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


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WINNING AND LOSING LOTTIE GALLANT 

Women's Fiction 

 

1.    THE ACT OF STORY STATEMENT

Escape suicidal thoughts and gain acceptance by winning the affection of an ornery, aging icon

 

2.    THE ANTAGONIST PLOTS THE POINT

For decades, and from afar, Elle has obsessed over her great-aunt Lottie. As a child, Elle spent hours poring over gossipy tabloid clippings and glossy photos of Lottie on the pages of People, Time, Town and Country, the Chicago Tribune, the Los Angeles Times, and the New York Times. While Elle’s main antagonistic forces are childhood trauma, mental illness, abandonment, and suicidal ideation, Lottie appears to embody everything Elle lacks as she approaches middle age. Even at the ripe old age of 83, Lottie is larger than life, bold, brave, glamorous, and highly revered by the Gallants (Elle’s long-lost father’s side of the family). Elle attempts to win over the Gallants by befriending the ill-tempered old spitfire. And for a brief time, Elle is able eclipse her suicidal thoughts with tales of Lottie’s adventures as Hollywood’s Alabama darling, Wall Street’s she-wolf seductress, and the mischievous mistress of Big Oil’s high society. The fabulous memories keep Lottie alive in another sense. Even though Lottie believes in Heaven, it sounds boring, and she has no interest in going anytime soon. For a while, Lottie’s tales empower Elle. But Lottie’s judgmental jabs begin to snag the few threads of sanity Elle has left, and her world further unravels as Lottie’s dementia unspools deeper truths. 

 

3.    CONJURING YOUR BREAKOUT TITLE

WINNING AND LOSING LOTTIE GALLANT

ANYWHERE BUT ME

ONE GOOD REASON TO STAY

 

4.    DECIDING YOUR GENRE AND APPROACHING COMPARABLES

GENRE: Women’s Fiction 

 

COMPARABLE TITLES: 

Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine 
by Gail Honeyman 

 Quirky unreliable narration, off-beat humor, delusional external goals, questionable heroes, unlikely friendship, and head-strong female character grappling with mental health issues and twisty family dynamics


Hacks 
HBO Max’s series

–Complicated friendship, comedic banter between opinionated women from different generations, spicy showbiz secrets, and ruthless ambition of an older character

 

5.    CORE WOUND AND THE PRIMARY CONFLICT 

HOOK LINE (LOGLINE):

When a suicidal nurse retreats into an old Southern spitfire’s tales of shaking up Hollywood, Wall Street, and Big Oil, she struggles to find meaning in madness and purpose in life.

 OR 

An unemployed nurse leaves psychiatric treatment and escapes suicidal thoughts with an aging icon’s tales of shaking up Hollywood, Wall Street, and Big Oil. But as dementia blurs reality, she uses her overactive imagination to reboot the old woman’s memories.

 

 

6.    OTHER MATTERS OF CONFLICT: TWO MORE LEVELS

CONDITIONS FOR INNER CONFLICT:

Elle suffers from depression, anxiety, OCD, ADHD, and suicidal ideation. She is traumatized by a childhood accident that killed her great grandmother and is convinced the tragedy was her fault and the reason for her father’s abandonment. She is angry with God over her infertility and a myriad of other issues. Elle became a nurse to help people and to fill her life holes with healing. But now she’s unemployed, broke, and can barely make her way out from under the pile of laundry on her sofa. Just three weeks out of psychiatric treatment for attempted suicide, she’s offered a full-time job as her great-aunt Lottie’s caretaker. Elle is fully aware of her emotional instability, and deep down she knows her husband is right—she’s not well enough to handle Lottie’s controlling, overbearing, judgmental, and often cruel demeanor. However, Elle is desperate, impulsive, and she convinces herself that the characteristics of a good nurse (caring, selflessness, and humor) will prevail to win Lottie’s affection. Approval is paramount to Elle, and the job offer could be the solution she’s looking for. Maybe her father’s family finally accepts her. 

 

INNER CONFLICT SCENARIO

At the end of the first act, Elle’s husband Kenny comes home for lunch, and she’s hell-bent on convincing him that working for Lottie is a good idea. Armed with the semi-approval of her therapist and encouragement of her mother to counterweight Kenny’s opposition, Elle presents him with the job offer details. Kenny pleads with Elle to decline the offer, and Elle presses on. But when Kenny takes a bite of his chicken bruschetta, leaving a cheese remnant lodged in his mustache, Elle is immediately distracted but tries to focus. She tells herself it’s just cheese. As they argue, Kenny strokes his mustache, moving the cheese around, and Elle’s OCD and ADHD kick into high gear. When Kenny gets up and heads to the door, saying they’ll discuss the matter further at the end of the day, Elle explodes. “I am a grown up. And you, mister perfect, have cheese in your mustache. It’s hanging there like a booger—a white stringy booger. I have come so far in these last few weeks. Why the hell are you the only one who hasn’t noticed?” 
      Kenny turns around. “Well, I’ll tell you one thing I have noticed. You’re wearing two left sandals right now.” He bolts out and slams the door behind him. 
     Elle drops her head and looks at her sandals—one is a flat, black leather flop with jewel embellishments, and the other is taupe and has a buckle strap and small heel. “I am doing it!” She yells at no one. Elle snatches up her phone. “I’d be honored to take the position. When do I start? Sure. That day and time works for me.” She looks around the kitchen. Can’t find a pen. Can’t find paper. It's okay, she’ll remember. 

 

SECONDARY CONFLICT SCENARIO

Shortly after Elle starts the job, Lottie’s dementia progresses and presents several challenges. Lottie’s cruel comments become more frequent and more difficult to ignore. Elle rallies by putting her playful creativity and childlike imagination to work as she attempts to ride out the dementia rollercoaster. But when Elle learns her father has suffered a heart attack, Lottie delivers a hateful comment that cuts to the bone. Elle quits her job and flies to San Diego to visit her weak and remorseful father, who offers a questionable olive branch. As she collides with an icy stepmother, and connects with a suicidal half-brother she never knew existed, Elle loses her slippery grip on sanity. 

 

7.    SIGNIFICANCE OF PRIMARY SETTING – BIRMINGHAM, ALABAMA

Much of the story unfolds in Birmingham, Alabama. Known as the “Magic City” and the “South’s best kept secret,” Birmingham’s population exploded in the early 1900s after prospectors discovered it to be the only place on Earth where the three elements necessary to produce steel were naturally abundant. Decades later, this boomtown became a controversial hotbed for the civil rights movement. Out of its fiery past, the area rose from the ashes and created a lively arts and theatre scene, a world-class medical research and healthcare hub, with an eclectic collection of architecture, outdoor recreation, boutiques, and high-end department stores. The city is noted for its cuisine that includes James Beard award-winning chefs and restaurants, down-home burger and Bar-B-Que joints, and Southern soul food. 
     
The story’s primary setting helps personify how the narrative’s backdrops compare and contrast in conjunction with the concept of finding light in the darkness and varying perspectives on life. The colloquial slang and characters, history, food, hilly topography, and creative culture all work together to drive Elle and Lottie’s backstories and current journeys. Located in the north central part of the state, along the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains, Birmingham’s tree lined crests offer various views of vibrant city life, lush green valleys, and flowing river and streams. Elle grew up in the nearby suburbs and now lives with her husband in a small craftsman-style bungalow a few miles from Birmingham’s Southside and downtown’s city center. The landscape is symbolic of Elle’s internal and external conflicts—peaks and valleys of anxiety and depression, the ups and downs of Lottie’s dementia, her steep and winding quest for acceptance, and what she sees as a flawed life. 
      
Lottie views life from a different perspective than Elle. She is a perfectionist who sees flaws as challenges, growth opportunities, and as an important part of God’s greater design. As Lottie notes to Elle, “We all have cracks in our valleys. Rivers flow through the cracks and have the power to reshape landscapes.” Lottie grew up in the fictional small town of Poplin two hours north of Birmingham. Lottie has family, history, and deep roots in this region. While Lottie misses her larger-than-life younger years in more glamorous cities, Birmingham was her stepping stone out of a boring life as a poor, country preacher’s daughter in Poplin. The character of the city mirrors her own—vibrant, unexpected, industrious, adventurous, creative, picturesque, historically controversial, and built of steel. Lottie’s ambition as a young beauty queen launched her trajectory of success. A pageant scholarship led to her beloved college days at Birmingham’s Samford University. She is a generous donor to the arts department. Campus buildings bare her name, and there is a table in the dining hall with a brass plaque engraved with the words: Reserved for Lottie Gallant Caperton, at all times. After graduating from Samford, Lottie carved out a showbusiness career in Hollywood in the 1950s, before moving to New York in the 1960s to become a stock broker. She later traveled the world with her oil tycoon husband Tom Caperton. After Tom passed, Lottie sold her Chicago apartment overlooking Lake Michigan and her second homes in New York, Palm Desert, and Los Angeles, and relocated to Birmingham. Over Thanksgiving dinner, Elle notes through interiority: My heart sank for Lottie. After her husband Tom died, she’d moved back to Birmingham to be close to her three sisters, and they’d all since passed away. She was now sentenced to live out her not-so-golden years surrounded by a watered-down batch of Gallants who were tasked with looking after her. It was clearly a job no one wanted. 

 

 SAMPLE SETTINGS IN BIRMINGHAM

HALLWAY OUTSIDE OF LOTTIE’S PENTHOUSE 
REFLECTS ELLE’S DESPERATE DETERMINATION AND LOTTIE’S LOOMING DOMINATION

 The antique, arched doors loom over the long and unnecessarily wide hallway. Just as Aunt Mary described, not exactly tacky but a bit much. “Lottie had those double doors ripped right out of an ancient Tuscan chapel and shipped to Alabama,” she’d said. “I’ll tell you what, when that woman wants something, she spares no expense.” Elle power walks down the hall, noting that nothing about the ornate church doors matches the empty common areas of this 1980s contemporary-style building. The basic beige doors lining the colorless corridor crouch in the shadow of the dark, ten-foot arch. Elle rings the doorbell with no response at first. Finally heels click and the peep hole goes dark then light, and heels click away. Elle presses the doorbell again, this time for three long seconds. Same thing. Click-click-click to the door, dark peephole, light peephole. Footstep clicks fade away. Elle pounds hard on the door with the padded side of her fist, but that hurts, so she whacks the heavy circular knocker three times. She makes a hand-megaphone, presses it against the peephole and calls for Lottie. A whisper-shout startles her from behind, “You’d better stop.” Elle turns around. An elderly woman with dyed black hair peers through a cracked-open door across the hall. “You’re fogging up the peephole. Lottie hates that.” Elle tries to engage, but the woman’s door snaps shut, and the deadbolt clacks. Elle turns back around. Lottie stands in the hall, framed by the archway, clutching the handles of her black handbag. A thick embroidered red rose on her white T-shirt peeps through the V of her black pinstriped blazer. Her glossy white hair is pulled back tight, giving her forehead and top sides of her cheeks a slight lift. A black silk camellia is fastened to the side of a flawless, doughnut-shaped ballet bun on the crown of her head.

 

LOTTIE’S APARTMENT - ELLE IS IMMERSED INSIDE LOTTIE’S WORLD

VISUAL INSIGHTS INTO LOTTIE’S CUNNING NATURE, LARGER-THAN-LIFE PRESENCE, AND GLAMOROUS PAST
 

Passing through the double doors is surreal. It’s like entering another dimension, a different world, set in another time and place. Lush with rich, intricate patterned wallpaper, heavy velvet drapes, extravagant touches of gold, bright-white shellac, it’s a palace squeezed into an eighth-floor penthouse overlooking the city. A seven-foot portrait of Lottie greets Elle in the foyer. She’s stunning and fierce, in her late thirties or early forties and wearing a silver satin blouse, matching pants, and dime-sized diamond earrings. Her hands rest with intention just below her waistline. Her eyes are sensual and searing, and her lips are slightly parted and glossy. “You like my portrait?” Lottie asks. “It wasn’t painted from a photograph. I posed for it. That’s the best way to capture a person’s true soul.” Elle is mesmerized and says it looks like Marilyn Monroe and Lauren Bacall had a badass offspring. Lottie tells her the painting was commissioned in the mid-seventies and hung in her downtown New York office. “They called me the She-Wolf of Wall Street.” In the living room, other oil paintings of naked people and oversized black-and-white photographs of famous people cover almost every inch of wall space. Blue-and-white china and smaller photos in fancy frames fill every nook of her floor-to-ceiling bookshelves on the far wall. The furniture is a mix of French antiques and art-deco Hollywood glam. Somehow it works. 

 

ESTRANGED-FAMILY THANKSGIVING AT ELLE’S AUNT MARY’S HOUSE - THE FIRST TIME ELLE’S SEEN LOTTIE IN 30 YEARS 
DEMONSTRATES LOTTIE’S DISMISSIVENESS AND JUDGMENT AND ELLE’S DESPERATE NEED FOR BELONGING

 

Lottie strolls into the dining room, wearing black pants, a black high-neck lace blouse, and an enormous silk-organza saucer hat, also black. A small, black Chanel Camellia Pochette swings from her wrist, and a can of Del Monte peaches rests in the crook of her elbow. Elle reads her message loud and clear. Nothing says, I have better shit to do than plopping a store-bought pie into the hands of an exhausted hostess. But showing up with a dusty pantry staple, now that’s a much bolder statement. You’re just lucky I showed the hell up. Lottie crosses the room, smoothes her coat over the back of a chair, and perches herself on the rounded arm. Still holding her handbag and the can of peaches, her posture rigid and her lips pursed. Her eyes move to all points of the room, taking in the small-talk scenes of distant, and not-so-distant, family members. Elle introduces her husband Kenny to Lottie. Lottie’s brown eyes peer from her hat brim, tracing the crumpled edges of Elle’s denim duster down to the scuffed toes of her Doc Martens. Lottie’s eyes then shoot up to scan Kenny’s handlebar mustache from one looped end to the other. Lottie lets out a “Humph,” and focuses her gaze elsewhere. After Kenny politely excuses himself, Elle attempts to engage with Lottie, offering to fetch a crystal serving dish for her peaches or a glass of Kenny’s famous Limoncello. Lottie ignores her, but Elle can’t tear herself away from the woman she’d obsessed over since childhood. Lottie’s white-tipped fingernails tap out a familiar tune on the lid of her can of peaches. Elle tries to guess it in her head. Is it from Rent? No. It’s You Sexy Thing” or the Jaws theme song. Ooh, sounds a bit like Duran Duran’s The Reflex.” Nope. That’s not it. I give up. Elle asks if Lottie is cold, and wiggles her shoulder out of her duster, but shrugs it back up after Lottie’s eyes roll. Seven kids, all under the age of eight and all wearing their puffy jackets, eat at the wicker table on the screened-in porch, just out of earshot of the adult table. Fifteen adults cram around the dining room table made for twelve with a mix of wooden chairs from the kitchen and linen slipcovered dining chairs. Some cousins look vaguely familiar to Elle, except for the twins Emory and Livy. Elle knows those two. Emory and Livy’s mother, Elle’s Aunt Mary, was the only Gallant her mom kept in touch with after her father left, but Elle lost touch with them years ago. Emory and Livy flank Lottie. No surprise there, Elle thinks. Kissasses. 

  

THE DRIVE HOME AFTER GALLANT THANKSGIVING. KENNY’S NOT A FAN

Elle rests the side of her forehead on the passenger-side window, watching house after house swish by. The sky is gold with streaks of hot pink, deep blue, and white. They pass three front-yard football games and two kids tossing colorful leaves in the air. As they drive along, Elle counts seventeen garbage cans overflowing with overstuffed bags, five of them tipped over on their sides. Kenny breaks the silence. “So, was that a Banksy?” Elle looks confused, and Kenny continues, “That Lottie lady. Was she for real? Or did your aunt Mary hire a performance artist?” Elle explains she only knows the legend of Lottie. She goes on to say Lottie pays for the other cousins’ country club memberships and their kid’s private schools. After Kenny’s scoffs, she reluctantly mentions that Lottie had also paid for Elle’s cousins to attend college. When Kenny notes that Elle has student loans, she says, “Lottie didn’t pay for mine. I was five when Dad bolted, I didn’t count as family after that.” As Kenny announces she’s better off without those Gallants, Elle turns her attention outside the window. A black cat with a white diamond-shaped patch on its chest prances alongside the road with a turkey carcass dangling from its mouth. 

 

ON THE ROAD TO BURGER BLISS 
THE DRIVE PROVES LOTTIE’S CONTROL NEVER TAKES A BACK SEAT 

Elle pulls up to a four-way stop, and Lottie shouts, “You. Stop!” Elle slams the breaks. Lottie points to an overly spray-tanned man in a white G-Wagon, rolling through the stop sign, exclaims it is not his turn, and instructs Elle to go. Once they hit the main road, Elle stops at a red light. Lottie stretches out her neck and watches the adjacent light go from green to yellow to red. Before Elle has time to move her foot from the brake to the gas, Lottie yells for her to go. As Elle continues down Creekview Road, Lottie squirms, crossing her left leg over her right then switching to her right leg over her left, while commenting on Elle’s driving. At the next traffic light, Lottie leans over the dash, locking her eyes upward to let Elle know when it’s time to accelerate. “Yours is about to go green. Be ready this time.” As soon as Elle pulls into the Burger Bliss parking lot, Lottie punches her finger in the direction of a space by the entrance. Elle jokingly offers to let Lottie drive on the way back, but Lottie declines. “Oh, heavens no. I’m a horrible driver.” 

 

FIRST LUNCH AT BURGER BLISS 
SETTING DETAILS REVEAL LOTTIE’S ENTITLEMENT, DISREGARD, AND JUDGMENT 

Lottie sashays in like she owns the place. At the drink station, Lottie fills her tumbler with ice and unsweet tea, before grabbing a handful of lemon wedges from the plastic container. She holds each slice up to the light, one by one. This takes forever. After dropping the wad of rejected lemons back in the same container, she scrapes way down to the bottom in search of fresher options. A line is forming behind them as Elle breaks out in sweat. Once Lottie finally settles on three suitable lemon wedges, she meticulously removes the seeds with her pinky nail, flicking the seeds back into the lemon bin. Elle casts an apologetic smile at the couple behind them. They stare back at her, arching their brows in unison, and Elle’s heart lurches into a clumsy pounding jog. Lottie takes her sweet time squeezing the juice from each individual lemon into her tea, tosses the mangled rinds back in with the fresh lemons, and strolls to her booth. Elle apologizes to the couple as she frantically fishes out the manhandled lemons. Autographed headshots from Lottie’s movie days and a few group photos with her sisters from the 1950s line the bead-board booth. Lottie gestures with her waffle fry to a photo on Elle’s side of the booth and points out her sister Joanie, who was an actress too, but not Hollywood famous like her. Lottie comments on Elle’s “atrocity” of a wrist tattoo, weight, and unkempt hair. Elle compliments Lottie’s vintage Gucci Horsebit bag, and Lottie shoots her a looks that says, As if you know anything about handbags. As they are about to leave, Lottie gives a chubby couple the stink-eye, referring to them with a snarky nickname the Glutens. She warns Elle to watch out for those two—they should cut back on wheat, and they’re booth stalkers. 

 

MORNING ERRANDS AROUND BIRMINGHAM REVEAL MORE ABOUT LOTTIE’S VERVE AND ELLE’S STRUGGLE TO KEEP UP

They swing by the Botanical Gardens to snap a few photos of Lottie in front of a memorial garden she donated in her late husband’s name. Lottie insists the gardens should be the first stop, due to the flattering morning light. Then they hit a holistic wellness shop. Lottie swings open the door, setting off a jarring clamor of windchimes. A thick gust of patchouli and stinky B vitamin knocks Elle in the face. She holds her breath as Lottie barrels down the aisle, picking up every candle to take a long whiff before returning it to the wrong spot on the shelf. Elle follows behind her, repositioning the candles to realign with the correct shelf labels. She doesn’t want the next customer to mistake Ginger Masala for Muskmelon. Lottie buys a bottle of CBD oil for her arthritis and a pumice stone on a long stick, so Elle can exfoliate the balls of her feet later. The last stop before lunch is Kinko’s. Lottie scrolls through Elle’s phone’s camera roll and selects her favorite garden photo from earlier. She then hits the App Store icon and assesses the photo editing app options. “Look at me,” Lottie says, holding the phone up to Elle’s face. The app requires face recognition for the purchase. It takes a while for Lottie to edit the photo to her liking. Lottie sends the photo to the clerk and has him print it out on glossy eight-by-ten photo paper. 

 

SUB-SETTINGS IN SAN DIEGO AFTER ELLE FLIES ACROSS THE COUNTRY TO BE AT HER FATHER’S SIDE AFTER HIS HEART ATTACK. SHE HASN’T SEEN HIM IN 30 YEARS

RIDE FROM SAN DIEGO TO THE HOSPITAL
SUB-SETTING CIRCUMSTANCES MIRROR ELLE’S ANXIOUSNESS ABOUT THE UNKNOWN, AND OUT-OF-CONTROL FEELINGS

 

The driver spins Elle’s bag on its wheels and tilts it in ready position. “We need to go, Ms. Gallant. I was told to get you to the hospital ASAP. It’s not far.” A chill runs through her body as he speeds down the highway, weaving through traffic and hammering his horn at anyone who dares to even look over their shoulder to check their blind spot. There’s been no time to process why her father wanted her by his side. Or maybe there has been, but her brain wouldn’t allow itself to go there. She’s freefalling emotionally, mentally, and physically in a car hurling head on into the fiery unknown. She’s frozen in the out-of-control of it all. Her imagination, which is sometimes her friend and more times her enemy, is blank for the first time in her life. The vivid visions that have helped her escape, for better or for worse, are all of the sudden on pause. She wants to hear her mom or Kenny’s voice to calm herself down, but she’s afraid to take her eyes off the road blurring by or take her hand off the handle above the window long enough to call them. The driver, whose name she doesn’t know, screeches into the covered entrance of the hospital. He sends a quick text and hands her a card. “Call me when you’re ready to head to the hotel. Take all the time you need. Leave your bag.” He hurries out of the car and opens her door. “Go on in.” He points to the glass doors and glances at his phone. “He’ll be waiting for you in the lobby.”

“Who?”

“Your brother.”

“My what?”


 

INSIDE THE SAN DIEGO HOSPITAL
SUB-SETTING REFLECTS THE FOREIGN AND THE FAMILIAR

Elle stands in the hospital’s main lobby, staring at a man roughly ten years younger than her. His eyes are the exact same shade of steel blue as hers, and he’s a few inches taller. His hair is shiny, straight, and deep brown, unlike her wavey golden blond. His skin is darker and more olive toned. But he looks like her—so familiar and foreign all at once. He’s rocking from one foot to the other, and so is she. He’s anxious, just like her. They introduce themselves in an awkward exchange. A laugh erupts from somewhere inside her. A few people are milling around on their phones. But that’s about it. The chairs are empty, except for an older man sleeping upright in a chair with the back of his head against the wall and his mouth open wide. They step onto the elevator. She wipes her sticky palms on the sides of her dress and stares up at the numbers changing above the doors. It lands on six. There’s a deafening ding. The doors open, and they go left. There’s something comforting about the stark lights and antiseptic smell of the hospital. Elle chalks it up to familiarity, and subconsciously shifts to auto-pilot, clinging to the only thing she knows right now. She’s in a hospital, and she knows hospitals. She can’t feel her legs, but is aware of how fast they are moving her down the hall in a direction she doesn’t want to go. Her mind is blank again. It’s almost as if none of this is happening. Because that’s what she want so badly—for none of this to be happening.

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1. Story statement: Searching for an identity while dealing with ethnic and religious differences by writing a diary.

2. Antagonist: Fourth Prince Na-jin is a half-brother of the King of Oreka and is the personification of the struggles that Sitara goes through. He dislikes her for how different she is; she is not Orekan and is not Buddhist. She covers her hair and doesn’t eat their food. Fourth Prince Na-jin can never become King despite being the King’s brother since he has eight nephews. So he especially dislikes how Sitara’s family is close to the Queen of Oreka, with the potential to marry the Crown Imperial Prince, or even a Crown Prince of a different kingdom, and so he wants to remove Sitara from the palace. 

3. Breakout titles: Lady of the Lotus OR Sitara, Lady of the Lotus

4. Comparison titles

Ella Enchanted; Other Words For Home

5. Hook/Log line 

A first-generation princess pens a diary to deal with identity struggles on top of her first crush, bullies, making friends, and deciding her future at the palace. 

6. Conflicts: 

Primary conflict: Finding a place to belong in the palace
Inner conflict: Sitara wants to stand up to bullies who ostracize her for her religion but believes she’s too weak to do so (and pursues knighthood as the solution)
Secondary conflicts: Sitara has a crush on a non-Muslim and has mixed feelings of not pursuing it, unrequitedness, and wanting to feel accepted by her classmates

7. Setting:

Sitara’s story takes place in a fantasy setting based on 17th-century Korea and includes references to China, India/Indian Subcontinent, and Arabia. This world is Sitara exploring the diaspora experience. Islam and Buddhism are two religions that are present in the setting but only the former is discussed in detail since it’s the religion Sitara practices. Sitara lives in the Orekan Main Palace and attends its academy. Korean architecture are present like pagodas and pavilions, and Korean food and clothing are also used.

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Story Statement

Deliver the cure for a virus, find home, and evade attackers, all while falling in love.


Antagonist

After the world has been decimated by a highly deadly virus, civilization lies in tatters. Connor Bishop is a former courier for the secretive Scientific Collective, one of the few organizations left in the entire world, whose mission is to study the virus and hopefully come up with a cure. Connor turned on the collective once he learned of the virus's man-made origins. He believes the Collective lied to him and used him as a pawn. Now he wants to steal the original engineered virus and work on his own to both create the cure and a viral weapon to topple the collective, which he sees as corrupt.

On a mission together, Connor tries to recruit Aiden (one of the two MCs). Aiden, however, thinks Connor is raving about conspiracy theories. The very next day, they are ambushed by raiders and Connor falls off a bridge. Aiden thinks Connor died and flees for his life as the raiders attack. Connor, however, survived the fall by getting tangled in safety netting. He believes Aiden knowingly left him for dead, and he now has a personal vendetta against Aiden.

Connor now hunts Adien, who is tasked with transporting the virus.


Titles

ALONE TOGETHER <- current working title
LOVE AT THE END OF THE WORLD
LONELINESS IS LIKE A VIRUS

Comps

What If It’s Us for its character-driven romance.
All That’s Left in the World for its gritty near-future setting.

Logline

When Aiden and Zach meet in a world destroyed by a virus, they must evade the people hunting them, navigate their growing affection, and learn to let go of their fear and mistrust, so they can deliver the cure and discover what it means to love.


Conflicts

Aiden’s Inner Conflict: Aiden feels responsible for various peoples death’s over his life. As a result, he has isolated himself and refuses to get close to people. As a camp counselor, a child under his care died from hornet stings. Recently, he felt responsible for the (supposed) death of his co-worker Connon on their last mission. He’s also reeling from the death of his boyfriend Marcus at the hands of the virus.

Zach’s Inner Conflict: Zach was lost in the woods as a child while hiking with his father. He had to be rescued by Search and Rescue. As a result, he hates being alone and feeling abandoned. After witnessing his Uncle’s horrific death from the virus, he now finds himself entirely alone as the sole survivor of a small town in rural Montana.

External Conflicts: Aiden’s mission is to deliver the vials to Seattle which could be used to make a cure while being hunted by Connor. Zach’s goal is to get back to his home in Seattle to learn the fate of his family. They are forced together by circumstance, and also have to navigate their growing affection for each other, while dealing with both internal and external struggles which conspire to tear them apart.

Setting

The story is a road trip which takes place across the virus-ravaged Western United States. The setting is almost its own character as it provides a constant antagonistic force for the two MCs. Different settings include:

Elk Springs, Montana: A fictional small mountain town that has been entirely looted and distroyed. Zach is the lone survivor and has crafted a secure place for himself to live.
Old Junk Yard: Once home to Zach’s lone friend Ezra, the young men travel there to find a working car Zach knows about. There they find Ezra dead, a vicious junkyard dog, and a stocked bunker of supplies.
Abandoned Amusement Park: The boys stop at an abandoned amusement park on the way, and make an unlikely friend. 
Broken Down Dam: Zach is captured and taken to a broken down damn for interrigation. Aiden must navigate it’s broken-down, dark passages to rescue Zach.
Off-the-grid farm: The young men find their way to an off-the-grid farm on their way, run by Curtis, who has managed to survive on his own despite the world collapsing around him. It serves as a respite for MCs in the tortuous world.
Abandoned Train Tunnel: In the “point-of-no-return” spot in the story, the MC’s are ambushed in a train tunnel trying to get over a mountain pass. 
Ravaged Seattle metropolis - Various scenes are set in the looted and destroyed streets of Seattle.

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STORY STATEMENT:

Uncover the real killer behind the attempted hit and save both 'Prince Charming' and the client charged with shooting him — without destroying her career or getting sucked back into the dangerous and manipulative world of the rich and famous that almost destroyed her once and threatens to do so again.

ANTAGONIST

Michael Grayson is rich, gorgeous, and brilliant. Founder and CEO of Grayson Aeronautics, he enjoys the perks of his wealth — beautiful women, fast cars, and a luxurious country estate, among them. And having a name that can open doors — or close them — comes in handy. But at his core, he's an adrenalin junkie. A former fighter pilot, he craves challenge and is easily bored. His passion is aeronautical design and he's built a reputation as one of the best in the field. By comparison, the business aspect of his company is necessary, but uninteresting, and the socializing expected of his position simply an irritant.

He likes to be in control, the one with all the information going into any situation and the one calling the shots once he's there — whether it's in the cockpit, the boardroom, or the bedroom. That said, he isn't interested in pushing people around just because he can. There's no challenge in that. What he seeks, always, is a worthy adversary, a matching of wits, a problem to be solved. He finds all three in 'Cinderella' — the stunning, surprising woman from a one-night-stand who turns out to be the lawyer defending the street punk who shot him.

TITLE OPTIONS:

(1) Farewell, Cinderella*

*At their first meeting and ensuing one-night-stand, the two start this 'Cinderella-at-the-ball / Prince Charming' repartee that comes back at various points throughout the story. 

(2) Fairy Tales Don't Come True

(3) Princesses Are Overrated

COMPARABLES:

Fans of Things We Never Got Over and Things We Hide From the Light by Lucy Score will find the sizzling romance of Farewell, Cinderella right up their alley — another perfect cocktail of humor and high stakes, swoon and suspense. 

Fans of the strong, contemporary heroines Nora Roberts brings to the page will find another favorite in the pages of Farewell, Cinderella, featuring a vibrant young lawyer, passionate about protecting the underdog, whose heart and career are both on the line when love and murder come calling hand-in-hand.

HOOK:

Love and murder show up hand-in-hand for a St. Louis Public Defender when her magical one-night-stand turns out to be the target in the case of her career -- sending her scrambling to save her career, her client, her principles, and her happily-ever-after.

PROTAGONIST'S INNER CONFLICT: 

Annie has a deep distrust of those in positions of power, especially when that power arises from the depth of their pocketbook.  Thanks to her Machiavellian grandmother, she has experienced firsthand how that kind of power can run over people, destroying lives and livelihoods without so much as a backward glance.  It took her years to rebuild her own life after being on the receiving end of that kind of manipulation. But she did, and now she has dedicated that life to fighting for the underdog, the little guy, the poor people of the world.  

So when she finds out that 'Mick,' the Prince Charming who stole her heart in just one night, is in fact Michael Grayson, CEO of Grayson Aeronautics and one of the rising stars in the world of the rich and powerful, her world starts spinning off its carefully-constructed axis. She can't ignore the depth of her attraction to him, but she also can't ignore his casual use of his position to push buttons and open doors just like her grandmother used to do. And when she finds out he's been having her investigated — getting reports on her background, her movements, and even her phone records — it's her grandmother all over again and she does what she did before.  Run like hell. 

SECONDARY CONFLICT INVOLVING SOCIAL ENVIRONMENT:

Annie has been a public defender for three years and is hungry to prove herself as a trial lawyer. She has just been handed the biggest case of her career, a high-publicity shooting of a big shot corporate mogul. Not that she knew anything about the big shot corporate mogul herself, because she never watches the news, but she quickly learned he was a big deal. She is psyched about the case — until she watches the news coverage about the shooting and realizes her big shot corporate mogul victim is none other than 'Mick', her one-night-stand after the Justice for All ball, the 'Prince Charming' she's been pining for ever since. 

To top it off, her case investigation reveals that the shooting wasn't the random robbery-gone-bad everyone thinks it was, but a failed hit involving someone other than her client and Michael is very probably still in danger. Now she has to figure out a way to save Michael's life by uncovering who's really behind the attempt to kill him without betraying client confidentiality or destroying her career — a line that becomes increasingly difficult to walk the more she is drawn into Michael Grayson's life and world.  

SETTING: 

The story is set in St. Louis, with a side venture to Chicago, and juxtaposes the depressing surroundings frequented by those who practice public defense and the people they represent against the glitz and glamour of the mansions, cars, and corner offices of the uber-wealthy. 

The Public Defender Office in the basement of the criminal courts building:

In stark contrast to the towering ceilings and marble floors of the halls of justice above, the ceiling down here hovers barely a foot overhead. It is stained and peeling. The institutional linoleum floor is yellowed with age and reeking of bleach. Scarred wooden benches line the wall outside the door marked Public Defender. A boy who looks barely fourteen sits on one of them, his elbows on his knees, staring at the floor. On the other end, a homeless man in an army jacket and grizzled beard sleeps with his arm thrown protectively across the plastic bag that no doubt contains all he owns in the world. Inside, the small lobby is overflowing, the City's down-and-out filling the molded-plastic chairs, leaning against the walls, and perching on the ancient radiators, awaiting their turn to talk to a lawyer. The switchboard is ringing nonstop and, as [our hero] waits for the harried receptionist to get free, he watches a roach crawling along the baseboard. 

A meeting at the Workhouse where prisoners are held pretrial:

Attorney visits took place in the room designed for family visits — two long narrow halves divided by a row of windows, their thick glass always covered with the palm prints of those trying to touch their loved ones on the other side. Annie usually tried not to look at them. 

Jonathan pulled three of the plastic chairs into a small circle while Annie snagged the only potential writing surface in the place — a grimy TV tray the guards used to hold their coffee when on family visit duty — and added it to their makeshift office. 

"God, I hate the smell of Lysol," she said, not for the first time. Jails and prisons reeked of it. 

"All part of the ambiance," said Jonathan. "At least it's private. More than you could say for the old jail. I always found it so easy to get clients to open up to me there — sitting in the center of the cell block with the guard ten feet away. Something about those whispered conversations that just built trust, you know?"

"At least they had chairs. Out in Montgomery County, all I got was an upside-down bucket inside my client's jail cell." 

"That bucket was your own fault." Jonathan wagged a finger at her. "You had choices. You could have sat on the bed with your client like the guard told you."

"That guard was beside himself because I refused to sit on the bed. Or on that metal toilet. Can you imagine? Conducting an interview sitting on a toliet?"

"Not sure the bucket was all that much of a step up, but still — you get props for sticking to your principles. Such a glamorous gig we have. Can't imagine why we have trouble recruiting people, can you?"

Barlow House in Chicago

This is the home designed and occupied by Eleanor Barlow, one of the world's wealthiest women and the one responsible for our protagonist's core wound. We first see the house through the eyes of her granddaughter, returning home after years of estrangement:

Time turned on its heels as they passed Lincoln Park and traveled down the familiar city streets. Then the limo swung onto Burling Street and there it was — her personal hell, wrapped in a multi-million dollar bow. Four stories high, with a wrought-iron widow's walk atop its broad expanse, the mansion looked as if it had stood there for generations. It hadn't. Eleanor had had the place built herself, recreating the glory days of the Vanderbilts in her own little corner of the world. She'd been disappointed at having to settle for just eight city lots on which to build her showplace, but she didn't want to locate any farther out of the city. Life required such unfair compromises. Still, it's measly 25,000 square feet managed to provide plenty of places for an unhappy little girl to hide. Annie knew them all. 

. . . . 

Her heels clicked across the marble foyer's inlaid circle of interwoven gold flames. Sunlight streamed through the fourteen-foot windows and the scent of extravagant fresh flower arrangements tickled her nose. She headed up the staircase that was the central showpiece of Barlow House, its intricate ebony and gold banister spiraling upward for four stories in a stunning geometric display. As she ascended, an unwelcome thought popped into her head. Michael Grayson would probably be right at home in this gilded birdcage of a house. Bloody hell.  

 

 

 

 

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1) Story Statement. Quest of Protagonist.

Find his college sweetheart who disappeared ten years ago.

2) Sketch the Antagonistic Force

Gordon and Blair Walker, brother and sister, run a crime family in Glasgow, Scotland. Gordon once dated Kate Cameron, the girl who disappeared, and rivaled Jake MacKay, the protagonist, for her affection. Gordon is the everyday operator of the family who has expanded their operation into legitimate real estate. Older, Blair went into politics and is the glamorous front for the family that has run the city for three generations. The Walkers have gained credibility by opening a charity house to help in need teenagers. Gordon won businessman of the year. The Walkers do not want Jake coming back into town causing trouble. 

Jake is from the Scottish Highlands— remote country. The Walkers are city; he is country. They are ruthless; he is not. They have killed people; he has not. They have a chokehold on the city that he walks into now by himself.

Jake has always suspected the Walkers’ involvement in Kate’s disappearance. With clues from an opened time capsule he shared with Kate, he begins to confirm his suspicions. Ten years have passed. Wiser than he was and with the help of his own ancestry DNA company, he is not going to let the Walkers stop him from discovering what happened to Kate.

3) Title

Cover the Water

4) Genre & Comparables

Literary Mystery. 71,500 words.

Comparables: The Italian Villa, The Irish Cowboy.

5) Core Wound & Primary Dramatic Conflict

Haunted by guilt from the night his college sweetheart disappeared a decade ago, a forensic DNA entrepreneur opens a shared time capsule and sets out to find her— and, if necessary, avenge her.

6) Two More Levels of Conflict

The love story of Jake and Kate, told in flashbacks from their college years, provides a secondary conflict. Jake wants to measure up to Kate. He is younger than his years; she is older than hers. Is he streetwise enough to help in brutal Glasgow where she is trying to solve her father’s murder? When he says he loves her, does he even know what love is? Has today’s Jake matured enough to solve the riddle of Kate?

Jake has his own internal conflict— guilt from not being there when Kate disappeared that night. For a decade, he has wanted to fix a past he cannot escape. If he finds Kate, can he finally start living again? Can he allow himself to love again with the woman helping him today, a social media influencer? He has lived so long in the past. Can he come of age enough to let Kate go and enjoy a future?

7) Setting

The story plays out across today’s Scotland— primarily in Jake’s home in the Highlands in the far north and in the industrial city of Glasgow. Other locales include fishing villages, a historic battlefield, the air force base, the University of St Andrews, the cities of Inverness and Edinburgh— and London, the English countryside and Mississippi.

Jake’s family home is more than a house. His home anchors him. He draws strength from his family who has lived and fly-fished there for generations. And for 600 years the MacKay clan has called the village and environs home.

The setting extends to today’s technology. Jake is an entrepreneur who employs the forensics of his own ancestry DNA company to uncover the truth. His new influencer friend in Glasgow taps her social media platform to generate leads. 

And the setting includes Jake’s friends who sustain him. He begins as one man going up against a crime family, but he learns to trust and lean on his own network: his best friend, the duke, with unlimited financial resources; Kate’s younger brother, part of the crime family now— but who risks that to help Jake; the skeptical detective who finally works with Jake; and Jake’s father, gone now, but a wise force still in Jake’s life. 
 

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Story Statement/ Logline:

A thirty-five-year-old housewife trapped in a controlling marriage takes the train into Manhattan and is sent back in time on a mystical NYC subway voyage to revisit her relationships of the past.

Antagonist:

The most dangerous type of people are those who believe they can do no wrong.

From the outside, Nick Stratham is the perfect man: a charismatic, 6’2” neurosurgeon who performs free surgeries in his spare time and lavishes his wife with expensive gifts. But Nick is the type of man who is used to getting what he wants. For most of his life, every card has been dealt in his favor. Raised by wealthy parents in Connecticut, Nick is good looking, athletic, and incredibly intelligent. Despite a lack of struggle, Nick believes it’s his hard work and determination that have landed him where he is. Up until now, he’s reached every one of life’s milestones on his terms, exactly on time and exactly the way he’s wanted. Every problem solved with money.

But on the inside, Nick has a temper. He has secrets. Nick feeds on control. Believing its time to have a baby, he’s even taken control of his wife’s fertility. His impressive gaslighting abilities leave everyone in his wake believing they’re the one with something wrong. But he truly believes he’s a good guy. And so does everyone else.

Genre and Comparables

Women’s Fiction

Midnight Library by Matt Haig meets Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty

Titles

1.Train Tracks

2. Midnight Train Home

3. Last Train Home

Conflicts and Core Wounds

On the outside, Sofia has a gorgeous home, a handsome neurosurgeon for a husband, and everything provided for her, but something is missing. Her husband’s insidious gaslighting through the years has isolated her from friends, family, and the career she so loved. While Sofia intuits that her husband may be keeping secrets from her, she’s also been keeping secrets from him. Petrified of the consequences and simultaneously riddled with guilt, Sofia has been secretly thwarting any attempts at becoming pregnant by sabotaging IVF treatments and taking birth control.  

Believing her life was better before her marriage and fearful of confronting her controlling husband, Sofia sets up a secret job interview in NYC in the hope of once again finding freedom. She gets an unexpected jolt when she encounters a mystical stranger who sends her back in time on the NYC subway to different relationships of her past. The rules are simple: get back on the train before midnight to avoid getting stuck and losing any chance of making it back to the present. 

After recovering from the initial shock, accepting that she’s not undergoing a drug induced hallucination, Sofia begins to take advantage of her situation. Because she already knows the outcome, she has no problem telling off an old boss, righting a wrong, or reliving magical moments. In fact, she begins to enjoy her seemingly repercussion free journey, gallivanting around the NYC of her youth. It’s only when Sofia rekindles an old love affair that she decides she may not want to leave. After being heartbroken in a way she was too afraid to experience in real life, Sofia realizes that if she doesn’t make the midnight train, she may destroy her future, miss her job interview, and end up exactly where she started. It’s only then, she begins to seek the real answers, hopefully before it’s too late.

During a zany and eye opening journey, Sofia relives love affairs with men, NYC, and eventually herself. TRAIN TRACKS, a women’s fiction novel, asks the much debated question - Are we truly the orchestrators of our own fate? 

Primary Conflict: Will Sofia be able to make it back to the future to land a job that will give her the confidence and financial security to leave her husband? Will she be able to get the physical evidence to prove her husband is bad as she thinks?

Secondary Conflict: Debating staying in the past with an old love only to learn the true, debilitating pain of a broken heart. 

Inner conflict / Core Wound: Raised by a mother who based the quality of one’s life on a man and an undependable father who she misunderstood, Sofia has always used men as indicator of her self worth. When faced with having to get out of a toxic marriage and find a way to support herself, Sofia must return to her past to find who she is all along: a strong woman capable of relying on herself. 

Setting:

Act One: The setting opens in Sofia’s beautiful, expensive home she shares with her husband in Connecticut. The house is renovated - modern, sleek style, parts of which make Sofia uncomfortable. They live in an idyllic Connecticut town - reminiscent of Gilmore Girls meets Stepford Wives. As “perfect” as the outer setting is, Sofia is miserable on the inside and the weather is just as bad. At the end of Act 1, Sofia travels into Manhattan where she walks by a dingy, old apartment building she used to live in where the ceiling leaks brown water. She reminisces about it fondly, but a friend states that the building itself violates health codes. Despite the garbage, urine, homeless people, and reckless cyclists, Sofia remembers a different, more free version of herself from her days in the city and is thrilled to be back.

Act Two: Sofia’s journey throughout her past in NYC is told predominantly by visiting different old boyfriends. Each boyfriend is unique like each neighborhood of NYC. Starting with famous landmarks like Grand Central Station, the Church Missions House (Fotografiskia Museum), and Trinity Church, she also travels further - water taxis to locals only parties in Rockaway Beach, raves in Bushwick warehouses, haunted brownstones in Bedstuy, Irish pubs at 4am in Woodside, the Mandarin Hotel. Each place holds significance about the person she’s with and the lesson she needs to learn. She will visit a $2 Million piede-a-terre and a basement of a dive bar in Chinatown. Rats on subways, scary motorcycle rides over bridges. But each setting highly reflects each part of the story. At the beginning when she is still idealizing the past, the weather is amazing - sunny days and warm breezes. As she transitions more as a character, weather becomes worse again.

Act Three: She’s back in present day Manhattan where her journey back in time began. Weather is moderate - sunny. Nothing is too good or bad. It feels more normal than it has the entire story. Public transportation is running smoothly. Sofia makes the decision to face her husband but we leave thinking she will come back to NYC.

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1.Story Statement: Deena Grossman must overcome a history of family betrayal in order to take agency in her life and find the happiness she’s always wanted.

 

 

2. Antagonist: Esther Nussbaum, aka Mom, thinks she has her daughter’s best interests at heart but her actions sabotage Deena at (almost) every turn. Because Mom believes families must remain intact—and that adultery is a normal occurrence in marriages—instead of taking Deena’s side, she appears to favor Danny, Deena’s adulterous husband, and she schemes with him to help him get back into Deena’s heart—and bed. After moving in, Mom creates further barriers to Deena’s goals by undermining her authority with Jason and Jenny, Deena's kids. Controlling, judgmental, and manipulative, Mom, however, is not all bad. Her softer side shows itself in heart-to-hearts with Deena, during which she shares her traumatic past and desire to “save the Grossmans.” A Holocaust survivor, whose parents made the heartbreaking decision to send her on a Kindertransport when she was eight years old and who later suffered horrific abuse at the hands of her caretakers, Mom has always felt the shadow of betrayal and abandonment. While she herself has betrayed others her whole adult life, Mom is now trying, with little success, to connect in more meaningful ways. 

 

3. Breakout Titles:

YOU OUGHTA KNOW

DEENA GROSSMAN GROWS UP

DEENA COMES OF AGE

 

 

4. Comparables: YOU OUGHTA KNOW has multi-generational coming-of-age themes similar to those in Emma Straub’s All Adults Here andis comparable in voice and humor to Taffy Brodesser-Akner’s Fleishman Is in Trouble.

 

5. Hook Line: 30-something, couples therapist Deena Grossman has worked her entire life to get away from her domineering, adulterous mother but has discovered she’s married her—in the form of a cheating husband—and must now overcome a long legacy of betrayal and forge a new independent life if she is ever to find the happiness she’s always wanted. 

 

 

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

 

Deena, the protagonist, has just discovered that her husband Danny of fifteen years is having an affair--she asked him at a neighbor's daughter's bat-mitzvah and he said "yes."

Inner conflict: Deena is struggling with shame. She is a couples therapist. How didn't she know her husband was having an affair? Deena worked all her life to get away from an adulterous mother. How to deal with the fact that she married her--in the form of a cheating husband?

Deena is plagued by conflicting emotions. a) She wants to heal her relationship with Mom and needs to rely on Mom for help with the kids, yet Deena feels she can't trust Mom. b) Deena is furious at Danny yet still misses him and feels a need to protect him c) Deena still wants to be "taken care of" yet wants to (finally) find agency in her life. d) She wonders why she has never been "enough" (for her mother, for her husband) and what is it about her that makes her so easy to betray. e) Deena wants to find new love, but when Chris her "crush" (and her boxing coach) falls hard and fast for her, she feels she may have jumped in too quickly. f) Deena has never doubted her parenting skills but when she discovers that Jenny (her 14-yr-old daughter) has been "taking eating disorder lessons" from Kira (Jenny's new bff), her parenting is thrown into question and she must confront the intergenerations trauma and family secrets that just now begin to unfold.   

This excerpt from chapter two shows Deena’s inner conflict and turmoil: After going for a run with her best friend, delving into a book about marital affairs, turning to the TV, Deena looks to her jacuzzi to help her gain some perspective—or at least make it through the day. 

 

I took refuge in the master bathroom, my favorite room in the house. Paul, the contractor with the dreamy voice and fantasy hands, had a wonderful eye for color and design and instinctually knew what I liked. Go figure. Warm beige against rare brown sea glass, and at the center, under the large wide window facing the backyard, the deep, oversized jacuzzi, into which I loved to disappear. Maybe I should have invited Paul to disappear with me beside the hot, pulsing jets.

Anyway … I slipped off my clothes and climbed in the empty jacuzzi, naked and cold. I turned on the water and placed my right wrist under the faucet to test the temperature, just as I’d tested the kids’ formula, back in the day, after heating up their bottles. Those were such delicious days, the sweet innocence of toddlers, the sweet innocence of starting a family. Even Danny was sweet, with the kids, with me. Our long walks through the neighborhood, Danny wheeling the double stroller. Danny reading Goodnight Moon to Jenny, telling stories to Jason about the stars. Danny snuggling with me under the blankets, his head on my now mushy belly. When did he lose that sweetness, that innocence?  

I watched the warm water stream across my wrist, the tub filling, slowly. I turned the knob towards hot, hungry for a slow burn. 

Mom. She loved baths too. Hot baths. I remember how she’d spend late afternoons immersed in a lavender soak, the scent drifting to her bedroom and into the hall. She’d dress after, in soft silk blouses, slim wool slacks. Dressing to go out “with a friend,” so many evenings, so many “friends,” all male, most of whom she must have slept with.

I became transfixed on my blue-green veins, my purple capillaries, running lengthwise up my arm. 

Mom, stepping out. Leaving Dad and me behind. 

What would it feel like, I wondered, to take Danny’s straight edged razor and slice one of those capillaries, right through one tiny roadway carrying my blood? 

Mom. Now Danny. Stepping out. Dad. Dead. Must everyone leave me behind? 

A little sliver, a thin slit across the skin. Just enough to turn the water a lovely, muted shade of pink. 

I pulled my hand away and poured a large scoop of lavender bath salts into the tub instead. After taking in a few deep breaths of the familiar scent, I began to cry. You didn’t have to be a psychologist to know I was in trouble. Things were getting real. I needed professional help. Linda. 

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

 

This excerpt from a chapter in the middle of the book shows lots of secondary conflict: Danny (Deena’s cheating husband), Mom (who’s recently moved in with Deena and the kids “to help”), and Jason (Deena and Danny’s son) all meet Chris (Deena’s new love interest):

 

 

It was 8:00 a.m. on the dot, when the doorbell rang and bolted me awake. I hated being bolted awake. I jumped out of bed and put on a robe.

“You okay to get the door, Deena?” Chris mumbled groggily.

“Yeah. I mean, sure. I’m sure it’s all good.”  

Who was at the door at this hour on a Sunday? Maybe Mrs. Schwinger, the neighbor in the blue colonial next door? She could have seen Chris’s car in the driveway and wanted to check if I was okay. Was it Rhonda? Jason could have left something at her house. Maybe it was Susan, coming to beg for forgiveness for saying such rotten things about Jenny. I very much doubted that. 

I lifted the slat on the blinds and peered out the living room window. It wasn’t Schwinger. Or Rhonda. It wasn’t Susan. It was worse. Much worse. 

“Deena. Open up.” 

It was Danny with Jason in tow.

“What are you doing here this early?” I gave him the death stare and then turned to Jason and put my hands on his shoulders.

“Hi sweetie. You and Daddy not having a good time?” 

Danny answered for him. “We’re having a great time. Jason just wanted to stop by to grab a few things. And you should be thanking me—we’ve been up for two hours, but I made sure we waited until 8:00 to ring the bell.” Danny pointed to his watch, the new Patek Philippe Aquanaut. He was a poster child for conspicuous consumption. 

Danny took it all in: my wild hair, my bathrobe. When he lived here, I always slept in flannels. Today, no flannel pajamas peeked out from the bottom or past the thick terry sleeves. All he could see was bathrobe—and skin. He leaned forward a bit, no doubt to sniff me. His eyes hardened. 

“The car in the driveway, it’s blocking my spot.” 

“Jason, honey,” I said, “Why don’t you go upstairs for a few minutes? Say hi to the cats. They missed you.” Jason ran upstairs.

“Whose Camaro is in the driveway, Deena? Whose fucking Camaro?” 

I tried to block his path as he walked towards the bedroom, but he went around me. Before he made it to the door, Chris came out, in gym shorts, no shirt, just his smooth chest (I wondered if he waxed it), the perfect backdrop for his muscles, his gorgeous, boxer muscles. 

“Woah.” Danny just stood there, in his pastel blue Polo, his crisp, creaseless khakis, his butter leather loafers, sans socks. Danny, 5’10, a trim 155lbs, facing off against a solid, buff, half-naked Chris. 

“Who are you?” Danny asked, the veins in his neck beginning to bulge. 

“Name’s Chris,” Chris said, reaching out for a handshake. Danny didn’t reciprocate. Chris let his hand fall back to his side.

“Chris, huh?” Danny took a breath. “So you’re the that’s guy fucking my wife?”

“Danny!”

“It’s okay, Deena,” Chris said, holding me with his eyes. He turned to Danny. The smile gone, but the cordiality still in his voice. 

“I suppose you could say that. But I wouldn’t.”

“You wouldn’t, huh? You were just in bed with my wife. Why the fuck wouldn’t you say it?”

 “Because it’s rude. And disrespectful.”

“Rude! Dis-re-spect-ful,” Danny turned to me. “Is this guy for real?” He turned back to Chris. “Well, I think fucking my wife is rude and disrespectful.” 

You could hear the agitation in Danny’s voice, see it in the tightness of his jaw, the clenching of his fists. Chris, on the other hand, remained cool and calm, but there was no way he was going to put up with any of Danny’s shit. 

“And by the way, Dan, I’m not too sure Deena thinks of herself as your wife anymore.” 

Where was he getting that from? And who gave him permission to speak for me?

A burning red creeped up Danny’s neck into face, just like the red that runs through my body when I’m angry or embarrassed. He turned to me. 

“So you’re actually fucking this beefcake? You must be really proud of yourself, Deena.”

I looked at Danny standing there, helpless, trying his best to appear tough, even though he knew he was totally outmatched. He had just struck out at me. Still, my heart sank for him—just a little. 

“What are you doing, Deena? What is this man doing sleeping in my bed?”

I felt like I was living a testosterone version of “Goldilocks and the Three Bears.” 

“Your bed? Your bed?” I started to laugh. Then cry. And then I heard a car door slam. A loud “thank you, sir,” in a singular voice that could only be Mom’s. Danny had left the front door open, so Mom walked right in, in a navy Perry Ellis pantsuit and a silk mauve blouse underneath.

“All those cars in the driveway! Did we have a slumber party last night?” 

There was a happy lilt in her voice. Until she saw me with my hair wild, in a bathrobe, standing beside Chris, who was shirtless, in gym shorts, both of us facing Danny, the favorite-son-she-never-had Danny, his back to her. She dropped her Fendi bag. 

“Bad time?” 

 “Chris, meet Esther Nussbaum, my mom.”  

Chris walked over quickly, extending his hand, which, unlike Danny, Mom was happy accept. 

“It’s a pleasure, Mrs. Nussbaum,” Chris said. “I’ve heard a lot about you.”

“Hmm.” I swear she started batting her eyelashes. “Not sure that’s a good thing,”  adding a soft, helpless pout.

“I’ve heard about you, too, Christian. And I must say,” she said as she looked him up and down, “Deena’s descriptions haven’t quite done you justice.” 

Before Chris could answer, Danny stepped in and opened his arms for a hug.

“Esther! How’ve you been?”

“Just wonderful, Danny! Even better now, seeing you!” 

Ugh. A wave of nausea crashed against the walls of my stomach. Those two. Still at it. I wanted to tell them to get a room. 

The whole scene felt like a boxing match. Danny and Mom in one corner. Chris and I in another. Each of us measuring our opponents, waiting for the bell to ring.

“Ma? Can I come down now?” that was Jason, yelling from the top of the steps. 

Danny began to scream-whisper at me. “I don’t want Jason meeting him,” pointing, of course, at Chris. “I sacrifice each week, make sure Vanessa is nowhere around when I’m with Jason. I expect the same of you and … and whomever you’re sleeping with on any given day.” 

Whomever I’m sleeping with on any given day. Really, Danny?

“Jason wouldn’t have met Chris—it’s Chris, by the way Danny, ‘whomever’ has a name—if you didn’t feel so free to barge in without calling. There’s a thing called boundaries, Danny. B-o-u-n-d-a-r-i-e-s.” (Thank God I spelled it right. Danny was a spelling and grammar guru.) “You’ve crossed big time boundaries today.” I leaned into Chris for support. He put his arm around me. Was he comforting me? Or claiming me?

“Ma! Is Grandma here?”  

“I’m here, sweetie. Come down and say hi!” Mom was smiling—big and wide. She was absolutely loving this. 

“Let’s all get some … breakfast?” Mom raised her voice into a question mark, but there would be no doubt.  There would be breakfast. “Jason, come help me make pancakes.”

 

 

 

7. Setting: Set in the affluent suburbs of Westchester County, New York in the decadent late 90s, where adulteries were as prevalent as Burberry trench coats, as well as all over the news (Bill Clinton, Hugh Grant, Frank Gifford, and a few years later, Arnold Schwarzenegger), YOU OUGHTA KNOW uses this cultural backdrop to examine the life and choices now presented to Deena Grossman. The upper-middle class and all its trappings are portrayed throughout the novel: Stately homes on wide, tree-lined streets, with well-manicured lawns; opulent parties; designer clothes. In the shadows of the novel lives the changing cultural/emotional landscape, as women of some means who had until then only given lip service to independence began to consider, by choice or necessity, the alternative to being taken care of by men, even as they had not yet begun to acknowledge their privilege. Suburban life of driving kids from one activity to the next amidst the competition and gossip of PTA moms, therapy and lunch appointments, house renovations, and shopping, shopping, shopping became quite old quite quickly. Underlying the opulence are scenes highlighting Holocaust trauma and its intergenerational impact, providing a stark contrast between the two life situations and a means to more deeply understand the conflict between Deena and Mom.  How does one’s personal situation reflect the larger environment? How does one change with the times?  

 

 

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A DATE WITH LIMA
By Dr. Michael Abraham

 

THE ACT OF STORY STATEMENT

My mission as the protagonist in this true story is to overcome hopelessness and save my dreams after my ex-wife, Brigitte, and her boyfriend, Luis, a Peruvian Diplomat, abducted my two daughters to South America, and to create a network of high profile allies to assist in the international search in locating and re-abducting them from a foreign land to the United States.

 

THE ANTAGONIST PLOTS THE POINT

Brigitte is a young, attractive German and Swiss citizen living in the US on a green card. In our relationship, she is angry, explosive, vindictive, and ruthless—a dramatic change from the demure, reserved, and mysterious woman I met on a train in Munich, Germany. She has a marriage breaking affair and later abducts our two young daughters, Stephanie and Lia, to establish a new life in South America with her boyfriend.

 

CONJURING YOUR BREAKOUT TITLE

  1. A DATE WITH LIMA

  2. UNSURRENDERED DREAMS

  3. THE POWER OF THE LAW

 

DECIDING YOUR GENRE AND APPROACHING COMPARABLES

  1. THE GIRLS ARE GONE (BEST SELLER, Michael Brodkorb and Allison Mann, 2018)

 

The Girls Are Gone, 2018, is a nonfiction, true crime story of abduction. Like in A Date With Lima. The plots for each are structured in the book temporally, in days missing, with chapter titles that reflect events in the search and return of the children. Each story has legal focus, involving court documents and decisions.

The Girls are Gone follows the story of two girls who vanish in the midst of a parents’ divorce. Similarly, the girls’ father worked tirelessly with law enforcement to search day and night for his two missing daughters, following every lead while remaining at home. 


 

  1. HER ONE MISTAKE (Heidi Perks, 2019)

 

Her One Mistake, 2019, is a fiction thriller that tells the story of a missing child and one devastating mistake. Described as “seriously page turning, suspenseful, and dark,” the protagonist goes on a journey to unwind a mystery and find her missing daughter.

A Date With Lima’s Michael makes one devastating mistake as well - which leads to his daughters being abducted overseas and remaining there until he can unwind a mystery of his own. While A Date With Lima exists in the nonfiction, true crime genre, it reads very much like a thriller of proportions similar to Her One Mistake.


 

HOOK LINE(LOGLINE) CORE WOUND 

Michael, overcoming a life-threatening alcohol/drug addiction, instead of projecting his anger and blame on his ex-wife, Brigitte, for abducting his daughters to South America, draws on his spiritual recovery, and suppresses self to focus on their well-being to demonstrate his devotion and love to gain allies to assist in returning them to the United States.

INNER CONFLICT

Michael shares a court order—granting him sole custody and holding Brigitte in contempt of court—with an assistant in the office of Senator Carol Mosely-Braun. From this, he elicits her political power to facilitate the return of his daughters from South America. In his meeting with one US Congressman, Rod Blagojevich, he prioritizes his desire to ensure the safety of his daughters over his worry for their exposure to  dangers in lawless Quito, Ecuador. Understanding that negative emotion will not help him gain allies, Michael does not reveal disdain for Brigitte’s manipulation and vindication towards him on a personal level.

Hollywood detective Anthony Pellicano says “we will talk again when you are ready”, and hangs up from a telephone conversation after Michael shows his frustration with what he perceived as a delayed action in locating and returning his daughters from Quito. Michael had sent Pellicano faxes, chastising him over his lack of communication and movement in his case for his abducted daughters.




 

THE INCREDIBLE IMPORTANCE OF SETTING

Chicago: Michael’s Office

Michael’s academic office, on the fourth floor at the University of Illinois at Chicago’s medical complex, is the center of action for his network of allies—as he communicates internationally with the fax machine and telephone. 

His office is in an old, unassuming structure, matching the bland, rundown, neighborhood in the Westside of Chicago. His desk faces a window overlooking the inner campus of the medical school, with deserted, expansive grass courtyards and criss-crossing walkways. The surrounding buildings are drab and tired looking, reflecting a state controlled and funded institution. The greater neighborhood is dangerous, day or night, and adds to the desolate character of the medical campus.

The surface of his desk is cluttered with documents pertaining to his daughters’ abduction. It is an organized chaos. In the only free space, a silverish-chrome framed picture of his two daughters from their trip to Amsterdam is perched.

 

Germany: Karl’s House

Michael travels to Germany, visiting the rustic, naturalistic home of Brigitte’s parents in his initial search. The gravel crunches under Michael’s feet as he approaches her father. The day is sunny, but cold—discouraging any lingering presence. 

Just past the long, curved driveway, the family’s house is made up of natural materials—logs and varying wood sources—reflecting Rudolf Steiner’s philosophy, one that the family had become accustomed to. The property itself was in opposition to the more traditional German homesteads, reminding Michael again that he was not dealing with any average family.

 

Switzerland: Waldorf School

Michael travels to Basel, Switzerland, to visit the Waldorf Schools. The entrance opens to the classical architecture of the gymnasiums. The building has open, high ceilings, and the atmosphere is quiet and orderly.

 

Quito: Pellicano’s hotel room

Michael is escorted by limousine to a luxurious, five star hotel in downtown Quito. The neighborhood surroundings seemed to be in opposition of the hotel itself—people of poverty milling on the streets. Quito was a dangerous, distant third world country. 

 

Upon entering the plush, wood paneled room, Michael is seated on a luxurious hotel bed in the dark. The room is quiet, creating even more suspense for what’s to come. The silhouette of Pellicano moves through the room, reaching to turn on an old video projector. On the wall in front of Michael, an image appears, taking motion as the video is played. The light from the projector is bright and blinding, taking moments for Michael’s eyes to adjust.

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I apologize for the delay in submitting this - I just signed up for this course a couple of weeks ago!

 

STORY STATEMENT:

Save an old woman from getting evicted before it’s too late…for both of them.

 

ANTAGONIST:

Cecelia Robertson grew up knowing that her mother lived a life of sin with another woman. When the rumors at school in Queens became unbearable, her father sent her to Atlanta to be raised by her God-fearing aunt and uncle. The way Cecelia sees it, she was stricken from the story and exiled to suit her mother’s sinful lusts. The only saving grace of her life is that she found God in the Southern Baptist Church, which showed her the righteous path and gave her a name for all her pain – her mother’s lover, Grace. As soon as her mother dies, she takes ownership of the family apartment in Queens and tries to force an eviction on Grace by becoming the Board President. Patience is a virtue, and if she’s waited this long to exact revenge, then it had better be done right.  

 

BREAKOUT TITLE:

Between Two Edens

Eve Hollisman’s Overriding Interests

 

COMPARABLES:

The Cactus by Susan Hayward

              Just like my novel, The Cactus tells the story of a jaded lawyer who struggles to get out of her own way to find happiness. Both novels also center around a family mystery that needs to be solved, but my novel offers an international layer to the narrative and a more intensive back story.

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman

              The character of Eleanor Oliphant and my character, Eve Hollisman, would likely be friends – except for the fact that neither of them is in the market for a new one. They both lead carefully crafted lives, are dedicated to their routines, and are more in need of a shakeup than either can imagine. When Eve and Eleanor each meet the person who will do just that, everything changes for them – for better or for worse.

 

HOOK LINE:

A young lawyer, torn between keeping her job and doing what’s right, is pulled into an old woman’s eviction which forces her to confront her own painful past.

 

INNER AND OUTER CONFLICTS:

Eve, an attorney, receives a strange phone call from Grace, a grouchy old woman who claims she’s about to be evicted.  The pain in Grace’s voice, her grief over having just lost her mother, or “Ma,” and a subsequent visit to her smelly old apartment, open a chasm inside Eve and compel her to help this broken woman.  There’s only one problem.  Eve represents the building that’s trying to evict her. 

The more Eve digs into Grace’s predicament, the less that makes sense.  The new board president, Cecelia, dead set on throwing Grace out of her home of over seven decades, seems to have more of a grudge against Grace than her supposed non-payment of rent.  And yet, Grace maintains that she’s never even met the board president.  When Eve discovers that Grace is in fact up to date on her payments, she knows there’s more to the story than she’s bargained for. Even more strange is when she learns from Grace’s doorman that her “Ma” was not her mother after all, but a woman named Mara Sanders.

Eve’s predicament is further complicated when her boss tells her that her bid for partner is being considered and to prepare a pitch to be presented.  News that would have once made Eve feel complete now leaves her conflicted.  All she has to do is show up in court and move forward with the eviction, and the one hitch in her pitch would be gone.  But when the time comes, she can’t bring herself to do it.  After Cecelia storms out of the courtroom, Eve knows she’s in hot water, but she doesn’t know just how badly until her boss tells her that the board president has threatened to file a grievance against her, putting her law license on the line.  The realization creeps in that Eve may have blown up her entire life – again.  For her, being partner is the final stage of the independence and accomplishment that she desperately needs after her marriage to her law school sweetheart forced her into a position of dependency and an unwanted pregnancy that would have turned her into her housewife mother.  It was a world she didn’t fit into, just like all the worlds she’s lived in after Singapore.  But the miscarriage rocked her, and the guilt of having wished the child away never faded.  Eve is desperate to talk to someone, so she calls her younger sister out of desperation, only to learn that her sister is pregnant.  All of Eve’s pain and trauma catches up to her, and everything fades to black.

 

SETTING:

Setting is of tantamount importance to the main character, Eve. Born and raised in an expat family in Singapore, she is uprooted at the age of twelve by her New Yorker parents to go back “home”.  Sadly, she never quite fits into the New York suburbs she is dropped into, full of people who look like her but are nothing like her.  Singapore represents the happy childhood that she has never been able to replicate with a father who is lost to her. Eve seeks something comparable in New York, vying for the position of Partner at her law firm, believing that her father would be proud that she followed his path.

In the flashback chapters, Eve moves to Boston for law school and meets James. The two quickly become a couple which lasts through law school and eventually leads to a marriage she isn’t ready for, ending in divorce and a miscarriage. Boston represents the past she wants to forget, even though it follows her and influences the way she thinks about herself.

The present-day chapters take place in New York, where Eve tries to pick up the pieces of her life after her divorce and miscarriage. New York represents a place-holder, as she tries to assemble the life she thought she wanted before she got married. New York is about regaining control over her life after feeling submissive to her husband’s dreams. Yet, living the law firm life isn’t what she wants, which she realizes when she sets on a path to help Grace, an old woman who is about to be evicted from her home.

We end with Eve on the plane to Singapore, finally excited for the rest of her life and for finally going home.  

 

 

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Killing the Game, by Michael Martin

Crime and mystery.

 

1. The Act of Story Statement:

In Chicago three underworld friends become estranged. When one goes missing, the others reunite to find him, but land themselves in a terrific battle against law enforcement, organized crime--and their own past.

 

2. The Antagonist Plots The Point:

Kyle, Ursula and Jack are friends and lovers who play on the left side of the law. As a criminal element, even without Jack’s disappearance, the police are an antagonistic force to the three; when Jack goes missing, the right side of law enforcement remains a threat, but there is a cadre of crooked cops also involved. Amoral and violent, these corrupt officers appear to be allies in the search for Jack, and for that reason Kyle must cooperate with them, but there is unease amongst the group and Kyle senses motives that may veer dangerously out of alignment with his own.

Then there is organized crime, which, through the course of their illicit business operations, Jack and Kyle have had dealings—and disagreements—with. Messing with the mafia—something a rational soul would try to avoid, but when Kyle and Jack find themselves in that very situation, they learn firsthand what criminal insanity truly is.

 

3. Conjuring The Breakout Title:

Killing the Game

Tapping on the Glass

American Odds

 

4. Deciding My Genre and Approaching Comparables:

Don Winslow: The Death and Life of Bobby Z, and The Power of the Dog (series).  

Robert Dugoni: The Extraordinary Life of Sam Hell.

 

5. Core Wound and the Primary Conflict:

After a difficult but clean break with a troubled past, Kyle is forced back into the underworld when his one-time best friend and criminal mentor goes missing.

 

6. Other Matters of Conflict: Two More Levels:

Ursula Jade is Jack Pierce’s on again, off again wife, and sometime lover of Kyle. A take charge, Type A personality, Ursula has Kyle completely under her thumb, which, in the past didn’t always bother Kyle, but in the present is a spell he’s not so keen to go back under. In the old days Ursula was very proficient at having Kyle do bad things, and now, reunited in the quest to find Jack, Kyle is stressed to see her pushing a return to the way things used to be.

As most of the people also recruited to find Jack are rather deficient of morals, Kyle, who has been trying to leave the criminal life behind is wary of their motives and in disagreement with their actions. Kyle has a particular conflict with a group of corrupt police officers, yet he must cooperate with them if they’re to find Jack.

 

7. The Incredible Importance of Setting:

Chicago. The great city. Large enough with distinct neighborhoods and a highly diverse citizenry; lots of spaces—iconic, famous, or just unique—for the characters to tear around in. Also, for reasons justified or not, Chicago has long had a close association with gangsters, crime and corruption. This makes The Windy City a wonderful setting for my characters and their own dubious morality.

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ASSIGNMENT#1: THE ACT OF STORY STATEMENT:

My father was the master storyteller, and the room would buzz with excitement whenever he began to tell a story.  To safeguard his legacy, I have documented his bloopers, as well as other timeless family tales. Every chapter is an entirely different narrative, most with humorous adventure.

 

ASSIGNMENT#2: THE ANTAGONIST PLOTS THE POINT:

There is no antagonist or protagonist running throughout the book. Each narrative has situational challenges pertaining to the ebbs and flows of life.

 

ASSIGNMENT#3: CONJURING YOUR BREAKOUT TITLE:

#1 Famlore … Feelgood Family Lore

#2 Kindling … To Keep Home Fires Burning

#3 Worth the read—You be the Judge.

 

ASSIGNMENT#4: DECIDING YOUR GENRE AND APPROACHING COMPARABLES:

Memories --- Compilation of short stories, primarily funny but some inspirational. (Who compares to me and why?)

“Chicken Soup for the Soul” — Jack Canfield and Mark Victor Hansen

--- Independent stories

“Cheaper by the Dozen” —Frank Bunker Gilbreth Jr. and Ernestine Gilbreth Carey

--- Family tales

“Little Town on the Prairie” —Laura Ingalls Wilder

--- Family tales

“All Things Wise and Wonderful” —James Herriot

--- Family tales

“Family--The Ties that Bind . . . And Gag!” —Erma Bombeck

--- Family tales

 

ASSIGNMENT#5: CORE WOUND AND THE PRIMARY CONFLICT

There is no thread of conflict running throughout the book. Each narrative has situational challenges pertaining to the ebbs and flows of life.

 

ASSIGNMENT#6: OTHER MATTERS OF CONFLICT: TWO MORE LEVELS

There is no thread of conflict running throughout the book. Each narrative has situational challenges pertaining to the ebbs and flows of life.

 

ASSIGNMENT#7:  THE INCREDIBLE IMPORTANCE OF SETTING

Each story is a unique setting. However, the feel of the book is a deliberate sensual “Feel Good” experience. Additionally, its pocketbook size makes it easy to take with you in your purse or bag.

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