Seven Assignment Responses by Pamela Meyer for DEATH IN MINIATURE
ASSIGNMENT 1: PROTAGONIST’S MISSION (STORY STATEMENT)
Early 1900s heiress secretly defies family and social dictates by living a double life to solve unexplained deaths using groundbreaking forensics while maintaining her cherished lifestyle.
ASSIGNMENT 2: ANTAGONIST/ANTAGONISTIC FORCES (200 words or less)
In 1906, society is an antagonistic force dictating women’s behaviors and dishing out punishment to those who dare step out of line.
Dr. Riggs sees Frances as an unruly woman who endangers his position as the morgue’s pathologist after she outperforms him during her test autopsy. Avenging his wounded pride, Riggs threatens to incite a press scandal over the reprehensible hiring of a woman to cut up dead bodies at the morgue. Soon after, Frances must contend with having a dogged reporter on her tail, risking disclosing her hidden double life to the world.
Ruthlessly ambitious and controlling, Frances’s tycoon father, Jacob Harvester, denied her a college education and contrived for Frances to marry against her pleas as part of a business arrangement. Not trusting Frances’s claim she is following the rules while living apart from her husband in Boston, Jacob has enlisted Boston friend Dex Houndsley to spy on Frances. Besides Houndsley’s regular reports, Jacob scours the papers and stays attuned to rumor mills to guard his daughter’s reputation, thus maintaining Harvester social standing. A wrathful man, he would punish Frances’s wildness as he did her aunt’s—with disownment and commitment to an asylum, should Frances’s secret be uncovered.
ASSIGNMENT 3: BREAKOUT TITLE
DEATH IN MINIATURE
DEATH IN A NUTSHELL
DEATH IN A NUTSHELL MINIATURE
ASSIGNMENT 4: GENRE & COMPS
Genre: Historical mystery with strong romantic elements.
Similar to Sherry Thomas’s LADY SHERLOCK Series, Deanna Raybourn’s VERONICA SPEEDWELL MYSTERY Series, and Kate Belli’s GILDED GOTHAM MYSTERY Series, my manuscript features an indomitable heroine solving murder mysteries with a love interest and is set near the turn of the century.
ASSIGNMENT 5: LOGLINE (50 words or less)
Fascinated with solving unexplained deaths and making crime-scene miniatures to foster her investigative process, 1906 married heiress Frances Harvester Warden defies convention and risks family censure to enter the male-dominated world of criminal investigation, secretly living a double life as an unmarried Boston pathologist—but falls for her detective partner.
ASSIGNMENT 6: INNER CONFLICT
Frances’s upbringing as the overprotected, undervalued, only daughter of a ruthlessly ambitious father and compliant yet loving and creative mother ignited her rebellion and wish to be free. The ultimate betrayal came after her mother had died. After refusing to support her in obtaining a college education, her father married her off as part of a business deal to an insipid and equally ambitious older man. At a time when women did not have the right to divorce on their own, her father subsequently ignored her pleas of unhappiness, siding with her husband and forbidding a divorce.
Enter her brother’s well-connected friend and Frances’s mentor, McTash. McTash championed her unofficial training in pathology, even convincing her father to pay for it, and then furtively put her forward as the prime candidate for the Northern Mortuary’s pathologist position. It meant everything to Frances to finally be a part of transforming the medieval system of criminal investigation with modern science-based practices. To follow through with her dream, she contrived a story acceptable enough to both her father and husband to allow her to live alone in Boston, necessitating obscuring her identity to accept the position unencumbered. Living that double life affords her that long-sought freedom yet seals her off from everyone else much more precariously than she had expected. She tells herself that enduring a little more loneliness is a small price to pay, especially since she had long ago accepted that she would live her life alone anyway.
But then along comes William Leeson, stiff, meticulous, goodhearted, using science in investigating crimes. Their mutual attraction is intense from the beginning. Frances battles with her mounting desire for Leeson, for she knows she is a married woman, albeit estranged from her husband. But slowly, it dawns on her— she deeply longs for love, companionship, and connection, and Leeson offers her the antidote to that ache—an antidote that she dares not take, for doing so would topple her perfectly planned double life.
ASSIGNMENT 6 (PART 2): SECONDARY CONFLICT
Born into a powerful, wealthy, elite family, Frances chooses to follow a career that, besides customarily excluding the fairer sex, is usually associated with the working classes. Yet, as it befits her social status, she remains only vaguely aware of her own privilege. Upon first meeting Leeson, Frances notices his finely tailored suit and briefly wonders how he could afford it on his salary. At the same time, she seems oblivious when Leeson stares in fascination at the astonishingly regal interior of her townhouse.
Leeson, well-educated but of humble upbringing, is keenly aware of their class differences. When Frances invites him to join her and her mentor for dinner at the most expensive in town to celebrate the success of their first case together, he declines, acutely aware that the expense is beyond his reach. He has bouts of self-doubt and inadequacy in the face of her opulent lifestyle.
At a peak moment on a date in the woods together, drinking champagne and eating raspberries, Leeson’s hopes are dashed when she tells him her father would disapprove of their relationship. It is only in the shadow of her consciousness that Frances struggles with what truly loving this policeman would mean. Her social circle, society, her family—even her most beloved aunt, would never accept a love between them. Only time will tell if she would be willing to give up her top-tiered prestige, wealth, and reputation to be with him. For now, she has colluded with him to hide their forbidden love WITHIN her secret double life, thus avoiding contention with outsiders’ reactions to someone from society’s highest echelon living life partnered with a man of much lower social standing.
ASSIGNMENT 7: SETTING
DEATH IN MINIATURE is set in 1906 Boston. Yet, it opens at the onset of an investigation of an unexplained death on a hardscrabble farm on the city’s outskirts, specifically in a barn. But this is not just any old barn; this is the barn depicted in Frances Glessner Lee’s (the world’s mother of forensics) first miniature crime scene—the first of Lee’s ‘Nutshells of Unexplained Death.’ As the story unfolds, we see Frances making the miniature of the crime scene she first encountered when standing on the threshold of the life-size barn, the dead farmer hanging at the end of his noose inside. Details, such as the scent of musty hay and sparkling speckles of dust drifting in the low-angled morning sunlight cast over the farmer and detective inside, bring the scene to life.
On the victim’s farm, the story travels through multiple other settings—a horse’s stall, the grounds around the barn adorned with scattered clues, a path to the farmhouse upon which Frances and William exchange banter and first notice an essential piece of evidence, and the sparse and battered kitchen where the wife and son of the farmer first give their statements.
Boston’s Northern Mortuary is ripe with death. Standing on Grove Street as did the real mortuary in the past and based on photographs, the fictionalized morgue undergoes significant changes throughout the story as our wealthy heroine, Frances, invests in abounding improvements from freshly painted walls to roses and a stone bench to landscape the front of the building. Much of the story is told in the setting of the morgue.
The most fictionalized setting in the story is Boston’s Police Station #1. Research told the station-house was in Boston’s North End. I located it across Grove Street from the morgue for the convenience of plot. A few lively and rambunctious scenes occur in the bustling station-house ‘bullpen,’ but much of the story unfolds in Detective Leeson’s office. Frances absorbs details about him from the things inside his office, such as his scientific books, a set of Lady-Justice bookends, and an enchanting metal bowl on a cushion which she learns is a Chinese meditation and chanting bell.
Frances’s Back Bay palatial townhouse also provides a fun setting. The story’s townhouse is based on a home that still stands today. It is majestic, occupying a corner made up of two Back Bay lots and complete with cone-shaped turrets. To Frances, it is home, but Leeson’s first encounter with the townhouse impresses. The entrance alone is grand, with a double marble staircase leading up to a chin-lifting landing. Frances’s bed-chamber has an elegant balcony, and there is a large solarium in which Frances makes the barn miniature.
The investigation into the farmer's murder and subsequent crimes takes the protagonists to the Hippodrome Circus at the Boston Theatre, the prestigious Tennis & Racquet Gentlemen's Club, a local ward boss' wharf lair, and docked Fall River 'floating palace' paddleboat steamer named the Priscilla.
The story's romantic climax unfolds in a fantasized rendition of today’s Boston Common, complete with Frog Pond, Parkman Bandstand, and most importantly, a lovely copse of trees where Frances and William climb an elm together and under which they ultimately confess their love for each other.