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New York Pitch Assignments - June 2022

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Introduction to Pre-event Assignments 


New York Pitch

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

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

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

Michael Neff

Algonkian Conference Director 


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


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

att.jpg FIRST ASSIGNMENT: write your story statement. 




Antagonist (Photo Javert from "Les Misérables")

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


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


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



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




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

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


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


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





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

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


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


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


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

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





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


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


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


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

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


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

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





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


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

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





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


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



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


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

We have reviewed these and agree 110%.



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



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



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



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


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

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

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FIRST ASSIGNMENT: write your story statement. 

Defy everything she knows to help a stranger find a missing parent.

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.

There are two, an antagonist and an antagonistic force. The antagonist is Bonnie’s parents, nationwide renowned geneticists. Their goal is to become the leaders in science and invent new methods to treat diseases on a genetic level. They have forgone much in their lives to dedicate that dream into a reality, i.e neglecting their parental duties to their daughter and leaving her to be raised by her grandparents.

The antagonistic force is the US government. For Tom, turning eighteen doesn’t mean the time to become an adult, it means that he is the next body ready to be sent overseas. The weight of the upcoming draft forces Tom to feel the pressure to find his missing father before that time comes. If he isn’t there to ensure someone looks for him, then who will? Another force for Tom is Social Services. If they discover that he is all on his own now that his father is missing, they will force Tom to go into foster care, forcing him to be unable to oversee their family mechanic shop and be free to look for his missing father.


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

Do Me a Solid

What Dreams Are Made Of


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

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

Comparable one: Burn Baby Burn by Meg Medina. It’s set during the 1970’s and has the main character face both an antagonist and antagonistic force (family troubles and a serial killer).

Comparable two: A Study in Charlotte by Brittany Cavallaro. This story is comparable as it is centered around two teenagers banding together to uncover a mystery that threatens their personal lives.


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

When a teenage boy’s bereaved father disappears, he seeks help from a teenage girl who may have witnessed his disappearance, until he is found -hopefully alive- the teenage girl must decide if she can betray her own family in order to save someone else’s.


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.

After meeting a hopeless stranger, a teenage girl must decide if she can dig deeper into the mysterious workings her scientific parents’ conduct in order to save a life.

Vice versa, can a teenage boy entrust the help from a stranger to help find his missing father.

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

The secondary conflict is Bonnie’s relationship with her parents. Feeling neglected by them for years, her loyalty wavers. Her turmoil is stuck between sticking by her parent’s side for the sake of blood or acting on her deep ceded trauma by investigating their life’s work.


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 story is set in Santa Cruz California in Spring 1970. There were a lot of events going on around during that time that shapes/influences the story. We have the Vietnam war that is a constant worry on Tom’s mind as he is nearing his eighteenth birthday, he very much is opposed to being drafted into the war. The outrage of this war has also helped Bonnie find her passion, voice, and her stance in the world with the protests. There is also the outside threat of the Cold War with the Soviet Union, which is a constant lingering fear among Americans. During this time in CA, we also see the emergence and the rise of the Zodiac, the notorious (and still not captured) serial killer who instilled fear in the Bay Area for years, causing the younger generation of Californians to live in fear and panic.

While there is the constant worry of war and violence, we also see some effects of the events in the 60s that brought on hope and a new life path for the next generation. Kids and teenagers have become more freedom fighters and see the rise of individualism, not following the path of life that is enforced by their parents. Of course, there were events like Woodstock that brought on the hippies and the culture of tie-dye, pot, and “chill out dude”, but there was also the rise of women finding their own paths in life, for those who seek a career and not wanting to have to succumb to the domestic lifestyle. This new rise allows the MC Bonnie to think that there is a fighting possibility that she can form her own path in life and not succumb to the typical fifties housewife ideology that still tries so hard to be forced upon all the other young women in her generation. This individualism ideology also allows Tom to seek out a future that’s not within his socioeconomic background; pursue his family dream of him being the first of his family to go to college and get a higher education.



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1.     Write Your Story Statement

A young woman tries to evade a murder investigation.


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

Detective Santiago is an intrepid private investigator who always catches his man. He’s a hotshot from New York called to a small town to investigate a series of murders. But one doesn’t fit the mold. And he wonders whether it’s a copycat out of control or the real deal. When he acquires a pair of muddy boots potentially linking the protagonist Kat to the murders, she has to outwit and outplay him to survive. 


3.     Break Out Title

 Look What You Made Me Do



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



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

Kat is a young woman traumatized by a recent rape who takes back her power by killing the man responsible 7-years later after the events and gets herself embroiled in a murder investigation. She struggles to evade police. But once Detective Santiago finds proof potentially linking her to a series of murders, she must regain or destroy the evidence by any means. 

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


Kat feels guilty for Mahkai’s arrest. She also feels guilty about killing the man who raped her. Plus the trauma of reliving the event stresses her. So her inner turmoil comes from the great gilt, regret and fear she struggles with. That and the fear of getting caught for the murder twists her inner world into a storm of anxiety and regret. 


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

1.    Kat’s cabin

The cabin is a large wooden structure with a wrap around pourch. It is remote and surrounded by trees and large stones.

This is the central hub of all her decissons. The place where she chooses what actions to take for the plot to move forward. It’s where we see her and Mahkai, someone she’s roped into her madness, break up and make up and ultimately work together to save Kat. 

2.    The sheriff station

Teh sherif station is compossed of cedar wood and has an over wet foundation that sinks a bit more evey year. The lot is gravel and dirt.

This is the central hub ofr Murdock and Washington to show their levity and plan their pipe dream careers of becoming crack detectives. 

3.    Santiago’s hotel room

It is a lodge resort type room in a small town where he's been hold up for months investigating a series of murders. It's wooden and square and large for what it is. 

A brief showing of the man after the killer. We see his things. We hear his phone calls to his forensic psychologist. We ger some action for a plot point.

4.    The abandon cabin in the woods

This cabin has a whole in the wall preventing it from staying warm. There is snow on the floor and a draft. It is delapidated.

This is where Kat falls back to. Where she has the mudy boots delivered. Where she kills the sheriff by mistake. It is spooky and offers a chance for some creepy thrill. 

5.    The wood burial sight 

Tall trees, a grove, large rocks, and mud.

This is ground zero. Where the plot picks up and where we meet Santiago for the first time. It’s revisited and revealing of intent and the evidence that take Detective Santiago on a wild goose chase to find a serial killer who isn’t responsible for this crime. 




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FIRST ASSIGNMENT: write your story statement. 

Determine who the clone is and who created it. 


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.

Antagonist:  On the surface it appears there are three: 

  • King Ade detests Prince Taj constantly questioning his methods and wishes his son were more like him.  Does creating a clone provide him the “perfect” son?
  • Behind his jovial nature, Duke Bernard harbors the belief that no one “royal family” should rule.  Is creating a clone and setting up Ade his way of proving it?
  • Captain Cillian believes in strict adherence to holy laws and order as the kingdom’s spiritual advisor and head of military.  By revealing a clone exists, can he prove Ade is morally corrupt and unfit to rule? 

Despite appearances, Duchess Fatima is the true antagonist. Annoyed at always being overshadowed by older brother King Ade, she plots to overthrow him.  Utilizing the fact that everyone underestimates her (education, skills, and abilities as the younger sister), in conjunction with her hidden talent of manipulation, she misdirects everyone into thinking the antagonists are Ade, Bernard, and Cillian.    

Antagonist Force:  The environment also acts as a large antagonist force.  The constant threat of discovery in Paradise, coupled with the fantastical yet deadly terrain and creatures in the Badlands, all provide obstacles to prevent Taj from finding the truth.       


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

  • The Amnesiac Prince
  • The Mystery of the Secret Clone


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?

Comparable One:  Amari and The Night Brothers by B. B. Alston.  Both protagonists must quickly learn about themselves and their abilities after being thrust into a new and fantastical world filled with people and creatures determined to destroy them.   

Comparable Two:  An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir.  Both protagonists reluctantly agree to a deadly secret mission in order to save their people.  Both feel alone and conflicted as they struggle to find answers, while surrounded by people they’re not sure they can trust. 


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

A teenager awakens with amnesia and an illegal clone, forcing him to explore a dangerous land with two strangers to uncover who is responsible--before he’s banished from his kingdom.


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.

Suffering from a mysterious case of amnesia, a teenage boy must determine if he is a clone or the real prince and why.  He forges forward trying to solve a deadly puzzle knowing that he’s missing vital pieces. 

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?

With secrecy paramount and most of his family as suspects, Taj is unsure of what to do and who to trust.  The turmoil makes him question himself, everything, and everyone---including his two traveling companions, little sister Amira and best friend Wan Ko.   


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? 

Setting is key in this story as the environment acts as a large antagonist force. 

The Kingdom of Paradise:  A literal seaside paradise with a white marble palace nestled in the mountain foothills and a protective dome emanating from the Statue of Yah-lah in the city center.  Although idyllic and peaceful on the surface, Taj cannot relax his guard here.  Amidst the bustling colorful streets, shops and 1- to 3-story buildings, everyone knows who he is.  The constant threat of discovery of two Prince Tajs in Paradise, would lead to immediate arrest and banishment.    

Woodlands:  A large national park-like area west of the city center, where people camp or enjoy time away.  It’s the last place the trio feels safe before they embark on their quest outside the kingdom. 

Forbidden Forest:  A dark, gloomy forest on the outskirts of the Woodlands.  It’s here that the trio illegally leaves the crackling protective dome surrounding their kingdom and emerges into the Badlands. 

Badlands:  The desolate, canyon-strewn wasteland that they incorrectly believe comprises all the areas outside of the protective dome of Paradise.  When they finally make it to the Outpost, an old Western styled town a few hours hike away from Paradise, they discover just how wrong they are.  In reality, the Badlands includes all of the following locations below within its broadly defined borders. 

Cyclonic Desert: A golden-grained, mostly flat desert known for its sudden and intense sandstorms that disorient travelers and their navigation, ultimately leading them back to the Outpost.

Meadows:  Beautiful green hills spotted with wildflowers and trees.  Although they never see it, it’s also home to a secret village, but they do meet some of its occupants, a murderous gang known as the Hillside Seven.

Dead Lakes:  Area consists of three large lakes.  The first two are blue, serene, and teeming with wildlife.  The last lake has murky brownish-green water and a deadly creature lurking below the surface.

Sleeping Sands:  Fine pink sand dunes appear disarmingly inviting, until they wind up captured in the cramped limestone caves hidden beneath.   

Swamps:  More boggy than swampy, these muddy fingers of land house the mysterious Professor as well as many snakes, spiders, and alligators hidden amongst its thick jungle of mangrove trees and marshes. 

Palace:  Final showdown happens in the elegant but homey palace.  Settings include: the hallways (white and black marble floors with arched ceilings), Taj’s bedroom (large four-poster bed, desk, wall of windows with a balcony that overlooks the kingdom, and attached bathroom), and the Great Hall (large banquet area with warm wooden floors, the king and queen’s thrones, and a wall of windows overlooking the promenade filled with spectators).    


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FIRST ASSIGNMENT: write your story statement. In other words, what's the mission of your protagonist? The goal? What must be done?

Judy must find herself as an adopted Korean woman, and not fall into the patterns of her dysfunctional childhood.  She initially needs a job after college and then find her career to take care of herself and not be dependent on a philandering man like her mother.


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 antagonists are Judy’s adopted mother: an, alcoholic mother.  Both parents were distant during her childhood.  Because of that, the antagonistic force is herself.  She doesn’t believe that she is good enough to deserve real love and smart enough as those around her at the firm.


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?

Two comps would be a hybrid of The Devil Wears Prada, in which a young woman is hired and struggles to work in a glamorous, demanding firm and Crying in H Mart, where a young Korean woman who is lost eventually discovers more about herself along a journey of loss.  


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


When an adopted Korean girl gets a job at as receptionist at a hedge fund, her ideas of love and being loved are challenged, after a visit from her past.


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. 

At 23, Judy doesn’t feel loved by her adopted parents and never did.  This creates inner turmoil as she still is struggling to find her path in life and always feeling like she isn’t good enough despite being placed in a driven, successful environment of millionaires (a sharp contrast to her rural childhood).  After finally feeling settled in her job and forging real adult friendships for the first time in her life and lying that her adopted parents died in a car accident many years ago (it was better than dealing with her parents abandoning her since high school), her alcoholic, bordering on welfare, divorced mother drops in after five years of no visits and soon realizes that Judy never wants to become dependent like her past.       


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?

A young, successful trader purses her at work and takes her on swoony dates.  She is reluctant, despite his genuine feelings, refuses to accept love.  She doesn’t know if she will ever be good enough to receive it and she wants to prove to herself that she can make it on her own.


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?


Chicago: Downtown skyline, sleek, sexy firm office in the loop, restaurants in and near the Gold Coast, Joffrey Ballet, Peninsula hotel 

Paris:  A whirlwind, young lovers’ trip throughout the city, scenes similar to Emily in Paris. 

New York:  Reunion in the East Village after a year apart

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1) Story statement

When her 9-year-old son is nearly abducted by a predatory male the child believes might be his absent father, resolutely single mum Jen realises that she must find a face to put to the name so her son stops wondering.


2) Antagonistic force

Max Henderson is a prominent politician who's chiefly interested in furthering his own career. Married with three boys, he's a serial cheat but works hard to maintain a public image of the perfect family man. He's charming, he has swagger and, unfortunately, he's the only man who's ever set protagonist Jen's soul on fire. During a short affair with Jen nine years ago, Max got Jen pregnant but wouldn't stand by her for fear of a public backlash. Now split from his wife, Max reappears in Jen's life to offer her everything she thinks she's ever wanted - at exactly the wrong time.


3) Breakout titles

The Stand-In

Project Rent-A-Dad

Color Him Dad


4) Comparables

Never Fall For Your Fiancee by Virginia Health: A British man hires a fake fiancee to get his matchmaking mother off his back. Also set in the UK with comparable real estate as the setting.

The Dating Plan by Sara Desai: This explores similar themes, covering a fake engagement, first love, second chances and how far you'd go to keep your family happy.

The Grown-Ups by Marian Keyes: This is also a tender story about people just trying to do their best, and a reminder that even adults don't always have the right answers. Messy but heart-warming family drama. 

And Now You're Back by Jill Mansell: The life of a happy character is turned upside down when an old flame returns and old secrets come to light. A heart-warming and emotionally intelligent romance about how things rarely work out the way you think you want them to.


5) Logline

With her young son desperate for a father figure and no-one to offer him, resolutely single mum Jen asks an acquaintance to pretend he's the dad. But, when the boy's real father unexpectedly re-enters her life, Jen is forced to admit the truth and give up everything she's growing to love.


6) Inner conflict and secondary conflict:

a) Primary conflict: Jen is perfectly happy as a single mum to nine-year-old Ollie and feels no need to find a partner just for the sake of it. Ollie's real father, Max Henderson, is out of the picture - when Jen decided to have Ollie, she vowed she would never burden him with news of a child he was adamant he didn't want.

But now Ollie is nine, he's realised that he has to have a biological father somewhere and is desperate to know who it is. Jen's friend suggests that she hire someone to play the part - just an actor or a man who can meet Ollie, say he's his dad, then disappear back to his job 'overseas' - but Jen refuses. She's an honest person and the idea goes against all her values.

However, when Ollie is nearly abducted after thinking that a predatory male hanging around the school grounds might be his father come to see him, his need to put a face to a name reaches crisis point and Jen, convinced that Max Henderson is out of her life forever, is forced to consider her friend's crazy idea.

b) Secondary conflict: Ollie's father, Max Henderson, is the local MP for Jen's parents. Jen's mum idolises him. When he reappears in Jen's life, wanting to get back together with her, Jen is forced to admit to her mum that he's Ollie' real father, and her mum - thrilled at the thought - advises her to get back together with him rather than chase her fledgling feelings for the less suitable man she's hired as a stand-in. Jen's core wound is that she never feels she's good enough for her prim and proper mother, so she's pushed towards making a bad decision for all the wrong reasons.


7) Setting

The setting is a fictional semi-rural spa town in south-west England, loosely based on Cheltenham. Beautiful Regency architecture, sandstone villas behind high hedges, quirky cafes, independent shops and businesses, quaint pubs, tree-lined streets, a big town square where festivals take place, including a vibrant food festival where Jen visits a clairvoyant - and several boutique hotels that are perfect for clandestine affairs.

Jen herself lives in an apartment in the old stables of a grand old house which, has been converted into smaller units for communal living centred around an edible garden. In contrast, Jen's parents live in one of the big, aspirational Regency villas that line the town square.

At the mid point of the story, Jen attends a wedding in an old country house hotel deep in the heart of the Cotswolds. With sunken ornamental gardens, a maze and a carp pond that reflects the autumn Moon, this is a dreamy setting for the first spark of romance that Jen feels for the stand-in dad.

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A)    The Act of a Story Statement

An idealistic medical resident agonizes over mounting pressure to pursue a career of medical research instead of his passion to care for the underserved. His career is further jeopardized when he becomes the suspect in a seemingly impossible murder. While racing to solve the murder, he is forced to navigate many unanticipated land mines, only to find out that nothing in his life is what it appears to be. 

B)    The Antagonist Plots the Point

Dr. T. Mallory Campbell (“Malady”) is the chief of medicine the at John Hopkins Hospital.  With his rimless glasses, bow tie and over starched lab coat he is the very model of an academic physician. He is the sole arbiter of success for the legions of residents that work for him.  They simultaneously live in awe and in fear of this larger-than-life man. Malady is a gifted clinician, world renown scientist and a ruthless political infighter. For him, medical research is the coin of the realm. He has no use for anyone who does not follow this path. Despite this noble patina, Malady has a darker side. His “wandering eye” for attractive women ultimately leads to his demise.

C)    Conjuring a Breakout Title

“Death Beneath the Dome”- This title was selected because it refers to the iconic domed main building of the Johns Hopkins Hospital and juxtaposes the concept of “Death” alongside this symbol of healing.

“The Malady Project” – This was an alternative title that was ultimately rejected as too ambiguous.  The Malady Project was as assignment given to Hank by Dr. Campbell that facilitates solving the murder.

D)    Deciding Your Genre and Approaching Comparables

Death Beneath the Dome involves a series of murders that take place in and around an academic medical center. The main characters are members of a medical community, and the storyline line deals with disease and various medications. As such, a medical murder mystery seems to be the best genre for classification.

Robin Cooke would be the most comparable author or quite possibly Michael Crichton. While nowhere as accomplished as these authors, I am also physician who incorporates and translates complex medical topics in a manner that is both understandable and compelling. I then build on their fascination with medicine to draw the reader into a web of murder, deception, betrayal and ultimately redemption for the protagonist.  An alternative, less recognized comparable author might be Michael Palmer.

E)    Core Wound and the Primary Conflict 

An idealistic medical resident is torn between following the footsteps of his father in the “family business” of medical research and his inner desire to care for the underprivileged community of East Baltimore.

F)     Other Matters of Conflict

A newly minted medical resident at the famed Johns Hopkins Hospital, Dr. Hank Baldwin seemed to have it all. This scion of a family famed medical researchers has been blessed with brains, brawn and a beautiful girlfriend.  This suddenly changes when he becomes suspect in a seemingly impossible murder. Faced with public humiliation, professional ruin and quite possibly prison, he begins to search for answers at this iconic symbol of academic medicine.

Dr. Hank Baldwin’s primary internal conflict is driven by his success in saving the life of an indigent patient. It is further fueled by his passionate romance with a colleague who regularly encourages him to chart his own career course.  The protagonist’s secondary external conflict is fueled by the chairman of medicine who not only pressures Hank to pursue medical research but threatens him with professional ruin after uncovering a dirty secret.  

Protagonist conflict abounds, both internally and externally and is advanced by Hank’s overbearing parents, his insatiable love interest, a social circle of other residents competing for cherished career placement, the fearsome chief of medicine and a crusty inner-city detective.

G)    The Incredible Importance of Setting

The story takes place in East Baltimore, circa 1990. The iconic dome of the Johns Hopkins Hospital looms in sharp contrast to the sea of urban blight that surrounds it. Scenes alternate between the depictions of hardship facing the East Baltimore community and those of the privileges enjoyed by the medical community. The story also gives the reader an insider’s view of an academic medical center; the emergency room, autopsy room, regal office suites with a sense of realize that few every experience.    


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Preface: I will be focusing on To Know That the Sun Is There, the character driven mystery, but I have the others available.


Assignment 1: Story Statement

Girl Unbound

They must break Cuchulainn’s centuries old hidden curse and free Tabitha and the coven.

To Know That the Sun Is There

She must catch the serial kidnapper and prove her dog research is viable.

Sky Woman

They must unravel their mother’s past to break free of it.


Assignment 2: The Antagonists/Antagonistic Forces


Girl Unbound

Cuchulainn is a powerful witch siphoning off magic from a captive coven in Wales to prolong his life and profit from selling their magic energy. In this generation he poses as Mr. Owens, beloved science teacher of one of the protagonists. He chooses the most vulnerable witches in the coven to bind into his parasitic curse. He also uses witches as fodder for his plans, dealing with them as he sees fit to further his own evil ambitions. For instance, he enchants Tobias’s mother to make her appear a stroke victim in order to assure her silence about his plot.

Tallulah Shahrani, deeply in love with Cuchulainn/Mr. Owens, is willing to bear a child by a man she doesn’t love, murder that man, and then poison that child to make her disability seem worse than it is in order to bind her magic and perpetuate the curse. She does this all for want of Cuchulainn’s attention.

To Know That the Sun Is There

The actual perpetrator in the book is the postmistress, Mrs. Smith. She is driven to abduct children because her own daughter had been kidnapped and murdered. The Royal Conservatory of Canines had been on search and rescue duty then, but unfortunately did not find the Smith girl in time. Mrs. Smith, in her grief, sought to blame the Conservatory, who she views as charlatans. In her mind, exposing them as frauds is saving other grief-stricken mothers from wasting precious time in similar situations.

She enlists the help of her twin sons in her plotting. TJ is a former SAS operative and has all the skills to evade CCTV and capture. He is an interesting mix of diligent skill to not be caught, but also hubris in his cleverly laid literary notes as clues. He serves as a guiding force, leveling out Mrs. Smith’s derangement.

Natty’s own dark past, however, it the real antagonistic force. When Colonel Harrison shows up and presents a few tantalizing similarities to the case, Natty is sorely drawn to implicate her. The trauma she suffered under Colonel Harrison during her active-duty days not only haunts her but threatens to overwhelm her brilliant analytic capabilities with bias.

Sky Woman

Sky Woman is a layered story with the overall villain, Skyman, pulling strings on Earth/Middleworld to manipulate what happens to Skywoman’s twins. He is the embodiment of the abuser, having cast Skywoman down to Middleworld in a jealous rage. Now he seeks to keep her isolated upon her return to Skyworld.

Skyman manifests through Daniel Vasiliev, Senator hopeful and abusive boyfriend of Freya Laveque. He pursues her as she embarks on her journey across the States, sending threats and trying to abduct her. He seeks to bring her back under his control by any means necessary.

Ivan Vasiliev, drug mafioso and Daniel’s uncle, is another antagonist and iteration of Skyman’s manifestation. We find out that he is the real father of the twins, having raped Lana when she was back in Cay’s Harbor.

Nathan Blackwolf is another antagonistic force. Corrupt cop, and drug smuggler, the town of Cay’s Harbor is loathe to forget the trouble he, and by association, Lana, brought into their haven. Though Lana ensures his end at the beginning of the story, his legacy floats over the twins’, and especially Jimmy’s head.


Assignment 3: Breakout Titles

Girl Unbound

            Other options: Break, You Cannot Hold Me

To Know That the Sun Is There

            Other options: The Faith of Dogs, The Things Dogs Tell Us

I’m pretty happy with To Know That the Sun Is There as it is a reference to Dostoevsky, which Woods reads to Natty when she’s in the hospital and it speaks of resilience.

Sky Woman

            Other Options: Fall to Earth, The Things That Catch Us


Assignment 4: Comparables

Girl Unbound

            A Heart So Fierce and Lonely by Brigid Kemmerer is comparable to Girl Unbound in that the fantasies both have strong, neurodiverse female protagonists.

            Paula Brackston’s Silver Witch is another comparable, but instead of adult, YA. Both go back in time to see a Pictish crannog as part of unraveling the plot. The feeling and setting are very similar.

To Know That the Sun Is There

            Susan Conant’s dog mysteries, only character driven and set in Oxford.

            The Bookish Life of Nina Hill but with a mystery tied in and dealing with PTSD instead of an anxiety disorder.

Sky Woman

            The cultural magical realism of Sky Woman is similar to The Water Dancer by Ta-nehisi Coates, in that it portrays cultural elements in an otherworldly way. But it also has a focus on resilience and tenderness in the vein of Catherine Hyde’s Take Me With You.


Assignment 5: Log Lines

Girl Unbound

Determined to break free of a binding curse, Tabitha enlists the help of nerdly Saoirse to battle an evil centuries old in the isolated moors of Wales.

To Know That the Sun Is There

Natty Rivers has faced daunting trials, but none so formidable as explaining to her doctoral defense board how she suffered a gunshot wound and heroically saved lives during “routine” research in the United Kingdom.


Sky Woman

Through postmortem discovery journeys, Skywoman helps her shaken twins still in Middleworld overcome the meddling rath of Skyman through the healing power of dogs and family.


Assignment 6: Other Matters of Conflict

Girl Unbound

Girl Unbound is dual POV.

Focusing on Tabitha first—She is frustrated to the max with having her magic bound. Her heart is breaking watching her familiar age because of it. And she seethes with hatred toward her mother who purposely poisons her so that her autism seems worse than it is and makes the coven think she needs her magic bound. She is also nettled by her cousin, Tobias, who has freedom not only from the dictatorial coven but his magic is not only intact but thriving.

Saoirse is fraught with imposter syndrome as her magic is haywire. It doesn’t help her familiar finally emerges as a dog, which is unheard of. The only thing she’s good at is timewalking, a trait she shared with her late father. Wanderlust is deep seated in her soul and she wants to break free of the oppressive isolation of the coven to study what she’s good at—history—in a place where she would be away from their rules (Oxford ideally but anywhere she could get away to study really).

A scene that could combine these elements might be a fight between Tabitha and Saoirse in which Tabitha (through writing because she’s nonverbal) tells Saoirse she’s an idiot for getting involved with Tobias. Saoirse, of course, wouldn’t listen because Tobias is from the Outside and his mysteriousness is too seductive for her to resist. Tabitha could break down at Saoirse and point out that she may well be able to escape one day into her books and the Outside, but she, Tabitha, will remain bound in the coven forever if they do not break the curse. She could point out that Tobias is a risk to all of this. His meddling is only going to attract coven eyes. Saoirse can’t get caught associating with him.

This will leave both girls seething, of course, Saoirse because she’s being told to go contrary to her wishes and Tabitha because she is secretly pissed Tobias has anything to do with their plotting.

To Know That the Sun Is There

Natty is plagued by PTSD from her assaults while she was on active duty. She is a brilliant mind and a sensitive soul, which makes the world hard for her to navigate. But she’s trying to start over with her new life as a PhD student studying cutting edge research applications of dogs in law enforcement. There are several scenes already in the manuscript that highlight her struggles.

One is where she pipes up because she sees a pattern in the case being discussed by several of the detectives and police officers at the Oxdale Police Department where she was able to secure a partnership to do research for her dissertation. Despite great misgivings about attracting attention to herself, she steps up and shows the pattern to the onlooking PD. It attracts the ire of a toxic masculine type who also has a beef with her thinking she’s a dog expert, as he’s a K-9 handler. She has to stand up for herself despite her insides screaming to run away.

Another is where she has a fight with the love interest, DS Stewart Woods. He was trying to help her, but she is overwhelmed by insecurity and lashes out at him. She pushes him away because her trauma tells her to do so, not her heart.

And yet another is when a figure from her traumatic past emerges, a Colonel Jillian Harrison, who exacted retribution on Natty when she was the victim of an assault during her active duty service. Natty desperately wants to pin the kidnappings on her and even comes up with some plausible connections. Deep down, her analytic self knows she’s biased. But she has to struggle, lash out at Woods, and work her way through her trauma to rid her mind of the bias.

Because the manuscript is character driven, it’s rife with scenes of her past and how it influences her today.

Maybe if I were to create a new scene, I could have Natty discussing something with her uncle and have her assert something like he doesn’t know what she’s been through. And he could tell her he wasn’t exactly in her situation but everyone has their battles. Then he could tell her about how he felt with Natty’s parents died. Or perhaps tell her about a case he failed on. Tell her how the effects of it still rattle him and how he has to work to handle them, even now.


Sky Woman

Jimmy is dealing with PTSD from his military service and his work as a cop. On top of that, one of his best friends from the Army committed suicide and his cheating spouse left his retired K-9, Jax, to Jimmy. He has older brother syndrome to boot because they grew up without a father, so he had always been responsible for his twin sister and his mother. Freya’s abusive situation is one he spots immediately and it both enrages him and makes him feel guilty for not keeping up with her in the last few years.

Freya struggles with self esteem both from her abusive relationship with Daniel, but also because she absorbed wholeheartedly some of the more toxic behaviors of the “in-crowd” in NYC where she works as a social influencer. She has trouble setting boundaries and struggles from battered woman syndrome. She wants more than anything at the beginning of the story for her crowd of so-called friends back in NY not to know about what she has learned to think of as her “trashy” upbringing in Zephyrhills, FL.

Lana, aka Skywoman, dealt with abuse both in her Middleworld and her Skyworld lives. Her husband was a corrupt cop, and she was raped by a Russian mob boss. The very reason she has had her iterations of life on Middleworld is because Skyman threw her in a jealous rage through a hole in Skyworld to the abyss below. Lana, however, reacts quite differently to abuse than Freya. She literally lights her past on fire and flees. It isn’t until her passing and her return to Skyworld that she has to contend with the complications of her past.

A scene with all of them together would have to be a flashback from when Lana was still living. Perhaps before Jimmy leaves for the military and Freya for NYC when they are still teenagers growing up in Skydive City in Zephyrhills, Florida. Maybe Freya tries experimenting with pot and when Jimmy finds out, he erupts. Lana hears the argument and lands on Jimmy instead of Freya. Jimmy, feeling responsible for his sister but too immature really to bear that wait, reacts with an abundance of anger for her carelessness. Freya is miffed because she has an overwhelming urge to fit in and her brother is jeopardizing that, so she sees she has to distance herself from her family in order to “make it” in her mind. Lana would be less concerned with Freya’s dabbling and more so with Jimmy’s temper. It would remind her of her husband’s temper, which ultimately led her to do away with him. She can’t do the same with Jimmy obviously and the reemergence of this character trait would start Lana thinking she needs to figure out how to guide Jimmy better.


Assignment 7: Setting

Girl Unbound

Girl Unbound is set in the harsh, windy moors of Wales. Specifically, it is set in the magical village on Kilcullen Hollows where the Irish Tuath De Danann witches immigrated centuries before to set up their isolated stronghold. Kilcullen Hollows is the quintessential stone-and-ivy English village but far away from prying eyes. The gardens have an affinity for their witches seen both in the contented sighing of the Groves family garden and the angry neglect of the Shahrani garden. The Galbreaith Academy, the coven’s school, is also unique. It changes its façade everyday. One day it might be a 13th century castle. The next a Bahamian plantation. It starts to deteriorate as the plot goes on, becoming more and more decrepit and sterile as the magic is sucked out of Kilchullen Hollows. At one point I even had the school set as the institutional brick block that I went to secondary school in! The school, like the gardens, is imbued with a certain magical guardianship, perhaps by the school’s enigmatic namesake. This magical heritage manifests itself in the library whose ropes elevate scholars to whatever books they seek, and the passages which, even though they change every day, still remain navigable to the students and faculty.

There is the creepy Council House as well, rife with booby traps and ghosts who did not escape those traps. One scene takes Saoirse and Tobias back to the coven’s Pictish roots and they get to explore the inner workings of a crannog, and watch the coven plot against the Romans.


To Know That the Sun Is There

The setting in this book is essentially Oxford with all its grandeur. There are scenes at the world renowned Bodleian library and Ashmolean Museum, as well as other quintessential Oxford experiences such as punting or grabbing pints at the Trout Inn. The setting serves to draw in those of us who are literary nerds into the world of The Inklings which serves to highlight the literary nature in the mystery. But it also has a dual effect. Natty is American. She has to navigate the haute grandeur of one of the oldest, most distinguished universities in the world. It would be a challenge for anyone, but especially to a discerning, sensitive soul like Natty. The snubs do not go unnoticed.

The university is called Oxdale instead of Oxford for one purpose—I needed it to be slightly more rural than the real Oxford. So, I plopped Snowdonia National Park (called Scaledonia National Park in the book) next to it. There is a wilderness rescue scene that is a pivotal bonding moment between Woods and Natty that happens when they go in search of a missing child in the wilderness together. The Royal Canine Conservatory is housed at a countryside manor with the room for the horses and dogs they use, and Natty herself, to breathe.


Sky Woman

Sky Woman goes through several settings. Sky World is depicted in the book as well as Skydive City in Zephyrhills, Florida, where the twins grow up. Jimmy goes on to Cay’s Harbor, a small reservation offshoot town in Canada where he goes presumably to set his mother’s estate, which he didn’t know about until now, in order. She has a small cabin on the lake there that needs to be renovated to sell. Through this endeavor Jimmy is introduced to the small town which had aspirations of becoming a tourist destination but fell short. It is in this setting that he is finally introduced to a heritage he did not know he had. One of the scenes brings him to the town’s cultural museum, and another to the annual strawberry festival at the longhouse. Cay’s Harbor was founded as a refuge for Kanienke (Mohawk) tribal members wanting a fresh start away from the woes plaguing Akwesasne. Both Jimmy and the setting feel isolated. It is here he learns of the trouble his corrupt cop of a father brought with him to Cay’s Harbor and feels the skepticism of the community that he might be the same. Therefore, Cay’s Harbor isn’t the welcoming small town. Instead, it is more complex. Ramshackle, but still together. Isolated but still alive and humming. Wounded, but trying to heal. Often the setting reflects the conflict and this is the case here as well.

Freya’s journey is across the country in her mother’s RV full to the brim with hilarious, “derpy” rescue dogs. She takes them to all the iconic spots along the way in order to share them on social media and get them adopted. They go to Café du Monde in New Orleans, and the Grand Canyon. The rising action takes Freya and her new friends to the bottom of the Grand Canyon into the Havasupai reservation and the famous Havasu Falls area. Her journey out west shows a stark juxtaposition to her former life back in NYC. Ultimately her journey leads to her to be reunited with Jimmy in Cay’s Harbor in Canada, including several stops along the way. Her setting, like her story, is one of busting free of the bonds of battered woman syndrome, so I felt like her cross-country journey was a great way to showcase this and her newly found freedom.



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1.      Story Statement

Every 100 years there is a global pandemic.  This is the story of the next one.

2.      Antagonist

Farrukh, love interest Micah and Timur are highly educated HD-12B visa recipients from Eastern Europe working at Fermi Labs.  They lust for the wealth their research creates, but as non-citizens, that path is closed to them.

With visas soon expiring, they could use their knowledge and skills to create something the world may want, but deeper pockets in the US and Asia would likely create a better and cheaper version.  Then Micah, the business brain in the trio comes up with the clever idea of creating something the rich countries of the world would pay them not to use.

Using their talents and funded by a high government official with links within the Russian government, military and security apparatus, they develop a machine enhanced virus which they can activate once it has quietly infected the population of a target city.  Unless their ransom demands are satisfied. 

3.      Breakout Title

Hostage Earth

Escaped Mutation

Pandemic 2121

4.      Comparables

The Andromeda Strain - Michael Crichton’s sixth book, but first under his name, is about an extraterrestrial microorganism that imbeds itself in a satellite.  Back upon earth, the satellite passes the organism onto those who come in contact.  Hostage Earth also involves a microorganism, a virus, but this one is man-made, controllable, part machine and is designed to function as a weapon of extortion.

Do not confuse Andromeda Strain with The Andromeda Evolution, a “Michael Crichton” book written eleven years after he died, a talent I am hoping to master.  It has nothing in common with Hostage Earth.

Contagion - This is a 2011 movie but could just as well be a book.  A novel virus, meaning new to humanity, makes the jump from animal to human.  While far more dangerous than Covid-19, the parallels of spread, public reaction and efforts of containment and treatment are prescient to the real world nine short years later.  Like this movie, Hostage Earth contains a considerable amount of realistic science and engineering.  The antagonists and protagonists, once clear opponents, are intertwined in finding a course of action once a portion of the virus unexpectedly mutates and escapes into the global population.

5.      Hook Line

Andromeda meets Contagion. Three very bright, ambitious and ruthless researchers, Farrukh, Micah and Timur plot global blackmail extortion by engineering a machine based controllable viral weapon. When it unexpectedly mutates, the focus becomes global survival. 

6.      Protagonist - Inner Conflict

Out protagonist is the Director of the CIA. As a career CIA operative and now leader, her objectives and her mind are clear.  She is not wracked by conflict.  She is dealing with a disinterested president and politicians with their own agendas.  Our Director also ends up in a key face to face meeting with a Russian woman of high rank who the Director knew from her days as Station Chief of the Moscow office ten years ago.  As the worm turns, it becomes clear that the two need each other.

7.      Settings

We open at Fermi Labs just outside of Chicago where our young future antagonists are discussion the cutting-edge research that they are part of, and contemplating their futures.  Their HD-12B research visas are nearing expiration and opportunities back home do not provide a path for their creative and financial ambitions. The year is 2120.  It is here, in Farrukh’s quick mind, Micah’s business brain and Timur’s newfound knowledge of Japanese biological research that saved their society fifty years ago, intersect on a path that will hold the earth hostage.  That Timur has an eye for Micah, who is spending her nights in Farrukh’s bed, adds some seasoning to the mix.

We move to a lawless part of the world, Toshkent, in Uzbekistan, a city of two million and Farrukh’s home town.  It is here where Farrukh renews political contacts, develops the outline of what he wants to create, secures funding from a well-connected former FSB person who is now Mayor, obtains via Mayor Sergey skilled technicians who are paid well and do not ask questions, and begins quietly gathering resources from around the world.  The team avoids electronic communications so no electronic alarm bells are being triggered at the CIA or elsewhere.

Nevertheless, in Washington, D.C., a quiet alarm goes off.  CIA Director Linda Lee is getting reports that technicians with a host of different skills are disappearing from Russia and various Eastern European countries.  What sets off Director Lee’s alarm is that no one reported any of these people as missing. Something is afoot.

The scene shifts back to the main Toshkent laboratory where exposure to a test virus kills three people, including a nineteen-year-old girl who should not have been there.  Micah is ordered by the Mayor, not someone to cross, to tell her parents about their only child’s death.  Not going would greatly reduce Micah’s life expectancy. 

We alternate between developing and testing the viral weapon, its control and delivery and the safety of the development team, and events unfolding in Washington as they try and piece together what is going on, whether some type of attack will come from this and if so, where are likely places.

The first attack is in Saywun, Yemen, chosen as a test city with limited security.  It was also within their 2,500-mile operating range.  Range was limited by the operational radius of the converted Beriev A-250 long range transport.  The 50,000-pound laser based magnetic trigger is the tool that switches the virus on as it overflies a city.

The second attack took place in Warsaw, Poland.  Warsaw paid the ransom, the virus was never triggered, yet some people died.  This unexpected behavior raised big alarms amongst the antagonists, their team and their benefactors.  The machine enhanced non-mutable virus, was mutating.

The third attack was in Mumbai, India.  Missed communication, errors, happenstance and traitorous acts led to a disaster for greater Mumbai’s 50,000,000 residents.  Our antagonists barely escape, but returning home would be fatal. 

The story continues in Tehran, now a member of nations in good standing, Bagdad, Toshkent, much activity in Washington and eventually getting our team into the ultra-secure biohazard laboratory at Fort Knox, Kentucky.  The good guys and the bad guys are now in the same place. The virus is loose and time is running out.

The epilogue takes place in French Guyana where the ingredients for a second book are found in the morgue.



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Hi all, I'm enjoying reading about your stories - thanks for sharing!



When Abi's husband is wrongly imprisoned in an Albanian prison, she must do all she can to free him and get them both out of the country safely.



Karbashi is one of the most powerful men in Albania, and has accrued his immense wealth and influence through a combination of some legitimate and many questionable deals. He is charming, sincere and sinister. He adores his country and believes in its future, but understands and benefits from its flaws. He will do what he feels is necessary, and blindly justifies all of his decisions as being in the best interests of his nation whilst overlooking his own self-enrichment.

But in terms of antagonists, Karbashi is just a side-act. We later learn that the real antagonist is Tina Bray, somewhat judgemental yet helpful consulate dedicated to helping the protagonist navigate the Albanian legal system.

Tina is actually a cold and crooked dealer of illicit goods, including art, drugs and sometimes people. She is cold and aloof, and looks at life through a transactional lens. Her victims are willing participants and she thinks she's just doing what anybody in her position would be. With an inherent lack of empathy and discomfort at her self-imposed loneliness, Tina only shows any emotion when questioned about her position as Karbashi's second-tier mistress.



The Eagle Has Two Faces

The Ambivalent Expat

To Dig Is Destroy



1. The Last Thing He Told Me by Laura Dave

2. The Paris Apartment by Lucy Foley

(Female-led thrillers with a strong sense of place)



When her husband is wrongfully arrested in Albania, corporate lawyer Abi does all she can to expedite his release. But as her suspicions build around the circumstances leading up to his arrest, Abi realizes it's much more than their marriage that is at stake.




Abi is a conditioned people-pleaser, and is coming to terms with this when she finds herself on sabbatical to support her husband's career in Albania.

When her husband is arrested for manslaughter, Abi is tempted to follow the advice to wait it out at home. She is used to doing what's expected of her, and so this should come naturally. But the situation doesn't seem right. As she starts to explore the circumstances surrounding her husband's arrest, she sets off a chain of events ultimately leading to his death and her own fight for survival.


Abi's secondary conflict is with her husband, Evan. Together since they were young, Abi knows Evan as a dedicated and passionate archaeologist who is supportive of his wife's successful advancement in the legal profession. As she's rapidly ascended the corporate ladder, Evan has enjoyed the pecuniary fruits of her labor. However, she has underestimated the fragility of his ego and overlooked his hang-ups about her success. Eventually she must face up to his slow-boil transition into a greedy and ruthless man with a price, and questions how she could have missed it.



My story is set in modern day Albania. Europe's last frontier, Albania is a Balkan jewel of a country with an unspoilt coastline, dense mountains and a charmingly chaotic capital city.

Thirty years since the end of its oppressive communist era, Albania is full of promise despite being rooted by corruption and chaos. It's a place that is at once captivating and endearing, but frustrating and backwards. It is a country of frenetic charm, rich history, abundant color and untold dangers.

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FIRST ASSIGNMENT: write your story statement. 


In a city filled with gangs, drug trafficking and violence, Ansen just wants to find true love, getting his heart shattered by his first, which leaves him to go through the five stages of grief with five different women.


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.

There are many antagonists in the story, one of them being Zeth, the father of one of his lovers and the most feared man in the city for which Ansen wants to kill, so that he can set her free from his clutches. Zeth’s main goal is to remain in control of the city and run his cartel. He hates everyone, including his own daughter and defines the human race as mindless monsters who live only to satisfy their own desires. He then comes to the conclusion that he must become the most relentless monster to ever live, because that is what it truly means to be human. 


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


Chains of Proclivity



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

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


Two smart comparables:  “True Love” by Sarah Gerard, and the TV series “Snowfall”. 


The novel “True Love” compares to my story because both protagonists are on a quest of fulfillment to find true love, and experience more than one love affair to find it. My character does the unthinkable for his lovers, one of which includes moving a vast amount of drugs to take down a bigger threat, like the hit TV series Snowfall. 


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


After living in a very strict household and having his heart crushed by the only woman who made him feel liberated, Ansen leaves his old life behind to find true love, going through the five stages of grief with five different women, and a plethora of circumstances just to attain it. 


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.


The fact that Ansen’s first love left him for someone else made him feel like he wasn’t good enough, so although he stays true to his morals and beliefs, he still doubts himself and gets a bit anxious when things go wrong in his relationships. He blames himself for everything that goes wrong.  


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?


He cuts his family off to find his own meaning of freedom and feels guilty about it. His freedom is in jeopardy due to the hindrances of his lover's personal conflicts, the constant fighting gets tiring and he wonders everyday if he made the right decisions.


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.


We start out in the rich neighborhoods of Leisure City Florida where the trouble making protagonist is from, his decisions lead him Deep in the woodland forests of the Everglades in a log cabin surrounded by poppies and buttercups secluded from society where tons of wildlife resides. The second scene resides in the trenches of little Haiti Florida where junkies and killers lurk behind every corner. And the third is in the City of Homestead Florida where the antagonist resides filled with everyday society and modern day technology.

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Songs of the Mariners (Upper Middle Grade Historical Fantasy)

1. First Assignment (Story Statement):

Get off the streets and aid the Captain in his efforts to defeat pirates and sea monsters and make the ocean safer for everyone. 


2. Second Assignment (Antagonist):

The two main antagonists of Songs of the Mariners are pirate Captain Black Roy and privateer Captain Arthur Tremayne.

Black Roy is a sylph, or air fae. He hates humans and lives in an island castle north of Scotland, killing or driving away all humans who trespass in his territory. He wants to reconquer the United Kingdom and Ireland for his race. Black Roy is a powerful magic-user and can call the winds. He has wings and can turn invisible while flying. He commands demons with a cat o’nine tails made from bones. 

On the surface, Arthur Tremayne is a valiant and skilled sea captain. Respected by his peers, he is a sorcerer who uses magic potions and hunts the most brutal pirates and collects the rewards for their capture. Tremayne acts benevolent towards his crew, but he also has a manipulative way of needling them about their insecurities and reminding them how lost they would be without him. 

Tremayne is also secretly a water fae who shares Black Roy's goal. He is using his human crew as guinea pigs to see how well they can fight against other humans with the potions he has developed instead of modern human weapons.    

3. Third Assignment (Breakout Title): Songs of the Mariners (Part One of the Songs of the Land and Sea tetralogy).

I chose the title Songs of the Mariners because of the strong emphasis on music in the book. Each chapter contains a lyric from a nautical folk song that is relevant to the content of the chapter in some way. I wanted to show how music influences the characters and colors their experiences and process their emotions. The music helps give story and its setting depth and culture.

I wanted this book and series to have a fairytale-like, operatic feel, and I think that the title Songs of the Mariners helps show that.

Alternate title options: The Mariner's Tale; Tales of the Mariners

4. Fourth Assignment (Comparable Titles):

Because Songs of the Mariners is historical and fantasy mashup, I have chosen one comparable title from each of those genres. 

A.  The Traitor's Blade (Book Five of The Blackthorn Key series) by Kevin Sands (Aladdin Books, 2021). Historical Fiction. 

B. Deeplight by Frances Hardinge (Macmillan Publishers Limited, 2019). Dark fantasy. 

I adore The Blackthorn Key series because of its earnest, plucky-yet-still-vulnerable and relatable protagonist, enjoyable and interesting setting, heartwarming ride-or-die friendships, and dark yet neither bleak nor senselessly violent story. I made an effort to give Songs of the Mariners all of those things as well, so I think that people who enjoy The Blackthorn Key series may also find Songs of the Mariners to be within their tastes. 

Meanwhile, Deeplight by Frances Hardinge is a work of high fantasy with beautifully scary sea monsters. I really like fantasy books that are deeply emotional and make the reader empathize with the characters and get into their heads. This book is no exception to that, and I hope that I managed to give Songs of the Mariners those qualities, too. 

I think that the target audience for these books are readers in grades 5-8 or 9 or thereabouts, and that’s what I am aiming for as well. 

5. Fifth Assignment (Hook Line with Conflict and Core Wound): 

A malnourished homeless boy, abandoned by his mother and desperate for work and shelter, joins a crew of magician-sailors to battle pirates and monsters on the high seas.


6. Sixth Assignment (Protagonist's Inner Conflict and Secondary Conflict):

Thirteen-year-old Senan's inner conflict is that he wants to be self-reliant, but he also wants to be a useful part of a community. He feels that he is basically worthless as he is and wants to prove that he isn't. He also has a hard time trusting others and especially with asking for help. 

For instance, if Senan were to be stung by a sea urchin while walking on a beach with his shipmates and looking for shellfish to eat, he would insist on taking care of the wound alone. He would rather be left behind by the group to take care of himself than feel like he was being a burden and slowing everyone down. 

These feelings stem from his mother's abandonment of him and of his father choosing alcohol abuse and violence over his family. Senan also spent a short time working at a mine and was unable to do the work that was expected of him. Other workers had to pick up the slack for him, which made Senan feel very ashamed and guilty. 

Senan's character arc in Songs of the Mariners has to do with him learning that trust is a two-way street. If he wants his shipmates to see him as reliable and trustworthy and be part of their crew, he must trust them and ask for their help when he needs it. He also has to keep his heart open and not assume that he can't trust anyone he meets right off the bat.

At the beginning of the story, Senan is homeless and unable to find work to support himself. Senan's desires to escape this life and be self-reliant (but also a useful part of a community) are what compel him to join Captain Tremayne’s crew in Maine. He agrees to help them hunt down a pirate ship off the North American coast. When they defeat these pirates, they acquire a map from them that reveals the location of Black Roy. They decide to sail across the Atlantic and go after him. 

During this voyage, Senan bonds with his shipmates and comes to trust them like a family and feel accepted as a mariner. But these feelings of self-acceptance are threatened when he encounters some mermaids (one of whom he befriends) and learns that he may have fae blood. 

Unfortunately for Senan, the duplicitous Captain Tremayne figured out that Senan has mixed heritage before he did. He told his crew that he is leading them to Black Roy’s island to defeat him, but his real plan is to deliver Senan to Black Roy. 

Senan is half-sylph and half human. If Black Roy kills him, he will receive a dark blessing from the demon lord Balor. Balor hates humans and human-fae hybrids and will give great demonic power to a fae who kills a human-fae hybrid child. But only if that child is half whatever type of fae the killer is (e.g. a sylph like Black Roy must kill a half-sylph like Senan). 

When Captain Tremayne and his crew finally have Black Roy’s island castle in their sights Captain Tremayne orders Senan to stay behind with Gavin, a navigator (who is secretly a human-fae hybrid and also wants the Fae to reconquer the United Kingdom), to guard the Kelpie while he leads the others to Roy’s castle. 
When they are alone, Gavin casts a spell to reveal that Senan is half-sylph (which involves his left eye turning grey, his ears changing shape, and him growing a pair of wings that he can make appear and reappear at will) and then abandons him to be found by Black Roy. 
(Side note: In Songs of the Mariners, Gavin is introduced as Senan’s ill-tempered, bullying rival, but he evolves into the main antagonist over the course of the Songs of the Land and Sea tetralogy. He is the son of a fae king and wants to reclaim his royal birthright. I thought it would be fun to make the “long lost heir who is fighting to get their throne back” trope character the villain instead of the hero.)
Senan escapes after calling out to the aforementioned mermaid he befriended earlier (whose name is Mairead) for help. He reunites with the rest of his shipmates and they defeat Black Roy and Captain Tremayne together. After this final battle, they return to the Scottish mainland, shaken but resilient. Senan knows that he wants to go on another sailing adventure with his friends. 
The climax playing out in the way that it does shows that Senan has grown in a positive way. In spite of how devastated he was by Captain Tremayne and Gavin’s betrayal after he placed his faith in them, he does not relapse into his previously untrusting ways. Rather, Senan retains his trust in and platonic love of Mairead and his friends, asks for their help and works together with them to win the final battle. 


7. Seventh Assignment (Setting):Songs of the Mariners takes place on the ocean in a bygone era, and is more similar to Pirates of the Caribbean than Master and Commander. I am striving less for the historical accuracy of the latter and more for the eerie, rip-roaring, epic, mythical adventure of the former. 

As such, Senan and his shipmates encounter real creatures like sharks, whales, and giant squid along with fae, mermaids, kelpies (hypnotically beautiful carnivorous water-horses), sea serpents, cait sith (soul-stealing magical cats), and ghost sailors and their ships. 

Songs of the Mariners takes place during the 19th century because that was the heyday of the nautical folk music that features so heavily in the book. It opens in Portland, Maine, and that is where Senan meets Captain Tremayne and his crew and joins them. They then sail to a (fictional) unoccupied island off the coast of Maine, and from there to Edinburgh, Scotland and its surrounding waters and islands. 

Much of the story takes place on the Atlantic Ocean and on Captain Tremayne's schooner, the Kelpie. In addition to being their primary means of transportation, the Kelpie is the mariners' home and where they eat, sleep, and enjoy each others’ company. 

Thank you for reading.

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1 : STORY STATEMENT (Applies to book 1 in the series) 

150 years after the exodus from Earth, a top notch agent takes on a seemingly simple assignment, keeping an eye on the privileged prodigal son from a very powerful family, and finds himself falling for him against his better judgement in between saving him from his misguided sense of heroism. 

2 : Antagonist :

Jinsai Owaga- The name Jinsai in Japanese has two meanings: Artistic man and Catastrophe. Jin is the variable that is the cause of Tonics conflicts. If he isn't putting himself in danger, danger finds him and Tonic has to save him. At the same time, Tonic is consistently being tormented by his attraction to Jin’s natural beauty, inside and out. 

The Fantasy Palace: On the surface, it’s a fun amusement facility for all ages, but underneath it’s a swamp of questionable morality. Above you can have Virtual Reality adventures,play games, win prizes and shop for Bling to attract playmates. Below, in a secret underground facility, you can gamble, live out erotic and violent fantasies and pay to share your expiriance with a pleasure bot or a bioengineered living being. 

These beings were once free but tricked into servitude by dark dealings within the Fantasy Palace organization. Tonic, Jin and Chia (one of the bioengineered beings) go on a mission to break into the lower levels of the Fantasy Palace and steel back what is rightfully Chias. Everything goes wrong and they must find a way to get out without getting caught. 

There are several “villains” that come and go throughout the series but The Fold is a constant.

The Fold - The Owaga Fold, where Jin comes from and who hired Tonic to watch him, is an extremely rich and powerful organization/family that keeps its members on a short leash. An organic tattoo-like mark embedded into an Owagas skin controls them to a degree. Owagas are also conditioned since birth to be compliant. Jin is Fledging, allowed to leave the Fold after his prime education and do whatever he wants with practically unlimited credit until he is called back to the Fold to live out his life being useful in Owaga Fold society. There is a caste system within the fold, identified by color, that tells each member how they will serve the community. Jin is a Red, a direct descendent of the leader of the Fold and a favorite to take over that role. He would prefer not to, but may not have a choice. Ascension is not what it seems. There is a dark secret that will be revealed several books into the series. 

3: Breakout title:

Jin and Tonic 

Jin + Tonic

 Jin and Tonic: Shaken and Stirred. 

4: Comps:

Boyfriend Material- It’s not sci-fl, but the dynamic between the male leads as well the humor is similar to my story. 

Winters Orb - A sci-fi story in a world where same sex marriage is just normal so the story can spend more time on plot and world building rather then defending the relationship.  

Red White and Royal Blue , Mo Dao Zu Shi 


5: Tag line:

He accepted an easy peasy assignment, spying on a privileged hot guy with a naive sense of heroism, but this might just be the job that kills him. 


Internal  Conflict: Tonic is an adrenaline Junkie. He likes doing dangerous things, but he also likes being in control of them. In the opening of Jin and Tonic, Tonic is on a mission as an agent completely in control of the situation. Everything goes just the way he expects. He’s working with other exceptional agents and accurately predicts every move his team mate and the culprits make. 

In direct contrast, when he gets involved with Jin nothing goes as he expects. Jin is not predictable and not being in control of Jin’s actions or his growing attraction towards him takes its toll on Tonic’s nerves. Getting emotionally involved is a big no-no in his biz. And because he has these feelings, he starts to feel guilty about constantly lying to Jin about who he is and why he’s there. He also battles internally with choosing between what he’s supposed to do and what’s the right thing to do. 

External Conflict: Tonic is roped into doing a mission and taking Jin and Chia along. He can’t find a way out mostly because if he doesn't do it they will do it themselves and probably die. On the mission everything goes wrong, one thing after another and Tonic must solve each mess while keeping Jin safe. 

7: Setting:

After the exodus from Earth, entire countries and cultures departed and set out to replicate their homes and cultures on new worlds. Each world is self governing to a point. There is a Universal government to keep things in check with the help of the Universal Military Patrol. 

The planet Ba’nesspah was one of the first privately terraformed planets. Only a small portion of it is inhabited by humans while the rest was left as a nature preserve where living things could live peacefully without human interference. 

The City of Ba’nesspah is designed like a European city with cobblestone streets. It rests between a bay and a mountain that was once a volcano. It’s a luxurious resort planet, with only the wealthiest residents with  the exception of visiting  Tourists and workers. 

A public transport system called Pods take people around the city. There are also flying self driving cars you can call. 

Every planet has a Skyport and a Startown. Skyports are on space just outside the atmosphere. You arrive hear by starship. Then you can take a shuttle down to Startown, which is on the planet but not part of it’s government, like an airport. You need a pass to get from Startown into Ba’nesspah or back up to Skyport. 

Stravaganti Tower where Jinsai lives in a luxurious apartment. Many scenes take place in his opulent apartment that he decorated himself. 

Tonic is on the planet on a work-pass and has a free room in the building where he took a job as building manager. His apartment is small and well used by previous building managers. 

Some destinations on Ba’nesspah where major scenes take place in first book:

The Park: a small mountain, the remnants of a volcano. The top of which has great views and a bench where Tonic meets with his handler to take the assignment. It can be seen from Jin’s apartment. 

The  Boulevard: a cobblestone tree lined street of upscale restaurants and shops. 

The open air Market: located by the bay with produce, crafts and other luxury goods. 

The Fantasy Palace: (Technically this is in Startown, not the city of Ba’nesspah.) It’s an amusement facility with VR games, VR suites where you can have adventures, a theater, restaurants and other amusments. There is a hidden underbelly to this establishment where sorted thing as go on. 

Startown: It has a boardwalk feel in its entertainment district. Street food, games, shops and a nightlife. Deeper in it’s seedier. Many people get stuck here who can’t make enough money to buy a ticket to Skyport and don’t have a pass to get into Ba’nesspah. There is housing, hotels and shops, restaurants and bars but it’s much different than Ba’nesspah. Defiantly a bad naughborhood. 

Mentioned but not visited in first book:

The Museum of Earth Art and Artifacts

The Academy of the Preservation of Earth Artifacts

The Ba’nesspah Nature Preserve

The Universal Military Patrol Academy

The Fold (the place, not the organization


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FIRST ASSIGNMENT: write your story statement. 


Gabriella Gold (Gabby) must protect her teen daughter, Penelope from a sexual predator, while at the same time, trying to heal from and make sense of her own experience at seventeen with a forty-eight year old predator with whom she had an affair. 



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.


Peter Romano is the forty-eight year old, renowned artist with whom Gabby had an affair with when she was seventeen in 1989. He is handsome, famous, worldly, intelligent, artistic and charming. Peter manipulates the situation, acquiring Gabby as his studio intern, which allows him the opportunity to groom Gabby, eventually entrusting her to him so that he can take sexual advantage of her. He is selfish and manipulative and is driven by what he desires in the moment.


Perry Mason, the fifty-five-year old famous art photographer and New York City icon, preys upon Gabby’s daughter Penelope in 2019. He is a notorious womanizer and enjoys his status as an edgy and charming older man, who parades around with young, beautiful women.


Andrew Gold, Gabby’s father, is an extremely wealthy hedge-fund player who was emotionally abusive to Gabby’s mother before their divorce. He is a dead-beat dad, who barely saw Gabby when growing up. He is driven by money, power and status. He takes no responsibility for his failed role as a father. 


The antagonistic force is society’s acceptance of men in power preying on young women.



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


Before Penelope: Penelope is Gabby’s daughter, and as Gabby is trying to mother Penelope and protect her from a predator she suspects her daughter is in danger of, she is confronting her own past affair she had as a teen with a predator—hence, Before Penelope


Reading Girl: Reading Girl is the name of the painting that Gabby’s predator painted of her when she herself was a teen, having an affair with him. The painting is renowned, and yet no one knows that Gabby is actually the subject in the painting.


The Gallerist’s Daughter: Gabby’s mother April is a renowned gallerist. The art world exposed Gabby to her predator, and this is a book about art and predators as much as it is a book about mothers and daughters



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: Literary Fiction


Dark Vanessa by Kate Russell

Like Russell’s character, Vanessa, my character, Gabby, must juggle the memory of her past as an in-awe teen of an older man she “loved”, with her present perspective of him as a predator; she must also deal with the trauma that came with it. Both works go between the past and the present, exploring the dynamics of a teen’s vulnerability and excitement, and a grown woman’s confusion and rage. 


The Girls by Emma Cline

Although my work is different in subject matter from Cline’s, The Girls, there are stylistic and thematic similarities. The middle-aged, present day narrator of Cline’s work, recalls her teen years in California with the same detailed and vivid precision that my character, Gabby, recalls her teen years in New York City with. Both works analyze a teen mistake from the perspective of a middle-aged woman, and both works are able to convey the magic, promise and beauty of youth despite the darkness and danger that are present. The writing highlights the beauty in the darkness from a teen’s perspective, and for that reason, the reader is able to understand why the teen characters in both works did what they did. 


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


When a mother catches a middle-aged man flirting with her teen daughter, she is forced to confront her own past affair at seventeen-years old with a forty-eight-year old man, and the negative impact it had on her life, all while trying to prevent her daughter from suffering the same fate. 



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

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



Gabby is in turmoil because she is forced to face her difficult past affair at seventeen years old with a forty-eight year old man. Accepting that her divorce from her loving husband, her anger at her mother, her over-protectiveness of her daughter, and her general unhappiness are connected to this experience, instills in her immense turmoil and anxiety. And, what’s even a greater conflict, is the rage Gabby has buried about her absent father, perhaps a core reason as to why she desired the company of an older man as a teen. She must unravel this despite the discomfort it instills in her.


Gabby is also conflicted as she tries to make sense of her teen perspective for a man she thought she loved, who was actually a predator who harmed her; she struggles with forgiving her younger self. 


While delving into the past to confront the emotional effects her predator had on her, she must also face her teen years, where she was inappropriately independent, living a fast life filled with clubs and drugs and a best friend she could not fix. 


Additionally, Gabby struggles with her love for her ex-husband, whom she is sure she would have remained with had she healed from her past. She is also in turmoil over wanting to be closer to her daughter while inadvertently pushing her away with her overbearing worry and control.



When Gabby delves into her past and recalls letting Peter, her predator, caress the small of her back while standing next to her mother, her anger for her mother is immediately triggered, and instead of confronting her mother in the present, she chooses to push down the rage and carry it as she has done for years. She questions if she is protecting herself, her predator, or her mother, and she struggles to answer this throughout.



When Gabby watches her daughter lean into an older man to respond to him at an art opening at her mother’s gallery, instead of trying to assess the situation, she storms over, grabs Penelope by the arm, embarrassing her, and screams at the man to stay away. She drags Penelope out, who is enraged and humiliated by her mother’s behavior. As Penelope is struggling to navigate her own understanding of how the world works and step into her womanhood, she is constantly being hindered by her mother, Gabby, who will not let her because of her own fear of what could happen. Gabby continuously struggles with projecting her own fears because of her past, onto her daughter.



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 setting is New York City in 1989 and New York City in 2019 as the novel transitions between the past and the present. New York City becomes a character in itself as my novel travels through the colorful art, club and restaurant world of New York City in both 1989 and 2019, with its glamour, grit and array of colorful characters. 


New York City’s art world in particular, lays the foundation for Gabby’s personality as her upbringing took place during a special and more wild time in New York City’s late eighties. As the daughter of a renowned gallerist, who once had a gallery in Soho and later in Chelsea, Gabby has learned to use art as a way to understand her world. She intellectualizes and philosophizes over art (and literature) often, and art becomes a continuous backdrop for the setting.


The setting of New York City and the art world also make’s Gabby’s unconventional upbringing more understandable. As a major player in New York’s art world, April, Gabby’s mother, threw inappropriate loft parties filled with art denizens from all over the world, instilling in Gabby a deeper understanding of culture and the danger that comes with it, more than your average teen. Gabby has also developed a mature ability to read adults. The New York City art world was also April’s church, so to speak, and April is so absorbed in it that it left Gabby on her own too often during her teen years.


Similarly, Gabby’s daughter, Penelope is being raised in New York City; she has a certain freedom that comes with being a teen in the city that makes Gabby anxious and overprotective. What’s more is that Penelope is also around the art world, exposing her to interesting and sometimes dangerous, older people. The setting lends itself to a certain teen sophistication.


The novel also takes the reader to the club scene of the late eighties in New York City, where teens and drag queens alike danced on ecstasy to all hours of the morning, and even into poetry slams downtown, where Gabby shares her poetry with a young, eighties crowd. Gabby lives the life of a typical, privileged teen in New York City’s late eighties, growing up in a beautiful, art-filled loft in Soho, and going to clubs and brownstone and loft parties with absent parents. 


Because New York City is the setting, it also allows for the glamour, glitz and grit that is so much a part of the city. Gabby was privy to a glamorous subculture, but it was as much beautiful and exiting as it was dangerous and dark. 









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Assignment 1: Story Statement
A young woman must teach herself magic to avoid a fate worse than death –– all while navigating her feelings for the monster who saved her.


Assignment 2: Sketch the Antagonistic Force
Sevan is an ancient creature of light whose origins are shrouded in mystery. Their goal is one-ness: to absorb others into their hive mind. While powerful mages are their primary target, humans are also threatened by them. Their partner, both in love and goal, is Yana, a powerful mage who would do anything to see Sevan’s goals realized.


Assignment 3: Title Options

  • The Unmaking of Them
  • A Tapestry of Shadows


Assignment 4: List Comp Titles

House on the Cerulean Sea by TJ Klune
    Both tales of found family, magic, and whimsy, my title may find itself shelved near TJ Klune’s works. While the magical world is immersive, it is the characters who make these stories shine.


Uprooted by Naomi Novik
     My novel will appeal to fans of Naomi Novik for its inclusion of darker elements, as well as its focus on the tension and slow-burn romance between its characters. 


Assignment 5: The Hook

Swept into a dangerous world so unlike her own, Artemis Sanchez falls in love with magic –– and wrestles with her feelings for a monster whose past has finally come calling.


Assignment 6: Sketch the Conflict
    Inner Conflict: Artemis Sanchez has rarely, if ever, lived her life for herself. She has managed to step up and care for her cousin and ill aunt by maintaining a strict, controlled plan for her future. 

    When the monster who saved her is struck by a curse, he is left unconscious for months. During this time, Artemis stays within the safety of his warded home and teach herself magic to wake him. In her solitary, she will have to face her anxieties and need for control –– and discover what she truly wants for herself.

    Secondary Conflict: Verick’s concerns mirror Artemis’ own, as he has spent centuries creating and maintaining a pristine appearance to atone for his past. As these two grow closer, they will have to learn to be vulnerable with one another –– a task that is antithetical to who they have become. 
    When Artemis has an anxiety attack after a series of mentally taxing events, Verick tries to open to her for the first time, only for Artemis to shut down the conversation. Once again, she will choose to mend her situation on her own rather than let someone else in.


Assignment 7: Setting

1. The Museum
    Artemis works in a museum as a brand new curator, and this is where our first conflict with Sevan –– and our meeting with Verick –– occurs. They are creatures of story and history, so this is an appropriate place for Artemis to encounter them.


2. The House in the Waylands
    Verick lives in a beautiful, centuries-old home which he moves from place to place with magic. First it’s positioned by the seaside, but is later moved to a forest. This is a space that teaches Artemis about Verick –– his history as well as his likes and dislikes. It also becomes a space for her to learn about herself.


3. Gras Veluras
    This is the magical city where the second half of the novel occurs. It’s constructed within a rift in space, so it’s a menagerie of all cultures, both human and non-human. It’s a space that is eclectic and unpredictable, but also flows in an unexpected way. While it feels beautiful and brilliant, there is the marked fear of Sevan looming throughout the city that will eventually build to a crescendo.


Thank you for reading,


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Author Name: A.L. Frances



Assignment 1 – The Act of a Story


When childhood trauma seeps into adulthood, this can be one lethal combination and Luke Colten is no exception from this rule. Not seeing the trail of devastation behind him, Luke believes his mission on earth is clear - Thou shall not sin – and suicide is a sin. However, murder is not!


Assignment 2 – Antagonist


Moving to sleepy Pennsylvania seemed like it would be the perfect fit for Luke to help cure himself of his PTSD and forget all about his chaotic childhood trauma. And so, with the support of his sister, who is the only person in the world who he trusts, Luke went off to try and find a purpose in life.

Standing over six feet tall at thirty-five years young, Luke is charmingly handsome and has a great personality. Not only this, he’s extremely wealthy due to his grandparent’s inheritance - on the surface, he seems way too good to be true. 

Raised in an environment that wasn’t safe, sound or meant for children, Luke found himself inside a Cult for most of his younger years. Unfortunately for him, Luke would soon become an orphan as his parents drank the 'Kool-Aid' and if it wasn’t for the quick actions of his sister, little Luke would have been dead too.

Fighting the voices in his head daily, Luke has a bad taste in his mouth when it comes to suicide. As he has grown older, he’s discovered that suicide is a huge sin. Struggling to live with the vision of his parents burning down in hell, nightmares begin to plague him. Luke doesn’t want any more vulnerable souls to be sent down to the fiery gates of hell and so he’s decided to save as many as he can. And just like that, he starts his voluntary job at a Suicide Hotline.


Assignment 3 – Breakout Title




Assignment 4 – Comparable Titles and Genre




-        Caroline Kepnes - You

-        Carolyn Arnold – One more kill.


Assignment 5 – Hook Line


You think you’re calling for help, but he’s only interested in your answer to one question…

“On a scale of one through ten how suicidal are you today?”

And just like that, you seal your own fate.

So, will you or your loved one be his next victim, I mean, caller?


Assignment 6 – Inner Conflict


What’s the saying – ah, that’s it, ‘Don’t shoot the messenger.’


Luke truly believes he has been awakened by his parents through his nightmares. They have delivered a message to him that could save a multitude of souls from being sent to the depths of hell. However, he’s also human and he sees how the world works when it comes to law and order. Murder is considered murder in the eyes on the everyday man. The everyday man won’t understand that he’s been sent on a mission to save souls from Satan. With this constant thought in mind, Luke knows he must tread carefully and be strategic in his planning when it comes to fulfilling his destiny.

Maintaining his relationship with God, Luke takes guidance as he repents on earth.

At stages he becomes confused, anxious and get physically sick, but it doesn’t matter what he thinks or how he feels, he has a purpose that outweighs his own inner ego. Vulnerable souls are at stake, and he must act fast!  


Assignment Seven – Setting


Book One – Set across America in various states.

Book Two – Set in England.

Book Three – Set in Europe


The rest, to be determined…




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Nothing More to Give

Lorraine B. Justice


FIRST ASSIGNMENT: write your story statement. 

In Nothing More to Give three generations of a Sicilian-American family are followed through the stark realities of survival only to be caught in the end by the mafia’s grasp.


SECOND ASSIGNMENT: the antagonist or antagonistic force in your story.


The Mafia attracts brilliant corrupt businessmen, thugs, and cold murderers, but no one is as charming, intimidating, and dangerous as Frank Rizzoli, a local mob boss who builds an empire of crime in Eastern Pennsylvania.

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

Nothing More to Give

The Life and Death of Gina Licato


FOURTH ASSIGNMENT: Develop two smart comparables for your novel.

Two recent books about the Mafia that are not set in New York City, but in other parts of the US:


Smalltime by Russell Shorto (2021).

Western PA Mob story set in Johnstown, Pennsylvania in the 40s and 50s.


The Vapors, a Southern Family and the New York Mob, David Hill (2020).

Set in Hot Springs, Arkansas, in the 40s and 50s.

FIFTH ASSIGNMENT: write your own hook line (logline)

Threatened by the Mafia, a father uproots his family in the dead of night to escape the city and begin a new life in rural Pennsylvania. On a small farm, they barely survive the first winter until the oldest daughter Gina finds a job in the nearest town working for, and falling in love with, Frank Rizzoli, the local head of the mafia. A love child is the result of their relationship and Gina’s father once again finds himself in a power struggle of wills with the mafia and Gina, trying to keep her from ruin. This immigrant family saga is inspired by true stories.

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

Domenic Licato, the father, is hopeful and happy as a young man with a growing family but as life takes its toll on him, he feels weak and ineffective; too weak to help his family in their time of need. When Gina gives birth to a son, Domenic sadly realizes the Mafia has become a part of his family.

Gina, the oldest daughter, never felt good enough or pretty enough, to have a good life. On her hands and knees in her old dress and farm shoes, scrubbing the kitchen floor in the Rizzoli house, she first meets Frank Rizzoli, the local Mafia boss who changes her life.

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

This Sicilian-American family is not wanted in the area by the other farmers and experiences deep prejudice. They are shunned by the local farm families and taken advantage of by unscrupulous farmers. In addition, the local KKK sends a message one terrifying night with a burning cross in their field behind the house. Their only friendly neighbor, an elderly African-American named Samuel, explains that the KKK will burn a cross for anyone who is different from them.

FINAL ASSIGNMENT: sketch out your setting in detail.


1.     Bethlehem Steel, Bethlehem, PA, in the 1920s- dirty, rough, dangerous, long hours, and poor living conditions. Damp, drafty house near the steel mill.

2.     Philadelphia, PA, the 1920s to 1930s- mafia ruled and dangerous, but it is a chance to make a life in America. The city is a lively melting pot and sets the scene for prohibition rivalries, murder, and corruption.

3.     Scranton, PA, 1930s to 1940s- depression-era in a mafia-run town of manufacturing, distribution, gambling and truck heists. Scranton is the closest town to the rural farm the Licato’s rent.


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First Assignment: Battle prejudice, disease and ostracism to survive.

Second Assignment: The antagonistic force for Anna begins with her parents who forbid her marriage to the man she loves. But after she defies them and marries him anyway the community in which they live becomes an antagonistic force against her as an outsider. When Charles deserts her then the harsh realities that befall single mothers in 1913 are the antagonizing forces, these are personified again, by her mother, a hateful neighbor, and a sexually assertive boss.

The antagonistic force for Charles (the other POV character) is Tuberculosis and the other characters that inflict prejudice on him throughout the novel.

Third Assignment :

Saving Grace (I'm pretty attached to that one after 10 years of title changes)

Fourth Assignment:

The Orphan Collector by Ellen Marie Wiseman

As Bright as Heaven by Susan Meissner


Fifth Assignment :

In 1913, a white girl and a Greek immigrant defy her parents and buck society by eloping, but when Tuberculosis rips them apart the young couple must battle, prejudice, disease and ostracism just to survive.

Sixth Assignment:

Charles: his love for Anna would propel him to both want to stay with her and desert her to keep her safe.

Anna: Not knowing whether Charles loved her or left her, Anna will lie to her friends to cover his disappearance.

Charles: His need for acceptance will drive him into the arms of another woman, which will jeopardize his reunion with his wife.

Anna: Her pride will drive her to steal to feed herself and her child costing her the network of support she once had.

Seventh Assignment:

Much of the novel is set in the West End of Boston, which is a dramatic change from Anna’s homogenous white neighborhood in the suburbs. The West End is teeming with immigrants from Greece, Italy, and Russia among others.

The rest of the novel is set in a TB sanatorium in Upstate New York

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1.       Story statement


In the Shadow of Empire” is a memoir in creative non-fiction form. Through it, I tell the story of how three empires, the Pax Britannica, the Pax Americana, and the evolving Pax (Eurasiana as I view it) have shaped my life, derailing it regularly but also enriching it with extraordinary experiences. It is a story about belonging to a vanishing world, and about finding (and keeping) myself while continually trying to capture its few remains.

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Seven Assignments


First Assignment: Discover the truth about how her mother died.


Second Assignment: Overall, there are multiple antagonists in the story. Beginning with her father, they have a disgruntled relationship due to his secrecy about the death of her mother. As the story progresses, Ricky becomes a minor antagonist. He believes that his methods are in her best interest, without realizing he is putting her in danger. The ultimate antagonists are the Gallentine Clan. They plan to kidnap her and force her to harness the sun, knowing the last flare vampire to perform the ceremony died.


Third Assignment: BloodLuster


Fourth Assignment: Comparable One: Twilight by Stephanie Meyer. This novel is comparable because it is paranormal novel with a romance storyline.

Comparable Two:


Fifth Assignment: A misunderstood young woman torn between leaving everything behind or discovering the truth of her mother’s death, herself, and everyone she’s ever known.


Sixth Assignment: Initial Conflict: Internal frustration and feelings of confusion due to her father and everyone close to her not explaining what happened to her mother. Her father is the antagonist for this conflict.

Second Conflict: Discovering the truth about her nightmares, herself, and Benjamin. Determining if she wants to stay in Penseton or leave the town for good. This is an internal conflict; fighting the true nature of herself.

Third Conflict: The Gallentine’s attempting and ultimately succeeding at kidnapping her to harness the sun. The antagonist is the entire Gallentine Clan, they have no regard for her safety; only what she can offer them.


Seventh Assignment: The novel is based in a fictional town; Penseton. Penseton is a rural small town, the type of place where everyone knows one another. There are multiple locations that makeup the story. Mill’s Motel (a run-down outdated motel ((the only one in town)), Ricky’s farm, Benjamin’s farm, Leo’s farm, Italian restaurant, the hidden Genovo house, the hidden Gallentine house.

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First Assignment: STORY STATEMENT


Against the backdrop of the Afghanistan conflict and new elections for Pakistan, an American doctor, Sophie, wants to save a teenage patient, Sultana, from prostitution in Lahore, Pakistan, but discovers that she is up against a whole system involving politicians and elites, even perhaps the husband of a soon-to-be assassinated female minister.


Second Assignment: ANTAGONIST

Tina is a wealthy, middle-aged philanthropist who runs an art school. As the wife of a large landowner and politician, she has become corrupted by power. For the purposes of teaching and commissioning nude paintings, she uses prostitutes and teenage models from Lahore’s ancient red light district, the Diamond Market. In Pakistan’s socially conservative environment only desperately poor and vulnerable women can be convinced into becoming nude art models, for not only is nude art banned in Pakistan, it carries severe legal punishments as well. 

Tina is also deeply ambitious and wants to get elected to office. In order to curry favor with political stake holders, she turns a blind eye to the exploitation of young, underage girls in Pakistan’s art world and illicit sex trade. Tina and Sophie become acquainted through fundraising for a women’s hospital. When Sophie discovers Tina’s deceit, she realizes that rescuing Sultana from prostitution might risk Sultana’s life. If the walls of the red light district enslave the girls on a symbolic level, the halls of pseudo-democratic power filled by corrupt politicians will lead them to death. Tina’s powerful political connections also threaten Sophie’s father’s well-being all the way in America. 


Third Assignment: BREAKOUT TITLE


1.     Diamond Dust, the Last Courtesan 

2.     The Diamond’s Song

3.     Song of the Last Courtesan 


Fourth Assignment: COMPARABLES


1.     The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini

2.     The Reluctant Fundamentalist by Mohsin Hamid


(Both books are similar to mine in being plot-driven literary novels with strong social commentary, memorable characters and unique settings. They appeal to the same readership).


Fifth Assignment: Logline



Grieving a miscarriage and her father’s death in the mid-2000s, an American doctor, who is born and raised in a small town in Wisconsin, returns to her ancestral home in Pakistan to carry on her father’s dreams of starting a free clinic for the poor. Here she crosses paths with a teenager who is about to be sold into prostitution. In both saving the girl and running her clinic, she hopes to make herself feel whole again, but the risks of these actions are far greater than she imagined and involve confronting political elites with influence that traverses borders.


Sixth Assignment: Inner conflict and Secondary Conflict



Inner Conflict/Scenario for Protagonist #1 (Dr. Sophie)

Doctor Sophie’s relocation to Pakistan presents challenges of physical discomfort, red tape and corruption in running a clinic, and while she isn’t someone who gives up easily, her grief from a miscarriage and father’s death have induced PTSD and weakened her more than she realizes. Also, she feels culturally at odds with the local Pakistanis and even phony at times when she is trying to save the world, always questioning herself and her sincerity. When she comes across a sick, limping teenage girl, who may be about to be sold into prostitution as indicated by her conspicuous nose ring, she sends the girl off without treating her. Sophie’s confused instincts due to the newness of the setting and her weakened will put the girl’s life in danger, pushing Sophie on a mission to search for the girl and pull her out of prostitution.     

Inner Conflict/Scenario for Protagonist #2 (Sultana, or Diamond Dust):

Sultana, also known as Diamond Dust, lives in the red-light district, but wants out from the world of courtesans and generational prostitution after her mother’s death. She is naïve in thinking that the new brothel Madam and societal norms will release her from her almost inevitable destiny as a courtesan’s daughter and granddaughter.  



For Dr. Sophie:

Sophie has some unfinished business back in the U.S. related to her pending divorce. Meanwhile, the building housing her free clinic for which she pays no rent due to the kindness of her great uncle, is under pressure to be sold and she needs to raise money quickly or reverse her hard toil of the last few years of setting up the clinic. 

For Sultana:

Sultana’s way to pay off her madam is to be a nude model for art projects curated by a wealthy philanthropist, Tina, who has political aspirations. Nudity and nude art are banned in Pakistan, and Tina suppresses her ties to this illegal exploitation of underage models like Sultana. 



The story is partially set in a rural Wisconsin town and the state capital, Madison. However, the events of the primary conflict take place amid the brothels of the oldest red-light district known as the Diamond Market, which is located within the confines of the ancient walled city of Old Lahore. The novel charts the dying world of generational courtesans while showcasing Pakistan’s corrupt political class. The two female protagonists meet at a rally for the former prime minister Benazir Bhutto, one of her last before Benazir’s assassination a month later. Sub-settings include the homes of the wealthy. One of these houses is the site of a nude modeling session where the teenage prostitute-in-waiting, Sultana, is assaulted.   

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Assignment One:  Story statement.

A crew of misunderstood FBI agents freelance as Deep State guardian angels.

Assignment Two:  Statement on the antagonist.

My novel’s antagonistic force is a bewildering talent possessed by the agents in FBI Unit 13, which they self-depreciatingly call “it.”  Unit 13’s agents are idiosyncratic students of human behavior and nonverbal communication, leading some FBI colleagues to apply the label “psychic” -- a label they reject emphatically.  The Unit 13 agents believe there’s nothing supernatural about their abilities; they’re based in neurology, not magic.  The problem is that “it” sometimes provides the agents with troubling insights, even though they are powerless to act.  But, when Unit 13 is firing on all cylinders, “it” is a formidable tool.  


In a world increasingly characterized by self-absorption and digitized communications, the Unit 13 agents stand apart, bringing to bear their heightened powers of observation and empathy, which they do with a sense of dark humor and irreverence.  Operating under the radar and not entirely by the book, Unit 13 encounters an array of narcissistic bullies (some redeemable; some not), as they tackle seemingly unrelated cases involving a bizarre uptick in train track suicides, mistreatment of asylum seekers at the Mexican border, and a morale crisis among public corruption prosecutors investigating a shadowy political figure.


Assignment Three:  Proposed titles.

The Quiet Car

It Goes Without Saying

The It Squad


Assignment Four:  Genre and comparable works.

Genre:  Literary fiction (elements of detective story/buddy story/suspense/dark comedy).

My novel is comparable to No Country for Old Men, by Cormac McCarthy, sharing common themes involving law enforcement officers as they confront a mysterious tide of inhumanity with stoicism and bemusement. Likewise, my novel bears resemblance to The Sportswriter by Richard Ford in its elevation of commonplace New Jersey settings to iconic significance.  In advancing the story, my novel includes narrative echoes of David Foster Wallace (simplified for mere mortals like me) and dialog influenced by the Coen Brothers.

In terms of visual media, my novel could be described as a present-day reimagining of the film, Wings of Desire by Wim Wenders (guardian angels watching over Berlin) combined with the quirky, humanistic squad room antics depicted in the 1970s television comedy series, Barney Miller (which, remarkably, still gets extensive, cultish play on cable channels).  Rustin Cohle from the first season of True Detective and Dale Cooper from Twin Peaks might also feel at home in Unit 13.

Assignment Five:  Hook line.

A pair of aging FBI operatives struggle to preserve the Unit they run, hoping their young protégés can continue the Unit’s unofficial, altruistic charter as they confront a sinister tide of cruelty and indifference.


Assignment Six:  Protagonist conflict sketches.

Primary conflict.

My novel features two protagonists, whose fates are intertwined -- J.W. Winchester and Charlie Barrow, the FBI operatives who run Unit 13.  J.W. and Charlie are endowed with the heightened awareness, empathy, and communication prowess associated with “it.” Because of their abilities, both developed a sense of hyper-responsibility to use them for the greater good, even when doing so is anxiety provoking, personally burdensome, and not exactly consistent with FBI protocols.  Misunderstood by the Agency at large, J.W., Charlie, and the Unit 13 crew make short work of standard, official cases and focus instead on their preferred guardian angel projects, doing what they can to stem society’s pernicious tide.  It’s tough work but, hey, someone’s got to do it.


Protagonists’ inner conflict.

J.W. Winchester is the FBI’s oldest active woman, by far.  Nobody knows exactly how old -- and she isn’t telling -- but smart money has her closer to 100 than to 80.  Decades earlier, J.W. came to the attention of Unit 13’s revered founder, who told anybody who would listen that she was the best natural detective he had ever encountered.  J.W. was a pioneer “when there were few women working at the FBI, let alone pregnant women, let alone pregnant woman without a husband, let alone pregnant women without a husband who had assumed high supervisory authority in the absence of any official title because, at the time, the FBI wasn’t calling any women ‘Special Agent.’”   Being a pioneer came at a cost:  J.W. had a challenging relationship with her daughter, Meredith, who was afflicted with psychiatric illness and ultimately died as a young adult, leaving a daughter of her own behind.  Years later, J.W. still struggles with how she might have done better.  J.W. also feels the daily weight of responsibility to ensure that Unit 13 will thrive after she is gone.


Charlie Barrow is a charming eccentric approaching sixty, preoccupied with his expanding prostate and waistline.  Charlie’s marriage to his law school girlfriend is deteriorating, although he maintains a close relationship with his two children, including a daughter, who, like her father, recognized that she had “it” since early childhood.  After J.W. Winchester assumed the helm at Unit 13, she took note of Charlie’s talents and persuaded him to leave his position at the U.S. Attorney’s office to be her second in command.  Growing up in the 1960s and 70s as the son of a Jamaican father and Italian mother, Charlie became attuned to the frustrations of incomplete progress and learned to see things from the outside.  Charlie’s experience as an outsider, coupled with “it,” led him to become a tireless observer of humanity, and one of his favorite perches for study is the New Jersey Transit quiet car during his daily commute.  In an early scene from the novel, an unpleasant dispute concerning the ambiguous “quiet car guidelines” causes Charlie to become bombarded with ominous concerns about people in imminent danger, helpless to do anything about it -- for the time being, at least. 


And when Charlie Barrow is bombarded, J.W. Winchester is bombarded….


Secondary conflicts.

The use of “it” as J.W. and Charlie’s preferred policing tool ultimately gives rise to several secondary conflicts, including confrontations with various memorable villains as Unit 13 works to rescue potential track jumpers, relocate courageous refugee families, and convince demoralized U.S. Attorneys to hang in there for another election cycle.  The narrative also includes rivalries (and pranks) among Unit 13’s quirky young agents, as well as unconventional, unexpected love triangles.

Assignment Seven:  Setting.
With respect to time, my novel is set in the ominous three months preceding 2020’s arrival.  Catalyzed by unorthodox police work, chance encounters, and romantic entanglements, several disparate story lines converge as the novel marches toward its New Year’s Eve conclusion that serves as a fitting, nostalgic farewell to 2019 and pre-pandemic, pre-insurrection times.


With respect to geography, the novel’s primary locations are metropolitan New Jersey, Lower Manhattan, and venues along the border of Laredo, Texas and Nuevo Laredo, Mexico.


Several New Jersey locations and motifs are integral to the novel’s themes, including the byzantine, claustrophobic confines of the NJ Transit system, where Charlie Barrow does some of his best thinking and where some of the novel’s most suspenseful and gruesome scenes unfold.   The Dunkin’ Donuts storefront in Hoboken’s Lackawanna Terminal is where we meet several key secondary characters and where several of the novel’s comic subplots originate.


Throughout the novel, Charlie serves as the composer of a gritty love song to New Jersey and its diverse, resilient inhabitants, and we frequently find Charlie and other characters in recognizable, real-world New Jersey locations (notably, bars and pizzerias).  Charlie is a longstanding resident of Montclair, a town that was once celebrated as the best place in America to be a biracial couple, and Charlie’s nuanced affection for the town serves as a platform to address racial issues that arise.  And, of course, the novel includes several compulsory settings reminiscent of The Sopranos (e.g., a female psychiatrist’s office and a seedy hotel near the Resorts casino in Atlantic City).


Across the river in Manhattan, several of the novel’s scenes take place in a high-ceilinged, ornate courtroom that J.W. Winchester secured as Unit 13’s headquarters after most of the Southern District judges moved their chambers to a newly constructed federal building.  Many gatherings of Unit 13 transpire in that magnificent, slightly deteriorating space.  Other NYC scenes take place in J.W.’s Varick Street loft which, not surprising to anybody, she managed to buy at the exact bottom of the real estate market. 

Throughout the novel, physical settings are enhanced by projecting the narrative against pop culture backdrops that include film, sports, and music references.






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