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New York Pitch and Algonkian Pre-event Assignments - 2022

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Introduction to Pre-event Assignments 

New York Pitch The below seven assignments are vital to reaching an understanding of specific and critical core elements that go into the creation of a commercially viable genre novel or narrative non-fiction. Of course, there is more to it than this, as you will see, but here we have a good primer that assures we're literally all on the same page before the event begins.

You may return here as many times as you need to edit your topic post (login and click "edit"). Pay special attention to antagonists, setting, conflict and core wound hooks.

And btw, quiet novels do not sell. Keep that in mind. Be aggressive with your work.

Michael Neff

Algonkian Conference Director


att.jpg After you've registered and logged in, create your reply to this topic (button top right). Please utilize only one reply for all of your responses so the forum topic will not become cluttered. Also, strongly suggest typing up your "reply" in a separate file then copying it over to your post before submitting. Not a good idea to lose what you've done!



Before you begin to consider or rewrite your story premise, you must develop a simple "story statement." In other words, what's the mission of your protagonist? The goal? What must be done?

What must this person create? Save? Restore? Accomplish? Defeat?... Defy the dictator of the city and her bury brother’s body (ANTIGONE)? Struggle for control over the asylum (ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO’S NEST)? Do whatever it takes to recover lost love (THE GREAT GATSBY)? Save the farm and live to tell the story (COLD MOUNTAIN)? Find the wizard and a way home to Kansas (WIZARD OF OZ)? Note that all of these are books with strong antagonists who drive the plot line (see also "Core Wounds and Conflict Lines" below).

att.jpg FIRST ASSIGNMENT: write your story statement. 



Antagonist (Photo Javert from "Les Misérables")

What are the odds of you having your manuscript published if the overall story and narrative fail to meet publisher demands for sufficient suspense, character concern, and conflict? Answer: none. You might therefore ask, what major factor makes for a quiet and dull manuscript brimming with insipid characters and a story that cascades from chapter to chapter with tens of thousands of words, all of them combining irresistibly to produce an audible thudding sound in the mind like a mallet hitting a side of cold beef? Answer: the unwillingness or inability of the writer to create a suitable antagonist who stirs and spices the plot hash.

Let's make it clear what we're talking about.

By "antagonist" we specifically refer to an actual fictional character, an embodiment of certain traits and motivations who plays a significant role in catalyzing and energizing plot line(s), or at bare minimum, in assisting to evolve the protagonist's character arc (and by default the story itself) by igniting complication(s) the protagonist, and possibly other characters, must face and solve (or fail to solve).


att.jpg SECOND ASSIGNMENT: in 200 words or less, sketch the antagonist or antagonistic force in your story. Keep in mind their goals, their background, and the ways they react to the world about them.



What is your breakout title? How important is a great title before you even become published? Very important! Quite often, agents and editors will get a feel for a work and even sense the marketing potential just from a title. A title has the ability to attract and condition the reader's attention. It can be magical or thud like a bag of wet chalk, so choose carefully. A poor title sends the clear message that what comes after will also be of poor quality.

Go to Amazon.Com and research a good share of titles in your genre, come up with options, write them down and let them simmer for at least 24 hours. Consider character or place names, settings, or a "label" that describes a major character, like THE ENGLISH PATIENT or THE ACCIDENTAL TOURIST. Consider also images, objects, or metaphors in the novel that might help create a title, or perhaps a quotation from another source (poetry, the Bible, etc.) that thematically represents your story. Or how about a title that summarizes the whole story: THE MARTIAN CHRONICLES, HARRY POTTER AND THE CHAMBER OF SECRETS, THE WORLD ACCORDING TO GARP, etc.

Keep in mind that the difference between a mediocre title and a great title is the difference between THE DEAD GIRL'S SKELETON and THE LOVELY BONES, between TIME TO LOVE THAT CHOLERA and LOVE IN THE TIME OF CHOLERA between STRANGERS FROM WITHIN (Golding's original title) and LORD OF THE FLIES, between BEING LIGHT AND UNBEARABLE and THE UNBEARABLE LIGHTNESS OF BEING.

att.jpg THIRD ASSIGNMENT: create a breakout title (list several options, not more than three, and revisit to edit as needed).



Did you know that a high percentage of new novel writers don't fully understand their genre, much less comprehend comparables? When informing professionals about the nuances of your novel, whether by query letter or oral pitch, you must know your genre first, and provide smart comparables second. In other words, you need to transcend just a simple statement of genre (literary, mystery, thriller, romance, science fiction, etc.) by identifying and relating your novel more specifically to each publisher's or agent's area of expertise, and you accomplish this by wisely comparing your novel to contemporary published novels they will most likely recognize and appreciate--and it usually doesn't take more than two good comps to make your point.

Agents and publishing house editors always want to know the comps. There is more than one reason for this. First, it helps them understand your readership, and thus how to position your work for the market. Secondly, it demonstrates up front that you are a professional who understands your contemporary market, not just the classics. Very important! And finally, it serves as a tool to enable them to pitch your novel to the decision-makers in the business.

Most likely you will need to research your comps. If you're not sure how to begin, go to Amazon.Com, type in the title of a novel you believe very similar to yours, choose it, then scroll down the page to see Amazon's list of "Readers Also Bought This" and begin your search that way. Keep in mind that before you begin, you should know enough about your own novel to make the comparison in the first place!

By the way, beware of using comparables by overly popular and classic authors. If you compare your work to classic authors like H.G. Wells and Gabriel Marquez in the same breath you will risk being declared insane. If you compare your work to huge contemporary authors like Nick Hornby or Jodi Picoult or Nora Ephron or Dan Brown or J.K. Rowling, and so forth, you will not be laughed at, but you will also not be taken seriously since thousands of others compare their work to the same writers. Best to use two rising stars in your genre. If you can't do this, use only one classic or popular author and combine with a rising star. Choose carefully!

att.jpg FOURTH ASSIGNMENT: - Read this NWOE article on comparables then return here.

- Develop two smart comparables for your novel. This is a good opportunity to immerse yourself in your chosen genre. Who compares to you? And why?



Conflict, tension, complication, drama--all basically related, and all going a long way to keeping the reader's eyes fixated on your story. These days, serving up a big manuscript of quiet is a sure path to damnation. You need tension on the page at all times, and the best way to accomplish this is to create conflict and complications in the plot and narrative. Consider "conflict" divided into three parts, all of which you MUST have present in the novel. First part, the primary dramatic conflict which drives through the work from beginning to end, from first major plot point to final reversal, and finally resolving with an important climax. Next, secondary conflicts or complications that take various social forms - anything from a vigorous love subplot to family issues to turmoil with fellow characters. Finally, those various inner conflicts and core wounds all important characters must endure and resolve as the story moves forward.

But now, back to the PRIMARY DRAMATIC CONFLICT. If you've taken care to consider your story description and your hook line, you should be able to identify your main conflict(s). Let's look at some basic information regarding the history of conflict in storytelling. Conflict was first described in ancient Greek literature as the agon, or central contest in tragedy. According to Aristotle, in order to hold the interest, the hero must have a single conflict. The agon, or act of conflict, involves the protagonist (the "first fighter" or "hero") and the antagonist corresponding to the villain (whatever form that takes). The outcome of the contest cannot be known in advance, and, according to later drama critics such as Plutarch, the hero's struggle should be ennobling. Is that always true these days? Not always, but let's move on.

Even in contemporary, non-dramatic literature, critics have observed that the agon is the central unit of the plot. The easier it is for the protagonist to triumph, the less value there is in the drama. In internal and external conflict alike, the antagonist must act upon the protagonist and must seem at first to overmatch him or her. The above defines classic drama that creates conflict with real stakes. You see it everywhere, to one degree or another, from classic contemporary westerns like THE SAVAGE BREED to a time-tested novel as literary as THE GREAT GATSBY. And of course, you need to have conflict or complications in nonfiction also, in some form, or you have a story that is too quiet.

For examples let's return to the story descriptions and create some HOOK LINES. Let's don't forget to consider the "core wound" of the protagonist. Please read this article at NWOE then return here.

  • The Hand of Fatima by Ildefonso Falcones
  • A young Moor torn between Islam and Christianity, scorned and tormented by both, struggles to bridge the two faiths by seeking common ground in the very nature of God.
  • Summer's Sisters by Judy Blume
  • After sharing a magical summer with a friend, a young woman must confront her friend's betrayal of her with the man she loved.
  • The Bartimaeus Trilogy by Jonathan Stroud
  • As an apprentice mage seeks revenge on an elder magician who humiliated him, he unleashes a powerful Djinn who joins the mage to confront a danger that threatens their entire world.

Note that it is fairly easy to ascertain the stakes in each case above: a young woman's love and friendship, the entire world, and harmony between opposed religions. If you cannot make the stakes clear, the odds are you don't have any. Also, is the core wound obvious or implied?

att.jpg FIFTH ASSIGNMENT: write your own hook line (logline) with conflict and core wound following the format above. Though you may not have one now, keep in mind this is a great developmental tool. In other words, you best begin focusing on this if you're serious about commercial publication.



As noted above, consider "conflict" divided into three parts, all of which you should ideally have present. First, the primary conflict which drives through the core of the work from beginning to end and which zeniths with an important climax (falling action and denouement to follow). Next, secondary conflicts or complications which can take various social forms (anything from a vigorous love subplot to family issues to turmoil with fellow characters). Finally, those inner conflicts the major characters must endure and resolve. You must note the inner personal conflicts elsewhere in this profile, but make certain to note any important interpersonal conflicts within this particular category."

att.jpg SIXTH ASSIGNMENT: sketch out the conditions for the inner conflict your protagonist will have. Why will they feel in turmoil? Conflicted? Anxious? Sketch out one hypothetical scenario in the story wherein this would be the case--consider the trigger and the reaction.

att.jpg Next, likewise sketch a hypothetical scenario for the "secondary conflict" involving the social environment. Will this involve family? Friends? Associates? What is the nature of it?



When considering your novel, whether taking place in a contemporary urban world or on a distant magical planet in Andromeda, you must first sketch the best overall setting and sub-settings for your story. Consider: the more unique and intriguing (or quirky) your setting, the more easily you're able to create energetic scenes, narrative, and overall story. A great setting maximizes opportunities for interesting characters, circumstances, and complications, and therefore makes your writing life so much easier. Imagination is truly your best friend when it comes to writing competitive fiction, and nothing provides a stronger foundation than a great setting. One of the best selling contemporary novels, THE HUNGER GAMES, is driven by the circumstances of the setting, and the characters are a product of that unique environment, the plot also.

But even if you're not writing SF/F, the choice of setting is just as important, perhaps even more so. If you must place your upmarket story in a sleepy little town in Maine winter, then choose a setting within that town that maximizes opportunities for verve and conflict, for example, a bed and breakfast stocked to the ceiling with odd characters who combine to create comical, suspenseful, dangerous or difficult complications or subplot reversals that the bewildered and sympathetic protagonist must endure and resolve while he or she is perhaps engaged in a bigger plot line: restarting an old love affair, reuniting with a family member, starting a new business, etc. And don't forget that non-gratuitous sex goes a long way, especially for American readers.


att.jpg FINAL ASSIGNMENT: sketch out your setting in detail. What makes it interesting enough, scene by scene, to allow for uniqueness and cinema in your narrative and story? Please don't simply repeat what you already have which may well be too quiet. You can change it. That's why you're here! Start now. Imagination is your best friend, and be aggressive with it.


Below are several links to part of an article or whole articles that we feel are the most valuable for memoir writers.

We have reviewed these and agree 110%.



Are you thinking of writing a memoir but you're stuck? We've got the remedy. Check out our beginner's guide on writing an epic and engaging memoir.



MEMOIR REQUIRES TRANSCENDENCE. Something has to happen. Or shift. Someone has to change a little. Or grow. It’s the bare hack minimum of memoir.



When it comes to writing a memoir, there are 5 things you need to focus on. If you do, your powerful story will have the best chance of impacting others.



Knowing how to write an anecdote lets you utilize the power of story with your nonfiction and engage your reader from the first page.


Michael Neff
Algonkian Producer
New York Pitch Director
Author, Development Exec, Editor

We are the makers of novels, and we are the dreamers of dreams.

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Hello Michael,

My answers to these prompts are below. If any ought to be reformed, please just let me know. Thank you.

FIRST ASSIGNMENT: write your story statement. 

  • Evelyn seeks to defy the leader of a group of zealots and gain the power to save those she loves.

SECOND ASSIGNMENT: in 200 words or less, sketch the antagonist or antagonistic force in your story. Keep in mind their goals, their background, and the ways they react to the world about them.

  • To be joined with a magical aspect is the goal of every citizen in this story. When Evelyn fails to do so, she is forced from her royal lifestyle and into the slums of the Mercy District (known as “Misery” by its inhabitants). In this way, the environment and social prejudices of the people are her first antagonist.
  • But the most significant antagonist is the person of Alec Zabar, a religious zealot who has ample reason to desire revenge against Evelyn and her family. Zabar enters the city, seeking to turn the Mercy District against Evelyn’s family and violently uproot the religious and social mores of the society. Even when exiled, Evelyn loves her city and her family, and will do anything to stop Zabar. Throughout the book, their immediate and long-term goals are constantly at odds; any victory for one results in a defeat for the other.

THIRD ASSIGNMENT: create a breakout title (list several options, not more than three, and revisit to edit as needed).

  • The Septarch
  • Daughter of the Golden City
  • Weighing of Souls

FOURTH ASSIGNMENT: Develop two smart comparables for your novel. This is a good opportunity to immerse yourself in your chosen genre. Who compares to you? And why?

  • Warbreaker by Brandon Sanderson (2009)
    • My novel and Warbreaker both are high fantasy, feature a strong female protagonist, have a hard magic system, multiple POVs, battles between diametrically opposed forces, political intrigue, class disparity, and involve, at points, the main characters coming to terms with their own biases and prejudgments. 
  • Crown of Feathers by Niki Pau Preto (2019)
    • Crown of Feathers is YA; however, it is geared more towards older teens, and I believe that work and mine would attract a similar audience. Both my novel and Crown of Feathers share a strong female protagonists, multiple POVs, a high fantasy world, a focus on two sisters, and issues of privilege and equity (mine is based on class; whereas hers is based on sex). Sale projections for the two could be similar. 

FIFTH ASSIGNMENT: write your own hook line (logline) with conflict and core wound following the format above. Though you may not have one now, keep in mind this is a great developmental tool. In other words, you best begin focusing on this if you're serious about commercial publication.

  • A banished princess attempts to come to terms with the injustices her family has wrought, while seeking the power to stop a religious fanatic from destroying everything and everyone she loves.

SIXTH ASSIGNMENT: sketch out the conditions for the inner conflict your protagonist will have. Why will they feel in turmoil? Conflicted? Anxious? Sketch out one hypothetical scenario in the story wherein this would be the case--consider the trigger and the reaction.

  • Evelyn is torn between caring for her family (the nobility of the world) and advocating for the Rassa (the lowest class in this society). After a turn of events one-fifth of the way through the book, Evelyn returns to her family. Initially, she is overjoyed to be back in the midst of luxury, but soon she can’t help but compare the excesses of her station with the poverty of the Rassa. She does not cease to love either group--indeed, it is her love for both and their juxtaposition over and against one another that causes her such agony; ultimately, it is also this unflagging love that drives her forward. 

SIXTH ASSIGNMENT (B): Next, likewise sketch a hypothetical scenario for the "secondary conflict" involving the social environment. Will this involve family? Friends? Associates? What is the nature of it?

  • Evelyn is attracted to a man she meets in the Mercy District named Ransom. However, he uses her trust to manipulate her for his own ends. There is tension between them throughout the novel as Ransom learns to be less selfish and finally rely on others; while Evelyn tries to come to terms with whether she can forgive him for his betrayal or not.
  • In addition, Evelyn’s sister is poised to become queen. She looks down at Evelyn for her failure to join with an aspect, and considers her to be an embarrassment to the crown.

FINAL ASSIGNMENT: sketch out your setting in detail. What makes it interesting enough, scene by scene, to allow for uniqueness and cinema in your narrative and story? Please don't simply repeat what you already have which may well be too quiet. You can change it. That's why you're here! Start now. Imagination is your best friend, and be aggressive with it.

  •  The book is set on another planet. Therefore, it is essential that the setting is revealed in bite-sized moments. First, I take the reader to the Golden City of Acragas. This is where the protagonist grew up. She descends into the underbelly of the city, the Mercy District, and learns that even in a magical world that is purportedly predicated upon balance inequality still exists. 
  • From there, layers of the world are revealed: the continent of Seera and its City States, wherein humanity has achieved a republic by supplanting the continent’s first inhabitants, must be dealt with carefully by Evelyn’s sister, Gwen. The Goodmen (religious fanatics who reject balance and magic) are the worst embodiment of Evelyn’s fears, and she is constantly at odds with them and their leader, Zabar. And finally, Evelyn encounters and learns about a variety of magical creatures and places in her journey through the book. Some of these are allies; while others add to the tension she is experiencing with her society and her mission.
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Story Statement: Rachel - to do whatever it takes to stop the deadly attacks planned against the United States which God has prophetically revealed to her.

Antagonist: Backed by war profiteers, Gleason, the trusted White House Chief of Staff and secretly radical Muslim, will stop at nothing to ignite war between the U.S. and Syria with the intent to bring infidel America to her knees.

Breakout Title Options: (with plans to title the sequel "Beyond Coincidence" or "What If I'm Right")


Beyond Coincidence

What If I'm Wrong


Noah Hawley – screenwriter turned novelist; writing character-driven stories that explore cause and effect and the resulting growth or demise of a character.

Terri Blackstock – exploring how faith affects character transformation, without being heavy handed with romance nor with a “preachy” style of intertwining spirituality into the story.

Hook (logline): Accused of submitting false leads to the FBI and afraid of jeopardizing her husband’s new career with the FBI, a woman’s prophetic visions escalate to life and death issues as she takes matters into her own hands to stop a high ranking U.S. government official’s plan to incite war and bring America to her knees.

Other Matters of Conflict: Rachel is a thirty-something woman who has lost a child late in pregnancy and is still carrying the pain and confusion of that loss. She’s pulled back from life to regroup and support her husband in his new career as an FBI agent. Although she has faith in God, the relationship is tremulous as she struggles to understand her loss. 

Although she has had prophetic visions in the past – the little personal prophecies like knowing a friend is pregnant before she does, or that your husband’s lost keys are on the floor of the closet in the brown shoe, Rachel’s faith is tested when God begins to reveal life and death situations to her. In the opening scene, she has a vision of a school bus crashing, but passes it off as bizarre and possibly her emotions over-reacting to the loss of her child, but when she sees the accident on national news, she realizes that God had shown it to her for a reason – to pray and avert the danger. 

A secondary conflict is the conflict involving her relationship to her husband. As Rachel tries to cooperate with God by praying as he reveals things to her, a seemingly false lead concerning a child kidnapping puts her husband’s career on the line and creates strife in their marriage. Where she would reach out to him and the FBI as God reveals the heinous plot of deadly attacks aimed to bring America to her knees, because of the distrust and suspicions, she takes matters into her own hands, putting her life on the line to stop evil.

Kansas City:
FBI headquarters where Evan works as an FBI agent. As a new agent, the entry reminds him of Get Smart’s entry into the secret chambers as he enters the hallowed halls of the legacy of the FBI in Kansas City. Located across from a park, he wonders how many kids dream of being an agent someday. His co-workers are fairly supportive, including the experienced Special Agent in Charge Jack Barnes, but there’s one agent, Roberts, who has it out for Evan and is doing what he can to derail Evan’s career. 

Upscale KC downtown where Rachel used to work as a stockbroker and the KC metropolis that is home to nine major hospitals that form the vision of a spider (8 legs and the head) and the prophetic picture of a planned attack that Rachel attempts to thwart. 

Rachel and Evan’s KC suburban house – a cramped “starter” home that was supposed to be Rachel’s “white-picket fence” kind of life before she lost her baby and retreated to a low-level job in the nearby quiet suburban bank. The spare bedroom is still painted pink, but taken over with Evan’s workout equipment and there’s a Keurig machine that’s on its last legs that roars and sputters, a symbol of the disconnect happening in Evan and Rachel’s relationship as they adjust to the loss of the child and Evan’s career change to become an FBI agent. Also, the kitchen is Rachel’s place of revelation where she notates the prophetic visions God is giving her in her journaling notebook. 

Suburban park: this is where Rachel goes to walk and pray amidst the joggers and chatty walking women and new moms working off baby fat. 

Brian and Lisa’s KC suburban house – a quaint house, decorated in Lisa’s simple DIY style. Rachel feels at home here although she envies the cozy home and the family atmosphere as Lisa gets pregnant and prepares for their first child. 

KC suburban bank where Rachel has slid into anonymity while she heals from a miscarriage. To her, the quiet bank is a place of refuge, with the low-stress job of taking care of the “regular” who frequent the bank and working alongside a chatty teller, Amber, who always has interesting stories to tell; Brian, the IT guy who is Evan’s best friend and a mix of genius and hippy jokester, Joe the hardcore branch manager who she finds out is a great guy when he’s away from the stress of his job responsibilities and other co-workers. 

KC suburban airport – where the kidnapper tries to escape detection by flying out of the KC area with his victim and where Rachel’s lead prompts Evan to investigate, bringing the agency and a full SWAT team out to search the few rusty hangars in the dimly lit airport. 

South KC Meth house where Evan’s first lead pays off after 5 months of hard work. The FBI and S.W.A.T. team surprise and capture the drug dealers, but in the process the house blows with an out of control meth fire in the basement. 

Raqqa, Syria:
The dusty Syrian terrorist camp where Pharoan orchestrates the attacks against the U.S. from the cues he receives from the Bird as he trains a rogue military army equipped with U.S. issue guns and war-time weapons.  

Pharoan’s house: Although the camp is hot and dry, Pharoan’s family house is a rich oddity in the landscape, a cool and comfortable “perk” for Pharoan’s work for the radical Muslim cause. 

Washington, DC
The Bird’s inner prayer sanctuary where the Bird prays towards Mecca through the day. Hidden in a wall in his home office, not even his American wife Elena knows about this place. 

The Oval Office where President Sutton leads her staff as they grapple with the terrorist attacks and what the U.S. response should be. The staff is a firehouse of dynamics and conflicting agendas, with Secretary of Defense Sarah Mann anxious to flex her military muscles, Secretary of State Anton Busian with his weasly ways of intimidation trying to sway the first female president to his agendas, National Security Advisor Lee Owen whose loyalties sway depending on the situation, and White House Chief of Staff Gleason who has a knack of assuaging the president and helping her “see” reason in stressful situations. 

Other major U.S. cities where terrorist attacks occur: Cincinnati – a school bus filled with cheering kids roaring down the highway; Minneapolis – the 8-lane I-35 bridge spanning the Mississippi, the grimy hotel room that Vegard’s rogue team stays in; Rachel’s upscale hotel room and car as she drives over the bridge and home; Philadelphia subway system and radical sympathizer’s noisy 1-room apartment located near the airport with planes constantly booming overhead; Phoenix football stadium with fans in line and police and bomb dogs searching the area, a better motel room lined up by sympathizers, Dallas mall, Chicago streets and bus.



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First assignment: Write your story statement.


  • Jennifer, a young autistic woman, must navigate and survive a world of institutional abuse while preserving her sanity.


Second assignment: in 200 words or less, sketch the antagonist or antagonistic force in your story. Keep in mind their goals, their background, and the ways they react to the world about them.


  • To save her from self-harm, Jennifer is committed to the often unseen world of America’s inpatient mental health system. Known for their abusive tactics portrayed in movies such as “One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest,” these facilities unwittingly chip away at their captive’s sense of self. Institutionalization quickly follows. Staff members are known to abuse their power, resulting in both physical and emotional harm to the patients. The epitome of these institutions being a behavioral modification center in Canton, Massachusetts, which employs intentional pain through electric skin shock to coerce their victims into submission. 


Third assignment: create a breakout title (list several options, not more than three, and revisit to edit as needed).


  • Shouting At Leaves

  • Rebranding Autism


Fourth assignment: Develop two smart comparables for your novel. This is a good opportunity to immerse yourself in your chosen genre. Who compares to you? And why?


  • Book 1: Population One by Tyler McNamer (Avia: August 5, 2013), 205 pages


  • Analysis: I’ve not read this but according to the sample pages and the description of the book this is “part memoir, part inspirational guide,” I believe this book to be the closest in idea to mine. I have intentionally written my story to be a guide and cautionary tale to those who may consider committing their loved ones to residential care. It is also a guide for those who are on the autism spectrum on how to embrace their differences and live a full, meaningful life.


  • Book 2: Thinking In Pictures Expanded Edition: My Life With Autism by Temple Grandin (Vintage: January 10, 2006), 270 pages


  • Analysis: I’m familiar with Temple Grandin. She wrote this book as a middle-aged woman. We are similar there. I think that’s where our similarities end. Temple’s books take a more scientific approach to explaining life with autism while my manuscript is an immersive story.


Fifth assignment: Write your own hook line (logline) with conflict and core wound following the format above. Though you may not have one now, keep in mind this is a great developmental tool. In other words, you best begin focusing on this if you're serious about commercial publication.


  • When an autistic girl is thrust into psychiatric institutionalization, she must fight to maintain her dignity and self-worth.


Sixth assignment: Sketch out the conditions for the inner conflict your protagonist will have. Why will they feel in turmoil? Conflicted? Anxious? Sketch out one hypothetical scenario in the story wherein this would be the case--consider the trigger and the reaction.


Next, likewise sketch a hypothetical scenario for the "secondary conflict" involving the social environment. Will this involve family? Friends? Associates? What is the nature of it?


  • Being admitted to her first hospital, Jennifer sees this as a very temporary situation. She fully expects to go back to her life of family and school. After her second, then third admissions, she shifts her thinking, realizing this is a new life she must get used to. She feels guilty for being a failure to herself and her family. She has spent years leading up to this point, trying to manage her autism and comorbid obsessive compulsive disorder while living a “normal” life. 


  • Her secondary conflict could very well be the fact that she has become institutionalized. She is more comfortable in the often abusive halls of a mental health facility than in her own family’s home. She feels guilty, as if she has chosen this life but simultaneously knows it is not her fault.


Last assignment: Sketch out your setting in detail. What makes it interesting enough, scene by scene, to allow for uniqueness and cinema in your narrative and story? Please don't simply repeat what you already have which may well be too quiet. You can change it. That's why you're here! Start now. Imagination is your best friend, and be aggressive with it.

  • In this memoir Jennifer takes the reader into the underbelly of mental health care. She exposes their methods and abusive tactics from misuse of four-point restraint and seclusion right up to doctors who knowingly overmedicate. We meet other patients and explore their relationships with each other as they each cope and survive in their own way. We also learn how Jennifer deals with her autism- which went undiagnosed for years, while being treated as simply a misbehaving adolescent and then adult. The climax of this being her seven-year stint at a highly unethical behavioral facility which employs painful skin shock to control its residents. 


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Assignment 1: Story Statement

As a ghost, Aurora must find a way to defeat a corrupt leader to save everyone she cares about in the living world


Assignment 2: Antagonist(s)

Lila Abbott attends Adirondack Prep and, on the surface, seems like your typical high schooler. She is in a relationship with Dalia but continues to pursue her ex. Her feelings for Dalia seem genuine, and she may even believe they are, but when given a choice, she will always put her interests first. Lila is a member of the Order of Elementals, a secret society whose members can wield the elements and have other unique Gifts. Her uncle, Professor Putnam, is the leader, and he has groomed Lila to follow in his footsteps. There is a darker side to Lila that she keeps hidden. Power requires sacrifice, and Lila is willing to commit murder to gain it. Lila has the Gift where she can sense Aurora and works against her as the love interest of Dalia and a corrupt member of the Order of Elementals.

Professor Putnam is the leader of the Order of Elementals. Posing as a teacher at Adirondack Prep, his mission is to identify students with Gifts and activate their magic, including Aurora’s love interest, Dalia, and her best friend, Nick. Aurora can sense darkness surrounds him, and she worries he is a threat to those she cares about. His sole mission is to rule over all chapters of the Order of Elementals, which requires making sacrifices to supernatural beasts using dark magic. He banishes Aurora to a graveyard where she has to fight for her soul to get out. It is revealed that Professor Putnam has murdered several initiates, and Aurora believes he may have played a part in her death.


Assignment 3: Titles

Book Title: In Our Dreams, Roses for my Grave, In Death

Series Titles: Order of Elementals, Gifted


Assignment 4: Comparable Novels/Series

My novel is book one in a YA LGBTQ+ Paranormal Fantasy series with a complex female protagonist 

These Witches Don’t Burn (2019-present) – Isabel Sterling

My series and These Witches Don’t Burn are YA LGBTQ+ Paranormal series with a strong female protagonist who evolves throughout the story. Both series are set in the modern-day with characters who are able to wield the elements. In both, the stakes are life and death, and the protagonist must fight against dark magic to protect the ones they love.

Legendborn (2020-present) Tracy Deonn

The Legendborn series and my series introduce a complex female protagonist dealing with grief/depression when they suddenly realize that everything they thought they knew about their loved ones was wrong. Both are set in the modern world and follow secret societies that introduce magic and supernatural elements. The protagonists both come into special abilities that they didn’t know about until a catalyzing event happens. Both series have diverse characters, and Legendborn lacks an LGBTQ+ protagonist but does have LGBTQ+ representation.


Assignment 5: Hook Line

Queer teenage ghost must find a way to accept the love she feels unworthy of while making sure the world doesn't go to shit


Assignment 6: Conflict

Inner Conflict

Aurora dies in an accident and spends her afterlife haunted by memories of her first love/heartbreak, Scarlett, and struggles with loneliness. After being neglected by her parents, Aurora has never felt truly loved until she met Scarlett. 

When Aurora starts to feel something for Genevieve, another ghost haunting The Other with her, she pushes her away and seeks something less attainable, feeling undeserving of love. Aurora realizes she can never truly move on from Scarlett until she lets go of her past and what could have been. When Aurora finally finds closure, she must face her true feelings for Genevieve and confront her greatest fear of being unlovable.

Secondary conflict (s)

1. Aurora finds out her trans best friend Nick is an initiate for the Order of Elementals and that there is corruption in the ranks and he may be in danger. Aurora feels helpless to save him where he is a part of the living world she left behind.

2. Aurora starts to build a relationship with a living student, Dalia, by entering her dreams and wonders what her life could have been if she didn’t die in an accident.


Assignment 7: Setting

The Other: After Aurora dies, she is stuck in The Other, the place between the living world and Heaven/Hell. The Other has different rules than the living world, and Aurora gains the ability to enter the dreams and memories of the living and dead. There is also the added element of danger with supernatural beasts called Hounds and ghosts who try to steal her energy and rip her soul apart.

Adirondack Prep: The Other overlaps with Adirondack Prep, a high school that Aurora attended and where she met her first love, Scarlett. Many of the scenes add to Aurora’s conflict of trying to move on from her past while watching from the outside the life she could have had if she were still alive.  

Dreams:  Aurora builds a relationship with a living student, Dalia, by entering her dreams. Dreams also play a role in Aurora’s inner conflict of being unable to move on with one foot stuck in the world of the living.

Order of Elementals - Chambers and woods: When Aurora stumbles upon a secret society called the Order of Elementals at Adirondack Prep, she realizes that the living world wasn’t what it seemed. Members of the Order of Elementals have Gifts to wield the elements and have abilities like communicating with ghosts like her. The chambers and woods are the primary settings for the Order of Elemental scenes and add tension due to them always being action scenes or revelations.

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Assignment 1: Act of Story Statement.

Eugenia tries to save herself from non-existence by immersing herself in a life of trying to save others.

Assignment 2: Antagonistic forces in the novel.

Sketch of antagonistic forces:

The antagonist in my novel is not a single individual. Antagonist conflict is best conceptualized as the struggle between Eugenia’s value system and the world as Eugenia experiences it.

Eugenia seeks to maintain, regain, or reinvent the romantic relationship with Sebastian. We learn very little about the original relationship and less about Sebastian via the letters written by Eugenia to Sebastian. We learn about Eugenia’s distressing perception of the world. We learn about Eugenia’s dedication to her friends, coworkers, and patients. We learn of Eugenia’s continued capacity for indignation to the actions of fellow human beings and to the subsequent response of authority figures and society. We learn of her approbation of her best friend’s efforts to right the wrongs in the world, particularly in healthcare.

Towards the novel’s end, another antagonistic force emerges: Eugenia’s best friend, Genevieve. Genevieve’s personal life evolves and Genevieve formalizes a fulfilling romantic relationship with Antonio. Initially, Eugenia ecstatically discloses this situation to Sebastian. Thereafter, Eugenia’s letters to Sebastian grow briefer, with less intense expressions of longing for Sebastian and less outrage with the external world. Finally, a new character, Eugenia’s sister, exposes the how and why of Eugenia’s letters and their subsequent cessation.

Assignment 3: Breakout title.

(Warrants revision and maybe a cohesive reintegration of the theme into the novel's entirety)

1) Letters from Eugenia

2) Imagining Sebastian

3) Please Send in the Clowns (Send in the Clowns is already taken by another novel)

4) The Musical Meanderings of a Woman in Love

5) When Will You Answer Me?

Assignment 4: Comparable novels in the epistolary style.

Healthcare based intrigues: Robin Cook's novels (ie, Fatal Cure).

Psychological evolution of character development: Celeste Ng's Everything I Never Told You.

Evolution of a relationship between characters through the lens of one narrator:  Isabel Allende's Ines del alma mia (I am not writing an historical novel and I am not comparing myself to Isabel Allende. Clearly need to read some contemporary epistolary novels.)

Frances and Bernard, by Carlene Bauer. Similar in writing style. Storyline fairly dissimilar.

Mount Misery and House of God, by Samuel Shem: healthcare intrigues; far more graphic details of the healthcare incestuous culture; not epistolary style.

Une si longue lettre by Mariama Bâ: epistolary style. Reminds me of Lisa See's Snowflower and the Secret Fan and feels more like existential French literature.

Closest comparable except for healthcare intrigues: Lettres d'une Péruvienne by Françoise de Graffigny. 18th century!!! I need to change my genre!!! And need some constructive criticism other than from 15 supporting friends.

Assignment 5: 

Logline/hook line:

Eugenia is Genevieve's most ardent supporter in the struggle for justice and integrity in healthcare and in life in general until Genevieve branches out in her personal life and Eugenia seems to retreat, become an admiring bystander, and languish in her own pursuit of love.

Assignment 6: Elaboration of levels of conflict.

Inner conflict sketch: The inner conflict for Eugenia is trying to live in a world in which she feels constantly confronted by injustice, predominantly in her workplace. She struggles when she witnesses mistreatment of patients or hears about this from her best friend, Genevieve. She also feels conflicted when Genevieve divulges how she has dealt with an unjust situation because Eugenia wants Genevieve to succeed in life. One example is when Genevieve attends a job interview and stands up to the old boys’ network attitude of the interviewer. Genevieve deliberately sacrifices this potential job offer by confronting the interviewer with his hypocritical life choices. Eugenia challenges Genevieve for her behaviour during the interview and how self-sabotaging this has been for Genevieve’s career. Eugenia is then shocked by the intensity and brutality of Genevieve’s response to Eugenia and asks for Sebastian’s feedback, in what seems like a request to be consoled and to be vindicated for the way she leads her life.

The secondary conflict for Eugenia is living year by year in the absence of Sebastian. This conflict becomes more apparent once Eugenia’s best friend, Genevieve, progresses in her relationship with Antonio and they finally marry. Eugenia seems to stop pleading with Sebastian to join her when she acknowledges to Sebastian how disappointed she is that he did not attend Genevieve’s and Antonio’s wedding.

The tertiary conflict is Eugenia’s seeming recognition that she is too tired for being engaged in a conversation (via letter) with Sebastian. Counter to Eugenia’s previous assertions in the novel, she is not fighting anymore.

Assignment 7:



The setting of my novel is not a geographical location. The setting lies in the mind of Eugenia; her interactions with Genevieve and a couple of other friends and colleagues; her attachment to her rôle in healthcare; and primarily her allegiance to Sebastian and the life that she dreams to pursue with him. There are allusions to places, points of reference that are common to Eugenia and Sebastian, but these are never named in the novel.

The purpose of not identifying a specific physical location is to allow the reader to engage the imagination and reminisce about a similar connection in the reader’s life and via this stimulation of the reader’s memories, propel the reader to conjure an image that is emotionally relevant to the reader. Then the story becomes a personal journey for the reader. This promotes a universal interpretation rather than a culture specific or society specific significance. In the end, the themes transcend culture, continent, language, territory, and reflect the commonalities of intrigues across these false and human created boundaries.

Only in the epilogue is there a reference to an estuary that may identify a particular geographical, cultural, and social setting. This allusion is again left to the imagination and interpretation of the reader.

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Write Your Story statement

Justin Jones comes to Hong Kong to find out the truth behind a business scandal and discovers that he needs to get himself out of an even more elaborate trap, which ties to his inheritance.

Second Assignment

Justin considers his mother and his two fathers as the sources of his unhappiness, so he opts to cut them off from his life, especially his mother. But the past won’t leave him alone, and there are mysterious forces behind a scheme to entrap him and put his life in danger. The architect behind this scheme is the most unlikely person Justin will ever suspect, and also challenges Justin's decision on how to deal with the situation.

Third Assignment

      My Inheritance

      Call It Love Is Too Heavy

      My Fathers’ Sin

 Fourth Assignment -2 comparable-This is a good opportunity to immerse yourself in your chosen genre. Who compares to you? And why?

I wouldn’t dare to say that I can compare my book to The Secret History or The Goldfinch; I’ve also thought about Crazy Rich Asians, but my story is not a comedy. So should I say it’s something in between The Goldfinch and Crazy Rich Asians?

Fifth Assignment: write your own hook line (logline) with conflict and core wound. 

Justin fought with his mother to choose his own path into the world, and now he has to find a way to get out the great danger that his mother has warned him. 

Sixth Assignment: sketch a hypothetical scenario for the "secondary conflict" involving the social environment. Will this involve family? Friends? Associates? What is the nature of it?


Justin’s trust in love was damaged before he was born; as a result, he has to overcome many obstacles to find out that he is capable of loving someone.

His entangled family past pushes Justin to gravitate toward his three young friends: Tim and Alish, whom he’s known since high school; and Evelyn, his colleague. He shares a brotherly bond with Tim, and is secretly in love with Alish;  Alish and Tim, meanwhile, have been in and out of a romantic relationship since high school. Tim is a womanizer and never hides his disloyalty to Alish from Justin.

Evelyn is a domineering character who provides the friendship that Justin needs when he tries to find his own place into the world. Justin doesn’t mind her overbearing personality, but her motivation behind their friendship becomes problematic after Justin finds out the real danger that is threatening his life.

Tim meets four young rich Chinese princelings in Beijing and introduces them to Justin. Justin and Tim also find out that their Airbnb landlord in Hong Kong, a local college student, was one of the student leaders who organized the demonstration against the government, and that he was either arrested by the police or went hiding in the end.  

These figures are all like doubles that Justin could have become. And they hold the key for Justin to understand who he is and what defines his existence: problems which have been bothering him ever since he found out who his father was.

As he dealing with his problem, Justin gains clarity about who he is and what he should do with his life; in the process, he comes out from his shadow.

Final Assignment: Setting

The story takes place in Hong Kong because this is the perfect place to connect the backgrounds of the story: the two continents and cultures behind Justin’s birth, growth, and current troubles. Born in New England, Justin attended college in San Francisco before coming to Hong Kong - where his biological father is living, to clear his rumored involvement in a business scandal.

Hong Kong is a city which combines the beauty of nature with the luxurious of metropolitan life: the poor and rich have all found their own spaces to live harmoniously in such a crowded place over the last two hundred years. But this harmonious fabric is tearing up when Justin arrives, as political turmoil and the COVID-19 pandemic are destroying the commerce and the stability of the city. Justin comes here to find his answers, and he leaves with the truth that his mother had hope he would find years ago.   

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Assignment one: Write your story statement.

A djinn girl saves a human boy from demon control.


Assignment two: In 200 words or less, sketch the antagonist or antagonistic force in your story.

Iblis, a demon, goes on a lifelong crusade after witnessing a startling taboo: the first humans killing other living beings. He becomes an avowed enemy to humans, feeding on their immorality, driven to corrupt them into destroying themselves through whispered suggestions. He campaigns on warring philosophies between himself and the djinns and angels, two fellow supernatural beings who advocate  and guide the humans to lead ethical lives. A treaty to foster civility between the triumvirate of demons, djinns, and angels is put into place, and while it single-handedly restricts Iblis and his demon followers, it also puts Iblis at an advantage the over-confident djinns and angels overlooked. For instance, he’s allowed unlimited influence over one human every several decades, someone with the potential to adapt to Iblis’s whispers to sabotage humankind;  Hitler-esque individuals with demonstrated history of promise. By design, Iblis has caused massive human casualties this way. He vigorously makes cases against humans at the nightly Resurrections, a trial of the dead to determine their true final place of rest, and his demon followers use the remainder of the night as their playing field, permitted by the treaty to corrupt human minds and exacerbate their horrendous, dormant ideas.  

Assignment three: List three options for a breakout title.

·       Biting the Apple

·       The Story of the Djinn

·       Artira’s Dilemma


Assignment four: Develop two smart comparables to your novel.

·       Kingdom of souls, by Rena Barron—the dark, African magic and how it weighs heavily in this novel’s beautifully-painted world aligns well with my story’s heavily demonstrated supernatural element. Like my narrative, it’s a plot-driven story of a brave black teen girl (or at least a girl who appears to be a black girl, in my heroine’s case) on a mission to balance the world she knows by whatever means necessary. 

·       City of Bones, by Cassandra ClareIt’s fast-paced and witty, the story of a teenaged girl forced on a journey to rescue her mother in an obstacle world full of demons, vampires, werewolves and Shadowhunters, all while she realizes she herself isn’t a normal human. As with my story, it showcases a variety of beings that the protagonist comes up against and must defeat to achieve her purpose.


Assignment five: Write your own hook line/logline with conflict and core wound following the format given.

A modern-day djinn girl falls in love with a high school bad boy she journeys with to ancient Egypt to save—him, and inadvertently all humans—from demon influence.


Assignment six: Sketch out the conditions for the inner conflict your protagonist will have. Why will they feel in turmoil? Conflicted? Anxious? Sketch out one hypothetical scenario in the story wherein this would be the case--consider the trigger and the reaction.            

Artira sums herself up as a failure. She can’t do anything right—in other words, “as a djinn would.” She has exposed her djinn form to a human once (which is forbidden), unintentionally causing that human lifelong mental anguish. She hates anything that has to do with dead people, which has garnered more than a few frowns among djinns, and even her djinn talent can’t be compared to her siblings’. While they have immediate solutions to problems, like manipulating the weather and creating illusion, she can only time travel, which she no longer takes advantage of for fear her impulsiveness and luck will cause imbalance. Worse, her past behavior has prevented her from advancing to the merit-based adulthood of the djinn world.

When the human under her care, Red,  gains the Sight and is able to see into the djinn world, he is just as soon determined to be the demons’ next target in their determination to commit all humans to damnation. Artira is hesitant. She has always been that djinn, and the last thing she needs on her slate is another infraction for helping Red. But she cares for Red more than she cares about her reputation, and her time-traveling ability is just what Red might need to be saved from demon clutches. In the end, she makes the decision to time travel with him to secure the branch needed to save him.

Secondary conflict comes in the form of Red's engagement to an Egyptian princess after he accidentally kills a lion and becomes a hero. While Artira knows that it makes sense for Red to agree to the marriage to keep up their palace facade, she finds it difficult to deny feelings of jealousy—even if Red has no idea how she feels about him.  In addition, King Solomon, visiting Egypt to claim his Egyptian bride, has a unique power over djinns, and Artira finds herself drawn to its dangerous potential in her quest to secure Red’s chances of avoiding demon influence.


Final Assignment: Sketch out your setting in detail. What makes it interesting enough, scene by scene, to allow for uniqueness and cinema in your narrative and story?


The setting of this story is parallel worlds. The supernatural realm, where demons, djinns, and angels roam, and the undernatural realm, where these beings also roam, but this realm is primarily inhabited by humans. The narrative opens with the protagonist, an adolescent djinn girl named Artira, naughtily entering the undernatural as a human. She treacherously explains the existence of djinns to a man standing outside of a dance club, all the while peeking in on the human she’s assigned to watch over as he dances inside. She’s caught by her siblings and races through the streets/forest to her home, a castle among thousands of djinn homes in her own realm, and New York City’s Central Park in the undernatural. The significance of this djinn habitat (Fort Gotham) is that it houses the Tree of Immorality—the very tree Adam, centuries before, removed an apple—and it is the site where nightly Resurrections are held to determine the hereafter for demised humans.  

To atone for her latest misstep, Artira’s siblings convince her to attend the Death Rounds, a nightly trip her parents make to cemeteries, opening graves and notifying the dead of the coming Resurrection. After an unexpected occurrence, the protagonist flees to the streets/forests and runs into a group of demons she feels compelled to follow. The demons work the night haunting human homes, as well as a psychiatric facility, where a host of these particular humans can readily see the protagonist and the demons. 

The story then dives into Artira’s daily routine as she follows and guides her assigned human throughout the day, Red, whispering to him to do the right thing as he fulfills a doctor’s appointment and attends a charity event at his uncle’s mansion. She patiently observes the witty banter between Red and his friends. By the end of the night he gets his first glimpse of her as he takes a jog through Central Park.  

Red, believing Artira is a human, spends the next few days with her in camaraderie. On their last day in the haunted house they’ve been frequenting, she mistakenly goes through a door. This frightens Red. Exposed, Artira is forced to secretly follow him the next day, but makes herself known to him while he’s in school. Red’s hostile to her, wanting her to go away, and ignores her when she no longer deems it necessary to hide herself. That night, after her day duties to Red end, her father prophecies Red will be the next human the demons will choose to cause great mischief on earth, and volunteers Artira to bring Red to Fort Gotham so the family can meet him. Red is overwhelmed by this world he can now see, and at dinner with Artira’s family he gets a taste of just how blind he has been, from the ambrosia he is served, to questions about the plausibility of humans searching the earth for other lifeforms (“all they need do is look around”), as well as, the useless in to genetically modify onions. Artira leaves Red in the castle while she mandatorily attends the Resurrection of the dead at the grassy fields of the arena, balking as the dead are brought before a waiting audience of djinns, demons, and angels.

 Artira gives Red a grand tour of Fort Gotham the next morning. He becomes adjusted to seeing the two worlds together and is wide-eyed with wonder upon seeing supernatural “ice cream” shops and similar businesses, newspaper stands, and museums dedicated to human history as seen through the eyes of the supernatural world. They also witness a djinn turn into a demon, an occasional sad occurrence. 

Fearing for her human, Artira makes the decision to take him to Ilgahim, she tells Red, to plead his case. In Ilgahim, the demon inferno of the underworld, she must journey through the Mad Seas of Rage to get there. The course is filled with Guardians of Ilgahim, large beasts whose job it is to scare anyone who wishes to visit Ilgahim into abandoning the trip, a firing-breathing baby, a dragon, a sea that causes all who crosses it to temporarily lose their memories, a boring sea during which nothing but paranoia develops in the traveler, and a multi-era pirate crossing—all of which they successfully make it through. When they arrive in Ilgahim and secure the information they need, Artira uses time travel to import them to ancient Egypt.  

Artira and Red land in ancient Egypt to find a piece of the Tree of Morality, whose whereabouts she learned of in the underworld, and is the key to saving Red. It’s during the Iron Age, in the 22nd Dynasty, the Late Period of ancient Egypt, when linen robes and wigs were in abundance. There, they weave their way through a lion hunt in an oasis by the Nile, and into a Bubastis palace, Red intermingling among royals as Artira finds the sources she needs to get the branch. The palace is Pharaoh Sheshonq’s treasure, tiled walkways lined with ram-headed sphinxes, black granite statues, and large braziers burning bright on the portico. The halls are lined with sunken reliefs and large pillars in the shape of lotus blossoms, and servants abound, from the servers to the bathers. 

Finally, we get to see Artira go from invisible, to the Queen of Sheba, to unwilling imprisonment in an oil lamp, when she is forced to grant three wishes to the owner of the person in possession. The final battle of wits and will at the pyramids to take charge of the branch is peppered with drastic physical transformations and unprecedented ploys. 

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Discover family history and craft an independent identity despite a subjugated life. 


Orphan Renna Covert works in a cotton workhouse. In the beginning, antagonistic forces involve her plight to survive and avoid becoming a prostitute or unwed mother. As her opportunities increase, from cotton shelling to scullery maid, she encounters corrupt characters determined to send her back to a fortuneless life. When Renna is given a real chance for redefinition, she meets Danielle Worthington, an aging courtesan connected to Renna’s family, who plunges Renna straight into the world she’d been trying to circumvent. Unbeknownst to her, Danielle harbors a deep-seated hatred for Renna, one so intense she guiltlessly uses Renna for financial gain, with the ultimate aim of selling her into sex slavery. 


·      LUNATIC 




LUNATIC is an adult historical fiction novel with YA cross-over appeal, inspired by bildungsroman novels such as Great Expectations and Jane Eyre. It feels like Precious, from the novel PUSH, set against Napoleon’s rise to power. 


FINGERSMITH by Sarah Waters—This novel takes place in England, and the protagonist is a disadvantaged young girl. The plot splits between two distinct locations and spotlights survival and opportunity but explores insanity, identity, and family turmoil. These themes run throughout LUNATIC. Both novels engage the five senses and transport readers back to 18th century England, as the protagonists avoid street life dangers and insane asylums. 

IN THE COMPANY OF THE COURTESAN by Sarah Dunant—This novel explores the stakes a young woman endures as a courtesan, balancing a life of sacrifice and prospect. Renna experiences extraordinary adventures in LUNATIC. From street orphan to successful courtesan, she goes from a life without sovereignty to marriage prospects and possible connections to French aristocracy, catapulting her out of poverty into a future of unfathomable choices. 


After discovering pieces of her haunting family history at a local insane asylum, a restless orphan flees her dank 18th-century English life for Venice, where she is thrust into prostitution by a bitter madam who thwarts her quest for independence and forces her to confront the truth of madness within her family legacy. 


Primary Conflict: Renna strives to rise out of her life of nothingness into independence as she learns of her family history

Secondary Conflict: Renna meets two men. One wants to dominate her and keep her as a plaything and lover, and the other wants to free her and foster independence. She falls in love with the first and is protected/rescued by the second. The love triangle is one of the final questions in the book.

Internal Conflict: Throughout the book, Renna pieces together how she became an orphan. She learns of the love triangle between her mother, father, and aunt. She discovers her family are both English and French. Her English family is plagued by mental illness, and both her mother and her aunt were treated in insane asylums (English and Venetian). With each attempt to rise out of servitude into independence, Renna compromises her values for the sake of survival. 

LUNATIC is a question of identity. As an intended first book in a maiden, mother, crone series—stages of female maturation—LUNATIC explores maidenhood in a dangerous world without opportunity or connection. (Being a maiden takes a bit of madness to both survive and develop self-awareness.) Renna strives to define herself but makes questionable choices that change her from innocent to soiled, from naïve to assertive. Each character in LUNATIC suffers from a definable mental disorder. Renna and the antagonist represent complex trauma, but from different viewpoints. If both are motivated to survive with a wounded soul, who is actually the insane?


LUNATIC was designed with setting as a primary motivation for plot progression. The book is divided into two distinct locations, Yorkshire, England, and Venice, Italy. 

The opening prologue is a third person recount of the unmet antagonist burning down an English country estate with her sleeping sister and children. The main story is Renna’s, the protagonist, first-person description of her life in York. We find her leaving a priest’s apartment to take up her post on the street outside an Inn. Renna watches for prospective Johns for the older workhouse girls living with her in a cotton workhouse. An Irish tradesman from the British East Indian Company brings Renna in from the rain and escorts her home. As they return, they hauntingly encounter the local insane asylum. Back at the workhouse, home for orphans ages 3 to 16, Renna shares her story with her only friend, the workhouse madame’s son. The two explore the insane asylum and find a mutilated girl with burn scars similar to Renna. 

Renna’s overseer arranges work for her at the country estate Harewood House as a scullery maid. The estate is full of exciting locations, including a plush library, where Renna eventually gives away her virginity. Her duties have her experiencing the estate’s kitchen, garden, icehouse, chapel, and graveyard, which connect to her family history. The chapel priest invites Renna to volunteer at the asylum. She meets a local seer being “purged” of her evilness. The seer reveals the burned girl from her first encounter is Renna’s sister. 

As Renna returns to her work at the estate, tensions mount, and Renna’s friend takes her to the priest’s office and shows her evidence of her mother being buried in the graveyard, having died years before, accused of burning down her house and scarring her children. Renna is captured and secluded in the asylum. As she escapes, she visits her sister’s room and sees she’s been subjected to a primitive lobotomy. She flees to the seer’s cave, where she is given a prophecy of her future. Her friends help her board a ship bound for Venice.  

In Venice, Renna moves into a villa adjacent to a convent, opposite the Venetian ghetto. She spends her first night training as a comfort companion in a courtesan’s library (the antagonist’s home), a very different place from the Harewood House library. She attends a party at the Arsenal for the international soldiers and sailors and reunites with the man who took her virginity and brings him back to her bedroom. 

She continues her work at the Casino and returns to a derelict villa of a diseased John. Her mentor “cleanses” Renna in a copper tub in the villa kitchen, but Renna becomes ill and recuperates back in her bedroom. She wakes in her bed and discovers she’s covered in leeches. After healing, she researches what cures were administered to her at a ghetto printer’s shop

She returns to her life as a courtesan and watches Don Giovani at the La Fenice Opera House with her Irish friend. He takes her to San Servilo, the Venetian insane asylum, and reveals evidence of her mistress courtesan’s crimes. The story climaxes in San Marco Piazza, on Carnival night. Renna kills her future captor on his ship at the docks and confronts her antagonist in the ship’s cabin. The climax ebbs and Renna contemplates her options in the ghetto campo as Napoleon invades the city. She witnesses the ghetto gates torn down by Napoleon’s soldiers and the San Marco Basilica Horses stollen for the Tuileries Gardens. Renna faces her final choices as she watches an entire fleet of French ships invade the lagoon, and Napoleon conquers the 1000-year-old empire.

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Algonkian Assignments:


Did Fran’s long-ago dead sister introduce him to miracles, or torture him out of her own terror?


Carol, 10-year-old Fran’s older sister, kept her impending death a secret from him.  But between March and December of 1972, between the time of her prognosis and the time of her death, she took Fran under her strange, painful tutelage. On their final “adventure” up to the peak of Maine’s Mount Katahdin, Carol leaves something hidden, telling Fran it is for him to find “later.”  Now, forty years later, Fran is torn between two visions of Carol—the deceiving, sadistic, “sick-in-the-head” Carol who lied to him, scarred him with chains of cigarette burns, drugged and tormented him out of her own sheer terror.  Or the Carol who introduced him to a world that everyone else seemed to ignore--a world of catastrophic awe, and terrible beauty whose presence only she seemed to see.  Fran is stuck in the gap between the facts he now knows about Carol, and the story from so long ago that he is just starting to remember.  Fran, reluctantly accompanied by his own sixteen-year-old delinquent son, re-ascends Mount Katahdin, to find the message Carol left behind, and determine which Carol is the real one. 



A Mountain I Will Show You




Mostly Dead Things—Kristen Arnett. 

Like Arnett’s Jessa Lynn, Fran is desperate to resuscitate his stalled life, and his relationships with his wife and son. The only way to do it is to look into and through the eyes of the dead.  Mostly Dead things too is a story about how a small shift in perspective can cause a life changing quake.  

My Absolute Darling—Gabriel Tallent. 

Tallent’s Turtle and Fran are both torn between two visions of the most important person in their lives--are they divine, or are they the worst kind of demons? Turtle’s hyper-alert young eyes reveal how beautiful and seductive pain can be. 


Between the facts a man knows about his dead sister, and the story he is starting to remember, a chasm yawns into which everything he loves might fall.


Inner—Fran poisons a joyous Fall day with his wife and nine-year-old son Noah by picking a fight at the recycling center.  There, his wife and son have found an unlikely pumpkin, growing on trash.  Their glee is met by Fran’s accelerating resentment that turns to rage.  Reflecting on it, years later, Fran begins to see that what angered him was the sight of pure, spontaneous glee, as he has long ago buried his own.  To reclaim it, he needs to face the shock and loss that is entombed with his own childhood glee.  

Secondary—On his return to ascend Mount Katahdin, forty-five years after his sister’s death, Fran is forced to take along his delinquent sixteen-year-old son, Noah.  Fran dislikes what Noah has become--a boorish, hulking and angry brat—he is also ashamed of disliking him so much and hopes that somewhere beneath his contempt is something like love. But it is hard to find.  Fran tries to engage Noah in the story that has brought them here, as they make their way up the peak, and is rebuffed and ridiculed at every opportunity. 

Fran--“I want to tell you something about your Aunt Carol.”

Noah-- “Who the hell is that?”

Fran—" You know about her. She died when I was ten.”

Noah—“Then she’s not my aunt.”

Every step up is friction that eventually ignites.



Much of this takes place on the dual ascents up Mount Katahdin—one in 1972 with ten-year-old Fran and his older sister, and one in 2011, with adult Fran and his sixteen-year-old son Noah. Both ascents occur when the rocky peak above tree line is technically closed for climbing because of fog and impending storms. But both times they sneak around ranger stations, and trail blockades, and climb anyway.  Katahdin can generate its own weather, spawn its own storms, strong enough for large hail on what would be a calm summer day at the base.  A mile high, the peak is stark and forbidding. Though neither ascent occurs along the famous Knife Edge Trail—an impossibly narrow trail across what looks like the back of a stegosaurus, where one misstep can have you fall hundreds of feet--in the fog, Fran must venture out to the Knife Edge to look for Noah.  Other locations: a dump in Greenfield Maine, where bears used to come feed in 1972, but has long been bulldozed over: a fast river along Vermont’s Long Trail, where Carol takes young Fran for a weekend, and teaches him to “swim;”  railroad tracks along the Connecticut marsh, where vultures feed on the flattened carcasses of raccoons and opossums,



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1 Act of Story Statement

Survive betrayal and find a sense of self.


2 Antagonistic Force

     Like other young soldiers, his name was alphanumeric. Ruthless training from toddlerhood revealed a talent that, were he nonmilitary, would have been his end. It still meant he could not rise in rank. He could influence minds, but would always be a tool.
     His first long-term assignment took him to an island desired for its metal stores. The team had devised paths to supplant the local government. He was to acclimatize to the culture and learn how to manipulate its people.
     His were among the first steps down one path. He was to permanently ingratiate himself to his target, a child who would be archpriest of Laon’s dullest temple. He was tattooed in the style of their religion.
     The target was lonely. Hollow. A simple mission. After, he had himself cast out in a way that would create guilt and keep her thoughts on him. Over the next three years he carefully broke and disposed of five vulnerable young women.
     When the target left the temple for the first time, the team was ready; so was he.


3 Breakout Title

Death is Not Quiet

Priest of Death


4 Comparables

Poison Study, Maria V Snyder. A mistreated young woman slowly gains confidence and strength, but must learn who she can trust to outlive her enemies. The writing was creative, inclusive, and emphasized healing after abuse.

Daughter of the Forest, Juliet Marillier. A young woman loses her family and her home, but if she can sacrifice enough, she may be able to recover it. The world was detailed and the storyline was dark, but the main character’s resilience let her survive.

5 Hookline

A savage attack organized by her own archpriest makes an adolescent and a friend from her past run from the only place familiar to her.


6a Inner Conflict

     Linor ground a leaf between her teeth. She had an idea that some plants could be eaten, but like everything she had tried since the forest had swallowed her early that morning, the leaf tasted like bitter soil.
     She thought it was her guide she had followed off the path, but she had never again seen the priest nor any other person. Then Linor could not find her way back to the path. It was winter and it had been cold when they left the temple.
     Now daylight was fading.
     The outside of her body hurt with cold. Inside, her stomach seemed to eat itself. She knew of death from hunger. She knew of death from cold.
     She wished she had not left the temple.
     “Help!” It came out as a croak, but she flinched at the sound.
      She had only ever lived in the aching silence of the temple of death. She was not to speak without permission. Even out here, shivering, her archpriest may not forgive it. Her voice broke each time, but she called out.
     There was no response.
     As the forest blackened and Linor went numb, she could only think of her god. Other than opening herself up to visions, she had never tried to communicate with her. She did not know if the gods would be interested in her communication.
     But Nenet was the god of death, and she would collect Linor that night. Linor did not know the words so she prayed in images and feelings. As the shivering subsided, she heard a whisper.
     Not Nenet. Not yet.
     Someone had found her.

6b Social Conflict

     Linor had enjoyed the performance, but her body was already remembering its aches. Coran led her to the inn he had seen, but when she tried to follow him inside, she kicked the doorframe and stumbled. Her knees struck the ground with a jolt.
     “Hurt yourself?” A woman at Coran’s side glanced at her.
     He waved a hand without looking away from the woman. “She does that often enough, it should no longer hurt.”
     Linor flinched. The woman gave a sharp laugh.
     “Come with me, then,” she said and continued toward the doorway.
     Linor got to her feet and out of the way. She did not look at the woman; she watched Coran approach. One side of his mouth quirked up as he passed her. Perhaps he did not mean it as she had heard it.
     In the thin-walled, dirt-floored cell they had rented for the night, she decided to ask. “Do I fall often?”
     Coran glanced at her. “What?”
     Her cheeks felt hot. She did not know what else to say, so she repeated, “Do I fall?”
     “Why would you ask that?” Coran turned to her with a frown.
     “You said something.”
     “Did I?” His eyes narrowed. “Your time under our archpriest’s control has left you sensitive. You should work on that.”
     Linor bobbed her head in agreement and fell silent, but her insides were twisting.

7 Setting

     The main character’s home region is small and high in altitude. Rainfall supports a thick forest on the peak and fertile farmland downhill. Beyond the reach of such rivers, the land is a desert with natural structures as deep a red as the sand. This world is in its version of an iron age. Homes are built from wood in the south, or bricks of soil or sand further north. They are generally single room buildings without flooring; the exception is the temples.

     Temples are massive buildings made of stone blocks. Each sits in a city and region named for one of the six gods. Festivals dedicated to the patron god inspire regular pilgrimages from across the island, which inhabitants are encouraged to believe is the entire world. The insular culture loves and sometimes fears both the gods, and the priests that rule over them.

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Assignment 1.  Write your story statement

Pursued by the soul-thirsty Keeper, twelve-year-old Micki is thrust into an alternate world, where she must escape his plans for her, all while searching for her wounded brother.


Assignment 2.  In 200 words or less, sketch the antagonist or antagonistic force in your story. Keep in mind their goals, their background, and the ways they react to the world about them.

The malevolent Keeper of the Wayward Words is a soul-eater, who has stalked Micki Wordsworth (the protagonist) since a tragic accident. He is a vampire like chimera that feeds on the avatars of emotional seeds he has sown. Resentment, Guilt and Shame have festered within Micki and the Keeper is now ready to reap them from her soul.

When Micki’s words call to her from Optasia, unwittingly, she imprints her soul upon a magical book, Optasia’s requirement for entrance. Micki’s brother, Zack is pulled into this daring adventure.

The Keeper sees an opportunity to free himself of his rotting curse given to him by the Wordsmith when Micki, not knowing the value, abandons her book. The thirsty soul-eater attempts to snatch it. Unfortunately, Zack gets in the Keeper's way, so he kidnaps her brother instead. This reveals soul-eater’s true nature to Micki.

Now, the Keeper must either find a new way to deceive Micki so she will willingly relinquish her soul-bound book, or he must use her brother as leverage, forcing her to hand it over "willingly."


Assignment 3.  Create a breakout title (list several options, not more than three, and revisit to edit as needed).

Optasia and The Wayward Words

Optasia: The Land of Dreams and Nightmares

The Land Beyond The Place Between


Assignment 4.  Develop two smart comparables for your novel. This is a good opportunity to immerse yourself in your chosen genre. Who compares to you? And why?

My novel is a high concept fantasy for upper middle grade readers, with possible conversion to beginning YA readers.

Inkheart by Cornelia Funke, published 2005, still ranks well on Amazon in the Children’s Fantasy & Magic Books category. The main difference between my novel and Inkheart is that Micki and Zack enter into an alternate world where words come to life, whereas in Inkheart, characters from Inkheart are pulled into the real world by the protagonist’s father, a talented storyteller.

Stoneheart from Stoneheart Series by Charlie Fletcher, published 2006, though originally published as a children’s book for middle grade readers, is currently ranked well on Amazon with Teen and YA Fantasy because it doesn’t’ shy away from high emotional content created from tragedy. In this way our books our similar. The main characters also must resolve their emotional wounds in a nightmare world which is also similar to my story. 


Assignment 5.  Write your own hook line (logline) with conflict and core wound following the format above. Though you may not have one now, keep in mind this is a great developmental tool. In other words, you best begin focusing on this if you're serious about commercial publication.

Thrust into an alternate world, twelve-year-old Micki Wordsworth must evade the plans of the soul-thirsty Keeper to reclaim her soul, but will she risk losing her soul to save her brother?


Assignment 6.  Sketch out the conditions for the inner conflict your protagonist will have. Why will they feel in turmoil? Conflicted? Anxious? Sketch out one hypothetical scenario in the story wherein this would be the case--consider the trigger and the reaction.

Inner conflict: Micki is racked with guilt and shame from an accident nearly killing her brother two-years prior. His limp is an ever-present reminder that the near-fatal accident was all her fault. Micki’s parents give all of their time and energy to care for Zack’s needs. This leaves her resentful of the brother she loves for the loss of her parents' affection.

When the siblings are stranded in Optasia and Zack is snatch away, Micki fears this will forever estrange her once from her parents' love should she lose her brother. 

Secondary conflict: The blame weighs heavily on Micki’s shoulders again when the siblings are separated. This time quite literally. Her soul-imprinted book, the key for entrance to Optasia, becomes a physical reminder of her emotions from the last two years. It grows larger and heavier each time she feels guilty, resentful or shameful. She must find a way to offload her guilt, shame and resentment and save her brother and reclaim her soul.


Assignment 7.  Sketch out your setting in detail. What makes it interesting enough, scene by scene, to allow for uniqueness and cinema in your narrative and story? Please don't simply repeat what you already have which may well be too quiet. You can change it. That's why you're here! Start now. Imagination is your best friend, and be aggressive with it.

The Veil: The space between the Ordinary World and Optasia, where the Keeper of Wayward Words lurks, spying on his prey, and planting seeds as fodder for future feasts. The Keeper uses the Veil to invade Micki's dreams and steal her words: Guilt, Shame and Resentment. 

The Wordsmith, the Weaver of Dreams, also uses the Veil to visit Micki in her dream, except in this time he shows her the potential of her life with healing of her words.

Ordinary World: We first meet Micki and Zack in the ordinary world where her dream of playing tournament class softball is about to come true.

We also meet their mysterious Great Aunt Alda. Her grand library holds the key to a secret portal to Optasia, of which she the guardian.

Optasia: This is the Origin world where the stories of life are either written or destroyed. It has the makings of dreams and nightmares where both the Keeper and the Wordsmith, reside. 

In Optasia, words are people, too. Examples of such personas are the Mystic Sisters, Opti and Pessi: diametrically opposite seers; Doom and Gloom: henchmen of the Keeper; and the Babbling Brook: a simple stream, whispering secrets.

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FIRST ASSIGNMENT: write your story statement. 

An artist loses his first love in the Tiananmen massacre. Twenty five years later, has one more chance to save the boy he loves. 


Homophobia and a fear of transgression of traditional family values pervades the entire novel and manifests itself in every antagonistic force. Our protagonist, Henry is sent to Hong Kong in the 1980’s and is warned by his uncle that homosexual tendencies are to be forgotten in order to carry on traditional Confucianism and to maintain the family structure and stability. Later, Henry’s cousin, jealous of Henry’s disruption to his life, uses the secret of Henry’s first romantic interest as blackmail forcing Henry to do his bidding. When Henry is approached by a soldier at Tiananmen on the cusp of June 4th, the soldier’s homophobia unleashes a wave of violence against Declan, Henry’s love, eventually causing a cascade of events that leads to Declan’s death. Henry’s shame and trauma propels him to a final confrontation with the soldier, years later.  


Lost in Tiananmen

Blood at the Gates of Heaven

In the Realm of Others





A young artist loses his first love, Declan, at the June 4th 1989 Tiananmen massacre and twenty years later is approached by the soldiers that killed Declan, each bearing a request that forces Henry to choose between his current and past love. 


Henry struggles to keep hidden his emerging sexuality when it threatens to rob him of the sense of safety and self identity he seeks. Two soldiers, disguised as students, approach Henry on the square. When they perceive Henry’s sexuality, the ensuing violence hinges on whether Henry admits his feelings for a boy.

Henry struggles to keep hidden his emerging sexuality when it threatens to rob him of the home and family he craves. One scene is where his cousin, jealous of Henry’s newfound presence, reveals Henry’s hidden journal of male torso sketches. Henry scrambles to protect his privacy as his family makes clear that homosexuality would be seen as a concern that puts Henry’s place with them at risk.

FINAL ASSIGNMENT: sketch out your setting in detail. What makes it interesting enough, scene by scene, to allow for uniqueness and cinema in your narrative and story? Please don't simply repeat what you already have which may well be too quiet. You can change it. That's why you're here! Start now. Imagination is your best friend, and be aggressive with it.


1980’s Hong Kong

1989 June 4th, Tiananmen Square massacre

2015 Venice Biennale, Venice, Italy

2016 Dorset Cape, snow storm, at end of the world.



A young artist loses his first love, Declan, at the June 4th 1989 Tiananmen massacre and twenty years later is approached by the soldiers that killed Declan, each bearing a request that forces Henry to choose between his current and past love. 


Henry struggles to keep hidden his emerging sexuality when it threatens to rob him of the sense of safety and self identity he seeks. Two soldiers, disguised as students, approach Henry on the square. When they perceive Henry’s sexuality, the ensuing violence hinges on whether Henry admits his feelings for a boy.

Henry struggles to keep hidden his emerging sexuality when it threatens to rob him of the home and family he craves. One scene is where his cousin, jealous of Henry’s newfound presence, reveals Henry’s hidden journal of male torso sketches. Henry scrambles to protect his privacy as his family makes clear that homosexuality would be seen as a concern that puts Henry’s place with them at risk.

FINAL ASSIGNMENT: sketch out your setting in detail. What makes it interesting enough, scene by scene, to allow for uniqueness and cinema in your narrative and story? Please don't simply repeat what you already have which may well be too quiet. You can change it. That's why you're here! Start now. Imagination is your best friend, and be aggressive with it.


1980’s Hong Kong

1989 June 4th, Tiananmen Square massacre

2015 Venice Biennale, Venice, Italy

2016 Dorset Cape, snow storm, at end of the world.

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Seven assignments

  1. Story Statement

Two damaged people kill or save each other

  1. Antagonistic force

A Coke and a compliment is all it takes and Sarah is wrapped around his little finger again. When her ability as a  trainer becomes invaluable, he kills her mother and is granted custody. He gaslights Sarah, grooming her until winning is all that matters. He convinces her to drop out of high school and work for him training the dogs and making him a ton of money at the track, but it’s never enough. Sarah wins, but he knows the dogs have more potential. She’s too soft on them. A little cocaine and some pain killers gives dogs an advantage.


  1. Breakout Titles
  1. Hair of the Dog
  2. Run Dog 
  3. Sacrifice


  1. Comparables

      Where the Crawdads Sing, Delia Owens

      The Marsh King’s Daughter, Karen Dionne

      The Woman in Cabin Ten, Ruth Ware

      Northern Exposure, Schneider and Frolov

If Kya from Where the Crawdad’s Sing had found the town of Roslyn in Northern Exposure, it would feel like Hair of the Dog.

Like Owens and Dionne, my story is about a young woman and an abusive man. She has to be resourceful in order to survive in nature. Like theirs, my protagonist must grow from being traumatized to standing up for herself physically, and psychologically. I am also comparing my story to Ruth Ware’s and the writers of Northern Exposure. Dionne and Owens have primarily gritty settings and plots, whereas Ware and the writers of Northern Exposure throw in more relief, such as good times and quirky friends. My story is similar in that my protagonist finds support and acceptance in the community of Whitefish between threats.

  1. Hook Line

Sarah must protect herself and her dogs from her controlling uncle who exploits them to satisfy his own twisted desires. .

  1. Inner Conflict and Secondary conflict

Inner conflict

Sarah has an anxiety disorder due to the PTSD she has from spending eight years in the kennel. After being surrounded by shady bookmakers and the drug trade, she has trust issues, poor social skills and tends to overreact. When she sees a man correct his dog using a shock collar, she pulls a knife and cuts the shock device from his neck and dumps it in the man’s drink.

Secondary conflict

Sarah and Hank are both damaged in different ways. Hank's toxic masculinity is familiar to her due to her former lifestyle, and yet she can tell he’s putting on an act. They grow close as he helps her while she hides in a cabin in the woods. She learns through friends in town that he is passionate about euthanizing dogs. He believes he is protecting the community in a way he had failed to before. This reaffirms that she should trust no one.

  1. Setting

The story begins in Key West at Berenson’s Greyhound track during the 1980s. When Sarah escapes with the dogs, she runs to Whitefish, Montana, a small community in the Rocky Mountains. At the local gathering place, The Slow Squirrel, the townspeople learn her story and consider her a hero. They circle up, giving her supplies and shelter. For the first time in her life she is accepted, quirks and all.



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Amidst grief and trauma, India must leave her Dome in order to save her failing community.


The primary antagonist is the protagonist’s own beliefs about the nature of the world. The Oman of the Dome community of Eden believe in living a cyclical lifestyle that has no impact whatsoever on the planet. When her biome community becomes unsustainable, India, in the face of loss and trauma, must go against what she thinks she knows of the Whole to travel to a different Dome for the seeds to save her community. What she finds outside the Dome forces her to set aside her beliefs and confront her own prejudice in order to reconcile herself to the world as it is. In this way she begins to heal. The environment serves as a secondary antagonist as well.

3.     TITLES

Bridge to Eden (First Choice- The plot turns on an actual bridge on the way to Eden, but it serves as a metaphor in that India must become the bridge to her community.)

Seculum Oman (The age of Oman- Original working title)

Beyond the Garden (meh)

4.     COMPS:

A Children’s Bible by Lydia Millet: Lydia Millet’s near world speculative novel with elements of cultural criticism is similar to Bridge to Eden in that it speaks to current cultural practices and all the ways American culture is getting it wrong. Her sometimes fantastical allegory has elements of worldbuilding and stretches the imagination in a way that is grounding and believable in a similar style to Bridge. She shows an aspect of humanity that is painful to look at but must be inspected for us to move forward in this new age of climate change. Bridge is different from her novel in that it creates a world that attempts to get it right, showing a path toward sustainability while allows for inclusive faith-building and community healing. In Bridge we see a picture of the healing planet, and are able to allow the protagonist to explore and celebrate it.


The Handmaid’s Tale by Margret Atwood: The Handmaid’s tale is similar to Bridge to Eden in that it is a window into a dystopia with a central female protagonist who must struggle to extricate herself from a failing system. In both stories, the dystopia is faith-based and restrictive, and the protagonist encounters trauma within the confines of that society. Bridge is different in that the community of Eden is designed to restrict the protagonist in much subtler ways than in The Handmaid’s tale, and the central character finds her salvation internally in the conclusion.

5.     HOOK

In a future world still healing after the extinction of the humans species, amidst grief, trauma, and a crisis of faith, one woman must leave her garden home in a desperate attempt to save her failing community. In an epic journey set in the majesty of the mountainous west, this story of reconciliation reveals universal truths about who we are and how we interact with the world. It speaks to the very nature of divinity, pointing to an attainable future of inclusion, compassion, and community.


The social systems of the Dome are failing; India’s beloved grandfather dies in a community sanctioned suicide. Her grief at his loss is incapacitating, and strains her adherence to the protocols of Dome life. He leaves her with a book that obligates her to serve on the Council, but she doesn’t want the responsibility. This stems from a lack of faith not only in herself but in the precepts of community living. Her mother is sinking into mental illness and her behavior puts her at risk of being expelled from the community, resulting in certain death. India gets raped, an act of violence so foreign to the peaceful Dome that it could rupture the fabric of the community. Furthermore, the mechanical systems of the Dome are failing; the cyclical systems of composting, seed saving and crop rotation, water conservation, all of it-becoming unsustainable. Without new seeds, the Oman will starve. All of the above serve to motivate India to join with her estranged father on a dangerous journey to another dome to get seeds. When she gets seriously injured on the journey and is left for dead, she is saved by a human, a despised species that she believed to be extinct. She must rely on him to help her return to her people. The cultural adaptations she must make force her to reevaluate her beliefs, form a stronger faith, put her ethics into practice, and ultimately serve to help her find own strength.

7.     SETTING

The setting for Bridge to Eden is at once sweeping and personal. The Dome becomes a character in and of itself as its scope is unfolded to the reader; a garden city paradise set into a majestic mountain valley that holds the seeds of Omanity. When the travelers journey, the reader is introduced to the landscape of the traditional west, a vista that shapes the very fabric of our cultural identity.  This setting creates its own aspects of conflict, as the characters interact with it. Eventually, the primary plot twist, a violent storm who’s believability rests on the nature of the setting, is at the heart of the conflict for the protagonist. She is able to explore the setting in a way that brings the reader to celebrate the beauty and magnetism of the natural world, and this exploration goes hand in hand with the ultimate resolution.


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Assignment 1: Story Statement

Mayah works to discover why the serfs took her as a baby. Was it to rescue her from the fate of being an oppressor, or was it to kidnap her to use as a tool for their Uprising?


Assignment 2: The Antagonist

Lady Nari is both extremely violent and extremely principled. She lives her life for one thing only: the good of the serfs. The daughter of a castle serf, who in turn was raised by a Matterist prophet, Lady Nari comes from a long line of resistance fighters. None of her ancestors, however, had her single-mindedness. It was Lady Nari, and Lady Nari alone, who turned her family’s informal religious network into a serf army dedicated to the Uprising. And dedicated they must be, for Lady Nari demands nothing but the highest levels of commitment from her followers. Whatever she is willing to do, they must be willing to do as well, whether it be murder, torture or enduring a lifetime of lying and manipulating those they love. She is no hypocrite, however. She cares nothing for her personal comfort or glory; her love for the serfs is genuine. Her arrogance convinces her that she knows best what is best for the serfs, and nothing can change her mind on that, which results sometimes in incredible acts of grace, and other times, in the absolute devastation of those who live by her word.


Assignment 3: Breakout Title

Raising the Promised Daughter

The World Beneath the Hollow-Trees

Hunt’s Table


Assignment 4: Comparables

Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke (in that the novel is deeply focused on a non-romantic but still intimate relationship, the one between the two main characters, while drawing a world around them and a plot through them)

Leviathan Wakes by James S.A. Corey (in that the novel takes place in a complexly ordered society with multiple different identity groups clashing politically, forcing the main characters to balance their allegiances)


Assignment 5: Conflict Line

Anguished by the revelation that she is not a serf, as she always believed, but is instead a child of the oppressive upper caste, a young girl struggles during a perilous journey through the bio-dome to find out: when her beloved serf guardian/political handler stole her from her people as a baby, was he rescuing her or kidnapping her?


Assignment 6:

Inner conflict: Mayah is torn between the various pieces of her identity. Although she grew up as a serf and thought she was one, she later finds out that she is actually a Rajas, a child of the oppressive upper caste. After this discovery, she is thrust into the Rajas world, and slowly learns to desire to be accepted by her fellow caste members, which involves forgetting and even denying her serf upbringing. By the time Mayah is brought back out by the serfs to participate in their Uprising, she feels ambivalent toward both the Rajas and the serfs. On the one hand, she is eager to return to familiar serf settings. On the other hand, she is hesitant to throw her lot in with those who want to destroy the Rajas ruling class. She is particularly anguished by the revelation that her beloved serf guardian, Sukren, is in fact her political handler. She begins to wonder whether Sukren hid the truth of his political allegiance from her because he feels contempt for her Rajas background. Fearful that Sukren never truly loved her, Mayah radicalizes in favor of the Uprising in an effort to become worthy of his admiration, to the point that she escalates beyond Sukren, even becoming furious at him for what she perceives to be his own lack of full-throated commitment to the serf cause.

Secondary conflict: When Mayah decides that she no longer trusts Sukren, he cannot bear it. He forces her to flee with him to the edge of the bio-dome, beyond the reach of Lady Nari, or so he hopes. Without knowing it, however, he plunges them into an even worse situation. The edge of the bio-dome is populated by a people who deliberately limit the extent of their technological development. They live, in fact, as hunter gatherers, for the most part ignoring the rest of the bio-dome. Normally they are a stable, happy people, but Sukren and Mayah arrive during a social crisis triggered both by a series of unsuccessful hunts and a rapid increase in the number of refugees coming from the bio-dome proper. Thankfully, through his devotion to Mayah despite Mayah’s increasing bitterness, Sukren manages to win the admiration of a young hunter named Rajani who, despite the looming famine, takes both Sukren and Mayah under her protection. Rajani, in addition to finding herself drawn romantically toward Sukren, wants to continue her people’s tradition of welcoming refugees into her society. She is resisted, however, by the rest of her people who apply more and more pressure to stop her efforts. Eventually Rajani’s entire family is ostracized, forcing Rajani to make a choice between her deeply-held convictions and budding feelings, and her family’s fate.


Assignment 7: Setting

The planet Chudami’s atmosphere clings weakly to its surface, which means both glorious visions of auroras every night, and nearly unbreathable air. It is only beneath the bio-dome that anyone can survive. The bio-dome itself is made up of hollow-trees. Hollow-trees are native to Chudami; indeed, they are the only type of flora or fauna endemic to the planet. With leaves that gleam green and blue in the dark, hollow-trees also produce fiery-red and orange breathflowers that emit oxygen.

The original colonists who crash-landed onto Chudami created the bio-dome and set up a rigid, stratified society underneath it. One of the scientists, Sarana, who became known throughout history as the Eternal Queen, decided to establish a dynasty of her own lineage. She did so by gene-locking the Dome Ring, a ring used to catalyze the breathflowers into producing enough oxygen to last through each winter. Her descendants became the Rajas while everyone else became their serfs.

The serfs live generally in greenhouses villages scattered around the bio-dome. Because the breathflowers create too much oxygen for Earth flora to handle, massive greenhouses were built and serfs moved into them so that whatever carbon dioxide the serfs breathed out would stay inside the greenhouses for the plants to absorb. The Rajas, on the other hand, live in massive hollow-trees they call castles. Some serfs also live in the castles, as servies to wait on the Rajas, as soldiers to protect the Rajas, as doctor-priests to tend to the Rajas’ physical needs, and as regents to handle the Rajas’ administrative concerns.

Population pressures due to the bio-dome dwellers’ limited space means serfs are considered disposable. Anyone who cannot in full health serve the Rajas is killed. Doctor-priests and regents are banned from reproducing. A legal system has developed that requires serfs to successfully apply for protection from a patron--or be considered fair game for abuse and murder at anyone’s hands. Not all the serfs, however, buy into this Rajas-centered worldview. And for the past several hundred years, they have been organizing. The Uprising is at hand, it is whispered, from one end of the bio-dome to the other.

Only one corner of the bio-dome remains ignorant of these sweeping changes. Indeed, the people who live on the other side of the shelterbelt, along the edge of the bio-dome, don’t care about the bio-dome proper at all. They live their lives as they have since the crash-landing, hunting mammoles (descendants of Earth moles mutated into giant, but still low oxygen-needing creatures) for meat and gathering nectar from breathflowers to drink. They are not a primitive people though. Scientifically-minded, they deliberately curtail their technological development in order to live out the rhythms of the truly good life. When a season of unsuccessful hunts collides, however, with an increasing number of refugees fleeing the bio-dome proper, the tribe is forced to respond to the pressures their neighbors face, or risk being wiped out themselves.

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FIRST ASSIGNMENT: Story Statement 

A Parisian girl meets a native Georgia boy in an architecture school, falls in love with him, and must overcome her disillusions toward life to put her trust in him.

SECOND ASSIGNMENT: Antagonistic Force

The antagonistic force comes from within. While May’s resilience allowed her to survive the male-dominated world of architecture, it also made her distrustful of men. Her past invades the narrative as she recalls her hazing at the Beaux-Arts School in Paris. The second year was the worse, as the guys of her year resented that she, a girl, would get the best grades in design. They tried to discourage her with creative retributions like turning a mouse loose under her shirt or dunking her in a garbage can filled with rubbish and oil paint. Worse of all, one day, they chained her to a stair’s guardrail and flushed the key in a toilet hole.

In contrast, the American students support her work ethic, but she cannot let go of her distrust. As she falls in love with Dickie, other violent episodes surface that keep her away from him, like her knifepoint attack in Morocco and her near-rape aggression in the architecture office where she worked. In the end, she realizes that it is her father’s warning never to trust anybody in life, not even him, that affected her the most. She must let go of that last obstacle to commit to Dickie. 


 In the Architect’s Eye [A Memoir by May Peyron Spangler]

Amour in Dixie

Parisian Architect in Atlanta


 In the Architect’s Eye is a reverse Emily in Paris. The series presents an American girl’s perspective on Paris, while the memoir gives a Parisian girl’s view on the American South. May’s foreign eye creates humorous descriptions of Atlanta’s 1978 over-cooked food, bemusing accent, and gender-segregated bathrooms. Like Emily, May also gets to see herself in the eyes of others. Emily finds Parisians cold to her, especially her co-workers who see her as “la plouc” or a hick. On the other hand, May cannot tell if over-friendly Americans like her or their fantasy of a sophisticated Parisian. 

The narrative of In the Architect’s Eye develops around architecture like in George Howe Colt’s The Big House, A Century in the Life of an American Summer Home. Colt’s memoir gives a nostalgic view of his family home, which leads him to chronicle his family, as well as the local history of Cape Cod. Likewise, the narrative of In the Architect’s Eye develops around the Georgia Tech College of Architecture, the history of architecture in Atlanta, and the more general debate on postmodern architecture. 


People often ask how I, a Parisian, got to marry a man from a small Georgia town. My memoir, In the Architect’s Eye, tells our unlikely love story, starting in 1978 when I came to study architecture at the Georgia Institute of Technology.

 SIXTH ASSIGNMENT: Inner Conflict 

 Leonardo da Vinci’s famous drawing of the Vitruvian Man, who stands naked and occupies a square in one position and a circle in another, embodies May’s conflict. She envisioned her trip as an opportunity to redefine herself within a “square,” symbol for a material world she can construct independently from a past that left her distrustful of men. When she meets Dickie and falls in love with him, the disruptive nature of love forces her to contend with a “circle,” symbol for an infinite universe that, like the Vitruvian Man, cannot fit her earthly square. 

Dickie and May increasingly spend time together in the studio, around Atlanta, and on a trip to Savannah. But unsure about his feelings for her, she cannot jump out of her selfish square into the cosmic circle and respond to him. She leaves Atlanta thinking she will never see him again. When Dickie visits her in France, they end up on a Greek island. As May still struggles with her conflicted self, she finally chooses to jump into the vanishing point within her, collapsing the self-imposed perspective. She may never be fully reconciled, but she can hope one day to be at peace with the fact that she will never be at peace.

 Secondary Conflict 

The secondary conflict comes from the May 68 cultural revolution in France, born from a growing general disillusion toward modernity. In architecture, it resulted in the postmodern debate May discovers at Georgia Tech, as the minimalist functionalism of modern architecture is under the siege of a postmodernism that promotes complexity and plurality. The architecture narrative interweaves May’s story as she realizes that her blasé Parisian attitude may be another byproduct of the postmodern disillusion. This disillusion further pervades her distrust of men, creating a disenchantment with love that she will only escape by recreating herself.


 Set in the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta, the memoir features an architectural studio and its unique communal lifestyle of all-nighters, spirited discussions, charrettes, and juries designed to test the students’ resilience. As May learns about the 1970s postmodern debate, she assesses buildings’ esthetic values, also presented through nineteen author-illustrated vignettes for readers who may be unfamiliar with modern and postmodern architecture styles. 

When not faced with a project deadline, May goes out with her studio fellows to Atlanta’s landmarks, such as One-Eyed Jack’s in postbellum Baltimore rowhouses, old-hippie Stein Club in run-down Midtown, or friends’ bungalow houses in one of the historic Atlanta neighborhoods. May travels around Georgia and discovers the barren red-clay countryside and colonial Savannah where her Huguenot ancestors once landed. She finally takes a summer trip around the United States in a Volkswagen minibus with three French girls and tours the buildings she studied at school. When May reaches the Pacific, she decides to go back to Atlanta and see Dickie one last time. 

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1 Write your story statement:

Uncover the secret of Germany’s new weapon

2 In 200 words or less, sketch the antagonist or antagonistic force in your story. Keep in mind their goals, their background, and the ways they react to the world about them:

The German secret service, and a traitor in their pay, drive the plot. The inciting incident is an attempt by a British aviator, Vanderwall, to understand the secret of a new German weapon; that fails, but he follows up by infiltrating enemy lines to continue his hunt. First the Germans disguise themselves to track the hero to see what he knows, then they shift gears to stop his investigations, and finally, once the hero has uncovered the secret, escalate to killing and torturing his allies and trying to kill him as their desperation to stop Vanderwall increases.

Rautter presents as the German leader, an urbane linguist who initially disguises himself as an arms dealer. Brigitte morphs from courtesan to a sadistic knife-wielding assassin. The traitor is an engineer who slows development of the British alternative, feeds information to the Germans, and in the end gets the closest to killing the hero.

3 Create a breakout title (list several options, not more than three, and revisit to edit as needed).


The Interrupter Gear

Weapon of War

4 Develop two smart comparables for your novel. This is a good opportunity to immerse yourself in your chosen genre. Who compares to you? And why?

This is a historical or espionage thriller. The story draws on themes and ideas from the first generations of British thrillers, told with a modern sensibility and cinematic style, strong women characters, and a realistic approach to violence, sex and drugs.

In that context it fits with:

Robert Harris, most recently V2 (Knopf Doubleday 2020), a historical thriller set in 1945 which shares the idea of a plot built around true secret weapon. His earlier Dreyfus book, AN OFFICER AND A SPY, adapted for a recent film, is set in close to time of this work, in the 1890s/1900s.

Ian McGuire THE ABSTAINER (Random House 2020), set in the 1860s, which shares the strong sense of setting and place, along with a protagonist faced with uncovering traitors and disguised assassins.

5 Write your own hook line (logline) with conflict and core wound following the format above. Though you may not have one now, keep in mind this is a great developmental tool. In other words, you best begin focusing on this if you're serious about commercial publication.

1915: A pilot searches behind enemy lines for Germany’s secret weapon, dodging double agents, femmes fatales, and deadly electric fences.

1915: A British aviator infiltrates enemy lines hunting for the secret of the weapon that has, overnight, turned the tide of the air war in Germany’s favor

6.1 Sketch out the conditions for the inner conflict your protagonist will have. Why will they feel in turmoil? Conflicted? Anxious? Sketch out one hypothetical scenario in the story wherein this would be the case--consider the trigger and the reaction.

Anxious, Inexperienced, Betrayed. Vanderwall has no experience as a spy, and while he certainly is the clay for the role (languages, multi-cultural background, observant), it takes time for him to be molded into an independent operator. This inexperience leaves him anxious and wary of making mistakes, potentially, or actually, fatal to him or others.

Vanderwall is forced to rely on others for key elements of his journey, especially crossing borders, and while he is in enemy territory. He knows he is exposed at those times and often can’t tell if he is being followed or has already been betrayed. That forces him to rely on his own network, rather than those who, by rights, ought to be on his side.

6.2 Next, likewise sketch a hypothetical scenario for the "secondary conflict" involving the social environment. Will this involve family? Friends? Associates? What is the nature of it?

The hero has a Dutch father, which sets him apart from his brothers in arms. This sets up a default that he is not quite at the same level as his compatriots. Worse- the original designer of the secret weapon is also Dutch (something Vanderwall is able to use to his advantage later in the book). Paralleling this Vanderwall falls into the middle of a rivalry between two different British security services (we are very early in the history of military intelligence, and politics are rife). This culminates in the hero being arrested by his own side, an incident which sets up the last, climactic attempt by the Germans to stop him.

7 Sketch out your setting in detail. What makes it interesting enough, scene by scene, to allow for uniqueness and cinema in your narrative and story? Please don't simply repeat what you already have which may well be too quiet. You can change it. That's why you're here! Start now. Imagination is your best friend, and be aggressive with it.

Northern Europe in 1915. World War I. There are multiple levels to the setting here- the period, the language and the physical locations.

The period drives some of the character interactions and an overall sense of the shifting from stiff upper lip Victorian convention towards the modern world. The norm-destroying realities of the world’s first total war are revealed in the scenes at the Front as well as in louche nightclubs and opium dens.

There are distinct language voices in the story- upper- and lower-class English, and, translated but differentiated, official German and colloquial French and Dutch, each of which is used to take the reader further into the setting and place of the story.

The story moves from France to England, then Holland and Germany. Important locations include:

Northern France, an aerial dogfight- the secret weapon is revealed

No-man’s-land- exposing the abject horror of war

Officer’s bordello- a different set of dangers (these Blue Light houses were lost to history until a set of photographs were published in 2015)

London briefing rooms- smoke filled rooms, early in the development of military espionage

Louche night club- sex, drugs, and rock n roll in 1915? Not quite- but much closer than one might expect

Steam-era armaments factory- leveraging the author’s professional experience understanding how a factory works end-to-end

A port town in England- Edward VII entertained his mistress there, will our hero have a similarly pleasant night?

Rotterdam- the spy mecca of world war one

The Wire of Death- a deadly trap, that preventing people crossing from Holland to German-occupied Belgium

Hamburg- bankers’ offices, then opium dens and the Reeperbahn in war time.

A German plane factory- the hero has to investigate the Fokker plant to understand how the secret weapon works- how can he infiltrate the well-guarded factory and escape with the evidence he finds?

The North German countryside and German Dutch border- The hero disguises himself as a soldier to leave Germany, but still has to work his way through farms and woods to escape across a border guarded by both the Germans and Dutch.

The Strand- the final gunfight takes place in an iconic street, with the hero dodging trams and traitors in London’s smog.

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ASSIGNMENT #1—Story Statement: A girl must stop a traitor from using a magical library to erase history.

ASSIGNMENT #2—Antagonist Sketch:

Vanessa DeCipio delights in being the most devoted servant of Montevale. For centuries, she and her ancestors have guarded the Books of the Living and the Dead (and saved the world twice). Despite her outward enthusiasm, Vanessa secretly feels her family is better than the Shieldmaidens who created Montevale. Her resentment reaches its tipping point when her mother falls ill and Montevale fails to save her. Anger-fueled grief leads her to conjure a deadly curse that kills the last of the Shieldmaidens, including Juliet. 

Despite the curse’s success, Vanessa remains heartbroken and decides to use the Books to resurrect her mother—an act which involves stealing a powerful relic, framing a colleague, and releasing an ancient evil sealed in the Crypt of Two Truths. All goes according to plan except The Crypt, which can only be opened by a Shieldmaiden (all of whom her curse destroyed…oops). Luckily, Vanessa learns Juliet didn’t die but was hidden away in Minnesota. She manipulates the girl into returning to Montevale and opening the Crypt, which Juliet unknowingly does. Vanessa dies, betrayed by the evil released from the Crypt, never seeing her mother.

ASSIGNMENT #3—Working Title:


ASSIGNMENT #4—Two Comps:

1.       SERAFINA AND THE BLACK CLOAK (The Serafina Series) by Robert Beatty

Both stories blend history and fantasy in a fast-paced, antagonist-driven who-done-it that explores the dark side of humanity. Like the Vanderbilts in Beatty’s work, Clara Barton and Stephanie Kwolek walk through my pages, encouraging young readers to learn more about people from the past. Both female protagonists evolve from lost girls to powerhouse heroines who vehemently defend others. Beatty’s work has a dark thriller edge, while mine infuses humor and a lush, fantasy world.

2.       ARU SHAH AND THE END OF TIME (The Pandava Series) by Roshani Chokshi

Juliet and Aru struggle with identity and loneliness, yet both rise to their destinies, surprising themselves and others. Both books are humorous, modern fantasies with unique creatures, elaborate settings, and adventures not involving reimagined fairy tales. While ARU SHAH modernizes Hindu myth, my novel employs a magical library, concepts from various world cultures, and time travel. Both explore self-worth, friendship, and the intricate web of human interconnectedness.

ASSIGNMENT #5—Hook: Juliet Freeman, a withdrawn 13-year-old, must accept her real identity as a guardian of a magical library to stop a shapeshifting murderer from hijacking history and erasing thousands of lives.

ASSIGNMENT 6A—Inner conflicts: emotional neglect, identity, and self-worth

Papa works long hours at the college and is often gone for conferences. When he’s home, he resides in a book. She’s clothed, loved, and fed (if Raisin Bran for dinner counts), but her grandfather is always checked out. When Mom—her only other family—died seven years ago, Papa plunked her in home care with a middle-aged, white woman whose Bible pounding left bruises she carries today. The only good thing to come out of Mrs. Karen Brefew’s Home for Scripturally-Tortured Children was Luke (now her best friend). At 13, she's been raising herself for three years, but if she’s learned anything from Papa it’s that books can replace family. Besides, solitude is comfortable, safe, and beats the ridicule brought by interacting with others.

ASSIGNMENT #6B—Secondary conflicts: 1. family and fellow character conflict; 2. a rival plot (the library as champagne villain); 3. a quest

1. A strange nightmare has haunted Juliet Freeman since she was six: a black cloud swallowing mountains and meadows, a dying woman, and a man with red-lightning fingers trying to kill her. Papa says the dream is her way of dealing with her mother’s tragic car accident, but she’s not so sure. Then she goes to Montevale and learns the nightmare is really the suppressed memory of the girl she was born to be: Maia Patara, the last of the Shieldmaidens (Montevale's book warriors). Juliet’s entire existence—memories, appearance, parentage—was altered by a librarian who makes the Federal Witness Protection Program look like child’s play. Now, thanks to a madman hunting her, Juliet is stuck in Montevale with a grandfather who lied about her true identity for six years and the librarian who changed her life. How can she trust either of them enough to save the world?

2. The library, which she was apparently born to defend, is also out to get her. Since she arrived, the library has unleased hulking rat-lizards to eat her, rogue sentences and a dragon to ensnare her, a trickster monkey to outwit her, and a deadly pit of quicksand to test her resolve. If she doesn’t prove her worth to the library soon, it may be her end.

3.  Juliet must also recover one of five magical Headstones, the source behind the traitor’s shapeshifting. She learns about the stone—and the fact that the traitor isn’t who he appears to be—courtesy of her new ability to time travel through the Books and Madame Cassandra’s Voodoo Emporium (There are a few perks to all this torture.). In the end, she fails the quest and resurrects an evil that will soon threaten all of humankind.


Rochester, Minnesota and the land of Montevale, specifically its library filled with endless corridors, wormholes, trapdoors, secret chambers, shifting bridges, ink-bleeding rocks, bookcases carved from cliffs and decaying trees, watery floors that house extinct sea creatures but turn solid when walked on, a magical globe to travel the world, a hidden passage through a clock, a murderous bog, the Titanic ferrying passengers from the Books of the Dead to the Living while serving lunch, and a Crypt filled with discarded books whose altered endings no longer fit among the living or dead.

Beginning (Chap. 1-6)

Rochester: a middle school, car ride home, Luke’s house, car chase through the frozen countryside, a forest that turns magical and leads Juliet and Luke to Montevale.

Montevale: The Ninth Circle of the Apotheca. [The Apotheca is an infinitely-chambered vault in the library with nine levels, all storing the Books of the Dead. The Ninth Circle holds the books of serial killers and traitors in decaying tree trunks. Juliet arrives in this dark vault instead of a grand hall to establish her uphill climb, foreshadow a traitor’s fate, and kickoff the library’s many tests to determine her worthiness.], Titanic ride to the Books of the Living (The Librivita) [The Librivita is comprised of 12 galleries (January-December) where books are shelved alphabetically by birthdate. Each gallery is an endless corridor branching off the library’s central atrium—The Caelarium—like spokes on a wheel.], The Caelarium.

Middle (Chap. 7-16)

Montevale: The Caelarium, Juliet’s house (via clock passage), Montevale’s living quarters, the March Gallery.

New Orleans: the inside of Madame Cassandra’s Voodoo Emporium (Juliet time travels through Madame Cassandra’s book)

Montevale: The Caelarium, The July Gallery, Placidell [a western province of Montevale and home of the library’s master index], The Tower of Victory [a seemingly deserted stone tower Juliet and Luke must climb and survive judgment of the Abuaku who lives in the stairs and determines worthiness of pilgrims to access the master index], Bandar’s Palace [home of the Inkpot Monkey, Keeper of the Master Index], the Fount of Sabulo [a suffocating bog of quicksand, another library test, and only passage to the Crypt], The Crypt of Two Truths [an underground cavern, the entrance of which resembles a groundhog tunnel yawning open to a grotto filled with missing library books whose subjects appear as ghosts because their endings have been altered and they no longer fit among the living or the dead].

End (Chap 17-20)

New Jersey: DuPont Labs, fall 1964 (Juliet time travels through the book of real-life Kevlar inventor, Stephanie Kwolek)

Montevale: July Gallery (Librivita), Montevale seven years earlier (Juliet time travels through the dead antagonist’s book to learn why the villain did what she did and what Juliet unleashed in the Crypt), July Gallery, Roen Hall [a Medieval-looking room with stone walls, wooden ceiling, and a round table] where the library makes peace with Juliet and gives her a special gift.

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Ny Pitch

1.     Story statement: Teen ghost must find a way to defeat the soul-eating monster and save her friends

2.     Antagonist sketch:

Melinda is a Wraith, an eater of souls, but before she was an evil ghost, she was a normal herb-growing woman in a small Conneticut settlement in 1691. She was caught in bed with her lesbian lover and her girlfriend accused Melinda of witchcraft to save her own reputation. Melinda was hung, and when she awakened as a ghost, she sought revenge on the town and ate the souls of every resident. She became obsessed with the power it gave her. She especially desires to eat ghosts because she can wield their special haunting abilities (Unheimlichs) as though they are her own.

Melinda is the founder of Whitefall, the community and school for ghosts where my story takes place in present time. She tries to eat Lucina, my protagonist, when she first spawns but can’t because Lucina’s Unheimlich is Empathy, a rare power and the antithesis to Melinda’s power-hunger. She erases Lucina’s memory of trying to eat her, and Lucina starts her afterlife in Whitefall without any knowledge of this event until the midpoint when she regains her memories. Melinda’s on a quest to consume 1,000 ghost souls to reach immortality. When Lucina’s friends are in danger, she uses her Empathy to possess Melinda. The two engage in a battle of will and memories, and Lucina’s love defeats Melinda’s avarice.


  1. Breakout titles:

Lessons in Haunting and Other Ghost Practices 

Lucina the Teenage Ghost

Tell Me How I Died


  1. Comp titles:

Undead Girl Gang by Lily Anderson (funny coming of age YA horror from 2018--similar in humorous tone, teen angst, and feminist undertones.)

Cemetery Boys by Aiden Thomas (#1 best seller in YA ghost stories, published September 2020--similar mystery and utilization of ghosts, though mine is more ghost heavy and from the PoV of a ghost)


  1. Logline:

When an insecure teen ghost pieces together the mystery of her death, she unlocks dark secrets in the afterlife and must find the strength to save herself and her friends from a soul-eating monster.


  1. Inner conflict and secondary conflict:

Lucina feels judged by everyone and struggles to be honest about her feelings and ideas. She’s more comfortable as a bystander than an active participant in society, and she’s timid and unsure of her newfound ghost abilities. To feel safe and accepted, she has to be behind her emotional walls.


When Malik, a ghost boy from class, and Lucina go on a trip to haunt, he confides in her the things he regretted from life, and he expresses genuine sadness over his death. Lucina feels awkward and can only laugh this off because this kind of genuine vulnerability makes her uncomfortable.

Secondary conflict scenario:

Lucina runs into her boyfriend from life in the afterlife—he died in the boating accident with her. He assumes the two of them are still together, but Lucina has moved on and has a new ghost boyfriend. She doesn’t know how to break the news to her past boyfriend, so she avoids telling the truth until it all blows up in her face when she, her new ghost boyfriend, and her old boyfriend from life are stuck haunting together.


  1. Setting:

Main setting: Whitefall, an abandoned mining town in rural Nevada, where my ghosts reside and take haunting lessons. The ghosts have their Unfinished Business meetings in the old rickety Town Hall. They take Haunting Basics and Possessions 101 in the casino, where they also gamble. Melinda, the Wraith and antagonist, uses the mines as her feeding ghosts, pulling new ghosts beneath and devouring them where no one will notice.

Haunting trips: my protagonist and her fledging ghost friends go on practical haunting trips to the suburbs where they haunt apartments (rich with spiritual energy, many opaques living close together, landlords who assure them the noises are just bad plumbing etc.) as well as flashier places such as Fremont street in Vegas, campgrounds, and a mansion in Conneticut.

Ghost settlements: my ghosts visit other ghost towns, like the abandoned factory in Chicago. The All is Lost chapters take place in an abandoned asylum which serves as a prison for ghosts.

Minds and Melinda’s guts: Lucina’s Unheimlich allows her to read memories and emotions, and she “swims” through people’s minds, seeing their memories encapsulated in bubbles like they’re clips of a movie playing. The final battle takes place inside Melinda’s stomach, where all the ghosts she’s eaten before are trapped and powering her. Lucina’s been eaten, she’s trapped in the smooth muscle and blood with hundreds of wailing spirits. She possesses Melinda, inhabits her mind, and uncovers her repressed memories to overpower her and release the trapped spirits

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Story Statement:

Iris must overcome differences in age, education and cultural background to establish her identity and equality in a new marriage and a new country and after a year of success is killed in a car accident.

The Antagonist:

Robert Jaffee is a newly graduated American ophthalmologist. He meets a younger woman, Iris, from Israel but can't decide what relation he wishes to have with her. She develops a quick love for him but Robert sees Iris first as a one-night stand. He gradually after much hesitation, time, travel and self-reflection decides to marry her in Israel. They move to Texas. He doesn't understand the difficulties of marriage and is constantly demanding that his new wife meet his expectations of what a wife should be. Iris struggles against him, a foreign land, foreign language and foreign culture to establish equality in her marriage and chosen career of photography.


Monuments in the Heart

One Moment More

A Thousand Dreams, A Momentary Second



Love Story by Erich Segal

The movie Titanic


Hook Line:

An eighteen-year old Israeli sabra attempts for love and self worth with a 32-year old American doctor while moving from Israel to Texas facing  the challenges of a diverse culture, education, language, bigotry and marriage.


Other Matters of Conflict:

The inner conflict for Iris is to establish her identity. Younger, less educated and culturally alienated from the man she wishes to marry she nevertheless wants to feel his equal. When they marry, she is determined to be on the same footing with him. She doesn't feel her pursuit of a career is any less important than his as a physician. She demands equal respect, time and consideration.

To achieve her goal of self-worth and pursuit of a career Iris must face the challenges of going back to school and learning in a language not her own. Can she succeed in her choice of being a photographer when she can't spell, read or write in English? Can an attitude forged in Israel for existence adjust to an American attitude bent on the pursuit of wealth and pleasure in the cultural desert of Odessa, Texas?



The setting of this story starts in a small dilapidated town of upstate NY. Here is a place that has seen much better days and its inhabitants know it. They don't trust anyone who would work in such a run down place. The setting switches to Israel. Here we see a different culture from New York with clashes among Jews and Arabs, clashes among religious and reform Jews. We visit Jerusalem and an orthodox rabbi. The scenes are like something from a Disney movie but neither is a fantasy. We go through a Dostoevsky nightmare of trying to obtain immigration at the US embassy. The final scenes are in Odessa, Texas. Here we have a third culture different from the sophistication of New York and the pursuit of survival in Israel. The people speak differently, dress differently and think differently. The land is flat, dry and littered with oil rigs. 




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Finding the peace of delight by fulfilling the demands of desire.


In DESIRE BEYOND DELIGHT, the antagonistic force is the obsessive side of the protagonist.   Desiree, whom everyone calls Dessy, is born on a small farm in southern Illinois.  At first, her ambition in captivating the son of the local grain merchant seems a way to improve her lot in life.  Even when she abandons her first husband for her richer second husband, her scheme seems a desire for a better life.  When she reaches complete financial independence, her obsessions become more petty and reveal the antagonistic role desire plays in her life by the way she sacrifices what she won in order to win her latest obsession.  All this leads to Dessy's 100th birthday party when the senile old woman steals a piece of birthday cake from her baby great great granddaughter because it has a candy rose.




DESIRE BEYOND DELIGHT combines two genres into a hybrid: upmarket fiction that contains elements of literary fiction.  I have taken one of the fundamental plot lines, the rags to riches adventures of a ruthless woman, and bolstered it with psychological insight and literary panache.  The rages to riches scenario is so well known Kindle and Amazon publish a whole series of them.  I have removed a key element; the protagonists are inevitably portrayed as sinister schemers.  Dessy is actually quite naive; she is more subject to serial obsessions.  By using a basic plot, the upmarket reader can appreciate the added psychological dimensions (Dessy has to fantasize about the husband she cheats on because her lover is inept) or the literary finesse (over a half dozen set pieces like a plague of locusts that destroys the family farm or honeymooning at Niagara Falls as authorities try to find the body of a disappointed lover who went over the falls in a barrel).  I created a model for myself as I wrote to clarify my goal: a Balzac novel (emotional power) written by Flaubert (literary control).


Woman who obtains everything she wants in life is left with the desire to reach her hundredth birthday, and tomorrow she turns 100.


Dessy wakes to her tenth birthday with exaggerated expectations.  Her party reflect the humble means of life on the farm: flowers, hair ribbons, and a sea shell for loose change.  Her father has a large box he is saving for the end.  Dessy has repeatedly asked for a carriage because she can't imagine using horses for anything beside pulling plows.  She finds an intricate toy carriage ordered from Chicago inside the box.  Only then does she realize her expectation of a real carriage was unrealistic and it spoils her party.


Dessy is determined to enroll her grandson in military school to teach him to respect authority, even though doing the same thing to the boy's father was a disaster.  Dessy's docile older sister, Grace, suddenly pays a visit.  Grace last saw Dessy at a movie theater with the man she is having an affair with.  Grace suggests sending the grandson to a local school and Dessy abruptly offer to sign the papers, which astonishes her husband.  When Grace leaves, Dessy says terrible things about her sister, but abandons her plan for military school.  "After all," she casually says, "it was jsut an idea."


SOUTHERN ILLINOIS FARM - The  humble home of Dessy's family.  Its sparse furnishing (it doesn't even have a mirror) reflect the simple expectations of the occupants.  When they lose the farm from a plague of locusts, Dessy's mother and sister move to the outskirts of Chicago, but it is almost identical with their farm.

PARIS, ILLINOIS - Dessy accompanies a cousin to the grain mill there, but finds it a dirty little town with no resemblance to the lithograph of Paris at her school.  She does meet her future husband there, the son of the owner of the mill, and  she gets to ride in a real carriage.

CAPSTONE, ILLINOIS - A small but prosperous town where Dessy learns the assumptions and power games of the wealthy.

CHICAGO, ILLINOIS - Biggest city in Illinois and home of Nelson, her second husband.

PARIS, FRANCE - Dessy goes there for her second honeymoon, but is disappointed to find their dirty streets resemble Capstone's dirty streets, and everyone speaks a foreign language.  She becomes sick and can't go to the top of the Eiffel Tower, her dream.

THE STOCKYARDS, CHICAGO - Nelson's business as a meat packer is centered there and reflects the dark underpinning of his fortune.

SKYSCRAPER IN CHICAGO - When Nelson dies, Dessy moves to her final apartment that is ten feet higher than the highest point on the Eiffel Tower (as the old woman tells every visitor).  At this height, all individual detail in life is reduced to geometric patterns.

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Story Statement

A woman is searching for information about her past but must conquer a psychological manifestation who is trying to control her first.

Antagonist Sketch

There are two antagonistic forces at play here. The first being the paramilitary group Cerberus, and the two CIA agents heading the mission – Dean Ambrose and William Ferris. In this world, super mutants exist called GEHMs. Genetically evolved human mutations. For years Cerberus has been capturing and experimenting on mutants so they can learn how to quell their kind. But the most sought after GEHMs are called Primeval GEHMs – mutations so powerful and devastating that they overwhelm the host into a state of frenzy when their powers consume their senses. Cerberus has been searching for Alex Mercer for years because of her possibly being Primeval due to her lineage. They want to apprehend Alex and study her to get a better grasp on Primeval mutations.

The second antagonistic force is the psychological manifestation aptly named the beast. The beast is a manifestation of Alex’s repressed emotions, how she perceives herself, and her struggles to live. This creature has dwelled in her mind for years and when Alex’s dormant powers awaken, it takes the opportunity to finally reveal itself.


The Art of Dying

The Gathering of Black Moths

When a Shadow is Forced into the Light

The Baying of the Hounds

Comparable Titles

V.E Schwab’s Vicious

X-Men’s Dark Phoenix

Hook Line

Alex Mercer is searching for information about her past, but a dark psychological entity has manifested as is vying for dominance.

Other Matters of Conflict

Alex Mercer is trying to stop the beast from taking over her autonomy. She is fighting against its presence but feels herself giving into the beast’s animalistic urges.


The first four chapters take place in San Francisco, but it’s only to set up world-building and the inciting incident to move the plot to the main location of the narrative.

The bulk of the story takes place in the South China Sea on the island of Toppanga – a criminal-infested haven built atop a cemetery. It’s home to many vagabonds, mercenaries, and the four criminal enterprises that control the streets. It’s kill or be killed on the streets. Judgment is delivered by a bullet to the head. Alex grew up on these harsh streets and knows what it takes to survive.   

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1.       Story Statement:  During the Gothic Wars at the end of the Roman Empire, a renowned scientist must protect herself and her intellectually disabled adult daughter when they flee Rome.

2.       Antagonist:  Bishop Cassius of Narni (a real person) encounters the protagonists, Cynthia Plotina and her young adult daughter Constantia, shortly after they have fled Rome to resettle in Umbria.  The Bishop falls in lust with Constantia, indifferent to her psychological issues.  He rationalizes his obsession with Constantia by telling her  (and himself) that a heartfelt commitment to Christian piety might heal her of her trauma.  Cynthia’s protection of her daughter angers Cassius, who, after failing to gain access to Constantia, turns the town against Cynthia because of her scholarly accomplishment and religious skepticism.  The Bishop also fears that Cynthia’s efforts to educate the children of the region and bring literacy to the slaves and peasants will cause social dislocation, and threaten his own authority and income.

3.       Three Titles:

A.       The Roman Women

B.       The Illustrious Plotinii

C.       The Temple of Janus


4.       Comparables

A.       Robert Harris’ Cicero Trilogy (Conspirata, Imperium, Dictator) – These books are set in the end days of the Roman Republic. The trilogy reflects the political concerns and lifestyles of the leaders of both the city of Rome and the empire.  My novel takes place about 600 years later, at the very end of the Empire.  I’ve also made many of the main characters (including the protagonist) women, slaves, soldiers and clerics, and tried to bring into more focus the material and social circumstances of daily life for middle and working class Romans in the context of siege, plague, and famine.  Harris’s books are voiced in the first person of Cicero’s personal assistant; by contrast, I’ve written in third-person omniscient, to more plausibly portray the inner thoughts of characters.

B.      Steven Saylor’s RomaRoma aims to give the reader, through several historical vignettes over several hundred years, a sense of the breadth of Rome’s history (Roma appears to be a “one-off”; most of his books are “historical mystery” set in that time period).  My hope is to give the same sense of breadth of time without bogging down the movement of the story (which is not discrete vignettes but a family’s history during the years 536-547).   Saylor’s characters are generally upper-class and immediately adjacent to actual historical figures whose stories are being told in each chapter.  Likewise, the fictional family of Senator Junius Plotinus are associates of future Pope Pelagius, Emperor Justinian, and Gothic King Totila.

C.       Classic influences: Gore Vidal’s Julian; John Williams’ Augustus; George Gissing’s Veranilda and Robert Graves’ Count Belisarius (two of the few English-language novels about this time period); James Michener (master of the explicitly didactic bestseller).

5.       Log line:  At the end of the Roman Empire, an illustrious scholar and scientist from one of Rome’s Senatorial families and her disabled adult daughter must flee to the countryside, learn how to survive, and overcome a Catholic Bishop bent on their destruction.

6.       A.  Primary Conflict – Cynthia has acted as a primary caretaker for her daughter, who became intellectually disabled after a Senator attempted to rape her.  When they fled for the countryside, she didn’t imagine she would have to devote any more time than usual to her daughter’s care.  But Bishop Cassius has focused his sexual interest on the daughter, notwithstanding that she is engaged to marry a Goth from Rome and that the Bishop is married.  The Bishop is repeatedly frustrated in his amorous pursuits by Cynthia, and his frustration vents itself in violent antipathy toward her.  He publicly accuses Cynthia of being a heretic and an atheist, and attempts to drive her and Constantia from their estate.  There are several scenes involving this conflict; the first comes when the Bishop and his wife visit Cynthia’s estate for a dinner in which the Bishop makes clear his romantic interest in Constantia.  Cynthia is offended, angry, confused that a Bishop would be so blind to Constantia’s situation – her disability, her emotional fragility, her engagement – in order to simply satisfy his own urges.

B.  Secondary Social conflict – Cynthia is a wealthy woman from the city, accustomed to a life where she is waited on by slaves.  In the country, the slaves make it clear that they very much want her and her daughter to help out around the estate.  She had prided herself on her egalitarian attitudes, but never thought she really would be placed in a situation where she would have to actually engage in menial labor.  In order to show her good faith, she begins, slowly, to become a co-worker with the slaves and tenant farmers on the estate.  In an early scene of the novel, the slaves of her estate meet with her as a group in order to ask her to start helping out. Her heart sinks as she realizes that there are many slaves and only one of her.  Without the power of imperial soldiers or a city watch to enforce master-slave relations (soldiers having died in the plague or been shipped out to the battlefield), she realizes she needs to tread lightly and demonstrate her good faith.

7.    Major settings in the novel:

       A.  The City of Rome – Primarily the Plotiniis’ villa on the Caelian Hill, the docks of Rome, the Senate Curia, St. Peter’s Church, the Lateran Palace, The Pincian Palace on Pincian Hill, headquarters of the city’s garrison of soldiers from the Eastern Roman Empire; middle class apartment buildings; a bakery, the abandoned and closed temples of the Roman Forum, and the new churches and monasteries going up in their place.  My goal is to give the readers a sense of a city that once held a million people within its walls, but is now virtually abandoned, and beginning to move toward a new life as the world's spiritual capital.

       B.  Totila’s encampments:  The Gothic general leads a force of five thousand men from a tent in the center of a large tent city,  a half-mile square, not including a stabling area, a blacksmith and cobbler's tents, a surgeon's tent, a kitchen area and mess tent, hundreds of vans carrying weapons, shields arrows; vans carrying blacksmiths and armorer’s tools; and an area for camp followers (several prostitutes, and a few families).  At first, the encampment is about six miles west of Rome on the Tiber; later, about a half-mile from the walls.

       C.  Taginae:   Taginae (modern name Gualdo Tadino) is a town on the Flaminian Way, about 200 miles north of Rome in Umbria and thirty miles east of Perugia.  At the time of the novel, the town has about 5,000 inhabitants, which makes it a town of moderate importance; it is a market town for the region but it is not important enough to have walls.  The town is built around a central square with a fountain; on one side is a temple of Jupiter, on the other a church built in basilica style.  Small shops line the Flaminian Way as it goes through the center of town.  

D.   Plotinii Estate:  The Plotinii’s estate is about five miles north, also on the Flaminian way.  The estate is about ten square miles, making it an estate of moderate size for Italy in the late Empire.  Like most villas in Italy, rooms that were once opulent have been converted for other uses or left to deteriorate.  The splendid atrium featuring a statuary garden with lined colonnades on either side has been converted to run-in sheds, the reflecting pool in the center being used to water the pigs and sheep.  The detailed mosaics of the floors and murals on the walls are covered in dirt and grime, but still faintly visible.  The fine furnishings are long gone, and have been replaced by primitive wooden furniture made by the slaves for their use; the estate manager and his wife have been living there for some time.  The estate comprises blacksmith shops, grape and olive presses, wine and oil storage facilities, a small pottery and brick factory, a weaving room, three large slave barracks, stone cottages for slaves and tenant farmers, and a bathhouse for the staff next to a spring.  A small aqueduct carries water from the spring to the main house.

E.  Constantinople:  Marcus, Constantia’s older brother, has fled to Constantinople instead of staying at Taginae with his mother and sister.  Constantinople in A.D. 546 is what Rome looked like four hundred years previously – a marble-clad city teeming with life, crowded streets, people of all ages and ethnicities heading in all directions, the smell of horse dung everywhere.  As in Rome, the royal palace is built adjacent to an enormous hippodrome. Marcus lives in a relatively modest apartment of only four rooms on the Third Hill.  Much of the action takes place at Justinian’s palace, in the office of the Prime Minister; the opulent audience chamber; the private dining room of Justinian and Theodora; and in the equally opulent wing of Theodora’s adult daughter, Pruscilla, the daughter that the royal family doesn’t wish to speak of.  Pruscilla’s wing has a beautiful outdoor patio overlooking the Mediterranean, where Pruscilla and Marcus plot and plan. In a later book, much of the action takes place at Placidia Palace, the home of the Papal apocrisariat to the Eastern Empire’s court.

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