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Algonkian Retreats and Workshops 2023 - Assignments

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Talented players in the 1930s Negro League warm up by staging an exuberant pantomime with an imaginary baseball. The mock game is a metaphor for the exclusion of talented Negro athletes from the segregated Major Leagues.

Nearly a century later, a Georgia field hand is discovered for his ability to throw a peach through a watermelon. Lazarus Turner makes his way to the Majors with a 100-mph fastball, but he is unprepared for the racial discrimination and harsh realities he faces. When Laz is released from his team in the middle of an inning, the humiliated pitcher questions his purpose and embarks on a journey of self-actualization.

Laz is befriended by Sam “Scribbler” Siegel, a peripatetic baseball reporter who delivers the Negro pitcher to Youngstown, Ohio in 1932. It is a time when the Great Depression collides with Prohibition and the migration of Negroes to industrial cities in the North during the Jazz Age. The time-traveling Scribbler narrates a story that he has documented in his journal: a tale about identity, the cruelties of racism and the fulfillment of one's talents.

Laz is taunted, demeaned and abused in the evolving America of 1932. His encounters with real-life characters such as the healer Bonesetter Reese, the racist ballplayer Ty Cobb, jazz singer Billie Holiday, numbers kingpin Gus Greenlee and the wise and wiley Satchel Paige enable him to endure the consequences of being Black.



Shadow Ball is a novel about oppression, social change and the struggle for inclusion in evolving America. Set against the racism that stains the National Pastime, the story confronts the myths and history of Major League baseball and the power and endurance of a personal dream. Institutionalized racism in the 1930s, expressed by baseball’s color barrier, is the story’s antagonistic force. It is personified by the hateful Ty Cobb, a despicable racist who is perhaps the greatest player in baseball history. Cobb’s encounters with the protagonist, a talented Black ballplayer from the future (Laz Turner), provide the tension and conflict for scenes that reveal institutional racism, social racism and the economic racism of the times.To achieve his goal of pitching in the Major Leagues, Laz must endure and overcome the obstacles of being Black. Cobb is his foil.



Shadow Ball  

Laz Turner’s Left Arm

The Peach and the Watermelon



(1)  Ragtime by E.L. Doctorow: The celebrated 1975 novel captures the spirit of America in the era between the turn of the century and the First World War.  The story blends fantasy and historical fact with characters real and imagined.

(2) Shoeless Joe by W.P. Kinsella:  “If you build it, he will come.”  A struggling farmer hears voices and enlists a writer, the disgraced ballplayer Joe Jackson and dead players from the past for games at a baseball field that he carves out his cornfield –  inevitably to reconnect with the memory of his father who, like him, is transformed by the magic of baseball. The 1982 novel inspired the movie Field of Dreams.



Lazarus Turner can throw a peach through a watermelon, but the segregated Major Leagues throw curveballs at his soul.



Nearly a century after exposing baseball’s color barrier, Shadow Ball remains an apt metaphor for inequality. Black players faced unrelenting taunts, abuses and discrimination in 1932 America.The conditions remain in present time, when only seven percent of the players on Major League rosters are Black.

Hypothetical scenario: Lazarus Turner, the protagonist, aspires to become the most dominant pitcher in the Major Leagues and an example for all Black ball players in present time. But first, he is compelled to travel back in time where he discovers that while racism is accepted in  2020, it is dangerous in 1932. Laz must fulfill his talents and potential in a journey of self-actualization. Inner conflict emerges as an obstacle to ambition. Which is worse, he wonders, being invisible or being seen? Laz’s conflict is exhausting: the ego, the desire to be noticed – even admired – is always present.  The forces of racism erupt at confrontations with notable, white ball players as well as with the all-white local team that is the pride of a community during a dark time.

Primary trigger and reaction: A game with the local team, the Youngstown Scrappers, serves as a trigger for Laz’s conflict. He participates in the Shadow Ball warmup with Negro teammates, mocking the less-talented white players. He adds to the humiliation of his opponents by pitching brilliantly. Expecting to be celebrated for his performance, Laz is, instead, targeted for being Black and for embarrassing whites. He retreats to the adjacent amusement park where he boards the Tunnel of Love with a white woman. The brazen move triggers a harsh, racial reaction: white players sabotage the ride and beat Laz with a baseball bat. The incident frames Laz’s primary conflict: remain in 1932 and deal with racial discrimination or return to present time and face failure.

Secondary trigger and reaction: Racial discrimination is a factor in all of Laz’s social interactions. In 1932, Ty Cobb taunts Laz during their first meeting, asking why “coloreds” are allowed in the hotel where they meet. Cobb refuses to recognize the “Niggra” pitcher as a ballplayer, then mocks him as inferior and irrelevant. Is Cobb right? Laz wrestles with the question when he is denied lodging in Youngstown because of his race. Conflict reaches a climax in a showdown with Cobb and other Hall of Fame players during a makeshift baseball challenge.



The primary setting is Youngstown, Ohio in the 1930s, a segregated industrial mecca “where smokestacks rise like the arms of God and baseball diamonds turn fallow fields into jewels.” With its steel mills, baseball fields, corruption and jazz clubs, Youngstown is a homestead for the common man. The city represents struggle. It provides a gritty locale for conflict and resolution. The story unfolds on four principal stages in Youngstown:

    • Hotel Pick Ohio (real) where racism and corruption are thinly veiled in a downtown hotel.

    • Bonesetter Reese’s house at 219 Park Ave. (real). A safe house for steelworkers and ballplayers where a renowned healer eases pain in a harsh world.

    • Miss Maisie’s Jazz Kitchen and Rooming House (fictional): a haven to escape the Depression and Prohibition for a few hours.

    • Idora amusement park (real), common ground for civic recreation and the site of the city’s notable baseball stadium.

Additionally, the story unfolds in secondary settings where context is revealed in different time periods:

   • Cordele, Ga. watermelon fields, an unexpected site for legend and lore 

    • MLB stadiums in 2020: Cleveland’s Progressive Field, Atlanta’s Truist Park – modern proving grounds for achievement, failure and redemption

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1. Story statement:

Tess has to share her truth when she makes the worst mistake of her life. (Also: see log line below.) 

2. The antagonist:

The antagonist Tim Butler is a narcissistic progressive from a long line of politicians with questionable moral character based in Boston. Tim made a name for himself for leading a filibuster to protect women’s reproductive rights in the U.S. House of Representatives in pink sneakers. He sleeps with his ex-girlfriend (a bookish food and culture journalist who never got over him) while feigning a divorce, pulling her into a sex scandal with national implications.

Tim values public opinion more than private truth, leading him to distort both at great cost to those dearest to him — particularly, the women in his life. As the stakes rise in the lead up to his election as a candidate for the U.S. Senate, he becomes increasingly manipulative and malevolent. He’s motivated by an ego the size of Massachusetts. 

3. Breakout title:




4. Genre and comparables:

Women’s contemporary fiction/book club fiction and the below comparables — 

*the pitch-perfect social commentary in CITY OF LIKES 

*cinematic escapism of CRAZY RICH ASIANS

*feminist themes of LESSONS IN CHEMISTRY

*self-discovery of THE MIDNIGHT LIBRARY

*Irish heritage of WE ARE THE BRENNANS

*the scandalous intrigue of THE FRAUD SQUAD



5. Log line

When straitlaced food journalist Tess O’Sullivan falls backwards into a political sex scandal, she must find her voice during a trial of public opinion or risk losing it.

6. Inner conflict continued

Tess feels conflicted about the choices she’s made to betray her own values and the humiliation she must endure to right those wrongs. She also has to fight her own tendency to stay “in the margins” of her life and to use her voice to tell other people’s stories rather than her own. It’s only when the conflict escalates externally — with press knocking on the door of her grandfather’s nursing home and the antagonist misrepresenting Tess' genuine  act of self-defense  —  that Tess finds the motivation to face the antagonist and his lies, online, in print and in television. 

7. Setting

This manuscript takes place within the working class Irish-American community in Boston before launching onto a luxury train ride in Ireland, where Tess is surrounded by influencers on a free press trip. The narrative walks back and forth between the present and the past to propel the protagonist forward on both sides of the pond. Having lived in Boston and reported on the real-life train ride featured in the book, I bring an authenticity to the setting that goes beyond the Boston and Irish stereotypes. The train ride itself also serves as a metaphor for Tess’ journey to expand her world and her sense of possibility, all the while honoring her deep roots. 

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Story Statement: By looping through memories of old Florida summers with Gram and too much time in Ohio, the protagonist processes anger with their mother, grief for their brother, and their longing for a home that no longer exists. 


The Antagonists: Sometimes, because of their OCD, the narrator is their own antagonist. Other times, it is the mother (depressed, too thin, deeply into the aesthetic side of life) because the protagonist believes she sent them away to live in Ohio when they were four. And sometimes, the antagonist is the protagonist’s faultless husband who the protagonist believes wishes for someone else.


Breakout Title: Beautydance. I would list other options but this is the only title I’d ever agree to publish the book under.


Comparables: Beautydance is a story about how illness, religion, relationships and adventures all swirl together in our childhoods, similar to Barbara Kingsolver’s The Poisonwood Bible. It’s also a story about traveling: the people you meet and relationships you make along the way, as in William Least Heat-Moon’s Blue Highways.


Hookline: Missing those good old summers in Florida, a young woman returns to the place of her favorite childhood home, facing—along the way—anger with her mother, grief for her brother, and the heavy impermanence of everything.


Turmoil: The character’s OCD manifests as loops; sometimes, they loop through memories, and sometimes, they get stuck on certain thoughts and behaviors. This underscores “the thing” with Ohio, guilt over the brother’s passing, fear of the husband leaving. Character resolves most conflicts by looping through memories and ideas over and over until she gets closer to, or right at, the heart of things.


Setting: One of the first and most important settings is Gram's jungley Florida cottage home: wet green everywhere with a screened-in porch and mulberry bushes far in the back. Kids (and Gram) run around barefoot and the street is quiet, not too many houses on it yet.


I’m working three jobs leading up to this conference or I’d take time to write more today (sorry all of this reads so rough drafty; it totally is)—can’t WAIT to be there!


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file:///C:/Users/misterm/AppData/Local/Temp/msohtmlclip1/01/clip_image001.jpg FIRST ASSIGNMENT:

Ruby Parker loved her daddy, almost more than anything. Almost as much as she hated his brother, her uncle Frank. She must find a way to save the family ranch and her daddy’s elephant from Frank. But there’s a war on and revenge must wait, as she must first help her country win that war as a welder and bring her soldier fiancé back to her.

When Ruby falls from a ladder,  a co-worker saves her life and befriends her. As she recovers her memory, she realizes that William used to work for her daddy on his circus. After her father’s death Uncle Frank attempted to murder William, who now joins Ruby on her vengeance quest.



Frank Parker always played second fiddle to his older brother. Unlike Gene, Frank lives only for himself and the pleasures he can grab from life, by force if necessary. He prefers girls to grown women and often just takes what he wants;  even raping his own young niece as his brother lies dying. He hates both his brother’s elephant and the young black man his brother had as much as adopted.

But then, his brother dies, freeing Frank from any last restraints of decency. He steals the family’s ranch and his brother’s substantial insurance proceeds. He tries poisoning the elephant and attempts to murder the black man, maiming him for life. Within a few years after his brother’s death, as the rest of America fights Naziism, he becomes a rich and powerful man in the small Texas Hill Country community he terrorizes. 

Frank epitomizes both the racism and sexism of the Jim Crow South, but also, in a more veiled manner,  that of the entire country – at the time – and even until today. It is these larger antagonistic forces against which Ruby and William struggle throughout the novel.



The O’Dell Cup is my working title. It’s simple, and perhaps a bit plain, but, hopefully more than a little mysterious. While this may not prove to be the final title of my novel, I’m using it now because it refers to an actual tin cup in my family lore and is the original inspiration for my story.  The cup appears in the novel’s opening scene and, later, its revelation to the protagonist becomes a turning point in the plot. It also serves as a symbol of the racism that permeated the Jim Crow South, even by those who thought themselves immune from it.

Other Options:

              Ruby the Riveter

              Forgetting and Remembering



Water for Elephants - Sarah Gruen

Who doesn’t love a circus?  Not just the glitz, the danger, and the exotica, but also the intrigue and the backstories behind the tent walls. Stories about circuses offer a glimpse into a lifestyle that few have, or really want, to taste. While we may not really want to run away to join the circus it can certainly hold nearly all of us in its spell long enough for a good read.

My female protagonist is based, in no small part, on my own circus family. In fact, when I first read “Water for Elephants” I thought, “How did Sarah Gruen know my family story?” – there were so many fictional accounts in her work that closely paralleled true stories from my own family background.

In The O’Dell Cup Ruby relives much of her own circus experiences as she regains the memories she lost when she fell in the Liberty ship she was helping to build. Sprinkled throughout the novel, these memories and other disclosures recapture for the reader the picture of a small family circus (a “mud show”) characteristic of such enterprises in the  “Jim Crow” rural South.


Where the Crawdad’s Sing – Delia Owens

The tie-in to this story is the strength of the female protagonist who overcomes obstacle after obstacle as the story progresses. While my novel has a different time and setting, I think it will attract the type of readers who revel in the struggles and eventual victory of a strong female protagonist. And in both stories the young white female is befriended by and receives invaluable assistance from an older black male.



In recovering her memory after a fall in a WWII ship she worked on, a circus girl discovers that the co-worker who saved her life is the same man who used to work for her daddy’s circus. After realizing that the girl’s uncle has seriously injured both of them, the protagonists vow revenge, but only after the war has ended.



In the novel’s inciting incident, the female protagonist temporarily loses her memory in an accident. Backstory reveals that she was orphaned as a teenager. As she recovers her memory, she learns that her fiancé soldier had been killed on the same day she was injured. Not enough? Finally, she remembers that her uncle repeatedly raped her when she was a child. Although she suffers through these repeated tragedies, none can defeat Ruby. Victimhood is not in her circus DNA. Like the “energizer bunny” she manages to bounce back from all that life can throw at her. Here is one sample:

In the novel’s inciting incident, the female protagonist temporarily loses her memory in an accident. Backstory reveals that she was orphaned as a teenager. As she recovers her memory, she learns that her fiancé soldier had been killed on the same day she was injured. Not enough? Finally, she remembers that her uncle repeatedly raped her when she was a child. Although she suffers through these repeated tragedies, none can defeat Ruby. Victimhood is not in her circus DNA. Like the “energizer bunny” she manages to bounce back from all that life can throw at her. Here is one sample:

Ruby was quiet for a few moments. Then she asked,  “William, may I…would you mind…if… I touched your scar?” 

William’s silent expression indicated that it would be okay.

                  Ruby reached up to his forehead where the purple line began. Slowly and gently, she traced it down his face, past the void where his eye had been, down toward his chin. As her hand reached his lips her fingers began to tremble, and then shake uncontrollably. The scar reminded her of a snake and her worst memory, the most hidden one, the one that had never been remembered, rushed into the depths of her soul. 

The worst memory, the one nobody should have to remember.

“I’m standing above a hole in the ground, like where we buried my daddy. I look down and see… Me. I’m covered with snakes; dozens of rattlers crawling all over my body; hissing; flicking their tongues at me; tasting my body with their tongues – my fingers, my eyes, my lips, my hips, my breasts, my private place. Then the biggest snake, the evilest one, crawls inside me, staying inside, hurting me. I scream but no sound comes out. No one can hear, not even my own mind. I close my eyes, clinch my fists, but it’s still there, staying, hurting, taking part of me. Finally, the snake crawls away.

I look down again and the hole is empty. The snakes are gone. I’m gone.

 Uncle Frankie is standing beside me.

 ‘This is a secret Ruby, our secret. Don’t ever tell nobody. Never. If you do, something very bad will happen.’

He squats down and looks me right in my eyes.

‘It might happen to your little pony Poky, or to that n****r boy you seem to like so much, or even to your beloved Daddy.’

“These last words were spoken with a sneer so evil and dark it seemed to blacken the sky.

But the snake didn’t stay away. It came back, whenever it wanted.  And it went inside me again and hurt me again.  And I lived in fear of that snake. Until Daddy died. And we buried him in the rain.  And his casket floated up the next day. And we had to bury him again. And I got to go away to San Antonio. It was Daddy’s dying that saved me from the snake.”

As Ruby jerked her fingers away from his face William saw the look of horror on hers.

“Oh, Miss Ruby, I’m so sorry. I never should have let you touch my scar. It’s bad, really bad. I know how I look.”

Time seemed to have nowhere to go. It just hung there between the two of them.


Eventually Ruby, her gaze fixed somewhere else, a faraway place to which William

could never go, said, “It’s not you William. You are a beautiful man, inside and out. I just remembered the worst thing that’s ever happened to me.” And then she told William what she had remembered.

After Ruby had finished telling William why she had jerked her hand from his face, the two friends sat in silence for a long while. William kept expecting Ruby to start crying and had no clue as to how to comfort her. But she didn’t fall apart; just the opposite. She was growing stronger.



“We have to make this right, you and me. We have to get even with Frankie for all he’s done.  He hurt us both, real bad.


file:///C:/Users/misterm/AppData/Local/Temp/msohtmlclip1/01/clip_image001.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?

Ruby is from the South – Texas - before the Civil Rights era; need I say more? Ruby’s life is saved by a black co-worker who then befriends her as she convalesces. As she gradually recovers bits of her memory, the black man realizes that she is the daughter of a circus owner he worked for a decade earlier back in Texas. And when he hands her the old tin cup he used to drink from, she recognizes him as the man who nursed her daddy in his final illness. They become friends and Ruby considers herself free of the prejudice that permeated the landscape of her childhood. It isn’t until she and William sit together at the staged trial of fifty black sailors that she realizes how deep her own unacknowledged prejudice runs. And William, sitting beside her realizes how he has always accepted his lot in life because “that’s just the way things are.”

Sitting next to her friend William, looking across at the fifty black faces on trial for their lives, some merely teenagers, Ruby found herself on trial as well, perhaps more so. She remembered her thoughts when she had read in the Oakland Tribune the day after the explosion that the “Death toll may reach 650." She was horrified. The war had come home, right in her backyard.  Other than Pearl Harbor, the Port Chicago disaster would be the worst loss of life on American soil during the war. Then, when the article went on to note that most of the victims had been Negro sailors, she had felt a sense of relief. It could have been worse. They could have been…. Even Ruby’s mind couldn’t finish that sentence.

She wanted to wretch as the enormity of her thought sunk in. Her insides started to tear at her as if she had a tiger in her gut trying to rip something evil out of her, something she hadn’t been aware existed. She started to cry, first inside, and then in quiet sniffles as tears dripped down her cheek.



Is there a more iconic structure in the western United States than San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge?  Its mere mention, or a glimpse of its image conjures up memories and feelings within anyone who has ever seen it or heard of it in literature, song, or film. The novel opens, and closes, on the bridge. It is the first landmark Ruby sees when she arrives in California from Texas. And it continues to recur throughout the novel, even serving as an accidental inciting incident for what will become her career.

Ruby couldn’t wait to start photographing the bridge for real. Each photo would tell the story differently; the bridge itself in different moods – early morning through the shroud of fog, late afternoons of golden sunsets, and the evening as the lights of the City began twinkling on. And her pictures would tell the story of the people of the bridge: those who designed and built it; former circus performers who itched to meet its challenges; and those for whom it promised an escape from an unlivable life. And all of its more mundane denizens; tourists, commuters, pedestrians.


Across the bay sits Richmond, nondescript if it weren’t the location of one of the largest military industrial complexes of World War II. This is where the two protagonists meet, as welders on Liberty ships.

            Richmond California sticks out into both San Pablo and San Francisco Bays like a hitchhiker’s thumb. The setting would have been beautiful if the Whites had left it the way the Ohlone’s had it when they came. But, unless your taste in vacations ran to oil refineries, assembly plants, or heavy industry, this other “city by the bay” had little to recommend it by the mid-1940’s. …In less than two years, Richmond’s population had mushroomed from fewer than twenty thousand to well over a hundred thousand souls. By mid-’44 Richmond was a twenty-four seven, three-sixty-five, situation….All four shipyards ran triple shifts. Bus exhaust choked the air, and Susan had to keep her car wheels steered clear of the trolley tracks.  Horns blasted. People were walking everywhere, both with and against the lights, as though they’d all been to pedestrian school in New York City.


And the beautiful green hills of Berkely, rising above, geologically and economically, the more pedestrian East Bay communities of Albany, El Cerrito, Oakland, and the aforementioned Richmond. The imported Eucalyptus trees  of Tilden Park tower over Casa Serena, where Ruby recovers from her injuries. And where her discovery of a carousel triggers the return of her memory.

By the first of May, Ruby had been moved to a small facility up in the Berkeley Hills, at the edge of Tilden Park.  It was no accident that the recovery center was located where it was. The setting itself was almost enough to cure anything. The brown California hills turn a brilliant green in the Springtime.  Native Coastal shrub covered the ground and imported Eucalyptus trees  towered above, blanketing everything with their unmistakable aroma, like the fog over the bay. It was believed that the scent emitted by the Eucalyptus oils increased brainwave activity and countered physical and mental fatigue.

And, if one listened closely, she might hear the spirits of the ancient Ohlone’s who inhabited the land before the whites arrived. For perhaps thousands of years prior to the Spaniards conquest, these native peoples had made their homes in this beautiful landscape where God probably took his vacation. If one knew how to look and feel for it; how to open one’s pores to the healing ministrations of the ghosts of those ancient medicine men, she could feel a cleansing, a fullness, and a calm that even the strongest drugs couldn’t duplicate.


And Treasure Island, not the fictional setting for Robert Louis Stevenson, but an artificial island anchoring the two spans of the Bay Bridge. It is where the US Navy wrongly tried and convicted fifty black sailors of mutiny following the Port Chicago ammo depot explosion in 1944. The novel’s protagonists are present at both the mutiny trial as well as the aftermath of the explosion itself.

              It didn’t take Ruby but about 10 minutes to realize the trial was a sham. The room was salt and pepper, black and white. The salt was sitting at the front table; older white men in their starched white uniforms, their medals threatening to topple them over. And the two younger white men arguing the fate of the pepper; fifty Black men sitting in uncomfortable chairs along the back wall.


One significant scene is set in the “Last Chance Saloon” a hole-in-the-wall drinking establishment on Oakland’s waterfront frequented by the writer Jack London around the turn of the twentieth century.

              The saloon had survived the ‘06 earthquake but it hadn’t escaped unscathed. When they bent their heads, at least Gordon did, to step down to enter, he directed Ruby to sit with him on stools at the far end of the bar as the half dozen tables were already filled. The first thing Ruby noticed was that the bar, the original from when Jack London sat there, slanted from one end of the small building down to where they were sitting, dropping close to a foot.

“This is what happened during the earthquake,” Gordon explained. The bar tilted and they never fixed it. I always sit at this end, to keep my drink from sliding down to another patron. It’s sort of the thing here. Newcomers often wind up finding someone ‘down bar’ finishing their first drink.  Most of them learn after that.”


As the novel reaches its conclusion the scene shifts to a small town in Texas’ Hill Country, an hour’s drive from San Antonio. It has become the undisputed domain of the novel’s antagonist, a man who epitomizes both racism and sexism. He controls the town and its citizens including the judge presiding over a trial in a musty courtroom with a foregone conclusion.

              The courthouse in Riverbend sat on a little knoll in the middle of town.  With its three stories and belltower it was the tallest building in the community, and you could see its cupola from anywhere in the city limits. The first floor, called the dungeon by some, contained jail cells and the sheriff’s  and coroner’s offices. The two identical courtrooms were housed on the second floor, accessible up fifteen marble steps through the main entrance. The courtrooms sat on opposite sides of the hall towards the back of the building, past the county clerk and assessor’s offices. Each had a double oak door carved with a blindfolded lady justice holding her scales in balance. The majestic doors belied the simplicity of the courtroom itself. The judge’s bench sat on a raised dais, offset a bit to the left to fit in the jury box on the right side. Opposing counsel each had a small desk facing the judge at floor level and there were four pew-like benches on each side of the room capable of holding six or seven spectators. The rooms gave off a faint musty smell due to the paucity of windows and there was an ominous, almost frightening, feeling about the space. As if the ghosts of criminals, themselves victims of some of the “hanging judges” of the previous century, were hanging around to see who else might share their fate.

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  1. FIRST ASSIGNMENT: write your story statement.

In 1918 Philadelphia, three queer people – a young orphaned soldier who finds love in the unlikeliest of places, an Irish nun-in-training who wants to reconcile her body’s desires with her faith, and a Black pastry chef who seeks his family’s acceptance – are drawn together as they attempt to construct lives without a blueprint and thrive in the midst of social upheaval, war, and a global pandemic. 


  1. SECOND ASSIGNMENT: Antagonistic force in your story.

The antagonistic force against all these characters is traditional American society. Albert constantly struggles against a society that wants to define his love for Vito as something dirty and wrong. Religion and a strict upbringing cause the novice Betsy to divide her life into two distinct parts, as the only way she can engage in her relationship with another woman without feelings of shame. While the Black pastry chef, Elijah, struggles to reconnect with his well-to-do family that has shunned him for years, while also trying to carve out for himself a queer artistic life that values authenticity over assimilation.

In the early 20th century, modern queer identities are being invented, and all three characters fight to create honest lives for themselves without any kind of role models, guidance, or language for the world they are trying to imagine. Without a history or sense of community, they struggle to connect with each other, while society continues to punish them with isolation, discrimination, and violence. 


  1. THIRD ASSIGNMENT: create a breakout title

Sweet Flag (this is the title I’ve had for months)

Philadelphia Freedom

What Are We Now?


  1. FOURTH ASSIGNMENT: - Comparables.

Sweet Flag is essentially John Steinbeck’s Cannery Row meets Brokeback Mountain. A story of working class people defining their own sexual identities in an urban environment. It is historical fiction with strong LGBTQ themes and characters.

As a coming of age novel of self discovery, Sweet Flag is comparable to Tomasz Jedrowski’s Swimming in the Dark published in 2020. Set in 1980s communist Poland, the story is also about one world coming to the end at the dawn of a new age. The innocence of the main characters meeting in a summer work camp only to see themselves separated by a society that does not recognize their connection is similar to my novel. 

In terms of working class context and a variety of burgeon sexual identities, my story also compares well to Gina Marie Guadagnino’s The Parting Glass published in 2019. Set in 1830s New York, the novel follows an Irish immigrant maid and her brother. Both of them develop relationships - him with the boss’s daughter, her with a lesbian prostitute. The swirl of a variety of urban settings, and the examination of sexuality, race, and class in this novel compare well to my story. 



Struggling against their own fears and an oppressive society, three working-class queer people fight for love and build their chosen family in 1918 Philadelphia. 


  1. SIXTH ASSIGNMENT: Primary, Secondary, and Inner Conflict.

Primary Conflict: 

The primary conflict of the novel is the fight to be authentic/honest when traditional society, as personified by the military, the church, and family, rejects you.

The novel begins with Albert and Vito’s rejection from the military under charges of sodomy. This sets up their arrival in Philadelphia and their struggle to create a life with each other, while they are in constant fear that discovery will lead to their ruin. As a nun-in-training, Betsy must keep her outside lesbian relationship a secret and so she creates two separate lives for herself in order to avoid being kicked out of the convent. Rejected by his middle-class family, the pastry chef Elijah attempts to create a family of his own when he is rejected by his biological family once again. 

Secondary conflicts:  

The inability of language to define identity and relationships. Throughout the novel, characters strive to find the words to describe what is happening, how they feel, and who they are. Modern queer identities are just being formed, and so they really are inventing themselves as they go through these experiences. 

Scenario: A scene in an Italian bakery when they first arrive in Philadelphia reflects the struggle for acceptance in a society in which a relationship like theirs cannot be conceived of. An angry Italian neighbor calls Albert a slur and says he and Vito are dirty. While Vito reacts violently against the slur, neither Albert nor Vito really have other words to describe what is happening between them, which is why Albert later asks Vito, “What are we now?” 

The struggle to connect with other queer people and to learn their stories. Queer people do not have histories taught to them – they can only learn them from each other. However, their fear of rejection and violence makes it harder for them to open up and share. The characters are constantly in a Catch-22 of wanting to hear stories but also protecting themselves from harm.

Scenario: Betsy desperately wants to hear her lover Annie’s story. She wants to know about Annie’s past and how she came to be in Philadelphia. Annie constantly draws their time together back to acts of physical pleasure, and when confronted, refuses to share anything about her past, saying it doesn’t matter. At the same time, she becomes increasingly possessive of Betsy. When Betsy pushes back, Annie resorts to intimidation and violence. 

The tension between what one presents to the world and the truth one hides. Even though this is a world before “the closet,” the characters all feel a tension of hiding and showing, presenting an acceptable, appropriate façade to the world, while hiding your true nature, relationships, and feelings away from prying eyes. 

Scenario: When Vito and Albert get their picture made in a photography studio, the photographer thinks of them as just two veterans, friends from the war. As they pose for the picture, however, Vito reaches under Albert’s clothes and starts to caress him in a way the photographer cannot see. Hiding their sexual arousal and still maintaining a look of friendship and propriety, the two men take their first and only picture together. 


Inner Conflicts: 

In some ways, a fear of rejection is the core wound for all three main characters. They all had a moment of vulnerability in their past where they were made to feel ashamed and were rejected. 

Albert’s inner conflict: Growing up an orphan and experiencing abuse, Albert constantly fears rejection. While he reaches for love and friendship, he always expects to be hurt. He knows his nature is different from others, but he doesn’t have the words to describe what he feels or who he is. He just knows that he will get hurt if he lets it show.

Scenario: The first night Vito and Albert make love in a Philadelphia boarding house. Albert feels Vito hovering over him and desperately wants him to get into the bed with him, but Albert is terrified of saying anything and being rejected. Once they do make love, Albert feels certain he should leave the bed, because Vito will undoubtedly push him away. However, Vito surprises Albert when he clings to him, breaks down crying, and admits his feelings.

Betsy’s inner conflict: Having been discovered pleasuring herself as a child, Betsy’s mother rejected her as a “filthy girl” and soon after died. She fears sin and being condemned. The shame she feels about her sexuality drives her to join the convent, the only acceptable place she feels she can control her desires through increasing religious devotion.

Scenario: Betsy arrives late to morning prayers and soon settles into focusing on a particular candle. However, she is constantly distracted by the image of St. Theresa in ecstasy as the angel pierces her with an arrow of God’s love. Betsy wishes God’s love fulfilled her in the same way, but has thus far found him lacking. 

Elijah’s inner conflict: Elijah has been rejected by his biological family for years, and he has constructed a chosen family with a young trans girl who came into his life. However, his fear of rejection is rooted in being alone. He is desperate for a family to love him, but having been rejected and abused, he displays a very guarded and imperious personality.

Scenario: Elijah sees a great deal of himself in Albert, who comes to work in the kitchen with him, but he struggles to open up to him. When tragedy befalls Elijah and he comes to work visibly upset, Albert tries to comfort him, only to be rebuffed by a tearful Elijah who tells him to get back to work. 


  1. FINAL ASSIGNMENT: Settings.

Underneath its stiflingly proper veneer, 1918 Philadelphia teems with change and turmoil. So many places in Philadelphia present themselves as full of propriety and tradition, while their alley-facing rear entries or back rooms reveal greater truths or the “real” Philadelphia. Soldiers returning from war and radical working class politics, immigrants and Southern blacks fighting for space, the approaching Jazz Age and Prohibition restrictions all create a powder keg environment. During the summer of 1918 in which the story takes place, the city faces a race riot, food shortages, and the catastrophe of the Spanish flu epidemic. 


Major settings throughout Philadelphia:

Albert and Vito’s room - Living in Signora Spadaro’s boarding house, Albert and Vito carve out a life for themselves in the spare third-story bedroom Signora rents for them. It’s threadbare, sparse furnishings take on greater significance for them as they fill it with their love and artifacts of their life together. 

Cafe L’Aiglon - One of the most luxurious and socially significant restaurants in the city, the Cafe L’Aiglon is the place to see and be seen for Philadelphia patrician society. Albert and Elijah exist in the kitchens of this restaurant, but peek out to get glimpses of accepted society. The backside of the restaurant faces a narrow alleyway where Elijah and Albert have some of their most honest conversations. 

Lattimer Tea Room - Owned by Annie, Betsy’s lover, the Lattimer Tea Room is a proto-speakeasy on the bohemian Camac Street, which serves gin for women who cannot go to saloons. It is filled with the stuff of beauty - artwork, antiques, memorabilia, etc. - that Annie collects around her. Betsy has no idea what all the collections mean to Annie, but at times feels like she herself is being collected. 

The streets and rooftops of Philadelphia - So much of the action in this story takes place in Philadelphia’s theaters, streets, alleyways, squares, and rooftops. For people of different classes, genders, and races, sometimes, the only acceptable places to meet were public. Again, while Philadelphia’s main streets and boulevards feel presentable and safe, danger and desire are always hiding in the back alleys and rooftops. 

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Fraud investigator Ian MacCallister exposes a brilliant and greedy scheme involving the illicit transfer of exquisite real estate in Europe and Central America.


The Vice President of the United States is a financial cheater.  He abuses the power of his office by siphoning funds from the US embassy in Belize to enrich himself with luxury property holdings.  With the help of an unsavory staff, he defrauds the country that elected him and rationalizes that doing so is standard fare for politicians in high office.


FRAUD JUNGLE:  The Belize Case




Written somewhat like a Clive Cussler novel, the protagonist is a cross between Cussler’s Dirk Pitt and Ben Affleck’s character (without autism) in the movie, The Accountant.


Hired to investigate suspicious financial transactions undertaken by white-collar criminals, a fraud examiner cheats death at the hands of the perpetrators as he learns that busting the fraud could cost him his life, and the lives of those he loves.


Primary Conflict - The fraudsters and accompanying assailants attempt to throw the investigation off course and resort to assassination attempts against the protagonist and his team.

Secondary Conflict - The wife of the fraud examiner suffers head trauma from a bicycle accident that affects her long-term memory.  He is torn by her inability to remember him as he carries on with his fraud investigation pursuits.


The protagonist follows the elusive trail of money across the pristine ski slopes and quaint villages of the Swiss Alps, in a European autobahn high-speed chase, under water during a Caribbean scuba encounter, and while braving the dense jungles of Belize.

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