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Tracy K. Macdonald

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    Libreville, Gabon

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    Writer and Consultant. Recently completed a debut fiction novel. Enjoy blogging, writing personal essays, and freelance articles, too.
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  1. OPENING SCENES - Introduce antagonist, setting, tone, and a foreshadows the primary conflict. CHAPTER 1: A SOUTHERN AFFAIR Vivienne inhaled a cleansing breath of crisp October air and strode toward the Atlanta Bank & Trust building. Her hard-earned promotion to Director of Risk and Fraud would be announced today. If only she felt as competent at home as she did at work. On a maple tree outside of the bank, a garnet leaf flecked with gold twirled like a sun catcher, interrupting her thoughts. Her boots scuffed the sidewalk as she paused to rub the leaf’s waxy surface. She plucked it from the branch, then searched her surroundings as if she'd stolen something. With anticipation, Vivienne tucked it into her bag. She'd fasten this autumn treasure into her journal beside the artfully-taped butterfly wings and pressed flowers. Before pushing against the revolving door, she lingered and briefly closed her eyes, tilting her face skyward to absorb one last moment of morning. In her office, Vivienne shimmied off her cashmere coat and leather bag. She placed her coffee mug on the desk and perched on the rolling chair, which pivoted, squeaked, and threw her petite frame off-balance. Her leather boot thudded against a drawer and she yelped, steadying the thermos just in time. She chuckled with relief. Shaky from a potent cocktail of adrenaline and exhaustion, she counted silently to four, summoning her yoga practice. She brushed drops of coffee from the lid and took a measured sip, recalling the mantra she used often lately at home: It's not what happens, it's how you react to it. She leaned forward and powered up the laptop to finish an illicit data report before the 8:30 meeting. Using her anti-money laundering expertise, she scrolled through suspicious activity transactions, searching for financial patterns. Across a handful of accounts, she honed in on multiple wire transfers initiated in the same dollar amounts, with similar time and date stamps; a telltale sign that a fraud ring was forming. She notated the account numbers. This was her element. In fraud meetings with partner financial institutions, Vivienne received frequent accolades for her astute findings and insightful analysis. In fact, the local Atlanta police and U.S. District Attorney had her on speed dial. At twenty-eight, however, crime-fighting from a computer wasn't exactly the dynamic career that she'd hoped for. Vivienne yearned to be a heroine, inspired in her teens by female agents in the X-files, Alias, and especially Clarice Starling in Silence of the Lambs. Vivienne leaned back and rubbed her eyes. Despite her eagerness about the impending promotion, a wave of fatigue hit, blurring the financial data on the screen like a foreign language. She hadn’t slept well after the terrible argument with Gaston last night and considered calling her mother for advice, but dismissed the notion instantly. Vivienne's southern manners were so ingrained in her conscience, they flashed like tiny stop signs that shut down unbecoming behavior before it started. The small, genteel Chatta Creek community in which she'd been raised held tightly to ideals from the past. Women were taught to comply, paste on smiles, and declare that everything was just fine, no matter what was happening. She could almost hear the childhood echoes from “The Treasures,” the circle of mamas that collectively reared her and her closest friends. "Now girls, shush! Southern ladies don't air their dirty laundry." Vivienne wanted her mama and “The Treasures” to be proud, so she hid behind the veneer of having it all; a successful career and a happy marriage. The truth was, her personal life was in shambles. Vivienne stood and massaged her temples, chiding herself. It’s too early in the day for this. Come on, don’t spiral. Shake off the negativity and focus on the promotion! She crossed to the fifth-story window. A steady stream of commuters threaded through the downtown blocks below. Gears of a bus shifted loudly as it edged out of traffic and over to the curb. Vivienne coiled long strands of copper hair around two fingers as she stared at the top of the Capitol building in the distance. An American flag curled around its staff and unfurled again in the breeze, like a little girl showing off her party dress. She shifted in her knee-high suede boots and leaned her forehead against the cold glass. Slump-shouldered, she gently tugged at her sweater dress sleeves to cover the bruises on her wrists. Seeking solace, she briefly placed her right hand against her dress, just above her hip bone. Beneath was the secret tattoo from college that gave her strength. Please let him be in a better mood this evening. Vivienne unexpectedly met Gaston LeBlanc in her sleepy hometown of Chatta Creek, Georgia, where the summer climate called for bare feet with its lazy afternoon shadows and a sun that set long after cocktail hour. She had just returned from college her junior year. Her parents were hosting an alfresco debutante party in the garden. Under strands of twinkle lights, the ragtime band was in full swing, but the moment Gaston opened his mouth to say "Bonjour," Vivienne no longer heard the music. She was enraptured by his charming French accent, sophisticated suit, and sexy five-o'clock shadow. Now, she experienced relief whenever Gaston left town for business. Like a sailboat in a storm, she kept changing tack to make it work between them. I've tried being nice, tried being a bitch, and even tried being invisible, but nothing has helped. How did I get here? *** The computer’s calendar alert made Vivienne jump. Her outlook lifted. Time to shine. She swiped on a coat of lipstick and dashed to the conference room. Tom, VP of the bank, sat at the head of the table, his tie swept askew as if waiting for a feast. His patchy bald spots and fashion choices of suspenders and argyle socks matched his affable nature but made him look older than his age, which she guessed was mid-forties. Once everyone was seated, he made eye contact around the table. "Mornin, y'all." Tom dipped his chin as if tipping his hat to the room. Although he was on a first-name basis with all employees, he lowered his voice like a radio announcer and affected a fakey, formal tone. "Mrs. Le Blanc, how about you start us off with the fraud department." Vivienne bristled at the sound of her married name and sat straighter in her chair. With ease, she rattled off an update on recent fraud loss amounts and the suspicious activity she had discovered. She wrapped up and flashed Tom a bright grin, ready for the good news, but he just nodded and made notes. His voice returned to its normal timbre. "All righty, Tanya, you're up next. How many new customer accounts have been opened and closed?” Tanya's report was long-winded and her voice faded into the background. Vivienne slid her appointment book onto her lap. She studied the tiny up-and-down arrows penciled onto the calendar, her covert way of tracking the good and bad days when Gaston was in town. The first few days of October showed a row of down arrows, much like September and the many months prior. Disappointment slithered into her neck and shoulders. She shrugged to cast it off. It was like being two different women; one, full of zest and ambition at work, but the other like a dehydrated plant wilting at home. The booming sound of her boss's voice snapped Vivienne back to the conference room. "And the last piece of business to address this morning..." Tom announced with a huge grin. Her pulse kicked up and she combed her hair back behind her ears with her fingers as she prepared to say a few words. "Folks, let’s give a big congratulations to Johnathan, our new Director of Risk and Fraud." Vivienne stopped breathing for a moment and cocked her head, unable to compute what she'd just heard. " 'Preciate it, Tom," Johnathan said with a smug smirk. He scanned the room, eyes landing on Vivienne. She stifled a strained sound climbing her throat and managed a tight-lipped smile. Raised to be polite and a people pleaser, she clapped in solidarity as congratulations were proffered, but what she wanted to do instead was slap Tom. He’d promised her this promotion, and she shot him a seething look that said What the hell? But he was too busy beaming about his big win—rewarding his mini-me, whose track record for solving fraud cases was appalling. Defeated, she glanced down at the sweater dress and boots she’d chosen in particular for the pictures. I even got up early to do my makeup and hair, damnit. She stared at the conference table and shook her head, still seated after photos were taken. Maybe this is a sign from the universe that it's time to look for a new opportunity. She bolted up, resisting the urge to stomp over to Tom. Ever the southern belle, she kept her composure. In a controlled tone, she asked, "So, what… changed… since our chat last week, Tom?" Although she maintained a pleasant expression, her eyes narrowed. She clenched her teeth to hold back the ugly words threatening to spill out. He gave her a consoling pat on the back. Vivienne flinched from his touch and took a step back. "Yeah…I'm sorry about this, Vivienne. Last minute, the board decided that even though you're the better fraud analyst, you just don't have the leadership skills yet to run the department." "Is that so?" She swallowed hard, pushing down the rising anger. Her jaw tightened and she nodded, pressing her lips into a thin smile. No leadership skills? That was B.S. and he knew it. She'd worked hard the last few years, not to mention the millions she'd likely saved the bank with her fraud prevention measures. Tom grimaced and left the room. "Oh, honey. I'm sorry," Tanya said, giving Vivienne a pat on the shoulder on her way out. "You all right?" "Yes, thanks…I just thought… the promotion… I should probably go home. I didn't sleep too well." The maternal kindness on Tanya's grandmotherly face nearly made Vivienne cry. Vivienne broke eye contact, scooped up her bag, and dashed out of the room. Back in her office, slumped in her chair, she grieved the death of her career. Hot tears sprung up. She was highly skilled at her job and had earned this promotion. How dare Tom? It was as if she'd been fired. She certainly didn't want to stay here now, working for Johnathan who‘d barely left university. When Vivienne overheard the gossip shortly after the meeting that Johnathan's dad was a close golf buddy of Tom's, the news hardly came as a surprise. Still, not getting the bump in title and paycheck was an injustice, and she left the office that afternoon betrayed and disappointed in the board's decision. Everything Johnathan knew about illicit finance, she’d taught him. *** That evening, gravel crunched as Gaston parked his car in the driveway of their cottage. His temperament was fiery lately, and Vivienne's stomach tightened, wondering which mood he'd bring through the door. She smoothed down her dress and lit the candles in the dining room. Before work, she had chilled her favorite wine and set the table with candles, expecting to celebrate. Best to avoid mentioning her day at the office. Gaston would likely harp on how she'd screwed up the promotion. Her pride was dented enough without him picking her faults apart like a vulture with carrion. He was quiet during dinner, so she told a light-hearted anecdote about her dad teaching her to drive. He held up a hand and cut her off mid-sentence. "Stop. I don't want to hear this story again. Where's the wine?" Gaston snapped. Vivienne restrained herself from glowering. The last thing she wanted was to escalate his mean-spirited mood. She retrieved the bottle to refill his glass. As if in slow motion, a trickle splashed onto the table and dripped onto his tan slacks. "Merde! Watch what you're doing!" Her body tensed, she hated when he shouted. He grabbed her hand and twisted it. Pain shot through her wrist. She cried out, caught off guard, and dropped the bottle of wine on the floor, sending a wave of honey-gold Viognier under the table. Gaston scowled and jumped from his seat. He pushed her to the floor and her leg bashed against the table. She moaned as the impact radiated across the top of her kneecap. She pressed a hand hard over her knee until the pain subsided. Motion caught her gaze on the hardwood floor. Her chest tightened as the wine seeped into a crack and headed right for the oriental rug. She shook her head and silently begged the spill, no, no, no, please. She hung her head. "Why do you make everything so difficult, Vivienne? Can't you do anything without screwing it up?" Gaston's biting criticism pierced her, especially after the day she'd had. Her chin snapped up and she gave him an icy stare, daring him to say more. An expletive formed on her tongue, but from experience, she kept her mouth shut. "Jesus, Vivienne, you've ruined my shoes, too! Idiot!" Before she could form a response, he stomped upstairs. Her bottom lip quivered as she mopped up the last of the wine with their monogrammed dinner napkins, a wedding present from Aunt Patsy, one of “The Treasures.” Vivienne itched for Gaston to hit her instead, to cross that line of no return. Then, she couldn't convince herself this wasn't abuse. Whoever coined the phrase, "sticks and stones…" was wrong. Words could destroy a soul. She locked herself into the guest room for the night. In bed, she lay with a hand over her tattoo and listened for footsteps in case he had more vitriol to spew, or worse. Fear morphed into anger. Keep this up and one of us will go to jail, Gaston. With each verbal attack, she felt less and less like forgiving him. Even so, a part of her sympathized with him. Gaston hadn’t been adored as a child like she had. After their last fight, he pleaded with her not to leave. "You can't leave me, too. You're all I have left," he said, with rare tears in his eyes. When Vivienne's body finally calmed, she remembered the maple leaf in her bag meant for her journal. Her thoughts drifted to the past, to the one person who had always understood her. Marrying Gaston was such a mistake, Jacob. Where are you now? *** Before dawn, the smooth purr of Gaston’s sports car leaving the driveway alerted Vivienne that she was safe. She swung the guest room door wide open and made her way downstairs. His cologne lingered in the kitchen, leaving a bitter taste on her tongue. She clicked on the coffee maker then plodded into the living room and rolled out her yoga mat, seeking solace. Daybreak softly illuminated the trees beyond the window. She laid on her back, propped up her bruised knee, and rubbed it with caution. Although still hurt and angry, she was conflicted. Gaston was so broken, but she believed deeply in her marriage vows. After all, it was her choice, marrying a Frenchman against the Chatta Creek community advice. She was too stubborn and ashamed to admit they were right. She stood up and stretched. She’d been so enamored with Gaston in the beginning. Young and hungry to leave insular Chatta Creek, she was quick to bask in his adventurous tales from all corners of the globe. He'd traveled on African safaris, dived the Great Barrier Reef, sampled street food in Vietnam, and had ridden the Orient Express. He was a far cry more exciting than the Chatta Creek boys who were into hunting and football. And there was nothing boyish about Gaston. Nearly thirty-three when they met, he was almost a decade older and very much a man. Vivienne bent over to roll up her yoga mat. When had it all gone wrong? They’d been married for five years. Doggedly loyal, she continued to justify Gaston's bad behavior, convinced that if she just poured more love into him and gave him more time, their marriage would improve. She did love him, but in recent months, she’d become so high-strung and defensive that even the smallest noise gave her a tiny heart attack. Pouring herself a cup of coffee, she thought, this isn't living, this is existing.
  2. Algonkian Conference Pre-Work FIRST ASSIGNMENT: Story Statement (Contemporary Women's Fiction- novel draft of Becoming Agent McKenna) Southern belle Vivienne McKenna, from Chatta Creek, Georgia, escapes her marriage to a brutish Frenchman. After their failed union, she yearns to be a victor, not a victim. Deflated after losing a promotion at work, Vivienne seizes an opportunity to join the Secret Service as a federal agent. She applies, believing this new career will make her invincible. Vivienne has secretly loved Jacob since they lost touch in high school. A decade later, they unexpectedly meet again, and sparks fly between them. Conflicted, she denies her heart and commits to training, pushing Jacob away. Trading sundresses for boxing gloves at the academy is grueling, yet, despite naysayers, her ladylike upbringing, and a chauvinistic instructor determined to make her fail, she refuses to quit and overcomes every hurdle. As an agent, Vivienne trusts her head more than her heart and relinquishes a second chance with Jacob to accept a Financial Crimes Task Force assignment in London. There, she unravels a transnational case involving a stolen Egyptian artifact. When her investigation gets too close, a threat in Cairo jeopardizes her life and Vivienne wonders whether she’s made the right choice. In the end, she reunites with Jacob and allows herself to be vulnerable. No longer needing the badge to feel empowered and prove her worth, she resigns to build her own security company. SECOND ASSIGNMENT: Antagonist Sketch The initial antagonist is GASTON, the protagonist’s verbally abusive husband. He’s a narcissist, who belittles his wife to feel more powerful. He’s charming in public, but controlling, unfaithful, and angry behind closed doors. A second antagonist is MR. RODNEY, Vivienne’s chauvinistic instructor at the federal law enforcement academy who doesn’t want women in his boys’ club. He singles Vivienne out and attempts to weed her out of the academy. The protagonist, VIVIENNE, is also her own antagonistic force. After the failure of her marriage, she doesn’t trust her judgement nor does she believe she deserves true love. She chooses the risks of the job instead. Simultaneously, her traditional upbringing causes her to be at odds with the world of law enforcement and life overseas. THIRD ASSIGNMENT- Breakout Title (for a story about female empowerment, defying the odds, and a journey of self-discovery) Becoming Agent McKenna The Lighthouse Tattoo (The protagonist rebels against her conservative debutante upbringing and gets a lighthouse tattoo in college on a girls’ weekend. The tattoo becomes a symbol of strength; a talisman she physically touches in times of struggle as a reminder that she doesn’t have to conform to the rules and she’s her own beacon of light in a crisis). Southern Belle Brave FOURTH ASSIGNMENT: Two Comps This contemporary women’s fiction novel is written in the southern lyrical style of author Patti Callahan Henry, sharing her similar themes of southern culture, a love of the natural world, and a female protagonist who explores relationships. With elements of romance and suspense, this story will resonate with fans of Janet Evanovich’s heroine Stephanie Plum and her struggles as a female investigator (bounty hunter) in a male-dominated field. FIFTH ASSIGNMENT: Hook Line After a ruinous marriage, a southern debutante reclaims her power behind the badge, but will she sacrifice chances at true love in the process? SIXTH ASSIGNMENT: Primary protagonist inner conflict- trigger and reaction Vivienne longs to escape an abusive marriage, but has been taught to be loyal and not break her vows, so she hides the hell she’s living in behind closed doors to keep up appearances. Once Gaston traps her in a closet and his threats escalate, she flees and files for divorce, despondent that she’s an utter failure for not making her marriage work, and afraid she’ll embarrass her mother and disappoint family friends in her conservative hometown. Her father’s recent death, a lost promotion at work, and leaving Gaston are the catalysts that spur Vivienne to make a change and prove her self-worth with a grand-scale achievement. She defies the odds and is accepted into law enforcement training, which brings hurdles of chauvinism, physical challenges, and an internal struggle between the academy’s paramilitary demands and her debutante upbringing. Secondary conflict involving the social environment: Childhood sweetheart JACOB resurfaces just as Vivienne is about to leave for the academy, and she’s conflicted. He’s the one person who knows her best, yet she doesn’t trust her judgement, is hurt and angry with Jacob for disappearing years ago, and thwarts chances at true love. She refuses to put a man’s needs before her own again. Plus, her mother doesn’t approve of Jacob because he isn’t from the “right” kind of family. Vivienne denies her true desires and throws herself into law enforcement training. Jacob becomes entangled with the sommelier of his wine bar. At the field office, she laments arresting families and breaking them up to enforce the law and questions her decision to become an agent. Jacob calls to say his sommelier is pregnant and it’s his. This propels Vivienne into a spiral of regret and self-blame. When she is injured by a crime syndicate while working a criminal case in Egypt, her priorities become clear. She realizes she doesn’t need to prove her self-worth behind a badge after all, and allows herself to open her heart. (Jacob’s sommelier lied about being pregnant). FINAL ASSIGNMENT: Setting Chatta Creek, Georgia is a charming small town where the summer climate calls for bare feet with its lazy afternoon shadows and a sun that sets long after cocktail hour. This southern hometown is where our protagonist Vivienne’s fascination with the natural world began, along with her relationship with (neighbor, and later, lover) Jacob. Her childhood garden was a laboratory full of magic and imagination, where she and Jacob chased lightning bugs and hunted for feathers. Their six-year-old fingers traced the spidery veins of dried leaves like braille before tasting their papery, bland earthiness. (These keen observation skills Vivienne learns help her become an expert fraud analyst). Memories of Chatta Creek provide a safe place for Vivienne’s thoughts to land when she craves comfort from her crumbling marriage, but also leaves her wanting more. In high school, Chatta Creek made her feel confined “like cellophane around her soul,” with its tight hold on ideals from the past. Women are taught to comply, paste on smiles, and declare that everything is just fine, no matter what was happening. These social constraints weigh heavily on Vivienne’s decision to stay in a toxic marriage. In Chatta Creek, along with Vivienne’s mother, who dresses in pressed slacks and applies lipstick before 7a.m, are “The Treasures,” the circle of (martini drinking, cackling) southern mamas that collectively reared Vivienne and her closest friends (to become debutantes). “The Treasures’” legacy is their echo in Vivienne’s conscience with their admonishments... "Now, shush! Southern ladies don't air their dirty laundry." When Vivienne does leave Chatta Creek for Atlanta, the federal law enforcement academy, London, and later Cairo and Sharm-El-Sheik, (her investigation takes her overseas), Chatta Creek’s societal expectations that shaped her formative years cause her internal struggle.
  3. Excited to participate in the St. Augustine Author Mentor Workshop! Working on the assignments and look forward to meeting fellow attendees and instructors.

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