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  1. Angie D Greenwyn adgreenwyn@gmail.com Fantasy/Horror The horrifying Lovecraftian love child of Neil Gaimen's The Sandman Comics and The Dark Crystal, set in a created fantasy universe. Hook Line: One god’s hunger for power comes at a mortal cost; with friends in jeopardy and a dying world in the balance a young girl must become the monster she feared to save the ones she loves. Pitch: On a mission to save her friends and family, naïve small-town girl Remeus Blakesley encounters a divine messenger on his death bed, who changes the trajectory of her life forever; entrusting her with an important parcel, Remeus is unwittingly thrusting into the tangled plot of an ancient evil hiding in the flesh of a companion. This entity, Morgrul, the red god seeks to recreate the world in his image but to do so he will need power, souls. For each day Morgrul is allowed to continue his plan, the world, and the creatures in it are born with less, turning the realm into a living ouroboros. Remeus wants nothing to do with it, but the moons chose her to stand in Morgrul’s way, now she is trapped between two hard choices: she can save her friend or abandon them to take a stand against a god. The Lost Blade: Book One Prose Example (opening chapter) After a week of festivities, the people of Kald should have been sleeping off the twice-cooked pork, the sticky yam dumplings, and the sweet salt wines of Mawa, but instead, they were screaming—fleeing their squat white houses in the wee hours of morning as the spoken fire overtook them. The fire danced across the wide streets and the sweltering heat caused the white paint on the houses to bubble and blister. Sickly green flames at first but as they burned hotter green gave way to bright yellows and searing oranges. It surged, washing over the townhomes, stacked on top of each other like building blocks. When the town had first been founded almost a century ago, the design was clever, it had saved them space before, only now as the buildings collapsed in on themselves, swallowing the unlucky townsfolk still inside, holding its occupants captive under smoldering rubble—now it seemed a trap built by the death gods, a quick trip to the blind mother's hallowed halls. Those fleeing the fire could see the charred silhouettes already protruding out of the rubble their burnt bodies like the blackened limbs of fallen trees, their twisted forms clawing out, pleading for help. Thick tendrils of noxious black smoke billowed from the round pane-less windows; watching on Lord Darrow couldn’t help but think of the withered one, reaching into the windows with her blackened hands to save her people, he laughed at the notion, there would be no savior for these people. The withered one would not come. The crackle of the hungry flames was almost louder than the screaming, almost. The fire skipped through the streets of Kald, plucking townsfolk up like sacrifices to a ravenous god. They could feel the heat of the fire on their faces as if they were standing in the heart of the Ureaplos star, they could feel the hot pin-prick kisses of the heat blistering their faces, licking their tears away, leaving behind trails of burning salt on their dark cheeks. Above them the three moons were staring down at the town, their ghostly eyes watching in silent horror as the silver-haired citizens of Kald cried out for their gods—it was a shame none seemed to be in a listening mood. Lord Darrow continued to watch, looking on at the chaos he had brought to the town from atop his horse. He closed his eyes and listened: listened to the sounds of women begging for the lives of their children, to the sound of steel against flesh, to the sob of fresh orphans sobbing in the streets. If anyone asked him, he would have told them, he didn’t take pleasure in his work, that it was nothing more than a necessary evil, but there in the dark, at the very edge of town among his men, he could be honest—Lord Darrow enjoyed his work, he was serving Aertis’ himself, and who could not be happy doing the bidding of a god? His men captured children and women and some men, the qitareeni people were fierce everywhere they met them, but the sons of Aertis were more so. Behind him were the pleading moans and cries of captives caged behind iron bars, like most of the children of the other gods the iron burned them; Lord Darrow could hear the sizzle of their flesh behind him as they grabbed at the bars, desperate for his attention. He gave them none. Women ran with their crying children, doing their best to put on brave faces as they hurried to the temple, a big windowless building made of clay, clutching the trembling hands of their children who struggled to keep up what with their oversized cloaks and ragged dolls hugged close to their tiny chests. Some of the townsfolk carried woven baskets atop their heads, filled with what belongings they could carry: clothes, food, things they deemed important in one way or another as they, with their soot-covered faces hurried to the opened hallowed doors of the temple. Lord Darrow’s men, dressed in white armor decorated with blue and oraqish gold; they carried with them long swords at their hips, though some of them carried pikes the size of a full-grown elve. They took turns, beating the villagers, intercepting them before they made it into the temple. Darrow’s men, with their white steel gloves, grabbed children by the hair and dragged them, kicking and screaming from the burning town and into the deep dark of the woods, where the cage lay waiting for them. The men of Kald tried to help, they pushed themselves between the women and the children, and invaders, chests puffed, armed with small dirks and clay bricks. They were met with laughter and steel. The air became tinny and thick, like breathing into a damp hot rag, the smell of blood along with the scent of burning flesh and beneath it all the faint aroma of burning bread. Hidden in the dark, Lord Darrow watched, smiling as he played with one of the fingers around his neck, he wore a wreath of blackened hands around his neck like a necklace, and he rotated one of the fingers on it thoughtfully between his own fingers—unlike his men, he didn’t wear gloves, or armor, he made no distance between himself and the cruelty he oversaw. He sucked in a deep breath, letting the char and death settle in his lungs, invigorating him in a way. A few of his men returned to him, most on horseback, most towing women and children behind them, some of whom weren’t moving; they had dragged them from town to camp by the hair or by the legs kicking and screaming. Lord Darrow glanced over his shoulder, as his men continued filling the cage behind him with their “prizes”, he would have rathered them killed, but the curator always needed more hands it seemed. Somewhere in the village, he heard a rallying voice cry out, “Quickly get to the temple! Quickly now!” and the smile on his thin lips faded. Beneath him, his horse shifted, the growing flames were making it uneasy, but he ignored it as he rose his hand. “Archers!” he called out to the bowmen at either side of him. He didn’t need to say more, not a moment later a flurry of arrows whistled through the air, landing with heavy thwunks into their targets. He could hear it clear as day from where he stood and he drank it all in, like a fine Mawan wine. “Into the temple, before we lose them!” with a single cry, the remainder of his men rallied, hurrying into the town, slaughtering anyone who got in their way. The fires cast horrible shadows across their bodies that made them look like wraiths on ghostly horses. The doors of the temple were closed and peppered with arrows. Lord Darrow and his men arrived just in time to hear the door being barred with a loud ker-chunk. Lord Darrow snorted, half-amused and very quietly, almost calmly as if he were asking someone to pass the salt over dinner, said, “Break it down.” His men threw themselves at the door, making battering rams of their bodies. The door groaned under the weight of the men and the walls of the temple shuddered; still, they kept at it. Lord Darrow watched them, his gaze focused on the door as if he were staring through it. “They’re getting away,” Lord Darrow said through clenched teeth. “We’re on it, the door is almost…” the man trailed off as he threw himself against the door a final time. A splintering crack echoed into the night and Lord Darrow slid off his horse. The door was still standing as he took slow careful strides over to the door; with a touch, the door fell to the ground with a loud resounding thunk. The temple was a long colorful room and he looked around at the blasphemous tapestries of green and gold that hung from mosaicked walls depicting stories of a war between the gods. A barricade of wooden pews stood between him and where the last of the people of Kald. His men moved quickly to demolish the barricade, flinging wood benches across the wide space. Lord Darrow stood in the middle of the temple, his eyes narrowed, the people of Kald were disappearing, fleeing into their secret tunnels. There was a loud thuwnk sort of sound, like a heavy door closing, and a man stood up, he was silver-haired and defiant. He was too late, Lord Darrow realized, and he walked forward, taking hurried steps towards the barricade. He didn’t care if it was cleared or not; he clicked his teeth, annoyed, as he climbed over the pews like walking up a rocky hill and as he did so the last man of Kald sat down. The last qitareeni man was a priest, one of the qitareeni black hands. He was kneeling on top of what Lord Darrow knew was a door, a round stone door that looked like a medallion of sorts, the image of a snake eating itself was meticulously carved and painted into the stone along with the eerie words “Mae Voktis Mic,” Lord Darrow found those words in every heathen temple he and his men visited. When he stood before the man, the man didn’t seem to notice or if he did, he didn’t react. “Open the door,” it was a polite command. “No,” said the black hand priest raising his head to look up at Lord Darrow, he seemed at peace in a way, calm when he should have been scared. Lord Darrow frowned and touched one of the fingers of the wreath of black hands around his neck, it was a threat, and a promise, though the priest hardly seemed afraid of either. “No?” Scoffed Lord Darrow. “You will open the door— the priest cut him off short. “Or what? You’ll take my hand? You would take my hand even if I did open the door. The door will remain closed. So, you’ll just have to kill me,” the priest rose to his feet as he spoke, he and Lord Darrow were the same height. Lord Darrow at first snorted, it was nearly a laugh but not quite and his mouth twitched into a sour smile. “Kill you?” repeated Lord Darrow. “No. No, I learned a long time ago there’s no point in killing your kind. You besani worship death. Killing you is exactly what you want. You won’t open the door? No matter, in one way or another I’ll rid Aertis’ green earth from your ilk soon enough.” Lord Darrow’s words left a sour taste in the priest’s mouth, he could tell by the priest’s twisted expression; he was disgusted and defiant, but never fearful. Lord Darrow made a gesture, and his men swarmed the man, and beat him: they broke his ribs, and blackened his eyes, they kicked the teeth out of his mouth, but the defiant look in his swollen eyes remained. When his men had finally stopped beating him, the priest spit out a glob of red onto Darrow’s boots and spoke, “You can torture me if you want, but it won’t do you any good. I know men like you. You think you can do whatever you want, that the atrocities you sew will never fruit, but they will. They are. I’ve seen it. It’s already happening you don’t even realize it. My suffering will be temporary…I may endure now but soon; she will rise and you and yours will have to speak for what you’ve done.” Lord Darrow glared at the man, his rage made evident by his shaking hands. He listened as the priest sucked in a shuddering breath, let the ashes fill his lungs and the tin taste of blood coat his tongue. Behind him, he could hear his men speaking to him, asking him something that he couldn’t for the life of him make out. Lord Darrow rested his trembling hand on the hilt of his sword. With every breath the besani priest took Lord Darrow could feel the withered one around him, she was like a noose slowly wrapping around his neck—like smog in the air. She would not rise, he told himself, not if he had anything to say about the matter. She would stay forever dead and dreaming. “I’ve listened to enough besani drivel for one night. If he won’t open the tunnel, have him branded and thrown in with the others, the curator could always use more hands.” Said Lord Darrow, watching steely-eyed as his men dragged the black hand priest away. Besides him, the sound of fluttering wings caught his attention; Lord Darrow turned his head to see a man standing beside him, tall and pale-faced, wearing all black save for the red cravat at his throat. “My my, Lord Darrow one would think that you were enjoying yourself.” “Vizier,” Lord Darrow bowed his head. “Who said one couldn’t mix business with pleasure.” “As long as that pleasure is getting you closer to one of the fragments,” said the vizier, Lord Darrow didn’t answer and perhaps he didn’t need to. Vizier’s sharp mouth twisted into a smirk and with that, he was gone.
  2. J.T. Strand Finding Lucifer Speculative (supernatural horror) COMPS: The Hunger by Alma Katsu and You Let Me In by Camilla Bruce HOOK LINE: Tormented by nightmares, a young professor must stop a shadowy figure, who achieved immortality through cannibalistic ceremonies, before he is consumed by it. Ben is a young professor who has just moved to the countryside, while his girlfriend, Jen, is on fellowship abroad. Coping with loneliness, Ben experiences episodes of sleepwalking and sees a shadowy figure in his dreams which turns all pleasant memories into wicked ones. While up nights, he befriends raccoons by leaving them scraps of food. Sleep-deprived, he decides to let the raccoons nibble on his arm, only to wake up to the worst pain of his life. Finding Lucifer is a dark tale of a man resisting an ancient evil, threatening to overtake him. As the pain worsens, Ben grows to understand that only through murder can he relieve it. Ben’s love for Jen helps him combat the urge, at least for a while. After a couple people have been killed, Ben discovers a hidden room containing the skeleton of a child and gnostic texts dating back thousands of years. When a peculiar stranger shows up looking for a missing person, Ben learns that only he can face down an evil that has claimed thousands of lives. Now Ben must thwart the shadowy figure before it consumes him and uses his body to continue a cannibalistic killing spree. SAMPLE: “I’m not exactly sure, but it would probably look to you like a jewelry box that‘s strangely marked.” Franco’s gaze didn’t waver. “Maybe a music box?” I said taking a step inside. “C’mon, I’ll show you what I found.” I was halfway to the root cellar door when he called out. “I can’t go in there…” He croaked. I turned. He seemed smaller and somehow weaker from inside the garage. His eyes had lost their serenity and he became a normal person without any special presence or empathy. Instead of a man of steel hiding untold amounts of wisdom he now appeared more like a desperate drug addict hoping to score another hit of oxy. “Unless you want to see my whole body burn up like my hands did on Saturday,” His voice was weaker and almost pathetic in its tone. “He’s done something to protect it from those like me.” “I’ll bring it out.” I went into the cellar and made a beeline towards the silver music box, not taking my eyes off of it for fear that I would see the boy’s ghost, or maybe even the priest’s. That thought made me tremble—the mad priest becoming a ghost that perpetually haunted the place, spouting off Latin as he hit me with an ancient book. After grabbing the box, I practically jogged out of the cellar, then the garage, not wanting to even glance at Franco’s diminished state. Once I joined him outside he immediately snatched the box and opened it. The discordant rhythm began instantly. We both stared as it played. I was now somewhat accustomed to the sound’s perverse symmetry. Yet the longer Franco stared at it, the wider his eyes and the more dilated his pupils became. His mouth contorted into a jagged grimace that was somehow visually appropriate to the melody. His face froze in this position for a moment before it began to turn red, then purple. It was like he couldn’t breathe. He started shaking and emitting a crinkling sound as his eyes filled with fire. I thought of Father Grisholm’s rapid decline to madness and was about to remove the box from his grasp when I noticed his white knuckles and a depression in the metal. He was trying to crush it. “Franco.” I wanted to do something, but felt helpless. His face was now a mixture of red, blue and purple. Around his neck, the color was so deep that it was almost black. “Franco.” I repeated, still unable to tell if he was breathing. The crinkling sound intensified. “Franco.” I said louder, shutting the box as I spoke. The instant the music stopped he threw it into the garage. It ricocheted upward off the rear of the Subaru before crashing to the ground at our feet. He took deep gasping breaths—his eyes burning with fire and his mouth still contorted. With the color slowly fading from his complexion, he kicked the box under the car. After swallowing with difficulty, Franco looked up and down the length of the house before turning away in disgust, still breathing heavily.
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  4. Robert Pfaff, Shrunken Heads, Book Reports Book Reports: The Art of Fiction (Gardener) 1. I have loved John Gardener since I read Grendel in high school. He validated my instincts. For example, I like to break the rules but have always believed that you have to master the rules before you can break them well. Learning a musical instrument or a foreign language teaches you the same idea. You must understand and appreciate structure before you can manipulate it. 11. 1) He debunks certain myths like “Write what you know.” It’s a good departure point for a first book, and my first book is a memoir. But I prefer to write about topics that inspire me to learn new topics, even when it requires years of research to acquire a credible grasp of the subject matter. 2) He embraced the idea of crossing genres, and blending thematic element, which has been on my mind a lot (and often the subject of online debate). I struggle with the concept of genre. My marketing research tells me that genre exists from the summit, as boxes. There are clearly westerns, romance, murder mysteries, etc.…. From a lower altitude, the idea of genre starts to blur. For example, one of my comparables was Karen Robard’s “The Last Victim,” pitched as a ‘romance supernatural suspense thriller.” At the granular lever – the decision-maker’s level, the idea of genre appears to depend on buzz words that appeal to an individual agent or editor. To use one example, I discovered that an Author’s Salon representative with a major publishing house who asked for my manuscript at the conference also purchased the rights to a “supernatural suspense” novel in 2013. I would not have unearthed that information by searching under the genre “horror” on Publisher’s Marketplace. I had to experiment and analyze multiple, related keywords. 3) The concept of the novel as the fictional dream became important to me: shorter, action-based scenes that use vivid imagery and senses to tell the story and induce empathy in the reader, without tripping over false allegory. I make use of one brief allegory in the novel, because psychoanalysts are prone to “deconstruct” simple nursery rhymes or myths to an erotic extreme. This hyperbole fits squarely within the character’s mentality. III. I read the book when I first started this program more than six months ago, and reviewed my notes before I answered these questions. I do not recall anything that directly contradicts what is taught in this course. His approach is less prescriptive – he does not adhere to a particular kind of plot structure, but the “nuts and bolts” six-act, two-goal plot structure taught in the Authors Salon is what I needed to learn at this time. Writing the Breakout Novel (Maas) I. Overall, his insights into how the publishing industry works and what agents and editors are looking for is the overall best lesson gleaned from this book. II. 1) He validated both how I defined the protagonist and the antagonists. The protagonist is the person who has the most to learn from the events that transpire. The primary antagonist is not a one-dimensional serial killer, but a complex, oddly sympathetic monster who believes “it” liberates souls from bad brains. The “red herring” antagonist is a complex, sympathetic young woman at first, troubled by delusions about replicas and robots. 2) He inspired me to move the backstory into the novel as a murder mystery subplot. In the first two drafts, five of Leonard’s former patients and lovers were “missing,” but never participated in the plot. Now they have left the wings and play important roles in driving a subplot that I believe makes for a tightly coiled plot. To save his daughter’s soul from the vengeful spirits, he must risk everything tracking down a serial killer that both 1) has wielded the vengeful spirits embodied in Marta determined to possess his daughter but also 2) holds the mystical secret to her salvation. 3)) His emphasis on bringing the reader deeply as possible into the character’s experience, whatever the point of view, and his emphasis on credible setting within a given historical and cultural setting. In this respect, I have studied down to the historical weather reports – and through subscriptions to The Boston Globe archives – to provide a surreal narrative and its supernatural elements with historically accurate underpinnings. III) Again, I read this book six months ago when I first started this course, and I do not recall direct contradictions. Perhaps the only exception that qualifies is that he validated my initial, first-person “flash-back” approach to writing this novel from a point in the future, as a series of first-person letters from father to daughter. I see where that is discouraged as less marketable in the Author’s Salon modules, but not prohibited. Write Away (George) I. The best image that comes to mind is how the best novelist allow the story to blossom like a flower bud throughout the narrative, planting clues without tipping your hand. II. 1) She embraces the “issue-based” approach to novel writing – suggesting that you write about your passions, both political and philosophical. She does discourage storylines that have a thematic agenda. What asks you to write about what “riles you up?” 2) The chapter (11) on “Tricks of the Dialogue Trade” was exactly what I needed to help distinguish one character’s voice from another, with examples provided above. 3) The emphasis on Unity in all aspects of the novel beyond theme stood out to me. As a result, I have striven to ensure that all scenes in the first 100 pages adhere to a unified cause-and-effect, and conversations between characters echo the unity as well. 4) I will also add the hero’s journey based on Joseph Campbell’s archetype. The ordinary and often flaw protagonist steps over a threshold that takes him on a journey to his inner depths (the approach to the inmost cave) facing many “ordeals,” with “enemies and allies,” until he reaches an epiphany, which leads to his “resurrection,” and then returns with a “reward.” III. It seems that the reading assignments complement the course modules, so I do not see major contradictions. She does promote a standard “three-act” structure, but acknowledges variations exist and that there are no “hard and fast rules.” The Writing Life (Dillard) I. The ultimate trade off that a committed writer must make between creative autonomy and that likelihood that no will care and your sacrifices will not matter struck me hard at this crossroads in my life. II 1) The questions that every write must ask: Can it be done? And can I do it? Resonate with the hurdles I faced when I first waded into this book three years ago. 2) She places an emphasis ion trusting your instincts, suggesting that if your gut signals you to keep something in the book rather than hold back gave me the confidence to trust y instincts when my inner critic told me, do you really need to that paragraph. I allowed me to say I may not need it, but I like it, and I think it will appeal to the reader. 3) The trade-off between a propensity for the metaphysical and the “commercial claptrap” to borrow her phrase, represents an endless challenge for me. She suggests that when drawn to the metaphysical, its best to provide the plot with the most realistic underpinnings possible. This led me to explore topics that not only gave me the realistic underpinnings I needed, but taught me that the horrors of the real world are far more perverse and sinister that I summoned from the musty basement of my imagination in the first two drafts. III. Yes, her approach is less structured and systematic that what is taught in the modules. However, she is describing the challenges that writer’s face, and not writing much of a how-to manual.
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