visiting the Berkshires, she loves the area, buys a house and moves there. She meets the Chief of Police, Richard, and is attracted to him but still too devastated to begin a relationship. She keeps busy fixing up her house, gardening, reading novels, and volunteering, but she’s still unhappy and lonely. When a famous violinist mysteriously dies where she is volunteering, she becomes involved with helping Richard solve the case. Rose was a cryptographer during

WWII and is skilled at solving complex puzzles. She and Richard become closer as he updates her on the case, and she helps him solves clues. As they work together, she begins to overcome her grief and reticence at being in a relationship. Rose’s research leads her to eventually figure out who the murderer is and she is almost killed. After Richard saves her, she realizes she has fallen in love in with him and is ready to accept him into her life.

Secondary conflicts:

  • -  Richard must solve the mysterious/unexplained death of a famous violinist quickly as the

    mayor, the town, fans, and the press hound him for answers.

  • -  Richard’s second in charge, Sergeant Adams, falls in love with their primary suspect and

    becomes distracted and ineffectual at helping with the case.

    Inner conflicts:

  • -  Rose is torn between honoring the memory of her dead husband and letting herself learn

    to love again. She also has difficulties with intimacy having been raped as a young woman and given birth to a stillborn. Rose also suffers from unresolved PTSD from her years working as a cryptographer during WWII and continually losing her spies/agents to the Germans.

  • -  Richard is torn between wanting to have a relationship with Rose and her obvious reluctance to be with him. He’s had a failed marriage and one short-term disastrous affair and believes he is incapable of having a normal, healthy, long-term relationship.


  • -  The year is 1979. The location is the fictional town of Stonington in the Berkshire Hills in western Massachusetts, loosely based on Stockbridge. The town is historic, beautiful, and quaint. It’s initially a peaceful, bucolic setting until the murder occurs.

  • -  A famous musical venue, Wildbough, loosely based on Tanglewood. Rose is volunteering as an usher at a concert and Richard is working crowd control when the death occurs.

  • -  Rose’s newly purchased house in Stonington. After falling in love with the town and the surrounding area, Rose finds an old, neglected house for sale. She spends time fixing it up.

  • -  The Stonington Police Precinct. A decrepit, ramshackle old building in constant need of repair. The majority of the book’s scenes take place here where we meet the staff and other officers involved in the case.

  • -  The local hospital. The murder victim is initially brought to the hospital, and we meet Richard’s old flame, Dr. Marlow. At the end of the book, Bonnie is taken here after she’s shot and has surgery. This is where we learn more about Rose’s traumatic early life when she is recuperating from her kidnapping. The secret ending to the book is revealed here.

- The secluded church where Bonnie takes Rose and plans to murder her. Richard discovers Bonnie here and shoots her before she can kill Rose. The poison is safely recovered.

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Upmarket Women’s Historical Fiction | Complete at 104,000 words

By Kim McCollum

Story Statement

Ties bound too tight can be lethal.

Karma...or something more sinister? A Mommy and Me reunion at a haunted, holistic, hot springs retreat in Montana turns deadly when a ghost incites others to exact revenge for her unsolved murder over 100 years ago.


Max is irresistible. Or at least he believes he is. His springy hair, lean, muscular physique, and casual smile entice women easier than the shiniest of fishing lures. But his ego cannot handle rejection. More than once, the womanizing yoga instructor and hiking guide at the retreat has gotten physical with women who dare to reject him. As a seasonal worker, Max jumps from place to place before his predatorial ways become obvious enough to land him in trouble. Growing up in foster care taught him the pain of forming attachments, so he is sure to move on before any true feelings are involved, at least on his part. He feels no remorse for the pain, both physical and emotional, he causes the women who dare to enter his trap. To him, women are just conquests, notches on his bedpost, to be used and abused to stroke his inexhaustible ego.

Breakout Title





Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty

A tale of women behaving badly which ends in murder involving unlikely friendships, messy lies, and juicy secrets which are all also found in MONTANA HOT SPRINGS RETREAT.

Nine Perfect Strangers by Liane Moriarty

Set at a holistic retreat and told from multiple POVs just like MONTANA HOT SPRINGS RETREAT. They are also similar in tone and the transformation of the characters through their experience at the retreat.

Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng

The complexity of relationships especially between friends and mothers and their children is explored in this novel as well in MONTANA HOT SPRINGS RETREAT.

Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens

This novel explores the contrasting needs of independency versus human connection and the balance of survival and violence. These themes are also central to MONTANA HOT SPRINGS RETREAT.

Hook Line (logline)

A Mommy and Me reunion at a haunted, holistic, hot springs retreat in Montana turns deadly when a ghost incites others to exact revenge for her unsolved murder over 100 years ago.

Inner Conflict


Maude believes she is content to live out the rest of her days in the shadow of the majestic mountains surrounding the retreat with only the company of her dog and the ghost. But when a group of friends arrive at the retreat for a Mommy and Me reunion now that their babies are heading to college, Maude can’t help but be drawn in by their infectious friendship. Maude is further pulled into their circle when one of the women, Brooke, reminds Maude of her daughter who passed away at age twenty of a drug overdose. She senses the ghost getting stronger through flickering lights, fluttering pages, and even a scrawled "M" on an order pad and realizes she might have to help release her tether to this world so she can move on even though it means losing her best friend. Ultimately, she recognizes that the ghost cannot stay stuck forever and her real-life friendship with these four ladies will allow her to avoid dying alone.


The ghost knows she is stuck because she seeks revenge for her unsolved murder at the retreat by a wealthy copper baron but does not know how to release this tether. When the four women arrive, their connection energizes her. Brooke’s involvement with the predatorial yoga instructor seems the perfect means to exact some form of revenge for her own murder. When Maude becomes involved with these ladies, Simone decides to tell her story as a means of increasing her energy. Only the reader “hears” her story, but the characters sense her more and more through chills in the air, flickering lights, visions, tapping on windows, and those sort of communication techniques. Maude, as an unreliable narrator, believes that the ghost actually carried out the murder and knows she has moved on.


When Brooke’s fairytale wedding to her second husband is postponed due to her future mother-in-law’s sudden death, she enlists her friends of nearly two decades to join her at a haunted, holistic, hot springs retreat in Montana for some contraband booze and lazy soaks in the hot springs. Bossy, assertive, and tons of fun, she is lured in by the handsome hiking guide and yoga instructor and after a raucous night of drinking and dancing, she ends up having an affair that she immediately regrets. She realizes the affair is really a symptom of deeper issues with her current relationship and ends up calling her wedding off.


Tracy credits her Mommy and Me group with saving her sanity as a new mother in Las Vegas eighteen years ago. The problem is that she has carried a secret for the entirety of their friendship that she knows would turn them all against her. A much poo pooed weight loss hypnosis class taught by the hippie new owner at the retreat is the catalyst for telling this secret. Her secret, which, until this moment, was not known by anyone, not her husband, her son, or even her mother, is that her son is not her husband’s. He is the product of a few-month-long relationship with one of the other mothers in the Mommy and Me group’s husband. This fling happened before she knew the other mother but she knew who her husband was at their first meeting when she saw a family picture in the living room and said nothing. Ultimately, she is forgiven and the bond of their friendship is even stronger.


The setting for this novel is based on a real hot springs resort called the Bolder Hot Springs Resort near Helena, Montana. It is believed to be haunted by the ghost, named Simone, who was murdered at the resort over 100 years ago. At one time, the resort was one of the grandest in the west and was host to Presidents, movie stars, and the wealthiest people in the nation. Presently, from the road, the resort still looks majestic, romantic; a retreat lost in time. Up close, however, the complex is nothing more than three architecturally incompatible hulking mounds of concrete pushed up against each other in the manner of a child’s gingerbread house. The largest of the buildings is a Spanish style of some sort with red dome over the highest point that resembles a pith helmet. Collapsed curtain rods cross the windows, their bunched fabric puddling in the windowsill. At least twenty high-backed, wooden rocking chairs sat empty, strewn haphazardly across the wrap-around deck, looking anything but inviting.

The characters go hiking in the mountains behind the retreat and are chased by a moose, they soak in the healing waters of the mineral pools, they gawk in the windows of the abandoned portions of the buildings and are alternately thrilled and frightened by the ghost’s antics.

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7 assignments


Assignment One:  Write your story statement.

Finding love while making her immigrant family proud.


Assignment Two:  Sketch the antagonist in 200 words or less.  Goals, backgrounds, and how they react to the world around them.

Since she was little, Anjali has been a model daughter to her Indian parents.   She stayed steady on her course to become a successful corporate lawyer and is even the owner of her apartment on the Upper Eastside.  But one area that she seems to be falling short in is the marriage department.  Most of the women in her parents’ generation had arranged marriages in India before immigrating to America.  Anjali feels pressure from her mother who thinks that she is a failure because her eldest daughter is not married.  Anjali is frustrated too, and though she views the arranged marriage process as something that worked for her parents she wants them to find love on her own.  

By nature, Anjali is an overthinker and planner.  She is concerned about how people perceive her and tends to be a people pleaser at work.  She is a loyal friend and has her quirks.  She is open-minded, but judgmental.  When she meets a handsome guy who is ten years younger than her she is hesitant to date him.  She is concerned about what her family and community would think of her being involved with someone ten years younger than her.  


Assignment Three:  Potential titles

Anjali and the Architect


Late Expectations


Assignment Four:  2 smart comparables for your novel

Grown-up pose by Sonya Lalli

Erotic stories for Punjabi Widow by Balli Kaur Jaswal

I would like to describe my writing as Sophia Kinsella meets Jhumpa Lahiri, or if Mindy Kaling wrote books instead of television shows.  It has been hard for me to find comparables.  There have been lots of South Asian female protagonists in commercial women’s fiction, but they usually have heavy and dramatic plotlines.  Finding a novel with a balance of tradition and modernism, while keeping a touch of comedy has been difficult for me.  


Assignment Fifth:  Hookline

A career-oriented thirty-five-year-old woman living in New York, pressurized by her Indian family to find a husband, falls for a man ten years younger than her, who becomes a potential arranged marriage suitor for her baby sister.   


Assignment Six:  Sketch out the conditions for the Inner conflict your protagonist will have.  Sketch out a hypothetical scenario trigger and reaction.

Anjali is a single thirty-five-year-old woman, otherwise known as a tragedy in Indian culture.  This comes up in her life when she is at a family function and various elders ask her about her non-existent love life, and how she needs to lower her expectations when it comes to finding a spouse.  She feels as if her value as a woman is reduced to her potential role as a wife and mother, and nothing more.  This causes her to feel bitter and she tends to lash out at her family.  She wants to find love on her own while making her family proud.  She did have a boyfriend once, but he dumped her before moving across the country.  Then she did it her parents’ way by going through their social connections but accidentally got engaged to a gay man.  The story starts when Anjali meets Sid, a twenty-five-year-old architect in the city.  She finds that he checks all of her boxes, except for his age.  Though she finds herself falling for him, she is always on the lookout for any red flags.  She doubts his feelings for her but also doubts herself.  Is she lovable enough?  Is she more than just her accomplishments?  Is she making the right decision when starting a relationship with him?  Has she made poor decisions in the past?  Her finding love with Sid is the primary conflict of the book.


Secondary conflict:  

One of the secondary conflicts is between Anjali and her mother.  There are from two very different generations and two very different schools of thought when it comes to 'happily every after.'  Sometimes even the simplest mother daughter outing can cause friction.  One situation is when Anjali and her mother got to a busy mall on Black Friday.  They are at the make-up counter and her mother convinces Anjali to get a make-over.  She feels as if her mother is subconsciously saying that she doesn’t look good enough or needs physical improvements to attract a husband.  This causes Anjali to argue with her mother causing an estrangement in their relationship that lasts for six months.


Assignment Seven:  Detailed Setting descriptions

New York City (midtown, including Central Park, restaurants, streets, gyms): many settings of the book are on the streets of current day midtown Manhattan in various bars, stores, bodegas, and coffee shops.  

Anjali's workplace (55th and 6th ave): located in Midtown Manhattan in a high-rise.  The inside is grey, brown, dull, old, established, and boring.

Sid’s workplace (57th and 7th):  located a few blocks from Anjali’s office building.  It is minimal, chic, and futuristic.  There are iPads and a Nespresso machine.

Anjali’s apartment (174 E 74th street): on the Upper Eastside, it is an apartment she bought by herself and that she is proud of.  Things are organized.  You can find her fluffing pillows and setting out flowers and magazines before her baby sister visits.  It’s the site of her Christmas party.  She has old CDs and a basket with her knitting supplies, an old-school habit of hers.  She also likes classic movies that she watches at home.  She has a comfortable couch facing the fireplace.  She also has a desk near the window where she does her work at home.

Sid’s apartment (East 32nd street):  it is a small one-bedroom apartment in a brownstone in Murray Hill.  A distant relative of a friend is his landlord which explains the reasonable rent.  It's where Anjali and Sid will break up when Anjali finds Sid’s ex-girlfriend at the apartment one morning.  

Dubai, Palm Island:  The conclusion of the novel takes place in Dubai.  Fearing that she is about to get married, Sid travels to the Middle Eastern city looking for Anjali amidst the heat and a daze of jetlag.  Clear blue waters and dusty sand dunes.  They reunite in a glamorous hotel on Palm Island.

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