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New York Pre-Event Assignments - June 2021

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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


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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")

Since the antagonist in nearly all successful commercial fiction is the driver of the plot line, what are the odds of you having your manuscript published if the overall story and narrative fail to meet reader (and publisher) demands for sufficient suspense, character concern, and conflict? Answer: none. But what major factor makes for a quiet or 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, rather like a fist hitting a side of cold beef? Such a dearth of vitality in narrative and story frequently results from the unwillingness 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 (esp in fiction), at all times, and the best way to accomplish this is to create (or find them in your nonfiction story) conflict and complications in the plot and narrative. 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.

And now, onto the PRIMARY 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") and the antagonist (a more recent term), corresponding to the hero and villain. The outcome of the contest cannot be known in advance, and, according to later 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.



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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Living in Saint’s Hood

1.       Story statement

a.       The mission of the novel’s protagonist is to discover, regardless of consequences, the identity of the person who has murdered his best friend.

2.       Antagonist sketch

a.       The inner city is controlled by urban gangs, each with its own clearly delineated boundaries. While attempting to discover who killed his friend, the protagonist violates the one central tenet of the inner city – crossing established boundaries. Considered an implicit act of war, it’s compounded by the protagonist’s unintentional killing of a rival gang member. This breach of established protocol not only paints a target on the protagonist’s back, but also draws his fellow gang members into a situation they did not ask for and do not want.

3.       Breakout title

a.       Option 1 – Living in Saint’s Hood

b.       Option 2 – A Tale of Saints and Bloods

c.       Option 3 – TJ’s Dead

4.       Identify Comparable Authors/Titles

a.       Living in Saint’s Hood is comparable to Donald Goines novel Inner City Hoodlum, a work that tells the story of a character seeking vengeance on behalf of one they have loved and lost. Set in the inner city, it reveals how the environment and culture in which one is raised influences one’s thoughts, emotions and actions.

b.       Living in Saint’s Hood also has echoes of Streets Have No Kings by Jaquavis Coleman, who tells the story of two men fighting for ascendancy within their narrowly confined world. The prize the men struggle for is small (and contrasted against the larger world) and insignificant, for the main characters, this small piece of something is everything to them both.

5.       Hook Line

a.       There are rumors aplenty as to why TJ was murdered, but Marlon doesn’t want to hear them. He wants to know and nothing – not his wife, the police, or even a rival gang – is going to stand in his way.

6.       Sketch the inner conditions for the protagonist’s inner conflict

a.       The primary conflict in Living in Saint’s Hood is the protagonist’s quest to find out who murdered his best friend. In order to do so, he must flaunt norms that put him at odds with the other members of his crew and the culture of the inner city in which he lives.

b.       The secondary conflict is the unspoken, though ingrained, treatment of women. Expected to be loyal and subservient to the men in their lives, they fight for a measure of respect and dignity in the face of almost insurmountable odds.

7.       Setting

a.       The time is now; the setting Brooklyn, New York. In a borough filled with a diversity of racial and ethnic identities, urban gangs have established individual areas of influence, which are jealously (and ruthlessly) guarded. As the novel progresses, the reader learns that geography is just as important a character as is the protagonist or any of the secondary characters. The urban setting, its culture, and its unwritten, but nevertheless inviolate, rules determine how the characters act and respond to the events in their lives.

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#1 Act of Story Statement

Aya’s mission is seemingly just to survive.  But survival isn’t enough.  She has to survive AND stay true to who she is, maintaining a core of faith – in her God, in herself.  It means her true mission is not to just to survive but to “overcome and thrive against seemingly insurmountable, and constantly changing, odds”

#2 Antagonist

There are many villains here – the Crusaders, the Marquess, Sir Roger.  They are simply evil.  But the most interesting antagonist, I believe, is the Colonel.  He is paradox and enigma.  He saves Aya but he is also her jailor.  He is different from the men he commands, more cultured, more circumspect, but he still participates in the horrors.  He notes much of what happens around him but turns a blind eye again and again.  Powerful on the field of battle he is emasculated at home.  Does he regret his actions?  Perhaps.  But he doesn’t change as a result of that knowledge.  All he has is control over the girl he kidnapped and her fate is tied to his actions, for good or bad.  You might see him as the most insidious darkness in this tale because he thinks of himself as a good man yet he is not.  Yes, he is an allegory for our modern times.  How many of us think ourselves good but stay silent, and therefore complicit, in our current racial reckoning?

#3 Title

To be honest, this the most challenging assignment.  Early on, I picked “Aya, The Journey” as my title after trying out a couple of ideas.  To be honest, I was influenced by Carolyn Meyer’s “Royal Diaries” book series when I began thinking about it.  Though it is historical fiction and the locations play a role, I feel this is Aya’s story, first and foremost.  I really wanted her name in the title not only because it is such a personal story but because the name, Aya, was chosen deliberately.  Across cultures it means Goodness and Light.  I began with “Aya, Daughter of the Desert” but changed to “Aya, The Journey” because the story isn’t about the desert she leaves behind but about the path she takes, willingly or not.  The story is literally about her journey, internal and external.  You see some of this symbolism in titles like “Cleopatra’s Moon” by Vicky Alvear Schecter and “Brown Girl Dreaming” by Jacqueline Woodson.  For my faux cover I placed the title over a photo of shadowed and undulating sand, to show how life can shift beneath your feet (No, I don’t think “The Shifting Sands of Aya” is a good call because it’s too literal … I want to ~suggest~ a theme not hit people over the head with it).  I could use a quote from the Koran if I knew it front to back (which I don’t) but this is not a story of Islam but of Aya.  Aya is a child of faith.  Any reader should feel comfortable picking it up, regardless of their belief set.

#4 Comparables

I call this “YA Historical Fiction” with Feminist and Religious themes.  In looking for comparables there are frighteningly few YA books about Islamic youth, which is sad given the amount of persecution Muslims are facing in so many places in the world.  It was reports on the Rohingya, the Uighurs, the attack against Muslims in Christchurch, and many more recent news stories which got me thinking about writing a tale of a Muslim girl.  There are exceptions, of course.  There are some very well-known stories by Muslims about Muslims, like Marjane Satrapi’s “Persepolis” books and “19 Varieties of Gazelle” by Naomi Shihab Nye as well as less famous but very good books like Randa Abdel-Fattah’s “Where the Streets Had a Name” and “Does My Head Look Big in This?” as well as Hena Khan’s works, like “Amina’s Voice”.  There are also a few picture books like “Sitti’s Secrets” and “Time to Pray” but the great majority of these stories are set in contemporary times with young people facing war in the Middle East or prejudice here in America.  I found a few Sci-fi tales by Muslim writers, a good number of love stories, but nothing set in history – nothing showing the clash between the culture of the Middle East and the arrival of the white Crusaders – FROM THE POINT OF VIEW OF THE MUSLIMS.  The only thing which came close were some recent BBC incarnations of Robin Hood where people of Islam are seen sympathetically and the subjugation of them is admitted to by a regretful British lord.  Which was the second impetus in the writing of this story.

#5 Core Wound and the Primary Conflict/Hook Line

“Aya, a daughter of Islam, is captured by Crusaders and taken to new worlds which are alien and dangerous for her.  Can she find the strength and faith to survive the unthinkable?”

Core Wound:  Aya is taken from her home and enslaved.  She must adapt, over and over again, as losses continue through her long journey.  She must find a way to be true to herself as her spirit is shaken and her captors reject her faith and culture.

Primary Conflict:  She is a child and a female.  She cannot fight back against her enemies directly.  (I worked to keep this aspect more true to history.  Girl Power aside, at this time and in this place any rebellion would have to be subtle and carefully executed.)  She may appear submissive but she is not, rather she takes time to figure out her environment before acting.  She is not guarded that carefully and yet she cannot escape.  Her only choices are to find a way to gain what little power she can and adapt or to die.

#6 Other Matters of Conflict

First, she has her faith, which should sustain her.  But time and time again, as things take a turn, she feels like her God has abandoned her.  She struggles to truly understand her beliefs and how they might sustain her.  If she is not a Muslim, who is she?

Hypothetical:  Aya could turn her back on her faith.  Many around her do.  She is pressured to become a Christian.  And yet the more pressure is brought to bear, the more she is insistent on remaining Muslim.  In her grief she feels shaky in her faith but time and time again she hits bottom and clings to it as her lifeline.

Second, she is raped.  Aside from “Speak” by Laurie Halse Anderson there isn’t a lot of YA literature which addresses this issue.  As an author, I don’t dwell on it but include it as a fact of war.  As a former educator I met so many immigrant girls who faced this challenge.  This topic needs to be covered in YA lit, needs to be brought into the light of day.  Too many young people feel alone because something happened to them which is never talked about. 

Hypothetical:  Aya does not get pregnant while in the camp at Jaffa.  Other women do.  They have different reactions which Aya considers.  She cannot understand the women who reject their children but later in the story she comes to understand their point of view even if she doesn’t necessarily agree with it.

#7 Setting

The book is segmented.  Each new setting represents a change in Aya’s life.  Her world matches where she is on the journey, internally and externally.  The tricky part (beyond researching what these places would have looked like in the late 12th Century) was to see them through Aya’s eyes – would she have known what a brick was, for instance? (Hint:  no …) 

The tale begins in the desert, Aya’s home.  It is simple and warm and hers.  But the sands shift and she is taken.  Trying to find her initial balance the story remains in the desert for a bit and then the first section ends at Jaffa, the gleaming city on the hill.  But things are not as she thinks.  The city looks like a glorious place of promise from the outside but on the inside there are shadows and narrow alleys and a prison which looks like a home but is a prison nonetheless. 

The prison in Jaffa affords a view of the Mediterranean, an ominous foreshadowing of Aya’s next unexpected step in her journey.  The sea sparkles below them, boats bouncing on the water.  Boats which will take Aya away from her second home.  The ship itself is creaky and dark and overwhelming, much like the feelings Aya has as she is ripped away, once again.  The terrifying trip turns Aya up and down both physically and emotionally.

The Iberian Peninsula and the southwest region of France present a new world, completely alien to Aya.  It is not as scary as one might think, there are just so many things to take in.  Aya learns to appreciate the green pastural world as her own life seems settled for the first time in a long time.  Seasons pass and she grows along with them.

The setting of the next section is not discussed much.  Aya is in a deep depression and everything around her seems flat and still.  She goes through the motions but the setting is a blur.  She is just trying to get through each day.  She sees colors – mostly grey and red and tries to keep her head down.  It is the only part of the story where she doesn’t observe her world in great detail.  It is the opposite.  She tries to shut out everything she can.

The final chapter represents closure.  She finds peace.  The green has returned, the hills are now low and rolling, not impossibly large mountains.  The wind is soft, the sun is gentle.  We return to how she felt in the opening sentences of the book.

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file:///C:/Users/Dheid/AppData/Local/Temp/msohtmlclip1/01/clip_image001.jpg FIRST ASSIGNMENT: write your story statement. 

I Will Remember You is an historical romantic novel where past meets present as a sheltered teenager deals with the aftermath of rape in a small midwestern town and finds unexpected love.

 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.

 Since my story is about a teenage rape victim, the assailant is the primary antagonist, but because it appears to be a random act until the end where all things are revealed, I would say it’s more the antagonistic force that drives the narrative. I Will Remember You is a YA that also examines the actions of at least two other antagonistic forces – one is a much-older boyfriend of the protagonist, Ava, whose actions unwittingly set the stage for her attack and whose motives and actions seem straight-forward but present an ethical, if not legal, dilemma. The secondary protagonist, Sandy, is a popular high-school football stand-out, and an unexpected and unlikely ally to Ava.  A victim himself of a troubled past, he’s worked hard to achieve his status as quarterback of the school’s football team and is attempting to lead the Eden High School Eagles to their first state championship in history. His girlfriend, Casey, has been a catalyst in his recovery from an abusive childhood and has plans for their future. A celebrated soccer player in her own right, she throws some obstacles in the way to help prevent what she fears is a budding romance between Ava and Sandy.         

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

I Will Remember You

A Shortcut to Eden

The Things We Hold Dear

file:///C:/Users/Dheid/AppData/Local/Temp/msohtmlclip1/01/clip_image001.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?

Comparables to I Will Remember You

Clockwise by Elle Strauss – A YA time-travel novel. The first in a series of five.

Panic by Sharon Draper. A YA novel about the rape of a teenage girl and the aftermath.

 I picked these two because they emphasize two separate elements intrinsic to my book. The first, the Clockwise series, is by a New York Times bestselling author, Elle Strauss, and brings the time-travel element to life as the past- meets-present aspect is successfully woven within the framework of the book and both challenges and shapes the character of protagonist, Casey Donavan.

Panic is a novel written by an acquaintance of mine. An African American and fellow Cincinnatian, Sharon Draper, is a New York Times Bestselling author who has won numerous awards for many successful YA novels. Panic takes a look at the underbelly of the world of teen exploitation and its aftermath. She does a good job successfully navigating this tricky topic and bringing light and hope to protagonist, Diamond Landers, after a grisly attack that nearly costs her life.    

 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.

The past meets present as a sheltered teenage girl, whose storied life is shattered by rape, finds healing and love with a wounded high-school hero.    

 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?

In a number of places in the story, Ava battles her choices in dealing with the aftermath of rape and an unwanted pregnancy. Mid-way through the story, an impromptu gathering of family and friends brings her status to light. Her zany would-be suitor, Avery, demands to know the baby dad and accuses Sandy, her troubled, popular new friend, and Adam, her doctor boyfriend, both of which are present. They are exonerated as the truth of her rape emerges. Her parents are mortified, Sandy accuses Adam of complicity, and Sandy’s integrity is questioned by Adam leading to an assault by football teammate, Avery. This scene is a climatic one that builds then unleashes as the addition of Avery as a catalyst adds levity and tensions brewing just below the surface erupt.            

The secondary conflict is the one that Ava feels as a complicated relationship toward Sandy develops and she finds direction in the ongoing narrative that he shares with her about a young woman captured by Native Americans during the American Revolution who endures unimaginable hardship but finds love among her captors.     

 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.

I Will Remember You takes place in Eden, Indiana, population around 10,000 and is filled with the peculiarities and quirky personalities you expect from a small town. I use eccentric characters and novelties to the region to spice the narrative with humor because my story could be fairly dark otherwise.

SCENE ONE: Advanced Biology 305 at Eden High School where Ava Cooper contemplates her senior year in the fish tank that she abhors. The bad boy that she’s known most of her life, Sanderson, “Sandy” Cole, shares a seat next to her as they have periodically through school since their names are alphabetically adjacent. She, a self-imposed social nobody, and he, the quarterback and captain of the football team, find themselves in a tense pairing as lab partners.     

SCENE TWO: Rinaldi Park, two blocks from Ava’s house, where she attempts to rendezvous with her much-older boyfriend, who’s a recent medical grad headed for third-world relief. On the look-out for a partner to share his humanitarian agenda, Adam meets the stunning and vivacious, Ava, at summer camp. He proposes that they marry after she graduates and he moves to Eden and takes a job at Eden Memorial for the duration. A short-cut at dusk takes her through a wooded area of the park where she’s raped.

SCENE THREE: Ava’s bedroom which Sandy invades on Monday morning to collect her portion of their biology assignment. He discovers Ava in bed with a horrific black eye. When he refuses to leave despite her insistences, the truth is revealed and she descends into hysterics. He consoles her and an unlikely relationship begins as he emerges her only confidante.

SCENE FOUR: Ava’s bedroom where she spends the next week trying to diminish/disguise her disfigurement and navigating the concerns of friends and family. Sandy climbs through her window to bring her homework and try again to convince her to go to the police despite the fact that she’s destroyed all the evidence and fears her story will be met with skepticism.

SCENE FIVE: Sandy and Ava meet with a part-time, retired cop, who, he assures her, is discreet and is a liaison for a vigilante group that includes Sandy’s father, an alcoholic with a past. She spends the day with Sandy riding horses on their farm and bonding.  

SCENE SIX: Back in school, Ava deals with the fall-out of her obvious injury. Her doctor boyfriend, Adam, makes an unexpected appearance at school and she flees with Sandy who tries to convince her that Adam’s poor judgment made him complicit in the attack. Determined to protect Adam from scrutiny or suspicion, Ava agrees to meet with him for the first time since the attack and he helps to assuage their disconnect.

SCENE SEVEN: The Eden High School Eagles play their neighboring rival, Jennings County High School, conflict erupts, and Sandy is injured. Adam, who has taken the job as athletic trainer, tends to him. Eden wins a narrow victory.

SCENE EIGHT: Ava uses home remedies to improve Sandy’s injured ankle and gives him some much-needed advice. During the course of the next twenty-four hours and given that Ava’s parents are out of town, Ava, now six-weeks pregnant, confides in Sandy. He consoles her, advising her to terminate the pregnancy. To distract a conflicted Ava, Sandy tells her a story of a woman abducted by Native Americans during the American Revolution who falls in love with her captor.

SCENE NINE: Thursday nights become routine study sessions for homework and tests due on Fridays.
They also become a kind of pre-game prep session as Ava, sensing that Sandy goes hungry at home, feeds him, and finishes his homework. He sleeps on the futon periodically because his unrelenting lifestyle of practice, lifting, homework, and rescuing his delinquent father, takes all his reserves. Ava encourages the sleepovers because she’s suffering nightmares from the assault.

SCENE TEN: Casey, Sandy’s girlfriend, hears gossip about Sandy and Ava and confronts her at school. A humorous exchange follows that salvages the situation and creates an unlikely pairing between the two. Ava finds herself double dating with Sandy, Casey and another member of the football team, Avery, for the evening’s sports banquet. Ava has an encounter with Adam and the two share tender moments in his car before the end of the evening.

SCENE ELEVEN: The relationship between Sandy and Ava deepens and they continue their Thursday-night routine which is a thread throughout the story and is always accompanied by another segment in the ongoing saga of Brave Eagle and Cherry Blossom, the Native American captive story.

SCENE TWELVE: Ava, anxious to help the struggling Sandy to lead his team to victory, searches his gym bag for a dress shirt and is reminded of the difference in their world views when she finds a condom. She decides to distance from him to avoid the heartache she assumes is in the making.

SCENE THIRTEEN: Casey arranges for Ava and Avery to accompany she and Sandy to the Homecoming Dance where Sandy’s clever devices convince Ava that his relationship with Casey is a ruse and temporary. Their complicated friendship is restored. He is invited to her room via the window and they have another installment of the Brave Eagle/Cherry Blossom saga.

SCENE FOURTEEN: Ava sneaks out of her room the following morning, leaving Sandy to sleep on the futon, for a pre-arranged date with Adam. He takes her sailing on Lake Monroe in Bloomington where she reveals that she is pregnant. They share some tender moments and he maintains his commitment to her although she continues to question his character.

SCENE FIFTEEN: Sandy reacts to being ditched and Ava must make amends. While Sandy is at Ava’s for a Thursday night dinner/study session, Adam, and later, Avery, show up and Ava’s pregnancy is revealed to all including her parents. Avery, a would-be suitor, accuses both Adam and Sandy of being the baby dad. Sandy charges Adam with complicity in the attack. Ava’s parents devolve into disbelief and self-recrimination. Adam sends a coarse jab in Sandy’s direction and Avery reacts by knocking him out. The exchanges offer the proper amount of theater to give a tense situation some much-needed levity.

SCENE SIXTEEN: A delayed police report is filed by the attending officer. It appears in the local paper, although Ava’s name is withheld as a minor. Hoping to protect Ava once word gets out about her, Casey intervenes and devises a backhanded plan to drop cues on social media, hailing Ava an unwitting victim and heroine.

SCENE SEVENTEEN: The plan is so successful that Casey devises phase two which includes an unveiling of Ava’s pregnancy during the upcoming Winter Form and countermand skeptics.

SCENE EIGHTEEN: Sandy and the Eagles finish a hard-fought undefeated season and go on to the tourney. The eight games are filled with theater and heroics and Sandy sustains a minor injury which requires Ava’s unique brand of home remedies and ends up revealing Sandy’s dark past. A full-on team effort brings an exciting end to the season. The Eagles successfully navigate their first Division Three championship in the school’s history.

SCENE NINETEEN: Winter Formal. The event where Ava’s pregnancy is publicly unmasked on schedule and she is escorted by Adam, part of Casey’s plan to reignite the fledgling relationship and defuse any speculation about his being a potential baby dad. Casey’s careful scripting is successful and Ava rightly emerges the victim of circumstances beyond her control.

SCENE TWENTY: Sandy’s decision to distance from Ava for unknown reasons sends her into a spiral as demons of the rape and its aftermath continue to invade her sleep and force her to an uneasy conclusion.

SCENE TWENTY-ONE: Ava is given an ultimatum by her parents to seek counseling at a private treatment center before making the final determination about whether to put the baby up for adoption or keep it as she desires. A sanctuary run by cloistered nuns is her destination in a remote place in upstate New York called Cherry Valley, strangely enough, the setting of the Brave Eagle/Cherry Blossom story.

SCENE TWENTY-TWO: At Sacred Mercy, Ava is sheltered from the outside world (with the exception of her parents) and receives intense therapy including hypnosis, which reveals a startling and terrifying conclusion – that she knows the assailant, although she keeps it to herself.

SCENE TWENTY-THREE: Using her mother’s recipe, she concocts a plan for the nuns, who are aged and in danger of losing their compound, to pack highly nutritious food replacement supplements for use in poverty-stricken areas. So successful, their income is sufficiently increased and Ava is invited to stay and oversee the packaging process. She opts to extend the original six-week program to six months to escape what she fears are repercussions from her assailant.

SCENE TWENTY-FOUR: To keep costs down, Ava thinks of a plan to purchase rice at bargain prices. Since Avery’s family farm supplies most of the local rice demand, the Bakers receive an anonymous request for rice from Sacred Mercy, via Ava’s mother. Sandy becomes aware of the transaction, noting that Sacred Mercy is near a place in upstate New York called Cherry Valley.

SCENE TWENTY-FIVE: The baby is born at Sacred Mercy with the help of a nurse-midwife and Ava is given a cottage to care for him. 

SCENE TWENTY-SIX: On her birthday a month later, she receives a surprise visit from Sandy, who has used the rice request to track her down. He hikes the distance from the road to the gated community and brings with him a bouquet of flowers, the kitten that he had given her named Peaches, and an explanation about his odd behavior the week after the tourney win and before formal.

SCENE TWENTY-SEVEN: Avery comes along to provide his usual dose of levity and Sandy once again uses a clever means of persuasion to discern the identity of Ava’s assailant, a young man that had assaulted her years earlier and is unmasked by the use of similar verbiage in both attacks. Sandy convinces Ava to come back to Eden and help bring him to justice. The second chance denied Brave Eagle and Cherry Blossom is rectified in the present-day reunion of Sandy and Ava. In concluding the epic historical tale based on a true story, Sandy reveals himself as the ancestor of the mighty Brave Eagle and Ava, his unwitting and adoring captive.           



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My Heart Beats in French 

Genre: Upmarket women’s fiction/ literary 


     Six foot tall Erin Hall, a bullied and anxious American Waffle House waitress on the run from her estranged mother, is discovered by an ambitious fashion photographer in Paris. Newly confident, she is determined to own the catwalks and make it to the cover of Vogue. She pursues a frenzied love affair with her photographer, Gilles Delacourt, over his initial objections, a professional catastrophe, as such fraternizing is strictly forbidden in the world of fashion and could derail their promising careers.
     Erin is thrilled to be in Paris, discovering De Beauvoir and good sex. Her insanely jealous and unhinged Parisian friend, Delphina, is a flailing, club hopping, Instagram star wannabe, determined to discover their truth and ruin them both. She and her friend Victor, a hacker who works for the Russians, plant cameras in Erin’s Montmarte apartment in order to capture a sex video of Erin and Gilles. They post it online and leak it to the biggest gossip site in France where it goes viral.
     Can Erin weather a career wrecking, humiliating public scandal, one that turns into an international story about online shaming, in order to get everything she thought she could never have? And is the life of a famous model everything it’s cracked up to be?


     Delphina Motier had no success with a modeling career and now trolls the clubs taking selfies to post on Instagram. Her mother, Vivienne, bought Delphina’s way into an aristocratic boarding school where she was shunned and neglected. A promising dressage competitor, Delphina was thrown by an unfit horse, sustaining a head injury, and suffers from the lingering effects. Diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder, she aggravates her mood swings with club-hopping drug use, trying to be Paris’ next “It Girl”.

      You can’t sleep your way through closed doors in Paris, and Delphina embarrassed herself trying to catch an aristocratic husband. Her father lives with a younger woman in the Marais, and Delphina’s been thrown in the middle of her parents’ divorce. She befriends Erin in a free online class, and invites her to Paris, if only to have someone to gawk at her seemingly glamorous life. She helps Erin with her look, only to watch Erin become one of the fastest rising models in Paris who has snagged a famous photographer, on the down low, to boot.

     Delphina uses sex to get what she wants, manipulating her hacker friend, Victor, to do her online dirty work to avenge anyone in Paris who gets in her way.

     The second antagonist is the fashion world which prohibits photographers from having relationships with the models they shoot.



My Heart Beats in French

The Most Celebrated Model in France 

The Girl With the Red Thumb



The genre is upmarket women’s fiction. Written in the third person omniscient, the story has three threads, Erin’s POV, Gilles’ POV, and Delphina’s POV.


1.       Professional Success in fashion.

        A.  EXTERNAL STRUGGLE: Erin’s goal is to master the skills necessary to make it as a catwalk model in haute couture (called mannequins in France.) When Delphina torpedoes Erin’s image online, she must fight an unforgiving system to keep what she’s earned. EDUCATION STORY. 

        B.  INTERNAL STRUGGLE: Erin was a  victim of high school bullying for her height, long neck, and the prominent birthmark on her thumb, the very looks that make her unique as a mannequin. She struggles to overcome anxiety and a lack of confidence. All her life, she has allowed others to define her. When Delphina drops the sex video and it becomes a topic of international conversation, it is essential for Erin to take control and a define herself in the face of a horrifying public humiliation. She is unable to share her success with her mother, who’d returned after years of abandonment. Erin must realize her mother is who she is and will not change. She must learn how to change her reaction to her. MATURATION STORY.


2.        To enter into a love relationship with her photographer.

              A. EXTERNAL STRUGGLE: Erin develops a wild attraction to Gilles during the hours they spend working together. He teaches her to walk and pose. Gilles knows the dangers of giving into the mutual attraction. It could lead to professional ruin and he wants to shoot her for the cover of Vogue, the pinnacle of his aspirations. She must overcome his resistance. ROMANCE.

              B. INTERNAL STRUGGLE: Erin’s fiancé dumped her for her best friend, and rumors swirl around her hometown of Lancaster that he did so because she’s a starfish who just lies there, when in truth, he was just a lackluster lover himself. Lacking in experience, she questions her ability to satisfy a sophisticated man like Gilles. MATURATION STORY



To shoot the cover of Vogue.

            A.  EXTERNAL STRUGGLE: Gilles, a successful world music songwriter, has given up his career in music to pursue fashion photography. His ultimate goal is to develop a model to shoot for the cover of Vogue. He lost his chance when a model he discovered six years ago suddenly died at the hands of an abusive boyfriend. He wants to develop Erin professionally so he can take her all the way to the top. EDUCATION STORY

            B.  INTERNAL STRUGGLE: Gilles is attracted to Erin, just like he was with the model six years before. He must struggle against his own desires in order to achieve his professional goal. He is at war with himself, wondering if he could have saved the deceased model by declaring his love for her no matter the professional price. He must change his WORLDVIEW in order to achieve everything he wants.



To become Paris’ next It Girl and marry into the aristocracy.

          A.  EXTERNAL STRUGGLE:  Delphina is desperate to marry Louis, a notorious aristocratic playboy who isn’t interested in her beyond using her for base sex. She also seeks notoriety in Paris that she can turn into Instagram stardom.

          B.  INTERNAL STRUGGLE: This is a twisted sort of STATUS story. Despite her advantages, Delphina has suffered in life and has come out emotionally damaged. She feels she is owed something, like the hero in Gladiator who lost his entitled status to usurpers.



The novel combines the fashion and glamour of the Devil Wears Prada by Lauren Weisberger with a frenemy story like Necessary People by Anna Pitoniak, and is underscored with forbidden sexual heat like that in Atonement by Ian McEwan.  
***Very similar to this novel sold as recently as 5/13/21: 

TALK BOOKISH TO ME author Kate Bromley's DESIGNED AND MINE, pitched as THE DEVIL WEARS PRADA meets Emily in Paris, in which an aspiring fashion designer attempts to launch her career by winning a design competition in Florence, but finds herself swept up in a romance with a handsome novelist, forcing her to decide if success and love are both possible in the cutthroat world of fashion, to Brittany Lavery at Graydon House, by Kevan Lyon at Marsal Lyon Literary Agency (world).



A bullied and anxious American waitress puts her painful past behind her with an unlikely meteoric rise to the top tier of high fashion modeling in Paris, but a torrid love affair with her photographer gives a jealous friend the ammunition to bring her to ruin. 



 SECONDARY    Erin, abandoned by her mother and homeschooled until high school by her aunt and grandmother, was bullied by her peers for her six foot tall height, long neck, and unique features she had yet to grow into. Her fiancé dumped her for her best friend allegedly because she was a starfish in bed and didn’t move. She is anxious and lacks the self-confidence to do much more than waitress at a Waffle House where everyone fits in, despite her desire to attend college.
     When her estranged mother suddenly reappears appears from a life off the grid, Erin decides to house swap with a chef from France, despite her extreme anxiety when traveling alone. She will need to overcome these anxieties when trying to walk the catwalk in Paris, a very public activity. Her mother appears unwilling to change, and Erin must find the strength to accept that fact.

 PRIMARY       Erin wants to believe in her friend, Delphina, because she did bring her to Paris. When the sex video drops she must confront Delphina and find a way to see she gets help. She also must stand up for herself with the head of her agency, clients, the press, and the public. 

 PRIMARY    Erin falls in love with Gilles, her photographer, during their intense learning sessions and photo shoots. She pursues him despite the risk to their careers, but he resists.

SECONDARY When it comes time to be sexual, Erin is self conscious of her inexperience. She will need to overcome her lack of confidence and let herself go. 


   SECONDARY   Gilles has risked his successful music career to pursue fashion photography. He carries a wound from his father, who was critical of him his entire life and disapproving of his creative pursuits. He was in love with Anna, another model six years before, who he thought could help him reach his ultimate career goals in fashion. He follows the rules, refusing to pursue her in a love relationship, and she dies at the hands of another man.  

PRIMARY When Gilles falls in love with Erin, he is torn between his desire to love and protect her and his career aspirations. If they are caught having a sexual relationship, he will be blackballed. He must find a way to achieve what he wants even as he breaks the rules.

PRIMARY    Delphina feels Erin doesn’t deserve her place in the limelight in HER city and will do what it takes to bring her down.  

SECONDARY Delphina never seems to get what she wants in life, despite having every advantage. She and her mother are obsessed with her landing an aristocratic husband, and she wants a glamorous career as an Instagram star. Delphina struggles with a lingering brain injury and Borderline Personality Disorder, which she exacerbates with drug use. She brings Erin to Paris and helps her with her look, only to be insanely jealous when Erin shoots to the top of the modeling world. Delphina is crippled by her mother, who seems unconsciously invested in keeping her unwell. Vivienne can buy the best psychologists, but what she can’t do is talk to her daughter. Delphina schemes and rages to get revenge on anyone she deems to have taken something she should have had, but sadly can’t articulate what she really needs, real attention from her mother.

All three major characters suffer from fractured relationships with a parent, but only Gilles gets resolution. 



     The novel is set mostly in contemporary Paris and gives the reader the opportunity to experience the glamorous fashion shows, cafes, artistic neighborhoods, nightclubs, glorious homes, as well as the snow spun beauty of the French Alps. We feel Paris in all of its seasons and often the weather reflects the mood. Erin arrives in Spring like a tender shoot, full of hope, and is blazing in her career and her love affair by summer. The autumn brings doubt as Delphina has wrought havoc and Erin is intimidated by one of Gilles’ former lovers, and the winter season sees mourning as Gilles and Erin come to terms with the death of his former protegee.

Notable character driven scene settings: 

Waffle House - Erin works the night shift in a dead end job but at least everyone fits in there. Big windows, bikers, jukebox. 

Erin’s Lancaster duplex: inherited, abuts an Amish farm, the air smelling like cow manure. Her bedroom is decorated with all things Paris (little Eiffel Towers, books).

Erin’s Montmarte apartment - modest furnishings with a chef’s kitchen. Has a view of the Paris skyline and the dome of the Sacré Cour. Stinks like paint because an artist lives just below.

Delphina’s house- 1st arrondissement, living room outfitted like Dior’s first atelier. Bedroom stuffed with designer clothes, cosmetics clutter the dresser. 

Gilles Paris sophisticated apartment and studio- bar in the corner stocked with Japanese whiskey, expensive leather sofa, Helmut Newton black & white fashion photos on the walls, guitar in the corner. His studio is stark white with a small sitting area and a screen for changing clothes. 

Gwendolyn LeMarc’s modeling agency FML- White walls, modern furnishings in blue & chrome, Vogue covers line the walls. 

The courthouse for Delphina’s competency hearing- the windows haven’t been washed, the furniture is old, and the carpets need cleaning, signifying the court itself may not be competent. 



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1. Story Statement

A young drug addict in Kansas fights his addiction, only to move to Texas and struggle with mental illness and sobriety.

2. Antagonist

Heroin. Cocaine. Methamphetamine. Benzodiazepines. Addiction. Sobriety. All threaten to take the life of the protagonist, who is the biggest threat of all to himself.

3. Title

Drug Seeking Behavior: One Addict’s Broken Memories of the Opioid Crisis in the Midwest


Altered Mental Status: Drug Dealers, Madness, and The Endless Plains of Kansas

4. Genre/Comparable Titles

Genre: Memoir

The Recovering by Leslie Jamison

Generation Oxy by Douglas Dodd & Matthew B. Cox

5. Core Wound/Primary Conflict

In the early 2000s in Lawrence, Kansas during the peak of the opioid epidemic, a drug dealer, certain of his worthlessness, stumbles from one insane event to another, seeking and fearing sobriety, himself his greatest enemy. As sobriety grips him after a move to Texas, his mind begins to unravel, a new madness threatening his life.

6. Other Matters of Conflict

Primary conflict: In the memoir, I am conflicted between my deep addiction to many drugs, my life as a drug dealer, and my wish to live a good life and be a good person, all overshadowed by my myriad mental illnesses. In one scene, while buying drugs, I consider how much money I would need to start a drug dealing business that could give me a good life, but my anxiety overwhelms me, and I race home to burn my SIM card in a frying pan, terrified I will be caught for possession.

Secondary conflict: I am in constant conflict with the people around me, from friends of drug addicts who confront me for dealing drugs to their friend to my girlfriend who chases me from city to city after a horrible breakup to another girl who saves me from committing suicide to a drug addict I am teaching to become a dealer to take my place. In all these relationships, I struggle between trying to be a good person and actually being a coward, always running, never facing the truth, and being cruel and vindictive in between.

7. Setting

In Lawrence, Kansas, under the shadow of the University of Kansas, a drug subculture rages during the height of the opioid crisis, pills and cocaine changing hands while addicts die and dealers profit.

In Dallas, Texas, that same subculture produces a new one—the subculture of sobriety. Between the inner halls of rehabs and the stages of Dallas performing arts centers, the lives of the recovered addicts seethe and struggle with newfound sobriety. 

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Story Statement

Rescue his parents from Earthlings and stop them from destroying his home planet.



Commander Natalie Jordan is the leader of the Earthling army on the planet Toren. She bears a scar under her right eye and wears a metal mask over her mouth and nose, which creates the most awful, raspy sound when she breathes. She likes the way people cringe and shy away from her when she draws near.

Her goal: do whatever necessary to save Earth from certain destruction, and make her brother—the emperor of Earth—proud. He’s the one who gave her that scar when she’d failed him long ago. She won’t fail him again!


Breakout Title




Comparable Titles

Merlin: The Lost Years by T.A. Barron meets Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card.

Yes, the first comp title is middle-grade fantasy and the second is a middle-grade science fiction. My novel definitely fits in the genre of middle-grade science fiction, but the protagonist lives in a medieval setting when he is introduced to the Earthlings, and their technology seems like magic. So, it works with the whole “medieval + sci fi + middle grade” concept.

Plus, both of those comp titles portray courageous young boys (10-12 years old) as protagonists who have to face great challenges on their own—much like the protagonist of my story: Jack Steam.  


Hook Line

A twelve-year-old boy sets off to rescue his parents who were taken by Earthlings and stop them from destroying his home planet.


Inner “Secondary” Conflict

Jack was traumatized when his parents were taken from him three years earlier. He strives to overcome his post-traumatic stress every day by facing anything that scares him head on.

Hypothetical Scenario:

He’ll climb tall trees and jump over deadly crevices to feel like he’s conquered all of his fears. Whenever images of that awful night creep into his mind, he forces them away by doing something dangerous. But the paralyzing trauma will resurface in full force when he faces Commander Jordan, the Earthling who took his parents.

Jack’s drive to face his fears make him courageous but also a bit reckless. This creates a rift between him and his best friend who prefers extreme caution.



The setting is terraformed Mars about a thousand years in the future. But the reader doesn’t know that at first.

Initially, the planet of the protagonist is called Toren, a green world that resembles that of Earth. The inhabitants of Toren live in a medieval society with kings, queens, and knights. The presence of the space-faring Earthlings comes as quite the shock to the people of Toren.

This setting creates a unique experience of viewing ourselves through an “alien’s” perspective. Plus, the reader will get to experience what a terraformed Mars could look like.

As Jack learns more about the Earthlings, he also learns more about his own planet. He explores a forbidden forest with ancient ruins that hint of advanced technology—though he initially writes it off as magic. He doesn’t know that he’s exploring the remains of Martian colonies from centuries ago.

He eventually learns the planet he’s called Toren was actually called Mars first, and that it was terraformed to look like and be as inhabitable as Earth.

He learns that Earth is in ruins, still suffering from a huge nuclear war centuries ago. And now the Earthlings have come to Mars to dig up the main terraforming technology and take it back to Earth to save their own planet. But in so doing, they will jeopardize the inhabitability of Mars. When the kings and queens learn of the Earthlings’ true plans, they are furious.

This creates an Earth vs Mars conflict that will span throughout the series.

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FIRST ASSIGNMENT: Story Statement.

In the late Viking age, Norse settler Erik Fenris and his son Einar must overcome trials of love, loss, war and their Viking destiny, to locate and reunite three hidden shards of an ancient, magical talisman, to break the curse of a power-hungry witch, and free their enslaved kinsmen from her burgeoning wolf-skin warrior army.


SECOND ASSIGNMENT: in 200 words or less, sketch the antagonist or antagonistic force in your story. 

Skara, the Volva (witch):

Skara is the physical counterpart, “dark sister” to the elemental, spiritual manifestation of the Forest Spirit Skovsraet. Together they are like heaven and earth or good and evil. Skovsraet represents calm, order, light and positivity, while Skara seeks to create chaos from order and embodies the sins of lust, pride, and greed. If Skovsraet’s power creates life and makes the forests grow, Skara’s strength is destruction. Skara has used her magic to interfere with the Skovsraet’s (spiritual world) treaty that had temporarily restored peace between the three realms of man, wolf and nature. She has convinced the wolf tribe that she will steal the world back from Man in the name of their tribe, so that they may regain their lands lost to the ever-encroaching human settlements and be safe from being hunted and killed. Skara convinces the wolves to entertain her dark magic, she takes their skins to transform her enslaved army into Ulfhednr (wild, violent assassin/warrior) clad in their wolf-skins. Skara instigates and indulges the dark spirits and in exchange for their powers, for her desires she eventually agrees to raise an army of monstrous, barbaric varulven (werewolves), and is now searching for the lost strands in order to make herself invincible and unstoppable. However, she must get to them first, but she is not the only one looking for them.


THIRD ASSIGNMENT: Create a breakout title.

1.    Nordskov

2.    The Legend of Nordskov: A Viking Tale

3.    Wolflore: The Legend of Nordskov

4.    Wolven


FOURTH ASSIGNMENT: Develop two smart comparables for your novel.

Comps (from Amazon 4/27/2021):

Bernard Cornwell - War of the Wolf: A Novel (Saxon Tales)

James L. Nelson - Night Wolf: A Novel of Viking Age Ireland (The Norsemen Saga)

Duncan M Hamilton - The Wolf of the North (Book 1, Volume 1)

A. E. Rayne - Eye of the Wolf: An Epic Fantasy Adventure (The Lords of Alekka Book 1)

Comp Categories: Historical Norse Fiction, Norse and Viking Myth & Legend, Action & Adventure Fantasy, Epic Fantasy


FIFTH ASSIGNMENT: write your own hook line (logline) with conflict and core wound.

A Viking Age family is torn apart by a witch’s curse, they must overcome individual trials and the witch’s ambitions for power to find one another again and free their kinsmen from her wolf-skin warrior army.

A Viking Age family must overcome personal tragedy and embark upon an epic quest to stop an evil witch from her campaign for domination, defeat her werewolf army and free their enslaved, cursed kinfolk to restore peace.


SIXTH ASSIGNMENT: sketch out the conditions for the inner conflict your protagonist will have. Next, likewise sketch a hypothetical scenario for the "secondary conflict" involving the social environment.

a. Erik: The overwhelming nature of being part of a Viking settlement, having to prove your survival skills, your strength, manliness, and that you deserve to be there by the value of your contributions

He feels inadequate to marry the Jarl’s daughter and must obtain more stature and wealth to be considered worthy

He has to overcome his friends/neighbor’s doubt in him when bad things start happening, that he isn’t the one causing them himself

He eventually gives in and also blames himself for the tragedies that have befallen his family, and begins to exhibit schizophrenic behavior, no longer determine what is real and what isn’t. (This is when the “protagonist” title shifts to his son Einar who picks up the quest.)

b. Einar: Guilt that his twin brother’s disappearance/death is his fault, that it should have been him instead Not knowing whether your father is responsible for the tragedies befalling your family as people say

Not knowing who to trust, or knowing that you cannot trust anyone, that you are all alone Feeling like he doesn’t have all the facts, that there is more to the story than he knows

Trusting that his inexperienced survival skills will be enough to undertake a solitary journey through the endless, treacherous woods

Doubt in himself and his abilities—fear of the witch’s skill with seidr and her army of ‘werewolf’ warriors, how can one boy stand up to a witch and her mighty fighters? Not knowing what will become of him after the war is over?


SEVENTH ASSIGNMENT: sketch out your setting in detail. 

The story takes place towards the end of the Viking age, deep in the mystical, reverent, snow-covered forests of northern Norway, with its Norwegian-blue sky being pierced daily by sharp, striking mountains running with glacial rivulets and its frothy seas interrupted by drifting polar ice and the occasional Viking ship. The lands here are still ruled over by ancient, powerful forces of nature and the divine that interact daily with the inhabitants of these lands they sowed. But even here, inside the arctic ring, between the ancient pines at the very edge of the north woods, the frozen tundra is swarming with soldiers engaged in battle over reign and religion, but a far older war—still raging—exists here too. The wolves of Norway are disappearing, and a new age has begun. The tribe of wolf ignores the Forest Spirit’s benevolent treaty of peace between the realms of man, beast and tree, and forges an unholy alliance with the volva (witch) Skara to bring about an end to the encroachment of humanity on their lands.

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1. Write your story statement - the goal

Emily is looking for a fresh start as she sets off for her first year of college. Excited by the allure of roommate-turned-best-friend, magical first loves, and the freedom that comes with a new beginning, she discovers college is not all what she anticipated. She must learn how to survive crazy roommates, love triangles, and secrets threatening to destroy the first love she’s ever had, all while confronting the emotional loss of her father.

2. 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.

Anna is Emily’s roommate and antagonistic force. She’s always had life easy; she comes from money, has good looks, and has never had trouble making friends or attracting boys. She oozes sex appeal and a zest for life that makes everyone want to be around her. She knows everything about Greek Life and has a very fulfilling social life in college. She is Emily’s polar opposite, and it gets under Emily’s skin as she is excluded from Anna’s social outings, then finds she is in direct competition for men with her too. Anna is oblivious to the fact that she stole Emily’s love interest, Jake, away. This drives Emily to go to parties where she is drugged, presumably by said love interest. Anna’s self-involvement prevents her from listening to Emily, so when Anna hears about the rumored night, she perceives Emily to have been a backstabbing friend that was trying to steal Jake and she abruptly moves out of their dorm. This allows for a new, quirky roommate, which leads to the unfolding of a secret about Emily’s other love interest, Brett, and another layer of drama.

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

1911 Memories

College, Boys, and Lies

Remember it All

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?

Taking Chances by Molly McAdams: This is a story about a girl named Harper who goes to college, trading her very sheltered life with her marine-father for roommates who introduce her to parties and boys. She starts to fall for two guys at once, Chase and Brandon, and ends up pregnant. The father, Chase, dies in a car accident and she chooses to be with Brandon and raise the child.

This compares to my story, as my main character is also a sheltered young woman, entering college in search of excitement, but getting involved with partying and a tough situation (in my story, being roofied, in Taking Chances, getting pregnant). In both stories, the main character falls for two guys, and in both, the favored love interest is killed.

Wait For You by Jennifer Armentrout: In this story, the main character, Avery, moves far from home to go to college and escape a mysterious and bad event from 5 years ago. She wants to lay low, but meets Cameron, an attractive guy she is drawn to, but her past secrets threaten to tear them apart.

This is similar to my novel in that a girl is going to college to leave her past, in this case that Emily’s father recently died, and she falls for Brett, the guy she is inexplicably drawn to. Brett has a secret that threatens to tear them apart. The style of writing in Wait For You is also very similar to the style of writing of my book.

5. 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.

Emily Anne Smith has submerged herself into the chaos of college in a desperate attempt to escape the recent loss of her father, and as her heart is pulled in two different directions, she is forced to confront her new lifestyle of parties, alcohol, lies, and the truth of what happened the night she inexplicably blacked out.

6. 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.

Emily’s inner conflict is that she has not emotionally dealt with the recent loss of her father, and she is covering up these emotions with parties and boys in college. She is in desperate search for love, happiness, and an exciting new experience, but she is also naïve, which proves to be a dangerous combination in college. She feels conflicted about her feelings towards Brett since he is not the stereotypical guy she expected to fall for in college, and she thinks Jake is the guy she should be dating. As she slowly falls for Brett, she has to learn how to navigate her first relationship, and she struggles to understand the nature of their relationship and how it can coincide with his role in Greek Life. Her inner conflicts of naivety, strong desires for love and excitement, and her inability to face trauma are the driving forces for the decisions she makes throughout the story.

A hypothetical scenario of Emily’s inner conflict is when she goes to her first frat party in an attempt to run into Jake. She bumped into him on campus and he invited her and Anna to come to his frat. Anna last-minute bails on going to the party, but Emily is determined to start a relationship with Jake, so she goes anyway, not knowing what to expect. While exploring her first party and enjoying the rush of booze, beer pong, and boys, Emily’s mind remains set on finding Jake and getting to know him better. As her heart is set on falling in love with the sexy frat star, she sees him making out with Anna, and she runs out of the party in tears. She runs into Brett, who sees her crying, and he offers to walk her home although they do not know each other well yet. The triggers in this scenario are Emily’s naivety about Anna, Jake, and what she expected out of the party. She is hurt by seeing them kissing, and does not know how to process being lied to and betrayed by Anna. She is disappointed that this is how her first party turned out, and she is frustrated that the dorky, crazy-haired guy is the one offering to walk her home, instead of Jake.

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 secondary conflict is Emily waking up after a night at a party in which she blacked out. She believes she was roofied and is not positive whether or not she was raped. She believes Jake did it and wants to warn Anna about him, but Anna refuses to listen to her, which enhances the drama between them. Further, it drives an intense and awkward wedge into Emily and Brett’s budding relationship.

7. 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.

Utilizing present-day college as a setting enables scenes that explore frat parties, dorm life, lecture halls, sneaking into buildings, and a fraternity formal. This setting also allows for exploring love on a college campus with independent adults, and adds drama as the characters are all new adults, making mistakes and learning about friendship, relationships, and real-life consequences along the way. This newfound  independence coupled with young adult ignorance allows for a scene of hazing in which Emily thinks she was sexually assaulted, and serves as a catalyst to consider serious topics affecting students in college en masse in the wake of the Me Too movement and sexual assault allegations across campuses every year.

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Story Statement: 


Determined to get her life on track, artist Blaze Delacroix is doing everything necessary to be released from parole since she was incarcerated for an assault she committed while suffering from psychosis despite her ex-girlfriend, Vivienne Thibodeau, stacking the deck against her as an act of revenge.


Antagonist Sketch:


Vivienne Thibodeau will stop at nothing to get what she wants. Ever. Even as a child, she manipulated people and surreptitiously stacked the deck in her favor. Now, she wants to prevent Blaze Delacroix from achieving her freedom mentally or physically. Blaze embodies Vivienne’s failure as a narcissist. Unable to accept that Blaze’s mother, Cheryl Sullivan, left after an affair as a teen, Vivienne wants Blaze to pay. Some seem to be wise to Vivienne’s game, including her mother, JoAnne, and astute police officer, Captain Lewes, but they are all below her. They think they know better; little do they know she holds all the cards like her true allies do. Vivienne successfully manipulated her best friend, Lilly Mayberry, an IT specialist to help with surveillance, and Brenda Larkin, Blaze’s attorney, to obfuscate testimony and hide evidence receiving Vivienne’s intimate attention in return. Vivienne is also helped by her father, Lawrence, an attorney, who is in complete denial of his daughter’s borderline sociopathic ways.


Break Out Title:

  1. Polyphonic
  2. Quarter Notes
  3. Under Fire




The story mixes She’s Come Undone by Wally Lamb as well as Blood Sisters by Jane Corry to build a new suspense novel. Like Dolores Price, Blaze created a space between herself and the world around her.  Unlike Dolores, Blaze’s dissociation stems from her schizophrenic delusions and paranoia. Through therapy, the love and kindness of her girlfriend, Coyote Vargas, she sees there is no happiness in delusion as she works to rebuild her life. As in Blood Sisters, each character has a different version of the past and somewhere within those versions lies the truth.  Also, like Blood Sisters, people are watching Blaze. Some are leaving trinkets in her apartment, some are waiting to exact revenge, yet others are trying to intervene. Blaze Delacroix is paying the ultimate price for the bizarre circumstances her mother and Thibodeaus have created.


Hook Line:

As she prepares to be released from parole for an assault she committed while suffering from schizophrenic paranoia, Blaze Delacroix must confront the revenge of an ex-lover, fueled by family secrets, who will stop at nothing to destroy her.


Protagonist Conflict:

Blaze feels conflicted between some voices, delusions and paranoia of her schizophrenia and reality. For example, when her recurring delusion of “Hector” appears she aggressively tries to employ all her strategies to keep “him” at bay but when she needs comfort and familiarity, she interacts with “him” finding solace in the fact he knows and understands her. She wants to be rid of all her symptoms. She does not like the reaction she gets from people and predicted people’s reactions before they even occur. When trinkets are left around her home, she refuses to call the police because she does not want to be cast aside as “crazy”. Her symptoms, however, built bubble around her whether it be to her detriment or benefit. Further, Blaze struggles between fantasy and reality. When objects of her ex are appearing around her home, she considers the idea that “Hector” may be real and planting them. 


Secondary Conflict:

Coyote Vargas, Blaze’s love interest, cannot help but fall for Blaze however, she does not know if she can handle all that Blaze’s schizophrenia brings. Blaze takes on a laissez-faire attitude when approaching Coyote to the point Blaze is at her mercy. She had been rejected so many times she accepts whatever Coyote decides about their relationship. 


Third Conflict:

Estranged from Vivienne for most of her life, JoAnne struggles to reconcile the hopes and dreams she had Vivienne with the reality of who Vivienne is. Her conflict is further complicated, choosing to fulfill her secret obligation to Blaze’s mother or fulfill a maternal obligation to her daughter. 



Polyphonic takes place in New Orleans, Louisiana, by strong people who can survive what is thrown at them with their intellect, wit, and a side hustle. Specifically, the antagonist lives in the Garden District surrounded by opulence and opportunity, further supporting her idea of superiority while the protagonist lives in the Quarter on Royal Street surrounded by art, music, and sometimes chaotic atmosphere. Since polyphonic music such as jazz and zydeco calm Blaze and keeps the chaos of her head at a distance, it is the perfect place for her to reside as it is an extension of herself. 


JoAnne Thibodeau spends most of her time driving a cab in New Orleans, weaving in and out of neighborhoods, highlighting her lack of connection to anyone and her transient nature. She is just as comfortable in the Quarter as she is in the Garden District and knows her way around each using back roads as easily as she uses main streets, just like she knows the inroads and out roads to get to people.


Lawrence Thibodeau works in Center City in an office high above the major streets, looking down upon all the poverty and people below him, literally. He is completely isolated from the outside world save for the criminals that call who need his services. He only cares about one thing, his daughter and himself, and he will also do anything to protect the bubble that he and Vivienne have created.


Police Captain Lewes frequents the neighborhood Irish Bar and has a home in the woods. The Irish Bar complements Lewes sense of community and heritage. He is most comfortable there and identifies with the atmosphere. This is depicted by the music lyrics reinforcing the conversations almost in a predictive nature. His cabin in the woods exemplifies his desire for something calm, organic and to call his own. This is illustrated by his self-reflection while he is alone and how his health deteriorates once he brings his work home with him.









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First Assignment:

Story Statement


Pern Twinblade must navigate the intricacies of politics as he helps the princess investigate the death of her mother, all the while trying to uncover the source of the discrepancies between the kingdom’s benevolent leadership and the corruption rampant throughout the land.

Second Assignment:

200 Word Antagonistic Force Summary


Grennith Za is a monster who operates from the shadows, a human returned from death as a power-hungry revenant. His life experiences taught him subtlety; no one can rally against you if they never realize you are the one pulling the strings. He prefers to operate from the shadows, observing people struggling and interceding on their behalf under the guise of benevolence while turning their struggle into a tool to further his own ends. He extends this social and political manipulation to the public at large, controlling the educational system and gradually reworking historical narratives to ensure his legacy is preserved.


He provides a constant challenge, looking for ways to either tempt or strongarm powerful figures into his service or, more often, viciously targeting a rising hero’s uncertainty’s until they break before him. In his pursuit of power and his bitterness rising from his naivety that resulted in his untimely murder, he has no qualms about any lowly, murderous pursuit, so long as it secures him the public’s love and strengthens his stranglehold on the nation.

Third Assignment:

Breakout Titles


Loreweaver: Book One of the Beastbond Chronicles

Reimagination Through Fire: Part One of the Beastbound Tales

Fourth Assignment:


John Flannagan’s Ranger’s Apprentice series meets Nancy Farmer’s The Sea of Trolls series


John Flannagan’s works, specifically the series’ first novel The Ranger’s Apprentice: The Ruins of Gorlan, explore the coming of age of a young boy, Will, within a fantasy setting. The main character of Flannagan’s novels faces enormous societal pressure as he explores the role of ranger and the issues explored, primarily of identity and (in later works) companionship speak to my own works themes.


Nancy Farmer’s Sea of Trolls series explores cultures steeped in magic. Again, the protagonist is a young boy who struggles with expectations placed upon him by his family as he comes of age. Farmer’s protagonist must explore his own spiritualism and recognize that a great deal of the world’s magic responds to his own connection with it, a model of spiritualism I embrace within my own work. Farmer’s protagonist recognizes the world has different sorts of magic accessible to people of all different sorts of life, a theme explored in the concept of unique and specialized beastbonds, the model of magic in my own setting.

Fifth Assignment:



Lured into the capital with promises of glory, a young boy deadest on learning the truths of the past quickly discovers opposition in the forms of book burnings, assassins, and the heroes he thought he knew.

Sixth Assignment:

Inner and Social Conflict Outlines


Inner Conflict:
Pern Twinblade’s inner conflict is fundamentally about his identity and his place in the world. Disconnected from his father, a celebrity who everyone seems to know better than him, Pern struggles with the external expectations everyone seems to have for him upon meeting him and differentiating his own internal motives from the external ones he’s never able to escape.



Pern could content himself with the life his father has chosen for him, an unassuming life far from the intricacies of court politics and the difficulties of heroism. Pern hungers for those challenges, though, and refuses his father’s stifling, if well-intentioned, protections, seeking to discover for himself where he belongs.


Social Conflict:

Socially, Pern must struggle against the assumptions others make about him having already met his father. There is no escape from the recognition as his father’s reputation has other characters automatically heaping expectations at his feet, complicating his exploration of self.



While Pern is training to become a member of the city guard, his hard-won accomplishments are constantly attributed to favoritism from the city’s elite. He could choose to pursue another career and avoid the endless public scrutiny that dogs him, caving to the societal pressure and entering a field where there are no preconceived expectations. Instead, he rises to the challenges, taking solace in his certainty that he’s earned the laurels he’s received, and seeks to distinguish himself in ways that cannot be so casually dismissed.

Seventh Assignment:

Detailed Setting Outline


Magic in the world of Validorn comes from two places. The first is from the magical beasts that roam the land or thrive in the forested lands of the aptly named Beastwood. Warriors, travelers, and artisans go to appeal to the magical creatures and forge a bond with them, traveling together and sharing in the creature’s magics in exchange for gifting the creature the human’s abilities for reason and intellect. Each beast bonds under different circumstances and to different sorts of people but at the end of the day, it’s a relationship of mutual trust and respect.


Other magic comes from monsters, creatures that have magic but are incapable of forming a bond with humans. The monster’s skin, fur, feathers, or other components might have magic in them but the creatures cannot voluntarily share it. The name implies the cultural stigma between the two sects of creatures; beasts good, monsters foul. However, plenty of beasts are malevolent and only bond with the wicked or refuse to bond entirely while many monsters show kindness to those who approach. The distinction exists entirely in humanity’s ability to access the magic for themselves.


Perhaps there was a time when the word monster was less loaded but after the rise of a Grennith Za, a monstrous once-human revenant who plagued the land for decades, it’s generally reviled. The story takes place after the rise and defeat of the monstrous tyrant, the lands at peace and the heroes of legend now retired. Their legacy permeates the land’s culture, from economic relations facilitated by their travels and diplomacy to entire national identity’s that have been redefined around the different heroes’ images. It is a post-hero world with no visible evil to rise against. The central conflict of the setting, or at least the external conflict, revolves around the next generation of movers and influencers struggling to act in a world so inundated and defined by the actions of their predecessors and, in many cases, parents.

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FIRST ASSIGNMENT: Write your story statement. 

Do whatever it takes to save the boy from his father.

SECOND ASSIGNMENT: Sketch the antagonist

In a near-future world plagued by political, economic, and environmental woes, the creator and CEO of the worldwide network of corporate cities, Metro, has created an economically successful, alternative model to the nation state, even if built on a system of lifelong indentured servitude, and he will use whatever means necessary to expand it. The CEO rejects his first GMO son, Cade, because he changes his mind about the ideal genetic makeup of the face of Metro, and then subjects his replacement GMO son, Max, to his control and manipulation, considering the goodness he sees in him as weakness. He relentlessly pursues Ella, the android who escapes with the infant Cade, without any regard for her personhood, because, as far as he is concerned, she is his property and replication of her incredible abilities will amass a fortune for the expanding Metro empire. The CEO does not hesitate to use the millions of people at his disposal in whatever way he likes, nor does he hesitate to use his son Max’s love for Cade to trap him and lure Ella back to Metro because, to the CEO, everything—even his own son’s hopes and dreams—are expendable in the service of Metro. 


THIRD ASSIGNMENT: Write three breakout titles

That Which Remains

A Faith Worth Keeping

The Sacred Guides of Stories Past

FOURTH ASSIGNMENT: Genre and Comparables

Speculative Fiction

·       Martha Wells’ All Systems Red

·       Kazuo Ishiguro’s Klara and the Sun



When the ruthless CEO of the indentured, corporate city Metro rejects one infant GMO son for another, an android concealing her sentience flees with the child to save him, exposing her valuable secret and catalyzing a decades-long hunt that entraps them back in Metro, where she and the CEO’s two sons must each decide what lengths they will go for freedom and what sacrifices they will make for love.


SIXTH ASSIGNMENT: Protagonist’s inner conflict and secondary conflicts

Inner Conflict: After escaping Metro with the help of the Acolytes of the Infinite, Ella and Cade find refuge at Wisdom Abbey. As Cade grows, Ella is fixated on keeping him safe, unable to think or do anything else but care for him and run scenarios for his safety and well-being. He is her everything. When Cade leaves at the age of 16, Ella is devastated and without purpose. Over the next decade, however, she settles into life at the abbey without him, not even realizing how she has come to value her freedom, friendships, and the regard the acolytes have for her as a person until Cade is trapped by the CEO and taken back to Metro as bait for her. As soon as Ella finds out, she rushes off to make the exchange but, when she gets there, she hesitates—finally weighing herself in the balance. She has finally embraced her personhood, and thereby feels the full weight of the sacrifice she is about to make for Cade.

Secondary Conflicts

1.     Who Max wants to be and who his father wants him to be. Max, the CEO’s replacement GMO son, struggles to become his own person as well, torn between his innate goodness and becoming the type of man his father wants him to be. At the climax of the novel, when the CEO finds out Max is in possession of his long-hunted sentient android, Max must reckon with Cade, Ella and his father discovering his lies and must decide once and for all what kind of a man he wants to be, the wellbeing of Cade, Ella, and millions of indentured Metro residents at stake.


2.     What Cade wants and what the world needs from him. Cade leaves the abbey because he doesn’t want to stay hidden away forever and because he doesn’t agree with the acolytes’ pacifism. He knows this will devastate Ella, but he must find his own path. He goes on to become a celebrated colonel and a beloved war hero, but, after the War of Three Continents, he struggles to come to terms with his role as a military leader—people have always followed him and, in war, that meant leading them to their deaths. He stays away from Ella and the acolytes and is addicted to the painkillers he must take for his new prosthetic robotic arm. Eventually he weens himself from the medication and ekes out a quiet but tortured existence on the Greek islands. As always though, wherever he goes, people gather. In the climax of the novel, when the wellbeing of millions of Metro residents is at stake, Cade must choose whether or not to embrace his gifts and all the responsibility that comes with them.


3.     Max and Cade: Gods amongst humans, lab-grown brothers raised in opposite circumstances, would-be friends and allies BUT pitted against each another by their father’s machinations and separated by the strain of unrequited love. So much conflict in this relationship. For starters, everyone flocks to Cade because they can’t help it—they love him. Max never knows if anyone truly loves him for who he is because in Metro his friendship is sought for the possibility of advancement that it brings. In the War of Three Continents, Max, using Metro-contracted technology, rescues Cade from a bombing raid in Lviv. Attracted as everyone is to Cade’s beauty and goodness, and feeling at last he has found someone in the world who could actually love him for who he is and not what he could do for him—Max falls in love with Cade, though Cade is in love with Maia, who is pregnant with his child, unbeknownst to Cade, in Greece. When Max discovers who Cade is, he tries to hide it from his father, but the CEO finds out and uses Max’s love for Cade to trap him and lure Ella back to Metro. Max is devastated, angry, and humiliated, but Cade does not hold him accountable for the sins of his father and pursues a friendship with him while trapped in Metro. When Ella discovers that Cade is prisoner in Metro, she contacts Max to make an exchange. Though Max promises to set Cade free, when the time comes, he just can’t do it because Cade is the only source of hope in his life. Instead, he lies to both of them and takes Ella to Metro Rome, keeping it secret from his father. In the climax of the novel, Max has to choose what kind of a man he wants to be, and whether or not he will let Cade go.


4.     Max and Ella: Max is in great need of love, and Ella is able to give it to him, BUT as long as she is his prisoner, she is not free to truly love him. Over the few months Ella is with Max in Metro Rome, they develop a tenuous but sincere friendship, though she is his prisoner and doesn’t know he has lied to her about Cade’s freedom, failing to keep his end of the bargain.  She can see Max’s goodness but also that he is conflicted and tormented by his father. When the CEO discovers Max has had Ella in his possession and has kept it from him, and she discovers that Max never released Cade, Max vows to Ella to make things right, but Ella is doubtful he will follow through. In the climax of the novel, they must each make decisions that will affect the happiness and wellbeing of the other.


5.     Cade and Ella: Cade and Ella lie or withhold information from each other to protect each other from the CEO, leading Ella to believe Cade has completely rejected her and the way he was raised.



The Metro Lab Where It All Begins: Story opens in a dimly lit lab in the corporate city Metro. Everyone is packing up to go home for the night, but Ella has just received the memo for her evening duties. For thirty-eight weeks she’s been overseeing the development of the CEO’s GMO child, but the CEO is starting over with a different genetic profile and her instructions are to dispose of the specimen. She’s heard of some women—the Acolytes of the Infinite—living incognito in the lower tiers of Metro—a massive domed city that has provided food and shelter to millions in a world plagued with political, economic, and environmental woes, but built on a system of indentured servitude. If she can find these acolytes—if they even exist—maybe they will get the child out. So, into the Dregs she goes, child clutched in her arms. Down there, where the lowest tiers live, there is no squalor or chaos. Everything is scrubbed and sanitized. The people too. Sure, there are guards everywhere and you work fourteen-hour days, and you must go where you are told to go and do what you are told to do, but in Metro, even if you’re in the lowest of the lowest tiers, you will not starve. You will not freeze in the winter. Just look out for predators who might want to sell your organs on the red market or rent you out for the night.

Wisdom Abbey: After an acolyte dies helping Ella and the child, Cade, escape through an air vent, they find refuge with the Acolytes of the Infinite at Wisdom Abbey, whose grounds abut those of Fort Knox. Cade spends a lot of time in the woods watching the soldiers train, while Ella watches over him. The abbey is a place of peace and rest and goodness. A refuge in every sense of the word. As idyllic as Cade’s childhood is, as he grows into a young man, he begins to feel stifled living with twenty “mothers” hovering over him and never getting to see the world.


The War of Three Continents: When Cade comes of age, he leaves to fight in the War of Three Continents, where he becomes a beloved colonel. His idealism is shattered, however, by scenes of dead soldiers, tortured children, trafficked women, and, finally, by the fact that his troops have willingly followed him to their deaths. When Cade he is trapped behind enemy lines in Lviv, he almost dies in an artillery attack.


The Lonely Stone: Max tracks Cade to the island of Andros, where for weeks, young people from all over the Greek islands have been gathering for a nightly bacchanalia around the Lonely Stone—the pylon of a bridge destroyed in the Truth Campaigns—convinced that Cade, who scales its massive height and makes a sort of retreat up there, is actually of the Olympian gods. Max contrives a spontaneous-looking encounter with Cade, and they meet for the first time atop the Lonely Stone, on heights befitting gods.


The Bling-Bling in Metro: The CEO tracks Max tracking Cade, consequently capturing Cade and bringing him back to Metro. But Cade isn’t in some prison cell or scrubbed down bunkhouse in the Dregs. Cade is in the Bling Bling with the upper tiers, living the high life, his social life broadcast on the MetroLife Channel, all designed by the CEO to lure Ella back to Metro. To the outside world—to Ella—it looks like Cade has become part of the Metro elite, but he’s very much a prisoner—just playing a part so that Ella will believe he has chosen to go there and won't turn herself in. Cade begins spending more and more of his credits and time with the lower tiers, trying to alleviate some of their suffering, and the reader gets an in-depth look at how vulnerable the residents are to those running black and red markets there.


The Mountains of Naxos: While Cade is in Metro, Ella—who fled the abbey when the CEO closed in on her and stowed away on a ship to try to find Cade in Naxos—is hiding up in the mountains on a goat farm with Cade’s lover Maia and her father. She has a chance to be close to Cade’s child in a way she would never let herself be close to Cade when he was growing up out of fear of damaging his emotional and psychological development.


The Pantheon in Rome: When Ella discovers the truth of Cade’s position in Metro, she contacts Max to make the trade. Not wanting Metro to discover Maia and the child, Ella sets up a meeting at the Pantheon in Rome. Max and Ella meet in the temple, and Ella gives up her freedom for Cade beneath the oculus—the eye of all the gods.


An Underground Lab in Metro Rome: Ella spends several months in an underground bunker lab at Metro Rome where Max has a team testing her abilities and trying to figure out what made her sentient. He tries to make her situation pleasant, but she is his prisoner. They spend time together in her cell, which he has painted like the Raphael’s Room of the Segnatura.




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FIRST ASSIGNMENT: write your story statement. 

Alien telepath Erys must use his inherent psychic skills to restore the living data protein in the sabotaged medical system on Loridan, Earth’s foundation colony, before more human children die from untreated Donner's Disease.


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.

When two cultures clash, prejudice and suspicion threaten them both. Tares is leader of the Elegrian Elders, the ruling body on Erys’ home world. Tares, a powerful telepath and strategist, hammered out the Treaty of Ackerson between Elegria and the human Alliance to forestall war after the disastrous First Contact on Loridan. Tares took ten-year-old Erys under his wing and raised him after the assassination of Erys’ father, blamed for the harsh terms of the Treaty because he killed a human envoy at First Contact. Tares protected, sheltered, and educated Erys until Erys flouted the wishes of the Elders by leaving Elegria to serve in the human Alliance’s Patrol. Tares views humanity as a lesser species, and he is dedicated to protecting the welfare of the Elegrian people and preserving their traditions. He sabotaged the medical system on Loridan to break humanity’s foundation colony’s control of the Alliance Council and the supply of Tashau, the protein critical to both living data and Elegrian physiology and now only found on Loridan. When Erys comes to Loridan to restore the data and out the saboteur, Tares views him as a traitor and believes he is duty-bound to stop Erys at any cost.


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

Some Call it Treason

Broken Treaty

Traitor’s Son


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?

Genre: Science Fiction

Comparables: I have three so far and will include them all:

Threader Origins by Gerald Brandt (DAW, Jan 2021)

Similarities to my book:

  • Brandt's storytelling keeps the reader firmly bonded to the main character
  • In both Brandt’s and my stories, the scientific element involves the main character manipulating technological constructs using mental abilities - in Brandt’s story, the target is quantum strings, whereas in my story it is living data made from a specific protein


Architects of Memory (The Memory War Book 1) by Karen Osborne (Tor Books, Sep 2020)

Similarities to my book:

  • Osborn’s story is a debut novel by a female author, similar to mine in tone and voice
  • Both Osborne’s and my story involve conflict between humans and an alien species
  • Osborne’s story involves corporate power and competition; my story also involves power and competition
  • Both Osborne’s and my story involve a novel substance: Osborne’s story features celestium, used in fuel and ship hulls, that made a corporation rich; in my story conflict revolves around Tashau, a protein used as the basis of living Intelligent Data that makes Loridan’s humans rich, but is also a critical component of Elegrian physiology
  • Osborne’s protagonist has a terminal disease with a ticking time clock; in my story an important secondary character has a disease that will kill her in seven days, driving my protagonist to find a solution before time runs out


Amid the Crowd of Stars by Stephen Leigh (DAW, Feb 2021)

Similarities to my book:

  • Leigh’s story deals with possible consequences of the biological conflict between what humans bring from Earth and what is native to a new planet; in my story, new organisms are created by merging those brought from Earth with native life, creating the disease that threatens the human children when the medical system is sabotaged
  • Leigh’s story uses thought communication via tech devices; my story performs thought communication by natural talent
  • Both Leigh’s and my story involve advanced AI integrated with biology


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.

Shamed by his father's crime at First Contact, a telepathic alien acts against his own people to restore the sabotaged medical system on Earth's foundation colony before more human children die.

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.

Inner Conflict: Erys, a telepathic Elegrian, is shamed by his father’s crime at First Contact. Despite the promise of similar outward appearance, the differences between Elegrian and human—especially cultural, belief systems, language, and one crucial non-visible physiological characteristic—overwhelmed the exploration teams. In a reckless attempt to communicate, Erys’ father killed one of the human representatives, setting in motion a long-lasting antagonism between their peoples. Erys is haunted by a moral obligation to repay his father’s debt to humanity.

Hypothetical scenario: In one scene, Erys meets with the Elegrian Elders after discovering the sabotage. Tares chastises Erys for leaving Elegria to enlist in the human Alliance’s Patrol and asks him to resign from his position. Erys, racked by guilt for what his father did, believes he made the right choice to try to make up for his father’s actions by serving the Alliance and refuses Tares’ request.


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?

Secondary Conflict: Katie Kessler, the human tech expert assigned to supervise Erys’ work, is suspicious of him just because he is Elegrian. They work together in an uneasy partnership.

Hypothetical scenario: When Erys describes the time required to complete the regeneration of the living data using standard methods, Katie wants to call in other resources. Erys tells her that more people won’t speed up the process, but she insists they need someone else to help. He is frustrated and angered when her real meaning dawns on him—she means someone who isn’t Elegrian.


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.

Scenes in this story take place on Earth’s foundation colony Loridan, and on Earth itself.

Loridan was a great find for both humankind and Elegria. Hospitable to both peoples and having no dominant high-order civilization of its own, Loridan offered one significant attribute making it priceless to both races: the planet was rich in plant life containing Tashau, a protein previously unknown to the human population of Earth, but critical and now scarce on Elegria.

Tashau is the crucial ingredient enabling a breakthrough technology for human civilization: Intelligent Data. Intelligent Data is alive, ingenious, something more than mechanical but less than sentient. Intelligent Data’s living substance catapulted technological development for humanity to reaches previously unimagined, rendering those who control it rich and influential.

Tashau plays a different role on Elegria. Home to an ancient civilization, Elegria also boasted abundant Tashau. The potent protein proliferated through the plant life on Elegria. It is the biological component that enables Elegrian telepathy and other psychic abilities. Elegrians do not synthesize Tashau within their bodies and must consume it regularly to maintain physical health. Without it, they will die. Tashau came to figure into Elegrian spiritual beliefs, as well as serve as an essential element of their physiology.

Elegria became technologically advanced a long time ago. Careless with their technology, the Elegrians disregarded safeguards for their environment, and the toxic byproducts of unchecked technology damaged ecosystems and contaminated the Tashau fields, destroying nearly all natural sources of the indispensable protein. In the wake of this disaster, the people reverted back to their native mystical beliefs and became anti-technology except where necessary. Against this tragic backdrop, many Elegrians died. Erys’ own mother and little sister were victims to the Tashau shortage.

Elegria embraced technology again, venturing into space in search of another source of Tashau. And they found it on Loridan. Their exploration team included Tares, Elder Leader (and the story's antagonist), and Erys’ father. They discovered Loridan with its wealth of Tashau at the same time human civilization claimed Loridan as their foundation colony in their own space exploration.

First Contact proceeded badly—neither Elegrian nor human had any experience with an alien race. Elegria’s intense need for a supply of Tashau made their team reckless. In an effort to communicate, Erys’ father forced a mind link on one of the humans—Katie’s father—and it was too much for him, and he died.

At the brink of interplanetary/interspecies war, the Treaty of Ackerson was hammered out, specifying the parameters of human-Elegrian interaction. It granted humans control of Loridan as their foundation colony. Elegria gained permission to trade for Tashau with Loridan, but at a high price. Elegrians made many concessions in the Treaty, accepting many prejudicial requirements to secure the Treaty and the right to trade for Tashau.

Losing Loridan was a blow to Elegria. The terms of the Treaty were harsh. Elegria went through a period of internal strife—they needed the Tashau and the humans who could provide it, but the actions at First Contact relegated them to a position of subservience. Erys was ten at the time of First Contact. Elegrians blamed Erys’ father for the bad outcome, many viewing him as a traitor, and Erys’ father was assassinated. Tares took the orphaned boy under his wing and raised him. Tares had to protect him from a lot of hostility, and Erys grew up hating having others stand up for him. Erys dreamed of the stars and left Elegria when he was eighteen to enlist in the Alliance’s Patrol—against the wishes of the Elders. He was consumed by guilt for what his father did and hoped to make up for his father’s actions by serving the Alliance.

In time, the entire Alliance depended on the technology of Intelligent Data, and therefore on Loridan. Elegria survived, deferring to the Alliance and to Loridan to keep the trade agreement intact.

Human civilization rode high with the success of their foundation colony. But, after settling Loridan, they faced a new challenge: Donner’s Disease. Donner’s Disease was caused by a mutated superbug that evolved shortly after the human colony was established when a human bacterium combined with a native Loridian one to form something deadly to humans. During early colonization, many settlers died. One confounding characteristic of Donner’s Disease was that the bug changed itself depending on the individual host. But, once Intelligent Data technology was developed, an effective medication was synthesized by an Intelligent Data algorithm. The new medication, containing Tashau and Intelligent Data itself, adapted itself to what was needed once it was administered.

Loridan offers some novel—and dangerous—creatures. Loridan’s physical characteristics combine with its history to furnish the setting for most of the novel. The backstory is not presented in exposition, but rather is shown to the reader in bits and pieces as the action unfolds. All of the historical factors illuminate events that take place scene by scene, leading to the inexorable conclusion.

A few scenes take place on Earth, showing the human home world on a parallel path to the catastrophe that befell Elegria. History yearns to repeat itself, on more than one world.

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FIRST ASSIGNMENT: write your story statement. 

My protagonist must find his unknown father and discover the key to his own identity.

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.

My antagonist is the protagonist’s mother who has refused to reveal the truth about his father to keep a dark secret of her own from her son.

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


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?

Comp: # 1 Where'd You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple. In that serio-comic novel the plot revolves around a daughter’s search for her agoraphobic architect mother who goes missing prior to a family trip to Antarctica.

Comp: #2 America for Beginners by Leah Franqui. Another serio-comic novel that presents as a travel story that is really a story about strangers in a strange land, the strange land sometimes being the American characters’ own. It is also a story about the search for an absent family member, in this case the estranged gay son of an Indian family.

My novel, The Shanghai Kaddish is a serio-comic novel about a mixed-race American son’s search for his mysterious father in China, where his mother lived as a teenager and young woman, where he was conceived, and where his father, a Red Army officer, lived. 

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.

After a string of failed relationships, a Chinese-Jewish stand-up comic, whipsawed between his two ethnicities, travels to Shanghai against his mother’s strenuous objection to discover and confront the unknown father whose absence he believes has defined the trajectory of his life.

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.

Inner Conflict:  My protagonist is a mixed race character; he has been raised by his loving but secretive mother in the absence of a father or father figure.  My protagonist has also pursued a career that makes it hard to form permanent connections because he is on the road so many days a year. He sees himself as being an unreasonable choice for love because of this, though he desires a relationship.

In an early example of the conflict my protagonist experiences, is the conflict he felt being half Chinese as a pre-teen when his classmates were making anti-Asian remarks that conflated all Asians including him with the Vietnamese during the Vietnam War. His reactions was to name one set of toy soldiers American and the other Chinese and always have the Chinese soldiers win. 

An example of his reaction to his conflicted feelings about his parentage is that he tells jokes on late night TV about how he imagines his Jewish mother and his absent father would react to the news that he had a real girlfriend.

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?

In an airport security line, the protagonist makes an inappropriate joke about hijacking which is in keeping with his comedian persona but really arises out of his attempt to explain his travel plans to a fellow airline passenger.  While the immediate result is that he is nearly Tasered and arrested, it is the event through which he meets the woman who will become his love interest.

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.

There are multiple settings for my novel: Shanghai during the Japanese occupation in the late 1930s and through the 1940s during World War Two, during a time of when Shanghai was the city that saved the most Jews from the Holocaust by allowing 20,000 plus immigrants from Europe to live there; Shanghai in the 1950s after the Communist takeover; Shanghai in the 2009 when as a booming commercial metropolis my protagonist travels there to search for his father; and New Jersey in 1974 and 2009; New York City and elsewhere in 2009 on the set of the Haberman After Hours Television show and on the stages of various comedy clubs around the country.

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Pitch Conference Pre-Conference Assignments – June 2021



Elis's world changed eleven years ago and in order to save it, she must embark on a quest filled with magic, mystery, and self-discovery to determine why it changed and how to fix it.



In the story, the world is not black and white. Thus, good versus evil can be as clear as mud. Someone can be fully convinced they are right and good, but in truth, they are bemused by emotions they never thought could control them. Therefore, in truth, they are an evil force. The antagonistic characters and forces are the following: (1) Calli - Calli is blinded by her duty, haunted by her past, and guilty of enjoying her power too much. She cannot see the evil flaw in the path she blazes. (2) The Sanders Twins - The Sanders Twins are young teenagers trying to navigate the anger and frustration that comes with a loss of inspiration. It feels productive, powerful, and even, on some level, good to make someone feel the pain they feel. (3) Father – Father is scared and lost in the secrets he keeps. Fear comes tumbling out of him with an anger that rips through the world around him, hurting everyone in its path, including Elis. (4) The Council –The Council fails to question if the way things are isn’t the right way. They fail to truly see the pain that their apathy causes. 



The Insufferable Balance of Separation 

The Symmetry of Dissolution

The Girl of the Light and the Things Between



COMP 1: Gertie Milk and the Keeper of Lost Things – A little adventure, a little history, a lot of heart, and a lot of uncovering and learning about who she is, while also learning how to save the world from the antagonist(s).

COMP 2: Enola Holmes Series – Both stories feature a strong female lead, where the sharp sting of loneliness underlies her strength and independence. This backdrop is heartfelt yet also mysterious, offering the readers the ability to relate better to the heroine as she sets out on an adventure to uncover the truth.



In a world without inspiration, a teenage girl embarks on a quest to understand the reason for the change, which will leave her questioning everything she thought she knew about herself, her family, and the world she calls home.



Conditions of Protagonist’s Inner Conflict: 

·      Elis’s mother died when she was five, her father is either mean or absent from her life, and her grandmother is only coherent and loving sometimes. Inherently, she feels like anything good will inevitably end.

·      Elis does not trust easily, and the few memories she has of her mother torment her of a love long lost but still cherished, as nothing seems to compare to that unconditional love. 

·      Elis has an insatiable thirst for knowledge and understanding. The contents of the attic room are more than just items, they are long lost treasures. Thus, even outside of her loss, her thirst creates even more loneliness, as no one understands it. This also leads to additional conflicts with Gran, M-Thompson, and the Sanders Twins.

·      Elis’s relationship with Father is tumultuous. She feels as if she walks on eggshells with him, and over the years these eggshells have cooked up a strong distrust in herself. She doesn’t trust her knowledge or instincts, as they lead her astray with Father.  

As an example: After Tay and Elis meet, Elis is convinced at times that Tay isn’t real because she is too good to be true. Tay is brazen and bold and trusts without limit. Elis is cautious and worried, waiting for the other shoe to drop. Yet, even still, she tries. The intoxication of companionship is maybe worth the risk because the misery of loneliness is a hole blacker than any other in her life. 

Secondary Conflict: Elis and her father clash with either no words or harsh screaming ones. Her father is either a drone, a slave to the television, or angry. Elis cannot seem to predict when he will be one version of himself or the other. She tries to be a model child but, inevitably, she messes up, leading to one of two reactions from her father. This external conflict also fosters the tormented memories she has of her mother, as they are very different, and there exists an unbridgeable disconnect as to why things have changed so immensely. 

Other conflicts of note: Calli and her sisters, Talia and her sisters, Ellington and Tay



The story starts in stone room, lit only by a candle. The candle sends shadows dancing across the walls. A mystifying painting occupies one wall, and the character’s thoughts are pulled to it and linger there, just the slightest. 

The story moves to Elis’s school, detailing its bland brown façade and unhappy inhabitants and then to Gran’s house, where familiarity is key, but yet, even Gran’s house holds a dark truth. The story then introduces Elis’s three “home” bases. First, in the eaves of her house, sits an attic room chalked full of books, movies, music, and artwork. Elis spends time here learning of the past and always further organizing her treasures, seemingly forgotten by the world. Second, Elis frequents the woods, where nature seems untouched by the heavy, militant hand of humanity. And, third Elis takes refuge in the cemetery, now fenced off, with knee high grass and littered with unwanted objects, such as appliances. 

Later, the story moves to a world where inspiration is so thick and deep it presents itself as magic. However, this place is not without its own mysteries. In this beautiful place where even the streets are green and warm, there sits a ramshackle house—the same house that sits in Elis’s world. How can this be? And, beneath the beaty, the magic, and the energy is a hauntingly tragic underlayer, a layer that only becomes apparent in time. 

Many things are new for Elis on her adventure, and none are boring. Even the plastic curvature of the interior of a plane is new and exciting and acts as the backdrop for a triumph. And, as Elis travels back through these scenes again and again they change slightly as her understanding of the world is shaped and honed.  

The culmination of the story sends back to that first stone room, yet now it is much changed. Eleven years of worldly possessions crawl up the walls and luscious, hand woven rugs engulf the floor. Its worldly ambiance is juxtaposed with simplicity of the first scene, and yet still the painting is a mystery that Elis works to solve.  

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Assignment 1:
One main rule governs the Dream Makers society—never meet your dreamer. During the modern day’s emotionally-suppressed culture, DREAMSCAPE tells the story of a Dream Maker’s attempt to create good dreams for 23-year-old Sasha Hayes. Despite her superficially perfect life, the reader witnesses Sasha’s uncontrollable anxiety build through the dark paths of her waking and sleeping mind. Sasha’s Dream Maker, 305—who she nicknames “Catcher”—is intrigued by her intense feelings, something he doesn’t experience as a non-human creature. As each chapter alternates between the Catcher’s and Sasha’s perspectives, Catcher fruitlessly tries to navigate her depression as it manifests as a dark energy throughout the dreams he creates for her. It isn’t until her last sleep cycle that he realizes in order for her to overcome her nightmares, he must create one.
With magical yet truthful elements from THE MIDNIGHT LIBRARY by Matt Haig blending with the written style and emotional turmoil young adults face in Jennifer Niven’s ALL THE BRIGHT PLACES, this dreamy story takes the reader on winding paths through misconceptions and misperceptions about depression. 

Assignment 2:
For half her life, Sasha Hayes has carried with her a repressed darkness that turns her dreams into nightmares. Her Dream Maker, Catcher, struggles against the force of this dark energy to create good dreams for Sasha.  In Sasha’s waking life, she embarks on a one-way road trip to escape her darkening reality, only to find herself deeper in the throes of depression and anxiety. Meanwhile, Catcher is on a journey of his own. As a creature who has never experienced human emotion, he’s intrigued by Sasha’s intense feelings and wants to help Sasha out of her darkness. In order to do that, though, he decides he must go against the Dream Makers’ most sacred rule—never meet your dreamer. 

As the two build a relationship in this mutual space in her dreams, Sasha’s attempt to run from her pain only prolongs it further, pushing her to attempt suicide and making it nearly impossible for Catcher perform his task and fulfill his purpose.  

Assignment 3:

Assignment 4:
Magical realism meets literary fiction
THE MIDNIGHT LIBRARY by Matt Haig—Like Norah Seed, Sasha struggles from depression, and goes on a surreal quest to come face-to-face with it. While this title is similar to this manuscript in its topic, genre, and conflict, the execution and depiction of mental illness is much different. Sasha’s depression and anxiety are shown rather than told, with physiological symptoms, while also bringing to light the difficulty in seeking help. Norah’s story ends with her realizing a new-found appreciation in life, but Sasha’s ends with her understanding that the first step to getting help is wanting it and seeking it out for herself.

ALL THE BRIGHT PLACES by Jennifer Nivren—This book flip-flops in perspectives between the two main characters, similar to this manuscript. Each character struggles with an internal conflict, and when their lives intersect, they find some peace with each other. This manuscript is a more fantastical take on addressing the issues around mental health.

CATCHER IN THE RYE by J.D. Salinger—This manuscript is reminiscent of the classic, with a modern day, magical twist and a young adult female’s perspective. Themes of coming of age, understanding one’s mortality, and seeking out a journey in oneself all translate into this manuscript as well. Similar to Holden, Sasha is her own antagonist, fighting against her nature and addressing her own mental illness. 

Assignment 5:
Hook line: A Dream Maker’s desire to save his dreamer from her own darkness leads him to break his society’s most sacred rule. 

Primary Conflict: A Dream Maker’s good dreams are manipulated and destroyed by a dark energy inside the mind of young woman, inspiring him enough to break his society’s rules and meet his subject.

Core wounds: 
Sasha’s dark energy (depression) dates back to childhood years, where she learned it was “wrong” to address negative emotion. With this understanding carried with her through life, her depression collects and eventually explodes. Her illness translates over into her dreams, where her Dream Maker, Catcher, struggles to create for her good, positive dreams. His desire for human connection is what eventually leads him to breaking the Dream Makers’ most sacred rule.

Assignment 6:
Protagonist inner conflict: As Catcher continues his Dream Maker training and learns more about the society, he becomes dissatisfied with the system that the Dream Makers have created. The more engrossed he becomes with Sasha, the more he desires to feel what humans feel, leading to his decision to break his society’s rules. 

Secondary conflict: Catcher’s choices to reveal himself to his dreamer makes it harder for him to relate to the other Dream Makers. He lies to his trusted mentors, who expect reports from him, and puts his own life at risk.  

Assignment 7:
The settings of this story jump between High Cloud (the Dream Makers’ realm), Sasha’s reality, and Sasha’s dreaming mind. 

High Cloud is an ethereal space that lives invisibly in the clouds above the human world. It is made up of universal, natural energies. These energies are harnessed by the Dream Makers and used to communicate to each other, for example, when sensing others’ presences or when a dreamer is about to enter into a sleep cycle. The Dream Makers feel a sensation in their chest when their dreamer calls to them, and they transport down to the human world by pressing a hand to the wall in their portal. This opens up the gateway, and they teleport down to the human world, where they exist like ghosts—invisible energies, traveling.

Sasha lives in the outskirts of a young, un-specified city in the North East. Her apartment always contains some sort of light that she forgets to turn off, a quiet symbol for an undying hope that saves her at the end of the manuscript. Her apartment door often gets stuck as she tries to get inside her own space, a metaphor for her struggle to enter into her own mind. Books reveal her interest in words, including a collection of poems by Robert Frost. A bar not far from her apartment brings back haunted memories of her breakup, and since her heart break, she frequents the bar ordering the same drink at the same time as the night she first met her ex-boyfriend.

Her reality soon becomes an adventure as she embarks a road trip, involving fancy hotels and bizarre motels, with room numbers randomly and confusingly assigned. The room number in the hotel is what draws her Dream Maker in, for it is the same as his assigned identification number, 305. Finally, her journey comes to an end at Robert Frost’s grave, a place of mourning and closure, where Sasha can finally set her depression free and take part in her permanent sleep. “Miles to go before I sleep.” 

Sasha’s dreaming mind is the mutual space where she and Catcher communicate with each other. The dark energy in her mind has an ominous presence, and her dreams are often distorted with it. Here, the images within the dream shift and change, but they always take place in deep, dark woods. These woods later become the maze that Catcher creates, one that she must overcome in order to start her journey for better mental health.


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Castrating Cupid by Sheree Chalfant Troy


This sometimes pithy, often humorous case-study follows one woman's obsessive behavior over unrequited love. Sacrificing much of her younger years in futile attempts to win back the man of her dreams, she finds herself spending a chance afternoon and evening with him four decades later, on a boat, where suppressed feelings surface and she realizes her fixation has been unhealthy and especially hurtful to the one man who truly loves her: her husband. But can she shake her deep-rooted fixation on the one who got away?


Sarah has been obsessed with Marshall from the day she spotted him in their college cafeteria in 1975 and she was hit with Cupid's poison arrow. Eight years later Marshall confessed his love for another woman. Since that night, Sarah has not seen or heard from Marshall, until she bumps into him thirty-five years later, where she confronts her decades-long fixation. Sarah's “antagonistic forces” dwell in her mind: Obsession. Regret. Second-guessing. Rejection. Unrequited love. 


* Castrating Cupid (I currently feel this is a perfect title to convey my protagonist's forty year fixation over her old lover, all because Cupid shot his damn arrow into her soul.)

* Trapped in the Memory Box / The Memory Box

* Porthole Reflections

 GENRE (2 smart comps)

Castrating Cupid is a loose blending of Karen Hamilton’s The Perfect Girlfriend with Jonathan Tropper’s One Last Thing Before I Go. Although not a psycho-thriller, my story follows a woman’s self-deprecating obsession with an old lover, and her desperate—yet often comical—ploys to win him back. Parts of my book reminded me of Jonathan Tropper's snide and witty view of the world through Silver's eyes.

(2nd choice for an obsessive story comparison might be Ruth Jones' Never Greener, where a woman has a passionate relationship that ended in heartbreak, only to have the man resurface 17 years later. I haven't read this book yet, but, when I do it might replace my above choice of The Perfect Girlfriend)


When a married woman spends the afternoon and evening with a former lover, she struggles with her deep-seated obsession while fighting to free herself from decades of Cupid's toxic influence.


Primary Conflict: Sarah Coleman is thrown into a tizzy upon seeing her old lover, Marshall Draycott, at a marina restaurant seafood buffet. After fleeing to the women’s bathhouse with a panic attack, she returns to the restaurant and invites Marshall back to her boat for the afternoon. (hubby's out of town). Their close proximity ignites suppressed feelings. Sarah wants to tell Marshall she’d been pregnant when he ditched her for another woman in 1983, chose to keep the baby, but lost it four months later in a car accident. Sarah was left barren. But what purpose would telling him serve? 

Secondary Conflicts or Complications: Late in the afternoon of their visit, Marshall has a heart attack on her boat and she must focus on keeping him alive until Coast Guard paramedics arrive. What if he dies before learning the truth? 

Inner Conflicts: Sarah has never recovered from Marshall's rejection thirty-five years ago. She's ruminated and reconstructed the events leading up to his good-bye, reliving their past relationship, desperate to understand what she did that drove him away. What was wrong with her? Could she have behaved differently? Would they still be together if she had? Why had his rejection trampled the self-esteem and exuberance of her young self? Would she ever be free of her obsession?


My story begins at the protagonist’s riverside home in Isle of Hope, Georgia, and soon moves to the quirky, blue-collar marina in southwest Florida where she (Sarah) and her husband (Ben) have their "second home," the trawler Leonard.

Having been at River Bend Marina for twenty years, Sarah and Ben know everybody and vice versa. The reader is introduced to colorful cameo appearances by characters. There’s Skitter, the scuzzy harbormaster with his vulgar teeshirt and politically incorrect comments; Tina, the teen hostess with her sprayed-on clothing and deadbeat boyfriend named Darwin; Hazel and her mutt Mitzi (they wear matching outfits), the big-busted waitress, Frankie, with eyes for Marshall; and Jake, dear friend and dock-mate to Sarah and Ben who’s a teddy bear trapped in a grizzly bear’s body.

Primarily set at River Bend Marina or onboard Trawler Leonard at anchor, Castrating Cupid reveals the microcosm of boaters’ lifestyles while following Sarah’s dilemma of finding herself face to face with the “man who got away.”



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Assignment 1: Story Statement

Stranded on Earth 12,000 years ago from the planets of Rome and Olympus, the Greek and Roman Gods of mythology must band together as superheroes to prevent an ancient evil entity from conquering the world in the present. 

Assignment 2Antagonist or Antagonistic Force

The Beast, an ancient evil being from another galaxy, travels the Milk Way in an Ancient Asteroid with an army of demonic creatures that conquer and enslave planet after planet. This entity is a force with a singular purpose--domination and control. 
It does not feel compassion or feel pain; the ancient evil seeks to impose its will on others, destroying and controlling all that fall under its domain.  Conjuring any creature it wants, the entity can overwhelm anything that gets in its way. The Beast takes many forms with origins of supernatural means. The evil entity calls the darkness it's home, for it came from the night seeking to enslave those that live in the light.  

Assignment 3: Breakout Title

Age of Immortals 

Gods and Heroes

Heroes from Olympus 

Assignment 4:  GENRE (2 smart comps)

Science Fiction, Fantasy

Enemies & Allies: A Novel By Kevin J. Anderson

I chose Kevin J Anderson’s work because it is one of the few superhero novels published that is not a graphic novel, a novelization, or a self-published work.  Anderson’s book tells the story of Batman and Superman’s first meeting during the Cold War. Similarly, my novel has characters with superhuman abilities that act in a contemporary setting. While Anderson’s work is set in the 1950s during the Cold War, my novel takes place on modern-day Earth.    

The Last Days of Krypton: A Novel By Kevin J. Anderson

The Last Days of Krypton tells the story of the destruction of Superman’s homeworld, the planet Krypton. Anderson’s story is a science fiction story that explores Jor-El’s attempt to stop General Zod as a scientist who acts in politics to save a doomed planet. The novel incorporates Kryptonian mythology and culture into the rich story. Using Greek and Roman mythology as a foundation, I explore the potential off-world origins of Greek and Roman superheroes as they seek to save Earth from a grave extraterrestrial threat.  

Assignment 5: Logline

Stranded on Earth from the Plants of Olympus and Rome, immortal beings from Roman and Greek mythology must overcome self-doubt to embrace their inner strength to overcome an unstoppable entity.

Assignment 6: Conflicts

Major Conflict:

The Olympians and the Romans must overcome self-doubt to become superheroes to defend humanity and confront the Beast. The Romans and Olympians must overcome the mutual distrust that exists between their two planets. The Romans, Olympians, and the other Immortals journey from self-doubt to hero. While their cultures are similar, there are differences. Attempts by the Romans and Olympians to establish closer relations are opposed by forces within the Roman and Olympian governments. Once they are stranded on Earth, they maintain their distances from each other as they build their separate faculties and organizations. But when the Beast attacks Earth, the Romans and Olympians are forced to establish an alliance to defeat them.  

Conflicts in Olympians  

Hermes doesn’t want his son Jason to work as an analyst for the U.S. Government. Instead of working as an analyst for the government, Hermes wants his son to join him at Olympus Industries.

Ares, Apollo, and Artemis struggle to find their place in the organization of the Olympians.

Under the service, Ares is anger that Apollo was Zeus’s favorite and is isolated from the Olympians.

Queen Hera refuses to move on from the death of Zeus, her husband, thousands of years ago.
Unlike the Romans, there are numerous interpersonal disagreements among the Olympians as they struggle to agree on a response to the invasion by the Beast and his armies.  Dionysus wants a chaotic strategy and clashes with Athena’s defense strategy.

As the de facto leader of the Olympians after Zeus death, Poseidon struggles to hold the fractious group together and unit to confront the Beast.
Major Conflicts in Romans

Apollo of the Romans must overcome self-doubt to join the Romans in battle.  Juno, as queen to Jupiter, encourages Saturn, who doesn’t think that Apollo is ready to use his powers to help the Romans in their response to

Jupiter struggles to connect with Mars, his son, who is strong-headed.  Jupiter is overcome with grief at the things unsaid after Mars is killed by the Minotaur. Having lost Venus and Mars in battle with the Minotaur, Jupiter must overcome grief to rally the Romans to defeat the Beast in his spaceship hovering over New York. He must bridge the differences between the Romans and the Olympians to forge a united attack to confront the Beast.

Neptune and Salacia long for home but find raising teenage son, Triton, who has his place in both the human and immortal worlds.

Chicago Immortals,  Dr. Addison, Alexander Christoff, Sandra Christoff, and Adam Wolfstein feel alienated from human society in Chicago because they are different. Adam Wolfstein struggles to maintain his secret as a werewolf and overcome misperceptions that he is a monster. Adam and Alexander ally to rescue Sandra from the Beast.

They must overcome their distrust of human society to become their defenders. Christoff does not trust humans because human hunters killed his wife and tried to kill him and his infant daughter hundreds of years ago, for they are vampires. Dr. Addison is lonely and isolated, as his psychic abilities make it difficult to connect to people. Enlisted to confront the Beast, by Gabriel,  Dr. Will Addison is unsure that his powers will be enough to stop the Beast.  

Lt. Jake Hunter, with the Chicago Police Department, must put aside his distrust of vampires to work with Alexander Christhoff because a vampire killed his wife.

Christina the Angel seeks to confront her banishment from heaven as she overcomes her isolation to save people and be accepted by heaven again.

Secondary Conflict: Alexander Christoff does not want his daughter, Dr. Sandra Christhoff, to fall in love with Adam Wolfstein, a werewolf. Additionally, Alexander Christoff wants Sandra to work for Christoff Industries rather than be a medical doctor in the human world.

Assignment 7: Setting

In the Orion–Cygnus Arm of the Milky Way Galaxy, there is a star system with nine planets around an orange star.  Two advanced, space-faring civilizations developed on the Planet Olympus and the Planet Rome. The two civilizations developed through the millennia in deep awareness as they spurred each society’s growth and technological advancement.  
The humanoid civilizations developed and evolved in similar and different ways because of the divergence of natural and competitive processes.

Planet Rome

The Roman Republic governs planet Rome. Planet Rome orbits an orange star. Large cities dot the northern hemisphere like a shimmering necklace. In the center of a large megalopolis, lies the Romanopolis, the second largest city of the Roman Empire. Smaller cities radiate out from the center of the planet’s surface like diamonds sparkling in the sand. On the second-largest city, Romanopolis, in the center of the planet, tall buildings of alien design fill the horizon.  n a large square near the center of the city, the Sibyl Super Computing Center. A speeding ship flies between the giant buildings and lands at the entrance of a massive hexagonal-shaped building. The massive Sibyl Super Computing Center was fifty stories tall with copper metal paneling and large reflective windows.  

Planet Olympus

The Olympus Confederation governs planet Olympus. Planet Olympus was slightly older at 5.2 billion years old and smaller of the two planets. The blue-green planet shimmers and twinkles. Five large continents seem to float on a sparkling ocean. On those five varied continents, extensive forests, mountains, plains, and farms spread between the expanse for large gleaming cities. On a middle continent, the large metropolis of Olympia is on a large, ancient island in a large middle river, 100 kilometers of the eastern seaboard, leading to a sizeable coastal bay. Olympia is the capital city of the technologically advanced Planet Olympus. Large grand parks are scattered across the vast metropolis. While the city is mainly covered with buildings around 50 to 60 stories tall, some supertall buildings soar past 100 or 200 stories tall. Maglev trains speed across busy boulevards that cross the city.  
On this large island in the middle of the metropolis is a small mountain, Mount Olympus. On the slopes of the tree-covered Mount Olympia, a sizeable white-columned complex of stepped government buildings. This complex is the capital complex of the constitutional monarchy, led by the royal family of the Olympus Confederation. This polity stretches for a hundred planets in the Orion Spur of the Milky Way Galaxy. King Zeus IX, presides over the five-member Executive Council of the upper chamber. The Council of Olympus consists of the Upper Chamber of Parliament with the Executive Branch of the Confederation. The Council is housed in a large, ancient classical building with large Corinthian columns ten stories tall that stretched for a thousand meters dating back two millennia. Behind that ancient building rose a modern steel and glass structure that added to the Council complex.  

A Roman Colony launches a space ship, led by Commander Apollo, Blasts away, turning sharply on a direct course for the comet. The Romanauts investigate the comet and find an asteroid ship carrying the Beast and his demonic alien army. 

Captain Venus, Lt. Vulcan, and Commander Apollo barely escape to their shuttlecraft as an army of creatures almost sacrifice them to the Beast.  As the Roman spaceship flees the asteroid, the Romanauts encounter an Olympian Ship.
The Olympians, on a spaceship, are traveling to Rome to negotiate a trade agreement with Olympus.  They detect an asteroid in the region so they stopped to investigate. Upon arrival, they are confronted by the fleeing Roman homebound attempting to warn and defend their planet. The Olympians create a black hole to prevent the Asteroid from reaching Planet Olympus, which sends the Romans and the Olympians. 

Mount Olympus and Rome on Earth

Mount Olympus on Earth is the hidden embassy of the Olympians in modern-day Greece. The Olympians have created other outposts in other cities around the world has their companies and activities have expanded over the years. Christina teleports Jupiter, Neptune, Mars, and Salacia to Mount Olympus after the attack by the Minotaur so that they can seek the assistance of the Olympians.  
The Romans founded their Earth-based colony on the Italian peninsula near Rome. 
Through the centuries, the Romans have expanded beyond their Roman colony to cities around the world.

San Francisco Bay Area 
San Francisco Bay Area is the home of the Romans; technology division, the Scientific Systems Corporation. The city is the site of the first attack by the Beast’s army of flying alien monsters. The Minotaur leads the demonic army as they seek to capture the Romans’ FTL drive they are building so they can one day return to their home-world, the Planet Rome.  Jupiter can stop the theft of the FTL drive. While Mars, Neptune, and Salacia can repel, Venus is killed. Only Christina’s intervention saves the rest of them from destruction.

Chicago is the main headquarters of the Romans and their holding company, RomanStar Industries. After attacking San Francisco, the Minotaur and a swarm of alien monsters attack the city. The Super Romans mobilize a defense of the city commanded by Jupiter and joined by Neptune, Salacia, Minerva, Mars, Mercury, Apollo, and Diane.

Chicago is also the home base of the other Immortals. Christina, Dr. Addison, Adam Wolfstein, Alexander Christhoff, and Dr. Sandra Christhoff. Dr. Addison is tasked with assembling them to fight the Beast and his minions. Dr. Addison teaches psychology at the University.  Alexander built his empire over hundreds of years, leading to his large conglomerate, Christhoff Industries. The Minotaur takes Sandra Christhoff to the Beast’s ship over New York after he kills Adam Wolfstein. With the assistance of Christina, who raises Adam from the dead, the two groups of superheroes ally to destroy the Minotaur and save the city. In the process, Mars is killed while Jupiter and Juno mourn his death.    

New York City
New York City is where the Olympians have established their main headquarters. Olympus Industries, their conglomerate, is based in New York City.  As the Beast begins his invasion of the city, Ares, Apollo, and Artemis defend their building from a bombing attack successfully. 
Soon after, the Olympians meet in the Chamber of the Council of the Twelve to plan their defense strategy. Then, once a contentious debate has ended, the Olympians launch their defense of the city. They protect and defense world leaders that have gathered at the United Nations. After defending Chicago, the Romans arrive in New York to help the Olympians destroy the Beast and his army.
Beast’s Asteroid

Once the Olympians and Roman defeat the Morak and the rest of the Beast’s army in New York and Washington, the Immortals fly to the asteroid ship to confront the evil entity. A pitched battle between the Immortals and the Beast leaves the Immortals nearly defeated. As a result, Dr. Addison travels through space and time to gather Zeus, Mars, and Venus from Hades and bring them back to life. A more powerful Zeus strengthens their team of superheroes, and they destroy the Beast together.  

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Pat McCaw

1.     Story Statement:

As their father clings to life in the isolated Canadian wilderness, stepsisters Emily and Skylar must overcome their mutual hatred and forgive family secrets if they hope to survive. 

2.     Antagonists: (Dual POV)

The novel is Dual POV with alternating chapters of each sister.

Emily and Skylar are stranded at a remote cabin in the Canadian wilderness after their father is brutally attacked by a bear. The primary antagonist is the wilderness itself. The girls are tested physically and emotionally by the terrain, the need for food, by lurking predators, and accidental injuries. 

Without food or any contact with the outside world, Emily must hike through the forest in hopes of finding help while Skylar stays at the cabin to care for their dying father. The wilderness antagonizes Emily's hopes of rescue by inflicting injuries, illness, and hunger as she battles inner demons. She's risking her own life to save the father who is responsible for her mom’s death. (personal conflict for Emily)

Emily's secondary antagonist is Skylar. Skylar represents Emily's father's poor decisions and she's a painful reminder of her mom's death. Emily must rely on Skylar to stay at the cabin and keep her father alive when Skylar knows nothing about the outdoors, and the thought of dirt under her fingernails makes her ill. Emily does not believe Skylar has the knowledge or skills to survive, but with no chance of rescue, Emily's only option is to hike for help.

Skylar's primary protagonist is also the wilderness. She is forced to stay at the cabin to care for her stepdad while Emily hikes for help. Skylar must mend Eric’s wounds and ward off infection, find food for them both, keep the fire burning, and stave off predators that lurk at the forest's edges. Nature is a daunting antagonist for Skylar as she fights to keep her only chance at a "real family" alive. 

Secondary antagonists to Skylar are Eric and Emily and her new family. The notion of family comes into question when Skylar discovers Eric's deep family secret that makes her question his love for Skylar and her mother. Emily lacks respect for Skylar and refuses to see her as family.

A secondary antagonist for Skylar is the family of raccoons that live underneath the outhouse. She battles the raccoons but they eventually form an unlikely alliance. 


3.     Break out title:

When the Loons Call (metaphor - current title that needs changed) - The loons recur throughout the story. The reader learns that loons mate for life and will do anything to protect their young - this represents Emily's parents and their secret pact to protect Emily.

The Only Option: Survive 

No Hope For Rescue

Survival is the Only Option


4.     Two comparable novels:

I Am Still Alive by Kate Alice Marshall

The Other Side of Lost by Jessi Kirby

Both comparison novels are YA survival novels that deal with the protagonist’s fight for survival as well as their underlying emotional journey.


5.     Logline:

Stepsisters must overcome their mutual hatred and confront deep family secrets if they hope to save their father and survive an unrelenting wilderness.


6.     Protagonist’s inner conflicts and secondary conflict: (DUAL POV)


Primary conflict:  To survive the wilderness. They have no food and their father needs medical help or he will die. They have no contact with the outside world, no food, and no chance of rescue.

Secondary conflict (personal conflict): Emily’s convinced her dad caused her mom’s death, but now he might die. She's torn between grief for her dead mother and the impending death of her father - her only remaining family. 

Interpersonal conflict: Emily is scared because she must leave her dying father with her clueless stepsister who knows nothing about the outdoors. Emily must hike for any chance of rescue, but she has no confidence or respect for Skylar's ability to find food, to help her dad, or to survive. 


Primary conflict: (The wilderness) Skylar knows nothing about the outdoors, fishing, or first aid, but now she’s left to tend to her stepfather after he’s mauled by a bear. She’s clumsy, scared, and has no skills, but she must find food and keep her stepfather alive.

Secondary conflict: Skylar must adapt to her surroundings and step up to help herself or she will fail everyone around her. She must put aside her co-dependent traits and rely on her own strength and intelligence that she often hides.

Interpersonal conflict: Skylar’s own father abandoned her as an infant and now her stepfather might die. On his death bed, she’s tormented to learn the family secret that changes everything. Eric married Skylar's mother as a dying wish to ensure Emily has a future family. Skylar now questions Eric's love and wonders if her new family is a sham.

7.     Setting:

Settings: A broken down cabin, the dense forest, a broken down airplane, on a boat in the lake. 

The setting of the novel is the isolated Canadian wilderness with nothing but dense forest in every directions. There's no electricity, no clean water, and their food supply has been decimated. The wilderness provides tranquility with loons, flowers, and fresh pine air, but it challenges every move that Emily and Skylar make. Their isolation increases their desperation to get help as their father lay bleeding on the floor of a dilapidated cabin. 

·       The novel begins with stepsisters, Emily and Skylar, on an old, sputtering airplane with their father/stepfather, Eric. They are being dropped off at a remote cabin in the Canadian wilderness for a fishing trip. The plane nearly crashes on arrival - (foreshadows future rescue attempt.) Upon their landing, the vast endless tree line stretches for miles without hint of civilization.

·       The old, broken-down cabin is surrounded by forest and located on a secluded lake with no other inhabitants for miles. There is no electricity or running water at the cabin. They use an outhouse, use fire to cook, carry in their food by plane, and layer their clothes for warmth. They rely on catching fish as part of their food supply.

Loons call from the lake as the male and female stick together to protect their nest. Loons symbolize Emily's dead mother because of the deep family secret that her mother sacrificed her own happiness to keep Emily safe and happy.

·       The cabin is filled with cobwebs, mouse poop, and the roof leaks. A bear and her cubs break down the cabin’s front door looking for food. Their father, Eric, is severely injured. The girls throw food to lure the bears away. Their only food supply is depleted.

·       The satellite phone doesn’t work, and their rescue plane crashes as it approaches the lake. They have no contact with the outside world and they have no food. Their father needs help, or he will die. The forest closes in and a storm begins. Darkness and rain represent their hopelessness.

·       Emily ventures into the dense wilderness alone to find the crashed plane. She hopes to find survivors or a way to contact help. She has no food and is uncertain if she will find anything at the plane. She is uncertain of the right direction and climbs trees to find landmarks to locate the crashed plane. 

She searches for water and must build a fire to have safe water. A rolling river provides relief and water, but also is the source of a severe leg injury when Emily falls.

·       Skylar stays at the cabin to care for her stepfather, but she must tend to his injuries and find food. The dark cabin smells like rotting flesh. Raccoons live inside the outhouse and challenge Skylar.

·       On Emily’s journey, she faces a severe ankle injury, sickness from contaminated water, and comes upon the plane crash. She must make fire, forage for food, and avoid getting lost. The wilderness closes in and challenges her hope.

·       Skylar tries to go fishing and hikes to find wild berries. Many scenes at her stepfather’s bedside demonstrate his declining health and injuries as the reader experiences the smells, oozing wounds, and his bouts of delirium.

·       Emily returns to the cabin just as the bear and her cubs return – Emily and Skylar battle the bears together. 

·       Final scene – the girls and father return to the cabin site the next year as a family after they’ve bought the cabin as their own. The cabin is repaired and fresh. The clearing is now an inviting scene and the cabin is home.


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Changing Fate

Genre: Fantasy

  1. The Story Statement: 

Maggie Westington and Chloe Fay both have similar missions: to change their own fates. While they are on similar journeys they are both looking for very different things. Maggie feels unfulfilled and unsatisfied in her life professionally while Chloe loves her job as a Sister of Fate but can’t seem to find the one thing she longs for most - love.

  1. The Antagonists/Antagonistic Force:

It’s clear from the first chapter that the physical anatagonists are both Maggie and Chloe’s sisters. Both Chloe and Maggie have two sisters, one they get along with and one they don’t. Maggie’s fight with one of hers is the whole reason she goes out the same night Chloe does the night they meet. Chloe’s oldest sister Alexis tries to sabatoge her quest for love. Maggie’s sister Emma and Chloe’s sister Alexis both can’t understand why Maggie and Chloe can’t just accept their current situations and fates like everyone else.

This brings me to the antagonistic force that is the central theme of the book: fate. As young women do they accept their fates, however unhappy they may be, or do they fight to change them?

  1. The Titles:

  • Changing Fate - I selected this title because it most largely covers the theme of the book that was just mentioned.

  • The Three Sisters - This was my first title because both Maggie and Chloe are one of three sisters and each one has a sister that’s an antagonist. However the story ended up being more about Chloe and Maggie and their journeys than their sisters.

  • Sisters of Fate - In a way this option combines the first two and points to the fantasy genre because Chloe is a Sister of Fate and she turns mortal to find love on Earth. However I still feel the first one is best because Chloe and Maggie aren’t the only two whose fates are changed in this book.

  1. Two Comparables:

  • Candace Bushnell’s Lipstick Jungle - Feminism and women supporting women is another huge theme of this book that is not represented through the sisters but easily seen through Maggie and Chloe’s friendship. It immediately made me think of Candace Bushnell’s writing because whether it’s Lipstick Jungle or Sex and the City, her stories are about strong women who support each other no matter what they are going through. 

  • Jennifer Derrick’s Broken Fate - When conducting research on books about the Sisters of Fate I came across Jennifer Derrick’s Broken Fate. While we have some similarities, like two of our characters being named Chloe, hers is much more about the Sisters of Fate than actual fate itself. 

  • So I compare the fantasy element of this book to Derrick’s but the general theme of my writing compares more closely to Bushnell’s 

  1. The Hook Line with Conflict and Core:

Two women in their thirties work against time and society’s traditional views of who they are and what they should be to try to change their fates. Can Maggie find a new direction in her life at this age and can Chloe find love before her time as mortal is up? The clock is ticking for both of them.

  1. Inner Conflict and Secondary Conflict:

  • Chloe’s Inner Conflict - Chloe tells herself that she loves her job and she does, but when she becomes mortal she realizes that she loves living so much more. She thought she wanted to find love with another human but ends up finding a love for life itself.

  • Maggie’s Inner Conflict - Simply put, Maggie feels stuck in her life. She’s never found a love that compared to the one with her ex and she feels like she could do so much more with her job. She wants to make a difference in what she does for a living but what she doesn’t realize is how big of a difference she’s made in the life of her friends. She doesn’t realize this until it’s too late.

  • The secondary conflict for both Chloe and Maggie are their sisters. Both sets of sisters have followed their paths without question and have become antagonists for Chloe and Maggie because they can’t understand why they won’t simply accept their fates as they are. The sisters represent the traditional views of women, especially Maggie’s sisters who are married with kids. That is not what Maggie wants and she feels like she is being punished with where she is in life because she doesn’t want what society expects women to want.

  1. The Setting(s):

The setting is present day in an unnamed city. I didn’t want to be very specific with the general setting because I want it to feel like it could take place anywhere. There are five major places that are the backdrops of this book:

  • Maggie’s Home - Maggie shares a brownstone with her sister Emma and her family. She moved in after her breakup with her ex-almost fiancé Max. She meant to only stay a few months until she found her own place but it’s been three years.

  • Chloe’s Apartment - Her sister Leslie gave Chloe an apartment only a few miles away from Maggie’s home. It is a one bedroom apartment with only the necessities, which prompts Chloe to go shopping on her first day on Earth to give it a more homey feel.

  • Mac’s Diner - Mac’s Diner is right in the middle of Maggie and Chloe’s places and becomes a favorite spot for them. Mac was originally a photojournalist but took over the diner his dad owned when he died and made it his own. He took it over to be closer to his nephew Dylan after he was born since Dylan’s dad ran off. The diner isn’t 24 hours but stays open until the last person leaves, that last person often being Maggie. It’s covered in professional quality photos that he took of his travels and the people he loves. Maggie loves ordering coffee and curly fries from here after work or after a night out and a coffee and fruit in the mornings after her runs.

  • Andy’s Bar - Andy’s Bar is a bar/nightclub that is another one of Maggie’s favorite places and soon becomes one of Chloe’s favorites as well. Andy becomes a close friend to both just like Mac does. Andy was married and a lawyer but got divorced because he was always working and never living and decided to do something he loved, like open up the bar instead. But as a former lawyer and husband he does worry when he sees women by themselves or on first dates. If he does he lets them know of his drink system - If a date is going well order a mixed drink. If the woman is unsure and needs Andy to create a diversion for her to leave, order a water. If the woman thinks he’s a psycho and about ready to rape or kill her, order a shot. He has these signals written out on a small card and he hands them to anyone he feels might need it.

  • The Cafe on the Corner - Alec is the owner of The Cafe on the Corner and it is the third and final place that Maggie loves. Alec was also formerly married but divorced and struggling with his business before he met Maggie. Maggie doesn’t come here quite as much as the other two but when she does her and her sisters love the cherry danishes.


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The universe is an extremely dangerous place. Benjamin finds this out quickly after being kidnapped by aliens. Snatched into a web of alien intrigue for purposes unrevealed to him. Book One tells the tale of Benjamin's experiences during the first week of being abducted. Growing Up Gray describes the fear of his initial introduction to his new guardian’s, The Grays. The series chronicles Benjamin’s life while he navigates this alien intrigue. Something is coming. Something so dangerous the universe can no longer remain divided. Benjamin is the unwitting cog in a grand Atenian design to save the universe. A hail Mary thousands of years in the making. The Atenians, The Grays, wanted a soldier, they got one. They just need to raise him first, and hope he survives the process. Benjamin uses his blog called Growing Up Gray to chronicle the adventures that took place while he lived among the stars. A time Benjamin was Growing Up Gray.


Commander Hatton, the Atenian tasked with training an alien. Hatton will follow orders. The commander isn’t to inflict any lasting harm. What is harm in alien terms? How far will Hatton push these boundaries?

The Revisionists, a secret organization bent on bringing back Atenian dominance to the universe. Is Hatton part of this? These forces attacked Benjamin for reasons he can’t comprehend.

The Atenian Emperor who set all this in motion. Is Hetalar as benign as they pretend? Member nations of the Concord sworn enemies of the Grays. The Raak whose love of battle tests Benjamins resolve and burgeoning skills.

Overseer Nylen, whose need to spawn the Return, puts Benjamin and those he loves in mortal peril. It was a one-way trip for Nylen’s forces. How is Benjamin to stop this tyrant without the help of his guardians?

There is always the question of why? Why him? Will he ever find out? When he does, will he keep his humanity intact?


1.      Growing Up Gray (a.k.a  name of the blog referenced throughout series)

2.      Lost in all the Gray

3.      Bringing Humanity to the Universe


Science fantasy/ Science fiction

1. The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

I use this because Benjamin is in a fight for his life. Much like the heroine of that story. His fight is with aliens of differing races, not humans. The one rule is to survive and advance. Using only archaic methods of combat. Benjamin's tournament is to decide the fate of the universe. This will be the last installment of Growing Up Gray. The epic conclusion of the series. Benjamin isn’t aware of this at this point in my tale. Like Katniss, Benjamin must prevail to save what he holds dear. The fate of billions is riding on it.

2.  The Grays by Whitley Strieber

New York times best-selling author for Communion. I picked this comparison, because it shows there is interest in the Grays in many forms. My setting is unique, but these aliens are iconic. In Growing Up Gray these aliens come to life on the page.


Growing Up Gray The series by Michael Gray

The universe is a dangerous place. If you 're ever kidnapped by Gray aliens, you’ll discover this quickly. Benjamin Benson did, and now he is fighting for his life.


Many things conflict Benjamin. He feels guilty for not missing his home and family more. These aliens have outstanding tech, bordering on the magical. He feels like he is living in an episode of Star Trek for real. Isn’t it only natural to be awed by his surroundings? Benjamin should be angrier and resentful of his captors, only he isn’t. He cannot comprehend why the Atenians chose him, and his captors refuse to explain their reasonings. Throughout the series he struggles with these questions. Through it all, he must hold on to his humanity while coming to terms with his inescapable situation. 

Benjamin sees these aliens aren’t that different from us. They have prejudices in their society. Subcultures deemed inferior for reasons Benjamin can’t, or won't, comprehend. The Atenians are nonbinary. Sexless, but the genetic disposition of this race isn’t irrelevant. Some take on their ancestral characteristics. Mirroring a time before the Atenians became what they are today.

 The Atenian elite decline to notice those Atenians whom they deem inferior. Tools for the aristocracy to use and discard. Benjamin is aware of this. His growing respect for an Atenian solider and the disregard for his friend Cordarius in Atenian society is prevalent throughout the series. He doesn’t like it. Benjamin will demand change for his cooperation. His parents taught him all people are important. If humans can figure it out, Atenians can as well.

Confronted with racism and being bullied by his trainers is a constant theme. Benjamin isn’t a fan of either of these things. He struggles to reconcile how these exist in an advanced society. Later in the series, Benjamin becomes immersed in a struggle for dominance between two opposing philosophies. A sentient forest encompassing an entire planet is under attack. Benjamin must resist these forces, curb the harm done to the climate before it's too late. He must confront his disgust at the wanton destruction unleashed against nature in the name of expansion and greed.


The settings of the series change from book to book. In book one Benjamin describes the incredible Atenian Battle fortress from the inside. Benjamin is more a guest than a prisoner. His captors are eager to share their advances with the awed human. The High Adjudicator itself takes Benjamin through this truly wondrous ship. A ship so huge we could consider it a moonlet when orbiting a planet. Benjamin sees firsthand how insignificant Human science is when compared to the Atenians. The Grays make the commonplace into the miraculous. There are endless wonders for a young boy to marvel at, and Benjamin does. The Nicroba is a battle fortress. Benjamin witnesses the devastating power of this ship in combat against the Votonus, a species the Atenians consider a scourge on the galaxy. He quickly realizes any of these alien races could squash the earth like an elephant stepping on an ant.

Book two takes place partly on a planetary body called Tochar. The seat of power for the Tocharian Protectorate. The Ultima Adjudicators on Tochar are part of the puppet masters controlling Benjamin’s life. Benjamin becomes the first human to walk under an alien sun; the first earthling to breathe air not of the earth. The rest of the book takes place on the Nicroba. Benjamin recalls his training and the struggle he faced from being too aggressive with his trainers.

Book three takes place on Emperor Hetalar’s seat of power. A super Earth for lack of a better description. The Planet Marinion is a tropical paradise where the Atenian dynasty's official government resides. The unofficial, the clandestine part of Hetalar’s empire, rests in orbit on a space station so huge it casts a shadow on the planet. Benjamin views all of this wonder, with the Emperor as his host, while being drawn further into the political intrigue surrounding the Empire.

Book four takes place on a planet called Othvoran. The Othar are a gentle and conscientious race. A planet spanning forest covers Othvoran. A forest that is aware it is alive and wishes to continue living. The forest is under attack. It is angry, and actively fighting those trying to carve out a piece of the planet by eliminating the trees. Othvoran is a living ecosystem worshipped by the original inhabitants. A truly wondrous place. Appearing in this book, Benjamin also visits a water world inhabited by a species emerging from the depths of their ocean to travel the darkness. The Atenians help this world stave off attack from the Votonus, and the Moraden. Book five will take place on Othvoran as Benjamin struggles to survive the forest and the aliens trying to destroy it.


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Assignment One: Story Statement

Three generations of women must confront the secrets of their past in order to make life changing decisions in the present day.  


Assignment Two: The antagonist

Nancy Hale is a power-hungry, judgmental, manipulative mother who will stop at nothing to ruin her daughter’s wedding. She has already proven her inability to be trusted by having an affair and now she is scheming to prevent her daughter Janie from marrying the man she loves just because she doesn’t like the idea of her daughter marrying a man she’s only known for a few months. Nancy is snooty and short tempered. She’s unsupportive of this marriage because of the fiancé’s age—ten years her daughter’s senior, heritage—he’s Italian, and past—he’s divorced. Talk about judgmental! Her mannerisms come across insincere and rehearsed which her family attributes to Nancy’s background in politics. She always seems to be hiding her true feelings behind a fake smile or snarky remark. Her real reason for acting this way is because it was Nancy’s husband, not her that had the affair. But she thinks no one knows anything at all about an affair, much less, that they blame her, so she hides the pain of his infidelity behind a cloak of false self-assurance.


Assignment Three: Title options






Assignment Four: Comps

1.     Evvie Drake Starts Over by Linda Holmes

2.     Good Company by Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney

I chose these titles because they have similar themes to my women’s fiction novel, dealing with family and marriage issues, but also because they have been marketed as book club fiction and my novel can be pitched as book club fiction as well which broadens the audience.



Assignment Five: HOOK LINE

Three generations of strong-headed women at the crossroads: a daughter must choose between a fiancé and her first love; a mother keeps a terrible secret; a widowed grandmother is drawn to an old love—but learning the truth changes everything.



Assignment Six: Conflicts

This story is told in dual POV between Janie and Penny with flashback chapters to Penny’s youth in the 1960s. 

Janie’s primary conflict- Janie seems to be the only one excited about her new fiancé and her upcoming wedding in just two weeks. Now she must find a priest willing to marry them on such short notice, a dress that resembles the one she’s always dreamed of and a venue that fits the bill, all while trying to convince her family and friends that Matteo is the perfect man for her.


Janie’s secondary conflict- Janie old boyfriend Will won’t take the hint that she’s moved on. He keeps showing up, trying to convince her that he’s not the scum bag she thinks he is.

Janie is also conflicted about her volatile relationship with her mother and the secret she’s keep from her mother for years—that she heard her mother confessing to someone that she was having an affair.


Janie’s internal conflict- Does she really think Will is a scumbag?  Has she really moved on? And her mother’s affair did more than just affect her relationship with her mother, it caused her to have trust issues with everyone when it comes to love.


Penny’s primary conflict- Penny’s beloved husband of fifty years passed away six months ago. She’s lonely and heartbroken and when her old high school beau, who also happens to be her husband’s cousin asks about her and let’s her friend know he’ll be at their sixtieth high school reunion and wants her there, she feels torn about attending. Is she foolish to look for love at her age?


Penny’s secondary conflict- Her old beau- Frank broke her heart multiple times and was never good for her. But Penny is certain that people can change and maybe this time will be different. Penny is also conflicted about her granddaughter Janie and the wedding because she agrees with her daughter-in-law, Nancy that it’s not a good idea. But Janie had confided in her grandmother years ago that she’d heard her mother confessing to having an affair and Penny can’t stand Nancy for cheating on her son. But taking Nancy’s side is one thing, being a co-conspirator in Nancy’s plan to sabotage the wedding is another that Penny is not sure she can go through with.


Penny’s internal conflict- She knows that all those years ago, she chose her husband Phillip over Frank for a reason. She loved Phillip more. But she never told Frank that to his face because she didn’t want to hurt him and by the time he’d come back for her, she was already spoken for. So even now, he believes they were meant to be together. Is it worth telling him the truth now or should some secrets stay buried?


Assignment Seven: Setting

The book opens up in the busy Atlanta, Georgia airport in the hottest month of the year in the south (August) where tensions are already high, and nerves are already frazzled even before Janie greets her family with a surprise fiancé.

The story moves to Janie’s parent’s house, where the familiarity of her family home brings back memories she’d like to forget.

Much of the story takes place in Seaside, Florida, a charming little beach town in the Florida panhandle where Janie’s grandmother takes her to get her outside of Atlanta and give them both some time to think about what they really want for their future. This beach town was a place Janie’s grandmother and grandfather would take her as a child and was always a place of happiness and relaxation for their family. This setting, with bike rides and boardwalk sunsets gives them both a sense of inner peace and enables them to talk through some of their inner conflict.

The later part of the book takes place in Montgomery, Alabama, the site of Penny’s sixtieth high school reunion and also the setting for her many flashbacks that include her early relationship with Frank and Phillip. As she drives into Montgomery, she points out to Janie places from her past that had significant meaning to her.

The last scenes take place back in Janie’s family home where the family is able to discuss the secrets of their past and vow to work on forgiving one another proving that they are a family who loves each other.

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Algonkian Writer Conference 7 Assignments 6 2021.docx

#1 The Act of Story Statement

In the Arizona Desert, about 2070, fourteen-year-old Michael Anderson struggles against the forces of Nature, including a two-year deluge of unprecedented precipitation which causes four dams to burst on the Salt River above the Phoenix metropolis.  Due to the natural disaster, Michael’s family is evacuated and alone he must keep his family alive as they hike forty-nine miles in a savage wilderness through a blizzard in the White Mountains of Arizona. He has no greater desire than to see his entire family safely reunited.  His father, Lieutenant Joseph Anderson of the New China Security Force is required to stay behind, fortunately now to help with the withdrawal effort, rather than the scheduled battle against the New China Military to remove all the Salt River Pima Tribe from their reservation.  Both Michael and Joseph Anderson confront moral issues to either obey New China orders or risk firing squads and prison camps for choosing to save American lives under the Communist China regime, presently in control for the past two decades in the United States.


#2 Antagonist

Much like the colonists of the first American Revolution, Michael must choose loyalties; to comply with the life-sucking regulations mandated by the New China Emperors, (King George) or rebel against the dictatorial government and jeopardize his, his friends and his families’ lives and forge into a war of Independence. (The Regulars) Michael is an ordinary middle-grade student who faces school bullies, family conflict, and fear of the unknown.  In this End Time saga, the antagonist is the natural disaster, The Desert Tsunami, titled by the media, merged with overwhelming New China directives forced upon the Anderson family.  Their chances of survival and reuniting seem impossible after the dams fail and the Phoenix Valley is washed away until it is unrecognizable. 


#3 Title

My first title was, “No Fear for Those Prepared” but that’s boring, too long and not descriptive enough for a YA End Times novel.  I thought of “72 Hours” because survivalists preach that if you can endure the first seventy-two hours after a natural disaster, then you will likely come out on top.  This is the first book in my CATACLYSM series, so to fit the story boards for the next books, I added a few twists and turns, and augmented a couple of characters to support those future plots.  I realized that two major evacuations take place in this first story; 1 a forced evacuation (human-made) by the New China Military of all the Native Americans from their reservation in the entire US, and an evacuation because of a natural disaster.  “Evacuation:  The Desert Deluge” or “Evacuation: Natural & Human-Made” or “Natural & Human-Made Disaster”. One of these titles may work.  According to biblical prophecies the end times will be filled with an unparalleled number of natural disasters; earthquakes, hurricanes, tsunamis, drought, tornadoes, famine, disease, pandemics, wildfires, hailstorms, blizzards and such. The first story contains the natural disaster element, with an uprising by common Americans, like Michael, to take back their country from the Chinese.


#4 Comparables

My YA futuristic end times adventure is somewhat comparable to Chris Stewart’s “The Great and Terrible”.  Comparable in that the plot is of a modern-time family caught in catastrophic events, politically made, combined with natural disasters and their fight for survival.  The Anderson family pray occasionally, but the novel “Evacuation” is not nearly as religiously oriented to end time prophecies as Stewart’s series or “Thunder of Heaven” written by Tim LaHaye and Craig Parshall, which have many “Come to Jesus” moments and filled with scriptural accounts from Ezekiel, Daniel and Revelations.  Many novels and movies have been created about the end of the Earth and end times, most with thorough religious overtones.  An opposite spectrum of end time writing is “The End Time Saga” by Daniel Green where an apocalyptic global pandemic creates man-eating zombies that destroy most human life on Planet Earth.  There’s an extreme amount of descriptive gore, blood and violence throughout each page of the novel.  There’s no mention of prophecies or biblical scriptures, just a natural end to most human life due to Monkey Pox.  The unique character of “Evacuation”, my novel, is that a middle-grade student, Michael narrates the events, without knowing he’s wrapped up in prophetic end time scenarios but uncovers new insights about the future due to the recently discovered “Book of Enoch” copied and given to him at great sacrifice by his best friend.


#5 Core Wound and Primary Conflict/Hook Line

Will Michael keep his family alive as they trek through the snowy blizzard of the New China Mountains of Arizona? His younger brother, Jericho will likely die in the snowy wilderness from the attack of the government-enhanced wolves and his father has gone missing and Michael feels powerless to save either.  Will his family survive the deluge and the New China dictates which have forced their family to separate and compelled them into life-threatening peril?

Primary Conflict though, becomes surviving the desert deluge when the tsunami-size wave plunges through the Phoenix Valley, forcing Michael and his family to climb through the White Mountains in the dead of winter to their planned rendezvous spot, and hopefully reunite with his father, Lieutenant Joseph Anderson.


#6 Other Matters of Conflict

 Michael’s anger grows toward the New China Government which threatens his father to face a firing squad and to throw his entire family into an eternal prison camp, for protecting the Salt River Pima Tribe from the NC Military removal. 

Michael shuns the idea of joining with the Sons and Daughters of Liberty to fight against the New China government for American Independence.  His cousin, Carter challenges him to find the courage to sign up and battle his inner fears of failure and his core belief of not being enough.

It’s rumored at Queen Creek Junior High that Brady the Brute has plans to annihilate Michael for daring to snowboard with Bonnie all day.  For some strange reason, Bonnie has chosen Michael to be her knight in shining armor and Michael is frustrated with the new assignment and relationship, being naive to crushes and the aspects of communicating with girls.


#7 Setting

The Anderson family’s home is in Queen Creek, Arizona and the neighborhoods in the East Valley are where the events take place during the first part of the novel, as well as the East Valley Police Stations where Michael’s dad works. The setting is different from today, though due to the Chinese take-over, with Work Camps and Prison Camps scattered through the Phoenix Valley neighborhoods.  Also, new technology, like hover cars, 3-D images on the screen and TV are viewed, scientific advances and new music genres are evident in the year 2070.

Once the Anderson’s are evacuated and begin hiking up the Salt River Canyon in deep snow, the setting changes drastically.  Because of the recent severe ice and snowstorms, most Arizona highways have been closed and food and gasoline rations plague the Phoenix Valley.  The Anderson’s van runs out of fuel once they cross the Salt River Bridge at the bottom of the Salt River Canyon.  Seven members of the Anderson family find themselves on foot in a snow-drifted wilderness, 49 miles from their rendezvous location in Pinedale, Arizona. 

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 FIRST ASSIGNMENT: write your story statement. 

Murder Between Realms, a dark fantasy, is a new take on the whodunit. With all the tension of a closed in murder mystery setting, but in a fantasy world, a young eremite must solve an unprecedented death that may cause two neighboring kingdoms to go to war.


The true villain of this piece, (the murders), are not revealed until the end of the story. Throughout the case there are people hampering the MC’s progress, threatening him, lying to him. There is a killer, hell bent on revenge in the name of their species after they were exiled from both kingdoms. They are moving freely among everybody, without detection. A Living God, and her Bondsguard who will do anything to defend their true identity, no matter the cost. Finally a Caucus of Prefects, who elected the MC, Gnaut (pronounced Nought), to solve this case, but are preoccupied with protecting their own secrets and corrupt affairs.


Murder Between Realms

The Unrest of Murder

Divide and Conquer


Comparables to Murder Between Realms. A Dark Fantasy, Thriller, Whodunit.

The two stories I chose encompass the key plot elements of Murder Between Realms.

Theft of Swords; by Michael J Sullivan

Features a young hero being out of their depth and learning to grow in order to cope with the adversity around them. A story in which a small crime explodes into conflict of epic proportions.

Knives Out by Rian Johnson The claustrophobia of a closed environment mystery. Interviewing suspects, discovering liars, truth speakers and some whose reliability can change in an instant. A protagonist who is trying to solve a crime but is surrounded by people he cannot trust.


A boy of faith has to grow up fast, while investigating a city’s first murder, trying to protect a Living God and calm two neighboring kingdoms who are mobilizing for battle over this crime.


Gnaut is a likeable, but complex character. He is an underdog you root for but he is also capable of surprising the reader and other characters around him in the story.

His primary conflict in this tale is his desire to solve this case and prove his worth. He is constantly downtrodden and under-estimated. Despite being chosen to solve the investigation he is a target of intimidation and exploitation. Once a powerful ally is lost, Gnaut is vulnerable and needs to find his inner, stronger, self or this case, and he, are lost. He must stand up to his bullies, navigate through the politics of The Zenith to his own advantage and position himself as the savior who solves two murders, rescues the Living God and prevents war, simultaneously.

His secondary conflicts come in various forms. Despite the fact the Caucus of Prefects selected him to find the truth in this case, they are not much help and are more inclined to control Gnaut rather than work with him. A few of them have their own skeletons in their closets and prefer to look out for themselves rather than the people they serve. An example; they give him an amulet as a gift, which Gnaut is unaware contains seeing stones. Basically Gnaut is wearing a bodycam and doesn’t know it.

One of his best friends in The Zenith, Daggten, a half man/half ogre, barman, likes to impose some superiority over Gnaut, implying being bigger makes him better. While he is Gnaut’s friend, and contributes to his growth during the story, they are at ends all the time due to their being a classic mismatched pair.

Gnaut must also contend with Tauradh, a Bondsguard, the highest form of soldier. He protects Zinssa, his travelling companion and the last descendant of the Living Gods. Tauradh’s motivation is to protect Zinssa, but with Gnaut wanting to lock The Zenith down, keeping everybody inside, he has made prisoners, and therefore enemies, of the two. Gnaut also wants to defend Zinssa at all costs, his plan is not on the same page as the man who has kept her safe for centuries.

He also meets the reigning monarchs of both kingdoms and a Keeper Wyvern on the highest mountain in the land. All relationships are rocky, for one reason or another, and once news gets to his home, The Lamasery, the Sacrist becomes involved in his Eremite’s welfare.

Basically, the poor kid cops it from all sides. It’s quite a week.

Gnaut’s inner conflict is unique for a protagonist. He must navigate through a murder investigation with the knowledge he is complicit with the crime. Gnaut knows he had a part to play with the victim’s death (an act of self-defense, keeping him true to character of being a good soul, not evil). Gnaut accidentally inflicted the fatal wound, but there are other atrocities performed on the victim he did not do. He wades through a case where he knows there are truths he needs to discover while trying to conceal his involvement in it all. The second murder, his friend Qiric, a high ranking Prefect, is a brand new crime. Gnaut does have pieces of the puzzle he still needs to put together. For the entire case he needs to keep his own truth a well-guarded secret while pursuing what other answers are still out there.

Gnaut is oblivious that there are four characters who know exactly where his place in all of this is.


The main location for Murder Between Realms is The Zenith, an old fortress originally built into the mountains for the purposes of war. With peace reigning over the land for centuries, the vast citadel is now home to a small colony of permanent and short term residents, along with visitors. They use The Zenith as the gateway between the kingdoms of Hauvnath and Dimyrr. Most of the story, and its scenes, takes place within The Zenith’s walls.

Key Locations in The Zenith

There are two levels in The Zenith, and Upper and Lower Level, with four stone spiral staircase to get from one level to the other. The Upper Level is in the open air, while the Lower Level is below the surface, within the mountain. It’s dark, with only fire assisted lighting for people who work or live there.

The Upper Level holds key locations not only to The Zenith, but the story. The Caucus Chamber where the “Caucus of Prefects” meet, to discuss Zenith matters and any issues or rules. There is no law enforcement, The Prefects govern as a committee with the Caucus Chamber functioning similarly to a Town Hall. It is humble looking from the outside, but inside it is opulent, to the point of overbearing, with its’ marble floors and onyx columns. Here; Gnaut reports to them, providing them with his progress during the case. It is also where all suspects are gathered for the big reveal and showdown.

There are other places Gnaut visits to gain further information and interview potential suspects. The Tavern is the go to place where most people can relax and unwind. Despite being a shy boy from the nearby Lamasery, Gnaut spends a lot of time here. It’s a claustrophobic place, with no windows, ventilation is high up on its tall walls, to accommodate the tallest species if need be. There’s an ominous lack of lighting and the stinging waft of blended body odor that is so invasive it’s almost tangible.

The Tavern is noisy, something not detectable from the outside. The place is a constant bustle of  merriment and conversation. Gnaut’s main source of information, or even truth, is from Daggten, the proprietor and barman. Half ogre, half man, Daggten is a different breed for Gnaut to handle. He also learns valuable information from varying patrons such as Tauradh, Kord and even high ranking Prefect, Qiric, who calls in toward the end of Day Two for a drink. While The Zenith is the gateway between the two kingdoms, The Tavern is often the gateway from one critical scene in The Zenith to the next. It holds many secrets from citizenry gossip to folklore tales. It’s the tourist information center for a visitor/investigator like Gnaut, even if he has to check in his dignity at the door. It’s no surprise this is where Gnaut ascends to manhood. His odd couple relationship with Daggten is a driving force in this story and how Gnaut personally evolves from shy pushover to investigator and savior. If Gnaut wants to learn how to cope on his own there is no greater baptism of fire than the citadel’s most imposing figure, who can sometimes be a gentle giant and (tor)mentor, helping Gnaut discover his hero within.

Another source of information is The Market, and the Trade Galleria or The Grid. The Market is dingy, and in poor condition. There are a number of wooden stalls where people can trade and sell their possessions and wares. The Trade Galleria, is different, housing The Zenith’s most talented, where services and tradespeople operate. Gnaut interviews Torvau the Alchemist, regarding a golden potato (strangely relevant) and Merubelle the Jeweler, regarding the victim’s character and lack of honesty. Gnaut’s questioning does lead him back to talk to the Tailor, regarding a mysterious cloth (a clue) and to the Brewan, discussing poisons and their effects.

The Upper Level also contains sites for other minor, but story propelling scenes. The Southern Gate, where the victim, Silete, was found. The Remedial Shelter where she was taken to and examined by Gnaut and Qiric. The Growth Huts where The Zenith’s plants and produce grow, the Omni Temple, the site of worshipping the deities of both kingdoms. It is also the focal point of the “Moonrise Vigil” ceremony (there are two in the story). There are also Sanitation Hovels for personal hygiene and the Cleaneries for washing possessions and laundry. There are watch towers at both ends above their respective gates. On top of the Northern Watchtower an important negotiation takes place between the rulers of both kingdoms, as their mobilized armies face each other, ready to fight on their command. All permanent residents live on the Upper Level, with some key scenes occurring in the lodgings of some residents. The Southern Watchtower features when Auburneru, the Queen of Dimyrr, seeks entry in The Zenith during a mandatory lockdown.

The Lower Level does have windows along the front wall, but to be in most other areas people need fire to light the way. The Short Term Resident Quarters and Overnight Billets are all down here. Gnaut’s lodgings are a busy place, with it receiving a healthy number of visitors during his time at The Zenith, most of them uninvited. The Lower Level also has Sanitation Hovels and Cleaneries as the lack of visibility makes using them a bit of a lottery.

Next to the Northern Gate and Registry, for the Lower Level are the two hotspots in The Zenith. The Furnace where essentially the fires of The Zenith are always burning. It is also the site where the charred remains of a missing suspect’s backpack are found. People fear the body may have gone in with it. It is a popular place for characters to dispose what they feel are incriminating evidence. Beside The Furnace is The Bakery, where Makkei, the father of the victim, works. It is here he is initially informed of his daughter’s murder by Gnaut and Qiric. There is also a Library, Hospital, Pharmacy and Property Office on the Lower Levels, but these are mentioned during the story, with no scenes in the book set there. While these locations lend to belonging on the Upper Level, the elements can be cruel in the open air, with intermittent high winds, rain and a brutal winter forcing many key establishments to be underground.

The Kingdom of Hauvnath

Hauvnath is the kingdom to the north of The Zenith. It is primarily a kingdom of men and women, with the exception of Glymarok, an orc village to the west of the capital, Feryngard, home of the reigning monarch, King Boijanidas. His residence, Castle Asteraak, is the focal point for early action in the story. The King is informed that a Lydithian, a descendant of the Living Gods, is currently staying at The Zenith. With it’s gates closed, she is a prisoner and there for the taking. The King holds an important meeting with his court, deciding to mobilize the Hauvnathy army and march on The Zenith for the first time in nearly 700 years.

North to the capital is Stalker’s Camp, home to The Bounty Stalkers, a village of mercenaries, thieves, and cutthroats who offer their services for hire. The King travels here to recruit for a mission on his behalf. Three Bounty Stalkers are chosen to ride to The Zenith, with plans to kidnap Boijanidas’ requested target, unaware The Zenith is about to close and lock the doors.

A key location, near the eastern coast of Hauvnath is The Lamasery, Gnaut’s home. It plays little part in the first Act of the story but a visit to the monastery bears significance for Gnaut learning more about a poison used in one of the murders as well as tangible assistance his Sacrist provides him with so he can go toe to toe with people who bully him through muscle, magic, or spiritual intimidation. When Gnaut returns to The Zenith, a day after visiting a number of locations outside it’s walls, a different investigator, and a more confident man. A lot can happen in 24 hours.

The Plains of Valor is a vast wasteland stretching to the Kosolm Mountains, and The Zenith. It is hallowed ground, where many battles were fought, with no life living or growing on the plains since. At the western edge of the plains are The Battlecombs, home to the standing, entombed remains of every soldier from Hauvnath who died in battle. The corpses are encased in a thin layer of sandstone, honoring each of the fallen. The Queen of Dimyrr threatens to use a necromancer to raise every single entombed soldier, to fight for her against, their own kingdom.

Keeper’s Peak

The highest mountain in the world, Keeper’s Peak offers majestic views of both kingdoms, but it’s a hard life at this altitude. It receives no visitors as the peak is impossible to traverse on foot. The great mountain is inhabited by a race called the Graheg, a race of short, stocky people who not only adapt and survive the conditions, they have a bond with the three wyverns who live there. One of them, Laga is a legendary Keeper Wyvern and an important character in the case.

Gnaut is brought to Keeper’s Peak by Kord, one of the loyal Graheg and one of Laga’s best friends. Laga observed the murder from the skies and Gnaut was brought home so he could discuss the case with it’s only eyewitness. Despite it’s remote location, from everything, significant pieces of the case are uncovered. For a place that offers little, it’s residents provide Gnaut with an abundance of information to keep him moving along, putting the pieces of the puzzle together.

The Kingdom of Dimyrr

Dimyrr is the kingdom south of The Zenith. As the fortress was built by the Dimyrrians it is technically under their sovereign. It is a mystical kingdom, founded on magic, people and monsters. It is a kingdom rich in resources, ruled by The Divine Monarch, Queen Auberneru. Her castle, The Monarch’s Tower, an audacious pillar of crystal and gold (which the Queen hates), is located in the capital city of Athelisi. While at home, The Queen is informed of Gnaut travelling on her lands. She is also a vaporition, a being that can walk through walls.

The nearest location to The Zenith is the ancient city of Medina. Here, is where the Dimyrrian army converges, before marching toward The Zenith to defend it from a Hauvnathy take-over. At the southern end of Medina is the fabled Rune Cliff. This is a sacred place, where the entire history of the land (both kingdoms) is burned into the cliff face, in tales told in old runic symbols. It sits on an acid lake, but Gnaut visits here, aboard one of the Wyverns from Keeper’s Peak (Durlak), who dangles him in front of the cliff face, several hundred feet above the lake. Gnaut makes significant discoveries at the Rune Cliff which shape the rest of the story, who he considers allies/enemies and explanations for the motives others.

Other locations in Dimyrr include; Trafirndyn, a forest home to elves, cyclops and many other creatures. Lydithia, home to Lydithians, Living Gods and their Descendants. Nyodorrun, the dwarf colony, nestled in near the Kosolm Mountains, (the dwarves feature in the story, but not so much the location). Nyodorrun plays a much bigger part in the sequel – Murder Beyond Lives.

Map, (provided with MS) is Attached

Offical Map.png

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The Heart Also Whispers


1.      Whitman Whitaker must try to save his job at the university, and when this becomes an impossibility, he must restore his career as a Rock ’n’ Roll singer. Most of all, he must return home to Gainesville where Ticiana, the love of his youth, keeps the fires burning.


2.      Whitman faces three antagonists within a narrative that unfolds in alternating chapters recounting events during his youth and during the present. Having grown up fatherless in Gainesville Florida in the shadow of Duane Allman and Tom Petty, Stephen Crane was once Whitman’s best friend as well as the principal songwriter for Whitman’s Lilacs. Later he became Whitman’s bitter rival for control of the band. Eventually Stephen did something unforgivable, leading to an epic struggle among the bandmates, which ended with Stephen’s death and the ruination of Whitman’s own musical career. Having put his musical career behind him, Whitman now has a second opportunity to ruin his life. As an instructor of creative writing at Saint Ignatius University in Northern California, Whitman now faces a second antagonistic force: the Committee on Faculty Misconduct, whose members have become aware of allegations of transgressions of professorial conduct committed by Professor Whitman Whitaker with a female student. Ultimately, one last antagonist stands in the way of Whitman resurrecting his musical career: a young singer in a cover band named Cassidy Frick who suspects that, twenty years ago, Whitman murdered Stephen Crane. Cassidy wants Whitman’s old girlfriend Ticiana, and he wants the band’s missing demo tapes, but most of all, he wants to defend the memory of that Gainesville legend Stephen Crane.


3.      Titles:

The Heart Also Whispers

Her Heart Also Whispers

Heart Murmurs: A Rock ‘n’ Roll Odyssey

Whispering at the Crossroads


4.      This novel combines three genres: Rock ’n’ Roll fiction, campus romance, and the Southern Gothic:

Dana Spiotta, Stone Arabia (A novel about a genius Rock musician, who grows up to make music only for himself.)

Thomas H. Carry, Privilege (A jaded professor at an elite university falls in love with his graduate student.)

Tim Dorsey, Naked Came the Florida Man (A novel about Florida eccentricity.)


5.      A jaded college professor, Whitman Whitaker, while struggling to keep the job he hates, makes an improbable journey to his childhood home, where he overcomes the ghosts and devils that haunt him by reconnecting with the love of his life and resurrecting his music career. 


6.      First Secondary Conflict:

The infernal wreckage left in the wake of Stephen’s death caused Whitman to sever all ties with his hometown of Gainesville, including his relationship with the love of his youth, Ticiana Tecedeira. But he still dreams of “Tess,” as he called her, sometimes swearing that he can hear her whispering to him from across the continent. When he returns to Gainesville, he discovers that Tess has found a way to preserve their past together by staging cover bands of popular ‘70’s and 80’s music at the club she owns and manages. It turns out that she has already forgiven him for his past, which teaches Whitman a crucial lesson about humility and forgiveness.


Second Secondary Conflict:

Whitman experiences pangs of guilt for the manipulative way in which he drove his best friend and former bandmate, Stephen Crane, to self-destruction. He unexpectedly finds a way of atoning for a past life filled with jealousy and rage (as well as more recent transgressions) by resurrecting the musical group that he and Stephen founded in his youth.


7.      Setting:

The opposition in the novel between Silicon Valley, California and Gainesville Florida makes this a tale of two cities. Northern California is cosmopolitan and rich and progressive and dogmatic, while Central Florida is rural and working class and laissez faire and violent, although because Gainesville is also a university town, it is obviously transforming rapidly. This is the beginning of the Big Tech conquest of the world, and the Valley’s tentacles are beginning to reach all the way to small Southern towns. Whitman’s problems begin in earnest when a video of him singing some of his old hits shows up on the new internet video site called YouTube and he unwittingly becomes one of the first viral video memes. Like Homer’s Odyssey or any other epic narrative, this story points to the future as well as to the past. The novel is set against a historical transition period: the first stage of hyper-globalization and connectivity (2005), when people still imagined that they might preserve something like a personal life that was not being registered in clicks and monitored by giant internet corporations.

The novel begins November 1, 2005, at the dawn of the YouTube Age. The first half is set in Santa Clara where Whitman Whitaker holds a position as professor of creative writing at the fictional Saint Ignatius University. Beginning with chapter 4, every other chapter recounts the memories of Whitman’s youth growing up in Gainesville. Whitman associates his Gainesville past with his mother and with Stephen, both of whom have been problematic figures in his life.

The pattern of alternating chapters lasts until the end of Part One, at which point (in the present time), Whitman finds out that he will indeed be brought before the Saint Ignatius University Committee on Faculty Misconduct because of his transgression of rules regarding proper faculty-student relationships. Within the past narrative (set in Gainesville), the last chapter of Part One recounts the Black Mass that teenage Whitman and Stephen conducted in order to sell their souls to the Devil, including their confrontation with Satan himself who appears to them in the form of a Diamondback Rattlesnake (a reptile common to central Florida.)

With a few exceptions, Part Two is set in Gainesville, where Whitman goes once he discovers that the university has forced him to take a leave-of-absence during the investigation of his conduct. The first chapter of Part Two recounts Whitman driving from California to his father’s house in the Duckpond neighborhood of Gainesville (where incidentally Tom Petty grew up). Whitman tells his father that he is on sabbatical and offers to help him write his memoirs of the Korean War. In Gainesville, war is an important parallel to the violence and aggression of Rock groups in general and between Whitman and Stephen in particular. After all, in 2005-6, we are four years into the War on Terror, and American soldiers love Rock ‘n’ Roll! Most of the action of Part Two transpires at Ticiana “Tess”  Tecedeira’s music club, named the Swimming Pool because Ticiana’s Portuguese immigrant father made his fortune by building swimming pools for Orlando and Gainesville residents.

Part Two is all about Whitman and Ticiana, who represents a different kind of cosmopolitanism, one rooted in a reverence for the past (her own past with Whitman, the history of Rock music, Portugal) and for a place (the small town of Gainesville).

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