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New York Pitch Assignments - March 2022

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1. Story Statement

Lynddy, a young woman with a troubled childhood, travels the world and amasses an eclectic assortment of 25 roommates during her 20-year search for a home.

2. Antagonist

  • Lynddy’s mother is undiagnosed bipolar and OCPD, swinging between catatonic depression and manic rages. This condition is generational and aggravated by both her husband’s bullying and her refusal to seek treatment.
  • Lynddy’s father is an alcoholic trapped in a domestic life with a wife he hates and two anchor daughters he never wanted. He takes out his frustration by abusing his wife and neglecting his daughters.

Without a safe, stable home life, Lynddy suffers childhood food insecurity and becomes responsible for raising and protecting her seven-years-younger sister. Having taken on too much responsibility at too young an age in an eruptive household, Lynddy turns 18 and runs to faraway places—only to find that no matter where she flees, her past follows. No matter how much she wants love and a family, she fears and rejects every opportunity she has at finding them because of the specter of her parents.

3. Title

25 Roommates

4. Genre / Comparables

  • Genre: literary / upmarket
  • The character-driven novel-in-stories format of Olive Kitteridge meets the misanthropic Millennial milieu of Fleabag.
  • A globe-trotting cross between A Visit From the Goon Squad’s nonlinear linked stories and Love Life’s anthological categorizing of a relationship series.

5. Hook Line

Art school dropout Lynddy lives in 12 cities across seven countries and four continents—amassing 25 roommates along the way and finding “family” in the intimate, fleeting, powerful relationships defined by the length of a lease.

6. Conflicts


Lynddy's trauma from her troubled upbringing results in C-PTSD, borderline personality disorder, and a deep rooted belief that homes are cages and families inherently harmful. She denies and ignores this wound, even though it is the thing that causes her to run away from every opportunity she has at finding a home. She must face what happened in her childhood in order to heal and find that which she was denied as a child... the thing she can't admit that she now longs for most: a place to put down roots.


This is a novel-in-stories. Each story centers on a secondary conflict. Examples:

  • "27 Dollars" - Lynddy is arrested at an anti-war protest. Her roommate Ann must scrounge up the $100 bail even though she has only $27 in her bank account.
  • "Stargazers" - In Morocco, Lynddy's flatmate Mira risks death in the Sahara when she contracts scarlet fever and refuses to see a doctor. She doesn't want to miss the chance to honor her grandfather by completing his life’s wish: seeing the Milky Way without light pollution.
  • "Colorado" - Before it's too late, Lynddy must confront Joshua—the ex-boyfriend of her dormmate Tippi—when he moves in to convince Tippi she should return to the 9-11 conspiracy cult where they met… and from which she has fled.
  • "Yellow Shirts" - Lynddy gets a reality check when she decides to leave the U.S. and live in Bangkok for no other reason than her love of Thai take-out, unknowingly moving to a country that's in the middle of a military coup.

7. Setting(s)

This is a story collection about a globetrotter. Each story takes place in a different city/country. Examples:

  • An underground punk club in Holešovice, Prague - A chain link fence surrounds the club's empty lot and abandoned warehouse. Eastern Euro punks in chunky boots lounge on the stairs, smoke pot, and look very Don't Fuck With Me. The music is some freetekno Czech thing remixed with Marilyn Manson. The thrash room is packed and the bar is pressed with flesh and sweat. Skulls and macabre artwork call to mind the bone church in Kutná Hora, an hour outside Prague, where chandeliers are made from real human mandibles. The club is the worst possible place for Lynddy to be when she receives a text with the worst possible news: her childhood friend has died, and Lynddy is a half a world away, surrounded by death. (story: "Messages")
  • The Gion District in Kyoto, Japan - Lynddy imagined Kyoto would be filled with Zen water bridges and pink cherry trees, swirls of matcha tea ice cream, and tree branches spindled in the white ribbons of unlucky fortunes. But when she moves to Japan and spends an evening taking photos of geikos and maikos in the famous geisha district, she sees shop windows stuffed with plush geisha dolls, postcards, tea sets, and cheap yukata for souvenirs. Japanese culture is commodified, and Lynddy must accept that as an American living in Japan—a naïve traveler who exoticizes the culture—she is just like the other tourists in fanny packs who cluster at street corners and harass the geisha. She is just another Western outsider: a tourist, an appropriator, a paparazza. (story: "Chasing Geishas")
  • A run-down house across the road from a prairie - Lynddy's childhood house in rural Illinois is a shabby split-level across the road from a dry grass prairie. Controlled burns set fire to the dropseed and wild rye and cordgrass every other year. The house is isolated, far outside town, unwelcome, unsafe, and unclean. Lynddy's mother’s cage of parakeets—broken seed collecting on the floor, the water often foul and still—make everything smell like a pet store. Her parents' raging fights shake the walls. Lynddy hears smacks from upstairs—either a slapped thigh or a slapped face (they sound the same). So she runs and hides in the prairie, where scorched soil is as black and dry as the moon. Yellow-suited burn crews with red drip torches pick through the grass. There, Lynddy hides, because a prairie on fire feels safer than the parental rages inside the house. (story: "Water Lanterns")
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2022 New York Pitch Conference Assignments
Meredith DeMarco

First Assignment: Write your story statement.

He took our land. He took our souls. He tried to suppress us. Finally, she has arrived.

The Illumination Trilogy’s protagonist, Iris, is a 14-year-old American girl accidentally thrust into a magical world. She is an introverted and reclusive teenager in the series opener, titled Iris and the Enchanted Black Book, who has a deep-seated history of losing herself in the pages of novels. Iris’s mother is severely sick with a mental illness and when reality becomes particularly hard to handle, Iris finds the most comfort in reading. 

During a summer break from school at her grandparents’ house, Iris’s mother begins to have a particularly terrible breakdown and her parents’ arguments become worse than normal. To escape the sound of yelling reverberating through the house, Iris slips into her favorite place, the library; a room that few others spend time in apart from Iris. She decides to climb a ladder meant for reaching the highest shelves and sees a gap between two books out of the corner of her eye. 

Iris buries her nose in the space to investigate and notices a glimmer of gold leaf writing belonging to a book deep inside. When Iris touches the book’s spine, a slight shock, like a jolt of static electricity, courses through her fingers. Intrigued rather than scared, she flips through the book’s pages and realizes that there is no writing in it apart from chapter numbers and a singular dedication: “For Iris”. 

Iris releases her grip on the ladder to flip through the remaining pages with two hands, immediately loses her balance, and crashes to the floor several rungs below. She wakes up in a forest clearing in an entirely different world called Sagan and with the enchanted book lying beside her. Iris immediately meets a new creature upon arrival, a drachenfly most closely resembling a miniature dragon, who tells Iris that she had a dream about her. In the dream, a voice prophesied to the drachenfly that Iris would set out on a quest to defeat the country’s most wicked force, a sorcerer-like being named Malum, whose necromancy powers enable him to conjure the souls of the dead to help him remain in control of Sagan. 

Throughout her epic adventure, Iris is guided by the enchanted book, which is able to write about Iris’s journey in real time and provide invaluable information and insights for her to learn from. She also builds a team of fantastical creatures around her all with a common goal: to rid Sagan of the series antagonist, Malum. Iris’s core group of allies includes an elf, a centaur, and a warlock, as well as species completely unique to Sagan like the drachenfly.

Over time, readers will see Iris mature from the delicate flower of her namesake into a wholly different version of herself. No longer an introspective, withdrawn bookworm, she becomes a fierce warrior capable of saving, or taking, lives, as well as restoring Sagan to its former glory before Malum. Despite unforgiving landscapes, encounters with dangerous adversaries, and experiencing deep love and loss, Iris’s strength not only grows but remains steadfast, transforming her into one of the fantasy genre’s newest and sure-to-be most beloved heroines. 

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.

The antagonist in The Illumination Trilogy is a sinister character called an Archaic. The Archaic, named Malum, has necromancy powers in which he’s able to conjure the souls of the dead to do his bidding as well as manipulate the living. His primary goal is to remain fully in control of Sagan, including its unique landscapes and the creatures that inhabit them. 

Malum’s history is tricky. He wasn’t born evil. Rather, the betrayal by both a woman he loved and a young man who he once considered a son turned him into a merciless force. Malum is an antagonist that certainly fits the bill for a vile villain but doesn’t look like the anti-heroes we traditionally see in fantasy novels and films. Rather than appear terrifying like Voldemort from Harry Potter or Sauron from The Lord of the Rings, Malum is extremely handsome, charming, and charismatic. He is also an undeniably incredible sorcerer, unlike any in Sagan before him. Because he was so deeply hurt by the loss of people he loved, Malum becomes wicked. He asserts his influence over the creatures around him physically, mentally, and emotionally and will stop at nothing to stay Sagan’s sovereign power.                    

Third Assignment: Create a breakout title.                                                                                                                                                   
Series Title: The Illumination Trilogy
Book 1 Title: Iris and the Enchanted Black Book 

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

Comparable #1: Eragon by Christopher Paolini

Synopsis: “When Eragon finds a polished blue stone in the forest, he thinks it is the lucky discovery of a poor farm boy; perhaps it will buy his family meat for the winter. But when the stone brings a dragon hatchling, Eragon soon realizes he has stumbled upon a legacy nearly as old as the Empire itself. Overnight his simple life is shattered, and he is thrust into a perilous new world of destiny, magic, and power. With only an ancient sword and the advice of an old storyteller for guidance, Eragon and the fledgling dragon must navigate the dangerous terrain and dark enemies of an empire ruled by a king whose evil knows no bounds. Can Eragon take up the mantle of the legendary Dragon Riders? The fate of the empire may rest in his hands.”

Similarities: Iris and the Enchanted Black Book is similar to Eragon in a few ways. Like Eragon’s title character, Iris’s life is turned upside down when she is thrust into a world full of magic and ultimately discovers that she is “the one”; the only one who can defeat the series antagonist if she’s able to find the strength within herself. Also, like Eragon, Iris’s once simple life becomes increasingly complex in a matter of moments. Iris must face obstacles that she’s only heard of in stories that include magical creatures, unique landscapes, powers for good, and powers capable of pure evil. 

Comparable #2: Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi

Synopsis: “Zélie Adebola remembers when the soil of Orïsha hummed with magic. Burners ignited flames, Tiders beckoned waves, and Zélie’s Reaper mother summoned forth souls. But everything changed the night magic disappeared. Under the orders of a ruthless king, maji were killed, leaving Zélie without a mother and her people without hope. Now Zélie has one chance to bring back magic and strike against the monarchy. With the help of a rogue princess, Zélie must outwit and outrun the crown prince, who is hell-bent on eradicating magic for good. Danger lurks in Orïsha, where snow leoponaires prowl and vengeful spirits wait in the waters. Yet the greatest danger may be Zélie herself as she struggles to control her powers and her growing feelings for an enemy.”

Similarities: Iris and the Enchanted Black Book and Children of Blood and Bone have similar elements. For starters, the protagonists in both novels are strong teenage female characters who transition into fierce warriors capable of destroying the trilogies’ antagonists. The settings of Sagan and Orïsha are also both home to newly created creatures. They are equally vibrant worlds full of legend, magic, and a monarch, and the problems often associated with them including abuse of power and violence. 

Like Zélie, Iris also has certain innate strengths that she has honed but now must learn new skills, and develop as an individual, if she is to become the heroine of her story. And lastly, I foresee Iris and the Enchanted Black Book, as well as the remaining novels in The Illumination Trilogy, adapted to the screen with landscapes and characters so beloved by the audience that they feel transported to Sagan and truly invested in the story. It’s my goal to amass a YA (and beyond) fan base where no matter what the reader/watcher is going through in their lives, they will be comforted and intrigued by Iris and her adventures.   

Fifth Assignment: Write your own hook line (logline) with conflict and core wound.                                                                        
Logline: A withdrawn teenager named Iris is thrust unexpectedly into a magical world where she must transform herself into a fierce warrior, knowing that the only way she can return home is to defeat its most wicked ruler: a sorcerer who conjures the souls of the dead to remain in power.

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

Inner Conflict: Though she’s quite withdrawn, preferring to read rather than spend time with friends, Iris has a confidence about her that is rare in girls her age. A large part of that confidence is intrinsic, but a fair amount has also come from the tight bond she’s formed with her grandfather. They spent many memorable summers together where Iris was taught valuable life lessons from him, whether that was learning general survival skills like building a campfire or whittling a weapon from wood, or finding the inner strength needed to deal with her mother’s illness. 

Despite her innate and learned confidence, Iris’s internal conflict lies in both wanting to be a part of social settings, yet to also be by herself and remain an individual. For example, Iris is consistently ostracized at school by a group of girls, one of which used to be a close friend of Iris’s but chose popularity over their friendship. The girls make fun of her by laughing and pointing when she walks by them in the hallways and purposefully try to embarrass her. In a particular scene, one of the girls trips Iris in the cafeteria and she falls to the floor along with her backpack and full tray of lunch (and, of course, in front of the entire school). Though she would rather be alone given situations like this, Iris knows that if she were different – if, perhaps, she was more outgoing or talkative or charming – maybe she would be more easily accepted. 

As a result of her introverted behavior and because she’s so rarely a part of the social circles around her, Iris struggles to feel comfortable relying on others for support and guidance since she’s so used to doing everything on her own. She also struggles with trusting people not to betray her, like her close childhood friend did, which creates several conflicts for her throughout the story. Interestingly, though, being an individualist (what makes Iris’s life difficult at home) will ultimately help her in Sagan. 

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

Secondary Conflict: Iris encounters several conflicts throughout the series involving her social environment, namely her love for two different characters, as well as being part of a team whose members don’t all get along. 

The first love interest of Iris’s is the elf Ciaran. Iris meets Ciaran in the opening chapters of the novel and her attraction to him is instant. He’s physically stunning and has an air of mystery about him. Her second love interest, a young wizard-like character named Venarius (Ven, for short), is a different story. Iris meets Ven in the latter half of the first book and she develops feelings for him over time. Their connection is different from the one Iris has with Ciaran in that it’s more platonic, playful, and takes a while to develop from friendship into romance. Ideally, the audience will care deeply about both characters and be ultimately split on whether Iris should end up with one over the other.  

A tricky element to Ciaran and Iris’s love story, in addition to the existence of Ven, is that a third party is also involved. Ciaran’s best friend, an elf named Seren, is secretly in love with him as well and she purposefully tries to get in the way of Iris and Ciaran’s relationship by showing obvious disdain for Iris. For example, Seren does everything in her power to avoid providing advice or assistance to Iris and withholds important information at critical times. Throughout her journey in Sagan, Iris will face several conflicts involving Ciaran and Ven, namely because as their love for her grows, so does their hatred for one another. 

Seventh 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?                                                                                                                          
Iris’s journey through the mythical land of Sagan is filled with distinctive landscapes and magical creatures. Some of Sagan’s inhabitants have been referenced in literature before such as elves and centaurs but many are unique to Sagan, like the antagonist archaic Malum, and the drachenfly named Aderyn, both core characters in the series. Aderyn, for example, is nearly six inches tall with an identical wingspan and a body structure that most closely resembles a miniature dragon. She is covered head to tail in emerald scales with piercing blue eyes and wings that are outlined in black yet translucent in the center. Aderyn has certain magical abilities, particularly a heightened sense of sight and smell, that make her a strong ally for Iris.                                                                                                                                                                           
Aside from the creatures who live there, certain landscapes are found only in Sagan. For example, at one point in Iris and the Enchanted Black Book, Iris and her team must cross a river filled with the memories of creatures who died in it. If she accidentally touches the water, Iris will be drawn into a particular memory. If the memory happens to be an undesirable one and she’s not strong enough to escape it (through physical and/or mental resilience or the help of her team), Iris’s fate may end up exactly like the ones who perished in the river before her. 

Perhaps most importantly, though, Sagan is unique because it was created by a group of three individuals called the Makers. The Makers were almighty forces akin to gods in Greek mythology. When the Makers created Sagan, they also created a sorcerer-like being called an Archaic to rule and establish order in Sagan. Malum is Sagan’s most recent Archaic and the only one in the line so far that has turned evil. 

In addition to the Archaics, the Makers conjured a relic capable of ensuring the world would survive past their lifetime: the enchanted black book. The enchanted book, whose existence remains hidden unless Sagan is in grave danger, gives Iris a distinct advantage on her journey. It has the exceptional ability to write Iris’s story in real time and provides clues to help overthrow the series antagonist, Malum. Iris can also ask the book specific questions and it will give her answers. Although its responses may be indirect and, at times, up for interpretation, the book ultimately gives Iris the invaluable opportunity to shape her own narrative. 

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Three girls crossed the bridge to party in Mexico — only one returned.

Jesse Arroyo, an Apache-Mex-American, thought he'd left his twenty years of combat overseas. But when his estranged daughter is kidnapped in Nuevo IMG_0354.jpegLaredo, Mexico, he enters a struggle to save her more desperate and deadly than any he ever faced before.

Apache-Mex-American, Jesse Arroyo, spent twenty years in Special Forces fighting for his country. Now, his return home to reconcile with his estranged daughter has turned into every parent’s nightmare — she’s become one of the “Desaparecidos,” the Disappeared. Not as a random victim, but targeted by the ruthless Zeta drug cartel. “Why” makes all the difference.


In superficies, the antagonist in this novel is El Cacique, Carlos Hernandez, the insane head of the Zeta Cartel’s “plaza” in Nuevo Laredo, Mexico. A plaza is the innocuous term for the territory along the border controlled by drug-smuggling gangs. Hernandez fancies himself as a direct descendant of the Aztec king, Montezuma. However, a cast of bad-guy characters pepper the story — villains such as Ché, a Mayan Indian assassin from Guatemala, who hunts Arroyo, and the wicked Florencia, the “mistress” of El Cacique, revealed to be the real cartel boss. She personifies the forces of evil, greed, and sadistic cruelty that are the true antagonists behind the story.

100_1130.jpegI’m aware the “forces of evil” phrase is a bit of a cliché, but I can only describe the terror and mindless violence perpetrated by the cartels in that way. The named adversaries, and nameless but dangerous gang minions, provide the roadblocks and life-threatening obstacles Arroyo must overcome to find, and save, his kidnapped daughter.

The Zetas took the young woman because her grandfather, a Texas banker who laundered their money, skimmed millions from the cartel. Power, respect (or fear, as they define it) and insatiable greed are the cartel’s motivations — without regard for the human cost.  




The Border (original title)

Come And Get Her (current choice)

The Warrior or The Last Warrior

To Die in the Desert 


This novel is a contemporary thriller that echoes a classic Western theme. Set on the border with Mexico, it delivers cover-to-cover tension and suspense, along with strong characters and a touch of dark humor.

The Cartel (2015) Don Winslow’s fictionalization of the real cartel internecine cartel warfare, meets The Missing (2003), a very popular revisionist Western movie, based on Thomas Eidson’s original 1996 novel. It features a similar plot line.


The immediacy of The President’s Daughter (2021 Clinton/Patterson) and the border kidnapping in The Wrong Hostage (Eliz Lowell 2009) or Louis L’Amour’s Last of the Breed (2019) a contemporary epic that requires the hero to recall his Sioux skills to survive.



Ex-soldier Jesse Arroyo must save his estranged daughter, kidnapped by a ruthless Mexican drug cartel — and he is her only hope for rescue.


Arroyo, for all his patriotic heroism, physical prowess, and sense of morality, carries some heavy baggage. On a mission, and against orders, he ambushed a man who was responsible for the death of several fellow soldiers while they were under a white flag. To his horror, a child died in the car as a result of his attack. His action was out-of-character. The guilt and regret he felt caused him to end his self-imposed exile as a soldier and to try and connect with his estranged daughter. He needed to make amends, not only for the girl's death but also to his daughter.

SAMPLE CONFLICT SCENARIO: In the story, Arroyo discovered an underground room where the cartel held a kidnapped girls’ soccer team. He captured a young cartel member. When a firefight erupted, Arroyo risked his own life to save the young man, despite his involvement in the team’s captivity. Saving the young man was Arroyo's natural reaction.

SECONDARY CONFLICT: Arroyo’s long overseas enlistment came after his girlfriend and her father rejected and ghosted him. He found out two years later that she bore his daughter, Sherilyn. Intimidated by her family, Sheri wanted nothing to do with her father. This familial conflict complicated his rescue efforts.


  • The opening scene is outside Arroyo’s run-down ranch outside San Saba, IMG_0133.jpegTexas.                  I knew it looked as if it hadn’t seen paint since the mid-1800s — and probably hadn’t. The far end of the porch sagged in one corner, and an old rusty air conditioner hung precariously from the porch window.”
  • A police station in Laredo followed by a gun smuggler’s barn near Lampasas. “The barn’s interior stocked as many guns as a National Guard Armory. Hay bales, piled three yards high, lined the circumference. Leaning against the barricade, semi-automatic rifles filled several wide gun racks. On the rough floor, plastic tables overflowed with handguns and machine pistols. Shafts of sunlight streaming down from chinks in the wood siding spotlighted their dull metal barrels. Fine dust floated like sparkle in the lines of light.”
  • The home and online news office of Liza Montes, an anti-cartel blogger. It becomes the scene of a deadly attack from cartel criminals and corrupt police. IMG_1185.jpeg    “Monte’s home, a two-story Spanish-colonial style building with side-by-side neighbors, rested one house from the corner. Masses of bright red, pink, and white bougainvillea flowers spilled over the imposing, fortress-like walls surrounding her residence. Besides their breathtaking colors, the exotic bushes provided additional security. Bougainvillea’s sharp thorns would prove painful to anyone climbing over. As would the shards of broken glass imbedded atop the wall’s crown."


  • The rest of the novel remains in and around the border town of Nuevo Laredo, Mexico. Settings with scenes include a mechanic’s garage, a nightclub, a motel, and a hotel in the downtown. A crucial scene/setting is the Grupo Portor “factory,” a cover for a major drug lab and smuggling tunnel to the US.

Its buildings, with a broad, barn-like formation between them, sat close to a slight depression in the land. A gully ran alongside the entry drive down to a dry creek bed near one corner of the smaller left-side structure. That building contained no widows. Large exhaust fans with metal hoods and mini-split air conditioning units peppered the flat roof. In the rear, a much smaller structure extended beyond. It featured a tall chimney, maybe thirty-feet high, made of cinderblock. A power plant? No idea what it was, but it didn’t matter.”

  • The last few locales are still being written but will feature a primitive ranch in the Mexican desert and a shoot-out along the Rio Grande River.   spacer.png

                    HIGH CONCEPT: Ex-GI goes to war against a Mexican drug cartel. 




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1.    The Act of Story Statement:

Tommy Flowers, an electrical engineer in London, must race against the clock to complete his computing machine for Allied High Command in time for D-Day while keeping it an insufferable secret under government orders.

2.    The Antagonist Plots the Point:

Secrecy is the arch nemesis that torments Tommy Flowers from start to finish. During World War II, he is forced to sign the Official Secrets Act, so Tommy Flowers must endure conflict at home, settle for an unsatisfying career of post-war work well below his ability, and waste the prime of his life because his Colossus, the world’s first electronic programmable computer, his greatest life achievement, is to never have existed.

Money also knocks him upside the head throughout the war. British social class divisions and the elitist world of Bletchley Park further complicate Tommy Flowers’ efforts to build his electronic-valve computing machine as they refuse to listen to him because he’s from London’s East End and has only a degree from night school, not a doctorate from Oxbridge. Tommy Flowers has no recourse but to pursue his machine on his own and plunge his family into debt to fund what should be a government project, a debt he can’t explain to his furious, frustrated wife because of the Act.

Time is also never on his side. The war demands he slog away day and night to meet impossible deadlines. Peace time is an agonizing wait-and-see game for the order of secrecy to be lifted, a 30-year tortuous strain of patience in the face of heart-wrenching injustices and lost opportunities. 

3.    Conjuring Your Breakout Title:

The Secret Genius


4.    Deciding Your Genre and Approaching Comparables: 

Genre: Historical Fiction (based on a true story)


1)    Dan Brown’s Digital Fortress

2)    Andrew Hodges’ The Imitation Game


5.    Core Wound and The Primary Conflict / Hook Line:

Tommy Flowers, an electrical engineer from London’s East End, must race against the clock and plunge his family into debt to complete his computing machine for Allied High Command in time for D-Day while keeping it an insufferable secret under the most trying circumstances then and for 30 years thereafter, or he will face the noose for treason.


6.    Other Matters of Conflict: Two More Levels

Aside from the antagonistic forces of secrecy, money, and time, Tommy Flowers must also face the possibility of humiliating failure. The viability of his machine, of its speed and reliability, rests on his assertion that a machine powered by electronic valves, versus the mechanical relay switches that Bletchley Park insist upon, can work if powered up and down slowly and kept running, contrary to their infamous blowing in radio and radar equipment. What Tommy Flowers proposes has never been done before, which puts the outcome of the invasion at risk and his reputation before his colleagues, his credibility as an engineer, his pride before his Bletchley critics, and his sense of self-worth on the line with the ultimate risk of self-ruin.

On the home front, secrecy causes constant tension between Tommy Flowers and his family as he can never tell them where he goes or what he does, and he goes away for weeks at a time leaving the family to endure the trials and tribulations of war on their own for extended periods of time. On top of that, Tommy plunges the family into debt and can’t explain to his wife what it’s for because of the Official Secrets Act, only that it’s important work for the government. She finds it utterly ridiculous that its up to the Flowers family to help the poor, poor government, but Tommy is not quite in the mood for a noose so he can only beg her to trust him, a trust that is stretched to its limits.


7.    The Incredible Importance of Setting:

The Secret Genius unfolds across five primary settings: 

1)    The Beach: The story opens along the southern coast of England in 1941 on an empty, golden sandy beach with sleepy waves rolling ashore to create an atmosphere of peace and tranquility, but the truth washes up against the rocks further up the beachhead below a cliff face: shards of green and grey metal, a mug, and a combat boot. Atop the cliff face is an unassuming, hexagonal brick and clapboard enclosure that receives radio waves. One hundred meters behind it is a hangar-like structure that houses a small army of uniformed operators that transcribe the incoming dots and dashes of Morse Code to paper. This is one of many Y-stations throughout Britain that intercepts German messages during World War II and provides a crucial lifeline of intelligence to the Armed Forces. Later in the story, Tommy Flowers and his family unwittingly stumble upon it on a day out.

2)    Bletchley Park: An hour north of London in a non-descript town of Bletchley is a late Victorian mansion that has been converted into the secret nerve center for British intelligence operations where intercepted messages from Y-stations are sent for decryption. Governed by MI6, staffed by the brightest minds in the country recruited from the best institutions and most illustrious aristocratic families, Bletchley Park is a top-secret elitist world of eccentric characters and mind-boggling machines.

3)    Train: Tommy Flowers is summoned to Bletchley Park to aid in the construction of several codebreaking machines, so he makes countless trips between London and Bletchley during which the English countryside comes to life, the war rears its ugly head, and his mind races faster than the wheels on the train with apprehensions, plans, and breakthroughs.

4)    Dollis Hill: Tommy Flowers is Head of Switching for Post Office Research at Dollis Hill in northwest London, a research and development institution for radio, radar, and telephone exchanges. Unlike the glamourous world of Bletchley Park, Dollis Hill is an austere, brown-brick, three-story monstrosity filled with cluttered engineering labs in which the world’s first electronic programmable computer comes to life. The phrase etched in stone above the front entrance plays throughout the story: Research is the door to tomorrow.

5)    Tommy Flowers’ Home: Home is a source of both comfort and tension between Tommy, his wife, and his two sons aged four and five at the beginning of the story. Home also captures the essence of war life: victory gardening, the Blitz, sleeping in an Anderson shelter, rations, war songs over the radio, war Christmases, board games, knitting, and Blind Man’s Bluff out in the back garden. It is a middle class, stand-alone, two-story, red-brick structure with a shed in the back that houses the “Green Monster”, the family car.

There are also several single scene settings which take place in a Home Guard training compound, a grocer, Windsor Castle, the town of Berkhamsted, and two pubs.

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1.      Story Statement

Losing all to brutal Nazi rule, Conrad von Runstadt must surrender his dream of farming with his Father and Brother in America and a family with Marta Engels, killed in a Gestapo raid on their wedding day.  He must choose between beheading or service in the SS in Operation Barbarossa and fight to stay alive against Russian military onslaughts. Compelled by his moral code to oppose war crimes and civilian massacres, he can only dare to hope his last tie to his former life, his deceased lover’s sister, Grit, is still alive; she does live, but as an unwilling consort to a deranged doctor in Ravensbrook Concentration Camp. Fate provides Conrad means to find her. His love compels Conrad to save her. Pure luck gives him the opportunity.

 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.


                The Antagonist is the Nazi party and its loyal members; “Good Germans,” those who attribute righteousness to depraved leadership,  Schutzstaffel comrades who kill non-combatants, brutal camp guards. A false friend with a hidden agenda. As Reichfurher Adolf Hitler cajoles the crowd at a rally where Brownshirt thugs attack Conrad, his influence is direct and overwhelming.

                Laws that create a life plan for Germans from Deutsches Jungvolk through the Waffen S.S. allow the Reich to control the lives of its citizens cradle to grave.

                Lower level antagonists such as Lieutenant Inspector Johannknecht, Kurt Kalbfliesch, and Sergeant Roessler exert pressure and pain throughout the work.

Dr. Anton Reinhold inhumanity towards the experimental “Rabbit prisoners” and his abuse of Grit Engels, the prisoner whom he suborns with food and seduces to procure an Aryian child for his wife, is the one Nazi who finally stands in the way of Conrad’s quest for his old love and a new life.

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

“Meet Again”

“The Groom's War”

“Those We Hold Dear”

“The Death of Angels”


“The Baker’s Secret” – by Stephen P. Kiernan; Morrow/HarperCollins, 2017

“The Note Through The Wire”- by Doug Gold; Allen & Unwin, 2019

“To Die in Spring” - by Ralf Rothmann; Macmillan, 2015



1.Hook Line

                If you must live, you must fight.  But in the name of human decency, who is your enemy?2.Conflict line

                When the your society takes all (tribe, morals, ethics, scruples) you hold dear, how do you hold to them; how do you live with yourself if you don’t?



Conditions for protagonist’s inner conflict

                 Oppressive Nazi measures, such as singling out of Jews to deny his friend’s education and the abolition of the German Boy Scouts to require participation in the politically oriented Hitler Youth alarmed Conrad.

Note the following scene:

“With the “Law Against the Overcrowding of German Schools,” Ichten Berman, because he was Jewish, no longer had the right to an education. Ichten was also excluded from Hitler Youth.  The friends felt betrayed.

“Ichten, it’s not fair! I won’t go to school.” Conrad’s tears burned in his eyes, “I won’t join the Jungvolk either if you can’t!”

“Conrad, don’t be foolish!” Ichten violently shook his head. 

“What’s the difference, if you can’t go, I don’t want to be there!”

“Conrad, you have to go on,” Ichten spoke with wisdom and faint hope, “Germany won’t always be like this.  People will come to their senses! You must continue so you can help me catch up when they do!”

“It’s not fair. I don’t like it!”

Ichten said quietly so that Conrad had to strain to hear, “For now, Germany is not worried about what you or I like. We do what we must. Times will change.”


His Hitler Youth experiences, during which play was encouraged to become battle, with real injuries experienced and side on side gang type violence were not what Conrad expected, or something he had experienced in Pfadfinders.  In the German Boy Scouts, politics and violence had not existed.

The safer, seemingly powerful expression of his loyalty to the autocratic regime sometimes captured his imagination in strong new feelings that Conrad could boast of to his Grandfather.  Wilhelm’s response to these new, powerful emotions, his ethical teachings, his quiet disdain for the Nazi party alarmed Conrad.”

But it gave him the impetus to think for himself, to question authority in the face of righteousness.

Here is another scene:

“At age fourteen, Conrad’s von Runstadt’s Jungvolk membership was reassigned to the Hitler Youth.  He found opportunities to build the same skills as in the Pfadfinders, but there were sinister undertones in what he was called upon to do and trust his loyalties. War games, violent wrestling, and tussling brought bloodied noses, and worse, hemorrhaged pride. 

In the parks and forests, troops of boys would stalk one another and rip the armbands off their opponents’ as trophies. Broken bones were common, as were eye-pokes. Conrad disliked such roughness, and he was called out and humiliated by his cohorts, by his troop leaders. Bullies excelled at their craft. Boys who forsook participation, who thought for themselves, suffered at the will of the Nazi regime and the bullies it encouraged.

Wilhelm von Runstadt was not blind and had never been a stupid man. The white-haired gentleman reserved a silent rage for the government’s attempt to corrupt Conrad, and they discussed the changing political landscape often. Wilhelm spoke cautiously about the contemptible lies force-fed to seduced German youth, and he encouraged Conrad to look at facts, to draw his own conclusions.

After Conrad’s Hitler Youth meetings, he would buttonhole Wilhelm, weeding on cowhide knee-pads in his garden, to impress his grandfather with what he had learned.

 “Grandpa, our Youth leader said Germany will need good soldiers in the years to come, to fight the Jew menace. We must fight to keep our Fatherland safe for us Germans.”

Wilhelm squinted, the sun in his eyes. He despised that Conrad could innocently get them in trouble by repeating their conversations.

“Mein Enkel, you do know that not everyone in this Third Reich believes Hitler is a good leader?”

“Our Fuhrer is making our homeland better. The Fuhrer is making jobs, and people are not so hungry.”

“Let’s sit in the shade,” Wilhelm stood, “on the bench.”

“Conrad, some of what your Youth leader said is true, some people are better off,” Wilhelm said. He mopped his pale forehead with a kerchief, “but the Bermans and their store?  Are they better off? Is the government being fair when it forbids us to buy from them?”

“Grandpa, the Bermans are Jews.” Conrad told him passionately, “The Fuhrer says they ruined Germany!”

“Conrad, they are our neighbors. I have bought fresh greens and fruits from their family my whole life.”

“That was before.”

“Before what?”

“Before we knew what they do to Germany!”

Wilhelm said in a level voice, slowly then, carefully.  “Conrad, what have the Bermans done to Germany?”

“They lost the Great War!”  Conrad cried, “You know the Jews control the money in Germany, the Jews are all crooked!”

“Harold Berman lost us the war?” Wilhelm took offense. “And please do not be so insolent as to tell me what you think I know!”

“Well, the Jews did,” Conrad squirmed on his seat, “I can’t say if Harold Berman did.”

“Conrad, I hope you haven’t spoken like this to Harold, he is already very hurt by these policies.”

“Well, no, Grandpa, I wouldn’t do that, ever!”

“Why not?”  Wilhelm demanded.

“Harold is my neighbor.  Ichten is my best friend.”

“But yet you think they lost us the war? “Wilhelm said, unbelieving, “Harold was a German soldier in the Great War.” His eyes searched the boy’s face. “Harold Berman was a very good soldier.”

Conrad studied an anthill by his shoe. “How could that be? Why would he do that and then ruin Germany?“ He threw up his hands, “How can you say that?  The Fuhrer says different!” 

Conrad leaped to his feet, “Why would you say good things about these people?”

“Conrad, I can say it because he was my corporal for two years before the side of his face was shot away.  I was his Lieutenant.”

Wilhelm saw the boy’s confusion, and tears of conflict in his eyes.

“Conrad, sit down.”

“Sit down,” Wilhelm ordered.

Conrad sat on the bench again.

“Conrad, do you think the Fuhrer wants you playing with Ichten anymore? Do you give Hitler that power?”’


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?

Loss of marta, grit, tribe The loss of his mentor, his family, and tribe, and those he loves to fascism, a changed society clashing with his moral code; these are the powerful forces drive the young German soldier to stand for humanity and seek peace.


Setting sketch

The setting is prewar and wartime Europe, Germany, and America, staging for war; the repressions, enslavements, the battles, and the camps.

The Weimar Republic is in a great economic depression, and with it and the recovery efforts, the shock of societal change. There is no work, suicides spiral, German children starve in the streets, and wild dogs fight over their corpses, while some mothers are reduced to prostitution to feed their young. Bitter about the debilitating reprisals included in the Great War peace agreement and their loss of livelihood, Germans look for strong leadership. They hope for a decisive statesman-messiah who can set things right.

Under Nazi rule, young German men and women must serve the Reich and prepare for war to right the injustices of the Treaty of Versailles.

With Hitler in power in starving 1933 Germany, the Pfadfinders are banned, and Conrad must join the Deutsches Jungvolk.  Ichten, his Jewish best friend, is excluded. With political indoctrination and roughhouse exercises, Deutsches Jungvolk is a poor substitute for the German Boy Scouts.

The Nazi party gets civilians back to work and on their financial feet, and Germans follow along because they have nothing. By 1936, Conrad must join the Hitler-Jugend, Hitler Youth, a group to educate and train male youth in Nazi principles and train boys to enter the SA (Storm Troopers).

Coming into his adulthood, Conrad runs afoul of a Brownshirt at a Hitler rally.  His concerned grandfather arranges for the young man to visit his father in America to let things cool off.  This visit opens Conrad’s eyes even further to his possibilities.  But his grandfather Wilhelm is taken prisoner back in Germany, and he must return to help his Stuttgart family.

At a street festival, Conrad von Runstadt meets two beautiful sisters, one a nurse, the other a store clerk. He falls in love with stunning Marta and must learn to balance his social life with his political life because his lover is engaged in distributing anti-Nazi publications. For Conrad, It is a time of fast living, jazz clubs, quick decisions, and desperate choices.

By November 1, 1940, he is taken into the Reich Labour Service, the RAD, a six-month stepping stone in pre-Military civil labor. In early May 1941, he is forcefully conscripted into the Waffen S.S. Germany has invaded Poland, and will soon launch Operation Barbarossa against the Soviet Union.

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March 2022 New York Pitch Conference Assignments
Safiya Maouelainin

Assignment 1: The act of Story Statement

A resentful recluse needs to restore her timeline, travel to her estranged mother's home country, and harness her obscure healing powers so she can defeat an untimely death, unravel old family secrets and betrayals, and fulfill her magical legacy for the benefit of humankind.

Assignment 2The Antagonist Plots the Point

1) The Timeline Disruptor / Time : Alila’s timeline has folded on itself and she starts reliving her past, going down memory lane—literally—one day at a time. Although backward, time goes by. Suddenly, the hope of a better life when Alila could be free of her curse (she channels and feels people’s pain and hurt when she gets too closed to them) and stop living as a recluse, is doomed. She knows what her past has in store for her: heartache. She is a second-generation American, whose Moroccan mother abandoned at seven and who has never known her Moroccan father. Time is unforgiving, no matter which way it goes, and Alila needs to fight it (and the one responsible for her situation) to get back to her normal timeline. For that she goes out of her comfort zone-—life as a recluse.

2) Twinfire: (2 faces behind one force)

a. Nnar Timessi belongs to a rich Moroccan family, living in a Kasbah in Morocco’s Atlas Mountain. The youngest of five brothers, he was always ignored and misunderstood. His parents favored his brothers because they were smarter and more handsome, which made him bitter and enraged against his fate and his family. They all had the looks and the money and yet they didn’t make anybody’s life better, even his. He especially envied his brother Zeyn, who married his childhood sweetheart Lehna. They both would have lived on the family inheritance. He could do so much more if life had granted him the looks and the intelligence. Rage ate him up inside until he met Kadija, a sorceress, who convinced him he could take the life he deserved. They end up killing Zeyn. Nnar absorbs his brother’s best feature, his good looks (by eating his head as was described in an ancient Persian myth about Shahmaran, the Queen of Snakes), and became Zeyn, while Kadija needs Lehna’s empathic powers. Lehna runs away, secretly pregnant with Alila. Nnar killed and absorbed his brothers’ intelligence and he became a philanthropic hero for his community in Morocco. He knew he made the right decisions because he used his brothers’ gifts for the betterment of Moroccan people’s social and economical situation. Twenty-five years later, when Nnar and Kadija learn of Alila and that she had inherited her mother’s powers, they come after her. Nnar/Zeyn really feels she’s his daughter and wants her to join his and Kadija’s cause. He wants his niece/daughter to give up the snake power she hates and is not using to Kadija (what her mother didn’t do), so they can make the world better.

b. Kadija, the sorceress. Born in poverty, Kadija swore she would never know powerlessness. Secretly, she used her power to take revenge on the ones who oppressed her and became a terrifying sorceress. People in her community know of her, but have never seen the sorceress’ face. Some curse her while others worship her. Divide to conquer is her motto. She convinces Nnar Timessi—the youngest son of the richest family in the Atlas Mountains—that he deserves to be the sole family heir, especially since he has such great ideas for the betterment of their community and region. Her hidden agenda is to get closer to Zeyn's, Nnar’s brother, fiance, who's a Tahmaspat or a snake-gift bearer. She needs the latter’s empathic snake power to merge with the next powerful Moon-Commanded Witch, unleash their power, and become unstoppable. Unfortunately, Lehna magically tattoos herself and refuses to give up her snake power, which is the only way Kadija can get it now. Upset she lost the Snake power forever, Kadija focuses on growing a fortune with Nnar, after getting rid of his family. She becomes the kasbah’s manager when they turn it into a hotel. Twenty-five years later, a coven of witches informs her of the whereabouts of the last Tahmaspat, Lehna and Zeyn’s daughter, Alila. Aware that that same coven is hiding a Moon-Commanded Witch, Kadija is set to get the snake power and merge with the Witch. Nothing will stop her from sacrificing Alila to get it, not even Nnar’s weird paternal love for Alila.

Assignment 3: Breakout Title 


Assignment 4: Comps

Genre: Adult Contemporary Fantasy

  1. STORM AND FURY by Jennifer L. Almentrout. This novel is also a contemporary fantasy, weaving magic into the real world. It’s fast-paced and character-driven. The protagonist is also hiding (from) her power, and living an isolated life. When the forces trying to kill her find her, she must team up with a protector—whose destiny is linked to hers—to save herself and the world. While Trinity in Storm and Fury has a physical disability (a degenerative eye condition), Alila could represent people with higher sensibility and intuition forced to live a more recluse life and avoid interaction with others.
  2. THE BROKEN DESTINY series by Jeaniene Frost. This is also urban fantasy with the concept of legacies and hidden powers. It’s fast-paced, and includes travels to different countries to solve the mystery of the protagonist’s legacy. The heroine has powers that are debilitating, and the only way to manage them is to accept them. Legends and destiny are intertwined in the plot (revolving around the descendants of David and Judas, and how they are linked to each other). Also, the protagonist feels betrayed by her partner in crime and his secrets, although he kept them to protect and save her.
  3. BLACK WATER SISTER by Zen Cho. This novel is infused with the author's Malaysian culture. The protagonist needs to go back home after living in the United States and rediscover the culture of their parents. It also revolves around family secrets, ancient magic, and duty to the world.

Assignment 5: Hookline (Logline)

--'One person can make a difference, and everyone should try.' Even the cursed.--

When a second-generation American recluse, abandoned by her mother as a child, is spellbound to relive her last week backward, one day at a time, she must confront her debilitating fears and powers to restore her timeline, cheat death, and unravel her estranged mother's secrets so she can embrace her magical purpose for the benefit of humankind.

Assignment 6: Inner Conflicts 

  1. Main inner conflict (Worldview Maturation - "wisdom and meaning prevail when we learn to express our gifts in a world that we accept as imperfect"--> Unchain your will to unearth your skill.): Alila is a twenty-five-year-old orphan hiding a debilitating power she cannot control that makes her experience people’s illness and pain. To avoid triggering it, she lives alone, manages an online business, and keeps her interactions with others scarce. She feels she doesn’t belong in this world, because of her empathic power that she considers a curse. She tried to get rid of it for more than ten years, but a wake-up call, when her timeline folds on itself, makes her understand that she needs to accept her power and purpose. Only then can she ground herself in this world and finally belong.
  2. Family resentment: Alila’s mother abandoned her as a child and left her with a mute great-aunt, Nanu, who died three years ago. Alila doesn’t trust easily. If even her mother didn’t love her enough to stick around, why would strangers? She doesn’t have friends, except for one acquaintance: a hookah bar owner that she sees every Sunday for her weekly hookah. Deep inside, she still wants to solve the mystery of her mother’s abandonment, and her timeline conundrum allows her to do so. Alila learns her great-aunt Nanu was an old midwife unrelated to her. She is in fact Shadrach’s grandmother and Lehna’s witch protector. Eighteen years ago, Nanu imprisoned Lehna to try to force Alila’s gift into the open to protect her grandson, Shadrach. Alila finally realizes that her mother, although not perfect, sacrificed everything (her husband and her freedom) because of the love she had for her daughter. 
  3. Love subplot: Alila only meets one other person going backward in time, Shadrach Mortimer. Desperate, she teams up with him to restore their timeline. Alila finds him attractive with his gorgeous dark hair, eyes, and dimples. He’s free-spirited and seems harmless. She wishes she could live as freely and wants or needs him as a friend. Together they learn her mother’s enemy, Twinfire, is trying to kill Alila and she needs to tattoo her forehead and chin with a particular snake skeleton. Once they find its location in the past, they come back to the present. Shadrach was the one who sent them in the past to find the bones and tattoo Alila, without her permission. He is a witch, and his coven has a duty to protect her kind, a Tahmaspat or a snake-gift bearer who heals people. Betrayed by Shad, Alila distances herself by going with her long-lost father, Zeyn, to Morocco in search of answers about her legacy. The tattoos help her harness her powers. Shadrach once again comes back and Alila understands that she needs him to stop her impending death. She also discovers that he is a powerful Moon-Commanded Witch that needs a Tahmaspat to prevent him from unwittingly unleashing the dangerous side of his magic. Other than healing people, her purpose is to save a powerful witch, that she has feelings for, from losing himself.

Assignment 7: Setting

  1. Suburbs of Philadelphia, PA, USA: Alila inherited her great-aunt’s apartment in Wynnewood, PA. She has established a routine and lives a relatively normal life, as long as she doesn’t interact with many people. She manages an online business, selling knitted goods. The suburbs represent her and her comfort zone in-between two worlds. She’s close enough to the civilization she needs for a modern job and business, and close to nature and calm, where her power doesn’t overwhelm her.
  2. Hookah bar: She likes to have flavored tobacco on Sundays. She found the spot and the time when the bar is almost empty. At the same time, going out and dealing with someone else, like the bar owner, make feel her normal. It's also the place where Shadrach overhears her plans for the next day, and manages to make her find him. Later, it's also where he has the opportunity to drug her, by lacing her tobacco. 
  3. Penn Wynne Library, Horse Racing Venue, Rittenhouse Hotel, Diner, Escape Room, Casino: Going back in time and meeting Shadrach force her to put herself out there and manage meeting new people, in crowded places where sick people set off her unwanted powers, but she eventually realizes that she is stronger than she thought.
  4. Asni, a small town in the Moroccan Atlas Mountains, The Timessi Kasbah (the family's citadel): Alila’s parents are Moroccan. Her mother fled to the United States to protect Alila and rarely talked about her home country and the family left behind. However, Alila’s curse started in Morocco, and there lies the secret of her destiny. As her character evolves and she grounds herself in the world, she is able to travel across the ocean to find answers and decide her own destiny, instead of being a puppet in foes’ and friends’ hands.
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Act of Story Statement


A neophyte Chicago politician confronts a blackmailer while searching out a family secret—both to protect his father’s reputation and his own burgeoning career.


Antagonists Plot Points


Political operatives threaten Adam with exposure of his father’s role in the death of a young boy twenty years prior—a racist incident that characterized the city’s machine politics. The suspects for this plot are several:

  • Two fixers from the city council who want Adam to join their ranks in opposition to the mayor.
  • The mayor’s men, who also want Adam’s loyalty.
  • Civil servants who support the favoritism and influence peddling typical of the era.
  • The mob who want to retain influence over the city council.

In other words, all the men who want to maintain power and stop change or the discovery of their prior misdeeds.


Breakout Title


  • The City Divided by the River
  • He Pulls a Knife
  • A Light Upon a Lampstand
  • Living in the Flicker
  • Nothing Hidden That Will Not Be Made Known (used prior)
  • Nothing Hidden (used prior)


Genre and Comparables


Crime novel

  • Three-Fifths - John Vercher - a crime novel with themes of social justice, racism, the past catching up to you
  • Blacktop Wasteland - S.A. Cosby - a crime novel about a young man trying to escape his criminal past and his family legacy


Core Wound and Primary Conflict


A young man determined to reform Chicago’s political corruption discovers his own naiveté about his father’s role in the racism of the Daley era, then must risk his new career to discover his family’s secret past.


Other Matters of Conflict - Two Levels


Inner conflict - Adam starts with a naive belief that his father was a good man working in a corrupt system but gradually realizes that the system corrupted everyone it touched, potentially including him. It raises the central question: to what degree must we atone for the sins of our fathers?


Secondary conflicts - Along the way, he develops a love interest in an old friend from childhood who can help him discover the truth about his dad. He also comes into conflict with his best friend, the journalist Danny, who challenges his idealism. Likewise, he tries to save a constituent from eviction, using his new political power for social good rather than to maintaining the old system of favoritism and prejudice.




Chicago in 1967 and 1986, illustrating the corruption and racism that built the city into its modern form. I used both real and invented settings, including:

  • O’Malley’s bar (invented) - which embodies the Irish political establishment
  • the Art Institute
  • (old) central library (since replaced)
  • City Hall/Council Chambers - the center of civic power
  • Marshall Field’s department store - Walnut Room restaurant - a local tradition
  • Arties’ blues club (now defunct)
  • the El trains - where Adam meets his constituents
  • a traffic island on Chicago’s central shopping district where he rekindles an old crush
  • Lake Michigan waterfront
  • Grant Park (downtown along the lakefront) in a snowstorm
  • Lake Shore Drive
  • the Granada Theater (since demolished) - where he meets his blackmailer
  • Daley Plaza (beside city hall, named for the former mayor) - where Adam strikes a deal with the mayor
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  1. Write a Story Statement:  Navigating a family journey in America, Sylvia has to overcome a Father who walks out on her, negotiate the anger of her mother and the demons of her brother while trying to make a way for herself as her world crumbles around her.  At every turn, Sylvia is beating back a challenge to have her family live the American dream, a fight that ends with the ultimate sacrifice, and begets a mystery that her son, with the help of a friend, have to unravel.
  2. Sketch the antagonist or antagonistic force in your story (200 words or less): Sylvia faces obstacles in life that are soul crushing.  Her idyllic family journey toward the American dream is shaken when her father unceremoniously walks out.  The abandonment hollows out her otherwise fierce mother.  Anger and resentment well up in her mother, and drive her brother to seek solace in pain numbing illicit drugs.  They each lash out at one another while trying to drag Sylvia down in the mire where they have sunk. The harmony and security Sylvia once felt within her family and home is gone, replaced by tension and intermittent terror.  Sylvia fights to keep moving forward to elevate herself above her circumstances.  Meanwhile, outside forces conspire to test her resolve every step of the way.  Her beloved nephew, child of the rebellious 60s, gets caught up in the emerging drug culture, gets help, but eventually succumbs to his addiction and dies of an overdose.  Further complicating matters, her oldest brother, the Father of this nephew, has married into the family that is the ruthless drug syndicate responsible for distributing this poison in their neighborhoods.  Her brother works for his brother in law, Tomas, who is the leader of these drug lords. Tomas is cold and calculating and fails to appreciate or accept responsibility for the events that leads to his nephew’s death. It is an inconvenient circumstance of his business affairs. Sylvia calls him out on this convenient disassociation to no avail.  Seeking revenge for this betrayal of family, Sylvia goes to the FBI to drop a dime on Tomas and his organization.  Opening this door, puts her brother in harm’s way.  He dies in a mysterious accident at work, which Sylvia believes is the work of Tomas and his minions.  Tomas denies any involvement when Sylvia confronts him once again.  The FBI eventually convicts Tomas and some of his brothers.  Upon his release years later, Tomas secretly threatens Sylvia’s son. Sylvia responding to Tomas’ threat sacrifices herself by seeking him out. Tomas metes out his revenge and arranges for another accident taking Sylvia’s life. Sylvia’s son is left to unpack the past and solve the mystery of who killed his mother and why, setting off another round of revenge with a twist.
  3. Create a breakout title:  “Familia—an American Story of Betrayal and Revenge”; “Familia—a Mother’s Revenge”; “Familia—an American pursuit of life, liberty and revenge”
  4. Comparables:  genre is thriller, mystery, suspense.  Authors:  Harlan Coben because he introduces a problem to start his books…a lost child, an unsolved murder...and then goes back in time through the eyes of his lead character to unpack the mystery, all the while running into obstacles and roadblocks to the truth.  Robert Parker—quick character sketches, with short and smart dialogue, all the while winding through dynamic conflicts to solve a mystery.
  5. Hook-line:  A son searches for the truth behind the ‘accident’ that took his mother’s life. With the help of a childhood friend, a former FBI Special agent, he unpacks a lifetime of family struggle, conflict and ultimately, a blood trail of betrayal and revenge.
  6. Other matters of conflict:  Dysfunctional family dynamics, racial/social prejudice, the unrelenting laws of the concrete jungle challenge Sylvia as she strives for the American Dream.  Money and power trump incidental family tragedies, which anger Sylvia and set her on the course to right the wrongs and put her in harm’s way.  Other bodies drop as victims of the many betrayals and the need for settle scores.
  7. Setting: From the villages of Puerto Rico and Cuba, this story starts as one family’s drive to live the American Dream.  With every journey, there are obstacles and challenges to overcome, as well, as euphoria and heartbreak to celebrate and endure.The child of immigrants, Sylvia Cruz is an indomitable force, who fights her way through life only to die suddenly in an accident.  Her son, Jamie, skeptical of this ‘accident’ enlists his oldest friend, a former FBI Special Agent, Eddy, to unpack this seemingly closed case.  The intrigue intensifies when Eddy learns of the family’s relationship to a ruthless crime syndicate, “The Montenegro Doble Doble.”  Betrayal and revenge become the back story of this family’s American Dream.  Amidst Sylvia’s occasional triumphs, there are setbacks, defeats and victims aplenty.  Buckle up, the ride will take you from the idyllic shores of the Caribbean to the concrete jungle of the South Bronx.
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The Act of Story Statement 
Betts has to overcome the tradition of her family to find herself through a process of self-love and metamorphosis. 

The Antagonist Plots the Point 
Antagonist #1 
Rita Solokova is a witch and a mother who’s been forced into her own world because of tradition. Like her youngest daughter, Rita always wanted more chances than the ones presented to her. She’s willing to accept her fate in life after meeting Andrei, the man she will eventually marry. When Andrei dies in a car accident while running an errand to get Betts the medicine she needs, Rita can’t forgive her daughter. She blames Betts for Andrei’s death, even though Betts didn’t outwardly cause it. With Betts’ Obryad fast approaching, Rita is wrestling with several motivating factors. She’s realizing that her youngest daughter is now old enough to lead the coven and she’s also forced to come to terms with Andrei’s untimely death.

Antagonist #2
LIKHO is a witch who has been stalking the SOLOKOVA family for generations in an attempt to get the magic they possess. She wants control of the ring the SOLOKOVA family wears because she believes it will ultimately provide her with the power she wants. She emerges in this timeline because of Betts’ Obryad - she expects it will be an easy thing to take the ring from a witch who doesn’t want it. However, LIKHO doesn’t know that the ring is only one source of their power and magic. 

Antagonist #3
Betts is her own antagonistic force. Because Rita has physically and emotionally abused her for her entire life, Betts lacks the self-confidence to stand up for herself. She routinely keeps herself in a corner because she’s unable of self-love.

Breakout Title
Linden House
Elisabetta Against the World 

Genre and Comps 
Speculative fiction, magical realism, urban fantasy 
Payback’s a Witch meets The Once and Future Witches 

Core Wound and the Primary Conflict 

It’s 1991 and Elisabetta Solokova wants to escape the traditions that have kept witches in her family bound for generations. Her physically abusive mother has other plans for her and is willing to do anything to keep Betts in place. When an ancient witch emerges from the past and is determined to take the Solokova family magic, Betts has to decide if she wants to flee or if she’s going to stay and fight. 

Other Matters of Conflict: Two More Levels
The only person Betts has ever loved returns to Cincinnati and Betts must confront her feelings for him while navigating the pressures of her family. She will have to decide if being loved for who she is can usurp her feelings of abandonment.

Betts sister Kira has never been kind to her. She routinely puts Betts in situations that are cruel and mean because Kira wants to be the one to lead the family.

The Incredible Importance of Setting
This novel takes place in a fictionalized version of Cincinnati’s Price Hill neighborhood. The real-world Price Hill is poverty-stricken and impoverished. This novel’s fictionalized version recreates the neighborhood to be vibrant and community-oriented. This makes it interesting because it’s a magical witchy tale rooted in a real place. 

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Overall Series: 

Maia must convince the House that joining Athens in the war against Sparta will bring about the doom of Atlantis. 

First Book:

Maia believed her position as the Daughter of the House of Ata was unshakeable, but now she struggles to keep it.



Euthalia, the High Priestess of Atlantis. She’s resourceful, clever, and shrewd. Apollo saves her from drowning when her mother threw her in the Delos River as a child. Apollo gives her the gift of sight and stays with her as a mentor, but their relationship later turns sexual when she’s grown. Euthalia joins the Laurels, a woman-dominated religious sect of Atlantis and quickly moves up the ranks to High Priestess. Euthalia blames the old gods for going into the Deep Slumber, effectively abandoning them, as her mother abandoned her. After a fight with Apollo, he curses her without realizing it, and she can’t see him or benefit from his gift of prophesy. To keep her position, Euthalia lives by her wits and underhanded dealings with the House to maintain her power. In Maia, she finds the opportunity to continue the pretense that she is still a prophetess. But when she discovers Maia’s vision of the future of Atlantis, Euthalia becomes obsessed with its destruction, believing it will wake the old gods who will save them, and pits herself against Maia’s attempt to save their home. 



1) Water Clock

2) Salt Blood

3) The Abandoned Daughter of the Gods

4) Children of the Tide



The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller: Story set during Trojan War with the influence of gods and lesser deities at play between Greece and Troy.

The Silence of the Girls by Pat Barker: Story also set during Trojan war with conflict between gods and mortals. Focal point of the story is through the POV of women.



Maia, a maiden of Atlantis, is a drunk and a disappointment to her family who is given the gift of prophesy from the God Apollo and must save her people from its ruin.



Secondary Conflict (Inner): Maia falls in love with Alexis, a handsome newcomer, who seemingly loves her too. This relationship turns her against her cousin, Phoebe, and her childhood friend, Theron.

Secondary Conflict (Social): When Euthalia discovers that Maia is having visions, she wants Maia to join the Laurels, essentially asking her to abandon her House and her inheritance. 



The island of Atlantis inspired by the description by Plato in the Critias. The city-state is divided by districts where its citizens live based on class, status, and purpose. The main population live in the northern area of the island, and the land fans out in farmland, vineyards, and orchards in the direct south with villages that connect them. The market is the heart of the north, a centralized location near the docks were merchants and travelers arrive. At the island’s pinnacle are the Nesehe Mountains, a jungle-like forest, home to the Lyquins (panthers with the sheen of bird’s wings) and where monsters are rumored to wander. It’s a playground for hunters. There are two smallish sacred rivers, the Ovla (warm) and the Delos (cold). Forged by Poseidon’s Trident, the rivers run down each side of the island—(if facing north) left is the Delos and right the Ovla. The middle prong erupted the first jungle tree of the Nesehe. The island is ruled by the ten gods and goddesses birthed by Mother Cleito and Poseidon. While other Grecian gods are recognized, these Atlantean gods, along with Poseidon, are at the center of all religious ideology and separated by Houses of the ruling class.

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     As background, here’s the draft pitch for Oceans for a Thief (by Ron Reman):

     Twenty-five years ago, an uneducated black woman died without fanfare in Brooklyn. She’d worked herself to death, struggling to get her sons access to quality schools. Her eldest son Matt, sixteen at the time, promised that he and his half-brother would succeed – and succeed they did. Matt’s a partner in a White-Shoe investment banking firm in Manhattan and his half-brother is Chief Executive of an international shipping company.

     Matt made another promise to his mom. He agreed to avoid his father, Frank Cavalcanti, at the time a soldier in a New York crime family but now the family’s underboss and leader of its global drug smuggling operation. Matt kept this promise – a good thing since his father once had another son killed – but when Matt’s blackmailed by an alluring Brazilian woman with a hidden agenda, her demands force him to choose between seeking his father’s help or losing his job and family. 

     In search for an alternative, Matt travels overseas, where he meets Tamara, leader of a Somali pirate group. Though she commits criminal acts, she earmarks her wealth for a good cause. She orchestrates a scheme to address Matt’s problems while helping her cause, but its meticulous planning is based on incomplete information. The plan threatens Cavalcanti’s crime family, pits Matt against his half-brother and puts Matt’s life and that of his wife and daughter at risk. A character in a nineteenth century novel influences Matt as he tries to protect his family. 


First assignment: Story statement – “A man must stop the distribution of photos which could destroy his life.”


Second assignment: Sketch the antagonist or antagonistic force in your story –

                  “Raised in the slums of Rio de Janeiro, forced into high-end prostitution in her early teens, Ana sees her customers, American businessmen, as enemies of Brazilian women. Her beauty is matched by her intelligence, and as she matures, she’s no longer satisfied selling her body for a few hundred dollars an hour. She combines her sexuality with her brainpower, blackmailing successful American businessmen and coaxing them to pay her millions. Her hostility toward these men is offset by her compassion for women – disadvantaged Brazilian women in particular – the latter the beneficiaries of her ill-begotten funds.”


Third assignment: Breakout title –

                  Oceans for a Thief

                  Drops of the Ocean

                  Victims in Disguise


Fourth assignment: Develop two comparables for your novel – [In process]

                  I’m finding this to be a challenge. I’d say my style is similar to Nelson DeMille – no-nonsense with plenty of action. I’ve also been told the complexity of the story is similar to John Sanford’s writing.


Fifth assignment: Hook line –

                  “Blackmailed by a Brazilian seductress, an investment banker must choose between losing his wife and family or seeking help from his estranged father – a mob underboss.”


Sixth assignment: Conditions for the inner conflict and hypothetical secondary conflict –

                  Matt needs to keep photos (of him and Ana having sex) from being made public. He’s convinced he’ll lose his wife, daughter and high-profile job. Unfortunately, the only way out may be his seeking help from his estranged father, a mob underboss. Matt promised his deceased mom that he’d avoid his dad. It’s a promise he’s kept and intends to keep. A secondary conflict is Matt’s desire to avoid hurting his half-brother – to keep the photos secret, he’ll need to take action against his half-brother’s company. Another conflict is Matt’s attraction to Ana, although he loves his wife.


Seventh assignment:  Sketch out the setting in detail –

                  The story opens in Manhattan – the main characters live and work in and around New York City. The story utilizes the city’s resources, including subway stations and grand churches. It also includes scenes in Belgium, France, Somalia, the United Arab Emirates and Brazil, as well as a ship hijacking scene within the Arabian Sea.

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The grieving daughter of a murdered right-wing leader teams up with a left-leaning journalist to uncover the truth behind an unexpected death of Arab mother and child, and the subsequent coverup that brings Jerusalem to the brink of war.


Menahem Ditner, a close friend of Adara’s murdered father and her ex-father-in-law, is the health minister intent on becoming Israel’s first prime minister, representing Israel’s ultra-right settler movement. A savvy politician, Ditner does everything in his power to maintain his lead in the polls and ensure victory in the upcoming election. He is using his friend’s murder for sympathy votes and enlists the support of Adara’s family for a show of unity.

Adara refuses to participate in the charade. She blames Ditner for abandoning her father at a time of need to save his political skin and for distorting her father’s legacy. She resents him for pushing his son to divorce her and denying he had any part in it.

Forced to enlist Ditner’s help after an Arab woman dies on her watch, Adara fears she has made a deal with the devil. As the truth behind the woman’s death is uncovered, Adara realizes that Ditner, his motives and his relationship with her father are not what she took them to be.


The Hundred Year Kingdom (current)


Fertile land


Genre: Upmarket Fiction, Thriller, Mystery.


In the Woods/ Tana French

The Dry/ Jane Harper

The Last Thing He Told Me/ Laura Dave

The Plot/ Jean Hanff Korelitz


Struggling to “accept God’s will” in the wake of a personal tragedy, Adara pursues an investigation into a government conspiracy, discovering that the truth is more complicated than she had ever imagined.


Primary Conflict
Rattled by the sudden death of an Arab woman on her watch, Adara feels it is her duty to figure out what caused it. But everyone around her – the hospital, the health ministry, even the dead woman’s husband – seem intent on covering up. When evidence points to a possible government conspiracy, Adara must reconsider her loyalties and beliefs in a race to find out the truth before it's too late. 

Social Conflict
Teaming up with a liberal journalist who knows more than he shares, Adara must decide just how must she can trust him and his motives, a task further complicated by their growing attraction.

Inner Conflict
Brought up in a right-wing religious household, Adara holds on to her politics and her faith in honor of her late father. But what does “accepting God’s will” mean in the context of her life? And how to reconcile her family’s politics with what the injustice she uncovers throughout her investigation.



Jerusalem is a city that lives in the deep shadow of history. Adara’s father said that “This city cares more for the dead than it does for the living,” and she agrees. Strained by land disputes, health crisis and hopeless politics, Arab East Jerusalem is on the cusp of revolt. The unexplained death of a healthy Arab mother erupts in deadly violence, and the military moves in.

The hospital where Adara works is the embodiment of the city’s story. Built by the German emperor in the nineteenth century, the hospital sits on the junction between the Arab east and the Jewish west and serves both communities. It is an island of co-existence surrounded by intolerance, but it is not immune to political pressures.

Fetal center:

A state-of-the-art research facility conceived as a private-public project by Adara’s father and brought to fruition by the health minister, Menahem Ditner. The Fetal Center is devoted to ridding Israel’s Palestinian population of prevalent hereditary conditions brought on by consanguineous marriages. The new wing of the Fetal Center is being built on private Palestinian land appropriated for this purpose.


The West Bank settlement, Neve Or, was founded by Adara’s beloved father and his friend and confrere, Menahem Ditner. Starting out as an outpost by historic Jewish ruins, Neve-Or grows into a prosperous suburban town, swallowing the lone Arab village “that had once given these hills their name.”

Neve Or had been Adara’s home for as long as she could remember and up until her father’s death, she intended to remain there, raising her children and practicing medicine, accompanying her father on his evening walks. The inherent conflict between occupation and Jewish moral teachings is evident in the high-tech electric fence surrounding the town and the wall separating Jewish roads from Palestinians. It is evident in the proliferation of military bases and the controversial settlement militias who often take law and order into their own hands.

As the investigation progresses, Adara is increasingly aware of the injustice embedded within this system and she struggles to understand her father’s notion of “integrating” the Palestinians, and how a benevolent and humane Jewish rule can even be possible.

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“Behind the Silver ‘U’”

Assignment 1: Story Statement

Soon after leaving her daughter’s home, Virginia becomes aware of a car with an askew right headlight following her. She dies when she tries to escape the stalker by climbing a ladder, but she dies happy knowing that her art studio and the secret inside it are safe–––her husband, Gordon, didn’t die in vain. 


Two months later, Virginia’s daughter, Audrey and her granddaughter, Stephanie, believing that Virginia died in an accidental fall, discover the hidden art studio, containing numerous forgeries painted by Virginia of a stolen 1917 Burman Main Street painting. They examine each painting hoping to find a clue to Virginia’s obsession with the painting which began after Audrey’s father died in a car accident. Then they notice one woman, Frances Hames, in the Main Street scene, wearing pants and writing in a journal next to a bicycle and decide to find out more about her. Before they realize that France’s journal is in the house, someone steals it. Then the forgeries are stolen, and they discover that the original painting contains a dangerous secret linked to World War I and the Spanish Flu epidemic. Why was Virginia painting these forgeries? Where is the original painting and what secret is it hiding? 



Assignment 2: Antagonist Sketch

A mysterious man in a blue shirt seems to be the antagonist for much of the story. Audrey sees him at the post office, and he follows her from the town where she lives to her hometown of Berman. When Audrey’s daughter, Stephanie, goes with her to the library, he follows them into the archives. Audrey doesn’t realize that the real danger is Bjarte, the amiable owner of a small-town sea food restaurant, who is the main force behind the break-ins and murders in Burman until Audrey and her friend, Lynne discover him holding the library’s archivist hostage in her own home. Then they discover that he is a sadistic, megalomanic, capable of killing without compunction.


Assignment 3: Breakout Title

Behind the Silver ‘U’

The Chemist’s Diary

The Artist and the Woman on the Bicycle 



Assignment 4: Comparables

Heart Trouble by Kathy Hogan Trocheck

This is a mystery that takes place in a small Georgia town.

The Department of Rare Books and Special Collections by Eva Jurczyk

A valuable manuscript is stolen from a library archive and the archivist is determined to find it.

The Forgotten Garden by Kate Morton

An investigation into the abandonment of a young girl taken up a century later by her granddaughter. 


Assignment 5: Hook Line with Conflict and Core Wound

Audrey is a widow and feels depressed and alone without the husband that she loved. Her daughter, Stephanie, is a busy entrepreneur with a flourishing craft store in Atlanta, who doesn’t spend significant time with her. When Stephanie writes Audrey insisting that the two of them go to Audrey’s small hometown, Burman, to clean out Audrey’s deceased mother’s house, Audrey is reluctant. The disturbing years she spent with her enigmatic, widowed mother have left her apprehensive about a return to the house of her youth, but she wants to spend time with the only value she has left in her life, Stephanie. When they arrive and discover that Audrey’s mother spent her time repeatedly painting the same painting in a hidden art studio, Audrey is determined to uncover the reason her mother gave up the close relationship that they shared before her father died. Then she discovers that both her father and Virginia were murdered trying to keep a World War I secret safe from dangerous people.

Assignment 6: Protagonist’s Inner Conflicts 

Audrey, unable to recover from the loss of her husband, Simon, swings from anger to sorrow and depression and has been unable to move on with her life for two years. The only person that makes her life worth living is her daughter, Stephanie, but Stephanie is a busy entrepreneur with a thriving craft store to run and can’t spend enough time with her. When Stephanie offers to take time away from her store to help Audrey clean out her deceased mother’s house, Audrey is reluctant. Her father died in an accident when she was ten years old, and the close, fun relationship that she shared with her mother dissolved, causing her to associate the house with anxiety and fear. But her desire to grasp onto the only possibility of healing, inspires her to acquiesce and return to her hometown and the house she fears. She’s surprised when the road to healing begins with a drawing that she made with her mother at the age of ten. 

A secondary conflict involves Stephanie. She is a career driven entrepreneur who has had to take control of situations. She doesn’t ‘suffer fools gladly.’ Making her way in the business world has made her dubious of inconsistencies and wary of men, who believe that their charm will enable them to take advantage of her in the business world. From their first meeting, she is aware that she has an attraction for her grandmother’s handsome next-door neighbor, Byron, and puts up her guard, instantly suspicious of him. Byron reminds Audrey of her husband, Simon, and she imagines Stephanie happy with Byron as she was with Simon. These opposing viewpoints of Byron produce conflict between Audrey and Stephanie.


 Assignment 7: Sketch Your Setting in Detail

The story begins in Hulart a fictitious town south of Atlanta. The population is large enough that everyone doesn’t know your name, but Audrey is familiar with the postmaster of her local post office, Lynne, and they are friends. Lynne notices the man outside the glass front of the post office but, though wary, is quick to trust and slow to determine that his behavior may be suspicious enough to warrant a warning to Audrey after all. 

Audrey goes with her daughter, Stephanie, to her hometown of Burman, a small Southern town west of Atlanta where the locals are all familiar with each other. The streets are traveled but for the most part quiet. The perfect place for evil to hatch and grow unnoticed. Burman has a couple of restaurants one is The Master Maid, a seafood restaurant named after a Norwegian folktale. The restaurant is colorfully and comically decorated with silly sea creatures painted on the walls and sitting on the tables holding fake candles. A contrast to the dark evil that is discovered in its owner, Bjarte. 

Audrey’s mother home had been a white clapboard bungalow with a medium-sized oak tree in the front yard when she moved there as a child. In recent years, her mother, Virginia, has painted the house, changing it to eggshell with tan trim and colonial blue shutters. As for the oak tree, it would take two people holding hands to encircle its trunk. The house gives the appearance of the place a typical happy family would live. No one would suspect that this innocuous house contains a hidden art studio or that once it housed a chemist who formulated a dangerous chemical weapon. Even apart from the house’s secret, Frances was unhappy there, anxious for her brother the soldier, and decades later, the young Audrey was anxious and unhappy there. Audrey’s unhappiness was connected to Frances even though she had no idea that Frances ever existed or had lived there before her. Now, as the house color has changed and the oak tree has become bigger and stronger, so will Audrey change and become stronger.







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1. Act of Story Statement

Lucy Walton, an uptight office manager striving to appear worthwhile, loses control of her company, her home, and her appearance while discovering her true value lies within her heart.


2. Antagonist Plots the Point

Cain Lunsford has watched Lucy Walton cling tightly to her routines every week for the last three years. He has always imagined that Lucy revels in her successful and comfortable life. When her carefully reinforced facade cracks one Wednesday morning, Cain steps in to help her regain control in his misguided but well-intentioned manner. His interference sets Lucy off on a series of cringe-worthy misadventures. If she could only remove him from her life, perhaps all would go back to normal. At the very least, Lucy can have her panic attacks in private again.


3. Conjuring Breakout Titles

Letting Loose

There’s a Problem with Lucy

Lucy Out Loud


4. Genre and Comparables

Contemporary Fiction

     How Not to Die Alone by Richard Roper

I hope to emulate Roper’s seamless ability to mix humor with emotional trauma and growth through the limited third-person POV. His main character, Andrew, hopes to maintain and then regain control over a carefully crafted lifestyle which has supported him in the past. As this crashes down around him, Andrew is finally able to heal the past and transform. I want to show a similar journey for Lucy.

     The Authenticity Project by Clare Pooley

I appreciate how Pooley shows character interactions. The theme of living authentically versus following a set of perceived society rules is a worthy one. Also, I enjoy the balance of humor and tough subjects.


5. Hook Line

Lucy Walton’s non-existent social life and insurance office job are the lynchpins of her safe and predictable life, until Cain — the Tattoo Coffee Man and aspiring punk rock star — shows her she really does deserve more fun, attention, and time to breathe.


6. Two More Levels of Conflict

Inner - Lucy controls the circumstances of her environment through detailed lists, unwavering routines, and a private life devoid of any deep, significant attachments. She is happy with these methods, because she can avoid repeating her failures of the past. She realizes that life is unfulfilling this way but at least no one else notices.

Social - Lucy is ridiculed and shamed by her family, particularly her sister who lives a seemingly effortless and joyful life. Also, she is disrespected by the staff she supervises. These interactions cause Lucy to cling more rigidly to her old controlling and anxious behaviors.


7. Setting

Olympia, Washington

Safe Harbors Insurance Services, LLC - Lucy’s workplace sounds boring, but it is an old  office with multiple maintenance issues and a confusing layout which adds to the chaotic tensions generated by bickering personalities and politics.

Mud Castles Event Center - This former warehouse is used for music events, particularly Cain’s band concerts. The awkward amenities (rickety balcony, lack of furniture and gerry-rigged equipment) add to Lucy’s confusion while there. It is a venue filled with diverse characters.

Lucy’s home and car - While expending a great deal of energy to keep a successful image while at work, Lucy falls apart a bit in private. Her home and car are bland and in need of care. Both are sparse and lack any personal qualities. They add to the sense of being lost or unattached to her own life.

The Penguin House - Cain’s home, in contrast, is brimming with life and activity. While nothing would be described as new or shiny, the colorful and soft furnishings combined with constant music and laughter feel instantly welcoming. The overgrown garden and roaming chickens represent an abundance of vitality.

The weather - It is winter and early spring during this story which means, in the Pacific Northwest, that the weather is volatile. Rain, snow, hailstorms, and sudden heat snaps all play significant roles in the course of the story.

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Story Statement

Tormented by a broken promise to his family, Danny Landon will do anything to escape his past.



Present: Lauren Cook is an alluring doctor with a quick-witted personality that Danny can’t help but feel attracted to, especially since she seems to accept the flaws he has kept so well-hidden from others. But Lauren has a secret of her own and will use any technique imaginable to capture Dannys attention. Her web of deception parallels that of Caroline Landon's.

Past: Caroline Landon is Danny's unreliable single mother. Young Danny finds their roles reversed as Caroline takes solace in the form of booze and men and he is forced to become her caregiver. When she crosses him in an ultimate betrayal, Danny cuts off ties but soon realizes that deceit may be hereditary.



Before I Fell



Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn. (Nick and Amy seem to have it all, but when Amy goes missing, Nick's erratic behavior makes him the number one suspect in his wife's disappearance. Their image of the perfect couple is shattered and the truth becomes almost as unbelievable as the lie.)

Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins. (Rachel jealously spies on perfect couple Scott and Megan on her daily train ride to work. When Megan goes missing under suspicious circumstances, Rachel begins her own investigation. But tumultuous flashbacks begin taking her down a dangerous path and soon not even Rachel knows who to trust.)

In the Woods by Tana French. (In the sprawling woods in Ireland, three kids run off to play but only one returns, covered in blood and amnestic of all events. Decades later, Detective Ryan still can't recall details of the day his friends went missing, but now another child is found dead in the same woods. He and his partner try to solve the case while he becomes increasingly entangled by his own haunted past.)

My novel is similar in its brooding tone and flawed-but-relatable main character, told in first person with dual timelines (Danny's childhood and present time as an adult) and multiple twists. Genre: Domestic Suspense, Coming-of-Age



Desperate to escape bitter childhood memories and a broken promise that he’s kept hidden from his adoring wife, Danny finds solace in a beguiling woman during their seemingly chance encounters. Soon he’s lost in a familiar web of deceit that threatens his perfect life.



Core wound: Despite Danny’s bitter and lonely upbringing, he’s able to secure the affection of Maggie, a woman whom he loves wholeheartedly but believes is too good for him. He keeps his flaws hidden throughout their perfect marriage and makes a vow to never to abandon his family like he was as a child. When tragedy strikes, he's forced to break his promise and becomes tormented by this.

Secondary conflict: Enter Lauren, who seems to accept Danny for who he is, flaws and all, and distracts him from his pain and inadequacies.

Additional conflict: Danny has deep-seated feelings of insecurity, ignited by decades of abandonment, both physical and emotional. He experiences an undercurrent of sadness despite outwardly acting content. His poorly masked anxiety spirals whenever he feels things are out of control and it reaches a feverish pitch when Danny falls down the treacherous path of deception that parallels his childhood trauma.



New York office

The flawless marble lobby spans the length of an entire city block. A central steel wall tactfully conceals the bank of elevators on either side and my shoes make absurd squelching noises as I walk towards them. The building was renovated a decade ago to be sterile and imposing in an already outdated display of postural masculinity. A collection of black leather chairs cluster around a glass coffee table staged with unread books and waxy botanicals, their leaves peppered with half-moon nail marks from visitors doubting their authenticity. The faint fragrance of floor cleaner and polished metal gives off a tangy, coppery scent like the pennies you’d occasionally slip into your mouth as a kid. People joke that even the lobby smells like money, but I know it’s just trying to overcompensate for aging architecture and unreliable toilets.


Childhood home

The grass in front is overgrown. Thistles and nightshade and other toxic foliage sprout up to conceal half-hidden objects that my mother must not’ve had the energy to dispose of properly. The weeds have grown so high in some spots that they’ve toppled over, snapping themselves in half from the weight, self-destructing with greed.

I step out and walk to the front door as grasshoppers catapult away from the disturbance. Buried in the right corner by the concrete step, smashed under the gray river rock is the spare where I’d hoped it would be. I resist the urge to knock and crack open the door. The musty breath of the house bathes me once again as I step inside.



The main floor is lined with treadmills and scattered ellipticals and rowers, but most people work out on the lower level. The basement is larger than you can tell from the street, more than double the length of the floor above. A small track circles the perimeter and the rest of the room is divided into an area with weights and a regulation-size boxing ring. At the bottom of the stairs, there are three windowed classrooms with floor to ceiling mirrors in the back and punching bags and speed balls studded along the ceiling. This level is raw and stinks of sweat and testosterone. Carnal grunts and curses chirp out along with the sound of weights thudding on the matted floor. Kids aren’t allowed here and most women avoid it. The ones that don’t are tougher than most men, myself included.


Las Vegas Pool

The waterfall gurgles serenely but the main pool is padlocked and I don’t see any way to hop the fence. I continue weaving through the courtyard to see if there’s another pool or a hot tub they could’ve gone to. Pink and yellow lights dapple the landscaped courtyard and radiate a muted, tropical glow that’s undeniably artificial but pleasant anyway. I follow the winding trail around the garden as a faint chill prickles my skin and I pick up their voices a little farther down the path. I follow their laughter to a darkened lap pool in a forgotten corner where the lights are off but the chain has been fortuitously left unlocked. A sign bolted to the fence lists the pool hours that ended long ago, but I suspect it’s only there to prove amnesty without actual conviction. The gate squeaks open when I enter and they stop talking and turn to see who’s arrived.


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First Assignment:

Story Statement:

Helena must succeed Jenny Lind as the greatest singer in the world.

Second Assignment:


There are three antagonists at work in Echo of the Nightingale, each inspired by Jenny Lind in different ways:

--Constance, Helena’s childhood friend, copies everything Helena does, including pursuing singing. Because her family has more money, she has access to training and opportunities Helena does not.

--Minette, a former child star, shocks Helena with her independence and disinterest in social convention. Her superior stage prowess forces Helena to confront her weaknesses as a performer.

--Norma, a Quaker who leaves her religion and community to pursue singing, upstages Helena from within Helena’s own opera company. Because Helena can’t compete with Norma’s vocal heft and power, she must decide what, if anything, she can fight for instead.

Third Assignment:


Echo of the Nightingale

The Nightingale’s Echo

Fourth Assignment:


Upmarket historical fiction


The Mermaid and Mrs. Hancock (2018), by Imogen Hermes Gower

The Essex Serpent (2016), by Sarah Perry

The Signature of All Things (2013), by Elizabeth Gilbert

Fifth Assignment:

Hook Line:

A young woman in 19th century America must decide what she is and is not willing to do to become the greatest opera singer in the world.

Sixth Assignment:

Inner Conflict:

One of Helena’s inner conflicts is whether she believes she has what it takes to become the greatest singer in the world. In isolation, she convinces herself that she does, but when confronted by other talented singers she grows jealous and anxious. At times in the book, she buries this doubt with narcissism, or gives in (temporarily) to despair. Ultimately, she decides the question is not worth answering.

Social conflict:

As a woman pursuing a professional, public career in the 19th century, Helena is frequently at odds with the mores of her time. Early in the book she is courted by a prosperous young man and must decide whether to marry and live a comfortable, conventional life, or pursue her dreams. Her mother encourages her to accept the proposal, but her father recognizes that she would never be happy and advises her to say no and pursue her career. Later, Helena must contend with impresarios who consider opera to be little more than a high-class escort service, and fights with her painter lover to recognize that her art is as important as his. Finally, when she becomes a mother, Helena must reconcile her desire to be present with her children and her need to sing.

Seventh Assignment:


The setting for the book is mostly New York City and Paris in the mid-19th century. Helena’s New York City is middle class, filled with outings to genteel establishments such as an upscale ice cream parlor and Barnum’s American Museum. The Civil War transforms the city to one covered with propaganda, littered with uniformed and injured soldiers, and clogged with long lines at stores where previously abundant goods are scarce. In Paris, Helena begins in an austere ladies’ hostel before renting her own garret in Montmartre. She falls in love with an artist and wiles away the hours in his drafty studio. When she returns to New York she finds it taller, denser, and louder than when she left, with factories and an elevated train encroaching on the quiet residential street of her youth. In the last section of the book Helena tours the United States by train, bringing her company of forty people—plus sets and costumes—to cities as far as San Francisco. Throughout the book, theaters themselves offer up conflict in the way of set pieces literally blocking the way, cramped dressing rooms shared with unfriendly colleagues, auditoriums with swaths of empty seats or packed to the brim, acoustics from dull to gleaming.

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First Assignment: The Act of Story Statement

         Everybody knows Zöe Turner from Lansing, Michigan. That’s what she says anyway, because she is the best basketball player to ever come from the town. When Zöe’s senior summer kicks off, she can’t wait to visit Division I schools. That is, until she wakes up to find two large men standing in her doorway telling her she is going to Idaho—for wilderness therapy. Landed in desert canyons for ninety days, Zöe wrestles with red-hot anger towards her parents, heartbreak of missing her boyfriend Tarron, and wondering if she did escape, would she survive?


Second Assignment: The Antagonist Plots the Point

         The antagonist in this story is the situation that Zöe finds herself in—a dry, wind-whipped, desert—left to wrestle with the choices she has made to make it there (were they even that bad?). She desires nothing more than to escape her current life circumstance, though she can do nothing about it. Not for ninety days.


Third Assignment: Breakout Title





Fourth Assignment: Deciding Your Genre and Approaching Comparables

         Genre: New Adult Fiction or Contemporary Fiction

         Comparables: Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng and Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens

                    Based in the present day with lingering racial tension in a midwestern middle-class family, both of these titles represent fiction storylines based with real societal issues.


Fifth Assignment: The Core Wound and The Primary Conflict

         A troubled teen is forced to face her fears of inadequacy while she is alone in the desert sentenced to a wilderness therapy program by her parents.


Sixth Assignment: Other Matters of Conflict

          Primary conflict: Zöe Turner is stuck in a wilderness therapy program in Idaho thousands of miles away from her friends and family. After working so hard to be scouted by Division I schools to play basketball, this too could no longer be an offer when she returns for her summer of forced silence in the desert.


         Secondary Conflict: Zöe’s life is urgent—basketball scouts, an older boyfriend she hopes to move in with at the end of her senior year, and getting away from her parents as the navigate the impending waters of divorce. All of these things are put on hold, without resolution, as she hikes through the desert learning to survive in the wild.


         Inner Conflict: Zöe wants nothing to do with her parents anymore, and has had it with their slowly crumbling marriage. She is conflicted, however, because it is every child’s most natural desire to be accepted and loved by their parents. Zöe feels unseen, unheard, and must work extra hard to receive attention. She feels forgotten.


         Hypothetical scenario: Zöe has been in wilderness therapy for twelve days now and has her first meeting with the therapist. During their session, Zöe shares in sheer anger that she didn’t have time to tell her boyfriend, Tarron, that she was getting sent away. To him, she says, it looks like she ghosted him. But that’s not what she wanted; she wants to marry Tarron. Her parents, however, seem to have an issue with Tarron, and the question of difference in races comes to the surface when the therapist finds out that Tarron is African American. The therapist promises Zöe that if she contributes to group for another week, she can call her boyfriend and let him know where she is—but will he still be waiting for her by them?


Seventh Assignment: The Setting

         The setting: High-desert Dot, Idaho—where there isn’t another town for hundreds of miles in any direction, the coyotes howl at night, rattlesnakes slither across the dry-cracked land, and their camp is enclosed by barbed wire. But that’s just the thing about the desert—it is harsh, with extreme heat during the day and extreme cold during the night—but it’s also the perfect backdrop for iron-colored canyons and orange sunsets dipping behind the snowy-peaked mountains in the distance. The harshness of the desert is a reflection, a mirror, for the troubled teens in this wilderness therapy program.


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FIRST ASSIGNMENT: write your story statement. 

After accidentally killing a homeless woman, Alex Whittman escapes her mother’s overbearing disappointment and a confining future in small town New York to forge a new life with an old friend in 1978 Los Angeles as the Hillside Stranger and other serial killers prey on working and “nice” girls alike. 


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

Naomi lived in upstate New York as a kid enticing her friend Alex into playing havoc with neighborhood kids and horses at a local stable. When Naomi’s family moves back to California, she develops a craving for fame to counter the intellectual coldness of her star physicist father and ditsy mother. Her mother sets her up with a guitar teacher 25 years her senior, Burton, who convinces Naomi fame is within reach with the right funding. Naomi begins to sell her body to high-end clients to fund their rise in the LA music scene, but she needs someone on the inside to get her the best, easiest clients. What better sidekick to put to use than her childhood friend, Alex? Naomi invites Alex to California. When Alex arrives, Naomi asks her to work on the phones of escort service, Model Inc. But having Alex’s help isn’t enough. Naomi likes sex work but wants a greater return on her investment. She abandons Alex, who thought Naomi’s situation was temporary, to start a competing business and gains a starring role in a porno film. When Model Inc. is busted, Naomi leaves Alex alone to deal with the consequences. 


THIRD ASSIGNMENT: create a breakout title 

Nice Girl



FOURTH ASSIGNMENT: Develop two smart comparables for your novel.  

The Mars Room: A Novel; Rachel Kushner, 2019

The Girls; Emma Cline, 2014


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

Born when her social climbing mother was teenager, Alex escapes the confinements of her small-town upstate New York life to 1978 Los Angeles and finds herself trying to protect women against an underworld of escort services, drugs, pornographers, and serial killers.


SIXTH ASSIGNMENT: sketch out the conditions for the inner conflict your protagonist will have. 

Alex Whittman cannot overcome her mother’s disappointment and the confinements of her small-town life. After she accidently kills a well-known local homeless woman, her mother uses the incident to catalog Alex’s numerous failures. When Alex receives a postcard from a childhood friend Naomi inviting her to Los Angeles, she escapes to find Naomi living in an empty house with her sketchy boyfriend/music Svengali, Burton. At breakfast, Naomi and Burton confess that Naomi is covertly working outcall to pay for the duo’s musical aspirations, including a band of studio musicians, and they invite Alex out to fill a position answering phones at an escort service to ensure Naomi gets the high-paying calls. Without resources and with no desire to return to her mother’s world, Alex reluctantly takes the job, telling her family it’s a dating service, only to be pulled into the role of managing and protecting women who’ve arrived in LA with stories similar to her own. The specter of the homeless woman she killed appears at moments of great stress, and with Naomi eventually moving on, Alex navigates her way through a dangerous world alone, isolated from friends and family, with dead woman as her companion.


Next, likewise sketch a hypothetical scenario for the "secondary conflict" involving the social environment. 

Alex carries a scar on her leg from a foolish attempt at reliving childhood moments riding with her friend Naomi on horses kept in a nearby stable. The accident has ruined Alex’s chances for a track scholarship, while an extensive scar and slight limp forever mark Alex as damaged. What was seen as a stain of failure back home becomes a symbol of toughness to the underworld of sex work, drug dealers, and pornography. 

Alex quickly rises to become manager of the largest escort service in the region, a role that brings great financial reward but challenges her own self-image. Rumors run rampant on the scar’s origins, with a gunfight taking the lead. Alex’s unemotional demeanor—learned over years of trying to circumvent her mother’s abundance of emotion—does little to dispel the myth. Yet Alex fears what will come from her growing reputation as an underworld honcho.


FINAL ASSIGNMENT: sketch out your setting in detail. 

January 1978 Los Angles is reeling from months of women’s naked corpses showing up across its neighborhoods. The Hillside Strangler, or Stranglers, are just one in a cadre of serial killers and sex offenders terrorizing the west coast, with many centered around the streets of Los Angeles. In response, outcall and escort services pop up promising women a safe and more respectable alternative to working the streets.

Searing sun, oceans of parking lots, nondescript office complexes, cheap motels and endless highways define Alex’s new environment—a considerable change from her small-town origins as the daughter, granddaughter, great granddaughter, and great-great granddaughter of her hometown’s esteemed architect family lineage. 

Having grown up in her father’s leak-prone masterpiece—a cubist compilation of railroad ties and eight-foot by eight-foot industrial age windows in the woods—Alex’s mind plays a running commentary on the commercial sprawl that replicates itself across the city and its neighborhoods. Her father, who died in a fall from the roof of their home, imparted enough of his architectural insight on Alex to heighten her awareness of the danger lurking in Southern California’s anonymous parking lots, cookie-cutter neighborhoods, and the rat-infested bungalows intended for the starlets of the 1930s and 1940s.


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New York Pitch Conference Assignments 1-7



“In 1974, A young girl wrangles free of Chile’s Colonia Dignidad cult; decades later her daughter ensures that its perpetrators pay for their sins.”


1974: When love opens her eyes, a young woman realizes the cruelty of the oppressive cult life she has always known and plans to break free. When she discovers she’s pregnant, she sacrifices everything to ensure her child never knows the cult’s cruelty.


2010: Decades later, her adult daughter returns to the cult to connect with her roots, unwittingly uncovering a murder mystery. She confronts natural disasters, the cult’s impenetrable secrecy and betrayal within her own family to secure justice.



Grand Uncle exerts absolute control over life inside the Colonia Dignidad cult. When Greta manages to evade his grip, he will stop at nothing to reclaim her.

Grand Uncle hears the voice of God and claims to be the only one who can keep his commune of three hundred Germans safe from the perils of communism and impending war, which spurred them to flee Germany in the 1960s and resettle in this remote part of Chile. He requires absolute devotion, brutally punishing anyone who disobeys or strays from his strict creed of work and austerity, lest the devil find a foothold to enter and corrupt them all. In the Colonia’s early days, more than a decade ago, he separated families so the bonds of spouses, parents and children would not overshadow the community’s ties. Now, he teaches that the Colonia Dignidad is a single family where children have dozens of “aunties” and “uncles” instead of parents, and women and men cannot even speak to one another lest temptations of the flesh dull their fervor for him. Meanwhile, it’s an open secret that he sexually abuses young boys regularly.

            By 2010, Grand Uncle is an old man rotting in prison, his cult improbably transformed into a Bavarian-style tourist destination. When Alyssa arrives to the site of the former cult to investigate her birth mother’s death there, she encounters Grand Uncle’s sinister influence in her grandfather, who still lives in the former Colonia and maintains his loyalty to Grand Uncle’s teachings. The grandfather denies participating in his own daughter’s murder, and Alyssa must knock down the former colony’s walls of secrecy, fear and lingering evil in order to secure justice for her mother before it’s too late.








Like ORPHAN TRAIN by Christina Baker Cline and BEFORE WE WERE YOURS by Lisa Wingate, this plot-driven novel toggles between past and present to shed light on a little-known past tragedy and solve a family mystery.


**Story-wise, these comps are ideal, but if they are too old, I am also considering the 2022 releases THE PROPHET’S WIFE and ON A NIGHT OF A THOUSAND STARS.**



"Raised in an abusive cult, a young woman defies the only world she knows to protect her unborn child. Decades later, her unmoored adult daughter returns for justice, confronting the family members who permitted her mother’s murder."



GRETA- Greta has longed for true connection for as long as she can remember, nurturing a forbidden friendship with her kind bunkmate, Sabine, and refusing to give up hope that Mutti will once again treat her as a daughter. When Greta falls for Franz, the first flickers of love contrast starkly with her isolated life in the Colonia, and she realizes just how small and cold their lives there are.

Greta longs for a real relationship – a family – with Franz. At the charitable hospital where she works as a nurse, she sees that in the outside world couples their age can marry and have children. She can’t understand why Grand Uncle bans such a thing. On her first trip outside the Colonia’s walls, she sees that the world out there is not dire, as the elders claim, and she dares to imagine a life there for herself and Franz. She’ll do anything in her power to get them both out of the Colonia and on a path to a life of family and love. When Franz refuses to cooperate (out of fear), Greta shifts her determination to creating such a life for her unborn child, desperate to keep the baby as far from Grand Uncle as possible even if it means giving her up for good.



Alyssa longs for true connection, especially now that her adoptive parents have passed away, leaving her feeling rootless and unmoored. She decides to search for her birth family, hoping that getting some answers about her past helps her to feel more settled in the present. The discovery that her mother’s bones were unearthed in a mass grave in Chile shocks her and creates a new conflict – How far will she go to reach the truth, and what if that truth is something she doesn’t want to face? Is attempting to make connections even worth it, if the price is confronting sinister secrets? Alyssa must confront her own fears, doubts about her worth, and the pesky voice in her ear that insists she’s not worthy of love if she is to discover who murdered her mother and secure justice for her and others.



GRETA -Greta is restricted in every way by the rules of the Colonia. She cannot bathe or urinate unobserved, cannot warm her arms under a blanket without being accused of touching herself inappropriately, cannot smile in friendship, cannot hug or show affection, and she certainly cannot speak her mind. Even when she is sent on official business outside of the Colonia, its rules and rule-enforcers stalk her.

            She is also in conflict with those she loves. Franz is as fed up with life inside the Colonia as she is, but he is too fearful to plan an escape. Sabine wants friendship too, but she is unwilling to accept how unjust and cruel the Colonia really is. Mutti believes she is doing right by enforcing the rules, yet her blind obedience feels like a betrayal. Vater is the gatekeeper who finally gives Greta a chance at an outside life, only to permit her undoing when she is forced to return.

            A major conflict is her childbirth experience, which leaves her at the brink of life and death and forces her doctor to return her to the Colonia hospital, where Grand Uncle eventually ends her life.


ALYSSA- The setting itself is Alyssa’s first major conflict. She travels to Chile and faces an uphill battle for understanding as she navigates an unfamiliar culture, attempts to contact people who may have known her mother and argues with the police over her role in the case they’ve been ‘working on’ for years. Shortly after she arrives in Chile, a major earthquake strikes, completely upending her budding investigation. She journeys to the heart of the earthquake zone anyway in order to uncover the truth about her mother, skirting the quake’s damage as best she can.

            Grand Uncle’s legacy is the second major conflict. Former residents of Colonia Dignidad are still fearful and do not speak openly of the past. Even worse are those who still believe Grand Uncle’s teachings. Greta discovers that her own grandfather was a perpetrator of crimes, among them his own daughter’s death, and yet he justifies his role in that and other atrocities, claiming that he and other leaders had their best interests at heart. If she’s going to secure justice for her mother and others, Alyssa must somehow persuade her grandfather that confessing the truth really will set him free.



1974: Nestled in the shadow of the Andes mountains, hours away from the bustle of Santiago, the Colonia Dignidad exists as a world apart. Tidy landscaping, bright flower beds and the gleam of rural life co-exist alongside thick concrete walls topped with barbed wire, which run for kilometres. The walls encircle a community of three hundred German immigrants who sailed here more than a decade ago following the promises of Grand Uncle, a charismatic spiritual leader who hears the voice of God and promises atonement for the sins of Hitler’s War to all those who devote themselves to him. The community’s quest for self-sufficiency led them to sacrifice freedom and family ties in favor of Grand Uncle’s vision. After relentless work, the community has a thriving farm, small factories, a bakery, charitable hospital, community school and even an airstrip. (Unbeknownst to most colonists, they also have secret torture chambers, a weapons cache, and sophisticated spy equipment used in support of Pinochet and his military government.)


2010: From bustling Santiago, Alyssa travels to the rural village of Parral, which is partly in ruins after a major earthquake damaged countless adobe homes and historic structures. She stays at the sprawling hacienda owned by the family who facilitated her adoption decades ago, but spends her days helping with rebuilding efforts and making inquries about her mother’s death. Her inquiries take her to several homes in Parral and also to the former Colonia Dignidad, now a tourist destination called Villa Baviera. Although rustically inviting on the surface, the Villa is still home to victims and perpetrators of cult violence, and it masks the lingering influence of Grand Uncle’s sinister teachings.



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Story Statement

Alessandro is a writer. However, he seems not to be able to finish any of his manuscripts. Instead, he works as a freelance ghostwriter for blogs and newspapers. On a night out with Andrea, his best friend, he stumbled upon Natalia and his everlasting first love Giulia, with whom he had only platonic love. After a night spent together, the four decided to embark on a journey across Italy, Spain, and Morocco. It is a story of glorious love, a disastrous one with the inner self, life, death. It is a journey to rediscovering an authentic self.

The Antagonist Plots the Point

The Antagonist of the story is Alessandro’s self-doubt, fueled by an antagonist relationship with his father, a loving, inspiring yet short relationship with his younger brother, and an unreached but hopeful love relationship with Giulia.

At every unfinished manuscript, Alessandro finds that his imposter syndrome made him doubt his characters, the ones he created. It seems like they were lying to him. And then the stories died in monotony and self-doubt. 

After every almost-finished novel, there was a period of an identity crisis, looking for answers. Those periods always lasted three stages. An “he is the victim" period was the worst. He felt like everything that happened to him was terrible, like he had some black eye magic cast on his aura. It was followed by a period of self-discovery, where latent passions reemerged among new ones. He would devour self-improvement and self-esteem books in this stage, only to forget about their newly acquired knowledge short after. And finally, the third stage was what he called "The New Life,”; full of promises of new beginnings, of new Septembers. Usually, he starts a new novel during this period, only to find himself to stage one, a few months along the road. 

Conjuring your breakout title

Unfinished Manuscripts

New Septembers

She saw me crying


Genre - Fiction/Romantic Novels

Colleen Hoover

Matt Haig

Primary Conflict

An aspiring writer searching for his inner self, navigating the childhood dramas of loss, death, and feeling of unworthiness while chasing the love of his life, who thought was missed forever, in a lifetime journey across four cities with four lifelong friends.

Other matters of conflict: two more levels

1st Level - Inner conflict.

Alessandro became a crowd-pleaser, afraid of confrontation and putting his works in the world. Primarily due to the toxic relationship with his father.

2nd Level - External Conflict

Every character develops and eventually finds the cathartic moment that resolves other issues, like the loss of job and security, the stigma around same-sex relationships, etc.

Defining the setting

The story takes place in various locations worldwide, from Verona to Seville, from Morocco to Los Angeles.

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THE GREATEST RACE!, Doc Spoon - Speculative, Alt-Historical Fiction

1st ASSIGNMENT: THE ACT OF THE STORY STATEMENT from The Greatest Race by Doc Spoon

Chance, the protagonist, must stop the Greatest Race from completing thereby preventing half the world’s population from being placed into indentured servitude to the other half along the black/white color line.


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.




5TH ASSIGNMENT: Hook or Log Line with Core Conflict

In the dystopian near future, a conflicted Black writer, hired by the Machiavellian organizer to chronicle the seven continent Greatest Race between the two greatest Black and white runners in history, secretly works to stop the race and prevent the indentured servitude of the Black or white losing half of the Earth’s population.




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 his 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 had 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 also conflicted by his being absent from his daughter’s life like his father was absent from his life even though his father lived around the corner from him as he was growing up—a fact he learned only upon the death of his father. He vowed to not be his “daddy’s son”. 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 has a presence in his daughter’s life and maintain custody. Is there a price tag 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.

AntarcticaAs 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.”


ChinaThe 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


A young-ish investment banker must resist the One Who Got Away in order to keep the life she worked so hard to achieve.


2.    Antagonist Plots the Point


Jake is N’s lover from the past. He abandoned her to follow his own dream of fame and success.  N is gutted and takes years to get over Jake, but finally does.  At N’s bachelorette party, she runs into Jake and ends up going down a whirlpool of what-ifs. Jake orchestrates a series of run-ins, in an attempt to woo back N and away from her perfect-on-paper fiancé.  


3.    Breakout Title


Off-white Lies

Love the Game


4.    Comparables


Love the One You’re With- Emily Giffin

Love and Other Words- Christina Lauren


5.    Hook Line


After running into the man who broke her, N begins to re-evaluate the life she so carefully built for herself.


6.    Other Matters of Conflict


Inner Conflict


N’s inner conflict primarily stems from not really knowing herself.  She has created the life she believes she should have including a much desired fiancé; but it is primarily based on safety and appearances.  It is comfortable.  When Jake reappears she is reminded of the passion they shared and it makes her reconsider if her relationship with Will is passionate enough and if loving each other is enough for a lifetime.




Secondary conflicts occur in N’s relationship with her father and her mother.  Her dad abandoned her and her mother when she was young- moving away and not sending for them.  He stayed peripherally involved but was not a source of love or affection.  N seeks to fill this void with the men she is with. In contrast, N’s mother was always there, but she is living her life vicariously through N, and wants to make sure N does not repeat the mistakes she made in her life.


7.    Setting


This novel takes place in Toronto, Canada with a brief sojourn to Southern California.  The setting is important because various (real) locations are used to show the relationship N has with her suitors. With W, she attends upscale restaurants, his family’s ancestral home, their posh investment banking office and his stark and modern condo. With J, she visits glitzy Beverly Hills residences, limo rides and glamorous locales.  Each provides insight into the kind of life she might have if she chooses that guy.  And neither is particularly similar to the place she feels most herself- her own cozy apartment.


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FIRST ASSIGNMENT: write your story statement. 


Just before the end of the world, a modern, witty God writes us to set the story straight on Jesus. He wasn’t his son, but with the urging of his ex-wife, the Holy Spirit, God came down, disguised as men, women, even a camel and the cross, to spy on Jesus. God follows along incognito on the impeccably researched accounts of the lesser-known Gnostic gospels, like the Gospel of Mary Magdalene, Jesus’ wife, and humorously fills us in on the back stories of prophets Jesus references like fiery Elijah and a frustrated Moses as Jesus spreads the message while his wife runs with him to get away from bad king Herod and the witchy queen. Before they can escape to Rome, their plans are betrayed in Jerusalem, but God has changed with witnessing Jesus’ real adventures. Will God choose Jesus to be the “true Messiah?” 


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. 


God, the satirical narrator, acts as a main antagonist. His ex-wife, the Holy Spirit, has suitably picked a messiah for the world, she just needs God’s ok, but he’s reluctant. God spies on Jesus’ struggles (often taken from gnostic and lost gospels) and changes to be more present and loving with Jesus’ message and his ex’s counsel. 


(Another antagonist is Herodias, the bad king’s wife, who ordered Jesus’ mentor, John the Baptist’s, head off and wants Jesus crucified before he escapes again with Mary Magdalene.) 


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




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


71K word complete SATIRE comedy/historical fiction inspired by a scholarly 1960 article describing Jesus being chased around and out of the kingdom of Galilee as a rabblerouser.  


For fans of the satires Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff by Christopher Moore and Tom Robbins’ Another Roadside Attraction 


Though not a satire, Sue Monk Kidd’s Book of Longings, has the narrator marrying Jesus in a beautifully detailed historical fiction. 


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. 


Jesus is “just a guy” but takes on the clothes of the world’s Messiah a little too impulsively as he communicates with God’s ex, the Holy Spirit of Wisdom, Asherah, who is giving him power and the gift of prophecy. Jesus’ odyssey through the gnostic accounts parallels the familiar story with surprising twists and characters as Jesus contends with Mary Magdalene (his wife) his own brothers (also apostles) who know he’s a bit crazy, the bad king (and his ambitious, murderous wife, Herodias) and the high priest family cartel in Jerusalem. 


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. 


Jesus suffers from anxiety, panic attacks, and agoraphobia while continuing the mission his mentor, John the Baptist, started him on, traversing Israel on the run with his wife, brothers, and other disciples, some of who don’t trust his sanity, seduce, and betray him. 


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


The Jesus story takes place entirely in the ancient world of first century Roman Palestine which is exotic enough and highly detailed, but this narrative follows the Gnostic accounts and lost gospels, presents rare scholarly theories of the historicity and even leads to new ones, all while God impresses the odyssey with humorously recounting the prophets before Jesus. Finally, the story brings in a divine plane with God and his ex-wife, the Holy Spirit, as they glide between the physical and spiritual realm presenting themselves as passersby, kindly animals, and even the cross. 


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