My seven assignments before the Monterey 2022 retreat: FIRST ASSIGNMENT: write your story statement. Stop the Devil from escaping Hell, and redeem herself and save her friends while doing it. SECOND ASSIGNMENT: in 200 words or less, sketch the antagonist or antagonistic force in your story. The Devil has been the boss of Deep Hell since it began. While he’s kept the baddies down, he’s effectively a prisoner himself, and even an immortal can absorb the nastiness of others over millennia. He’s mad in more than one way and wants out. While most of the baddies who try to escape go for the smash-everything route, the Devil intends to do it intelligently. He’s been using his minions to test the Bells’ reactions while quietly poking around himself, until he’s ready to make his break for the living world. Unfortunately, he’s realized there’s only one way out, and a being such as he will not survive the journey. He requires a soul and its spark to hide inside: one that won’t be promptly noticed by the Bells–whose duty it is to round up any escaped baddies–and whipped back to Deep Hell. His objective is not to start a war; he just wants out. He needs a Bell, a new one whose defenses are low, whose spark he can hide inside, who he can command to take him to the one way out to the mortal world: the tree of life. THIRD ASSIGNMENT: create a breakout title. Hell’s Bells (this is the title, or potentially the series name, but inventing other options for the assignment) Chime of the Bluebells Ring the Devil Down FOURTH ASSIGNMENT: - Develop two smart comparables for your novel. Sherri S Tepper (older works like True Game and Awakeners) for inventive and bizarre worlds, hints of feminist themes Jim Butcher (Dresden Files) for witty underdog first-person MC, some magic, somewhat modern, fantasy creatures, holding evil at bay Genre of Hell’s Bells: low fantasy, a bit of urban, a bit of paranormal, dash of Gothic, but not a romance FIFTH ASSIGNMENT: write your own hook line (logline) with conflict and core wound. A soul who struggled to find self-worth in life escapes damnation by earning a place in the purgatorial City of Bells, but must now prove herself and save her friends as the Devil of Deep Hell tries to break free. SIXTH ASSIGNMENT: sketch out the conditions for the inner conflict your protagonist will have. Next, likewise sketch a hypothetical scenario for the "secondary conflict" involving the social environment. Inner conflict of protagonist: she struggled to feel valuable and worthwhile in life, and has now barely dodged damnation of one kind or another. Once again, she faces living in a society where she is expected to contribute and feels the same self-doubt. One critical determining factor in a Bell’s usefulness is what beast they can shift into for fighting demons. The MC is afraid she will be useless, and the first time she shifts, she can only bring her shape into that of the cat she raised as a child, who was small and sickly. Her fears are confirmed; such a beast form is useless. Secondary conflict: she is stunned to encounter a man she knew in her time alive, but he doesn’t recognize her. She had quite an infatuation for him when alive several decades ago, but although they were friendly and even affectionate, he never chose her as a romantic partner. This contributed to her sense of not being good enough (see main inner conflict). In the City of Bells there are no physical bodies, no gonads, no sex, no romantic love, no marriage, so it’s not like she has a “second chance,” but she does have the opportunity to become his friend again and to fight beside him–in fact, to form a deeper bond than the superficial crush she had before. One thing she must decide is whether to tell him who she is. True names are not supposed to be shared–not even uttered–because with a true name comes some control over the soul. She wants an explanation of why he didn’t want her, but she also wants to stop ruminating over what she perceives as failures of her time alive. FINAL ASSIGNMENT: sketch out your setting in detail. Summary: setting is in pre-Hell sorting and testing caverns, the City of Bells, the Hell desert, and possibly Deep Hell (but I don’t think the MC gets there in this story). Pre-Hell is where the story starts, with the arrival of the MC down a waterfall, into a pool with dozens of other dead souls, ringed by jagged black rock. The rest of the cavern is also black rock, including a spit of it bisecting two lakes and a big rocky spur with the mechanisms for raising and lowering a dozen gibbet cages. From there, a swim across one of the lakes, which appears bottomless, no signs of life, and up a stone stairway behind the far wall. From there we enter a series of tests, all with a rushing river below in caves or somewhat finished stone rooms. To start, a seesaw test, then a cave squeeze, into a circular room with a pattern test and three doors to choose from. Two of course lead to destruction. Upon picking the correct door, there begins a descent using heavy chains through unfinished jagged and dark tower-like caverns. At the bottom of this descent, we enter the City of Bells. The Bluebell House is a major set piece for this story, and we enter it in the bell room, where a bell dangles at the end of the last chain the MC descends upon. The Bluebell House is three stories (can add on a fourth if needed later) and the bell room is the bottom floor at the very back. Construction materials are wood and stone and metal, no plastics anywhere in this realm. Architecture is plain, worn, and pre-industrial revolution, vaguely British. Also on the bottom floor is the bathing chamber, used by all house inhabitants, with partitioned tubs and showers from various eras. Water enters through stone channels like aqueducts and is mixed with ancient stone and metal levers. No boiler, water arrives constantly in three temperatures: cold, warm, and hot. There are also communal bathing and resting pools in the center of the room. It’s a very old room, so there are lots of mineral deposits from the water, but there’s no mold or rot, as there is no life here. Spiral stairs connect the floors. Second, or main floor, is a common room and hallway with five similar bedrooms off each side. All fabrics are in shades of blue, mostly light blue, no synthetic fabrics. No electricity, lighting is by oil lamp. There is an old, rotary-style telephone, but no plastic used in its construction. The common room has windows on three walls and looks out over the city, river below, and desert in the distance. The third floor of the Bluebell House is where the maintainer and leader have their quarters, and a library with a wall of windows and skylights in the ceiling. The rest of the City of Bells: the Bluebell House is but one building in the city. The city is built mostly of stone, but with many different styles, as it has been added to over the last several thousand years as the population increased (by immigration, not babies). All buildings have a bell tower. Architecture from all over the living world can be found there. The inhabitants were all human (now they’re dead), and are equally from all eras and cultures, all races, sexes, and appearances, though most choose to appear to be between the ages of 20 and 50. They dress however they want, and their colorful clothing (within the abilities of natural fabric and simple dyeing techniques) are the brightest colors in the city. There is no life in the city–no trees, flowers, or even weeds or fungi or bacteria. This is a dead world. There are, however, many small waterfalls cascading through the city, between the buildings and under pedestrian bridges. There are no vehicles. The sky is not a real sky at all: actually a stone roof to the realm that glows white like daylight, and fades into a day-night cycle. The city curves to hug a high cliff, like the side of a steep mountain, so there are lots of ramps and stairs going up the terraced levels. It is at least a few miles long. At either end the rock wall becomes vertical and curves forward, making the city sort of a crescent shape if viewed from above. From tip to tip of that crescent, in a straight line, runs a frothing river, as powerful as though it were in floor stage, in a chasm twenty feet deep and two hundred feet wide. This is the Peace River. From the river rises thick mist, up a hundred feet. Many bridges cross the river, most of a drawbridge type, others suspension type and easily destroyed. At the center point is one stone bridge twenty feet wide. There are guard posts at the end of all the larger bridges. There is a wide walk between the edge of the river chasm and the start of the city. Nearest the main bridge are the oldest, most castle-like mansions. Up the hill from them in the center of the city is a large fountain with a pyramid of stone animals, larger animals on the bottom, smaller ones standing on their backs, birds at the top, all spouting water. This is one of the sources of holy water, which is only found in the City of Bells. Uphill from this fountain, still at the midpoint of the city, there is a fenced courtyard where a pillar of water falls from above. The Bell Arch: at the very back center of the city is a rib of stone that rises along the cliff wall until it curls forward in a promontory, through which falls a pillar of water from the sky above. Stone stairs wrap the rib, going through tunnels at its backside, in a spiral to the top. A guardian of a holy water well lives at the top with a cave-like room decorated like a medieval-style studio apartment. There is a small spring of holy water there that emerges from a mound of rock carved with a variety of symbols. The rib continues its curl out to form the promontory. Stairs are cut into the first steep part. It forms a sort of loop, or circle, at the end, through which falls the water. It is from this fall of water that the inhabitants of the city acquire their bells. Also in the cliff wall are tiny hollows where black hummingbirds rest. The black hummingbirds serve the bells by carrying messages in Morse Code. Despite looking like living birds, they do not breed or eat. They drink only the holy water. The Hell desert: beyond the City of Bells and the Peace River is an enormous desert. Like the rest of the realm, there is no life there, but there are inhabitants. In addition to aforementioned black hummingbirds, there are cuckoos and other small animal-like creatures, but they do not eat and do not breed. Hellhounds also patrol there. They are dog-like, though they can resemble many different breeds, but they only come in shades of gray, sometimes spotted or in other patterns. Hellhounds are the police of Deep Hell and work to capture any escaped baddies. To that end, they have created a few walls and trenches, and even some simple defensive structures, but most of their work begins about halfway across the desert. There is no water in the desert, but there can be other liquids such as pits or rivers of acids or molten rock. It is not all sand, though there are sections of dunes. Some parts are rocky, including large plateaus or deep chasms. Deep Hell: the place where evil is contained and punished beyond the desert. A place of horrors, not just endless rows of prison cells and dungeons, all the myths of human religions have described the place, and it is all there. Lakes of fire, boiling pits, monsters and demons: it can be found there somewhere. The MC and other Bells do not venture there. The railway: the city is supplied by rail once every ten days. The rail line is on the desert side, just beyond the bridges. There is a train depot. The train itself is short, and the locomotive is not powered by coal (no fossil fuels in this realm) but by a dragon-like creature that breathes fire to stoke the boiler. It is chained to the engine. The Tree of Life: there is a story of a massive tree whose roots drink from the Peace River, but the Peace River vanishes into a tunnel at one end of the city, and it is so full of boulders that to try to navigate it by boat would be reckless.