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  1. Preface The truth of a journey is that the vast and mysterious lands, the terra incognita, you set out to explore, in the end, becomes yourself. Every grain of grief and longing, love, regret, triumph, slips quietly into your suitcase. Harper had learned that at nineteen, a scattered girl full of woebegone and madness who made a pilgrimage to Paris to forget. But there is no escaping yourself. No drug, no distraction, works indefinitely. More than twenty years later, she was in yet another foreign country, and whether she’d gotten there by running toward or away, is debatable. Georgia was supposed to salvage her career and cure her loneliness. Nothing worked out the way she thought it would. A different story unfolded. The whole thing could even be comical, depending on how you told it, and if the story was only about her, which it wasn’t. Harper’s own story would become just one strand in a great tapestry of private chronicles and historical episodes she would spend nine months untangling, then weaving together again, in an attempt to understand some tiny, subtle thing which was the echo of a bigger, profound thing, which she had no idea how to find. Are we mixing metaphors here? Ah well, life is messy. Anyway, this is the thing, this is the beauty part — our stories give shape to our experience, which creates a delicate structure holding the essence of who we are. And sometimes, our stories can only be illuminated and understood, within a larger narrative; the play within the play, as it were. Walk with me; the story begins like this. Chapter 1 Preface Tbilisi September 2018 In those first heady days, roaming through the twisting streets of Tbilisi, Harper Hanigan was brimming with ambition and optimism. She was almost frantic for a fresh start, new surroundings, different air to breathe. It had been a dark, miserable year, and the prospect of returning to Georgia was the pinprick of sunlight which kept her going. Maybe she should have gotten to work directly after arriving, but she didn’t. Leaning out the window of the cable car as it soared above Vake Park, Harper breathed deeply and thought of Gia’s parting words, “Listen girl, when you get back to Tbilisi, relax, you hear me? I’ll deal with professor Blakewell. And by God, hop in bed with that man of yours. Blakewell can wait for the edits. It won’t kill him.” Harper’s furnished flat was in the fashionable Vake district named after the park. It felt indolent and romantic, with meandering tree-lined streets where the sidewalks lifted and cracked, and old, ornate apartment buildings with twisted iron balconies and laundry lines. Weather still warm, Harper slipped on a pale blue sundress and wound her way through vibrant street markets inhaling the colors and smells of harvest season. A tall blond in a sea of delicate, raven-haired women, men on the street noticed her. Though she might not admit it, she enjoyed the attention. At forty-two, Harper was not yet invisible to men, but her presence was fading for them, like an image on an old Polaroid. She passed lanyards of dried fruit and marigolds swinging from faded striped awnings, mud-spattered potatoes tottering in clumsy piles beside apples and walnuts, and mounds of gleaming, ripe tomatoes. Peddlers sliced pomegranates in half to display the ruby seeds inside. Whenever she saw one, open and glistening like a lusty invitation, Harper wondered if O’Keeffe ever painted a pomegranate. Her first trip to Georgia’s intoxicating capital city was on a summer’s research trip in 2017. Harper fell in love with the small, quixotic country, its layered mysteries, the food, and the people. That summer she also met the three remarkable women who now agreed to be unofficial cultural advisors, translators, community liaisons, and all-round champions of Harper’s new research endeavor. It was Friday afternoon, at the end of Harper’s first week back in town, when they arrived at the door of her new apartment for the first project meeting. Magda dropped her backpack on a table near the door and rummaged around for a moment. “Okay, I brought dessert. This is a new, gourmet chocolate bar — it’s supposed to have tiramisu in it, or something,” she rolled her eyes sarcastically. “But tiramisu isn’t Georgian. You know that, right?” Grinning, Magda held up two brightly colored packets stuck together with red tape. “And this, this is kid’s stuff. You know, crap candy. But I love it. Okay, here it is.” She thrust the candy at Harper, “Am I early?” Sebine and Nina arrived moments later carrying a bag of perfectly ripe, golden grapes. Sebine’s brilliant green eyes flashed with excitement, then she smiled shyly. “The vegetable man said these came from Kakheti this morning; they are very fresh. Here,” she said, lifting her hands. The grapes smelled earthy and sweet. They smelled like Indian summer. Nina breezed into the living room, turning slowly, her long black skirt twirling around her ankles. She sighed, “Oh Harper, I loooove your apartment. There’s so much light. Are you unpacked already?” “Yep,” she smiled, pointing to the bookshelf. In her tiny, sunlit kitchen, Harper rinsed the delicate grapes, enjoying their coolness and weight in her hands. On a tin platter, her impromptu charcuterie board, Harper set them beside a fat wedge of smoked sulguni, fresh figs drizzled with honey, sliced apples, a roll of rich salami, salted nuts, and warm shoti, a Georgia style baguette. In the center, curled like rosebuds, were the badrijani nigvzit, purchased from a delicatessen near her flat. Harper smiled, remembering the first time she tasted the heavenly eggplant and walnut rolls, and wondered if it was possible, she’d actually come all the way back to Georgia just for those. “Open the wine someone!” she called from the kitchen. Feeling happier than she had in months, a rush of excitement washed over her as she stepped into the living room with her platter of offerings. On the coffee table, two bottles of Château Mukharani Grappe Noir stood beside an old “Oh, good wine,” Nina purred, pulling a crisp packet of cigarettes from her bag, and settling herself on a pillow. Sebine took off her shoes and pulled a wooden chair near the sofa. Magda scribbled something in the notebook on her lap. Lifting it up she said, “Look guys, I’ve got a new journal so we can keep the notes from our meetings.” Sebine chuckled, “What’s your first note?” “Harper begins meeting with food and wine, like a good Georgian.” The tray still in her hands, Harper paused, smiling at the three women. They were her friends, and she felt so damn lucky.
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  3. Name: Rose Eggert Title: A WOMAN IN THE RIVER or RECKLESS RIVER Genre: Literary Fiction, Commercial Fiction Comps: The Stationery Shop by Marjan Kamali meets White Teeth by Zadie Smith and The Shipping News by Annie Proulx Hook line: After the accidental drowning of her youngest child, Joline Delaney refuses to speak for years, until an old flame turned homeless vet blows a hole in the hydro dam, releasing the baby’s bones and Joline’s tongue. Pitch: The story begins in 1973. It is the time of the ERA, a Women’s March on Washington, and troops are standing down from the first televised war. Yet, Joline Delaney is stuck in a trailer with 4 hungry kids awaiting the return of sailor-husband, Jacky from war. When the children chase a cat wearing the baby’s baptismal bonnet onto the ice-covered river, Joline falls through and the unbaptized baby drowns. And there is Jacky Delaney hitchhiking home for Newport News to surprise her with big plans. When the surviving children overhear Joline say she “shouldn’t a’ had a’ one of them”, those are the last words Joline will speak – until a homeless vet and former love interest – blows a hole in the dam, releasing the baby’s bones and Joline’s tongue. The aftermath spans decades and lives in a story about fate, choice, action, and love, as Joline’s adult children later return armed with clashing versions of who was to blame for the tragedy. Prose Sample: The following scenes are from Part 1 - A Goddammed Woman - March 29, 1973 In Joline’s tiny kitchen, four hungry kids. Iris, Warren, Rita – the baby eating cereal from the floor. Rita feeding bread to a minnow gasping in the empty money jar. “Put the fish back in the river,” Warren said, reaching for her glass, "Or the cat gets the milk.” "No," Rita said, "The kitty run’d away in a hat." “Ran away in the baby’s hat,” said Warren. The baptismal bonnet! Iris pretended not to hear. She was engrossed in a book about a mother who kissed children and cooked. Joline disappeared. The children were not at all frightened by the slamming door. Soon enough she appeared, pale and spectral, cotton gloves covering her raw hands, slippery with the salve her sister, Vera had brought. Joline kissed each of them on the cheek. The children, accustomed to her tirades, were frightened by such tenderness. Joline grabbed the startled baby and vanished out the door. Spotting the cat in the puckers dressed for baptism, she went down the slippery path, hair flying, baby dangling like a puppet. Iris, Warren, and Rita followed her down, the sad fish in the money jar held out like a beacon. Joline stopped. Stomped at them. “Get dressed for Church!” she cried. Everyone knew it was Saturday. “Iris,” she hissed, the shrillness of her voice sending Iris and Warren scurrying to do as they were told. Rita and the sloshing minnow took a direct route to the river. The steepness of the riverbank, a few tentative steps. Jackie’s rubber boots not even buckled, Joline went sliding down. The children found their mother on the ice, nightgown billowing, face bleeding. Cotton gloves, slippery salve. The squirming baby. Rita with the minnow sloshing. The cat on a branch frozen into ice. A crack like gunshot. Rita jumped, took a step. "Stop," said Iris, holding her breath. She and Warren were watching from the riverbank. Iris touched her brother’s shoulder, holding him back. "Rita,” she called out, “Go get Mumma's lipstick.” "I have to do this," Rita lisped. She held out the jar. Another crack, a boom like thunder. Joline crying, baby held high. Rita running jar rolling minnow spilling into running water. Iris sliding down, down, trying to grab her mother’s hand. Warren pulling her back. Iris grabbing Rita, the sad minnow flopping, the jar rolling. Joline’s face a silent act of weeping. Disappearing beneath the ice. Stillness, confusion. The shock of living upon her. Joline held her breath, until she must let go, surrendering to water and all she was not. The baby slippery as birth leaving in a cloud. A traveler a river a murky glimpse. A face imprinted upon her soul. Swallowed by darkness. It was Saturday afternoon, just hours after Vera left Joline and the kids. This was supposed to be her day off. But she told Old Jimmo she would come in after she got the groceries over to her sister. Jacket on over the meat apron, she was wrapping meat like there was no tomorrow. Piles of raw beef clattered down the line, a rattle of chains. Owen and Frenchy were jabbering away over the saws. Vera could not make out what they were saying, but she yelled out to them anyway, “Awe, shut up, Owen, you don’t know what the hell you’re talkin’ about,” knowing full well this would get something rolling, besides the meat. Old Jimmo was taking a special order for a customer wanting ground lamb for her poodle. “Come on, Jimmo,” Vera said through a mouthful of beef, “We ain’t got all day.” “Hey, Vera,” said Jimmo, “Ain’t this your day off?” As if she did not know this already. “Yours too, ain’t it, wiseass?” “She’s the talk of the day,” Frenchy shouted over the noise of the saw. “Who? Poodle Lady?” “No, dumbass: that girl with all them kids.” “If she’s got kids,” Vera replied, “she’s a goddamned woman.” “Okay. A goddamned woman with four kids.” “Who’s gonna take care of the kids?” “Their father is, nitwit.” “No-sah! Ain’t his mother-in-law comin’?” “What’s he gonna’ do after she leaves?” “Dance a jig.” The boys split a gut over this one. “What the hell was she doin’ anyways?” “She went through the ice. Holdin’ a goddamned baby.” “Nobody in their roight moind would go out there onto that ice, so close to the dam.” “What?” Vera said. “Some girl who don’t know her ass from her elbow,” said Frenchy, “over in that trailer park t’other side of the bridge…” “A goddamned woman,” said Owen. Vera ran out the door still wearing the bloody apron.
  4. Author: Rose Eggert Title: A Woman in the River Genre: Commercial Fiction, Women’s Fiction Comps: The Stationery Shop by Marjan Kamali meets White Teeth by Zadie Smith and The Shipping News by Annie Proulx Hook line: After the accidental drowning of her youngest child, Joline Delaney refuses to speak for years, until an old flame turned homeless vet blows a hole in the hydro dam, releasing the baby’s bones and Joline’s tongue. Pitch: 1973. ERA. Women’s March. End of War. Joline Delaney is stuck in a trailer with 4 hungry kids awaiting the return of sailor-husband, Jacky from war. When the children chase a cat onto the ice-covered river, Joline falls through and the baby drowns. Joline refuses to speak for years – until a homeless vet blows a hole in the dam, releasing the baby’s bones and Joline’s tongue. The aftermath spans decades and lives. Joline’s adult children return armed with clashing versions of who is to blame for the tragedy. Prose Sample: The following scenes are taken from Part 1 - A Goddammed Woman - March 29, 1973 ﻝ Beans roiled in the pot like little lost souls, coming to a viscous simmer. Joline stood at the stove, potlids hissing, children fighting at her feet. She turned to shoo them from the sizzling skillet, grabbing the handle, burning her wrist, instead of a small head. She cried, tried to find the salve. It was not safe for children to be where she frothed and churned. She would not cook. In the next room, four kids in need of something she could not give. Bread and milk. She could not bear another day of fighting over what was left. It was snowing, fat splats on the stoop. Driving anywhere seemed impossible. Even if she could get the car started. Even if she had the money. Joline and ice melting down. The trailer court still cloaked in darkness, fog encroaching from the river, she made her way across the road to the pay phone, clad in her nightgown, an old sweater, and Jacky’s rubber boots. Arms clasped tight against the cold, she let the phone ring twice and hung up. This was the signal to her sister to call her back. She waited, bare toes curling inside the cold boots. Yes, Vera would come. Joline slipped back in darkness, crossing before a sanding truck, eyes like dark moons in the headlights. The startled driver crossed himself, cursing softly, hazard lights pulsing on silted snowbanks like tired souls. Kitchen lights were winking on. Early risers making coffee. Others were out scraping ice from windshields for first shift. No one seemed to notice Joline there swallowed by darkness. She crept back into bed, shivering and dizzy with children and bed sheets smelling of ammonia. ﻝ Vera was unpacking groceries. A jar of peanut butter, two loaves of bread. Butter. Milk. Baby cereal. The children all loved the sweet thickness of it. The baby with the mouth like a bird. Joline too, mouth half open, spooning mouthful after mouthful, recounting Jacky’s letter. Troops were standing down, she told Vera. Jacky was probably back aboard ship already, making cash by cutting hair. “We’ll buy new clothes for the kids – for the baby’s baptism,” said Joline. “God. If there is one, doesn’t give a rat’s ass if this baby is baptized or not,” Vera said, “Save your damned money for food.” “I’ll pay you back,” said Joline. “This isn’t about money,” said Vera, “It’s about God.” Having more babies under the circumstances made no sense to Vera at all. She begged Joline to do something to save herself before Jacky got home. As for Vera, she would have kids when hell freezes over. She snapped clean sheets, reminding the kids to always use the bathroom before bed. “You’re in hell already,” Vera told her, “There’s a sin in there somewhere, sister.” She left for work. Aggravated. ﻝ In Joline’s tiny kitchen, four hungry kids. Iris, Warren, Rita – the baby eating cereal from the floor. Rita feeding bread to a minnow gasping in the empty money jar. “Put the fish back in the river,” Warren said, reaching for her glass, "Or the cat gets the milk.” "No," Rita said, "The kitty run’d away in a hat." “Ran away in the baby’s hat,” said Warren. Iris pretended not to hear. She was engrossed in a book about a mother who kissed children and cooked. The bonnet! Joline disappeared. The children were not at all frightened by the slamming door. Soon enough she appeared, pale and spectral, cotton gloves covering her raw hands, slippery with the salve Vera had brought. Joline kissed each of them on the cheek. The children, accustomed to her tirades, were frightened by such tenderness. Joline grabbed the startled baby and vanished out the door. Spotting the cat in the puckers dressed for baptism, she went down the slippery path, hair flying, baby dangling like a puppet. Iris, Warren, and Rita followed her down, the sad fish in the money jar held out like a beacon. Joline stopped. Stomped at them. “Get dressed for Church!” she cried. Everyone knew it was Saturday. “Iris,” she hissed, the shrillness of her voice sending Iris and Warren scurrying to do as they were told. Rita and the sloshing minnow took a direct route to the river. The steepness of the riverbank, a few tentative steps. Jackie’s rubber boots not even buckled, Joline went sliding down. The children found their mother on the ice, nightgown billowing, face bleeding. Cotton gloves, slippery salve. The squirming baby. Rita with the minnow sloshing. The cat on a branch frozen into ice. A crack like gunshot. Rita jumped, took a step. "Stop," said Iris, holding her breath. She and Warren were watching from the riverbank. Iris touched her brother’s shoulder, holding him back. "Rita,” she called out, “Go get Mumma's lipstick.” "I have to do this," Rita lisped. She held out the jar. Another crack, a boom like thunder. Joline crying, baby held high. Rita running jar rolling minnow spilling into running water. Iris sliding down, down, trying to grab her mother’s hand. Warren pulling her back. Iris grabbing Rita, the sad minnow flopping, the jar rolling. Joline’s face a silent act of weeping. Disappearing beneath the ice. Stillness, confusion. The shock of living upon her. Joline held her breath, until she must let go, surrendering to water and all she is not. The baby slippery as birth leaving in a cloud. A traveler a river a murky glimpse. A face imprinted upon her soul. Swallowed by darkness. ﻝ It was Saturday afternoon, just hours after Vera left Joline and the kids. This was supposed to be her day off. But she told Old Jimmo she would come in after she got the groceries to her sister. Jacket on over the meat apron, she was wrapping meat like there was no tomorrow. Piles of raw beef clattered down the line, a rattle of chains. Owen and Frenchy were jabbering away over the saws. Vera could not make out what they were saying, but she yelled out to them anyway, “Awe, shut up, Owen, you don’t know what the hell you’re talkin’ about,” knowing full well this would get something rolling, besides the meat. Old Jimmo was taking a special order for a customer wanting ground lamb for her poodle. “Come on, Jimmo,” Vera said through a mouthful of beef, “We ain’t got all day.” “Hey, Vera,” said Jimmo, “Ain’t this your day off?” As if she did not know this already. “Yours too, ain’t it, wiseass?” “She’s the talk of the day,” Frenchy shouted over the noise of the saw. “Who? Poodle Lady?” “No, dumbass: that girl with all them kids.” “If she’s got kids,” Vera replied, “she’s a goddamned woman.” “Okay. A goddamned woman with four kids.” “Who’s gonna take care of the kids?” “Their father is, nitwit.” “No-sah! Ain’t his mother-in-law comin’?” “What’s he gonna’ do after she leaves?” “Dance a jig.” The boys split a gut over this one. “What the hell was she doin’ anyways?” “She went through the ice. Holdin’ a goddamned baby.” “Nobody in their roight moind would go out there onto that ice, so close to the dam.” “What?” Vera said. “Some girl who don’t know her ass from her elbow,” said Frenchy, “over in that trailer park t’other side of the bridge…” “A goddamned woman,” said Owen. Vera ran out the door still wearing the bloody apron. ﻝ
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