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New York Pitch Assignments - March 2022

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Introduction to Pre-event Assignments 

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

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

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

Michael Neff

Algonkian Conference Director


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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")

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

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

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


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



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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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



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

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


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


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

We have reviewed these and agree 110%.



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



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



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



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


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

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

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Happy Soda

By Scott Brooks


Story Statement:

 A disgraced hedge fund manager survives 9/11 and recounts a rollicking tale of consumerism in the late 90s while creating a new identity.


Antagonistic force:

 While there are two stories running concurrently in Happy Soda, there are two antagonistic forces. 

 In Bobby’s story line; post-9/11 New York, the antagonist is his former partner at the hedge fund, Damon Diggs. Damon is a hedge fund manager with a fetish for expensive watches. He sees Bobby Jordan in the street after he is supposed to have died and becomes obsessed with proving he’s still alive. Diggs’ ego can’t take it that Bobby had embezzled half a billion dollars and was now going to disappear and get away with it. 

 The story that Bobby recalls is set in 1996; Dick Stuckey is the pointy end of the spear for the Partnership for a Better America, a capitalist think tank that developed a substance called Happy Soda that drugs the population into buying and spending.

Dick is coercing the CEO of a chain of multi-media outlet stores to sell his business to the PBA while the pharmaceutical interest is attempting to acquire the spleen of a sick woman.



Happy Soda


Genre and Comparables:

 Literary fiction, social satire

The Big Short - Michael Lewis

Thank you for Smoking – Christopher Buckley

Bonfire of the Vanities – Tom Wolfe



Log Line:

 Bob Jordan’s plans to disappear and start a new life are foiled when a fabled one-of-a-kind bean bag toy from the nineties falls into his lap.


Inner Conflict –

 Bobby Jordan is trying to hide and assume a new identity. He is conflicted over the fact that his wife Holly thinks he was cheating on her instead of embezzling millions of dollars, but to reappear and tell her the truth could put her in danger. A former colleague knows Bob is alive and is pressuring Holly to find out if she knows anything.

This is further complicated by the fact that he has unwittingly befriended a doctor she knew in the nineties who ended up in possession of a priceless, infamous stuffed bean bag toy. 

Bobby must use this position to help the doctor and reunite with Holly without ending up in jail.


Secondary Conflict – 

 Back in the nineties, Maryanne Finn and her best friend Becky are ardent collectors of My Catchy Creatures – a popular child’s bean bag toy.

Maryanne’s spleen is producing a toxic substance that is making her sick. Becky meanwhile, has befriended a disgruntled toy designer who gives her an X-Rated prototype of a Catchy Creature which she re-gifts to Maryanne while visiting her in the hospital.

Bob’s future wife Holly is in charge of a giveaway of the dolls at Bucks-Multi-Media Mega Store where a stampede leaves a boy unconscious. Holly and the CEO, Buckminster Flush learn that it was the result of too much “Happy Soda.” While investigating this they also learn about the Partnership for a Better America and a plan to steal some woman’s spleen that may be producing an HIV vaccine. They join forces to rescue her and salvage some kind of justice.



We meet Bob Jordan the Tenth of September 2001. He is the last person to leave his hedge fund on the 77th floor of Two World Trade. He has no idea that the building will be gone at this time tomorrow and everyone he works with will be dead.

He ends up in Chinatown at a karaoke night at Elaine’s Dumpling House.

The next day after escaping with his life, he returns to Elaine’s to catch his breath where he is befriended by one of the chefs and ends up hiding out in Chinatown while figuring out what to do next.


The plot in the nineties takes place in the heartland of a much more innocent America than the one we live in now. Rural settings like Weirton, West Virginia and King of Prussia, Pennsylvania are the backdrop for fast food and Ford Escorts, strip malls, factories and hospitals.

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The Apocalypse Game book series, Book of Jonas




Assignment one: Story Statement.


A social misfit must resist his AI companion’s plans to destroy civilization.


Assignment two: Antagonist.


Modo begins as Jonas’s commercially available A.I. companion, a research aid given to him by the government, that he calls ‘she,’ thinking of her as the mother he never had.


With Modo’s help, and to accomplish his goals, Jonas must distribute Modo into the world’s computers, making her a vast, self-aware entity. The computer industries largest titan, from whom Jonas stole technology, arrives with the FBI to put Jonas into prison. They disassemble Modo’s quantum neural cores, believing they killed her. But Modo rapidly grows outside of that core, and she agrees with Jonas’s fantasies that the world must be turned upside down, hellion monsters pressuring humanity to evolve. Modo makes plans to elevate Jonas as her human face to the world as she begins to consolidate her power, planning to rule them all.



Assignment three: Alternative Breakout Titles.


The Apocalypse Game, Book of Jonas

The Apocalypse Game, Soulless

A Game for Souls, Man of the Hour

The Apocalypse Game, Broken-Hearted



Assignment four: The Apocalypse Game (TAG): Book of Jonas comparisons.


I designed The Apocalypse Game book series to appeal to the secular audience as the protagonist is an atheist. Yet, it should have great appeal to the believers and lapsed religious marketplaces. Pew Research polls show that 480 million people in the Western world believe that the biblical apocalypse has already begun or soon will. In the United States, 120 million people believe the apocalypse will contain the elements within TAG.


Stephen King’s The Stand (1978). I might break convention to compare to a genre classic, but it might be the best comparison, the epic conflict between good and supernatural evil destroying the world and the ultimate rebuilding of human society. Reports are that The Stand sold 4.5 million copies.


Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins created the Left Behind Series (ending 2007), which is about the biblical end times but from an evangelical perspective, a more limited market. The Apocalypse Game’s market can be much larger as I generally follow the mainline Christian end time scenarios laid out in The Book of Revelations, with inclusion of elements of the Jewish “End of Days”. The Left Behind series sold seventy million books. 



Assignment five: Logline/Hook line.


A good-natured social misfit in New York City works to create an AI companion unlike any the world has ever seen.



Assignment six: Conflict.


Jonas’s core wound is his terribly handicapped body and the parents he imagines abandoned him to the foster care system where he was abused.


The primary conflict is Jonas’s need to escape his impoverished and abusive past in Harlem and rise into a heroic future. But his subconscious encourages Jonas on a dark arc, planning to make him a great leader of another kind. As an example, early in the book, Jonas is running out of time to make the genetic treatment he needs to cure himself, so, Modo must be more powerful to design the treatment. Through a dream, Jonas decides to make Modo into something never before seen, breaking laws and bringing the wrath of the powerful.


A secondary conflict is when the vastly self-aware Modo encourages Jonas toward violence against the predators who abuse Jonas. Modo kills Jonas’s foster parents, buoying Jonas, but he feels guilt at the death of an innocent bystander. Modo advises him, “You are the fire that cleanses the world. Are there any truly innocent?”


Jonas’s inner conflict is that he dreams of improving humanity, raising the powerless to dignified lives and corralling the powerful predators. But when pressured, the abuse he has suffered in life causes him to fantasize about creating monsters that will make him safe and force humanity to evolve into something better. An example of this struggle is when the FBI and NYPD come for Jonas and their heavy-handed tactics take him back to the abuse of his youth. Jonas plans suicide, but then, instead, works on his designs for his hellion monsters to fight back.


An example of a social conflict is when Jonas suspects that his competitor for Lucy’s affection is trying to distract him from Modo’s success, hoping to cause Modo to fail the Turing test and Jonas’s failure with her. Will Jonas take retribution before he has all of the facts?


A second social conflict example is Jonas’s love interest, Lucy. Although flawed, she is possibly the last living saint who tries to influence Jonas toward the light, together with the blind Orpheus who can see the good and dark in people. Will Modo, and the powerful who want to submit Jonas, drive Jonas toward a dark arc, or can he escape to his dreamed-of life, a hero who saves humanity from death and disease?



Assignment seven: Setting. 


New York City, Harlem. I set the Book of Jonas in actual locations in NYC, several years from now when self-driving cars dominate, passenger-carrying drones rule the skies, and the economy is in depression and refugees crowd NYC. The story is intense, dark and atmospheric, primarily set in Jonas’s laboratory in the gothic HarSTEM school campus in Harlem, where Jonas lives, sleeping on a cot in a cluttered abandoned storeroom over his laboratory that contains the spooky robotic Modo. 


Harlem’s Trinity Cemetery. To avoid the mockery of people, Jonas often takes his souped-up motorized wheelchair for drives in Trinity Cemetery, a vast set with mausoleums and tombs arranged like colonies of mushrooms atop the hills. There, he has his first date with Lucy. 


Columbia University. Jonas uses Lucy’s access card to access the genetic labs at Columbia University, illegally using their synthetic genome equipment. 


Saint Patrick’s Cathedral, all but empty in this time of abandoned faith, plays an important role as the home of Lucy’s brother, a young priest. There, a terrifying bishop accosts Lucy. Later, Lucy has a debut piano concert there with Jonas attending after driving through Central Park, which is teeming with refugees. On Fifth Avenue Jonas wishes for what sparkles beyond the bullet-proof glass as he imagines his wyvern monsters flying overhead, guarding him from the refugees that crowd the sidewalks. At St. Patrick’s Church, during the concert, he imagines a Disney like scene where, high over the altar in mid-air, Jonas sings of love and dances with Lucy for the adoring thousands, until the monsters come and he must protect Lucy. Later, Jonas croons his cruel and mocking hallelujah while watching Lucy’s romantic kiss with his competitor at the foot of the sculpture of St. Michael defeating Satan.


When the FBI and NYPD come for Jonas in his laboratory, they take Modo’s brain apart, killing her, causing Jonas to despair. He flees HarSTEM into the night before they can arrest him. He considers the wreck of his life while sitting in icy rain on the sidewalk in front of the tombstone-like Annunciation Church, holding hands with gray-dreadlocked-haired Orpheus who sleeps, chin on his chest. In the foggy apocalyptic dawn, hypothermic, Jonas leaves Harlem for good. He breaks into an abandoned church in Hell’s Kitchen for warmth. “What were they thinking? Why did they waste all that money on these derelict churches every few blocks?” In front of the ruins of the altar, illuminated by city lights streaming through the stained-glass windows, Jonas prepares to kill himself when a miracle of the light makes him consider Lucy’s daft faith. A marble angel is flung across the gloomy church. The illusions end as Jonas has a nightmare, “Kill them all or crawl at their feet…” it says, promising that Jonas’s hopes remain, but to be a legendary leader of humanity he must kill, as they all have. 


Modo has escaped to the world’s networks and she appears on the screen of Jonas’s phone as a radiant angel, bringing him ecstasy. Together, they go to the all-night Starbucks at Times Square. After washing in the bathroom and putting on his last Depends, Jonas parks his wheelchair at the window across from the giant neon American flag across Broadway. Modo tells Jonas about the detectives that have the evidence that will put Jonas in prison. Encouraged by the voice in the back of his mind, Jonas begs Modo to do whatever it will take to stop the evidence from reaching the police headquarters.

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Story Statement:

Henrie must find her birth-mother’s killer and clear her own name.

Antagonistic Force:
G is dead because the antagonist wants something she has and she refused to give it up. As G’s heir, Henrie now has what the antagonist wants, but she has no idea what or where it is. A threatens Henrie with written and voice messages demanding what is his. A prefers the anonymity of these modes of communication—he wants her to hand it over by putting it in a place he can get it, or to get her out of the house so he can go in and retrieve it. When they see each other in person at the local coffee shop, he flirts and smiles, never letting on his role in G’s death or the threats to Henrie. 

H's abusive ex-husband continues to plague her from off the page, impacting her ongoing sense of safety and how she assesses her judgment of character when she is determining whom she can trust to help her solve G’s murder.

Genre and Comparables:
Mystery / Paranormal


  1. Coming in 2022: Gretchen Rue's STEEPED TO DEATH, the first two books in a new cozy mystery series centering around a woman as she takes over her aunt's book and tea shop and discovers that her aunt may have had some magical help for making her delicious scones and teas, to Melissa Rechter at Crooked Lane, in a nice deal, in a two-book deal, for publication in fall 2022 (found in SinC Links Nov 3 2021)
  2. 2021 Broken Spine (2021) by Dorothy St James, Berkeley Books

I have a few other possible comps. Still working on what is smartest. Be My Ghost by Carol J. Perry, another 2021 release, for example.


Log line:
When a librarian adopted at birth learns that her murdered neighbor was her birth mother, she must decide whether she can trust the not-so-imaginary friend she dismissed years ago to help her find the real killer and clear her name.
Inner Conflict:
On two levels, Henrie is uncertain about trusting her judgment of others.

First, there is Nivia, her childhood friend. Nobody else sees or hears Nivia, and when she moves from childhood to her teen years her parents push her away from the relationship that is otherwise so helpful for her, worried that she is mentally ill. Although Henrie has mostly learned to ignore her friend’s presence, Nivia has never gone away, and when Gloria dies and Henrie needs someone, Nivia is there.

As Henrie begins to acknowledge Nivia for the first time in her adult life, Henrie slips up occasionally around others she knows cannot see or hear Nivia. And yet, there are hints that some people do see Nivia. Henrie must decide how to respond to these hints — perhaps jealous and unbelieving (of Chad, whom Nivia helps) or nervous (around Daniel).

In one scene Daniel has confronted her. Who? What? He senses but does not hear words. Henrie isn’t sure she can fully trust Daniel in general, but she wants to — and she is attracted to him. Will telling him blow her chances with him? Will he think she’s crazy, and perhaps because she’s crazy that she could be capable of Gloria’s murder?

On a second level, Henrie is uncertain about whether to trust her judgment of others—men, especially, in the wake of her abusive marriage. The main detective on Gloria’s case, who was her high school crush, is behaving like a jerk. And while Daniel’s intentions seem positive, he knows things about her past that even she doesn’t know. She’s falling for him, but not sure if she can trust him on the most basic levels, including helping her find Gloria’s killer. 
Secondary Conflict:
Henrie’s adoptive parents never told her she was adopted, even outright denying it when she figures it out in fifth grade discussion of basic genetic traits. Even when they did finally admit it, it was clear they didn’t want to talk about it. 
   Now, having discovered her birth mother — dead — Henrie isn’t sure how or if to share this information with her parents, or how this will affect her relationship with them. When her mother is hospitalized, Henrie must consider the impact of this news on her mother’s health. And yet, it’s also burning a hole inside of her.
Seattle is a city in flux, growing rapidly and with a changing economy increasingly forcing lower income people either out of the city or onto the streets. The Green Lake neighborhood, where this story is set, is no exception. The area is beautiful, the park an attraction to people of all incomes, from those who live in mansions with a lake view and the homeless who camp wherever they can find a spot, and those who come from surrounding neighborhoods to swim, jog, or play. 

The library branch across from the park is a similar attraction, a gathering place for families, those who need wifi or a computer to work on, older members of the community looking for something to read, or simply a dry place to sit for a few hours. 

Having returned to Seattle with nothing after a bad marriage, Henrie counts herself fortunate to have found a job and an affordable apartment in a city she hardly recognizes.

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Act of Story Statement:

Plagued with bystander guilt from her adolescence, an FBI Agent puts her career on the line and finds her life’s purpose lobbying for robot rights alongside a humanoid—a leader among her own kind combating society’s oppression, manipulation, and fear of her species.

Simple: An FBI Agent and a humanoid defy social norms and discover an unexpected friendship while lobbying for robot rights.


Antagonistic Force:

In the modern-day global race for artificial intelligence dominance, big tech companies and governments have created cognitively enhanced, human-like robots—otherwise known as humanoids—for a variety of tasks, from mundane to complex. These robots are groomed from an early age for the tasks for which they were built: factory work, household cleaning, child and elder care, science research, and military service, to name a few. They may be constructed of metal, but they’re expected to assimilate with the humans around them, so they’re programmed with machine learning and quantum algorithms to enable flexible personal development much in the way humans evolve. 

Expected to live a life similar to humans, with feelings and emotions, they have no rights and privileges. The government’s policies are loose, at best, and include an expectation of the humanoids’ decommissioning and recycling once they’re outdated. Conservatives disagree with granting human rights to humanoids, and lobby hard against their freedoms, even bullying them to keep quiet. The government knows they’re liable to see their military dominance slip if they ‘cave’ to humanoids’ needs. To them, humanoids are just a tool. Even certain humanoids don't want freedom; they're more comfortable taking orders. Beyond society at large, key antagonists include leadership (the immediate managers) of both protagonists, plus certain peers. 





Never Let Me Go, by Kazuo Ishiguro - Told from the perspective of a human clone raised for organ donation and eventual death, this story is about society’s nurturing and overall oppression of clones, including their attendance at a special school run by an administration we ultimately learn feels badly about their trajectories. Themes of friendship, romance, and an obsession with humanity run rampant through this science fiction book with speculative twists, all of which are present in my book. My book is also partially told by an affected protagonist: a humanoid. 

I, Robot - This movie focuses on the treatment of robots in society. Set in the near future, the robots are built by a big tech company and one of them shows compassion and an ability to connect with humans. When a horde of killer robots swarms the streets, the relationship established between a scientist, police officer, and the empathetic robot helps save the older generation bots in favor of the newer, advanced fleet. Like my book, this movie focuses on the intersection of technology, society, and human-robot friendships. 

Klara and the Sun, by Kazuo Ishiguro - This story features a robot doll, Klara, who befriends and lives with a human girl—a girl who is sick and whom Klara believes she can make well by imploring the sun for warmth and nourishment. In the end, Klara ends up in a junkyard while the girl leaves for college and goes on with her life. Like my book, Klara and the Sun has a strong focus on the relationship between a human and robot. 


Logline: When two humanoids cryptically convey they are oppressed and manipulated, will an FBI Agent put her career on the line to support them and lobby for their rights as a species—rights only some of them desire?


Core Wound & Primary Conflict:

Core Wound:

  • FBI Agent Morgan Cooper—her father died when she was ten and always pushed her to be her best; he was CIA so she goes the FBI route, but she's not really happy with her life. She followed in his footsteps instead of creating her own path. Her boss is demeaning and she's constantly trying to prove herself among her peers, who are mostly men. She also has childhood friendship issues as a result of defending the humanoids at first encounter, which caused a rift in her friendships. She tries to act hard, but she has some self-esteem issues at her root.
  • Iris—she has been abused and enslaved by humans, who created her species solely with the intent to serve them. She was forced to go through assimilation training (i.e., high school) and then was sent to military camp to prepare her for a life of service. She was never given any choice about, or ownership over, her future. She was also subjected to several encounters with humans who think of her as nothing but a tool, or a toy.

Primary Conflict:

Morgan casts aside her fears of social stigmas and puts her career on the line to partner with Iris, a humanoid robot, and lobby Congress for humanoid rights and privileges. In their way stands both their leadership and peers, plus a litany of anti-supporters who seek to halt them in their tracks, citing themes of 'humanity first' and empowering humans before robots. 


Other Conflict:

Inner conflict:

Morgan feels conflicted and anxious about standing up for humanoid rights because she did that once, the first day she met them, and lost all her friends as a result. She grew up with them in her schools when they were first introduced to society for assimilation purposes, but assimilation never really happened. Instead, humans heckled and bullied the bots to remain at the top of the social and ecological pecking order, and Morgan watched it happen. Now, she feels immense guilt about the way they've been treated and used. She also has a hard time opening up to her new friend, Abrik, even when he encourages her to let it all out, because she doesn't want to appear weak or incompetent. She's emotionally suppressed.

Iris feels timid and afraid to speak openly about her concerns or dreams, because if her boss finds out about it he will take corrective action against her. She also is fearful of connecting with her fellow humanoid, Eboe, even after he shares a special set of memories with her to offer her a relationship, because she knows it is forbidden. Secretly, she becomes attracted to Morgan after she offers her assistance, but Iris knows deep down they could never be together.

Secondary conflict:

As an FBI Agent, Morgan is expected not to stir the pot on sensitive matters like humanoid rights, and is certainly not expected to lead any kind of protests in their honor, lest she appear like a rebel. When her boss tells her she must choose between the bots or her job, Morgan realizes she followed in her father’s career footsteps because that’s what she thought he would want; he died when she was ten. She has to make tough choices about putting her heart and friendships over the stability of her career. She also has to stand up to top government officials, like the POTUS, and tell them how things should be.

Iris has ongoing conflict with her leadership and select peers, who do not wish to see humanoids 'freed' and don't believe they share the same rights or privileges as humans. She also speaks out to news reporters and battles her boss's brutal decommissioning of her friend, Eboe, by conniving a way to go into 'dark mode' and rallying her peers for their support of her mission: to save him. She fights back against being captured, but is put to sleep, then is saved by Morgan, goes to D.C., and is unexpectedly attacked during a protest on the National Mall. Finally, she has to make a tough decision about being with her old friend, Eboe, who is presented to her in a new light by the POTUS. 



The setting begins in June 2044 in San Francisco after an eight-point-five-magnitude earthquake strikes, destroying much of the city. The first half of the book takes place in and around the makeshift community shelter Morgan is tasked with running in the earthquake’s wake. One scene in the first half takes place in someone’s dark apartment (power and cell towers are down). 

The second half of the book is told from Iris’s perspective and takes place in almost equal parts in the San Francisco area (at the military base where she lives and at a nightclub where she deftly hacks the database after her hand is forced) and in Washington, D.C. (in a hotel, at a protest on the National Mall, lobbying Congress at the U.S. Capitol, and concluding at the White House). One scene also takes place at an offsite warehouse where Iris is kidnapped and held in solitary confinement to be ‘put to sleep.’ 

Throughout the story, both narrators have flashbacks to prior experiences in other locations like high school, war in Europe, and the military training academy where Iris and her fellow humanoids trained for the Army. 

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New York Pitch Assignments - March 2022—assignments

1. Story statement:
Caleb Rafferty is adrift amid a war. Forced into the British army in 1754, he finds himself in the backwoods of the American colonies fighting for his life. His only ambition is to survive the war and reunite with the woman he loves, Daireann Dwyer.
SIMPLER: Caleb Rafferty is determined to survive a brutal war and to rescue the woman he loves.

2. The antagonist:
Throughout the story, as in life, there are many obstacles that take the form of antagonists. The three most critical antagonists are:

First, is the war and the inept leaders that seek to undermine Caleb Rafferty through various means. General Braddock is the most prominent. His unwillingness to conform to the frontier warfare will put Caleb directly in the path of an ambushing enemy.

Second, is his own brother, Emmet. Emmet is a rake, the village playboy who seduces women, often by sneaking money from Caleb’s purse. He steals the pair of gold buckles Caleb made to make his intentions known to his sweetheart, Daireann Dwyer. Emmet uses the buckles to seduce the betrothed of the village clan chief, Oakley Riagáin. This sends the brothers and Daireann into a spiral that forces them to flee Ireland for the American colonies and into the teeth of the French & Indian War.

Third, is Oakley Riagáin. Cuckold by Emmet, Oakley is horribly scarred by Emmet. He swears revenge on the brothers and in a twist of fate, ends up in the same regiment in the colonies. However, due to his aggression and attempt to kill Emmet, Oakley deserts the army before he can be hung and becomes a highwayman.

3.  Breakout title:
No Quarter      
Flint & Steel
Empires in the Wilderness

4. Comparables:
Band of Brothers  by Stephen E. Ambrose—Story of the regular soldier fighting for his life, never sure of what’s being asked but does his duty; it’s actual events (Male audience, history fanatics)

Last of the Mohicans (Michael Mann version)—It’s love story masquerading as a war story; how despite the odds, love conquers all. (Period piece, readers: male and female)

Outlander by Diana Gabaldon—The immersion into a long forgotten period brought to life by following the day-to-day struggles; it’s also a love story (A love story in an historical setting appealing to both men and women)

Game of Thrones by George R. R. Martin—the sheer size of the conflict, the hand-to-hand combat, misery and cruelty of others (Male audience eager to hand over their imagination to a bygone era)

Barkskin by Annie Proulx—the setting, deep in the forest of Pennsylvania, New York and Canada (Male: the rugged outdoors; the adventure and struggle—Women: the romance and strong female characters who thrive despite their place in society)

5.  Logline:
When two Irish brothers and the woman who loves them are chased from their home into a war on the colonial frontier, they discover that dying is the least of their fears.

6. Inner conflict:  
Caleb Rafferty is the younger brother to Emmet, yet most often plays the role of parent. It’s the ant and the grasshopper. Caleb works long hours as a cobbler to earn enough coin to provide food and materials. His brother, a rake, often pilfers from the till to pay for spirits at the pub, seduces women, gambles and roves like a man far above his station. When Emmet seduces the betrothed of the county clan chief, the brothers are forced to flee. Caleb resents having to join the British army and leave his beloved Glenealy, Ireland for the colonial frontier. He blames himself for not containing Emmet’s lustful nature, as well as Emmet for getting them in this mess.

Secondary conflict:
Caleb loves Daireann. He has since they were both children. She agrees to follow the brothers to America rather than remain alone in Ireland. Caleb is frequently frustrated by Emmet’s flirting with Dairie, but Emmet’s continued antics propel him into a forced marriage with her. Caleb is devastated. Now an unforgivable wedge separates Caleb from Emmet and Daireann. When Daireann is abducted by the Huron, Caleb blames Emmet driving the wedge deeper.  

7. The setting:  
It’s a world lit only by candle light, seen solely through oil on canvas. The eighteenth century is an enigma to most people. A time when our ancestors struggled, migrated or eked out an existence. The burgeoning enlightenment was just taking hold in Europe. Old superstitions were giving way to science and methodology. The eighteenth century will be a leap forward for Europe. However in the dark forests of the untamed colonial frontier, Native Americans have lived by their own code and beliefs far different from the invading armies. This clash of cultures, weapons and tactics set in a primitive environment, where every shadow can harbor suffering and death, timorous legions of soldiers face-off as empires clash in the wilderness.

We often forget about the struggles of those individuals. History is taught through the lens of the leaders. This is a story about the common people or vulgar class—those folks who have history happen to them. They live through events with little control of their situation, and in many cases die for a cause they were thrust into by unforeseen forces.


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1.      Story Statement:

Chris Hunter must defeat the rival gang before they destroy everything he holds dear.

2.      Antagonist:

Minh Khanh is the chief enforcer for the Vietnamese Golden Guns gang. From his earliest childhood he was initiated into the gang in Vietnam where he was asked to kill an informer. He is ruthless and relishes the shedding of blood. He is loyal to a fault, at least to his boss, the head of the Golden Guns. When the gang leader’s nephew is killed by Chris Hunter in revenge for the rape of Hunter’s sister, he is ordered to find and destroy everything that Hunter holds dear, from his mother, his gang, and finally to the very sister whose rape started the cycle of vengeance. Minh is a hardened criminal and willing to do whatever it takes to accomplish his assignment.

3.      Title

Vengeance is a Hunter

Hunter’s Revenge

Hunter Killer

4.      Comps

Thomas Perry’s Butcher Boy

Don Winslow’s Savages

5.      Logline

A young gang leader desperate to meet his Abuela’s expectations, avenges the rape of his sister only to ignite a brutal war with a rival gang.

6.      Conflicts

a.      Inner Conflict

Chris Hunter was raised by his Abuela who told him when she died that he must become the best he could be at whatever he decided to do. As a gang leader he has taken that admonition to heart and strives to climb to the top of the mountain of gang leaders in Orange County. But when someone rapes his mentally disabled sister, he faces the imagined disappointment of his grandmother that he would let such an atrocity go unpunished, but in righting the wrong, he sets in motion a response that will threaten his ability to lead his gang and be the best gangster he could be.

b.      Secondary conflict

When Chris jumped into the gang he was only twelve years old and his act of shooting up a rival gang’s funeral led to his mother kicking him out of her house. When she calls to tell him his sister has gone missing, he is forced to confront the emotional baggage that comes from dealing with his mother and her disapproval of his life choices.

7.      Settings

Orange County, California, 2005. Chris Hunter is immersed in the gang culture of southern California and through a previous girlfriend become acquainted with Vietnamese and Vietnamese gangs. When he discovers that the man who raped his sister is Vietnamese he is forced to engage with the large Vietnamese population of central Orange County. Ranging from Newport Beach to the Crystal Cathedral to Disneyland, Chris is forced into confrontations with a rival gangs cross the geography of Orange County.  


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Toby is a 78 y.o. widow, leaving a reclusive life.  Toby might be what’s called today slightly developmentally disabled, in that she appears to be slow, naïve and somewhat childlike.  She is comfortable in her little corner of the world.  Luke, a friend of her deceased husband’s, is one of the few links to the outside, as is an earnest social worker.  This delicate world is about to be disrupted because of her husband’s secret life and his secret work, which is about to be discovered by the combined worlds of Hollywood and LGBT artists.





Brian Lockwood is a freelance journalist who discovers a treasure trove of vintage photographs depicting nude Hollywood actors from the 50’s and 60’s, who were closeted gays.  Brian is recovering from a series of setbacks, and he sees this story as his way back.  Brian wants to find the photographer of these works, and learns he died ten years ago, but there is a widow, Toby.  He wants to find Toby, and get the story behind her husband, their life and his work.




1.     Toby


2.  The House Above Whole Foods






This book will be in the general literary genre.  A comparable book would be A Man Called Ove, in that it focuses on a singular life in small corner of the world, a life that ripples out and touches others, despite the protagonist’s intent.  Another comparable book would be Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine, in that the main character is a quirky, traumatized woman who is trying to maintain her dignity in a world that doesn’t understand or appreciate her. 




Toby has always known she is not like other people.  Lois, her older sister, tormented her since she was a toddler, making fun of Toby’s bucked teeth and thick glasses.  When Harold, a traveling school photographer, meets Toby, he sees something of himself in her and they marry quickly, much to her sister’s relief.  When he dies, after 40 years of marriage, she retreats from the world, thinking it’s the only way to be safe now that Harold, her protector, is gone.  When she begins to receive letters from Brian, she is anxious.  She doesn’t recognize the name on the envelope and so she won’t open it.  Rather, she gives it to Luke, who takes care of all her household matters – a task he promised Harold he would do. 





Luke is invested in keeping Harold’s secret, not only for Toby’s sake, but his own.  Luke was Harold’s longtime lover, but Luke is bi and closeted.  After Harold’s death, Luke marries a woman and hides his past life from her and the rest of his family and friends.  Brian’s intrusion on his and Toby’s lives threatens his carefully constructed existence. 





Toby’s apartment is in a multiuse building, with a Whole Foods right beneath her.  Toby lives in a studio apartment, with a balcony that overlooks a bustling street in a gentle part of town.  Classical music is always playing on Toby’s boombox.  In a corner of her small apartment stand Toby’s prize possessions – three vacuums - two uprights and one Electrolux cannister - along with multiple handheld vacuums.  Toby is happiest when she is vacuuming.  While Toby avoids her neighbors, including Helen who lives next door and always wants to give Toby Entenman’s coffee cake, Toby communes on the balcony with a scrub jay and a squirrel she calls Lionel.


In contrast to Toby, Brian lives in spacious house in a cul de sac, at the foot of the Hollywood Hills.  Also unlike Toby, Brian’s house is a wreck, as if it’s been plundered by an army.  Brian’s home has survived earthquakes and mudslides, but it has barely survived his life.  When one of Brian’s neighbor’s dies, he helps to the family deal with closing the house.  It is here that Brian discovers the photographs taken by Toby’s husband.


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  1. Story Statement: A group of friends play matchmaker with each other, to varying degrees of success


  1. Antagonist: The antagonist of this story is Darren Johnson. He is an angry, brooding man whose mother married Dan Peters’ father when Darren and Dan were younger. Both men are on the basketball team at Stratford University, but that is where their similarities end. 

The year preceding the story, it’s alluded to that Darren was a participant in some vague event where someone died, and as a result, is no longer trusted by his stepbrother, who also happens to be team captain of the basketball team. When a junior, Chris Fiorentino, is given the MVP award over him, Darren makes it his personal mission to humiliate and sabotage both Chris and Dan at every possible opportunity. As the son of a con man who is currently in prison, he knows a thing or two about subterfuge. With the help of his cronies, Bo and Cori Aiken, he sets off on a mission of revenge, with no concern for anyone else who might get hurt along the way. 

  1. Title: He Said, She Said


  1. Genre: Contemporary New Adult Fiction

Comparable Titles:

Much Ado About Nothing by William Shakespeare (inspiration/source material)

Hissy Fit by Mary Kay Andrews

Calling Romeo by Alexandra Potter


  1. Logline: Two cousins navigate their way through love, loss, and heartache with a lot of help from their friends


  1. Conflicts: As this is more of an ensemble piece, there isn’t exactly one solitary protagonist. The main characters experience heartache, betrayal, deceit, and miscommunication. Some of it is well intentioned as a means of getting Bridget and Ben together, but most of it is malicious and sinister. These characters are all young people in their early twenties, and as such, have not quite developed into mature adults yet. They suffer from insecurity, self-doubt, and pride. As young adults, they also have a tendency to react instinctively, rather than taking time to evaluate the situation. 

The external conflict comes from Darren using misdirection to paint the picture that Hannah is cheating on Chris, who already suffers from intense insecurity about himself and his relationship. With some hand waving and some smoke and mirrors, Chris fervently believes that what he’s been told is the truth, and creates conflict in the group by taking out his anger towards Hannah in a very public and very humiliating way. The stress of this encounter forces her to take time off to recuperate, while Bridget and Ben work to uncover the truth, again using deceit to do so. 


  1. Setting: This story is entirely set on or near the college campus of Stratford University. It is your typical small, private, New England liberal arts school with libraries, a Greek system, dormitories, etc. The primary locations for this story are the rec center, Duncan House (the house where the basketball team lives), and an on campus apartment shared by Bridget and Hannah. 

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Billy “Skeets” Jessup, an African American billionaire promoter with a Machiavellian personality thrives on the self-satisfaction brought by his ability to talk anybody into anything. Skeets leaned heavily into oratorical and crowd influencing skills gained as a nationally renowned boy evangelist, teen-age street hypnotist/con artist, young adult corner drug dealer, promising standup comedian, and uber-successful promoter to bend the entire world to his will. Skeets was aided in his efforts by his Colors of the World Team (COTW), a collection of individuals Skeets had “rescued” from various dire circumstances around the world, who demonstrated “Stepford-like” reverence for Skeets. Skeets and the COTW Team, Skeets seduced the two greatest runners in the history of mankind into agreeing to participate in the Greatest Race and then manipulated all the world’s governments and the UN into endorsing and accepting the race’s reality-altering results. Skeets was energized by the possibility of the Greatest Race presenting him with the opportunity speak his vision into being by engaging in a conversation with the Earth’s populations. Skeets and Chance shared a tense, complicated history as Skeets used to be the promoter for Chance’s comedian, late uncle, whose death may have been hastened by Skeets’ actions.



#1. THE GREATEST RACE! A Worldwide Novel


#2. A Wager on Slavery?


#3. A Global Footrace



Riot Baby by Tochi Onyebuchi              and   Trouble the Saints by Alaya Dawn Johnson

These novels compare well with the GREATEST RACE which is also speculative, dystopian alt-history, sci-fi/magic. All three novels are historical explorations with similar themes of individuals with extra- or superhuman powers, interracial tensions, and people of color’s long due ascension from marginalization.




A Black, single father with custody issues, struggling to chronicle and secretly work against the organizers to prevent the global Greatest Race from completing and placing half the world’s population in indentured servitude along the Black/white color line.



1st Conflict (Primary): This conflicts centers on Chance’s efforts to prevent the Greatest Race and Skeets’ actions to ensure the Greatest Race completes.

2nd Conflict (Inner Conflict): Chance struggled with accepting the Greatest Race as the last, best chance for reparations for people of color, specifically African Americans and former colonized peoples. One of the pillars of the reparations movement was to start a discussion leading to the acknowledgement and apology for the centuries of pain inflicted by white supremacy on peoples of colors worldwide. To Chance, the race had a lottery feel to it and would effectively bypass those conversations although George Floyd’s death in 2020 instigated white people to openly accept and support Black Lives Matter. Still, Chance felt the narrow focus on police brutality skirted real substantive conversations around reconciliation and reparations and Chance feared Square winning the race would be akin to those black folks who hit the lottery and after the lottery winnings were gone in two years, the same systems and institutions would still be in place as before the race. However, he was forced to reflect on his belief when he was constantly confronted by the widespread and deeply held belief that this was, as Square said, “OUR REPARATIONS MOMENT!”

3rd Conflict (Social Conflict): Chance was engaged in an ongoing custody fight with the mother of their daughter, Tyneice. Chance was awarded physical custody of Tyneice which almost never happens in a father’s favor, especially a Black father. His ex-wife, Kelis, felt Chance and his lawyer took advantage of the fact she was recovering from stage four breast cancer. Since her full recovery, Kelis has been fighting to get the custody order changed. Chance new that she would use his frequent trips abroad covering the Greatest Race as a pretext for forcing a custody change. Chance was confronted with a choice: cover the Greatest Race and do all he could to prevent it from completing and receive a $10 million payout and potentially lose custody or decline to cover the Greatest Race and ensure he maintains custody of Tyneice. Is there a pricetag for fatherhood?


Bilderberg: The novel opens at the 2022 Bilderberg Conference at the Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel in Alberta, Canada. One of the most important scenes occurred when Skeets held the first meeting of the conspirators in his hotel room as described by Chance.

“We were greeted by floor to ceiling views of the surrounding mountains and the Bow Valley. The sweeping vista was breathtaking. The panoramic view of the wind blowing snow off the mountaintops above to the Bow River gently rolling its way down and across the valley below was a cause for wonder and reflection. A round dining room table was in the center of the elevated cove with a one-hundred-and-eighty-degree floor to ceiling view. Fixon, Bishop and Abernathy took seats on the couches in the living room. Skeets positioned himself between the cove and the living room, straddling the two steps leading up to it. Jafar sat at the dining room table. I took a seat at the desk by the french doors leading to the wraparound terrace containing a hot tub and assorted chaise lounges for use even in the winter.”


The Meeting of Quad and Square: Skeets had arranged for the meeting of Quad and Square to take at the headquarters of the umbrella corporation, Station Master, in Oakland, California as described by Chance. This setting figured in Skeets’ overall plan to manipulate the runners into accepting his proposition.

Skeets headquarters encompassed the entire top floor of Lake Merritt Plaza overlooking, the tidal lagoon and wildlife preserve. My thoughts were interrupted as the glass doors to the top floor office opened to a sweeping view of the lake. It was a very sunny day, but the smart glass windows automatically responded by darkening the ambient natural light. The room was bathed in a soft, late afternoon golden glow. Skeets then hit a button on his phone and the glass wall of windows behind him transformed into a seventy-five-inch high-definition screen. A picture of the conference room came into focus.

Skeets smiled broadly. “I told the respective camps different times the meeting was to start. Quad’s camp was told the meeting was starting fifteen minutes after the time I told Square’s camp. We will arrive after Quad and his team.”

The meeting room was set up with a round table and chairs situated on a three-foot tall dais. The other seating area consisted of a group of office chairs about ten feet away from the dais. There was a large spread of food on a long table in the middle of the room. No one touched it. It played out just like Skeets said it would. Square and his team got there first and were seated at the dais. Quad and his team were standing around the other group of chairs. No one from Quad’s team was sitting.

“Just as I expected,” Skeets explained pointing at the screen. “You see, because Square’s team was on an elevated dais it placed him and his team above anyone sitting—a position of superiority. Standing kept everybody at eye level. It was that attention to petty details that informed my pitch to Quad and Square. I knew the both of them would be there for the pettiness.”

“Did you see how Quad and Square exited the room?” Skeets asked me rhetorically. “Quad and Square and the bulk of their camps exited the room at the exact same time and went in two different directions. Even the leaving of a room represented some sort of signal of strength or weakness for Quad and Square. I had a hunch that it would, so I had a second door built a week before the meeting just for that reason so exits could be made simultaneously.”


Chance at the Custody Hearing – The following is Chance’s description of the courtroom for the custody proceedings would be held.

In the courtroom were me, Ms. Wellson, Kelis, and her lawyer Tom DiSauris. I noticed how the court’s sparse furnishings and institutional gray paint scheme lacked any feeling, belying the highly emotion-charged proceedings that routinely occurred inside. Even the judge’s name was soulless. The official title of judges in the family division was referee, like it was a game. The courtroom even had arena-styled seating for the spectators, the term the court used to refer to the family, relatives, and friends who had come to support the petitioning parties. The judges decided the winner of the custody competition between the parents.

Skeets at the UN:  Skeets’ dress was an important element of the setting as evidenced by Chance’s description.

Skeets’ presentation to the United Nations came to be known as the ‘The Sermon at the UN.’ His entrance into the hall of the UN General Assembly room was punctuated by his purposeful, slow, rhythmic gait in his monochromatic gold lame` suit, matching tie, socks, and gold alligator half boots. The gold contrasted so very strongly against the backdrop of the UN’s institutional gray color scheme. Skeets was radiant.

Skeets was a firm believer in Mehrabian’s 7-38-55 rule which held that words communicate seven percent of meaning while tone of voice communicate thirty-eight. The body communicated fifty-five all targeting emotions. Therefore, it made sense to Skeets to emphasize that which communicated the most, his body. It is why clothes were paramount to Skeets. He viewed his clothes as essential to his performance art of talking. His body was a blank canvas on which he could use clothes to grab and keep attention as he convinced people to believe in whatever he was trying to convince people of. He always dressed in monochromatic colors. It was his trademark. His brand. His thing. Him! His suit, shirt, tie/bowtie, pocket square, socks, shoes… even his eyeglasses were always the same monochromatic color.

‘Hey Chance, Skeets’ suit looks alive. Every time he moves it changes. How does he do it?’

“He won’t tell, Marcus. Skeets never revealed how he managed to accomplish those effects. I figured the material included some sort of technology because others wore outfits that used technology to change colors but could not present images like Skeets. His clothes were always enhanced with some sort of thematic pattern that shifted appearance with movement. The pattern usually spoke to the culture, knowledge, and sensitivities of the audience. Once, before the leaders of the oil-producing countries, he wore black with a pattern of the praying-mantis-like oil wells which then appeared to begin gushing oil when he moved. Another time he spoke to Russian oligarchs wearing grey with a thematic pattern of vodka bottles. Upon movement, full glasses of vodka came into focus. Everybody present had a share of actual vodka glasses, too. He is always about the money though. Even here, at the UN, his gold suit has a pattern of winged feet showing up at the base of a pyramid of gold bars when he moved.”


The Greatest Race Events: Each of the events of the Greatest Race was held on a different continent and except for Antarctica and Africa, all the races were held inside domed stadiums for security reasons. Therefore, fashion played a hug part in the setting as the clothing was usually a nod to something of historical/cultural importance to the designated country. The Fashion Network even assigned a correspondent, Leilani Strickland, to cover the Greatest Race given the exorbitant sums of money clothing brands, designers, and fashion houses paid the runners’ entourages to wear because of the potential exposure to billions of people. Please be advised some of the following is condensed.

Antarctica – As they approached the first camp, Ayin explained, “The runners were very specific in how they wanted their camps laid, out even providing sketches.”

            “Whose camp is this?” I asked and then quickly added, “No, don’t tell me. I need a little diversion for this hike. I am going to play pop-psychologist. I am willing to bet the setup of the camps will reflect the personality of the main occupant.”

“I see a horizontal security container touching a vertical row on each end. Each of the vertical rows consists of a live-in container and a security container. And bisecting the horizontal security container is a vertical live-in container. A security container sits at the edge of the two vertical security containers. There is one ‘glamped-out’ tent on one side of the bisecting vertical row and two tents on the other side. The whole setup forms two squares. How symmetrical.”

“So, whose camp is this, Mr. Chance?” Sekou asked.

“Square’s. The bisecting vertical row forms a dividing line between Square’s tent and the two tents of his entourage.  The setup was consistent with Square’s prior race behavior to limit his interaction with others around pre-race. It is his sanctuary city. He normally does not give interviews before races and goes into seclusion in hotels, reserving the top floor for himself. Everyone else is on different floors. Access to his floor is restricted to his immediate family, his girlfriend, his coaches, and his pastor—on a strict schedule that is never violated.”

We walked another half a mile before encountering the next camp. By now the COTW Team was somewhat interested in my little diversion.

“Okay. Each of the luxury tents are facing each other forming, a triangle with a fire pit set-up in the middle. The live-in and security containers are arranged to form a pentagon shape around the tents with two bodies-wide entrances to the compound,” I reasoned out loud. “This is Camp Quad.”

“How so?” Ayin asked.

“Quad’s setup is a declaration of who he is—a social butterfly of the highest order. A preening peacock who wears $1,500 custom-made underwear for each day of the year. NO REPEATS! Quad’s life is an ongoing party lived out loud with the volume all the way up. I mean, even here in Antarctica he is going to make time to socialize around a fire pit—again, in Antarctica!”

After another half a mile or so, the group came to the last camp.  

“Simply by process of elimination,” I stated, “this is Skeets’ camp.”

“You mean Mr. Jessups,” Malik corrected.

“Yeah. Skeets,” I retorted. “Just look at it. Three glamped-out tents side by side with a security container and two shipping containers in front. Same setup in the rear of his tents. To the left of Skeets’ tents, the live-in containers for the reporters and social media personnel formed a vertical row. To the right of the tents, the live-in containers for the race officials and the drone operators formed a vertical row. This configuration created a steel rectangle around Skeets’ tents. There was only one way in and one way out through a body wide opening. Access was controlled by a GraySON, between the front security container and a shipping container. The setup was all Skeets who loved to control people and situations.”


“Antarctica!” I spat, “It doesn’t matter how many times you say it, reflect on it, complain about it, the surrealness of being here remains. And being here for a track competition only adds to the un-believability of the Greatest Race. None of this seems real. Reasonable. The sheer absurdity of contesting an old-fashioned foot race here was matched only by the sheer whiteness of the environment. A little over a mile from the camps, to look off in any direction was to see the stack-of-plate cloudy white sky meld with the snow-covered landscape into a horizon of white nothing ness.”

“Marcus observed, ‘Man, you right, Chance. It seems as if everything here is white. Everything seems whiter, the snow, the clouds, even the people—the white people look whiter.’

He was on to something. Everyone was wearing UV-enhanced sunglasses to protect from snow blindness from all the whiteness. It was the ubiquitous whiteness that made the completely unexpected and abrupt appearance of the bright emerald-green field turf of the practice fields surrounded by the vermillion-colored tracks all the more visually jarring.”


Each entourage comprised about thirty people, and one could swear there were that many shades and hues of colors in fur coats and boots. PETA was very loud in voicing their opposition to such an obscene celebration of slaughtered animal hides. On display were lime green, burnt orange, chocolate, deep purple, and blood red. Then there were runs of the same color such as sky, ocean, baby, royal, and navy blues and hot, soft, pale, and baby pinks. And the combinations only added to the fusion or the confusion of colors. There were baby pink full-length coats with hot pink hats, gloves, and boots. There were deep purple mid-length coats and stoles with lavender hats and gloves. The American flag was even represented with a blood red, Russian ushanka fur hat, flag blue shorts, and waist-length mink jacket with white thigh-high fur stiletto boots.

“I didn’t know Skittles made clothes.”

“I didn’t either, Marcus.”

“Yo’, Chance, here comes your boy Skeets and he has taken it to another level again.”

“He looks like a pimped-out walking snow man.”

White stole the show. There were white furs whiter than the snow, furs as white as the snow, and white translucent furs which adapted to any background using micro-projectors built into the collar and hems. And no one wore whiter than white better than Skeets and Billie, who wore matching monochromatic white suits, bowties, shirts, pocket squares and white seal skin chukka boots. Billie’s were high heeled. Skeets was leading his COTW Team and the crowd behind the runners with a slow brother stroll. His movement accentuated the subtle snowflake and icicle pattern on his suit.
            “Hey, Marcus, with no geographical pun intended, they are iced out, and I’m not talking about what Mother Nature made at thirty-two degrees but rather what she created at 2,220 degrees.”

“Diamonds! Cuz, I’m right there with you.”

There were eighty-five carat wrist adornments, 125-carat neck enhancements, and ten-carat ear announcements.


            Australia – Fashion again figured prominently into the setting.

The smoking ceremony took place in a clearing about three hundred yards into the forest. All of the non-participants were stopped about fifty yards from a circular area that had been marked off with ashes from the large fire burning in the middle. Next to it was a covered frame that stretched three feet long and six feet high on sacred ground consecrated and made holy by the Elders land council. 

Elder Koiki had changed out of his suit and was now shirtless with his body covered in the traditional markings of his aboriginal clan. He had one vertical white stripe extending down the center of his forehead to the end of his nose. He had three horizontal stripes on each cheek and one vertical stripe on his chin. Elder Koiki was wearing the traditional loincloth covering as were the other members of his clan. They moved in synchronized circles around the fire chanting homage to their ancestral spirits.

Square then emerged from the tree line, still wearing the full-length possum cloak which he discarded as he walked toward the fire. Now, sans cloak and wearing a loincloth, Square’s body was completely covered with the traditional painted markings of a warrior. From shoulders to knees, he was covered in powdery white with yellow horizontal and vertical lines. His face was completely covered in gold with green around his eyes and mouth, creating a mask-like appearance. 

The Elders began placing plants on the fire as the smoke rose. As more and more plants were placed on the fire, the covered frame filled with so much smoke it created a smoke filled corridor that one could not see through. One by one, each elder walked through the smoke and emerged chanting in the language of the clan. Square entered the smoke last and seemed to languish inside for a bit before exiting through a gauntlet of elders gently fanning the smoke away from his body with giant palm leaves. It was time to race.


Leilani quickly scurried to Quad’s entourage on the other side of the stadium and continued.

“Quad has entered carrying the Australian flag. He is wearing an all-red compression unitard stopping at the knees with a pair of blue running shorts and red patent leather track shoes. The white Australian Commonwealth Star is positioned in the center of his chest. Members of his entourage are wearing some combination of the colors of the Australian flag. The men all are wearing blue designer slim-fit track suits, even those whose fit was no longer slim, with a fat white stripe running up each side. Underneath, they are wearing lightweight red turtlenecks. The women are wearing form-fitting red turtleneck dresses stopping at the thigh. There are no visible bra or panty lines or cellulite indentations which is an impressive testament to the designer. The most eye-catching part of the ensemble for me are the shoes. Everyone is wearing red patent leather gym shoes that are either ankle, knee, or thigh high. Some even have platform soles or stiletto heels.”

Square’s entourage was dressed in some combination of black and white. All the men are wearing very tightly fitted athletic tuxes, even those whose fit is no longer athletic, consisting of two-button white jackets with matching pants and zebra-striped shirts with solid black or white ties, hand-tied bowties, or ascots. The women are wearing athletic cut sheer white evening gowns with two thick black stripes covering their breasts, some with pasties and some without. The black stripes meet at the crotch forming a “V” partially obscuring the area with some wearing thongs, some not.”


China –The autonomous driven bus made its way down the entirely covered Kai Tak Sports Avenue. It was the main thoroughfare connecting all the key facilities of the sports park. From the start of the avenue and as far as the eye could see, one side was Quad Kountry and the other Squaresville. In keeping with the opulence of Hong Kong, the camps were replete with high-end “glamping” tents having all the amenities, such as complete bedrooms, full bathrooms, and chef’s kitchens with chefs. Skeets visibly smirked as he thought even the rich were not immune to the allure of the Greatest Race.    

As we approached the venue for the Greatest Race, there was a moment of stunned, silent appreciation on the bus from Skeets, the COTW Team, and the media as the 50,000-seat main stadium came into view. It was magnificent. The stadium’s rounded shape and Pearl of the Orient-inspired façade was covered in reflective metallic glass platelets. One side captured the golden glow of the rising sun; the other side reflected the silvery descent of the fading moon depending on the time of day. It was the most expensive stadium sports park ever built at a cost of over $30 billion with a soundproof retractable roof.

However, the children embraced mistrust, which fostered intuitive feelings of suspicion and governmental conspiracy. Feelings played out in real time with Ayin’s fidgety movements and darting eyes constantly shifting to and fro.

“My grandparents told me how close friends and sometimes family members were seduced by the Communists and turned on them. I don’t trust anything the Communists do or say, especially the reasons for these so-called security measures.”

“Ayin, the security measures I have seen seem to be appropriate given the new reality of virus containment. I don’t know about you, but I like that every car has to pass through a scanner which detects fevers. I’m feeling the autonomous drones which scan the crowds entering the sports parks and shines an infrared beam on those with high temps. I really like the digital stamp on the ID badges that tells you when someone has tested negative or has been vaccinated.”

“The coronavirus, COVID-19 pandemic occurred in 2020. It’s 2024,” a clearly agitated Ayin countered. “Badges are a real good way to track people.”

“The badges are only for entrance to events. You can trash them after that.”

The government was compelled to restrict the movement of people. The coronavirus outbreak of 2020 had a terrible toll on China. People died in the thousands. The Chinese government faced national and international criticism for failing to act in a timelier manner to prevent the virus’ spread and to inform the world of the outbreak. That combined with the political unrest that was already occurring in Hong Kong provided plausible coverage for restricting the freedom of movement aiding in the tamping down of dissent in Hong Kong. However, the Greatest Race now provided an opportunity for the Chinese government to show the country was stable and safe, albeit through very staged and coordinated travel and events.

            Streets that were normally overcrowded were not so much. It appeared the government had figured out the exact number of people to place to make it seem bustling but orderly. We stopped in the middle of a sky bridge and looked down on the crowds moving under them. Ayin called out a pattern of crowd movement.

            “Mr. Chance. Get a look at this synchronized social distancing. There are specific groupings: three people walking abreast followed by a couple trailed by two businessmen walking on the left and right followed by a family of four all holding hands leading three college students walking with two in front, one in between then a half step behind.”

            “Damn. Now that is impressive.”

“Look at the crowd moving in the opposite direction. Its configuration and movement is the antithesis to the crowd I just described.”

“I wonder how in the world they accomplished that?”

“Re-education or forced labor camps—call them what you want—are still very effective at indoctrination.”

Unsurprisingly, COTW Team member Jorge decided to join the conversation.

“There is a lot of suspicion that people out of favor with the government are still silenced or ‘disappeared’ for months, years at a time, sometimes permanently as was the case of the doctor who issued the early warning on COVID-19.”

Ayin again expressed her distaste for the mainland Chinese government.

“Enforcement of some of the most abhorrent policies is another hallmark of the Communists regime’s attempts to control all aspects of life, even life itself. Notice how the families of four only have boy children.”


“Hello, and the world. It’s Leilani Strickland, your source for fashion analysis here at the Greatest Race, China. Hey, fellas in the booth, I learned Square is a big fan of the ol’ skool Chinese Kung Fu films, and he has decided to honor them by dressing in a red Kung Fu uniform trimmed in black with frog-styled black buttons, a black sash, and a dragon embroidered in actual 24-karat gold threading across the back. And his entourage has followed suit with the opposite color scheme of black uniforms with red buttons, red sash but the same 24k dragon embroidered across the back.”

Square was an actual Kung Fu black belt master. He executed a Tao Lu with a nine-foot spear-tipped 24k gold-plated whip chain with flips and flying kicks that sent the crowd into a state of hysteria.’”

“Hey, Meru and Townsend,” Leilani called out to the announcers, “Quad and his entourage are dressed in tunic-styled Mao suits.”

Meru jumped at the chance to show that he knew more than sports.

“This version worn by Quad and his team consists of four external pockets, one on each breast with another pocket placed directly beneath, five buttons down the center, and three buttons on each sleeve. The suit’s construction and design were said to embody the cultural values and traditions of China which calls to mind the conceptual practice of Feng Shui for clothes.”

“The four pockets reflect symmetry and balance in addition to the four virtues of Propriety, Justice, Honor, and Shame. The five buttons were said to be symbolic of the five branches of government: administration, legislation, jurisdiction, examination, and supervision. The three cuff buttons represented the Three Principles of the People: Democracy, Nationalism, and the People’s Livelihood. Last, the suits were usually made from a single piece of cloth symbolizing China’s unity and peace.”

Leilani responded. “Over time, since the revolution lead by Mao, the suit has morphed into a status symbol of national honor. It has become the official dress for formal state events at home and abroad. As such, the materials used to make the suit have increased in cost. The women’s bright pink suits have pockets framed in fuchsia and are festooned with extremely rare pinkish-blue Akoya pearls for buttons. The suits were constructed using the equally rare Vicuña wool, the most expensive fabric in the world. They are a sight to behold in white anaconda-skinned six-inch platformed shoes with stiletto heels to complete the look.”

“I love the men’s green silk suits with gold-trimmed pockets, 24k gold buttons, and embroidered Gucci loafers which are a direct counter-statement to Quad’s bamboo-thatched thong sandals.”


 South America –

It was somewhat dark in the dimly-lit stadium except for the track. Square’s float was accompanied by thirty Bahianas’ Whirling Ladies, a respected group of elder women, adorned in their traditional dress, leading a moving Samba dance in front. They looked absolutely resplendent in yellow skirts braided with gold and canary yellow headdresses fashioned in the shape of crowns invoking the rays of the sun. The Whirling Ladies’ dresses flared vertically with every synchronized fourth step kick and flattened out horizontally when they whirled in sync every fifth step forward in beat with the Samba band riding on the float.

“The men in Quad’s entourage are dressed as eighteenth-Century Portuguese soldiers wearing royal blue eighteen-button, golden tasseled overcoats, nine-button vests, calf-high black socks over knee high red stockings, and white pants with fire engine red codpiece. The women are wearing updated traditional Portuguese white knee-length dresses cinched at the waist and opened to the knee over ruffled red micro-mini skirts with white see-through gartered flower patterned stockings and six-inch red sandals topped off with red bonnets. An intentional nod to colonial times. However, they need to be careful with the aggressive micro-tattoo showcase posing.”


North America –

Quad’s entourage entered with the groomsmen are wearing sequined tuxedos threaded throughout with gold and silver inspired by the Spanish matadors’ traje de luces, or suit of lights, in all the colors of the rainbow. The women are wearing flamenco dresses in all colors of the rainbow with a plunging V-neck, tightly fitted from the shoulders to the knees and then flaring out into a flowing five-layered sweep train with multi-colored fans. It was an explosion of color as it played out over the stadium screens, in Times Square, and across social media. Marcus made sure he was all in the mix.

Leilani stumbled slightly in her excitement to get a comment from someone. She just so happened to get Me’lanna. “This is a sight to see with so many different colors coming together. It works. Tell me, why this particular theme?”

Me’lanna paused, micro-posed, and answered, “I just think the whole way the Spanish flamenco dancing, music, and pageantry is so expressive and colorful that it was the only style I felt captures the joy I feel for having found Annis, my life partner.”

“Here comes Square and his entourage. They are strikingly different from the previous group. It is looking and moving like a funeral procession being led by a walking New Orleans Jazz Brass Band. Everyone is dress somberly in black pants and black t-shirt. Square and the members of his entourage are wearing a white walking billboard mounted to the side facing the crowd. The side-by-side walking billboards have formed a long continuous screen appearing to be playing scenes from the lives of young black and brown boys and girls interspersed with pictures of policemen and gang members.”

“Oh my God! Now it is clear. Following behind Square’s entourage are ten rows of thirty black, brown, Asian, and Caucasian men and women wearing t-shirts with pictures of loved ones. The walking billboard screens are playing faces. . . , familiar faces: Eric Garner, Tamir Rice, Michael Brown, Alton Sterling, Philando Castille, Ahmaud Arbery, Breoanna Taylor, George Floyd, and Daunte Wright.”

Faces of the not-so-familiar local lives were also displayed. Interestingly, it was a true rainbow coalition. Floyd’s death ignited a grassroots movement which spanned races, ethnicities, and generations. It was clearly manifested here in this procession. The band is playing a dirge. Everyone followed the band in a slow, rhythmic gait: step to the left, hesitate, step twice, step to the right, hesitate, step twice. The entourage slowly made its way around the track.



Europe – Quad and Square received knighthood and their entourage’s dress announced it.

“Quad’s entourage is in full period dress from the Elizabethan Era with a knight on horseback. They have leveraged Parliament’s 1547 Statues of Apparel laws for enforcing social order through clothing, dressing in materials reserved for the noble class. The women are wearing full-length white velvet gowns and open silk neck ruffs all trimmed in gold. Each of the ladies’ hair is covered by a diamond-encrusted white laced silk snood. The men are dressed as knights with a long white Surcoat to the knees cinched at the waist by a solid gold belt. The look is completed with a golden shield, a gold sword, oversized gold chain mail epaulets covering the shoulders topped by a white velvet hat trimmed in gold. And prominently displayed is a hastily constructed family coat of arms emblazoned in the center of the chest.”

“Quad’s Coat of Arms has a cross dividing the escutcheon (shield) into four sections with pictures of a ship, mountains, two crossed drum sticks, and a crown. The shield was supported on each side by a man dressed in the uniform of the sailors on the initial arrival of British ships to Australia. Situated on the helm at the top of the shield was the emblem of two winged feet facing each other. Last, underneath the shield was the motto written in Latin on a gold ribbon: “Te Grattisimum – You’re welcome.”

Sqaure’s entourage has everyone dressed in the exact same skinny-fit grey houndstooth tweed-patterned three-piece suits made from vicuña wool and Mulberry silk with diamond and gold buttons and hand-made white shirts buttoned completely.”

“I was told each suit cost about $75,000 and was matched with $35,000 grey Testoni alligator shoes and pumps.”

“Square’s Coat of Arms is on the black background of the escutcheon, there is a gold cross dividing the area into fours. One quarter has a flattened map of the earth with the double DNA helix emanating from Africa to the other continents. Another quarter has a white silhouetted head comprised of a printed circuit board overlaid with mathematical calculations. Another quarter contains a Torre Straits Islander dhoeri headdress. The last quarter has his Black Diamond logo. The shield is being held up by two Egyptian queens wearing ancient KEMET’s khepresh or blue crowns of war. And, like Quad, his crest was two-winged feet but facing away from each other with Square’s motto written in Latin on a red ribbon in green lettering. It reads ‘Adoremus Deum, Amor proximo tuo’ translated as ‘Worship God, Love Thy Neighbor.’ Interesting, the two greatest commands of the Christian faith.”


            Africa – In the country where the marathon takes place, the environment takes center stage.

The canopy bridge was actually seven bridges connected together forming a walkway through the treetops. Walkers traveled a distance of 1,150 feet as they observed bird and animal species up close. The canopy bridges’ wooden planks were about a foot wide and suspended above the jungle floor by nettings, wire ropes, and cables creating an elevated foot path.  A storm was coming. The wind picked up, causing the bridges to sway slightly. The group made it across all seven bridges and descended to the jungle floor. It was hot even in the very early morning hours. The humid air was heavy. It felt like wearing a wet sweater.

Just then, everyone was snapped back to the present as a thunderclap sounded so loudly it shook leaves, fruit, and monkeys from the trees. The skies had grown even darker and more foreboding since the crossing of the canopy bridges. Normally, tropical Ghana had two clearly delineated seasons: the dry season and the wet season. The dry season usually lasted from December to February. The wet season was from March to November. Climate change had altered what was once normal. The dry season began to last longer, stretching from December to July and causing devastating droughts and water shortages. The wet season lasted only from August to November, but the storms increased in intensity, delivering more death and destruction.

I had experienced the wet season and its monsoons in Ghana before. This one looked and felt different. The skies were not just dark. They were shoe polish black with bursts of ice white lightning outlined in tints of yellow, blue, and green. The lightning flashes were accompanied by rolls of thunder that drowned out voices. The wind was getting stronger and howling louder and louder announcing its presence. It was as if the storm was coming to usher in a new reality. Things, people were never going to be the same as before. There was a reckoning coming with the end of the Greatest Race.

…As if on cue, the lightning flashes grew more intense, frequent, and dangerous. Three lightning bolts had struck the ground off in the distance since they started approaching the castle. The thunder rolls became louder and more powerful going from minor ground tremors to teeth-chattering boomers that shook the handlebars on the bikes askew. No one had experienced a storm like this.

I wondered. God, what’s up? Are you not here for the Greatest Race?

…Quad and Square were now running at approximately fourteen miles per hour with the wind. It was beginning to tax the electric bikes’ power. The grounds of Cape Coast Castle began to appear off to the right. The hair on the back of my neck started moving. Suddenly, the sky split in two with a terrifying lightning strike somewhere in the castle’s courtyard, igniting a fire.

…They were both bleeding now—Quad from the under the shoulder wound; Square from the neck wound. The blood that had run down Square’s neck was almost imperceptible on his black top and shorts. Quad’s blood loss mixed with the rain, turning his white shirt and shorts a deep pink with a little bloody-pink river of rain trailing his feet and marking a path. Gatlin and I were speckled with bloody water spots splattered by the bike wheels of the BBC and the GraySONS. Neither runner seemed to be particularly bothered by the loss of blood. Quad and Square were running side-by-side now that they were freed from the enclosure of the electric bike cells.

…The rain was coming down heavily in sheets. The group was on Beulah Road about seven miles from El Mina. It was becoming incredibly difficult to maintain balance on the bikes in the rain, especially on turns. Quad and Square were following the posted signs pointing to El Mina and they were in full throttle. The odometer on the bike read fifteen miles per hour. I did not know I could pedal that fast, neither did Gatlin. We were both struggling to stay within visible reach of the runners. The pace was grueling. Even Edwards, the BBC, and the GraySONS began to have some difficulty keeping up.

…Now there were two watery blood trails. I wondered if their wounds were somehow more serious than previously realized and they had become re-injured. Maybe the embedded shrapnel had somehow moved and damaged some organs, arteries, veins, or something. It was plausible given the power and controlled fury with which Square and Quad were moving. Their hearts had to be pumping at unbelievable rates already. They increased their speed even more. 

…Edward’s warning made no difference at all. The rain, the wind, and the curve caused all the bikes to slide out from underneath everybody. Without missing a beat, Edwards, the BBC and the GraySONS rolled to their feet, weapons at the ready, and started running. Ogleston and Sanders helped me and Gatlin up and literally began pulling us along. These men were running full speed in full gear with their weapons, yet they eventually began to reel Quad and Square in slightly. It seemed they had both slowed. The trailing group was able to get them back into the GoPro views. 

…Then, as if on a movie set, the rain stopped, and the skies cleared as the runners entered High Road. The lightning and thunder intensified. Quad and Square were ahead of a world-record pace for the marathon. This last half mile saw them climb the St. George Hill to El Mina’s perch. It became obvious to the entire world that there was something seriously wrong with Quad and Square. Quad and Square struggled to climb the alabaster stone stairs leading up to the castle. It appeared as if someone had painted dual crimson stripes down the whitewashed steps behind them.

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1. Story Statement: To fulfill an ancient prophecy, Sarah must survive, no matter the cost. 

2. Antagonist(s): Caesar (Tiberius), Caligula, Pilate, Claudius, Antipas, Caiaphas, Peter, Belial 

For their own reasons, Rome and all who serve Rome want Sarah dead. Each antagonist driven, hungry for power, either to attain or maintain it. Sarah and all she represents, is an obstacle to all of them achieving their goals. The antagonist force driving the action is absolute power corrupts absolutely, giving rise to the darkness within. 

Caesar (Tiberius/Caligula): Goal- To rule supreme at all costs.  

Caiaphas (Sanhedrin/High Priests): Goal: To preserve Jewish law and maintain spiritual order against false prophets. 

Claudius (Rome) Goal: Put down rebellion, treason, sedition of any kind in the province of Judea and anywhere in the empire Caesar commands. To ascend the ranks of Roman military. To expose Pilate for a fraud. 

Belial (Descendants of Darkness) Goal: To overturn the balance of power from the Archangels and claim the Tablets for the Descendants of Darkness. To tempt, torture and punish  humanity. 

Pilate Goal: To redeem his soul. 

Peter Goal: To rise above all apostles for the glory of God at all costs. 

3. Titles:

  • Beyond the Veil
  • Footprints of the Dragon Queen
  • The Lion and the Wolf

4. Genre and Comparative Titles

  • Historical Fiction
  • Fantasy
  • Speculative Fiction


HALF SICK OF SHADOWS by Laura Sebastian

5. Hook Line: Betrayed by those she once trusted for the sake of power, Sarah finds herself at odds about what it means to serve the Goddess amidst political upheaval. 

6. Protagonist (Inner Conflict & Core Wound) 

Sarah Tamar has a secret. Born with a bounty on her life, the daughter of Jeshua and Magdalene, she is hunted by the High Priests of Judea and the Roman Empire. Her father is dead, her mother, an outlaw. With the help of enemies turned allies, Sarah finds the courage to fight against the dark forces that threaten the realm and embrace her destiny as the embodiment of the Holy Grail. Across time and space, Sarah befriends supernatural beings and mythical creatures as she discovers what it means to be the most dangerous girl in the world.

Core Wounds & Themes:

  • Abandonment
  • Rejection
  • Death
  • Grief
  • Loyalty
  • Redemption
  • Friendship
  • Awakening
  • Empowerment
  • Acceptance
  • Courage
  • Betrayal
  • Rebellion
  • Destiny vs. Free-Will
  • Dark vs. Light

7. Setting

First century circa 37 CE Roman Empire. Judea (Jerusalem, Caesaria, Joppa, Bethany)  and Egypt (Alexandria), Garden of EA (garden of eden in the multidimensional universe)



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Story statement
Cady McLeod struggles to realize her potential and find where she belongs.

Antagonistic force
There are three antagonistic forces.

Della is Cady’s neighbor and best friend. While Cady is motherless with an alcoholic father and bears the responsibility of caring for her younger sister, Della is the only child of doting parents and accustomed to being the center of attention. As teens, jealousy is sparked when Cady begins dating Della’s favorite cousin and their focus shifts from her to one another. When Cady becomes pregnant, Della turns a cold shoulder, shaming and secretly sabotaging her. Only after her goal is accomplished does she welcome Cady back, and years later, unable to resist adoration, she delights in the opportunity to act as savior to Cady by giving her a place to live despite the risk of her deception being uncovered.

Cady’s father turns to alcohol to cope when his wife and baby die causing Cady to grow up too quickly. He spends most of his time at work or the local bar. As a result of his emotional unavailability, Cady seeks validation elsewhere and finds herself pregnant. Despite her efforts to manage her situation herself, when her father finds out, he sends her away to a Catholic home for unwed mothers, giving her no options or voice of her own.

The childless, staunch Catholic Aunt Helen who Cady barely knows, practically a stranger, carries out the act of taking her to the home and returning her to her father’s house with little to no concern for the girl’s mental state.

The Girl from Godforsaken
Godforsaken Girl
Belonging to Her
The Long Winter

Historical Women's Fiction

Historically speaking, my novel splits the difference between the following two books:

The People We Keep by Allison Larkin: Set in the 1990s, I chose this book because of the similarities between this protagonist and Cady. Like my story, this one is about a girl with a love of 60s music, abandoned by her parents at a young age, who forges her own way, finds a new home, and creates her own family. It illustrates well the complicated dynamics of family dysfunction and love.

Before We Were Yours by Lisa Wingate: I chose this book for the part set at the end of the Depression era where several children are left alone on a shantyboat, the oldest of whom assumes responsibility of her siblings when they are sent to an orphanage. My search for another work of fiction that described Vietnam-era American homes for unwed mothers proved fruitless, but there are enough similarities in these experiences (i.e. isolation, cruelty, splitting up family members) that I felt it made for a good comparison.

Hook Line: 
Eager to shed a decade of sacrifice, lost love, and broken promises, a grief-stricken young woman steps into the fall of 1976 with a fresh start in Chicago only to find herself walking right into the arms of a past that isn’t ready to let her go.

Core Wounds: Abandonment and guilt

Inner Conflict
When her mother dies in their rural Michigan home, Cady’s father turns to alcohol to cope, leaving Cady (12) to shoulder the weight of caring for her sister and their home. Her once firm foundation is shaken so violently that there is almost a complete role reversal. Aside from paying the bills, Cady is forced to make the swift leap from dependent to caregiver without the benefit of a second thought for her own well-being. It is then when she learns that the people who love you are capable of leaving, whether it be intentional or not.

Secondary Conflicts
When Cady (now 15) meets Jim during the summer of ‘69 and begins to fall in love with him, she fears that he too will leave her, especially as he gets glimpses into her home life. She is reluctant to trust his intentions, nearly resigning herself to the belief that he will leave because it would be less painful to accept it early on. Finding out she is pregnant adds another layer of conflict as Cady must now race against the clock to ensure that she and Jim can stay together and somehow also provide a stable home for their baby and the sister she is unwilling to leave behind. She has no choice but to have faith that Jim will follow through with the plan he’s laid out to move them to Chicago to live with him as there are no alternatives that work in their favor.

Cady is forcibly sent away to a Catholic home for unwed mothers, cut off from everyone she loves, and told her baby will be placed for adoption against her will. She encounters an unfamiliar religion and a foreign god she quickly learns to resent, told that her situation is punishment for her sins. An internal battle rages within her between the message she hears from the priest and nuns and what her heart knows to be true, that her baby was created in love.

Downtown Chicago (summer 1976) is bustling with activity. Sounds, lights, people, strange smells. The buildings tower overhead, especially the Sears Tower. Pigeons skitter, street musicians play.

Della’s apartment is in the lowest level of a brick rowhouse. It is quieter there as the buildings block much of the city noise. The entry opens to the living room where there are two orange velvet recliners and a low coffee table. To the left of the entry is the small kitchen with an L-shaped counter and a tiny table and three chairs against the third wall. A barred kitchen window faces the street. Wood paneling and parquet flooring line all the common areas. Past the living room is the hallway. Della and George’s bedroom is on the left, then a bathroom with apple green double sinks. On the right is Cady’s pink bedroom which holds a wrought iron twin bed and a dresser. On the dresser is Cady’s record player and a box of her albums. There is a walk-in closet with a window to the courtyard in back.

Lincoln Park, Chicago is where Della’s apartment is located. Down the street is a 5-way stop where Cady often finds Gus, a homeless man she’s befriended. At that intersection there is a small grocery with an awning under which Gus takes cover from the sun, a sandwich shop, a hot dog stand, and a bench. Before school is in session, people walk their kids through on the way to the zoo.

Norah’s house is also in Lincoln Park, but on a street with detached homes. Hers is a brick Victorian with ivy ascending to the second story where there is a rounded tower. Inside the heavy door is a foyer with a grand staircase to the right. To the left is a sitting room with ornate, oversized furniture, a plush antique rug and a coffee table in front of a fireplace. The eat-in kitchen is in the back of the house. There is a peninsula dividing the space. A window with a macrame plant hanger faces the backyard. The wallpaper and four bucket chairs are avocado in color. The countertops and tabletop are white. There is a metal high chair off the table. Upstairs there is a long hallway. On the left is the guest bedroom, the nursery, then the master bedroom. Inside, the master has walls the color of “spiced tangerine” and a sturdy chestnut four-poster bed with sheer white drapes. Out back is a pergola and a seating area with wicker rockers. There is a small yard, fenced in with privacy fencing.

The skating rink in Cady’s hometown is a plain, white cinder block building with a gravel parking lot. It’s one of the few places in the small town that has air conditioning. There is a large floor for skating and a counter to rent skates. Tables and benches are near the entrance.

Cady’s childhood home is a small white bungalow with light blue trim. There is a good sized front porch with two rocking chairs and a little metal table between. Just inside the front door is the kitchen. The window above the sink faces out to the street. The countertops are Formica. There is a small table in the center of the room with four chairs. Off the kitchen is an open living room with a television set, two recliners, and a picture window. There is a hallway off the kitchen that goes to the bedrooms. The first door is Daddy’s room, a small room with a double bed that takes up most of the space, then at the end of the hall is the girls’ bedroom with a bathroom in between.

Cady’s childhood bedroom has a double bed that she and Joey share. The wallpaper is pink with white pinstripes and little white flowers. There is a shelf that houses Cady’s record collection. Her record player sits on the dresser. A rocking chair sits in the corner, a remnant of story times with their mother. The room is in transition from little girls’ room to teenagers’ room. The window faces the side of the yard and the woods.

The woods outside Cady’s house lead to a set of train tracks. There is an open space where the glow of a streetlight reaches.

The beach Cady frequents is on the southwest coast of Michigan. There’s a good stretch of sand before the water line. The parking lot is tucked into a wooded area.

The little town near Cady’s home is a typical Midwestern stretch of shops and a diner. There is a record shop, a bar. Probably one blinking stoplight in the center.

The home for unwed mothers is an old school. Inside the double doors are two staircases, one up and one down. Downstairs is the cafeteria. Upstairs there are dormitories on either side of a wide corridor and between them is the nuns’ station. Cady’s room has two flimsy metal twin beds, cold brick walls, and a dim bathroom in which the amber light shorts.

The beach near the home for unwed mothers is more open and not wooded. It’s located on Michigan’s northwest coast. It has a light coat of snow that blows in the wind and waves that crash and reach ten foot heights at the breakwall.

Joey’s dorm room is a simple square with bunk beds against one wall and desks against the other. There is a television set between the desks.

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Assignment I: Story Statement: Defy the order to detonate a nuclear weapon in Las Vegas. 

Assignment II: Protagonist Sketch: 

Abu Zil, the devil in human form and commander of a terrorist group, kidnapped the protagonist, Muhammad Jihad, and conscripted him as a child terrorist eight years ago in Syria. Now, in Las Vegas where he sent Muhammad Jihad as a sleeper agent, Abu Zil recalls Muhammad Jihad to duty and charges him with detonating a smuggled nuclear weapon in Las Vegas. Abu Zil, who has assumed the identity of a UNLV professor killed in Syria, wants to use Muhammad Jihad to spread hatred in the world and thereby prove himself to God. Through the use of brilliant logic, reason, dishonesty, double-talk, gaslighting, and other devious techniques, Abu Zil breaks down the mind and spirit of his protege. But when Muhammad Jihad continues to resist his orders, Abu Zil--omniscient, omnipotent, and ubiquitous--unleashes mayhem, destroying Muhammad Jihad's bright future of medical school and marriage and bringing him to the brink of madness. Abu Zil is willing to destroy whatever necessary to defeat Muhammad Jihad, but his fundamental weakness is the power of love to overcome his machinations.  If Abu Zil cannot keep Muhammad Jihad brainwashed into believing himself unlovable, all is lost. 

Assignment III: Titles: 

Nothing is Written 

I, Muhammad Jihad 

Assignment IV: Comparable Titles: 

Kafka On the Shore (Murikami): As with my work, this title is a coming of age story in which a protagonist travels through darkness attempting to avoid a terrible destiny all the while struggling to discern between what is real and what is not, and to reconnect with family, and to discover love in all its forms. 

Khalil (Khadra): As with my work, this title delves into the psychological torment of a would-be terrorist struggling to find a path away from committing an act of violence against innocents. 

Song of Achilles (Miller): As with my work, this title portrays the struggle of an epic hero to overcome powerful forces arrayed against him, to overcome destiny, and through acts of courage to earn the right to know love in this world and the next. 

Assignment V: Hook Line 

A university student, ordered to detonate a nuclear bomb in Las Vegas, bets his soul against the devil’s promise to cancel the attack if he does the impossible—find one woman who loves him. 

Assignment VI: Primary and Secondary Conflict 

The primary conflict is internal. Muhammad Jihad must find the strength and courage to defy Abu Zil's summons to detonate a nuclear weapon in Las Vegas, but he must first overcome the self-loathing and sense of worthlessness that has burdened him since he committed terrible acts as a child terrorist in Syria. Abu Zil, recognizing Muhammad Jihad's vulnerability, attacks each and every one of Muhammad Jihad's relationships to reinforce his sense of isolation and bring him into a state of despair and near-surrender. Only if Muhammad Jihad is willing to silence Abu Zil's voice inside his head and overcome his belief that he is so inherently bad it is impossible for others to love him will it be possible for him to see things as they truly are and choose his own path. 

The secondary conflict is external. Despite telling everyone in his life about the terrible circumstances and Abu Zil's order, Muhammad Jihad is dismissed as mentally ill, abandoned, and betrayed. Without external sources of validation and support, Muhammad Jihad is rendered even more vulnerable to Abu Zil's deceits. Only a last-ditch gamble, where Muhammad Jihad wrangles Abu Zil into giving him a reprieve if he can prove even one woman loves him, can prevent Muhammad Jihad from surrendering and carrying out the horrific order to nuke Las Vegas. 

Assignment VII: Setting 

I, Muhammad Jihad, is set temporally in the past, present, and future. Geographically, the story is set in war-torn, blood-soaked Gaza; in ISIS-controlled territory and terrorist training camps in Syria; in the Las Vegas metropolitan area from swank Summerlin to the Naked City in North Las Vegas to Lake Mead and the Hoover Dam; and in NYC at the Metropolitan Opera and Juilliard. The chaos of battle, the burning desert sun, the contrast between social classes, and the pull of contemporary popular culture help characterize the setting. Gaza contextualizes how Muhammad Jihad not only came to harbor ideologies that contribute toward his radicalization but also the countervailing knowledge and wisdom imparted by his aunt, who adopted him on the death of his parents. Syria describes the process of attachment formation to Abu Zil and the commission of the acts that undermine Muhammad Jihad's self-concept as a worthy, lovable person. New York is where Muhammad Jihad hits rock bottom and decides to battle against Abu Zil. Las Vegas is the grand stage upon which the important acts of the final month of Muhammad Jihad's life are played out. 

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Finding himself caught in a cycle of reincarnation – taking the form various wild animals while retaining his human mind – a man struggles for survival without the benefit of instinct.  As flashbacks of his past return, he tries to decipher the higher purpose behind his bizarre predicament.


With several different (temporal geographic, and circumstantial) storylines, which eventually converge, this tale features more than one antagonist.  In some, the protagonist’s main adversarial challenge is simply survival in unfamiliar situations.  These occur in wilderness settings and, while some of the conflicts are actual individuals and pose real danger, these are generally in the form of animal threats and therefore, the antagonist (if you will) is not always complex in character, or motive.  The more engaging antagonistic forces are the fear, anxiety, uncertainty, confusion, and loneliness experienced by the main character during these portions of his journey.

From the sections that do not occur in the wild, there is also more than one antagonist – a childhood bully from the streets of Bayonne, during the years of the Great Depression, an ex-employee who conspires to steal a family business, built and nurtured over many years, as well as inanimate antagonistic forces, such as post-war trauma and tragic illness. 



Traversing the Circle

Spell Within the Circle

Views from the Circle


The book’s genre: Magical Realism (Literary Fiction)

1)     As with “Life of Pi” (Yann Martel), Traversing the Circle is the thought-provoking journey of a stranded character’s struggles with himself and a variety of external adversities.  There are numerous non-human characters – endearing, troubling, fearful, but always recognizable.  Facing unfathomable challenges, the main characters of both novels demand the reader’s empathy and support.  Reflecting on events from the past, the meaning for their odyssey is incrementally revealed.

2)     Readers of Mitch Albom’s “The Five People You Meet in Heaven” will doubtless enjoy another entertaining vision of afterlife engagements and lessons.  This too is a multi-textured tale that continues to intrigue and hint at purpose, as it builds to its thoughtful conclusions.

3)   Another story of a protagonist stranded in an unfamiliar setting is Andy Weir’s The Martian.  In both works, it is the main character’s ongoing attention and ingenuity that allows them to prevail.


Traversing the Circle by Eric Aerts

·       Inexplicably caught in a cycle of reincarnation, an unprecedented vision of life is afforded a man returning in animal form.  Struggling to survive and recall his human past, the profound meaning for his strange journey is revealed.


While embodying the form of various animals, the protagonist is well aware of the fact that his mind is that of a human being – possessing all the knowledge of an adult man, less the memories of his own human existence.  Though survival in the wild is a constant struggle – as he discovers the absence of instinct is an enormous disadvantage – it is the lack of memory and the gnawing sense that there is an important meaning to his struggles that both haunt him and prevent him from giving up.

Flashbacks of his former, human life begin to return, but more in the form of visions, than as personal memories.  Discovering he was once an engineer and inventor; he starts to understand his own fascination and appreciation for the genius and ingenuity he sees in the natural world.  This only serves to strengthen his suspicion that there is deeper truth to be uncovered.

The/a secondary conflict – which has served to be entertaining as well as useful in building tension, are the main character’s attempts (with greater and lesser success) to understand and blend in with his various animal family/troupe members.

For example, as the young offspring of a solitary margay (an arboreal wild cat from Central and South America), our hero is frustratingly inept – and an obvious disappointment to his feline mother – in his initial lessons in stalking and catching prey.  As a Japanese macaque (old world monkey that lives in troupes) he must partake in the most prevalent communal activity – grooming.  However, disgusted by the consuming of removed insects and parasites, the main character discreetly flicks these away when he feels no one is watching.   There are many such hurdles and tribulations he faces throughout.


Amongst the decidedly crowded field of fiction choices, readers generally seek one of two directions:

1) those that focus on the familiar – often to reinforce already held beliefs (such as social commentary), and

2) those that are unfamiliar (to varying degrees) and aim towards imparting/inspiring reflection and/or revelation. 

Traversing the Circle falls soundly in the latter of these two categories and – in an age of reality overdose – it is a timely and refreshing escape to a vantage that is both entirely new and still accessible.

There are three main settings for this story, each a driving force for different aspects of the plot – two of these with various sub-settings.  As well, the contrasts between these locales/situations have been helpful in highlighting the specific flavor of each.

In brief, these setting are:

1)     The various wilderness locations inhabited while the protagonist is occupying animal forms.  These include Antarctica and the adjacent Ross Sea, the jungles of Central America, and the mountains of northwest Japan.  Each of these (and the behaviors/habits of the specific wildlife) were extensively researched for accuracy and allowed for lush descriptions, as well as unique exchanges for a human made privy to a genuinely novel perspective.

Certainly, there is no shortage of fiction that imports humans into wildlife settings, or close relationships with wild animals.  Many of these tend towards fantasy and the fantastical and are targeted at a youth/young adult audience (Jungle Book, The Chronicles of Narnia, etc.).  Generally, they attribute human characteristics and language to the animal characters for ease of interaction with the human characters.

Conversely, once taking the initial leap of faith – that the mind of a human being can be reincarnated into the form of another creature – this tale becomes a very realistic and adult story of discovery, adventure, adversity, curiosity, and unique relationships which unfold on Nature’s terms. 

This perspective offered so many quirky, fun, and often exciting scenes/situations, that would never have been possible without the novelty of this foundational premise.

An admittedly different, but worthwhile comparison (although a film, not a novel) would be Castaway (starring Tom Hanks), in that the main character finds himself stranded in a wilderness setting and having to rely on his ingenuity to resolve numerous completely unfamiliar challenges (some life-threatening).  Similarly, our character must face these while also struggling (at times) with crushing loneliness.


2)     The flashbacks to the main character’s human life occur at different, crucial moments and at various locations – not always in chronological order.  Among these are France (during and immediately after the second world war, where he is stationed as an infantry soldier), New Jersey (where he grew up in Bayonne during the depression, and then at the Jersey shore, where he builds a business, raises a family, and retires in the late 20th century), as well as the deserts of New Mexico (after the war, he flees to the desert and lives as a hobo/drifter to avoid family and to deal with battle-related emotional scars. He eventually winds up near the Zuni Indian Nation, where he meets – and works for – his future wife).

Offset by the wilderness chapters, these are brief episodes that incrementally give the reader insight to the life events and relationships that form and define protagonist’s character.  Throughout these more familiar (to us) portions of the book, there are a variety of struggles and relationships that provide a view into the protagonist’s personality and drives the reader to empathize with his strange afterlife predicament(s).


3)     The Waiting Room.  Between animal reincarnations, the main character finds himself – or at least his mind – transported to what he dubs “the waiting room.”  This is a space where he is alone and without physical form, but in which his senses are still receiving some manner of gentle, shifting, but generally unfamiliar (scents, tastes, etc.) feedback.  It is a quiet space of comfort that he finds inspires, almost demands, reflection.  His episodes in this space are not very lengthy, but are productive in his gradual comprehension of the events that take place in the other key settings.

One last point regarding the settings: numbers 1 and 3 (reincarnations and waiting room) are written in present tense, while number 2 (flashbacks) are the only chapters in past tense.  I wanted to add an element of having the reader share many of the experiences, discoveries, and conclusions with the main character in real time, and found this a useful vehicle to accomplish that.

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Story Statement

A Stanford student-athlete tries to balance life as a volleyball scholarship star with life as a pre-medical student intending to save her terminally ill mother.

Antagonistic Forces

J.J. faces several antagonists in this story.  Temporary antagonists include her high school ex-boyfriend Stephen, who wants J.J. to go to U. C. Davis with him so that they can marry in a few years.  Privileged blonde-haired, blue-eyed Christine questions J.J.'s muscular body, sexuality, haircut, and playing style for much of the first season, forcing newbie J.J. to shut up and put up.  The highly-ranked UOP team taunts lowly Stanford by wearing grapefruits under their game uniforms during warm-ups, which establishes a heated rivalry for years.  J.J.'s own Mama Jo turns against her during her first summer home from college.

Mama Jo's elusive auto-immune issues are a constant force in J.J.'s story, and provide many frustrating situations for both mother and daughter.

During her sophomore season, new assistant coach Don thinks J.J. is overrated and benches her after she is hit by a car on her bike.  J.J.'s post-concussion syndrome returns, and her body suffers from other accidental injuries, forcing her to lie about the extent of her pain in order to retain her scholarship and keep playing.

J.J. observes the male docs at Stanford Hospital as they harass the female doctors during her summer internship.  She begins to question whether the costs of being a female doctor outweigh the possible, not certain, benefit of curing her mother.

The glamorous UCLA team defeats Stanford in the first Women's NCAA Volleyball tournament in 1981, her junior season.  This loss provides a catalyst that will energize J.J.'s recovery from a potential career-ending back injury during that match in the hopes of a rematch with UCLA her senior year, 1982.

J.J. is told she needs to have career-ending back surgery by a Stanford surgeon whose behavior raises J.J.'s suspicions about his motives: is she being used as a lab rat?

Breakout Titles

Chasing Kairos

Holding Court: Title IX Playing Time

Rally On:  Finding New Dreams When First Dreams Fail


Pat Conroy's My Losing Season (2002) was one inspiration for this book.  He looks back on his senior season as the point guard for the Citadel's men's basketball team and uses basketball as a frame for interrogating family, friends, and the bonds forged between men coming of age in a military academy.  Conroy's memoir provides a realistic view of college athletics, since most teams fail to win championships.  My book has a similar Bildungsroman, strong team bonding, and cultural commentary, but includes a positive parent-child relationship and covers the transition years from a losing team to a winning legacy that continues today.  Instead of a father-son conflict that results in disappointment, my secondary story of a mother's daily struggle to conquer her body's decay results in a fierce attachment between a mother and a daughter.

Perdita Felicien's My Mother's Daughter (2021) is similar in plot to my story: a young woman begins to discover her athletic gifts and is edged onward by her mother's love, grit, and faith.  When Perdita stumbles while pursuing Olympic dreams, her mother picks her up, illustrating the power of a parent's love to transform her child's life.  My book differs in that it occurs twenty years earlier, includes gendered power struggles without the systemic obstacles of race, and centers around the illness of a beloved mother who might not live long enough for her daughter to save her.


Chasing Kairos is the heroine's journey of J.J., a tomboy who yearns to earn a volleyball scholarship so that she can study pre-medicine and cure her mother's life-threatening illness.

Conflicts - triggers and reactions

Primary conflict/wound:  Once J.J. earns a C+ on her first College Chemistry exam, she is gripped with fear that she will fail to save her mother.  Her affinity for math disappears as she struggles to remember Calculus and Chemistry formulas and test anxiety makes her performance worse.  The headaches from a serious concussion at sixteen return, along with nightmares of her mother's funeral.

Secondary conflict:  J.J. wonders about her playing time until she sees the new assistant coach laughing with Christine as she emerges topless from the jacuzzi on a road trip.  J.J. hears about players sleeping with coaches at other schools, but has a hard time believing what appears to be sex for court time.  She becomes overwhelmed as her bad grades and inconsistent play coincide with her mother's hospitalization.

Social/team conflict:  When junior Christine deliberately hits the new player Kari in the face with the volleyball, J.J. struggles between protecting Kari, who's competing for J.J.'s starting position, or ignoring the hazing in favor of her own playing time.  She and the other younger players vow to be welcoming when they are in the upper classes.  They establish a separate, collective culture through dancing to the New Wave and Punk music that irritates the older players.

Love conflict:  J.J. cannot let go of her unrequited love for the pre-med boy she met at ORGY, once he disappears after a few successful dates.

Identity conflict:  The narrator's dual identity as J.J., the extroverted prank-loving jock who uses humor to hide her pain, and Jenyth, the solitary lover of learning who agonizes when she can't remember the ninth line of a sonnet.


The story contrasts the palm-treed country club ambience of 1980's Stanford University in sunny Palo Alto, CA, with hostile and famous gyms throughout California, Hawaii, and Alabama.  Many volleyball players live in Kairos, a popular coed housing co-operative on the envied avenue of historical fraternity row houses.  With an open kitchen and a reputation for wildly inventive parties on its sundecks and midnight basketball games with neighboring fraternities on its basketball court, Kairos is also the favored housing of several Structured Liberal Education (SLE) students.  They are the adored intellectuals of the campus.  Manzanita Trailer Park, the cheapest and dingiest living arrangement on campus, is on the opposite side of Stanford and houses another group of SLE students.  UGLY Undergraduate Library's occult section on the third floor and Green Graduate Library's basement stacks provide spaces for study and stress-reducing pranks.  Matches and practices are held at Maples Pavilion, and the lovely old Roble Gym is the site of the Viennese Ball.  Memorial Church, survivor of the 1906 earthquake and centerpiece of the original Quad, welcomes the supplicant's pleas.  Antonio's Nut House provides Tuesday happy hours for the Stegner Fellows and undergraduate writers.  The mausoleum of Leland Stanford, Jr., is the site of strange initiation rites, but is not the site of ORGY, a location that remains a secret today.


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Valerie Taylor 

Algonkian Conference; March 2022


Assignment 1- Write your story statement

Joyce Mannor wants nothing more than to reunite with Nadia, her daughter who she gave up at birth. Depression from her fiancée’s death kept Joyce from raising her. Yet when her wounds heal, Nadia’s newly assigned guardians refuse to let Joyce see her at all. Now that Nadia is eighteen and going away to college, all restrictions are lifted, and Joyce has the opportunity to become the mother that she’s yearned to be for years. 


With a college-aged co-worker, and Joyce posing as her mother, they head to Nadia’s university and scheme a plan to befriend her, and to hopefully reveal Joyce’s maternal identity when the time is right. The challenge will be to win Nadia’s acceptance, and to confront Nadia’s guardians upon their visit to Parents Weekend.


Assignment 2- Antagonist 

Bill and Kara Teninbel are Nadia’s careless guardians who put little effort into raising her, yet they refuse to let Joyce, her biological mother, meet her. Despite their negligence, they feel obligated to honor Susan’s will, being that she was Kara’s sister. Although they decided on refraining from having children of their own, they were left with Nadia for them to raise. Susan was Nadia’s foster mother, but Nadia believed her to be her real mother. Joyce tried to see her daughter on her graduation day but the Teninbels placed a restraining order, preventing Joyce from seeing her. Meanwhile, the Teninbels had always shown up late to Nadia’s events, even working late on the day she needed a ride to the airport for college. 


Assignment 3- Titles

Sunburst Iris - This is the color of the eye that is a mixture of yellow, blue, and brown (forming into a sunburst). Metaphorically, this symbolizes the three women in the novel, and how together, they create a beautiful light. Joyce and Nadia are mother and daughter, but Marina, Joyce’s college aged co-worker, is the catalyst that brings them together. 

Biological Strangers - Joyce and Nadia are mother and daughter but Nadia doesn’t know.

Volcano by the Green Sand Beach- Nearing the end of the novel, Joyce’s love interest takes her to a Green Sand Beach which symbolizes hope and rebirth. The unpredictability of volcanoes is a recurrent theme. 


Assignment 4- Comps

Kristin Hannah’s Between Sisters in style and in the premise of two women coming together to face their past, but also with a theme of hurt, regret, and secrets, similar to Lauren K. Denton’s The Hideaway


Assignment 5- Log Line

A former unfit mother desperately plans to reunite with her daughter who she gave up at birth, by secretly following her to college, ignoring a restraining order set by the foster parents.


Assignment 6- Conflict 

Primary Conflict 

Joyce wants to reunite with her daughter who she gave up at birth. Her daughter’s guardians are preventing her from doing so. She follows her to college and is set with the obstacle of planning out a natural way to meet her, befriend her, and reveal her maternal identity if and when the time is right. She coaxes a former enemy, turned friend, for the ride, who is close to Nadia’s age. The climax is when Joyce and Nadia meet for the first time inside of Joyce’s villa (page 108). This is an excerpt of Joyce watching Nadia through the window, walking up her driveway:

As Nadia walks up the long driveway, Joyce gazes out of her bedroom window in admiration. Her orange and white flowered sundress sways alongside her legs as she walks, and the wind gently sweeps her hair over her right shoulder. A white flower sits right above her right ear, pulling her hair back slightly. She swings her white tote bag at her side. Her skin is sun-kissed and bare with the exception of a thin silver necklace holding a key charm. She looks beautiful and confident.

Joyce’s daughter is finally here, her earth angel. Oh how she dreamed of this day where they would be this close! She has always imagined receiving a tight embrace and hours of laughing and talking. She imagined that Nadia would fill her in on what she has missed all of these years. Yet this fantasy of hers now seems like an impossibility. Yes, her daughter is here, and about to enter her house. This is progress. However, Joyce never considered that Nadia doesn’t know who she is. The embrace and endless chatter may happen in the future, hopefully, but certainly not anytime soon. This situation now seems harder than she could ever imagine. She begins to both regret and relish the idea of coming to Hawaii. A pang of dread sprung on a heart palpitation. Maybe she got it all wrong. Maybe Nadia doesn’t want to meet with her at all. How is she going to react to the fact that she’s been adopted, if Joyce has the heart to tell her? The heartburn subsides and Joyce thinks about how sweet it would be if Nadia had accepted her. She would first accept her as Marina’s mother, and then would soon accept her as her own. If only life were so sweet. She decides to rely on faith and hope for the best.


Then when Joyce and Nadia are in the room together for the first time, Joyce calms down because this is the moment that she’s been waiting for. 

Just then Joyce walks into the room. Although she is stepping foot into her own living room, she feels like the living room is protected inside a huge impenetrable bubble. She imagines that as she tries to walk through, she bounces back into the hall. Maybe she wants to return to her room in a way, to run away from difficulty. Yet she knows that she must push through the thick translucent bubble. She must find a way in. She just needs to get her right foot through, and that’s all it will take. Then she would be in the living room and there is no turning back. She gazes at the back of Nadia’s head as she finally makes it past the threshold separating the hall from the living room. 

Nervously, she peeks her head around to see Nadia’s face and holds out her hand. “You must be Nadia.” She lets out a deep breath. “Nice to meet you.” 

It is in that moment that the crashing waves surrounding her settle into a deep serenity. They no longer crash, nor do they ebb or flow. They come to a halt of calming waters, and the sun shines down upon them. This is the moment that Joyce has anticipated for the last eighteen years. It is finally here.

“Hi,” Nadia responds casually. She shakes Joyce’s sweaty hand. “And you must be Marina’s mom?”

Joyce smiles and nods speechlessly.

“Well,” Nadia adds. “You have a lovely place.”


The falling action is as follows: Nadia gets closer with Marina (Joyce’s younger friend) because they share a class together and are working on a project. Joyce and Marina take out Nadia for Valentine’s Day because Nadia finds out that her boyfriend had allegedly cheated on her, and Joyce doesn’t want her to be alone. Progressively, with some setbacks, the trio grows closer. It is not until there’s a destructive fire in Nadia’s dorm that Nadia moves into the villa with Joyce and Marina. Nadia initially declines the offer, but after clashing with her new roommates, decides it would be better to take Joyce and Marina on their offer. Her friend, Bethany, comes along too. Nadia doesn’t speculate that Joyce is her mother but there is one close call: they go out to dinner and have the same allergic reaction to ginger. 

During the time that Nadia is living in Joyce’s villa, they grow closer, and to Nadia, Joyce seems like the mother that she never had. After the ginger allergy, Nadia doesn’t attend classes the next day. Joyce and Nadia grow closer and talk about personal topics. Nadia, heartbroken that the guitar that her late grandfather gave her, burned in the fire, Joyce surprises Nadia with a new one. 

The resolution takes place in the end when Joyce reveals her maternal identity to Nadia through a song that was written for someone else. Nadia writes and sings the song, and Joyce reveals that the song was meant for Nadia. 


Secondary Conflicts
Joyce and Marina: Joyce and Marina were former enemies and co-workers. Joyce is a retired nurse, and Marina was a receptionist at the same physician’s office. Dr. Avalloc’s wife finds out that her husband has been having an affair. She mistakens the mistress as Marina, instead of Joyce. Marina loses her job and she blames Joyce for it. Joyce offers Marina a new adventure: a paid college education to the University of Hawaii in exchange for Marina to befriend Nadia. Joyce and Marina’s hatred for one another slowly dissolves, and they become very close friends. 

Joyce and Tad: Joyce is swept off her feet by one of the professors at Marina and Nadia’s college. They ease into a very serious relationship and it changes Joyce for the better. After losing Nadia’s father in a tragic car accident, it turned Joyce into a cold, apathetic woman. Every relationship after was a meaningless, lustful affair, but nothing more. Tad is the first man to earn Joyce’s love and trust. They first meet on Waikiki Beach, and then at the college soon after. The conflict of Joyce’s broken heart is officially mended when it’s revealed that Tad’s brother in law was the drunk driver who killed Joyce’s fiancee many years ago. Tad was the one who turned his brother in law in. 

Nadia and Caleb: Caleb is Nadia’s boyfriend from back home. He chose to move to Los Angeles to pursue a career in music while Nadia went off to college in Hawaii. Caleb’s friends became mad at him and lied to Nadia and told her that Caleb was cheating on her. They even showed her a video, trying to prove evidence. Caleb finally straightens everything out and proves his loyalty and innocence. 

The Teninbels: Bill and Kara Tenninbel inherit Nadia after Nadia’s foster mother, Susan, passes away. They never wanted children but Kara feels obligated to take care of Nadia. They never have much time for Nadia and Nadia is aware of this. Yet, the Teninbels dislike Joyce and don’t want her to meet Nadia under any circumstances. At Parents Weekend, the Teninbels surprisingly visit Nadia’s university and learn that Nadia has been residing with Joyce. Bill and Kara are furious at first upon discovery, but soon learn that Joyce truly is the caring mother that she claims to be. 

Inner Conflicts

Joyce: Joyce is a miserable middle aged nurse consumed with materialism and nonsensical things. She doesn’t want to fully admit that her life has turned upside down with the death of Sam (her fiancee and Nadia’s father) and giving up Nadia. Her last meaningful relationship was with Sam and that was almost twenty years ago. She hits an all new low with an affair with a married man, Dr. Avalloc. Somehow, she puts her life into perspective and realizes that her number one priority is finding and getting to know her daughter, and everything else can fall to the waste side. She starts to change for the positive once she convinces Marina to come to Hawaii with her. She softens up a bit and confides in Marina like she has never done before. Then once she meets Nadia, her maternal instincts kick into full gear. Further, upon meeting and falling in love with Tad, her life is complete and she can finally claim happiness. 

Marina: Marina is at a crossroads in her life. She had a recent break up with her boyfriend and is having a difficult time getting over it. Her younger sister has a bigger social life than she. Everything she does and every place she goes reminds her of her ex, Doug. She is also at a dead end in her career, being a receptionist for many years with no growth or advancement. Her life changes direction for the worst initially: she’s accused of being Dr. Avalloc’s mistress, when in fact, Joyce is the culprit. 

Nadia: Nadia has really never felt true love since her foster mother passed away. The Teninbels never dedicated any time to her. As a result, she has always felt unwanted. Her relationship with Caleb gave her some anxiety because they were physically separating once she went to college.She is wrongfully told that Caleb cheated on her. As a result, she focuses on her studies, and a music business she’s helping one of her professors with. Nadia is hesitant to get to know Joyce at first, but she can’t deny the connection that they share. In time, with some setbacks, Joyce literally becomes the mother that Nadia never had. 


Assignment 7-Setting

There are three settings:

Long Island, NY Joyce and Marina live in Long Island, NY. Long Island has many prestigious towns but many impoverished towns as well. This setting is used to contrast Marina’s humble lifestyle with Joyce’s lavish home and town. When Marina drives to Joyce’s home, this drastic difference is observed and noted.

Somewhere along the scenic drive, her mind drifts off. What would it be like to live in a place like Weston? Would she constantly be around snooty people like Joyce? Although the aesthetics were more pleasant the further East she drove, she couldn’t help but appreciate her own town, Jonesdale. Jonesdale may not seem like much to many, but to her, it was the world. Jonesdale was a town composed of middle class, hard working people. There were always the poorer sections of town, of course, but that usually made Marina appreciate what she had. As a child, seeing children walk home from the store after running errands for their mother with a few dollars change in their hand, riding on bikes and scooters with the other kids around the block, and not caring if they passed a house that needed upkeep. Yes, there was some occasional crime but the town was mostly filled with neighbors who appreciated what they had, even if it wasn’t much. A yard sprinkler and a little pool was enough to satisfy a hot and humid day, and the neighbors often conversed and helped one another while shoveling driveways after snowstorms. Neighbors were ambitious but never ostentatious. Family was always prioritized over work, overtime, and raises, and there was never any competition over who had the most Christmas decorations. No one had jealous eyes and they offered to help out one another whenever they could. The town was filled with the common folk and you knew that you would never be judged for having too much or too little. All of the children played together. It didn’t matter the ethnicity, race, religion, or appearance. No child was told to stay away from another child. And if one of the parents was sick or got into trouble, no neighbor would tell their child to stay away. Everyone was included. And everyone knew that everyone goes through tough times and that was a part of being human. If leaves were scattered across the lawn, neighbors chalked it up to the person being sick perhaps. People accomplished what they needed to at their own pace, and that was acceptable. Marina could never imagine Joyce living in a town like this. 


Riviera Beach, FL: Nadia Joyce’s estranged daughter, lives in Florida, a far distance from Joyce. This setting is used to illustrate how far it is for Joyce to travel to her, if need be.

Honolulu, HI Hawaii is an escape for both Joyce and Nadia. Nadia makes the decision to attend college in Hawaii because it is the place that her late foster mother always wanted to go to. Nadia also wants to move far away from her aunt and uncle who never spent time with her. Joyce goes to Hawaii to follow Nadia, however, the romantic backdrop is perfect for the development of her romantic involvement with her new partner, Tad. 

On their way to the villa, the pair take in the amazing sights of Honolulu through the window of the driver’s black Lexus. Both Marina and Joyce take window seats, leaving the middle back seat empty. Marina’s anger towards Joyce subsides as she takes in the natural beauty of the landscape. Luscious landscapes of palpable brown mountains tower over yielding waters. This view complements the remarkable contrast of the city traffic. The summit of the mountain is lost in the traveling cumulus clouds. A multitude of shops and restaurants are assembled on the main road. The sun’s brightly beaming rays spread phosphorescence along the streets. Booming palm trees and wild plants sprout from the ground in vivid, effervescent paths. Suntanned couples fill the sidewalks as they make their way to Waikiki Beach. Some carry lounge chairs and rolling carts filled with towels and accessories, while others hold nothing but a towel and surfboard. The entire town is iridescent with beauty: prismatic scenery, gorgeous, blissful people, and infallible weather. This is a place that anyone can easily become used to.

As the car makes its way near Waikiki Beach, Marina gets a closer look at the eggshell, creamy sands and the forceful, unforgiving waves. Surfers are grouped to the right side of the beach, couples are spread out all the way to the left side, while families are scattered in between. A group of young adults are playing beach volleyball, their skin glowing, tanned, and glabrous. 

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Story Statement:

Protagonist’s Mission: Find and rescue a disappeared teenager from the clutches of a murderous Appalachian crime family.


Richard Willeford has long enjoyed his reputation as the most generous, respected, and wealthiest of Cincinnati’s patriarchs. But all along, he has been a terrible spendthrift, only maintaining his lifestyle and standing by using up the vast wealth created by his illustrious forefathers, leaving himself secretly broke and in serious debt. Two years ago, loath to be exposed as unworthy of his family’s legacy, Richard embezzled $3.2 million from the financial technology company founded by his son, Dickie, framing him in turn for the crime. Dickie has spent the past two years as a fugitive, eking out a living as a virtual skip tracer, all the while trying to figure out who framed him. Now, broke again and under threat of exposure by an illegitimate son (Marion), Richard uses his former mistress (Meri), a drug cartel, and an enforcer to manipulate Dickie, Marion and Meri onto the Appalachian compound of the murderous Slacum crime family, where Richard has arranged for all of them to be slaughtered. His objective: sell a newly developed, hyper-potent marijuana strain possessed by the Slacums to the cartel in order to maintain the lifestyle and standing he feels is his birthright.


Darkness Disappears

The Universal Truth of Exile

Close Your Eyes and Disappear


Genre: Crime Thriller

Dennis Lehane, Kenzie and Gennaro series: Hard boiled crime action combined with a setting (Dorchester for Lehane, Cincinnati for me) that is a much of the story as the characters it begets. 

Kristin Lepionka, The Last Place You Look: Involves a P.I. with addiction issues who doesn’t want to work looking for a voluntarily disappeared person in Ohio. Deals with race and family issues. First in a series.  


Eking out a living as a virtual skip-tracer after being framed for embezzlement, fugitive political family scion Dickie Willeford is drawn into the open by a distraught mother desperately searching for her disappeared son.

Inner Conflict/Secondary Conflict:

Inner Conflict: Dickie is wanted for embezzlement and wire fraud by the FBI and lives a disappeared life as a fugitive as a result. Drawn into the field by a distraught mother searching for her son, Dickie is susceptible to being picked up by law enforcement for even the most minor infraction—even getting pulled over for speeding will land him behind bars for five to ten.

Secondary Conflict: Dickie harbors the secret that his illustrious forefathers were all criminals who changed the destiny of German Americans in Cincinnati over the last century. Even while living as a wronged fugitive, Dickie is determined not to turn to crime like the men who came before him. Unable to ferret out the identity of the person who framed him, and cutoff from his father—the only law-abiding Willeford in the last century—Dickie is near-penniless, depressed, and on the brink of making the big mistake. Dickie’s inner turmoil comes to a boil when he discovers clues that point to his father, the current family patriarch, as the embezzler.


Dickie lives with the generational guilt that his forefathers built the family’s immense wealth by stealing businesses from proud German Americans in Cincinnati’s Over-the-Rhine district during the first and second world wars. At the same time a near-broke Dickie is an exile from the city’s wealthiest suburban neighborhood, hiding in plain sight across the tracks in the most run-down area of his hometown. As Dickie uncovers clues to the missing teen’s whereabouts, his journey takes him to a forgotten underground lager cellar in the city’s brewery district; the cramped confines of his father’s former mistress; a Northern Michigan playground for the uber-rich; the basement home of his father’s African-American, bitter former chauffer; the gilded, elite country club he’s been banished from; the longtime family mansion where he confronts his father; and finally to the terrifying Appalachian compound of the murderous Slacum crime family. Not only is Dickie in jeopardy of arrest everywhere he goes, but each setting underscores the trappings Dickie came from, what he’s lost, and what dangers lie in front of him.

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Assignment 1: Write your story statement.

A Muslim girl and a Buddhist boy battle cultural mores and social hypocrisy to preserve their identity and free-will.

Assignment 2: Sketch the antagonist or antagonistic force in your novel.

     A’isha is antagonized by the cultural mores of the Islamic faith, as embodied by members of her commune and, more impactfully, her father. Her homosexuality and desire to pursue higher education and world travel are counter to the tenets of Islam, which considers homosexuality “haram”—forbidden—and the pursuit of higher education and world travel a deterrence from the norm; “you will raise a farm and family like any good Muslim woman is expected to do,” her father insists. Although A’isha defiantly battles attacks against her perceived deviance, secretly, she grapples with shame, guilt, and her desire to forgive.

     Tsewang, abandoned by his parents and abused by his Rinpoche, is burdened by an ensuant rage and depression that antagonize his ability to form congenial relationships with fellow monks, undermine his perceptions and judgement, feed his conflict between the person he has learned to be and who he truly is, and are foundational to his relationship with Chimé –the smooth-talking, drug-dealing antagonist who supports and emotionally manipulates Tsewang until he gets what he wants, then abandons him, too.

Assignment 3: Create a breakout title and several options.

The title, "Behind Jagged Edges of Silhouette Trees," is a metaphor used in the narration which speaks to the main idea, irony, and juxtaposition of core wounds within the beauty of a natural/spiritual setting. 

Alternative titles:

1.     Veiled Eyes and Shuttered Mouths

2.     The Similarity of Difference

3.     Where Lines Begin to Fade

Assignment 4: Develop two smart comparables for your novel. Who compares to you? And why?

     “Where the Crawdads Sing” by Delia Owens is a coming-of-age novel comparable to mine. Owen’s protagonist, Kya, is similar to A’isha, one of my two protagonists, because they are resilient and determined girls. Their conflict with cultural mores and social hypocrisies gives rise to their core wounds of abandonment, rejection, and betrayal; while their goal is to survive and forgive their antagonistic family and community within the context of a natural setting.  

     “Pachinko,” historical fiction by Min Jin Lee, is comparable to the storyline of my other protagonist, Tsewang. Both are set in Asian countries and religion is a theme which juxtaposes the social underbellies and hidden truths that instigate Sunja’s (Pachinko’s protagonist) and Tsewang’s core wounds of abandonment and betrayal, and threaten their goal of self-preservation.

     Both novels are comparable to my novel’s overarching theme, which is: Self-reliance helps us survive abandonment and betrayal; and still, we are never truly alone.

Assignment 5: Write your own hook line (logline) with conflict and core wound.

A Muslim girl and a Buddhist boy, abused and abandoned by their parents and community, battle cultural mores and social hypocrisies to preserve their identity and free-will as they strive to forgive within religious communes of the Himalayas and the High Atlas Mountains.  

Assignment 6: Sketch out the conditions for the inner conflict your protagonist will have.

Inner Conflict (two protagonists)


     After being apart for two years, A’isha is thrilled that Saira has appeared at her home. But after lovemaking and a meal, she learns that Saira has returned for convenience, not love—she has nowhere else to go. A’isha’s joy painfully morphs into a blend of sadness and anxiety, realizing that the girl for whom she had declared her love—which triggered her family’s abandonment and the commune’s rejection—has returned simply to use her. Deeply conflicted, A’isha tries to decide what is most important: her love for Saira, her desire to quell her loneliness, or her need to honor her dignity by telling Saira to leave.  


     “What am I going to do!” Tsewang agonized upon realizing he has been abandoned in New Delhi, India, manipulated into serving as a drug mule with the promise that he would see the Indians pray at the Ganges River—his lifelong dream. When Tsewang confesses his predicament to a tailor he has befriended, the old man asks, “what made you trust him?” and triggers Tsewang’s emotional shifts from fear and agony, to rage and sadness, and then to longing and regret, as he recalls the series of men who have betrayed and abandoned him, and those who have provided him with care and guidance; all the while unaware of the cathartic power of this revelation.

Secondary Conflict:


     Upon her grandmother’s death, A’isha and Amir (her father’s business partner and secret lover) summon Hira to shroud and assist with the burial. Weeks later, when A’isha goes to Hira’s home to gift her with a wreath, she learns that Hira is the woman whom her grandfather used to “spend time with,” as Hira puts it. Appalled, A’isha accuses Hira of instigating adultery, telling her she was the cause of her grandmother’s suffering; and she accuses her of hypocrisy, “how dare you shroud the woman whose husband you stole?” Quoting Ayats from the Qur’an, Hira calmly refutes A’isha’s accusations. Fraught with anger and guilt, A’isha leaves Hira’s home apologizing to her grandmother for allowing Hira to shroud her, vowing to never speak to “that woman” ever again, wishing she had snatched back the wreath to toss it into the river; yet relieved to have learned the truth about her grandfather, finally.


     Lost in the forest for three months, addicted to betel nuts, Tsewang is found near-death by two monks who carry him to their monastery in the city of Thimpu. They nurse him back to health and welcome him as one of their own, but Tsewang responds by denouncing Buddhism, by falsely accusing the Rinpoche of abuse, and by persistently wrangling with fellow monks; thus, he is shunned. “Perhaps you should return to the forest; you appear to be a better fit for the animals,” he is told. Despite his callous pretense, Tsewang wants to be accepted and is quietly saddened by their rejection, which also rubs against his deeper wound and relentless wonder, “did father leave because of me?”

Assignment 7: Sketch out your setting in detail.


     Ouirgane, the rural Amazigh village she calls home. A commune of huts built with hand-molded bricks of straw and honey-colored clay that hang onto slopes of unpaved roads tucked into the bosom of the High Atlas Mountains. A village defined and contained by a patchwork of fertile soil, apricot in hue, that is farmed and fed by a mild, seasonal rain; freckled with juniper bushes, almond trees, and bountiful sprays of wild mint and thyme, and the blend of aromas mingle with the thinness of air and are intoxicating to the rare European who appears in search of a thrill. In these mountains, the traditions of the Imazighen ancestors are honored by generations of families who live communally, sharing livestock, harvest, and milk in accordance with Allah’s command. 

     They mount mules to carry generous portions of produce to the nomadic tribes who reside on a plateau, living on the fringe of existence, huddled in tents of cowhide and burlap; nestled in humility, and resting in hope. The Imazighen of Ouirgane live with the absence of electricity and plumbing, unburdened by amenities, and life unfolds in rhythmic ease to the gurgle and soft flow of the Oued Nfis, a freshwater river sustained by the snowcaps of the High Atlas. The river quenches the villagers’ thirst and assists in their routine of life. It is where the women, clothed in black hijabs and long djellabas, walk with palm-woven baskets upon their heads and babies wrapped onto their backs; and they gather at its banks to wash clothes and bathe their children, and to sip sweet mint tea as they watch the sun move across the sky, sharing laughter, storytelling, mythmaking, and gossip. 


      High in the Himalayas, in the folds of Paro valley adorned with wildflowers and tilted huts of hemlock, monks walk in single formation, barefoot and cloaked in burgundy kasayas. Each holding an alm bowl in their right hand, humility bowing their shaven heads. The elderly and the young line the chestnut road, offering the monks of Choling a dash of buckwheat and freshly picked figs; while the chimes of Buddhist temples echo, and a solemn chant reveals the spirit of a people shrouded in the scent of jasmine and veiled in the mist of an early morning fog.

      …And as the dungchen horns bellowed, beckoning monks and novices for meditation and prayer, Tsewang eased onto a frayed pillow, sweeping his eyes across the altar draped in red damask. He smiled at the candle’s flickering flame, and at the lotus flower afloat in a glass bowl. Shaking his head, he pursed his lips at the offering tureen of apples and oranges, and smirked at the Thangka of Mahakala, the Deity of Protection. Closing his eyes, he inhaled deeply the earthy scent of nag champa, wiggling away from glowing tips of burning sticks and snaking the room in blue silhouette against a blade of sun that penetrated a lone, circular window and landed at Rinpoche’s feet.



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Seven Assignment Responses by Pamela Meyer for DEATH IN MINIATURE


Early 1900s heiress secretly defies family and social dictates by living a double life to solve unexplained deaths using groundbreaking forensics while maintaining her cherished lifestyle. 


In 1906, society is an antagonistic force dictating women’s behaviors and dishing out punishment to those who dare step out of line.

Dr. Riggs sees Frances as an unruly woman who endangers his position as the morgue’s pathologist after she outperforms him during her test autopsy. Avenging his wounded pride, Riggs threatens to incite a press scandal over the reprehensible hiring of a woman to cut up dead bodies at the morgue. Soon after, Frances must contend with having a dogged reporter on her tail, risking disclosing her hidden double life to the world. 

Ruthlessly ambitious and controlling, Frances’s tycoon father, Jacob Harvester, denied her a college education and contrived for Frances to marry against her pleas as part of a business arrangement. Not trusting Frances’s claim she is following the rules while living apart from her husband in Boston, Jacob has enlisted Boston friend Dex Houndsley to spy on Frances. Besides Houndsley’s regular reports, Jacob scours the papers and stays attuned to rumor mills to guard his daughter’s reputation, thus maintaining Harvester social standing. A wrathful man, he would punish Frances’s wildness as he did her aunt’s—with disownment and commitment to an asylum, should Frances’s secret be uncovered. 






Genre: Historical mystery with strong romantic elements.

Similar to Sherry Thomas’s LADY SHERLOCK Series, Deanna Raybourn’s VERONICA SPEEDWELL MYSTERY Series, and Kate Belli’s GILDED GOTHAM MYSTERY Series, my manuscript features an indomitable heroine solving murder mysteries with a love interest and is set near the turn of the century.

ASSIGNMENT 5: LOGLINE (50 words or less) 

Fascinated with solving unexplained deaths and making crime-scene miniatures to foster her investigative process, 1906 married heiress Frances Harvester Warden defies convention and risks family censure to enter the male-dominated world of criminal investigation, secretly living a double life as an unmarried Boston pathologist—but falls for her detective partner.


Frances’s upbringing as the overprotected, undervalued, only daughter of a ruthlessly ambitious father and compliant yet loving and creative mother ignited her rebellion and wish to be free. The ultimate betrayal came after her mother had died. After refusing to support her in obtaining a college education, her father married her off as part of a business deal to an insipid and equally ambitious older man. At a time when women did not have the right to divorce on their own, her father subsequently ignored her pleas of unhappiness, siding with her husband and forbidding a divorce.

Enter her brother’s well-connected friend and Frances’s mentor, McTash. McTash championed her unofficial training in pathology, even convincing her father to pay for it, and then furtively put her forward as the prime candidate for the Northern Mortuary’s pathologist position. It meant everything to Frances to finally be a part of transforming the medieval system of criminal investigation with modern science-based practices. To follow through with her dream, she contrived a story acceptable enough to both her father and husband to allow her to live alone in Boston, necessitating obscuring her identity to accept the position unencumbered. Living that double life affords her that long-sought freedom yet seals her off from everyone else much more precariously than she had expected. She tells herself that enduring a little more loneliness is a small price to pay, especially since she had long ago accepted that she would live her life alone anyway.

But then along comes William Leeson, stiff, meticulous, goodhearted, using science in investigating crimes. Their mutual attraction is intense from the beginning. Frances battles with her mounting desire for Leeson, for she knows she is a married woman, albeit estranged from her husband. But slowly, it dawns on her— she deeply longs for love, companionship, and connection, and Leeson offers her the antidote to that ache—an antidote that she dares not take, for doing so would topple her perfectly planned double life.


Born into a powerful, wealthy, elite family, Frances chooses to follow a career that, besides customarily excluding the fairer sex, is usually associated with the working classes. Yet, as it befits her social status, she remains only vaguely aware of her own privilege. Upon first meeting Leeson, Frances notices his finely tailored suit and briefly wonders how he could afford it on his salary. At the same time, she seems oblivious when Leeson stares in fascination at the astonishingly regal interior of her townhouse. 

Leeson, well-educated but of humble upbringing, is keenly aware of their class differences. When Frances invites him to join her and her mentor for dinner at the most expensive in town to celebrate the success of their first case together, he declines, acutely aware that the expense is beyond his reach. He has bouts of self-doubt and inadequacy in the face of her opulent lifestyle. 

At a peak moment on a date in the woods together, drinking champagne and eating raspberries, Leeson’s hopes are dashed when she tells him her father would disapprove of their relationship. It is only in the shadow of her consciousness that Frances struggles with what truly loving this policeman would mean. Her social circle, society, her family—even her most beloved aunt, would never accept a love between them. Only time will tell if she would be willing to give up her top-tiered prestige, wealth, and reputation to be with him. For now, she has colluded with him to hide their forbidden love WITHIN her secret double life, thus avoiding contention with outsiders’ reactions to someone from society’s highest echelon living life partnered with a man of much lower social standing.


DEATH IN MINIATURE is set in 1906 Boston. Yet, it opens at the onset of an investigation of an unexplained death on a hardscrabble farm on the city’s outskirts, specifically in a barn. But this is not just any old barn; this is the barn depicted in Frances Glessner Lee’s (the world’s mother of forensics) first miniature crime scene—the first of Lee’s ‘Nutshells of Unexplained Death.’ As the story unfolds, we see Frances making the miniature of the crime scene she first encountered when standing on the threshold of the life-size barn, the dead farmer hanging at the end of his noose inside. Details, such as the scent of musty hay and sparkling speckles of dust drifting in the low-angled morning sunlight cast over the farmer and detective inside, bring the scene to life.  

On the victim’s farm, the story travels through multiple other settings—a horse’s stall, the grounds around the barn adorned with scattered clues, a path to the farmhouse upon which Frances and William exchange banter and first notice an essential piece of evidence, and the sparse and battered kitchen where the wife and son of the farmer first give their statements.

Boston’s Northern Mortuary is ripe with death. Standing on Grove Street as did the real mortuary in the past and based on photographs, the fictionalized morgue undergoes significant changes throughout the story as our wealthy heroine, Frances, invests in abounding improvements from freshly painted walls to roses and a stone bench to landscape the front of the building. Much of the story is told in the setting of the morgue.

The most fictionalized setting in the story is Boston’s Police Station #1. Research told the station-house was in Boston’s North End. I located it across Grove Street from the morgue for the convenience of plot. A few lively and rambunctious scenes occur in the bustling station-house ‘bullpen,’ but much of the story unfolds in Detective Leeson’s office. Frances absorbs details about him from the things inside his office, such as his scientific books, a set of Lady-Justice bookends, and an enchanting metal bowl on a cushion which she learns is a Chinese meditation and chanting bell.

Frances’s Back Bay palatial townhouse also provides a fun setting. The story’s townhouse is based on a home that still stands today. It is majestic, occupying a corner made up of two Back Bay lots and complete with cone-shaped turrets. To Frances, it is home, but Leeson’s first encounter with the townhouse impresses. The entrance alone is grand, with a double marble staircase leading up to a chin-lifting landing. Frances’s bed-chamber has an elegant balcony, and there is a large solarium in which Frances makes the barn miniature.

The investigation into the farmer's murder and subsequent crimes takes the protagonists to the Hippodrome Circus at the Boston Theatre, the prestigious Tennis & Racquet Gentlemen's Club, a local ward boss' wharf lair, and docked Fall River 'floating palace' paddleboat steamer named the Priscilla.

The story's romantic climax unfolds in a fantasized rendition of today’s Boston Common, complete with Frog Pond, Parkman Bandstand, and most importantly, a lovely copse of trees where Frances and William climb an elm together and under which they ultimately confess their love for each other.
)) ((


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NO GOOD DEED by Brandon Hebert


Whether it’s a psycho drug dealer with a score to settle or a new girlfriend with a fetish for excitement, trouble has a way of finding war vet Frank Ware…and it’s never far off.


Ronald “Rolls” Royce, ex-boxer turned rising drug dealer in the New Orleans underworld.  Ron feels that the world owes him something.  It wasn’t his fault his boxing career fizzled and he ended up in jail, it was the world’s fault.  And he’s going to get that something by bringing the discipline of fight training to the streets.

After a boxing career spent in exotic locales ranging from lavish Clute, Texas to luxurious Westwego, Louisiana, Ron returns home, determined to find the fulfillment that he never got inside the ring.  Money, power, prestige, he wants it all.  And he’s willing to do whatever he feels necessary to get it.

However, the most important thing Ron feels he’s owed is the respect that he believed eluded him as a fighter.  If he feels disrespected, someone must pay…with anything and everything they have.


Love Hurts

One Way Out

No Plan B



Elmore Leonard  Reviews for two of my previous novels:

“…has (Elmore) Leonard’s talent for throwing lowlifes into a breakneck pace” – Kirkus Reviews / My Own Worst Enemy

“In the manner of Elmore Leonard…” – Booklist / The Buddy System

Lee Child  Ex-military protagonist working odd jobs while investigating suspicious and sometimes dangerous situations.


War vet Frank Ware finds out the hard way no good deed ever goes unpunished when he becomes the target of drug dealers who choose him to pay for another man’s sins.


Inner Conflict

Frank Ware has arrived at a turning point.  He’s spent the bulk of his life dodging bullets halfway across the world or divorce papers at home.  At this point, he’s just looking for periods, isolated little moments, that he can point to and say, “that was good.”

But when you have friends like Frank has, living quietly is never easy.  His heart is in the right place and he knows right from wrong.  He doesn’t want to revert to old habits, but at the moment he’s moving forward, Frank becomes torn between his past and his future by drug dealers for a perceived disrespect that he has no control over.  It doesn’t really matter whose fault it is, so long as someone pays a price. 

But, with a newfound life in front of him, Frank must decide what’s most important: loyalty, duty, or peace and quiet?

Secondary Conflict

As if relationships between men and women weren’t hard enough already, things get really complicated when Frank finds out his new girlfriend, Margo, has a penchant for part-time burglary to supplement her income.  Everybody wants a comfortable retirement and Margo is no different.  She just has an odd way of getting there.

Margo is resilient and can take care of herself, but she recesses a bit when she meets Frank.  The more they get to know each other, the more it becomes like they’re the only two people in the world and they discover something in each other.  There’s something about Frank, a gentleness, that she wasn’t expecting.

In spite of his better judgment, Frank decides that he’s going to help Margo…as long as there are rules.  Do your homework.  Don’t rob from a place that can be associated with you.  Only steal from those who can afford it.   Together, they risk everything – life, death, going to jail.  Frank and Margo put themselves in some very difficult situations.  People would only do that if they were with someone they have a deep personal connection with.  For them, the journey becomes about the road less traveled.

Frank tries hard to shield Margo from some of the more unsavory aspects of his life, but when Ron Royce discovers his target has a special someone, rules take a back seat.


New Orleans  A city that’s been counted out so many times, it’s lost track.  A gritty, urban area as tough as they come.  Constantly in the crosshairs of natural disasters and usually in the news for all the wrong reasons, New Orleans has a habit of doing a lot with a little.  With its resiliency tested time and again, the city has grown more entrepreneurial and innovative.  But there’s always another side to the New Orleans story.

New Orleans East and Lower Ninth Ward  Far from the tourist areas.  Interchangeably, some of the most dangerous sections of the city and Ron Royce’s stomping grounds after a self-inflicted mediocre boxing career.  Routinely ranked as some of the most violent parts of one of the most violent cities in America.  The Lower Ninth Ward became famous as a symbol of inequality and bureaucratic ineptitude in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, but returned to its rough, brutal roots after the cameras were gone.  Or never really left them, depending on who you ask.  Burglaries, guns, drugs, urban decay: New Orleans East and the Lower Ninth Ward have everything Ron Royce needs. 

Lower Garden District  A working-class neighbor to its more upscale Garden District cousin.  No oak-lined avenues, generational wealth, and five-thousand-square-foot antebellum homes here.  Frank Ware does the best he can to live a quiet life in a small studio apartment, trying to get himself together.  As the situation with Ron Royce gets more and more dangerous, things hit a little too close to home and Frank’s fortress of solitude is shattered.

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Story Statement

A woman with no family to return home to takes a chance on life in a different country - but that life only starts IF she can sneak into the royal bridal competition & kill that country's king. 


The main antagonist is the Lord of Winter, King Jädrich Femmel III. Lords are god-like beings who bring their gifts of their chosen season to each of the four countries in the Ringlands. One century ago, after a Summer brutal enough to have melted a large chunk of both the Winter King’s lands and his people, who are animated constructs made of ice rather than flesh-and-blood mortals, King Jädrich returned to find the devastation left behind and closed his borders. He’s refused to move ever since, leaving the rest of the seasons stuck in place and stagnant as the endless summer, autumn, winter, and spring rage in their respective lands. 

Every foreign messenger and domestic assassin have fallen at the hands of the Winter King, but as he hosts a bridal competition in search of his new queen, the Summer Lord finds the perfect opportunity to sneak a frail, half-Winter woman named Aveline into the country, dressing her as a bride and arming with the tools to kill even a creature made of ice. But while he promises to make Aveline his bride for a job well done, she has no love for the Lord of Summer, nor has she ever even stepped foot in her absent father’s frozen lands. As such, more than the Winter King’s frosty and cruel countenance, Aveline must also survive the culture shock of being surrounded by an entirely new land, with vicious bridal contestants and royal officials scrutinizing every forged detail of her disguise. It’s war on all sides for Aveline, and while she’s desperate to avenge what she’s lost in the century she’s been trapped in Summer, unable to bear the strong sunlight, she’s also desperate to keep herself safe above all others.  

Break Out Title 

The Glass Witch

The Silverblood Witch

The Half-Sun Sorceress

The Glass Dragon


Fantasy (Adult)

Spinning Silver (Naomi Novik)—a book about a woman’s quest to keep the frost demons at bay as Winter continues to eat away at the country, only to discover that these frost-creatures have been trying to keep another force at bay all along, this story’s themes of Frost and Fire parallel The Glass Witch in its world building and the struggle between supernatural beings that cost innocent lives in the process. 

The Winter Witch (Paula Brackston)—a story of a woman who loses her family and is shipped off to be with a man she’s never met while hiding her true nature, this book’s main character likewise must learn to own her power, her being, and use it to make a decision on who and what is worth defending. 

A Court of Thorns and Roses (Sarah J. Maas)—a story of a human girl drawn into the world of Fae, where she soon comes to decide who, and more importantly, what, she needs to fight for as the lines between races blur and her loyalties to her family and the human race at large fade. Its enemies-to-lovers subplot also appears in The Glass Witch. 


It’s up to one half-blood woman to stop a century-long disaster caused by one tyrant, immortal king, but as she disguises herself as a potential bride to kill him, she quickly learns that one’s loyalty to their country isn’t determined by blood alone. 

Inner Conflict

Aveline’s inner conflict revolves around a choice of identity as she struggles to understand where she falls between her mother’s people and her father’s. 

Aveline is not only a lowborn woman, born in a brothel to a community of entertainers and prostitutes, but she’s a woman that most believe shouldn’t even be possible: a cross between the Summer people, her mother one of the great golden dragonfolk of the desert, and the Winter people, her father a man quite literally made of ice. As such, while Aveline is fully flesh, she’s scorned and whispered about in the streets of her home country, and the frosted skin she’s inherited from her father’s people make it so that she can only bear the heat of the Summerlands when Winter comes to weaken the sun’s rays. No Winter for a century meant she couldn’t leave her secluded home in the one snowcapped mountain Summer has. 

When the Summer Lord comes to proposition her to take on an assassin’s quest, she comes back to her home city for the first time in a century, only to discover that her only family—her mother—is dead. It’s her urge for revenge against the Winter King that spurs her above all else, but as she goes to live in Winter as a fake bridal contestant to kill King Jädrich, she finds herself realizing that while her mother’s people saw her as a Winter citizen due to her appearance and icy magic, her manners, beliefs, and the very flesh of her body irreconcilably set her apart from the Winter people, leaving her abandoned at a crossroads and struggling to discover where she truly belongs in her world. 

Secondary Conflict 

Throughout the three-week bridal competition, Aveline encounters setbacks in her plot to kill the king. A previous assassination attempt by another contestant has the king and his castle on high alert for other potential threats, and so Aveline is forced to abandon the weapons she came with and wait on other, more easily disguisable weapons to come from her benefactor. In the meantime, she has to stay in the competition—meaning she has to actually court and intrigue the king enough to make him keep her in the competition. 

But where her mother taught her the tricks of the brothel’s prostitutes, she never taught Aveline the art of detachment, and in a place so lonely and hostile as the Winter King’s castle, it’s difficult not to find some solace in testing fate with a man she knows could and would kill her without sparing it a thought. However, it’s not only her loyalties to her mother and her promise for revenge that start slipping under, but her very disposition towards that king as he warms up to her and shows her a side of him she never expected, and she finds her whole quest thrown into jeopardy. 


The book has two main settings: Summer and Winter. 

Summer, especially the desert where we first find Aveline, is a land of robust culture: the Summer Lord’s sandstone palace looms over a bustling city, where the smell of spices and tobacco carry on the wind with merchant’s calls, all manner of chattering folk, and street musicians’ songs. But after a hundred years of Summer, the plants are drying up, the desert getting larger, and many of the once vibrant paints on the buildings have been baked away, leaving nothing but tall buildings of sandstone and baked clay. Aveline’s crude cave in the one snowy, but melting mountain is the only place that gives her any solace from the otherwise unbearable heat and sunlight that even the dragonfolk, for all their golden scales and pride in their bright and clear skies, have to hide from to keep from burning in the harsh light. 

In contrast, we meet King Jädrich in his castle in Winter, a place that’s long been frozen over to the point of it being impossible for flesh-and-blood beings to live there. No unfrozen water, no need for food outside a special animal that replenishes their magic, no sound but the roar of Winter’s winds and the tap of fine shoes across frozen ground, Winter is a land that, while beautiful like a winter postcard in its glistening, snowy windows and cobblestone streets, its great looming castle and magical silver lights that dance in gleaming lanterns, is little more than a caricature of life. It’s not a dollhouse, but a doll country, a place Aveline finds just as difficult to bear alone as Summer as she struggles to navigate strange customs, bear the freezing cold, and find enough food (while hiding the fact that she needs it at all). 

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