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New York Pitch Assignments - June 2022

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FIRST ASSIGNMENT: write your story statement. 


Neuroscientist moves into an 18th century manor where inexplicable events and a connection to a woman from the past force him to suspend his view of reality and reconsider his relationship to the past and future.


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.


Antagonists of Miles story arc:

            - Olivia: a force that keeps Miles entrenched in reality and routine and who is eager to forge a future that Miles is uncertain he wants.

            - Connor: a threat to Miles’ growing relationship with an old flame and a blockade to the future he might want. *Make Miles’ antagonists stronger*- make Connor a more impactful antagonist.  Perhaps he’s not a student but another professor in the same field as Miles.  Perhaps he’s sneaky?  Trying to undermine Miles’ position at Oxford?  Threatened by Miles in the faculty hierarchy?

            - Dimitri: challenges Miles’ view of reality and his relationship to time and the essence of who we are.

            - Miles:  as a scientist, his training confines his mind within the scope of science and reason.  Will he open his mind or be doomed to repeat the past?


Antagonists of Margaret story arc:

            - John Weston: a handsome, wealthy, and socially superior suitor who forces Margaret to choose between a secure future or disregard every expectation in pursuit of a love she could scarcely fathom.

            - Lady Moore: a maternal embodiment of 19th century expectations that, for the sake of her societal status, family, and future, a daughter must marry a man of wealth and good breeding.

            - Jane Weston: another force of societal expectation in the form of a peer, and a threat to the love Margaret might yet have. 


*John Weston and Jane Weston should have a more direct negative effect on Will/Margaret (perhaps it is John’s mission to get Will out the way?)*


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


Entangled, Entanglements in Time, The Inseparable Ties of Stars in the Firmament, A Persistent Illusion 


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?


Kate Morton- utilizes parallel storylines set in different time periods, usually one set in the present and the other(s) set, for example, in Victorian England.  My novel also entwines two parallel storylines, on set in the present and the other in Regency England.  The theme of uncovering a mystery also permeates both Kate Morton’s novels and this one.


Deborah Harkness- The ‘All Souls’ trilogy explores magic and the concept of the past and time itself.  The theme of how each point in time affects the other is central to my story.  Harkness’s trilogy also utilizes two narrative voices, one of a young woman and the other of a man who exists a bit out of time.  My novel also interchanges between two perspectives, that of a young man in the present and a young woman from the past.


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.


An Oxford Neuroscientist entrenched in evidence, logic, and reason moves into an 18th century manor and uncovers a 200-year-old diary of a young woman, the contents of which and the escalating inexplicable phenomena beg him to suspend his view of reality and reconsider his relationship to the past and future.


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?


Inner Conflict:


Miles: Has dedicated and lived his life within the evidence-based comfort of science, at the expense, though he’d certainly not admit it, of important relationships.  Any threat to his identity and worldview would catalyze an existential crisis and make him wonder, ‘what was it all for?’  For example, Miles may have vivid knowledge of a place and item that he’d never visited or seen before like a particular amateur 19th century painting hanging in a small dusty room above an antique shop just off Broadstreet in Oxford, England.  He would know instantly that this room had been a bedroom a century or two ago and recall the exact placement of the furniture that no longer existed.  He recalled the painting would have hung on the cracked plaster wall opposite the small bed.  As a neuroscientist specialized in memory, Miles would endeavor to explain the phenomena, but the incomplete explanation that he would inevitably form would cause an uneasiness to settle in his bones.


Margaret: Feels confined by the restrictions that 19th century British society imposes on her livelihood and future, her mother embodying these expectations and reminding Margaret frequently of her duty as a daughter to marry and marry well.  For example, Margaret dreads the impending ball at the Oxford Assembly Hall, from forced social exchange to dancing with strange men, if she would be so lucky as to be asked.  But as social convention requires of a young woman of marriageable age, Margaret must cast her net across these stuffy, crowded rooms where candles dripped low into the evening and polite giggles became obnoxious punch-induced guffaws.  Despite her mother’s needling and insistence, Margaret’s heart and attention are absent from these events, remaining in the library of Rosemond Park, lurking amongst her father’s impressive leather-bound literature.  Margaret wants nothing more than the freedom to decide what she wants for her future but knows that without the wealth and security of a husband, she may be able to do as she likes, but would forever be a burden to her family and most surely resented for it.


Secondary Conflict:


Miles: Conflict between Miles and girlfriend Olivia.  Miles begins to sense that what Olivia expects after leaving her job, family, and friends to move across the Atlantic for him and his new appointment at Oxford University is a higher level of commitment.  Through her agitation and short temper, Miles knows it is no longer enough for Olivia to simply be with him.  But was a marriage to Olivia what Miles wanted his future to be?  So certain Miles had been his entire life, about what schools to attend, degrees to pursue, friends to entertain, and unfashionable though functional clothes to adorn, that the mere notion of uncertainty caused his neural synapses to fire erratically and his head and heart to fizzle.   


Margaret: Conflict between Margaret and close friend Will.  Understanding better than Margaret that their daily rhythm of strolls through the grounds of Rosemond Park, lessons in the library, and comfortable conversation will end with Margaret’s marriage, Will becomes agitated and distant as he endeavors to pave a future of his own, separate from Margaret. His agitation also stems from Margaret’s romantic and unrealistic ideas about what life should be.  Wanting for nothing and sheltered within the idyllic grounds of Rosemond Park with only her novels of mystery, adventure, and romance to form her identity and worldview, Margaret does not understand that if she does not marry well, her circumstances could become unimaginably worse.  The son of a poor Irish doctor, Will understands what could be.  In frustration he endeavors to convey this, but he too clings to the fantasy that he and Margaret could continue as they had, in each other's pleasurably familiar company.   


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.


Rosemond Park: a manor built in the 1700s of light stone and English Baroque architecture popular of the time. The manor was consistently occupied by the same family since its conception in the mid 1700’s, through the Georgians and Victorians until the Great War when it was briefly turned over for the war effort as a convalescence home for recovering officers.  Having survived the war, the Lord of the manor took up residence once again, only for his sons to endure a similar fate at the hands of World War II.  Only the younger son returned to reclaim his ancestral home, but by then he’d seen too much to sit in his large empty house full of ghosts, memories, and echoes of happier times.  He left for New York, only to find the encroaching height of buildings and the masses of humanity claustrophobic.  He eventually found his way to the sprawling savannahs and hot dry sun of South Africa where he married a fair-haired, blue-eyed Boer woman and had a son.  Unlike his father, this son would grow up tanned in these liberating, feral lands.  But this son harbored intellectual ambitions and had heard the fables of his father’s home and the great stone universities.  He would leave his Dutch-African mother and war wearied father in the vastness of the plains and journey back to Oxford and a house known as Rosemond Park.  He would attend Oxford University as many of his ancestors before him, and dine, read, and rest where they once had.  He would marry a smart English girl with hazel eyes and curly hair.  A year later a son would follow.  George, they would call him.  George Edward Moore.


Rosemond Park (present day):  Now in his late sixties, George Moore, the owner of Rosemond Park has opened sections of the manor for rent.  Miles, a young American Neuroscientist and newly appointed professor at Oxford University, rents the west wing of the second level with his girlfriend.  As Miles explores the manor seemingly frozen in time, he uncovers the two-hundred year old diary of a young woman who had once lived there.  As the weeks wear on, Miles experiences the unnerving sensation that the place is heavy with centuries of emotion and memory, and that the echoes of the past yearn to be heard. 


Rosemond Park 1812:  Margaret Moore is a young woman in the Regency living with her parents and brother Edward, when he is not frolicking elsewhere, in her ancestral home Rosemond Park.  Having had no brothers, Margaret’s mother inherited Rosemond Park which was subsequently inherited by her father, a lowly professor and quite beneath the likes of the daughter of a Baron, once they married.  But Margaret’s mother had married for love and, though she did not regularly regret this decision, she did not wish the same for Margaret, for Margaret had her older brother Edward who would inherit everything.  Margaret is therefore foisted into as many balls and social gatherings as the season permits and she loathes every moment, longing to curl into the armchair in the library and read one of her many beloved novels.  Her dear friend Will would understand, he would sooner have joined her in the library or take a long stroll through the woods around the manor than stand for such social frivolities.


Sub Settings:


Oxford University (present day): Miles is a newly appointed professor of Cognitive Neuroscience at Oxford University.  When not teaching in the creaking wood-paneled lecture hall, Miles can be found under the over bright florescent light of his whitewashed lab and small adjoining office with an old wood desk upon which written imprints of a heavy handed former resident can be felt upon its worn surface.  The former resident of this lab happened to be an Australian Theoretical physicist, now located in a smaller lab down the hall.  Miles met the man and was not surprised to find him exactly how he expected based on his previous experience with academic physicists; a little odd, dreamy, and heartily dosed with arrogance.  


Thornwell Estate 1812: The impressive stately home of the Weston family conjured of weather worn and water-stained stone.  Portraits of thin-nosed ancestral Westons line the long dark halls and one might get the impression of entering a vast cave system, leading every now and then to a cavernous space full of echoes and precious things.  It is this estate that John Weston shall inherit and what the future Lady Weston shall keep.  Charismatic and pleasing to the eye, it would not be so difficult to fall in love with Mr. Weston, thought Margaret after their meeting at the Oxford Hall Assembly.  But there was something unnerving in his black eyes and in the turn of his sharp nose that Margaret could not place.


Boar’s Hill Fair 1812: An annual fall fair on the outskirts of Oxford where Margaret is habitually forbidden to go but who has on occasion broken this command in the company of her elder brother Edward, the charming, cherished son who seemed to be the only one of their family to get away with anything, including their father.  With her brother being much more absent from home than years past, Margaret entangles Will in her scheme to attend the festivities.  She would not miss the parade of piglets or the acrobatic men on stilts waving colorful ribbons through the air far above them on Edward’s account.  No indeed.


London, England 1812:  After much contemplation, Will decides that the best opportunities for him to practice medicine reside in a London Hospital.  London is also conveniently far enough away from Oxford to forget about Margaret and forge his own future, apart from hers.  It pains him even more to leave when he sees the distress and confusion in Margaret’s wide eyes, but the pain if he remained would surely be far worse.  


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FIRST ASSIGNMENT write your story statement. 


Ever must uncover the true purpose behind her training and escape her underground home.


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 antagonists within these parallel storylines:

  1. Sio is the primary Keeper of the Subjects within Helix Colony. She began the Regeneration program by taking in orphans from the Surface, training them to continue the battle for the existence of the human race. The Keepers and ultimately the Chairman dictate who is chosen for the honor of rising to the Surface and joining the Resistance efforts - but at every turn Sio prevents her own Subject Ever from advancing which begs the question, why?

  2. Edric is the son of a biomedical tycoon. He’s got a chip on his shoulder and something to prove. He spares no expense to tank his rivals and rise to the top of his own empire. He lures in a gifted geneticist to work for him, under the pretense of developing resources to democratize healthcare for all… he orchestrated the car accident that made her desperate enough to create fully organic replicas, for the highest bidders. And when his company and profits are threatened he takes further extreme measures to guarantee survival.

Antagonistic forces:

On The Surface there are both societal forces (in the form of capitalism and wealth inequality,) and environmental forces (in the form of climate change) at play.  

Below ground there is the constant threat of the humanoid creatures, the Others, finding out the location of the Helix and destroying what’s left of the resistance.


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


The Final Orchard 

Level 23

Helix Colony



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?


The Maze Runner by James Dashner, and the films 10 Cloverfield Lane, The Island, and Level 16

(dystopian thrillers in which the protagonists find themselves trapped in an environment where they have been lied to about the reality that exists beyond their walls, and they must risk everything to escape and discover the truth for themselves.)




A mother without a daughter. A daughter without a family. A civilization nearly wiped out by their own AI creations. And an underground sanctuary that is humanity's last hope. All of these realities are true, and all of them are lies. One girl will leave behind everything she’s ever known to uncover the truth about her purpose, and one woman will risk her life to hide it and protect what’s left of their world. 



Protagonist 1 - Primary Conflict:

After a car crash ripped her daughter from her life, a heartbroken scientist strives to get back what she lost and protect it at all costs

Secondary Conflict:

Capitalism reigns supreme and technological advancements in medicine have led to the creation of bionic parts extending life spans. The life saving “adornments” however, are only available to those who can afford it. Our Protagonist, Ro, is a gifted scientist  whose research could democratize human enhancement for all. Having lost everything that was important to her in the crash she sacrifices her morals and teams up with an elite using her research to support all that she was against, benefiting only the wealthy. It’s a means to an end as Ro intends to bolt and destroy her work once she’s created her daughter’s replica.  But escalating temperatures and climate extremes prove she may have nowhere else to go. She slowly discovers she’s not in control of her work, and her partner has far more sinister intentions for her creations than she could have ever imagined. 

Protagonist 2 - Primary Conflict:

Ever has spent her entire life underground, working to appease the Keepers and the Chairman. She trains, she makes her donations, and she remains in peak physical condition. To the best of her ability, Ever follows the rules and stays in line. In other words she’s paid her dues, and she’s proven herself as a Pure Subject. But when it’s finally her turn for the honor of being chosen to rise to the Surface and aid in the Resistance efforts against The Others, the Chairman choses a Flawed Subject instead. Ever must grapple with the unprecedented selection of her unstable former best friend and find out the true nature of their training and endeavor to escape.

Secondary Conflict:

Jealousy, concern, and curiosity about her friend Reed’s selection have Ever questioning what to believe about the true purpose of Helix Colony. Was Reed’s paranoia warranted? The more she considers that possibility, the more she questions her own sanity.



The Surface -

This story is set in a near future earth where global warming and rising sea levels have forced people inland into small cities. The city of Artesia is surrounded by a border of smog produced by the factories of the Refinery Lands which create all of the tech needed to keep the place going.  Past that are the Outlands, a no man’s land of wilderness and scarcity where everyone must fend for themselves.

Further into the future our second protagonist’s story takes place in an underground safe haven, Helix Colony,  where the remainder of the human species has sought refuge after being attacked and driven from the Surface by their own AI creations.

The Helix - has 23 underground levels, each of which is dedicated to the production of assets for the survival of humanity. This includes hydroponic gardens, water reservoirs, and blood banks. Accessible only through travel in a biometrically secured cylindrical elevator, known as the Tube.

Level 23 - is where our protagonist resides, along with her fellow Subjects. All orphans rescued from the Surface and trained to one day join the resistance efforts in taking back their lands. Level 23 includes the following areas:

Capsule Dormitories - These are the individual Subject’s meager bedrooms, with motion-sensored LED walls that display hopeful images of a future peaceful Surface, and serves to schedule a Subject’s day.

Refectory - The cafeteria where both Subject and Keepers take their meals, Subjects through IV infusions and light therapy, Keeper’s eat solids dispensed from machines. 

Drawing Room - A medical observatory where Subjects are enclosed within glass cases that draw out their blood for donation to the soldiers of the Resistance

Utility Closet - An old room where antiquated equipment is dumped. It serves as Ever and Reed’s secret meeting location.

Atrium - A 23-story arena where the Selection Ceremonies take place - a distant skylight offers a glimpse of the world above. The Atrium is also home to the TUBE.

Other areas of Level 23 include the Med Lab, Infant Unit, and Kinetics Gym.

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Assignment 1

Rankin Johnson


  1. Story statement.

Investigator Yale Gallagher needs to identify Boyd Fitzsimmons's murderer and find proof sufficient to free his client, Ambrose Collingsworth.


2. Antagonist sketch

Before the book, Patrick Doolan, a police officer, shot and killed Dion Fordham, an innocent 16-year-old Black boy. Doolan’s partner, Jerzy Strasz drew his gun and fired but missed, and a third officer, Sofia Thorburn, also drew her gun, but did not fire. The three of them told a consistent story to the police disciplinary review board, that Dion had a gun and one of his friends ran off with it.

The review board voted to demote Doolan and Strasz but not punish them further. One board member, Boyd Fitzsimmons, believed that Doolan and Strasz, and maybe Thorburn, should be fired and prosecuted, but he was voted down. He resigned in protest.

Fitzsimmons later ran for mayor. Doolan believed that, if Fitzsimmons were elected, he would push for Doolan and Strasz to be prosecuted. So, Doolan poisoned Fitzsimmons backstage before a mayoral debate, and planted evidence that would cast suspicion on another candidate, Ambrose Collingsworth.

When Ambrose’s attorney tries to get records regarding the investigation of Dion’s death, the police bureaucracy prevents her from getting the records, because publicity over Dion’s death will be bad for all of them, including the incumbent mayor, Isberg. Isberg is glad for the prosecution against Ambrose to continue, hurting Ambrose politically, but he’s not connected to the murder.


3. Titles

A Crooked Line

A Ration of Justice

Noblest and Worst


4. Comps

Black Water Rising by Attica Locke

The Last Place You Look by Kristen Lepionka

August Snow by Stephen Mack Jones


5. Logline


When a Black mayoral candidate is accused of murdering a corrupt cop, ex-cop Yale Gallagher reluctantly agrees to investigate. To discover the sordid secret behind the murder, he’ll have to give up his hopes to return to the police, but if he doesn’t, his client will never receive justice.


6. Conflicts

A. Internal conflict

The MC, Yale Gallagher, left the police department semi-unwillingly, and hopes to return. At the start of the story, he thinks the police are the good guys and criminal defense attorneys are mere accomplices.

He is reluctantly dragged into working on the defense of Ambrose Collingsworth, a Black ex-cop and mayoral candidate, accused of killing another ex-cop, Boyd Fitzsimmons. Yale doesn’t want to work on criminal defense, and he doesn’t want the police to think he has switched sides, in which case they will not hire him back. But, as he works on the case, he comes to believe that Ambrose is not guilty and that the police are wrongfully hiding facts about Fitzsimmons’s history, maybe to avert scandal, or maybe to harm Collingsworth politically. He has to choose between justice for Ambrose and maintaining his relationship with the police, which is tied to his self-image.

He is expressly confronted with that choice in the story when a high-ranking police officer asks Yale to return confidential documents that are helpful to Collingsworth’s defense but embarrassing to the police.


B. Secondary conflict

Yale has a secondary conflict with some rank-and-file police officers, who resent him for working for an accused cop-killer. That includes some argument, and a brief physical conflict, at a bar frequented by cops.


7. Setting

The story is set in the fictitious Rust Belt city of Folton, which has parallels to cities like Pittsburgh and Detroit, and also to New York City. It’s set in the modern day, in the winter and early spring before a mayoral primary, but not in a particular year. The city is ethnically mixed.

The parallels to NYC are because I want the reader to see the police department as akin to the NYPD - politically powerful, self-interested, resistant to oversight, corrupt, racist. The city has decayed and is trying to lift itself into the 21st century, and the contrast between old/shadowy and new/bright is repeated throughout. The police department moves from a moldy old building, which it still uses for some things, to a new bright one. The first and last scenes are in an old hotel that is undergoing renovations.

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FIRST ASSIGNMENT: write your story statement. 

In a sleepy college town, a mother is willing to do whatever it takes to protect her son, despite doubting his innocence, when he is named a person of interest in a potential murder case.

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.


1.     Craig: Nicole sees her husband, as well as their marriage, through rose-colored glasses. Her first real “suitor,” Nicole, was swept up by his charm and married him when she was only nineteen, dedicating her life to being his wife and stay-at-home mom to their son, Kyle. Despite his adulating façade, Craig is anything but; he isn’t the doting, faithful husband, nor is he the protective father that he’s portrayed himself to be. Unbeknownst to Nicole, Craig is partly responsible for Jaden’s disappearance, and she only learns of his cunningness towards the end of the story.

2.     Trista: The woman behind what really happened to Jaden (the boy who went missing), forcing Nicole to face the ultimate moral decision: tell the police the truth or let her unfaithful, unscrupulous husband take the fall and remain in jail.

3.     Kyle: Between his suspicious and inexplicable behaviors, and privy to his illegal sports betting hobby, Nicole suspects there’s more to Kyle’s role in Jaden’s disappearance. She withholds such information from the police, creating a moral dilemma: help the case or protect her son? 

THIRD ASSIGNMENT: create a breakout title 




FOURTH ASSIGNMENT:  Develop two smart comparables for your novel.

1.     EVERY LAST SECRET, A.R. Torre

2.     THE SECRETS YOU KEEP, Kate White

Thrillers with twisty endings in which the protagonists learn secrets about their spouses, instantaneously turning their worlds upside down.  

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

A mother meddles in a potential murder case in a sleepy college town when her son is named a person of interest, despite questioning his culpability. 

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?

Conflict 1:

 After her son is named a person of interest, the protagonist is conflicted about his innocence, especially after telling her his secret about his illegal hobby. As a mom, she wants to believe him and protect him at all costs, but watching his sneaky behavior and finding what may be a piece of evidence in his dresser drawer, she fears the worst: he was involved. Internally conflicted, she feels guilty for doubting her son and withholding information from the police, but on the other hand, she’s afraid to come forward because not only could it implicate her son, but it would expose her misdoings.

Conflict 2:

The stress about protecting her son causes marital strife for the protagonist because her husband’s primary concern is how his son’s possible involvement will affect his upcoming promotion. The protagonist meddles behind her husband’s back, and while doing so, she realizes that she’s being followed. Fearful of her safety, she discloses this to her husband, and as the events unfold from there, she quickly learns that her marriage (and husband) is a ruse.

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 takes place in and around the fictional town of Cantonville, more specifically on and around the College of Cantonville. Located in the heart of historical downtown Cantonville, the sprawling campus is lined with plantation-style brick buildings built back in the early eighteen fifties. Hundred-year-old oak trees branch out over the walkways like umbrellas protecting students from the hot, humid days of summer and the cold, rainy days in winter. With its southern charm, students stroll the campus, never rushing from class to class. Rather, they laze their way through the curvy paths, stopping to chat with their peers along the way.

            In the prologue, four fraternity boys are in the woods near Lake Canton, less than a mile from their fraternity house and campus. Colossal pine trees tower overhead, filtering out any light, the branches connect together like a primitive roof, thus allowing only mere slivers of moonlight to seep through the rustling leaves. When the boys realize they can’t find one of their other brothers, they give up and head back to the fraternity house.

            The first chapter then takes place in Nicole and Craig’s Victorian style, two-story, four-bedroom, three-bath house, equipped nicely with state-of-the-art appliances and numerous luxuries, also located a few miles from the heart of the campus.

            As the story progresses, Nicole joins the search party and combs through the woods near Lake Canton. The area is covered in rough terrain, and the sticky, muddy, uneven grounds make it challenging to pass through. When not scouring that area, Nicole is at the police station where people, outfitted in blue uniforms or plain street clothes, both wearing bright, shiny badges, scurry back and forth as their loud shoes clack on the alternating black and white square linoleum floor. Phones ring simultaneously and asynchronously, creating a cacophony of bells, and there is a nasally nosed receptionist sitting behind the plexiglass that separates the lobby from the back. Visitors can cross to the other side through a small, corral-like door with a quick buzz. Nicole, Craig, and Kyle all spend time here.

            While bouncing back and forth between her house, the gym, the woods, and the police station while searching for answers, Nicole also frequents a local coffee shop where two young moms, hair piled high on their heads, chat away as two toddlers sit in highchairs, blueberry muffin crumbs blanketing the table and tile floor. Other people have their heads in their phones as they sip their overpriced, oversized coffees. She also shops at a local health store, “Fit For You,” the anchor store in a busy shopping plaza. It’s the biggest nutrition store Nicole has ever seen. It’s more like a big-box store, but it isn’t a chain. A local couple owns it, and they have everything to enhance a healthy lifestyle––from fruits to supplements––they have it all.  She also shops at a Walmart one town over.

            When secrets start to be revealed, Nicole visits a teaching assistant. The posh apartment is located a few miles from the campus. It’s decorated in complementary grays and blues, and the modern farmhouse style makes it look like Chip and Joanna Gaines personally decorated it. Black orbital light fixtures hang over the kitchen island, matching the hardware on the rustic barn door that separates the living room from the den. A thick shaggy rug, which looked like a Maltese dog, sits on the floor in front of the stone fireplace.

            The last chapter is set in the woods again, revealing what happened when the fraternity brother disappeared on that fateful night. Lastly, in the epilogue, Nicole is once again in the coffee shop where the story concludes.





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Assignment one: Write your story statement.

Seventeen-year-old Mason, Sarah, and Patrick must learn to believe in themselves and decide whether or not to rid a dystopian world of its magical and destructive human senses. 


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

Everyone in the world of Fovea has the Sight (moving objects with one’s eyes), but some are born with the Hearing (hearing people’s thoughts), the Taste (tasting one’s blood and knowing exactly which Senses they possess), or the Scent (smelling premonitions). Over the years, some new Senses emerged—the Ceptors. These are powers of Pain, Balance, and Temperature. Prince Lance Acheron and his army of supporters, the Crossmerry, are desperate to protect these powers from the one individual left in Fovea with the power of the Touch (the ability to take away power and rid the world of all the magic Senses). The individual with the Touch must always pass it on before they die, otherwise, it will be gone forever. Lance, consumed by his fear of losing power, has gone so far as to murder the last ruler of Fovea—and his own sister—who both threatened to use the Touch to destroy the Senses. After discovering that his murder did not destroy the Touch, after all, Lance and his army are desperate to seek out whoever is hiding with it—and kill them. 


Assignment three: List three options for a breakout title.
1. unSENSEational
2. A Song of the Senses
3. Unheard, Unseen, Untouched

Assignment four: Develop two smart comparables to your novel.

1. Scythe — Similar in writing style, this YA work follows the POVs of two teens who, like Mason, Sarah, and Patrick, are thrown into the middle of a conflict between two very opposing factions. Instead of deciding whether people should wield the power over life and death, the protagonists within my work are presented with the decision of magic senses or no magic senses. Both stories feature politics, murder, and protagonists discovering who they really are.

2. Seasons of the Storm — Comparable to my work is this YA’s unique magic system. Whereas this story has the physical embodiments of Winter, Spring, Summer, and Fall, my story consists of the physical magical embodiments of the human senses (Sight, Sound, Taste, Hear, & Touch). Both works also speak on themes of love, friendship, death, and rebellion.

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

When three teenagers battling self-doubt, loss, and trauma find themselves in a physical war over the fate of a magical world’s human senses, they must learn to overcome their demons and feel before a murderous prince purges the world of the sense of touch forever. 

Assignment six: (A) 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. (B) Sketch out a scenario for the “secondary conflict” involving the social environment. Will this involve family? Friends? What is the nature of it?  

Because I have three main protagonists, I will do this for all three of them:

1. (A) Mason has never been good at his Sight. In a world where he could have been born with a more remarkable Sense (perhaps the Scent, Hearing, or Taste), he wishes more than anything that he could at least be good with the one he does possess. It makes him feel like an embarrassment and a failure in his society. When Mason tries to use his Sight to rescue a stranger and fails, his actions result in his close friends being captured by the Crossmerry and then catapult him into being involved in a political war. Mason blames himself and his lack of skill completely, and it fuels his need to be the one to rescue them.

(B) Mason teams up with a rebel group called the Unseen, led by a charismatic and gregarious Garth, and his caretaker, Timp, who both put him through rigorous training with his Sight. Despite Mason’s participation and determination to make his caretaker proud in the grueling training, Timp and Garth won’t let him join them and the Unseen on their mission to stop Lance because of his lack of skill and progress.

2. (A) Sarah struggles to come to terms with and accept her mother’s death by suicide. Since her mother was a huge inspiration for confidence, without her, Sarah feels that she has none at all. At home she needs: to be considered cool amongst her peers, the constant distraction of social media, and a small ballerina figurine that reminds her of her mother in order to feel okay. So when she finds herself in Fovea and thrown into a war without most of these distractions, she battles with processing, feeling, moving on from her traumas, and finding the strength and courage from within herself.
Example scene: During a heartwarming conversation with Mason, where she is being vulnerable about her past, she decides to let him hold onto the ballerina figure she holds tightly to her chest. When Mason tries to get it to dance using his Sight and the ballerina falls, Sarah panics.

(B) Sarah winds up with the Unseen alongside Mason and develops feelings for him despite knowing that their path will ultimately fork.

3. (A) Patrick grows up in the modern world a misfit. Having been really born in Fovea, Patrick possesses magic powers: the Sight, and all three Ceptors (Pain, Movement, Temperature). Due to him hiding his powers from everyone for his entire life out of fear of being a freak, Patrick is reclusive and for that, he is a subject of constant bullying. The only person who ever stands up for him and has his back is Sarah, and it is because of this that he is completely and unrequitedly in love with her. When Sarah discovers the world of Fovea and goes missing, it sends Patrick into a spiral of destruction and morally grey decisions as he realizes just how much he is capable of with his powers.

(B) Patrick discovers that his true family and heritage are in Fovea and that Prince Lance Acheron is his blood relative. Finally feeling like he belongs somewhere and that he is applauded for his powers instead of being coined a freak, Patrick must choose between belonging and doing what is right.

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

The story takes place in two worlds: The world of Fovea and modern-day Massachusetts. Most of the story takes place in Fovea though, with the only scenes in Massachusetts happening in the first and second acts. Those include scenes at a local high school, a local concert at a dive bar, and a mysterious underground chamber behind Patrick’s house that is filled with curious antiques, junk, and the base of three massive converged trees.

Fovea is a dying world ruled by these powerful human senses. There are devastating droughts, scarce food, and ruined villages due to negligence and the destructive nature of some of the magic-bound senses. Because the people of Fovea have relied so heavily on their magic, they have not quite revolutionized the way the modern world has. Thus, they get around in horse and carriage, write with quills, and send letters by bird.

The story begins in one of the villages of Fovea, where Mason and his other orphaned friends live in a home run by a caretaker. Despite the loving family nature of the home and its caretaker, the home is dirty and there is barely enough food to feed everyone. Everyone sleeps in shared dormitories on cots.

In Mason’s village square, as with many of them, everything is grey and dirty. The small, well-spaced wooden houses of the village grow into huddles of cramped, stone buildings, empty storefronts, dusty pubs, and abandoned merchant’s carts.

Mason’s actions in the village square send him and his friends a few hours' ride out past the square, over the Singing Mountains, and through a valley beside the only green part of Fovea—the Iris Forest. Beyond the forest, they arrive at the Crossmerry’s headquarters, the Cept. The Cept is a giant sandstone building with polished, arched windows that are paneled and barred. Swarms of black carriages sit outside its steel, web-like gates and a massive, pitch-dark door painted with the Crossmerry’s crest is its entrance. 

Inside there are glossy marble stairs and Crossmerry in their umber-colored uniforms bustling about. There are many hallways with many different labeled rooms. It is within this building that the Crossmerry perform questioning of their prisoners, use their Tasters to test people for the Touch, and train new recruits to their cause.

The inevitable escape from the Cept takes the reader deep inside the dense and vibrant Iris Forest, where we visit an old Tatster’s wooden alchemy cabin, overgrown with plants.

From here we journey to the Sanctum of the Unseen, which is the base camp for the rebellion shielded by a protective canopy of vegetation. Over a dozen timber cabins and straw huts dwell here, lined neatly in rows with fire pits dusted between them. In the center of the camp is the Inner Sanctum, a church-like structure with a splintery, arched doorway and a bow roof. This is where the leader of the Unseen stays.

The story guides us west past dried-up gulches garnished with yellowing, brittle weeds, to where the Crossmerry live. Here, brick barracks with red tin roofs circle an immense stone tower.

From here we travel to the castle, where King Acheron and the prince, Lance, live. The castle stands high in the sky with five towers and a door that is also branded with the crest of the Crossmerry. A wooden drawbridge separates visitors from its cobblestone entrance. It is heavily guarded by members of the Crossmerry, who often have to skirmish with local insurgents who view the king and prince as traitors for what Lance had done to the previous king. Inside, the high loft ceilings are painted gold and the walls are flanked by engraved oak doors.

And lastly, the end takes place back in the Iris Forest, where the imposing converged trees from the modern world also exist. This is the only entrance between the two worlds.

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1/ Story statement

Nikolas, a shy boy finds himself in the shoes of an ancient Greek hero and has to step up as a leader and complete the hero’s mythological labor.


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.

Nikolas has a series of antagonists that appear sequentially in the story and drag him in a perilous journey to antiquity. Each antagonist places obstacles to Nikolas’ effort to unite with the girl he loves and his return to safety. These antagonists are Agis, Nikolas’ best friend and Veronika’s original love interest, Aegeas, the king of ancient Athens who does not recognize Nikolas as his long-lost son - contrary to the original Theseus myth, and Minoas, the king of Knossos who wishes to kill Nikolas to avenge Athens as part of a long-standing vendetta. None of the antagonists are really mean, they just have wants that clash with those of Nikolas’ and eventually contribute to Nikolas’ path towards self-realization. 


3/ Breakout Title

Theseus for a week
Theseus upside down 
Theseus!? Really? 


4/ Comparables

Back to the Future meets Persy Jackson: there is time travel to antiquity with gods, monsters and magical transformations all blended together in Hollywood-style. 

Comparable 1: Manolito Four-Eyes by Elvira Lindo. I see resemblance in the style of writing. It is written in a relaxed conversational tone resembling more to a spontaneous narration than a piece of literature. The way of writing makes it easy to follow - easier even than most middle grade books. The characters are above all lovable and easy to relate with. 

Comparable 2: Gangsta Granny or The Midnight Gang, both written by David Walliams. The resemblance with my novel relates more to the pace of the story. Both Gangsta Granny and The Midnight Gang are so action packed that they feel more like movies than novels. There are very few descriptions if any, and emphasis lies on an engaging high-concept premise, multiple plot twists and unexpected events. There is also a fair amount of humor, which blends well with the action-packed plot. 

5/ Logline

A bullied, that is bullied at school, transports to antiquity and finds himself in the body of his favorite hero, Theseus, called upon to perform the hero’s labors to find his way back home.


6/ Conflict

The protagonist suffers from shyness and his struggle intensifies when he finds himself in the place and body of a mythical ancient Greek hero, Theseus. He is asked to perform Theseus labors and lead his fellow Athenians back to safety, including the girl he loves. The protagonist’s trauma originated from his earlier childhood and his father’s cross manners. The trauma is evident by his nasty stutter, which he manages to overcome by the end of the story and the successful completion of his mission. Turning point for the protagonist’s growth is when offered the opportunity to escape to safety, he makes the conscious choice to stay and fight, proving to indeed be the leader that everyone expects him to be. 


7/ Setting

The story starts in a common school setting, which is visited by Zeus, the leader of the ancient Greek Dodekatheon. Then the story moves to ancient Greece in a series of different settings: the palace of the king of Athens, a boat trip to Crete, Poseidon’s palace in the bottom of the sea, Zeus’ palace on mount Olympus and Minoas’ palace in Crete & the Minotaur’s labyrinth. 


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1. Story statement-

When her teenage daughter goes missing, Kristen Hall puts her own life aside to find her only child. 

2. Antagonist-

The antagonist is Jake Barlett, the father of Olivia Hall’s boyfriend. Jake is a murderer, but it isn’t the physical act of killing or sense of control that drives his actions, but rather his addiction to the emotional torture that his actions result in. After Olivia goes missing, Jake becomes close to Kristen Hall, encouraging her to dive deeper into the mystery of Olivia’s disappearance and the grief she feels, causing her relationship with her husband to deteriorate. Jake becomes Kristen’s shoulder to cry on as the two develop a romantic relationship despite Jake secretly being the one who killed Olivia. 

3. Titles-

o    Woods of Ashford 

o    A Keen Eye 

o    Love Thy Neighbor 

*Other biblical titles that I pondered were “Those Who Sleep” and “Wings Like Eagles.” 

4. Comparables-

Comp 1: The Lovely Bones, Alice Sebold- The love between a parent and child is a primary theme, in addition to the father giving up his marriage and life in order to find his daughter, who was killed by a neighbor and resides in heaven. My novel focuses on love, grief, and murder in a similar way, ending the novel with the dead teenager watching over her family and welcoming another character into heaven. 

Comp 2: Then She Was Gone, Lisa Jewel- My novel compares to Jewel’s work in that the focus is on the mother trying to find answers regarding what happened to her daughter. Also, the perspective in the novel switches from the mother in present time to flashbacks of the daughter which my novel also does. 

5. Logline

A woman whose daughter has gone missing is forced to confront her dysfunctional relationship with grief in order to make peace with her loved ones and bring a murderer to justice.

6. Conflict-

The primary conflict is overcoming the challenges in determining what happened to Olivia Hall, the daughter of the protagonist. The secondary conflict is Kristen Hall and her husband separating due to their differences in handling grief and Kristen reentering the dating world with Jake Barlett. The inner conflict is seen in Kristen who has unresolved grief from her past due to the death of her mother. Her inability to stop her mother from dying has caused her to be hyper-focused on controlling every other aspect of her life, often to her detriment. This is made apparent when the detectives insist that it is best for her to stand back and let them do their job, but Kristen continues to interfere with the investigation. 

7. Setting- 

    The story is set in a fictional town called Ashford, which is a quaint picturesque town with colonial homes and young families with new money. Properties back up to the woods, offering residents all the seclusion and privacy they could want. Stretches of trees form a canopy over the children who hop across fallen branches to rush home for dinner and large fallen oaks are the perfect seats for teenagers to relax while they drink the beer they stole from their parent’s liquor cabinet. 

    Ashford is the type of town where every face is a familiar one. People watch out for each other and the same puffy-faced kids from kindergarten are in the graduating senior classes. Ashford is a great place to live, perfect for families and certainly, not the type of town anyone would ever expect their child to go missing in. 

    The woods in the town represent a sense of innocence and freedom, but they can also be a dark and foreboding place. Not everything is as it seems in Ashford and much like the woods, the town is shown to have a dichotomy between its wholesome image and the malice that lurks beneath the surface. 

    The story primarily occurs at the home of the protagonist, the town’s school, and the woodlands. In part two of the novel, readers are introduced to a heavenly place where the dead teenager watches over the town. 

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FIRST ASSIGNMENT: write your story statement. 

Evade the increasingly unhinged scientists to free her father trapped in the astral plane.

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 main antagonist a man desperate to escape the astral plane having been stranded there during a failed scientific experiment. He feels abandoned and betrayed by his family following his imprisonment and as punishment for this perceived betrayal he had tormented them for years trying to coerce to help him escape. When he makes contact with the protagonist he is surprised it is someone new. He first attempts sympathy to persuade her, then uses her father’s presence in the astral plan as leverage and when this too fails he becomes increasing volatile and violent towards the protagonist and the other characters.

The secondary antagonist is a military scientist working on a top secret project involving the astral plane. She masquerades as an astrophysicist and presents herself as a friend and advocate of the protagonist following the disappearance of the protagonist’s father. Her duplicitous aim has been to spy on the protagonist’s mother to gain insight of where the missing military documentation and equipment have been hidden. Her secondary aim is to the control the protagonist. As her cover unravels, the secondary antagonist reveals her heartlessness and ambition.

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

Mind over Matter

The Beginning of Lemuria

Lemurian Chronicles: Mind over Matter

FOURTH ASSIGNMENT: Develop two smart comparables for your novel. And why?

A Wrinkle in Time (Quintet) by Madeleine L’Engle – both protagonists share a similar desire to find their father to restore their love and belonging needs; to have their family restored and for life to return as it once had been. Also shared (over the quintet) is the one-only love between Meg and Calvin and my own characters (Abbey and Sam).

Darkest Minds by Alexandra Bracken – similar narrative beginning that depends on events from years before (six in Darkest Minds and five years in my own story) and then time jumping to the current storyline when the characters are in their teens (15 and 16 respectively). Predominately based on adventure with their new/old friends where trust and boundaries need to be determined. Both stories involve some conflict with a governmental agency and how the protagonists can survive.

FIFTH ASSIGNMENT: write your own hook line

As a young girl attempts to free her father imprisoned in an astral plane, an unhinged scientist has plans of his own to unleash.

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.

Abbey wants love and connection as she was rejected by her mother and abandoned by her father. She thinks that finding her father will fix everything; that things will go back to the way they were. What she begins to learn is that needs change and so can who she needs. At the end Abbey understands that love and belonging can be with friends, not just her parents and that she is ready to let go.

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?

Sam – the best friend and love interest. Both characters pretend that neither is attracted to the other so it doesn’t alter their friendship as it is paramount to both characters. In one scene, Sam comes to pick up the protagonist for school. She isn’t organised to go. As the characters have grown up together, changing in front of each other was sometime they had always done. Now it has new meaning. So when the protagonist goes to change shirts, this pushes the sexual tension of the scene.

Bianca – meeting at the restaurant. Both girls share a history from five years ago. It ended suddenly and the protagonist does not understand why. In the scene, the protagonist is the server and Bianca enters increasing the tension. Bianca wants nothing to do with the protagonist (Abbey). She is rude, demanding a different servers stating Abbey’s incompetence as the reason. The protagonist is immediately angered by this response and when a new server is not possible this creates conflict.

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 first setting is in modern day Hood River, Oregon. The town is described simply so that it does not overwhelm the reader when they are thrust into the astral plane. There is seemingly nothing important about the small town.


The astral plane is revealed gradually over the story. At first introduction Lemuria (the astral plane) does not seem to have any form to it except an unending fog that covers surface. As the protagonists continue to visit the astral realm, more of the layout is revealed. Over the course of our hero’s journey, the reader discovers that with each failed scientific experiment, a mental piece of reality is sucked into Lemuria becoming a permanent fixture of the new landscape. Each time, Lemuria expands a new person, often another antagonist, becomes imprisoned in the astral realm making it a more dangerous place. There is an oak tree in the centre of Lemuria. Oak trees are meant to symbolise balance, strength and harmony. The ancient celts believed that the trees symbolised the convergence of the forces of nature and that they contained special powers. The Legend of Treochair is of a giant who came from the ‘Otherworld’ and shook a tree branch creating one of five sacred trees. This is where the Oak originated in the story.


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FIRST ASSIGNMENT: write your story statement. 

Remy Cook, a savant with a unique ability, must overcome life-long irrational fears to accomplish a vital mission where failure risks his life and global conflict.


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.

Zhang is officially the Director of the Shen Astronomical Observatory located in Henan Province, China. But he is also a spy chief for Chinese intelligence. In a secret lab underneath the observatory, his team is working on a project to hack and disable U.S. spy satellites. Zhang wants to restore China to the glory of its past. He believes the West’s democracies are weak and too slow to react. China’s authoritarian style of leadership, where a few at the top, including himself, know what’s best for its citizens is best. He sees himself as a patriot. Intimidation, lying, torture, and killing, are all acceptable means to accomplish his goals. 


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

1.       Harbinger

2.       Project Verbatim

3.       The Satellite Code


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?



1.    The Last Protector, by Simon Gervais. A spy thriller

2.    The Asset, Saul Herzog. High-concept thriller




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.


Remy Cook’s ability to recall anything he reads verbatim seemingly makes him ideal for espionage, but he’s also burdened with an irrational fear of people and crowds that make him anything but the perfect spy.




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.

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


Remy must travel to the teeming city of Beijing, where he will need to overcome his fear of crowds and people to complete a mission vital to U.S. security. He must enter a world of secrets, satellites, and political intrigue to come away with the code or risk a global conflict. 


Remy’s partner on the mission is Melissa Brakes. She is a young Chinese American CIA agent that has all the social skills Remy lacks. The two of them go undercover as a couple to Beijing University to make contact with a professor known to have ties with the secret Chinese program the CIA wants to penetrate. Remy begins to development feelings for Melissa, but his irrational fears get in the way of the relationship he so desperately desires.




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 begins with Remy, an Astrophysics graduate student, at the University of Virginia. The rolling hills of Virginia and the placid university campus allow Remy to navigate through his fear of crowds and people. He runs cross-country where his ability to focus helps him be the school’s top runner.


When Remy is recruited at the university by a CIA officer for a mission, the scene moves to the CIA offices at Langley. Here Remy’s ability to recall anything he reads is tested. The setting at Langley is more threatening to Remy but he is persuaded to go on the mission.


Remy and Melissa, the agent he is paired with, go to the bustling city of Beijing where the chaos and overflowing population of people are unnerving. When Remy is invited to visit the Shen Observatory by his Beijing professor, the sleek and clean observatory where very few people work is a welcome respite for Remy.


However, after Remy finds a way to access the secrete satellite code he and Melissa must get out. The escape goes wrong, and Remy must make a run for it. The setting becomes the wild forest areas surrounding the mountain top Observatory. Remy’s cross-country running skills come to the fore as he makes his way across the rough terrain while being chased.


The settings toward the latter part of the story become even more unpleasant. An indoctrination camp in China that Remy is sent to after he is captured, a hospital in Beijing where a doctor studies Remy to learn his ability to recall all he reads, until at last, he finds freedom at the U.S. embassy in Beijing and a flight back home to the U.S. where he returns to the familiarity and safety of his university campus.







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FIRST ASSIGNMENT: Story statement

Brett Sullivan fears adulting in an elite world where everyone is a success, until a traumatic accident forces him to man up and examine the value of every human life, including his own.


SECOND ASSIGNMENT: Antagonistic force

Brett’s twenty-six years of life climax in a war within himself. Brett’s antagonistic force is the conflict with family expectations and a dark, secret regret.

His enmeshed relationship with his helicopter mom, Audra, is beginning to sour when he realizes the success she has groomed him for collides with the productive life he sees in his hard-working Sicilian girlfriend and social work classes. Brett’s selfish habits don’t feel quite right in the face of hurting people. The pressure to step into adulthood peaks when Brett witnesses a tragic accident near public housing. Convinced he had a role in the devastation, he concludes that his life has been a waste. He no longer cares about pleasing his family and volunteers with several agencies while working as a caseworker to set things right. Yet, in every problem he attempts to fix and life he tries to help, he only magnifies his mistakes. Failures of the system and personal setbacks almost break him. By the end of six months, Brett must learn to cope with a world he can’t control or succumb to the disappointments. Will he be able to count enough reasons to care?


THIRD ASSIGNMENT: Breakout title

Current title: The Final Deal

Sixteen Reasons to Care

Sixteen Reasons Why Not



Me Before You by Jojo Moyes  An inner conflict is ever present in Will while Lou grows to love and care for him. Will pushes everyone away and eventually learns to care for someone else more than himself just as my protagonist, Brett. Lou develops confidence and a zest for life similar to Brett’s girlfriend, Dani.


13 Reasons Why by Jay Asher   Although this is a YA novel, a similar premise exists when a suicidal individual stacks up reasons to end her life that culminate in an attempt to psychologically punish those who wronged her. In opposition to this approach, Brett in TFD, needs to find enough evidence to cancel out his mistakes and forgive himself. Each of these characters has a starkly different reason to chose suicide. One is being bullied and one is more of a bully. Often both of those groups have significant issues of self-worth. TFD is a reverse of 13 Reasons Why and ends with a satisfying conclusion that points out that people from all walks of life suffer from mental health conditions and there are ways to find healing and support.



A spoiled college man hides his secret desire to work with the destitute from his wealthy family until a tragedy forces him to abandon his secrets and risk it all.


SIXTH ASSIGNMENT: Protagonist - inner conflict

Brett feels obligated to follow his mother’s plans for his future because he has benefited all his life from the privilege and easy life she eagerly provides. The pressure to do something productive mounts when he realizes he has never learned to work for anything (guilt) and is drawn to social service (secret desire). After a traumatic accident, he believes he caused, Brett is pushed over the edge and commits to helping others in an effort to redeem himself. As a social worker, Brett is triggered by every disappointment in the foster children’s lives. Once again, he struggles with his self-worth. Eventually, Brett discovers his ex-girlfriend in a domestic violence shelter and takes on all the blame. He must weigh the reasons to care about his life against the remorse he carries deep inside.



The Sullivan home: The sprawling residence rested at the threshold of the most admired subdivision in Bloomington, Illinois. Inside, glittery wall sconces contrasted the dark wood trim and old-fashioned emerald wallpaper. It was all in keeping with the 1930s period of the original house, according to Audra Sullivan. The décor was chintzy. Classless. The sparkle of candle lights dangled from a good fifteen feet of double chain above the parquet entry. A dark chestnut banister sloped left, guiding the staircase to the second floor. If it wasn’t for the oatmeal-colored carpet hugging each stair, he’d be traipsing into an enormous coffin.

The park: Rock archways guarded the center fountain where passersby tossed coins into the spray. A pebble stone path wound around the perimeter with rows of red tulips hemmed in with hostas and ornamental grasses. Nestled between ornamental cherry trees was an iron bench where Harold waited for the one who would set him free.


Family Fold Foster Care Agency: A blocky building lined in 70’s style brick with an etched glass entry opened up to a scared linoleum floor and worn plastic chairs lining the walls. On the left, a booth stuck out as if an afterthought, surrounded with bullet proof glass. A musty scent competed with a hint of floral perfume through the hallway marked with carpet that boasted a multitude of passersby.



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Story Statement: Settle the score with the individuals she holds responsible for callously ruining her family.


Antagonist: Troy Dunbar is the epitome of a big fish in a small pond. His family is practically royalty in his small Upstate New York town. He’s a good-looking hotshot jock who never had to work for anything a day in his life. He won the parent lottery at birth.  He’s the antithesis of Lizzy who has parented herself since her mother’s suicide and her father’s self-induced alcohol haze. Life has been anything but easy for Lizzy.

Even though her father works for his father, she’s avoided Troy’s orbit up until now. Unfortunately, he’s best friends with Lizzy’s new boyfriend, Jackson. But the two are nothing alike.

Troy comes from money, and it shows; he drives a new truck, and he likes to dabble in expensive recreational drugs.   He’s entitled and cruel.   He charms others into believing he’s a good guy, but Lizzy sees through his act.  She knows the real Troy.  He’s like a wild animal with an engorged stomach still hunting for prey.  He doesn’t need to inflict another deadly wound, but he can, so he does.

Lizzy’s friends think that Troy has a thing for her, but she knows better. He threatens her father’s job when she refuses a ride home and when she witnesses him buying drugs, he ensures her silence by reminding her that he could blow up her relationship with Jackson.

She’s his latest target and Troy Dunbar always gets what he wants.      




The Secret Keeper

Her Secrets

Little Secrets, Big Lies



Sometimes I Lie – By Alice Feeney and A. J. Finn’s The Woman in the Window


Core Wound:

A young girl is derailed when she discovers the cherished photograph depicting her and her deceased mother is a lie, so she seeks revenge on the family she holds responsible for stealing her family.


Inner Conflict:

When Lizzy returns home, she is conflicted about her past relationships.  Abandoning her cold and neglectful father was a necessity seventeen years ago, but upon returning home she is confronted by the fact that he morphed into a real person with friends and even hobbies.  He even stopped drinking. Is it possible, her memories of her father are flawed?

Ironically, she’s now the drunk rattling around her childhood home.  She rationalizes her own drinking as a temporary fix, but she’s aware of where it can lead and how it can damage her relationship with her son.   The last thing she wants is for him to learn she’s drinking and to worry about her well-being.  She doesn’t want to be a burden to him.

She’s also conflicted when it comes to the two high school friends she reconnects with. She carries guilt for involving both in the cover up of Troy’s death seventeen years ago and fleeing as she did.  She’s also anxious that her mere presence back in her hometown now is exposing them to danger again.

Lizzy is also conflicted when it comes to her old high school flame, Jackson.  She’s the one who was responsible for his best friend’s death.  She carries the weight of that secret as a teen and again when she reunites with him years later.

More than anything else, Lizzy wants to keep her son’s existence a secret.  Even readers don’t learn of his existence until the end of the novel.  She’ll do whatever is necessary to keep him safe.



The novel takes place in a fictional upstate New York town named Hamilton.   It is a tiny spot on the map of New York State.  It’s only a few hours from NYC, but lightyears away from all the hustle and bustle. It’s a safe place to raise a family.   It’s the type of type of small town where you don’t have to lock your doors.  The residents of Hamilton live a sheltered existence.  In 2002, there is a Main Street with local shops and developments spread out on either side.  Lizzy, lives in a farmhouse outside of town. She rides her bike to her waitressing job and to meet her friends in the local park.

 Hamilton Woods is a known hangout spot for underage kids who like to party. Hamilton Lake sits beneath the woods. 

In 2019, Hamilton is modernized.  There’s even a Starbucks.  Some of the old storefronts remain, but many have changed over.  Hamilton Woods has been taken over by outdoor enthusiasts who hike and run.

This picturesque setting is juxtaposed with the family strife, violence, and murder that occurs.


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FIRST ASSIGNMENT: write your story statement. 

In the town of Valdis, a widow strikes a deal with the local undertaker who inserts himself into her life after her husband’s death.


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.


Tisreus is the undertaker of Valdis, but he hides a secret…that he is not who he seems. He hides his true image from the world unless he wants to reveal himself. His motivation for pursuing Valerie and her sisters, Amara and Nicole, is primarily driven by the fact that they are alone and vulnerable.


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


Book Title:
Lessons of Divinity


Series Title:

Tales of Integrity


FOURTH ASSIGNMENT: Develop two smart comparables for your novel.


His Dark Materials trilogy

The All Souls trilogy


FIFTH ASSIGNMENT: write your own hook line (log-line)


A grieving young widow becomes acquainted with the local undertaker of her village, who shows her hidden truths about the world.


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


Valerie is afflicted with grief over her husband’s death. Tisreus offers her an escape from her grief, with a condition…that she binds herself to him in marriage instead. But is it a chance to escape from her own life, or a cover for something else?



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


The secondary conflict is caused by Valerie constantly moving from one environment to the next. She has no place to settle down and properly deal with her grief over her husband’s death…not even when Tisreus makes her and her sisters an offer they can’t refuse.


FINAL ASSIGNMENT: sketch out your setting in detail.


  1. Valdis


The town of Valdis is quaint and idyllic. It includes businesses such as a healer and an undertaker. Although they live in an isolated area from the rest of the village, Valerie and Cyprian call Valdis home.

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FIRST ASSIGNMENT: write your story statement. 


Continue to control her own destiny as a captain of her pirate ship and save her crew from imminent dangers as the crackdown on piracy intensifies.


Story statement: (other options)


When a captain of her own pirate ship learns that her lover and partner in plundering Edward Thache, a.k.a. Blackbeard, is brutally murdered, Calaryssa Auldworth is determined to preserve her freedom and save her crew by carrying out Edward’s audacious plan to attack a Spanish Galleon.


When her lover and partner in plundering Edward Thache, a.k.a. Blackbeard, is brutally murdered, Captain Calaryssa Auldworth is determined to carry out Edward’s audacious plan to attack a Spanish Galleon, thus achieving the wealth to set her crew free. She’s determined to continue to control her own destiny even as the crackdown on piracy intensifies, without realizing that she is being hunted as a particular target in this war.  


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.


Alexander Spotswood, governor of Virginia, is driven by the need for attention, recognition, and power. He needs praise from the Board of Trade and from the Admiralty. He wants control of the trade and merchant market across the colonial Atlantic seaboard. Anti-piracy has become an obsession for him because he feels what is stopping him from achieving his goals is that one particular pirate, Calaryssa Auldworth.


Unaware of his true motivations, spite and jealously as she is the woman who jilted him many years earlier, the story he tells is that Calaryssa and her lover Edward Thache (Blackbeard) are interrupting the Virginians’ profitable coastwise commerce, and believes they are influencing that backwards North Carolina province by bringing in foreign goods into their economy. 


Spotswood hires Royal Navy mercenaries to illegally enter North Carolina waters to kill Edward and his crew under the guise of stopping piracy. For all his noble aims and straightlaced talk, it has not escaped Spotswood’s attention that Thache’s reputed hidden treasure might be his for the taking, so his real aim is to capture Calaryssa because he knows she is the key to locating that treasure, (a treasure she doesn’t think still exists). 


Through his evil schemes he aims to obstruct Cal’s progress by employing a spy to pose as a deckhand on her ship in hopes to gather information before ultimately capturing her. But when Spotswood learns what her plans are, he seizes the opportunity to steal the Spanish prize from her. He has resources to employ spies.


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


The Treasure of Calaryssa Auldworth


The Tales and Treasure of Blackbeard’s lover




- Develop two smart comparables for your novel. My apologies for going over the two required- I love reading :) 


Fanny Campbell, The Female Pirate Captain by Maturin Murray Ballou 

Written in 1844 (I know, too old). This story is about Fanny Campbell, a female pirate captain, who goes to sea to rescue her fiancé. The similarities in this story to mine are themes, Fanny dresses like a man and signs on as a deckhand, Fanny cleverly takes over the entire crew of the ship and becomes commander and turns its crew into pirates. The storytelling methods are different (single POV) and similar (told in present day) paired with action and suspense (Americas fighting against England). Setting is very similar: A sloop traveling on the Atlantic, traveling south to Cuba (Cal is in the Caribbean Sea and the Atlantic). The tone of the story is similar to mine, it is an adventure, fun story with underlying obstacles that are filled with tension.    


Hamnet By Maggie O’Farrell

A proper historical fiction, set in Warwickshire, England. Similarities are the protagonist. Agnes is wild, a strong female character, doesn’t conform to societal rules, she’s unlike any women, and is bold. She takes deliberate action and moves through the story actively. Maggie O’Farrell takes historical evidence and creates her own, beautiful story. The setting is much earlier than mine, and is in a small, rural community. The tone is serious, but the mood changes throughout the novel as we progress through the different plotlines.

Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys

I would compare this book to my setting. The story takes place in Dominica, which is the island directly above Martinique, during the early 1800’s. The themes are similar and discuss race (slavery and ethnicity) and Caribbean history. Other themes explore the relationship between men and women, specifically a patriarchally controlled society. The storytelling method is told in one POV (mine is multiple POV), and begins a short while after the Slavery Abolition Act (mine is during the slavery era), so the protagonist is relating her experience as a wealthy daughter of a plantation owner who has to face a community of recently freed slaves. The tone is tense, somewhat somber. 

Blood & Sugar, Laura Shepherd-Robinson -Not a similar theme, this is a historical crime thriller set in London, 1781. Storytelling methods are similar, multiple POV told in alternating timelines (backstory) that coincide with the present. The setting is similar, it takes place in England, on the docks that has nuances similar to mine, shipping, ships, docks, greedy merchants, and the English slavery industry (sadly, no pirates), oh, and corrupt royal appointees/officials. 

Jamrach’s Menagerie Carol Birch – This book is very exciting and cleverly done. It is about a boy named Jaffy who is asked to go on a three-year whaling expedition in the East Indies and the crew are faced with a violent storm that sinks the ship. The setting is similar, on the docks, on a ship and at sea. The novel has similar themes which are about friendship, sacrifice, and survival. It is told in the first person. The tone is fun and exciting. 

Jamaica Inn by Daphne Du Maurier- This novel is set in the English countryside in the early 1800’s. The protagonist, Mary Yellan, is a very strong, determined female. She also is bold and very independent, she never relies on men and cleverly figures out secrets and works her way out of dangerous situations. She fights against a violent, bully, her sister’s husband who is – well, I won’t say, you must read the book :) The narrative structure is simple and straightforward (linear). 


Daughter of Fortune Isabel Allende -strong female character.

Master and Commander – setting is similar, ships, sea, fighting. 

Treasure Island- setting is similar (pirates on an island looking for treasure, characters are colorful and the story is very exciting!


Haven’t read but on my shelf:

The lost Apothecary Sarah Penner- 18th century London. A strong female character, Nella, who sells well-disguised poisons to use against the oppressive men in their lives. The storytelling methods are different in that the story bounces back and forth from the 18th century to the present time and is told in the first person (at least the first 20 pages are). Great hookline: A forgotten history. A secret network of women. A legacy of poison and revenge. Welcome to The Lost Apothecary…


Lessons in Chemistry by Bonnie Garmus- The protagonist is a strong, female character. Tone is humorous. 


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.


Calaryssa Auldworth, pirate captain of her own ship sets out to secure her crew a life free from the dangers of an overzealous antipiracy campaign. In pursuing a Spanish galleon, it becomes clear she must vanquish opponents, including Alexander Spotswood, while struggling to recover from the murder of her lover and partner in plundering, Edward Thatch, a.k.a. Blackbeard while managing to protect her crew of pirates. 



A young woman pirate captain is driven by a desire to be in control of her own destiny and save her crew by attempting an audacious and dangerous attack on a Spanish treasure ship.


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?


Conditions for Inner Conflict: When she is doing something she’s completely determined to do knowing it will harm or put her crew in grave danger. 


But, it also brings up internal doubt where she questions her ability and wonders whether she will be able to do what she has set out to do. 


Conflict: Being challenged vs self-doubt. (Determination intertwined with self-doubt). 


Conflict with society and conflict with her crew comes from the same source: her stubbornness and determination clashes with her better sense, and it causes conflict with the crew she is putting in unreasonable danger.


When she is told not or shouldn’t do something and does it anyway knowing it will put her crew in danger, she knows they are not prepared, physically or mentally (nor trained to the standards of the Spanish navy) for this magnitude of an attack on a Spanish treasure galleon. 


Inner conflict scenario:


She finds out Edward was planning to do the heist without her, (unbeknownst to her, he thought it too dangerous and didn’t want to risk her and her crew’s lives). This triggers and maddens her, almost freaks her out. She doesn’t like to be told what to do, or kept from doing something she wants to do, or told she shouldn’t do it. But also, self-doubt begins to set in, and she begins to wonder whether she was capable enough, that maybe Edward thought of her as a hinderance. She realizes that nearly every plunder she did, Edward’s ship was nearby, and maybe her success was all due to the towering presence of Blackbeard, and not to her capability. 


When she finds out about the new Spanish efforts and when told that it’s too dangerous and she can’t and she shouldn’t do it, she reacts defiantly, “I will do this.” Throughout her life she continues to be that defiant, stubborn, and disobedient person, mainly because it’s in her nature and partly because she was labeled by her father and the nuns at her school as an insubordinate, unruly, disappointing, bad child who was not capable of doing any better anyway. Her father and society labelled her and as a result, she gets stuck in that belief. There is a conflict between the good parts of her, strong willed and determined, with how society labeled those traits as bad and unruly. This has created strong self-doubts (can I do this? Am I a good enough captain?) and worry (am I putting my crew in danger?) and guilt (I should have done more. I shouldn’t have left Edward on the Ocracoke inlet- I should have fought to save him). She doesn’t see herself as her crew sees her, extremely capable and intelligent.


Secondary conflict scenario: 


These conflicts are almost exclusively life and death matters for a pirate.


Marcus, an officer in the Royal Navy, is bringing back Cal to Virginia. They each think of the other as “the bad guy”. An opportunity arises for her to escape imprisonment on Marcus’s ship when there is an imminent attack by Edward Low, a cruel and dangerous pirate. She has grown enough feelings and empathy towards Marcus and his crew to know she would not be able to live with herself by abandoning them to the slaughter Edward Low will bring. 


External conflicts: 

Cal no longer has Edward’s backing, her crew knows this. They are loyal to her. But without Edward they are afraid. 


There is a conflict she doesn’t know about. She must contend with the Royal Navy, the colonial forces, and the Spanish all patrolling at sea. But working against her are the background machinations of Spotswood, causing some of her best plans to mysteriously fail. 


She finds out that Philip of Spain has appointed José Patiño as intendant of the navy and his chief goal has been to rebuild the Spanish navy by replacing the old galleons and created a special academy for training naval officers and crew.


And it’s not just Cal who is racing against time … hurricane season is coming.


FINAL ASSIGNMENT: sketch out your setting in detail. 




Primary locations: Island of the coast of Venezuela, Martinique, Guadeloupe, The Delight, Cartagena, Ocracoke, Williamsburg, Block Island.


            Island of the coast of Venezuela:


Very rough terrain overgrown with dense forest and tangled vegetation, hot tropical weather, snakes, unusual insects, wild creatures and the Caribs who are less than happy with the arrival of Cal and her crew. 




What sets Martinique aside: Maroon settlements, runaway slaves, a place for pirate trading, taverns/cabarets, money, lots of rum being produced, and beautiful scenery. French occupied, French speaking people mixed with cultures from African regions. Tensions between the slaves and prominently European dominated industry (sugar and rum). Political tensions and rioting.  


Light pouring from the sun, reflecting on the shore, and clinging to the buildings and trunks of the palms, the sun is always shining during the day, even in November, when it is considered the start of summer. The northern mountains rise and ramble behind the town like a protector. In the foreground are the dense woods interspersed with the splendidly green rolling hills, which surge up, then swoop down the wayside from the small white houses and establishments with the silver-gray roofs that border the shoreline. Standing high above the flowing hills, an almighty mountain, almost spiral-like, slowly emitting from its mouth an ominous billowing mist, which sometimes is hidden underneath a canopy of clouds. 


Sainte Pierre is a small port town with the sort of people who possess a certain instinct for friendliness. They enrich their modest and difficult lives by trading with one another and with the pirates. Most live in little whitewashed houses with gray shutters with pink and red flowers in old, discarded pots and bowls. Some hide far away from the authorities because they are escaped slaves. They live in small, maroon settlements in crooked, battered houses and they only come down from their mountain retreats to do some bartering with the locals. There are clusters of fugitive slaves hidden in the hills who have gardens resplendent with vegetables. Many of the townspeople keep gardens with cabbages, cucumbers, parsley, and other vegetables and herbes. They make a living by selling or bartering at the local market or in the street. Some make coral or beaded necklaces, knitted hats, and cakes. They love the pirates who come and trade with them their prizes of rum, fabrics, stoneware, silverware, guns and powder, cutlasses, and extravagant things the villagers would otherwise not have had the money for. Martinique enjoys a prosperous economy, heavily reliant though on slavery and the production of sugar and rum. 


Conflicts in Martinique: Uprisings and rioting by people against slaveholders and colonizers. Uprisings have been orchestrated by members of a secret society called the Gauolet who are enslaved and free people of color. Le Coco, a wild and fun cabaret, is the center place in the village where all sorts of people go for various reasons but mainly for community fellowship. And Madame La Pallu’s son, an officer in the militia, is completely against the disgraceful, diabolic goings on at Babet Binture’s cabaret, Le Coco, and is set on doing anything he can to ruin her. 


Island tensions: One master, after he had flown into a rage, set a cabin with his slave girls on fire, leaving them for dead. Calaryssa’s friend Babet Binture, an enslaved woman, is suing for her freedom. There is conflict with the Superior Council of Martinique and with La Pallu’s son, both extremely disgusted with Babet’s establishment and complain that she fences goods, supports prostitution and gambling in her establishment.  




The island of Guadeloupe is shaped like a bowtie with a few islands scattered below, including Cal’s favorite, the Îles des Saintes where the water is a beautiful turquoise, and the sand is soft and white. There are palm trees that shade the island from the bright, hot sun. There are mosquitos and iguanas. It is hidden and safe from French, Spanish and English authorities and there are no people, no establishments to hinder the pirates. It is peaceful and far from the main island. There are lots of fish, coconuts, mangos, nuts, and fresh water. When she is not at the wild tavern in Deshaies where the barman, Francisco has a hidden secret and all sorts of things up his sleeves, Cal and her crew can be found careening the ship while also sunning and swimming in the soothing, cool water. 


The Delight

 A schooner rigged as a Brig with two tall masts and a mizzen spanker. The crew are from all over the world and includes slaves Cal has stolen in order to free. This mix of cultures, beliefs and languages makes for dynamics and tensions unique to pirate ships (although the spoken language on deck is that of the captain’s). 


Cartagena Bay is Spain’s principal entrepôt for goods and primary outlet for exports, notably gold and emeralds. Spanish fleets stop here before and after the Portobelo fairs. Dishonest leaders, royal appointees and smugglers deliberately sabotage the defenses and the mercantilist commercial policies. Secret and illegal trafficking of goods. 


Ocracoke Inlet, North Carolina A small strip of land on the outer banks of North Carolina where Blackbeard and his pirate friends hang out. Governor Charles Eden fences for Blackbeard. And the colonists welcome the pirates. 


Oak and cedar trees cover parts of the small island, distinguishing it boldly from the pebbles and sandy beach areas. Cal stopped and stood motionlessly for a moment, taking in the coolness of sea air imbued with scents of wild rose and damp grasses. This little inlet reminded her so much of her earlier years in Cornwall with its rustic feel and beautiful, spacious countryside filled with woodlands and patches of marshland. She heard ducks in the distance settling in for the evening.


Williamsburg, Virginia: A stanch conservative province with a controlling, militarist, unjust, inquisitorial arrogant governor, Alexander Spotswood. He resides at the Governor’s palace in Williamsburg Virginia, official residence of the Royal Governors. Not a welcoming place for the pirates and the colonists are rather pompous and stuffy.


Block Island, Rhode Island: A more liberal province, a new governor who supports pirating and is keen to give pardons. A community that welcomes pirates and their goods. This small island south of the mainland Rhode Island is where Edward and Cal have a cottage and were planning to retire. It has dramatic cliffs with long, sandy beaches and beautiful, overgrown woodland surrounded by the green countryside. 

Downs_ NY Pitch Seven Assignments.docx

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A post-colonial Martian astronomer who is afraid of space travel, Red must navigate a ship through the solar system using only dead reckoning to find out why Earth has suddenly fallen silent.



James Carson immigrated to Mars as a small child. He studied at the best university on Mars and became the planet’s preeminent expert in rocket propulsion. His brilliance led him to engineer the propulsion systems for some of the most advanced spacecraft in existence. But it was Project Echohawk that forever changed him, when he was tasked with building a drive that could take a ship from Mars to Earth in a matter of days.

With the knowledge and perspective gained during the top-secret project, the logistical minded Carson finds his pessimistic worldview confirmed, and he devises a solution: he can use the new drive to unite Earth against Mars. Carson views his actions as pulling the switch on the trolley car tracks, deliberately condemning millions to die so that billions may live.



Burning Dust
Transit of Earth
Sparks in the Dust



The Three-Body Problem by Cixin Liu
Readers who enjoy Cixin Liu’s building of tension using an ever-evolving dance between scientific and geopolitical plot-drivers will also enjoy this story.

Project Hail Mary by Andy Weir
Much like Andy Weir’s Project Hail Mary and The Martian, this story is set in a hard-science-based near(ish) future where characters must use technologies not too different from our own to solve much larger problems. Hard-sci-fi readers will have a steady stream of “aha” moments, driven both by plot and by the ways the characters improvise in difficult situations. Mythbusters would rate the solutions they come up with as “plausible.”



A scientist must willingly serve the government authority responsible for his parents’ deaths if he is to prevent an interplanetary war. 



Inner conflict – Red must face the truth that his intuition and alertness are the remnant product of a metabolic drug his parents had taken before he was born to help with their transition to living at an extreme latitude on the already frozen and barren Mars. The now banned drug eventually killed them years ago. But the hyper-alertness Red inherited is what’s keeps him alive in the void of space. We get glimpses of Red’s state of mind throughout, but through a close 3rd person perspective, we only get glimpses of explanations. When Red confronts Carson, Carson makes Red confront his past and the fact that the Science Directorate where Red is employed negligently killed his own parents.

Secondary conflict – Because of political considerations far beyond his control, Red finds himself on a several week journey from Mars to Earth with Mira Hall, a Martian government spy who just days earlier gassed and searched him while they were alone on a train. Knowledge of the encounter on the train turns the rest of the small crew against Mira. But after their chief engineer, Arnie, betrays them halfway through the voyage, the rest of the crew – including Red – realize they have no choice but to rely on Mira to get the ship safely to Earth. 



Part I – Mars
While there are some transitory scenes that take place on a shuttle and a rover, the majority of the first part of the book is set in one of the four locations: The Phoenix Observational Laboratory and Research Station (POLARS), a hyperloop car, the “Vault” in the Martian military headquarters, and the Lakebed training facility

POLARS – Red’s lab in the northern city of New Phoenix. The facility is dark and isolated, even by Martian standards. Because it’s the winter in the Northern hemisphere, Red has not seen the sun in months. First chapter takes place here, and Red’s heightened state of alertness allows us to capture details through his eyes an observer might not otherwise see. The underground laboratory largely resembles a modern-day Earth lab, just with newer equipment. But when Red climbs the stairs into the domed section of the facility, we see that everything outside the dome is dark, barren, and alien.

Hyperloop car – Red takes the hyperloop from his lab to the Martian capital after he discovers a distress call from an Earth station. Seconds after boarding, he’s knocked out by an unknown assailant. He comes to halfway to the first stop on the line with no sign of his attacker. The hyperloop car isolates Red from the rest of the world, and he hardens significantly along the 12-hour voyage. Because it moves across the Martian landscape, the hyperloop is also a way to do some fundamental world-building in ways that will serve key plot points later.

The “Vault” – the makeshift Martian military command center located in the underground sections of their headquarters in the Martian capital of Deuterona. It’s here that Red learns about the mission to Earth and has to decide whether or not he will join. This is Jordan’s world, build on rules and order. But even here, rules are being bent, outside parties are being read in, and a normally stoic Martian Guard is scrambling to figure out why Mars has lost communication with Earth.

The Lakebed – the secret facility in the southern hemisphere where Red receives a grueling crash course in space travel. It’s a small city unto itself, run entirely by the military. It’s the farthest Red has ever been from his home in New Phoenix until his training completes and he launches into orbit.

Part II – Interplanetary Space
Aside from minor jumps to Mars, the second part of the book takes place in space, almost entirely on the Sargasso, the interplanetary transport that will take the crew to Earth. Other than during a few comparatively short rocket burns, the entire second part of the book takes place in zero gravity.

The command deck – exactly what it sounds like, but the seats gimbal so that the crew face forward while under power.

The Panoptes – Red’s workstation on the ship, a small room just behind the command deck. An enormous window allows him to see out into space through the side of the ship. He navigates from here, using six scopes attached to the outside of the ship to check on their position at all times. It’s laid out to somewhat mimic his workstation at POLARS, but the scopes are not nearly as powerful, and Red must find a way to work effectively in the space both in zero gravity and during intense rocket burns. It’s here that Red checks the ship’s trajectory and calculates their burns. It’s also Red’s default place to be when he can’t sleep or when he’s worried.

Mira’s quarters – where Mira is confined for most of the trip, until the crew realize they need her expertise. Small bunk, what one might find in a cramped crew quarters on an actual ship.

Core section – Massive, hollow cylindrical core of the ship and the passenger compartments surrounding it. No passengers, but the compartments are full of fuel, batteries, and mechanical parts. It is in a corridor of one of these passenger compartments that the crew find they’ve been betrayed by Arnie, who is sending an unauthorized transmission to a mysterious recipient. They confront him. After a struggle, Arnie kills himself by going through the airlock. Because the normally occupied passenger compartments are empty, there’s an extra empty feeling to the corridors of the compartments, which are cold and dark when the ship is controlled only by a skeleton crew.

Outside the ship – Several spacewalks occur during the voyage, and while the reader becomes more familiar with the external layout of the ship and how the characters move around it, circumstances beyond the crew’s control make the outside environment more and more hostile as they battle crew shortages, fatigue, and complacency.

Part III – Earth’s Gravity Well
Two more main settings are added, in addition to the Sargasso. 

Waypoint Alpha – the refueling station located in Earth’s sphere of influence about 4 times farther from Earth than the moon. Located at one of Earth’s solar Lagrange points, it stays nearly fixed compared to the Earth. The station is the Sargasso’s destination because of the distress call Red received from the station while the rest of Earth was silent. The station has three rotating rings: the force in the inner ring simulates lunar gravity. The force in the middle ring simulates Martian gravity. The force in the outer ring simulates Earth gravity. Like the Sargasso’s passenger compartments, it, too, is nearly empty, with only one inhabitant, Sofia. Sofia pretends to be in distress but is actually allied with Carson and is luring the Sargasso into a trap.

Escape pod – after Carson takes Red in the Sargasso, Jordan and Mira take one of Waypoint Alpha’s escape pods to pursue the Sargasso. It’s a small, spherical, and rudimentary ship meant only for orbital operation. But because it’s built for emergencies, it’s fast and nimble. Jordan must find a way to catch the pod up to the Sargasso before the pod runs out of fuel, and Mira must find a way to get from the pod to the Sargasso. Currently, about 4,500 words worth of Mira’s POV takes place in the pod over two chapters, culminating in a daring maneuver that catches the escape pod up with the Sargasso and positions Mira to jump from the pod to the massive transport. But the forces from the maneuver blind Jordan, meaning Mira must rescue Red on her own.

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Seven Assignments


  1. Story Statement: 


Save magic, save all the worlds. 


  1. 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 main antagonists are Fionnlach, Fae Prince of Unseelie in Elfhame, and Lord Aethelred Ruraidh Connley, Hand of the High King of the Near Lands. Fionnlach believes Aethelred works for him, while Aethelred has aspirations of power that he keeps close to his chest. Both men wish to dominate control of the wellsprings, which are the main sources of magic, in the Near Lands and Elfhame alike. Fionnlach is Fae and eerie; his moniker amongst his own people is the Prince of Thorns. He was born to power and is innately cruel, willing to step on anyone who gets in the way as he strives to rule Unseelie and control more wellsprings than any other faction does. He sees people as pawns on a chessboard. Aethelred has come to power through long scheming and difficult political work, and sneaks to achieve his underhanded consolidation of power. He will betray anyone. Both antagonists value power and the ownership thereof more than anything else, though they access their power differently. Fionnlach’s strengths lie in his magic use and his royal blood; Aethelred is conniving and clever, and works behind the scenes to pull people’s strings as though they are puppets. 


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


The Near Lands


  1. 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?


The Language of Thorns by Leigh Bardugo - Comped because of the concept of retelling fairy tales with darker twists. Bardugo references familiar tales without mimicking their exact forms or shapes, and uses exquisite language to focus her story collection on pieces with realistic endings and grim consequences for their characters. 


Tithe by Holly Black - Comped because of the focus on Unseelie and Seelie Courts, and because Holly Black writes a beautiful work where the “real” world overlaps beautifully and invisibly with the magical in a way similar to how the Near Lands and the world as we know it co-exist. 


Part of what I hope to achieve with this book is to bring the magic of the fairy-tale-focused, Fae-centric YA novels that I loved so much growing up (and still love today) to an adult audience. I read very widely, and I have found almost no comparable works of any length on adult shelves that deal with fairy tale retellings or Fae/fey/Faerie in the same way that so many YA books do, and I still want to read those things as an adult - just with a little extra folklore and violence and spicy scenes and political intrigue dashed in here and there! All the best comps I can find (and the works that mainly inspired me) are YA, but I definitively am writing in the adult genre. 


  1. 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.


At age four, Bryn Hamilton was found wandering a public park in California, unable to tell rescuers anything about herself except her name and story after story of the Near Lands, a place of high adventure and fantasy that’s filled with maidens, magic, and Fae. Now adult Bryn is finding that the Near Lands aren’t imaginary at all - and she isn’t who she thought she was, either. 


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

Bryn’s biggest inner conflict is that she doesn’t know where she belongs. She mostly avoids thinking about this, and that repression of her fear makes her prickly at times and slow to forge meaningful connections with others. Having grown up in the foster care system, she deals with particular abandonment and trust issues, and as an adult searches for a way that she can both be fully self-sufficient and capable (the way she already is), and also be taken care of and feel comfortable (the way she is not). 

This conflict manifests on ongoing ways throughout the story. At first, when Bryn is brought to the Near Lands against her will and discovers that these fairy tale worlds really do exist, the wonder of “magic is real” becomes tainted by the fact that she’s been kidnapped to another world and is now expected to marry a stranger and “do her duty,” all after being abandoned by her own when she was a child. 

Scenes where family/sense of belonging and lack of family/sense of belonging are triggers: flashbacks to her time in Ronnie’s care growing up; meeting her cousin Ciaran for the first time; when her memory of her Fae caretaker Linnea is unlocked and she realizes that Linnea died protecting her, and Bryn wasn’t unloved and intentionally abandoned as a child. Even by the end of this first book, Bryn is nowhere near done processing any of this emotional trauma and is still working heavily through her fight/flight reactions and instinctual dissociation. 

The secondary/societal conflict of the book - that Bryn must literally save magic or the worlds are all at risk - is heavily entwined with Bryn’s personal conflict. For most of Book One, Bryn’s goal is to figure out a way to get back “home,” to her life in the real world. She feels such a sense of wonder and love for the fairy tale world she’s discovered is real, but she resents everything about how she’s been treated and doesn’t see why saving everything should be her responsibility. As she learns more and more about how the magic of the wellsprings works, she comes to realize that she is a “Chosen One” by dint of hereditary magical powers and circumstance - ie concrete things that require her to be the one to take up the world-saving - and that literally no one else can save magic. 

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

There are three worlds in which the Near Lands takes place, comprising the three settings of the book.

The first setting is the real world as we know it, specifically the United States. Think cell phones and McDonalds and freeway traffic and 9-5’s. Bryn’s memories begin around age four, when she is discovered wandering alone in a park in California. She’s taken into the foster care system and grows up shuttled back and forth between caretakers, ending up living with a minor criminal who exploits her talent for remaining unseen and thieving. While in this setting, Bryn dreams constantly of the Near Lands, a group of kingdoms in a fairy-tale-esque world where magic exists. She writes down Near Lands stories, sketches maps, etc. She thinks it’s odd how often the Near Lands occupy her thoughts but it’s been written off by therapists, teachers, etc. her whole life as an escapist hobby that’s the product of an overactive imagination. Bryn travels extensively and is living in Pennsylvania at the beginning of the book. She’s always on the move to keep under the radar, so she’s spent time in many states; specifically mentioned are Florida, Pennsylvania, California, DC, and Montana. We spend the least time in this real world setting, beginning the book in the US and then providing flashbacks/memories located in Bryn’s various foster homes, previous thieving exploits, etc. to clarify Bryn’s backstory and give insight into some of her motivations as the plot moves along. 

The second setting is the Near Lands themselves. Turns out they're real after all, and Bryn is in fact lost royalty from Skyrland, one of the northernmost kingdoms in the Near Lands. During this first book, we see mostly the three topmost kingdoms in the Near Lands: Eloria, where Bryn makes her crossing into the Near Lands for the first time, which is decently analogous to medieval France; Cranagh Yrth, the eastern harbor port capital of the Near Lands, from where the High King rules; and Skyrland, the northernmost kingdom of the Near Lands. There are many other kingdoms included in the Near Lands, including Chandigesh, Knossos, and many more. My goal is to incorporate as many folkloric/fairy tale references as possible throughout the series, with specific emphasis on Scottish/Irish/Welsh source material. Because of this, any and all manner of fairy tale creature and environment exists throughout the Near Lands, and each of the many kingdoms provides some kind of analogous space for different fairy tale settings. For example, Skyrland as the northernmost kingdom has elements of Scottish, Norse, and Irish lore (think glaciers, trolls, craggy mountains, kelpies, salty cliffs, lochs, and pine forests), while Chandigesh as a southern, desert region explores elements of Persian and Middle Eastern lore (think rukhs, palm trees, djinni, marids, sand dunes, and thriving port cities on river deltas). The main important feature of all Near Lands kingdoms is that, while magic exists and magical creatures thrive there, these kingdoms are mainly populated by mortal humans. 

The third setting is Elfhame, the realm of the Fae. This realm is one that requires magic to enter (or the aid of a magical person/creature), and is the equivalent of “under the hill.” Bryn mostly sees the Unseelie Court and its environs in the first book, though Elfhame has many other regions. The Unseelie Court is a place of tricksters and roots and earth and obsidian. It’s full of darkly glittering beauty, all of which is capable of poisoning its admirers in the space of a heartbeat. In the manner of Fae, things may not be what they seem, but everything is alluring. The other part of Elfhame where we spend significant time is the Wildwood. The Wildwood is home to the solitary Fae, those who have not declared allegiance to either the Seelie or Unseelie Court. It’s also exactly what it sounds like - a great wood that spreads through Elfhame between the two courts. There is no industrialization or mechanical progress in Elfhame at large, as everything can be accomplished by magical means instead, but the Wildwood is particularly sylvan.  

Elfhame borders the Near Lands at its south border, where Elfhame’s unsettled land meets the Near Lands’ kingdom of Skyrland. The Near Lands fear their Fae neighbors, as especially in recent years there have been many attacks on various towns and villages by Fae. There is a treaty in place between the Fae Courts and the High King of the Near Lands, dictating the ways in which Fae may cross into the Near Lands, which supposedly should prevent acts of aggression against mortals. In turn, mortals are unable to cross into Elfhame at all without the aid of a Fae, as any kind of Crossing between realms requires magic. Even with this treaty, bands of marauding Fae continue to appear throughout the Near Lands, laying waste to settlements, stealing magic from wellsprings, and disappearing without a trace. This fosters anti-Fae sentiment among many of the Near Lands’ inhabitants. 


The real world has broken away from the other two realms completely, and over time (as machinery and industrialization became prevalent) has collectively lost its memory of the Near Lands and Elfhame. Now, the Near Lands and Elfhame remember the real world as “the Iron Lands” - a place anathema to magic, the same as cold iron. Within the Near Lands, it’s thought of as a mythical place, the same way people in the real world think of fairyland. Only the High King, the monarchs of the Kingdoms, and their Fae allies know that the Iron Lands are an accessible, real place. Because of this, it’s a perfect place for the High King to send Bryn, a princess who needs protection, so that she isn’t discovered by anyone who means her harm. 

Elfhame knows that the Iron Lands are very real, and though they don’t visit or make any kind of crossings back and forth between the Iron Lands and their home, they do use the Iron Lands as a place to dump their exiles and criminals. Generally, within Elfhame, exile to the Iron Lands is thought of as a fate worse than death. Once you’re sent to the Iron Lands, you can never come back (although this is explored in book 2 and may not be entirely true). 


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