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New York Write to Pitch Conference 2023 - Assignments (March)


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Introduction to Pre-event Assignments 

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

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

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

Michael Neff

Algonkian Conference Director

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THE ACT OF STORY STATEMENT

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

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

att.jpg FIRST ASSIGNMENT: write your story statement. 

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THE ANTAGONIST PLOTS THE POINT

Antagonist (Photo Javert from "Les Misérables")

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

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

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

CONTINUE READING ENTIRE ARTICLE AT NWOE THEN RETURN HERE.

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

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CONJURING YOUR BREAKOUT TITLE

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

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

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

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

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DECIDING YOUR GENRE AND APPROACHING COMPARABLES

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

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

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

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

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

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

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CORE WOUND AND THE PRIMARY CONFLICT 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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OTHER MATTERS OF CONFLICT: TWO MORE LEVELS

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

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

att.jpg Next, likewise sketch a hypothetical scenario for the "secondary conflict" involving the social environment. Will this involve family? Friends? Associates? What is the nature of it?

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THE INCREDIBLE IMPORTANCE OF SETTING

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

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

CONTINUE TO READ THIS ARTICLE THEN RETURN.

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

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

We have reviewed these and agree 110%.

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

NYBOOKEDITORS.COM

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

MEMOIR MUST INCLUDE TRANSCENDENCE

MARIONROACH.COM

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

WRITE IT LIKE A NOVEL

JERRYJENKINS.COM

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

MEMOIR ANECDOTES - HOW TO MAKE THEM SHINE

JERRYJENKINS.COM

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

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AC Admin

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Bone Pit/Thriller by DS Edwards

 Most of the items on the pre-event list are something I have been thinking about and working on for several months, although the New York Write to Pitch book and the very well-done examples on this site helped me to be more concise. Everything below is either felt and or revealed in detail in the project. Though I don't feel that I fully grasp everything, I am anxious to work with my mentor and take the steps I need to have a commercially viable product. 

 

Story Statement

Injustice must be fought, no matter your wounds.

 

Antagonist

Kellen Park is not aggressive by nature. His core wound was caused by an overbearing, abusive father and a subservient mother. He has always been the type of person who shies away from conflict.  Morality (doing the right thing) is something that drives him. Even though he is in essence a serial killer, he doesn’t see himself as such. He only kills to satisfy his twisted view of justice.  As the protagonist, Dylan Stoke, discovers what he and his partners have been doing, the walls start to close in on Park. He struggles with how far he’s willing to go to protect his wife and child and hold on to the traditional family life he has built. He is someone who is reprehensible, yet someone who people will root for in his struggle to become a better person. When he flees the law and goes to his father’s home for help, he’s forced to confront the man that is responsible for his fear and cowardice. In a fit of rage, he kills his father. This frees him and brings an end to his fear, unlocking a new power within him. He now sees himself as strong, a hunter, and no longer sees himself as prey. Killing is no longer seen as an immoral act. This epiphany is the beginning of his downfall.

 

Titles

Bone in Shadow

Lost Among the Bones

Where the Scavengers Gather

Bone Pit 

Comps

The Highway: CJ Box

The Longmire series: Craig Johnson

Logline

On a wilderness quest for a lost child, a former marine turned search and rescue coordinator seeks penance for wartime sin and instead finds himself on a perilous trail of dark secrets, betrayal, and savage murder, all leading to a desperate showdown with his past.

Tagline

Rescue and love are at his fingertips; death is at his heels.

Turmoil/Conflict

 Dylan Stoke wants nothing more than to forget his past life of warfare, live in obscurity and save the lost. The first moment of emotional turmoil comes when his core wound is revealed in the fourth paragraph. This is when he finds out the person, he’s being called to search for is a six-year-old child. This brings up dark memories of a child he was forced to kill in combat to save his team. The next comes when he discovers a group of vigilantes in his special place. The place that has brought him a certain amount of emotional healing. The conflict within him asks: Does he risk his happiness and taint the sanctity of the wilderness by throwing himself into a violent battle with them and bringing them to justice? Or does he forget what he saw and return to his ordered life.? He decides on a compromise. He can gather evidence of their crimes and turn them over to his boss, the sheriff. While gathering evidence more turmoil comes as he’s confronted by one of the killers and is forced to kill the man who happens to be a friend and colleague. This forces him into the direct confrontation he wished to avoid. After killing the man, he is himself shot and left for dead in a pit full of human remains. Further turmoil comes when he escapes the bone pit and discovers he has been framed for murder and is wanted by the authorities he works for. This is a third of the way in and reminds us how powerful the antagonist is. (pinch point) He is desperate for help and can only think of one person who he can turn to that has the skills to heal his wounds. This creates a secondary conflict within him, as the person he turns to is an ex-lover, Lucinda Rouse, who he parted with on bad terms. Is it worth pouring salt into old wounds to enlist her help? During the climax, it is revealed that Lucinda was behind all of the killings when she drugs Stoke and turns him over to Park. Lucinda has always held the power over Stoke's situation. (pinch) 

 

Setting

Three settings within the project.

The rugged Monument Rock Wilderness area in Baker County Oregon. The landscape rivals the beauty and ruggedness of Yellowstone National Park, but without all the touristy trappings. It is virtually untouched by civilization. Old growth Ponderosa Pine Forests. Mountain Mahogany and bitterbrush thickets. A large population of alpha predators, such as mountain lions, bears and wolves reside in the forest. It is the perfect place for murder to be carried out unseen.

Baker City, a close knit traditional western rural American community sitting on the historic Oregon trail. In fact, those who reside there are impassioned by their way of life and still carry the pioneering spirit of their ancestors. The residents are tough, hardworking, and wary of outsiders. They have no desire to be influenced by urban ideals. They very rarely leave. There is a strong sense of community. Everyone knows everyone else, and their intimate secrets. There is no place to hide your sins. This makes the crimes of the antagonist and his friends more shocking. “No one sees it coming.”

Long Creek Mountains, Oregon. Only a few farms and ranches dot the edges of Fox Valley that sits at the foot of Long Creek Mountain. It is the perfect place for a killer who wants to hide, to be able to kill a homeowner and squat in their residence.

In the settings 60% maximize portion of this article, Eat Pray Love was given as an example, and suggested that it wouldn’t have worked if the setting was Podunk Idaho. I agree, as this project would not work if it took place in several different foreign countries. I also feel that rural America has a perception as being backward, an inferior place to reside, based largely on the idea that its residents are all uneducated, inbred hillbillies. That being said, there is a fascination of those in urban America, with the country way of life. Most of the visitors to the country are not accepted by those who reside there, so they are never allowed to see the societal intricacies and nuances of relationships. Sadly, most works of fiction get “rural” wrong and strengthen negative stereotypes.

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I hope I'm posting this in the correct place? But here are my thoughts on the opening assignment

 

THE ACT OF STORY STATEMENT

Bobby Kent is called to serve after 9-11, but he must confront and overcome the pressures he discovers as a soldier in the War on Terror and find a way to achieve meaning if there is to be anything left of him at the end of his service.

 

THE ANTAGONIST PLOTS THE POINT

Corbin Myers, Bobby Kent’s commanding officer. Corbin is the force that separates Bobby’s reality from his idealistic hope for the army. Corbin is well-intended and brave, but he represents what is wrong with the military. He is shrewish and demeaning toward his soldiers, he over estimates his own abilities, he is extremely risk averse in career-centric ways but wildly reckless with the lives of the men in ways which are isolated from career pressure. He takes credit for his men’s successes and blames them for his losses.

Though Bobby goes to Afghanistan on his firs tour hoping to help win the war, by serving in Corbin Meyers’s company he is forced instead to bash his head up against a wall of futility. By the time a more cynical Bobby returns to Afghanistan as a company commander himself, he remains haunted by Meyers, struggling to avoid the same pitfalls he once blamed Meyers for. When he cannot, either militarily or in his personal life, he is driven to his crisis point 

 

CONJOURING YOUR BREAKOUT TITLE

The Glory of Rome

What So Proudly We Hailed

Only the Dead

 

DECIDING YOUR GENRE AND APPROACHING COMPARABLES

The Beekeeper of Aleppo

Blood Meridian

The Things They Carried

 

CORE WOUND AND THE PRIMARY CONFLICT

Bobby Kent abandons the easy road to personal success when he feels called to serve after witnessing the terror of September 11th, but as his idealistic notions begin to fall, both in combat and at home, Bobby's sense of purpose and meaning are thrown into peril and he must confront the mounting pressures driving him toward a grim fate

 

OTHER MATTERS OF CONFLICT: TWO MORE LEVELS

Home life vs deployment op tempo – Prior to his first tour, Bobby meets the young and enchanting Kara. They begin a torrid romance and Bobby believes he has found his storybook love. They are engaged and expecting a child when he leaves for war, only to discover that an engagement made in a few short months cannot stand the stresses of deployment. When Bobby is called home unexpectedly on leave when his mother falls ill, he finds Kara partaking in an ongoing affair. She leaves him, taking their future daughter with her, and shattering his storybook illusion. After which he will struggle to re-engage anyone romantically. This highlights the struggle of maintaining a healthy home life when deploying to war every other year

Army life vs civilian support network – As Bobby becomes increasingly ingrained into Army life, his existing support network (parents, friends, etc) grow ever more distant. Then, when the realities of soldiering cast him into the unforgiving seas of depression, will they be there to throw a life preserver? For example, after not being there much for his father after the death of his mother, when he finds himself morally unmoored during his second tour he longs to get advice from his father but feels too ashamed to ask. This highlights the way people become isolated from their safety nets as they are absorbed into the army life, leaving them vulnerable to the emotional stresses of that life style

 

THE INCREDIBLE IMPORTANCE OF SETTING

As locations go, the story moves around some. Probably most accurate to say that the setting is The Global War on Terror. That provides for several moving sub-settings:

-          New York on September 11th – in the suburbs of the city, the September 11th attack is a life-changing trauma that leaves deep scars

-          A college ROTC program at an Ivy League school – promising young men and women face the reality that they are forgoing immediate professional success for a life of service and why they would do that

-          Texas at a military base – a world both profound and largely unknown to outsiders, rife with incredible conflict, growth and pain as vast numbers of young people taken away from their support networks are thrown into a world where they are constantly moving across the country and then heading to war for year long stretches

-          Afghanistan – the central sub-setting, where the soldiers come to learn what war really is

-          New York caring for an ageing father and trying to recapture the idealism of youth – where the story ends

 

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Olaf and Essex, Middle Grade contemporary fantasy

Story Statement:  

Protect the kidnapped baby and find the real parents.

Antagonist sketches:

Misunderstood, shunted aside and ridiculed by her pathetically magic-devoid family, Mabel Blackthornudder doggedly practices her craft. By her early thirties, she becomes the most powerful witch in New York City. (Don’t be fooled into thinking those annoying Hagglebottom sisters are!) 

Seething with resentment, she views all who oppose her with disdain and hatred. She marries a lesser witch, Harvey, who for a time proves adequate in his dual roles as henchman and lover. However, he increasingly shows weakness and poor resolve in accomplishing the actions required to move New York City (and soon, the world) from its current oppressive police-state climate, to one where witches can walk the streets free from injustice and violence.

Speaking of walking freely, for now Mabel must wear a hat pulled low over her face, as well as hunch down while in public, as her seven-foot frame, long, crooked nose, and mop of unruly orange hair attract unwanted attention. But under cover of night, no one should see her fly to her sister’s house, drop down her chimney, and steal her baby. Brenda’s husband, the Chief Magic Detector, will surely cave to Mabel’s demands. 

Is kidnapping crossing a line? Not when someone has it coming.

*

Mabel’s antagonist, Chief Magic Detector Damon Thomas, fears—and therefore, hates—anything he cannot understand and control. Coming from a long line of law enforcement officials on his father’s side—and a mob of thugs on his mother’s—he grew up with the understanding that deviant behavior needs to be rooted out and destroyed. Or at least locked up, the key destroyed.

When he discovers his own wife’s sister is a member of that resurgent scourge to civilized society, witches, it adds another black mark to his estranged wife’s growing tally. He determines to keep a closer eye on his newborn (once he gets her back from the kidnapper, of course), as well as—just in case—his teenaged daughter from his ill-fated union with his first wife. (Modern women just do not appreciate strong men.)

As secure as he is within himself, nevertheless he mourns his lost head of hair. He looks to prominent bald actors like Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson for daily inspiration, and wishes his thin, wiry frame could pack on more muscle. He plays bass in an amateur rock band, though their stuff is too highbrow for the masses, and thus will never be truly appreciated. 

Title Options:

Olaf and Essex

Much Ado About a Baby

Deep in the Darkness of Central Park

Comps:

The One and Only Ivan

Pax, Journey Home

The Unteachables

Hook line/logline, with core wound:

A bear mourning his mother, who was killed by humans when he was a powerless cub, gains the chance to make her spirit proud—by protecting a magical human baby from an evil witch, as well as from the baby’s own father, the NYPD’s Chief Magic Detector.

Conflict/Turmoil:

Olaf has no doubt in his bear heart he’s doing the right thing, protecting the defenseless baby after its careless parents leave it behind. Even more so after he and his fox friend Essex discover those humans aren’t the parents, but evil witches who kidnapped the baby for nefarious purposes.

When the real mother’s identity is revealed, Olaf’s heart hurts to let the baby go, but he does the right thing. That is, he spies on the real mother to make sure the baby will be safe and loved. When the real mother neglects to feed her own baby, Olaf feels no guilt about stealing it back.

Essex and the good witches don’t believe him, and plan to return the baby in the morning. It tears him apart to leave his best friend, but Olaf can’t let the baby go back to an abusive home environment. His mother would want him to protect the baby, no matter what.

He mourns his lost friendship. And doubts it. Were he and Essex ever really friends? Or did she just pity him, and tolerate his company?

Essex proves herself a true friend. She comes around to his side, and joins him and the baby at their hideout. The seasons pass in relative peace. But Olaf has never forgotten Wendy, the kind zookeeper who took care of him after his mother was shot. He starts wandering the streets of New York in his human disguise, searching for her.

When he finds her, she’s arguing with her girlfriend in the animal shelter they run, and holding their little boy. Consumed with shame, Olaf runs away. If she knew he stole the baby from the real mother . . . Maybe Essex and the good witches were right. Maybe he’d misinterpreted the real mother’s behavior because he wanted to keep the baby. Maybe Wendy would be disappointed in him. Maybe so would his mother.

He’ll have to do the right thing. He’ll have to return the child.

Setting:

In the 2030s, social unrest, a string of stock market crashes and a great recession have sent New York City into a tailspin. Even donations to the struggling Central Park Conservancy have dwindled. The park now resembles its decrepit state in the 1970s and '80s.

Our recently reformed police force—the Conflict Resolution Department—gamely does what it can to quell the protests, marches, and vandalism recurring throughout the city. Central Park—especially its densely wooded areas, the Ramble and North Woods—has become a haven for muggers, witches, and other miscreants.

Foxes have boldly moved into the city, mimicking their London counterparts. There have even been reported sightings of a bear running around loose in Central Park. Most likely this is but an urban legend, as all security cameras can discern is a rather large homeless woman wearing mismatched clothing occasionally getting down on all fours. Perhaps to rest? New York, more than ever, is not for the faint of heart.

 

 

 

 

 

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Submitted by Emily M

STORY STATEMENT

Honor friendship above all else

 

ANTAGONIST

General Georges Delassus, commander of the local air force base, is dedicated to rounding up the aliens who have bonded to our hero, Harris Lemke, and remanding them to the Pentagon’s dubious hospitality. An imposing figure with combat medals adorning his chest, he is unencumbered by self-doubt. Delassus doesn’t walk. He swaggers. Delassus doesn’t speak. He barks. Delassus doesn’t laugh. He snorts.

A caricature of a true warrior, Delassus is feared for his casual cruelty, but mocked for his lack of tactical ingenuity and dearth of strategic foresight. Call sign “Frenchie” for both his given name and his stubborn, bulldog approach to problem solving, Delassus is dangerous not for his competence, but for the myriad resources at his disposal.

 

TITLE

  1. Elvis, Aliens & Moonpies
  2. Aliens, Bayous & Boudin
  3. Uncommon Southern Charm

 

GENRE & COMPS

Elvis, Aliens & Moonpies is a sci fi comedy. Think Becky Chambers’ Wayfarers series meets John Kennedy Toole’s A Confederacy of Dunces.

Chambers’ The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet and the three books that follow in the series [published 2015 through 2021] are humorous, feel-good science fiction yarns. Story development focuses on relationships and embracing the comedic in unusual situations. Elvis, Aliens & Moonpies, a story of humanity’s first contact with extraterrestrials, is also a feel-good science fiction story about strangers arriving in a strange land.

A Confederacy of Dunces [published 1987] relies on the quirkiness of the Crescent City and its inhabitants for comedic effect. Toole’s book is so deeply grounded in NOLA that the story wouldn’t work if set somewhere else. Elvis, Aliens & Moonpies embraces this same strong sense of place in the unique cultural, political and social geography of the ArkLaTex. Characters drawn from the region lend a voice to this story that is as much a love letter to the ArkLaTex as it is a comedy of errors about what happens when aliens try to settle in amongst good ol’ boys and southern belles.

 

HOOKLINE

A lonely reporter dreams of becoming a professional Elvis impersonator, but when aliens land and bond to him, he must focus all his attention on defending them from an obsessive military leader eager to separate him from his new friends.

 

CORE WOUND & PRIMARY CONFLICT

Harris Lemke (45) works for the largest newspaper in the ArkLaTex. His job pays the bills, but he dreams of finding love and making it big as an Elvis impersonator. He’s still smarting from his ex-wife’s decision to run off with the heir to a boudin fortune and he clings to the hope of finding more lasting love the next time around. [core wound]

His editor assigns him to cover the Fort Worth UFO Rodeo. Harris joins the convention in search of a story, falls for sassy deejay Lenora Scantlebury (34), and fails to resist participating in the convention’s talent contest. And that’s how Harris Lemke is center stage, dressed as Elvis, when three flying saucers descend on the hotel’s rooftop pool deck. [inciting incident]

The three small aliens bond to Harris, following him home to Shreveport. Comedic adventures unfold as the aliens are exposed to Southern culture, including a stint with the Junior League and volunteering with the local historic preservation society. While navigating a bumpy new relationship with Lenora, Harris battles the dark side of humanity as his alien friends face nativists who oppose their presence. [secondary conflicts]

All the while, the US Air Force and mysterious men in black stalk Harris and the aliens across the ArkLaTex. [primary conflict] General Georges Delassus (57), commander of the local base, dislikes the visitors. Multiple times he fails to separate them from their growing community of supporters. But one night, the military stages a raid and the aliens are spirited away by men in black.

 

SETTING

The ArkLaTex is where the boundaries and cultures of three Southern state combine. Famous for oil fields across the Piney Woods and river boat casinos along the Red River, the region is named for the intersection of Arkansas, Louisiana and Texas. Home to nearly two million people, its economic well-being is dependent on the health care industry, river boat casinos, an air force base, agriculture, the last vestiges of postwar industry, and the mailbox money that still flows to families who got into the oil business early.

It’s a place where Johnny Cash once fished in the bayous and Martin Luther King Junior once preached in the churches. It’s a region where one sees bumper stickers with the profile of a B-52 bomber superimposed over the peace sign and the words “peace the old fashioned way.” It’s an area where manifestations of the ginni coefficient are found in the same zip code.

Shreveport is the largest metropolitan area in the ArkLaTex. Identified by legendary songwriter Tilman Franks as the center of the Magic Circle, the city has a significant, but little publicized connection to Elvis Presley. It was at Shreveport’s Municipal Auditorium where Elvis first made it big as part of the Louisiana Hayride. And it was from that same building that he exited years later leading to that famous line: “Elvis has left the building.”

Shreveport is a place where Steel Magnolias-style hair salons co-exist with the hustle of creatives focused on benefiting from the state’s Motion Picture Tax Investor Credit. It’s where ignoring a “stairwell closed” sign in a downtown parking garage can lead one to crash an impromptu movie set and where a morning run in an upscale neighborhood can lead to encounters with Hollywood royalty who are renting a house down the street while in town for a production.

The real life characters who populate the ArkLaTex deserve a library full of books written for and about them. Elvis, Aliens & Moonpies exploits the sometimes charming and sometimes dark incongruities of the place and its people. Harris, Lenora, Georges and others who populate this work of fiction share the page with the ArkLaTex itself. And the ArkLaTex sometimes threatens to steal the show.

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Story Statement

The past calls to the future

 

Antagonist

El Búho, a hardscrabble survivor from Mexico City, works his way up to 2nd in command of the Los Hermanos drug cartel. He believes himself to be a macho womanizer, but finds himself magnetically drawn into a torrid affair with a transgender poet, Liliana, after he moves in with his socialite cousin in his younger days. This experience both haunts and drives him, as he is arrogant, brutal and ruthless. Deep down, he is a child who has been hurt. Unwilling to face this side of himself, resentment and anger guide his doomed path. He would rather be damned for eternity than be redeemed by love. He seeks guidance from a dark sorcerer who is able to conjure up Techlotl, a god of one of the Aztec underworlds.

Titles

Monarca

Itzpapalotl

The Oyamel Secrets

 

Genre and Comps

Mexican Gothic

The Inheritance of Orquídea Divina

-latina horror, magical realism, speculative fiction

 

Hookline

Young, directionless woman finds herself abruptly swept south to a land that is both familiar and foreign in which she is forced to confront secrets, dangers and ancient deities that threaten to destroy all that her ancestors hold dear.

 

Turmoil/Conflict

Alea Najar-Smith gets a phone call informing her that maternal grandmother in Mexico has died about the same time she discovers a lump in her breast which results in a subsequent break up with her boyfriend. Soon after, she travels from Austin, Texas, with her parents to the small Mexican village of Santa Rosita to attend the funeral, keeping her recent cancer diagnosis a secret. While there, Alea reunites with a local young man, Julian, whom she's known from previous visits during her childhood. Together with Julian and an unusually beautiful bartender, Liliana, at her aunt's Inn there, she embarks upon a journey of self-discovery involving ancient family secrets that connect her to a powerful Aztec goddess, Itzpapalotl. This goddess has the ability to protect the monarch butterflies (their ancestors' spirits). Julian's grandmother, Mamá Lulita, a curandera (Mexican medicine woman) and an unorthodox town priest, Father Maldonado, also reveal other secrets about Alea's mysterious grandmother. Alea finds out she is the chosen one from her descendants to save the forest and must choose whether to stay in Mexico to complete the tasks that she is called upon to do or to go back to Texas as soon as she can for health reasons.

There are dark forces at work in the butterfly sanctuary that threaten the very existence of the monarchs that migrate from Canada to overwinter each fall in the trees. Illegal loggers, protected by the Los Hermanos cartel, are cutting down the sacred trees for money. The cartel protects them as they use an area in the vast mountain sanctuary for their meth production operation. The cartel is run by Rico and his unlucky brother, Geraldo, otherwise known as El Búho. El Búho (The Owl) is named thus because of his association with Techlotl, one of the gods who guards an underworld, who is represented by owls. El Búho is in debt to Techlotl after an exchange he had with a sorcerer, Don Dario, in which he asks for an antidote to his obsession over Liliana, a transgender roommate, before his rise in his brother's cartel.

Setting

The story takes place briefly at the beginning and the end of the story in Austin, Texas. The majority of the story takes place in a fictional bucolic town near the edge of a monarch butterfly sanctuary on the border of the state of Michoacan, Mexico. This town is based on a real place, Macheros, where I have visited several times and seen the monarch butterflies migrate to annually. It is a setting full of delightful and sensual descriptions of the mountains (and what happens in them), trees and beauty there and one that is full of magic, mystery and ancient history. Some of the story also takes place in distinct places in Mexico City: Coyoacán (where Hernan Cortes' home stands and where Frida Khalo's famous Blue House resides), a café across from the Palacio de Bellas Artes, a neighborhood adjacent to Chapultepec park and more. One thing I incorporate throughout my story is the rich history of Mexico and the importance of place. Readers who have visited these locations will recognize the specific settings and those who have not will yearn to visit these unique spots. Mexico is a land full of mystery, charm, magic and ancient dieties.
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Story Statement:

The protagonist: Mendel, must come to terms with his past, and his religious upbringing as he navigates his life and matures.

 

The Antagonist/Antagonistic Force:

The antagonist, Moussia, at once attracts and repels Mendel as she struggles with the demands of religious life. The antagonistic force is Mendel’s religious upbringing that shapes his worldview and threatens to destroy his happiness. 

 

Breakout Titles:

The Redeemed

Salvation through Sin

Redemption and Desire

 

Comparables:

The Romance Reader by Pearl Abraham

Isaac Bashevis Singer: Collected Stories (Library of America)

 

Hook/Logline:

Mendel’s love of Moussia threatens to destroy them both.

 

Inner & Secondary Conflicts:

Mendel’s inner conflict is between how he is living his life, immersed in religious ritual, and how he wants to live it. 

Mendel’s secondary conflict is between the social norms of his community and how he wants to express himself.

 

Setting:

The setting is in a close-knit religious community in Brooklyn that follows its own patterns of life with its own rules and regulations, that are in conflict with Mendel’s evolving values.

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KNOW BY HEART, psychological thriller, by Lori Brand

Story Statement

Heart transplant recipient, Elyse, must find out who murdered her donor, Samantha.

Antagonist

The identity of our antagonist remains a mystery for most of the novel. What we do know is that they murdered Samantha, a tech layoff casualty turned OnlyFans creator, during a Go-Live event. Much of the murder happened off-camera while our antagonist was masked, bootied, and gloved, so their identity—and even gender—is not possible to determine. They are someone who is smart, calculating, and ruthless.  

Our antagonist believes they got away with murder. That is, until Elyse, an unconfident advice columnist and the recipient of Samantha’s heart, starts investigating Samantha's murder.

Someone with the username Eyes on You begins leaving warnings in the Comments section of Elyse’s advice column, telling her to back-off. When that fails, Eyes on You requests advice on dealing with a woman named “Elyse” who is digging into their business and dredging up the past, purportedly fearing that someone may get hurt. When Elyse doesn’t quit her investigation, Eyes on You escalates to leaving a letter at her apartment and then a message in the steam on her bathroom mirror. Two people Elyse interviews wind up dying under mysterious circumstances.

Titles

KNOW BY HEART

THE HEART KNOWS

Genre (psychological thriller) and Comps

THE IT GIRL, by Ruth Ware. Dual timeline psychological thriller where the protagonist must figure out what really happened the night her glamourous friend was murdered, but she can’t trust her memories or her friends.

NO ONE KNOWS US HERE, by Rebecca Kelley. Psychological thriller about a financially struggling woman who becomes a high-end escort for a tech billionaire.

Hook line

An unconfident heart transplant recipient goes on a quest to find her heart donor’s murderer.

Conflict, two more levels

Primary Conflict: Elyse starts to wonder if some of her donor’s personality traits and memories hitched a ride into her along with Sam's heart. If this is the case, how can Elyse trust her own mind?

When Elyse is accosted outside a night club by a feral youth demanding her purse, she uncharacteristically doesn’t give it to him and instead tells him to fuck-off in Spanish, despite having limited proficiency in the language, as well as not being someone who typically uses profanity. During the conflict, an unfamiliar feeling comes over her that she doesn’t immediately recognize. Upon reflection, she realizes that it’s outrage, an emotion she hasn’t felt in years.

Secondary Conflict: Despite being an advice columnist, Elyse is uncertain about many things. If the advice she’s dishing out is any good. If her fiancé is caring or controlling. If the strange new tastes and recent nightmares she’s experiencing are her own or the transferred memories of her donor, Samantha, a tech layoff casualty turned OnlyFans creator.

At work, Elyse sends a meeting invite to her editor, Hank, to discuss her career. She wants her position to be permanent (it’s been interim since her predecessor quit abruptly a year ago) and the column renamed from Dear Debbie to Ask Elyse. Hank never accepts her meeting invite, and while she’s hovering outside his office wondering if she should knock, the paper’s star reporter strides inside and tells Hank about a hot new article idea. Elyse tells Hank that she thinks they have a meeting now (despite knowing that they do). Hank replies that he wants to hear what Scott has to say and that he’ll catch up with her later. He never does.

Setting

The scenes are in many different locations (newspaper office, Tech office, Sam’s apartment, Elyse’s apartment, restaurants and bars). The two most important settings are:

Elyse’s fiancé’s sleek post-modern house, full of greys and sharp edges. So perfect, it’s like living in a Metropolitan Home magazine, or like real lives aren’t lived there. In the living room is a Moooi light fixture, six feet in diameter, suspended by a thin wire. Its twiggy metal branches reach in every direction, their tips capped in white “leaves.” Each leaf has its own internal LED light. There are sixty-three in all. In the evening, with the fixture dimmed, it's like gazing up at a sky full of stars. During the day, when the fixture is dark, its shadows sprawl across the space like a web. Other times, they give the illusion of walking into a briar patch.

The Only Fanatics house (Only Fanatics is a reality series about OnlyFans creators that Sam is in). It’s full of bright reflective surfaces and is essentially a glass cube. It sits like a square-cut diamond, tucked into the Hollywood Hills like a promise nestled in a velvet box. The first floor is a cavernous space with no interior walls, except around a bathroom, and even those are made out of glass block. All the exterior walls are glass, making one feel like a bug in a terrarium. In the living room, a Marilyn Minter painting, the size of a minivan, hangs suspended from the ceiling. It’s of a woman’s red lips, open wide, her tongue extended as a lime green vapor floats out of her mouth. The stairs to the second floor are thin wafers of concrete cantilevered out of a steel stringer. They appear to float like clouds. There’s no handrail, and the whole contraption, while dazzling, is dangerous. But that’s okay, because beauty trumps safety. The second-floor hall is mirrored, as are all the internal walls of the bedrooms. The external walls are windows. In each bedroom is another Marilyn Minter painting of an ugly-glamorous women, her eyes shut, her mouth gagged, or her legs unsteady.

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