Algonkian Novel Workshop Assignments

A forum for Algonkian Novel Workshop attendees to complete an array of pre-workshop assignments focusing on story premise, comparables, antagonist and protagonist characters, and more.
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Algonkian Novel Workshop Assignments

#1 Post by Francesdu » 24 Feb 2018, 23:43

1. Story Statement –

Patrick Fitzpatrick and Catrina Werner take jobs as indentured servants to the powerful Mohawk Valley Johnson family. They have adventures and conflicts, make friends, fall in love, marry and start a family. The coming of the War for Independence changes everything when the Johnsons suddenly flee to Canada and the war in the Mohawk valley becomes a civil war. Catrina, Patrick and their children survive 8 years of war and then rebuild new lives in Canada.

2. Sketch the antagonist or antagonistic force in your story. 200 words or less.

The primary antagonistic forces in the story arise from the conflicts that led up to and continued during the American War for Independence, which turned into a terrible civil war in New York’s Mohawk Valley. The individual antagonists change and evolve with time. The story is told in flashbacks from Canada, when current events revive memories about the events that brought the Fitzpatricks to Canada. Each flashback gives a different view of life before and during the war. Certain members of the powerful Anglo-Irish-German-Mohawk Johnson family are the antagonists in some flashbacks. In others specific members of the Mohawk Valley community turn against the Fitzpatricks when the Committees of Safety begin their inquisitions and demand loyalty oaths. The devastation of war is an antagonist when military decisions on both sides call for destroying the crops, barns and food supplies of colonists and Indians. Retribution becomes a powerful force. Patrick is drawn into the work of the British Secret Service, denounced as a spy, and sentenced to be hanged, but instead is jailed until the end of the war. The antagonistic forces behind this are complicated.

3. Create a Breakout Title (give 3)

Love and War Between Two Rivers: From the Mohawk to the Saint Lawrence
Johnson’s People: Love and War in the Mohawk Valley
From New York to Canada: A Valley Moves North.

4. Two Smart Comparables

I can’t find a recent best selling comparable in the category of biographical historic fiction. The novel taps into themes in the play Hamilton, the Netflix series Turn, and the best-selling time-travel series Outlander. Outlander is not biographical, however, and Dana Gabaldon takes 10 huge volumes to tell her story. The closest comparable is Sarah Donati’s Wilderness series, but it is not recent. Other comparables are long-ago books like Drums Along the Mohawk. Many new history books and articles are rethinking this period. Fintann O’Toole’s book “White Savage” is an excellent and fairly recent biography of Sir William Johnson, for example. “America’s First Daughter” by Stephanie Dray is recent and covers a similar time period, but the themes are very different.

5. Conflict Line

Young Patrick is conflicted between his desire for adventure and exploration versus his need to serve out his indenture, obtain a land grant and create a stable future for himself. Young Catrina wants to find the right man to settle down with, but her expectations are high after moving from a simple farm to a mansion. Once they get through the phase of finding a mate, getting their land, and find they have become peasant farmers again, Patrick and Catrina’s lives become harder. Catrina’s conflicts include Patrick’s constant absences to serve the Johnsons, and being worn down by motherhood and farming. All this seems like nothing once the war begins. Good friends flee and/or die. Neighbors are pitted against neighbors. Patrick risks his life every time he stays with Catrina to help with the farm and care for his family. Finally he leaves for Canada and joins the Kings Rangers, where he is forced into spying. He is caught by the Patriots and sent to jail. Catrina struggles to keep her family alive. The next conflict, when the war ends, is to get good land in Canada, clear it, start all over, and see to it that their children recover, grow up, marry, and have grandchildren. The final piece of conflict for Patrick is the coming of the War of 1812, and the loss of two sons.

6. Inner conflict and Secondary conflict

The inner and secondary conflicts change with time. When young Patrick arrives at the Johnson estate at the age of 15, he is conflicted between his responsibilities and the need to secure future benefits versus his desire for activity and adventure. He wants to beat the hell out of the bully Will Baxter, for example, but it won’t serve him well in the future. As a household servant, he gets to observe many things, but he must keep his thoughts to himself. As he grows older, he is conflicted between his loyalty to Sir William and the other Johnsons and his need to begin his own life. He is conflicted between his desire to marry Catrina and the feeling that he is too young to be tied down that way. With the build up to the revolution, he is conflicted between his duty to the Johnsons, and his desire for the land they have promised him, and the ideas of social equality and freedom from British rule that are percolating around him. As the war proceeds, he is conflicted between his duties as a soldier and his duties to his family. And once resettled in Canada, he is conflicted between his loyalty to his old officers and his resentment of their assumptions of British privilege, and finally by his horror at seeing his sons enter yet another war between the British and the Americans.

Catrina has a similar progression, from whether to leave her simple home and enter the unknown world of the Johnsons, how to navigate her way to the life she wants, and find the right husband, and once she finds that life, how to deal with the unexpected difficulties of being a young mother and farm wife with a husband who is always disappearing on errands for the Johnsons. Then she is conflicted as she has to deal with the mix of loyalist and patriot neighbors, friends and family, and struggles to survive once the patriots make life more and more difficult for those women who’s husbands have gone to Canada.

7. The Setting

Patrick Fitzpatrick and Catrina Werner are indentured servants for the powerful Anglo-Irish-German-Mohawk family of Sir William Johnson, Secretary for Indian Affairs for the Province of New York. Catrina is from a local German family, and Patrick emigrated from Ireland. Patrick works in Sir William’s mansion, Johnson Hall, and Catrina works in his daughter’s mansion, Guy Park. Both mansions are in the Mohawk Valley at the edge of the wilderness. Their lives with the Johnsons are comfortable and magical. Household slaves do all the hard labor. Patrick and Catrina are exposed to fascinating people, from visiting Iroquois chiefs and British officials to crude fur traders and struggling new immigrants from Scotland and Ireland. At first Patrick’s role in the household is as caretaker to the Irish Harper, who gives him a bit of an education. Patrick and Catrina fall in and out of love, overcome obstacles, and finally achieve their dreams when they obtain a grant of land from the Johnsons, begin farming the rich soil of the Mohawk Valley and start a family. This comes to an abrupt stop with the beginning of the American War for Independence. The Johnsons flee to Canada, their male tenants must help them, and the women are left to face growing strife that splits families and pits neighbor against neighbor. Patrick and Catrina and their children survive terrible hardships but finally succeed in beginning a new life in Canada. The settings include harsh winter conditions in the Adirondacks, living through a Canadian winter in a tented refugee camp, and finally cooperating with old neighbors to clear the forests along the plains north of the Saint Lawrence, start new farms and build new homes.

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Re: Algonkian Novel Workshop Assignments

#2 Post by carlharris1956 » 25 Feb 2018, 17:59


Two socially awkward high school freshmen, Sal and Penny, are violated by a sadistic senior wrestler as Ethan, their freshman classmate, watches impassively. Forty- eight years later, all four find themselves employed at the same company in this "Upstairs/Downstairs" treatment of 21st century corporate America. Can Sal, Penny and Ethan make peace with their past and present as well as with each other or will the disruptive, absurd and often venal forces of modern corporate life vanquish their efforts?


Throughout the novel, professional and personal crises consume Sal, the CEO of Betsy Ross Blue, Penny, an employee relations consultant for the company, and Ethan, its in-house employment counsel. Two members of the C-Suite, Bryce Verrek, the thrice-married alcoholic General Counsel, and Jordan Weisskopf, the company's narcissistic Chief People Person (and amateur body builder with ADHD), are often at the heart of these crises and serve as the novel's principal antagonists. Often appearing together in the same pivotal scenes, Bryce and Jordan either serve as seductive enablers of poor behavior or as amoral promoters of disruption, deceit and even blackmail. Seeming to relish their roles as provocateurs, they threaten livelihoods and reputations but ultimately also serve as the means by which Sal, Ethan and Penny examine their own beliefs, life choices and relationships. Like Tony, the high school wrestler who violates Penny and Sal at the beginning of the novel, Bryce and Jordan also do grave harm to several characters in the story. Tony, however, is a paranoid schizophrenic and by the end of the novel becomes a figure of sympathy; Bryce and Jordan, in contrast, take clear-eyed and pre-meditated action and are therefore arguably far more culpable than Tony for the damage they cause.


The novel is entitled SEE SUITE.
Other possible titles: (1) ATONEMENT: A NOVEL and (2) DISRUPTION.

I am still researching current titles. Because it explores the absurdity of life in a hierarchical structure with tragic-comedic fools and miscreants at the helm and somewhat more noble, endearing and eccentric characters below, SEE SUITE resembles CATCH-22 and M.A.S.H. in tone, if not in substance. SEE SUITE shares some obvious similarities to Joshua Ferris' THEN WE CAME TO THE END, in that both novels deal with the often absurd world and values of corporate America. That, however, is probably where the similarity ends; SEE SUITE is much more about the inner lives of its principal characters and has a more structured plot. In terms of content and character development, SEE SUITE is perhaps most like BROKEN FOR YOU, Stephanie Kallos' 2004 breakout novel, in that both books deal with shattered lives and how often eccentric and endearing characters learn to reassemble what has been broken through interdependency and the willingness to challenge their own narratives, some with greater success than others. Because one of the three principal characters, Ethan, is an Orthodox Jew who commits a transgressive act in synagogue to awaken God and to change the trajectory of his own life, SEE SUITE also bears some thematic similarity to Chaim Potok's MY NAME IS ASHER LEV. The fact that SEE SUITE is set in the two weeks leading to Yom Kippur, the Jewish Day of Atonement, is no accident -- even though it is the lapsed Catholic, Sal, who ultimately learns in synagogue what he must do to make amends.

Violated as a young teenager and looking for love and fulfillment in all the wrong places as an adult, Sal Mineo, the CEO of a major corporation, must discover if he can exorcise his personal demons to create the family and professional life he never had.

Other Notable Conflicts:

A human resources consultant who devotes her professional life to resolving other people's problems, Penny Baumgartner must learn if she can resolve a personal crisis of conscience that arises from a devastating secret she never shared with her now mentally compromised husband.

Consigned to corporate purgatory and finding it increasingly difficult to reconcile his professional choices with his religious convictions, Ethan Horowitz, an in-house employment attorney, must discover if he has the courage and imagination to stop being a bystander to his own life.


In 1970, Tony Iovarra, a muscular and uncouth high school senior, violates two vulnerable freshmen, including Sal Mineo, the protagonist, who is both enamored of and repulsed by Tony. When Ethan Horowitz, who witnessed the violation but did nothing, offers to help Sal hide the evidence of assault from his family, Sal demurs, noting mysteriously that his mother "has seen worse." As the novel fast-forwards to 2018, we learn that Sal is now the CEO of a major corporation, Betsy Ross Blue, that Ethan serves as its in-house employment attorney, that Tony has become a paranoid schizophrenic IT employee at "Betsy Blue," and that Tony's other victim, Penny Baumgartner, is an employee relations consultant for the company. Sal, unable to form healthy attachments, engages in a notorious affair that not only threatens a critical impending merger but jeopardizes his relationship with Valerie, his endearingly awkward teenage daughter, who is the only member of his family who seems to love him unconditionally. As Sal's professional and personal life disintegrates, Ethan, Penny and Valerie each help Sal confront the demons of his past, including the "worse" that his mother witnessed in 1970 and that remains one of many intriguing mysteries about Sal throughout much of the novel. In helping Sal confront his own horrific past, Ethan and Penny learn lessons for confronting and resolving their own debilitating issues. With the exception of the opening and closing chapters, all of the action takes place in a two week period between Wednesday, September 5 and Tuesday, September 18, 2018, the Jewish Day of Atonement, when the lapsed Catholic, Sal, finally understands what he must do to begin making amends and to repair the world that he has broken.


Much of See Suite takes place in Betsy Ross Blue's spanking new corporate headquarters on the west bank of the Schuylkill River in Philadelphia. A glass sheathed structure with a rooftop garden and gyrating water fountains, the building resembles "an oversized mushroom to those who were inclined to be charitable or an erupting phallus to those who were not." Almost a character in its own right, "Betsy Blue" has an elevator system that segregates the Brahmins from the Dalits and a hierarchy of office sizes that reinforce the company's "Upstairs/Downstairs" caste system. Sal's office on the 32nd floor is particularly noteworthy, with its teak bridge, its shoji screens and its meandering stream filled with iridescent peach and pink coy; the office is a recreation of a setting from his past and its Osaka-like appearance plays a critical role in the novel. At the other extreme sits Penny's office on the second floor, a cramped shoebox with unpacked cartons and virtually nothing on the walls or on her desk to reveal who she might be. Other major settings include Penny's small stone cottage on Philadelphia's Main Line, a warm and inviting place filled with the aroma of baked goods and the perfumed scent of Penny's deceased mother-in-law and Ethan's less inviting suburban tract home that houses his religiously observant and brittle wife, his severely bi-polar daughter and the smell of stale chicken soup. Rounding out these "sets" is the Borgata Casino and Resort in Atlantic City where Sal takes refuge after he is beaten to a pulp by his mistress' husband, a synagogue where Ethan commits a blasphemous act and where Sal begins to learn how to atone for his sins, a nursing home where Penny's husband eventually resides, and The Windsor Towers' Osaka Building in suburban Cherry Hill, New Jersey, which was the scene of Sal's early humiliations and serves as the site of his later confessions to Ethan and Penny.

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