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New York Write to Pitch 2022 - Seven Assignments (09/22)

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Introduction to Pre-event Assignments 

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

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

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

Michael Neff

Algonkian Conference Director


att.jpg After you've registered and logged in, create your reply to this topic (button top right). Please utilize only one reply for all of your responses so the forum topic will not become cluttered. Also, strongly suggest typing up your "reply" in a separate file then copying it over to your post before submitting. Not a good idea to lose what you've done!



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

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

att.jpg FIRST ASSIGNMENT: write your story statement. 



Antagonist (Photo Javert from "Les Misérables")

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

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

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


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



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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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



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

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


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


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

We have reviewed these and agree 110%.



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



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



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



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


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

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

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FIRST ASSIGNMENT: The protagonist’s goal is to overcome his fear of change and technology at the turn of the 20th century and to become a good friend to those he has neglected.

SECOND ASSIGNMENT: Richie Dodge is his own worst enemy/antagonistic force. He’s a slacker who has quit or has been fired from every job he’s ever had. At the turn of the millennium, when the world turns to computers and mobile phones to explore new opportunity, Richie shuns modern technology. His personal relationships fare no better. He makes little effort to be a good friend. Another antagonist is Franklin Barrett, who is a better man than Richie. Franklin is honest, brave, and perseveres when facing a problem. His characteristics magnify Richie’s shortcomings. Franklin also vies with Richie for the romantic interest, Priscilla. Franklin has proposed to Priscilla, and Richie’s goal is to keep Franklin from Priscilla through deception (a lie of omission).

THIRD ASSIGNMENT: Way Back East; Spirit of the Nineties


FIFTH ASSIGNMENT: A slacker who fails to grow up and into the 20th century computer age meets his perfect girl: a 19th century ghost.

SIXTH ASSIGNMENT: Turmoil comes with the realization the 2000s are the age of the computer, while Richie is strictly analog. Through intimidation and laziness he shuns technology. Also, his laziness has prevented him from being a good friend to those he cares about. He accepts favors but rarely offers them. He thinks he has founded a kindred spirit in Priscilla, who seems naïve to the modern world. But his greatest cause of anxiety and turmoil comes when he realizes his kindred spirit is just a spirit, a ghost from the 19th century.

SEVENTH ASSIGNMENT: Set at the turn of the 20th century, 1993, the story begins in California, where Richie quits his latest of a long line of jobs. He returns home to New Hampshire, the coastline and woodlands where he grew up. He meets Priscilla, who is also from the undeveloped country, but from a century earlier, 1893. When he’s with Priscilla, Richie is transformed to the previous century, to ballrooms and seaports with sailing ships. Life is simpler, and Richie doesn’t want to leave the era or Priscilla.

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Princess Kalista is betrothed to Harbor’s End’s most eligible bachelor, but must decide between duty and love as she comes in contact with a boy she’s been dreaming about since she was 10 years old, not realizing he’s the Shadow, an assassin sent to kill her by her enemies. While dealing with her torn heart, Kalista takes the throne much earlier than expected and must uncover truths about her tranquil home in order to protect it from dark spiritual forces and those who wish to use them against her. She must protect the Borderline, a secret portal to a spiritual world where all of the goodness of the world resides. 



Lord Mahan rules Glasser Island, a place of darkness and death where he allows rogue spirits to dwell. His fold of assassins are at his command, and he uses them to take out those who limit his power or threaten his plans of eliminating the goodness in the world that the Guardians of Wonder produce. Mahan has no regard for the well-being of his people but caters only to the needs of his rogue spirits, who he allows to feed off the spirits of his people in exchange for information and secrets they pick up. Mahan suspects that Harbor’s End is home to a Borderline, an entrance to the spiritual world where the Guardians of Wonder can send their goodness out into the world at the monarch’s command. Mahan sends the Shadow, his most accomplished assassin, to kill the King and Princess Kalista in hopes for a smooth takeover. His plans are thwarted when the Shadow recognizes the Princess and switches sides, vowing to protect her rather than destroy her. Mahan, realizing he’s lost his top assassin, sends others after her and kidnaps her before he infiltrates to find the Borderline and destroy the goodness in Harbor’s End. 



Shadow of Hope, Border of Hope, Fate in the Shadows, 



A Kiss of Deception, by Mary E. Pearson

The Selection, by Kiera Cass



After a lifetime of feeling that her parents didn’t think she could handle the crown on her own, Kalista struggles with accepting that the Kingdom will accept her reign without her betrothed, the capable Captain Luke Ramsey beside her.



Kalista struggles with her feelings for Raine, a boy she has dreamt about every night since she was 10 years old when he arrives suddenly in Harbor’s End. Upon realizing he’s an assassin sent to kill her, she is brokenhearted and has to decide if he can be trusted, while learning the secrets of her kingdom for the first time as Queen. She must find the strength to lead and protect Harbor’s End as her heart rages with grief and indecision. 



Harbor’s End is one of four kingdoms, but it’s eerily unique. Joy and Peace mysteriously fill the air, and the people relish in the goodness they feel daily. Just off the shore of the ocean, Harbor’s End lies between a rocky beach and a dense forest of live oak trees that separate their tranquil home from the rest of the world. The kingdom was named because it is home to a massive harbor where all of the kingdoms used to gather for trade, but it was shut down decades ago for reasons that are unknown to the people. Despite the mystery looming in the air, the people of Harbor’s End are happy, kind, and the town around the castle has a good-humored neighborly vibe. Quaint shops, a tavern, and a bakery make up primary scene locations. The castle where Kalista lives is a humble gray stone castle that hosts the town for celebrations, feasts, and town meetings. Stables line one side of a massive courtyard just outside the castle, and beyond the courtyard three roads lead to the town square, the beach, or the north side of town. The crown of the town is a Temple where Spirit Scholars start each day with songs to wake the Guardians of Wonder, the source of the world’s goodness. Some townspeople are religious, while others think the stories of the Guardians of Wonder as fables. The truth is, they are real, and they are trapped behind the Borderline, a portal that separates the spiritual world from the physical. Harbor’s End is home to the Borderline, but it has been kept a secret from King to King through generations in an attempt to protect the guardians from those who wish them to be destroyed and forgotten. The kingdom is protected by iron gates that are rarely shut that surround it at the edge of the beach. Soldiers are well-respected, fisherman are the eyes and ears of the town, and everyone appears to live a quiet, joyful life. 


Twenty miles off the shore lies Glasser Island, the polar opposite of Harbor’s End. Instead of joy and peace, the island is filled with dread and fear. The sky is always overcast and the stars are hidden from view. A large black manor where Lord Mahan resides sits at the top of a long winding hill up the island at it’s center. The town climbs up the hill, and the decayed and broken down buildings are home to shops, brothels, and all manner of dark places for secret dealings with Lord Mahan and his rogue spirits. Dark bowls of fire light the path up the hill. The rogue spirits torment the people and feed off any goodness they find. The people live in fear of Lord Mahan, who has a reputation of serving death at his will. The people of Glasser Island are primary chalk-white skinned, white hair, and either ice blue or black eyes. Assassins bare a tattoo of a hawk, making them easily identified around the world. The people fear and respect the Shadow, Lord Mahan’s top assassin, who has a reputation of never failing, never missing a mark, and never backing down.

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FIRST ASSIGNMENT (Story Statement) 

Discover who is killing struggling war veterans and thwart their future murders.

SECOND ASSIGNMENT (Antagonist or Antagonist force) 

Howie is a 29 year-old intelligent and street-savvy hard-ass. His analytical mind and dedication to get ahead at all costs generally thrusts him knee-deep in trouble. Howie is vicious, resourceful and merciless when challenged. He enlists any actions needed to propel him forwards, including blackmail, violent beatings, and even murder. Howie, the younger of two children of a real estate icon, doesn’t like playing second fiddle to his brother and desires to take over the family empire. In high school, Howie was a constant presence in juvenile courts for drug distribution, blackmail, and extortion. When his influential father could no longer keep him from jail, Howie chose an Army enlistment over jail. Though top of his class in a selective training program, his life of crime continued on active duty. The protagonist uncovered a scheme whereby Howie received drugs through the US Postal System. Convicted for drug distribution, he was sentenced to incarceration at Ft Leavenworth. Now free, Howie blames the protagonist, Chris, for loss of his wife, his career and reputation, and the court martial (with accompanying felony conviction).  His goal is to destroy everything Chris loves – fellow soldiers, career, and romantic interests. 

THIRD ASSIGNMENT (Create a breakout title)

Mill City Justice

  • The nickname 'Mill City' was given to Minneapolis in its early days because of the skyrocketing flour milling industry gaining a foothold on the Mississippi River banks

  • “Justice” refers to Chris Justice, the protagonist, and to Proverbs 21:15 –”the exercise of justice is joy for the righteous, but is terror to the workers of iniquity.”  It also reflects patterns of injustice that form a basis for sequel books.

The Avenger of Blood

North of Ordinary

FOURTH ASSIGNMENT (Genre and Comparables)

Genre: Mystery

Nick Petrie (The Drifter) – Similarities include veterans returning from Afghanistan with ever-present demons such as physical disability, PTSD, and guilt of living when others never came home. Suicide/murder of combat veterans in Minneapolis and a conspiracy deeper than imagined.

Owen Laukkanen (Deception Cove) – Veteran, rescue dog, ex-convict interacts in private war with collateral damage.

FIFTH ASSIGNMENT (Core wound and the primary conflict)

A broken and traumatized Afghanistan Vet returns from war to a city torn apart by civil unrest, and deals with the unexplained deaths of his wife and former Ranger Team members.

SIXTH ASSIGNMENT (Protagonist inner conflict conditions & Secondary conflict)

– Protagonist inner conflict conditions

Chris is a driven leader of men. He feels personally responsible for the safety and well-being of the team. His career-ending injuries and subsequent early withdrawal from the battlefield challenged his confidence and warrior identity. He vacillates between feelings of relative invincibility and the ugly reality that he cannot safeguard everyone, and that some will die despite his best efforts. Chris functions as de facto counselor and guide for broken Vets at his VA Support Group and his community-wide military community. 

Shortly after his medical retirement and relocation to Minneapolis, Chris is devastated by the death of his wife, and later the apparent suicide of Gordo, his Team Breacher in Afghanistan.  Chris withdraws within himself, blaming himself for Gordo’s injuries overseas and his own inability to help Gordo with civilian reintegration.

– Sketch a hypothetical scenario for the "secondary conflict" involving the social environment

Chris’s life is an ongoing series of short-term relationships since the death of his wife, Jessica. Guilt over the genesis of his relationship with her prevents close relationships with other women. Natasha Shields, pastor of a socially progressive church in the trendy Uptown area of Minneapolis, intrigues Chris. Outwardly she is a confident and vibrant community leader, she cares for the community on a deep level and is open to social partnerships, but pushes back and withdraws at any hint of a personal connection. Natasha’s hidden experience with an abusive ex-husband and a church leader, and current recovery from opioid addiction for back pain cause Natasha to question her worth and desirability. Chris desires a closer relationship, but his own insecurities and checkered past stand in the way.

SEVENTH ASSIGNMENT (The incredible importance of setting)

On the surface, Mill City is an idyllic representation of ‘Minnesota Nice.’ It is a large small town containing 13 lakes, shares borders on both sides of the Mississippi River, offers creeks, waterfalls and parkways and a biking-friendliness rated second in the nation. In June, 2020 the city was rocked by racial strife and a ‘defund the police’ movement sparked by the death of a Black man under the knees of a police officer. Homicides and gangland killings threaten restoration of the ‘Murderapolis’ designation sparked by gangster activity in the 1990’s.  The city is reeling under the impact of a 200-officer decrease in police staffing and reluctance of the city to prosecute the criminals – most of them minors booked and immediately released.

Uptown Minneapolis once offered trendy gastropubs, locally-sourced organic foods, Third Wave coffee shops, independent boutiques, and upscale anchor stores such as Columbia, The Gap, and Victoria's Secret. A boom of new apartments and condos increased the area’s desirability. A couple of mass shootings and daily plundering of businesses renders Uptown scary by night and questionable by day. The protagonist’s primary business and residence are in this area, as is the church associated with Natasha Shields, a secondary protagonist.

North Loop Minneapolis, formerly the warehouse district is vibrant and known for cool start-up vibe, casual restaurants, hip bars and gay nightclubs. The Minneapolis Farmers Market draws clients from throughout the metro, and Target Field lures fans who gather via automobile, Metro Transit and Light Rail.  It is also home of the ‘Near North Homeless Encampment,’ a city-owned lot co-opted by roughly 500 homeless residents.  Considered a law enforcement free zone and a sanctuary for the outlaw criminal elements, this location will be the scene of increasing conflict between the protagonist and secondary antagonists.

St Paul High Bridge is a constant attraction for suicides and presents itself in at least one suspicious death.

The Redemption Tavern is a casual community gathering space offering drinks, organic meals, and quality coffee. It offers comfortable seating for singles or small groups, with a bright and open setting to relax, read, and enjoy soothing jazz.  While this may seem tame, conflict increases as the main (and possibly secondary) antagonist attempts to wrest control and/or ownership from Chris.

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1.     When new mother and caseworker Shea Paine’s client is murdered, she must track down the killer to save her job, sanity, and freedom.

2.     Jennifer Grimes has ambitions to take over one of Ohio’s largest and most profitable sex-trafficking rings. As a caseworker, Jenn is able to extort labor from vulnerable people, whose children she can place in foster care if their mothers do not meet demands. However, when her colleague Shea returns from maternity leave and tries to help one of her victims, Jenn begins killing off her threats and framing frayed new mother Shea. Jenn is able to fool Shea into thinking she is a harmless coworker, acting in Shea’s best interest, but in reality, Jenn is setting Shea up to take the fall.

3.     Take Care; In Whose Care; A Mother’s Eye

4.     The themes and literary tension of Laura McHugh’s What’s Done in Darkness meets the unreliable heroine of the HBO miniseries Mare of Easttown.

5.     A product of the foster-care system herself, exhausted new mother and Child Protective Services caseworker must hunt down a murderer and sex-trafficker working from inside that system to threaten Shea’s family, freedom, and clients.   

6.     As a new mother with a colicky baby, Shea suffers from exhaustion and postpartum anxiety, sometimes sleepwalking and micro-napping without realizing it. She believes something terrible will happen when she’s not paying attention, a worry that doubles when she goes back to work as a social worker. Shea’s fears feel confirmed when she cannot remember her actions the night her client is murdered, and she becomes a person of interest.

Part of Shea’s paranoia stems from her past trauma. Her own mother suffered with mental illness after discovering her husband had molested a neighbor girl; eventually, her mother shut down, leaving Shea alone to care for herself until she was taken into foster care. As a result, Shea does not understand what makes an attentive caretaker, even as she instructs others on this subject every day for her job. However, the harder she struggles to avoid becoming her mother, the more likely it seems she will fail.

7.     As an adult, Shea moved to the nicer end of Youngstown, Ohio, a rustbelt city once plagued by mob activity, now neglected and desperate for order. As a CPS caseworker hoping to save the families of her hometown, Shea sees domestic violence, sexual abuse, and neglect every day. But, when one of her adult clients, a sex worker with two girls, is murdered in her old, impoverished neighborhood, Shea must revisit the traumas of growing up there, among boarded houses, weed-strangled streets, and wandering children, abandoned and alone.  

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                                                                                                             7 Step Assignment/Rohrbach


1)   A woman with an unwanted pregnancy must contend with divorce, while she does everything she can to ensure the health of her baby.

2)   Neil, her husband, reminds Emily of their agreement to never have children. He is a nationally recognized psychologist, a professor at a small, private college. He is also writing a book under deadline and has been peer-nominated for a prestigious award in his field. He is driven, accomplished and well-respected, and Emily's pregnancy threatens to undermine his well-curated status. He never knew his father growing up and remembers being bullied because of it. Emily, too, grew up with just a mother, and Neil impresses upon her not only his lack of parental guidance but hers as well. Optimism cannot be listed as one of Neil's attributes. He sees the state of the world as dire - overpopulation and pollution spread over a fragile planet, rotting away at the hedonistic hands of a single species. Despite his professional manner, at home he asserts his will toward Emily with hurtful truths, condescension and distance. 

3)      A Year from September

         Ever After

        Stone Houses and Wild Gardens

4)      A Year from September explores the dark side of family loyalty, like A Million Reasons Why, and features the unlikely romance and interim wit of The Fastest Way to Fall

5)     When a young woman becomes pregnant, knowing her husband never wanted children, she must come to terms with the kind of man she married as she struggles with the health of her baby and a very uncertain future.

6)     a) Devastated, Emily works through morning sickness and a husband who abandoned her. She contributes to her own fate, however, because she had not been honest about her infertility. During a heated exchange with Neil, she confesses that she had been pregnant before. She reminds Neil about his sabbatical in Avignon three summers ago. Knowing that he didn’t want children, and that the doctors said the fetus might be compromised, she made an appointment for an abortion. But the day before, she miscarried. She had truly believed she was infertile. But now, she knows it was a certain kind of betrayal to have kept it from him. Emily had faith that Neil would change his mind. But when he doesn't, she knows she will raise her baby alone. 

     b) With her pregnancy looking perfectly viable, Emily is confident she will have a healthy baby. She overcomes her fears about her pregnancy and motherhood, alongside her sister, mother-in-law and new friend, Kevin, who all boost her spirits and help her make a new home. Later, Emily and Kevin become closer. The attraction between them heats up, culminating in a night of passion. Soon after, Kevin abruptly proposes. But Emily, sensing misplaced chivalry instead of deeper, long-term value, says no. She wants him as a friend and lover, even as she comes to terms with letting Neil go.

7)   On a cool autumn morning, Emily mistakenly arrives at a suburban home in a small town far from Philadelphia. Her friend, Kevin, has come for a Saturday brunch to introduce his girlfriend to his parents. It is his parent’s house, and his mother is still preparing the meal. The home is bright, and everyone welcoming. Despite the charming presentation, it casts a cloud over Emily, not just because she is the quintessential uninvited guest. Her envy is followed by longing. A lovely gesture like this—the dining room set with shiny porcelain plates, green Depression glass and a vase of sunflowers—is something her mother would never do.

Back in Philadelphia, Emily and Neil make their home in an old neighborhood, where houses with turrets and grand sycamores line the streets. It is a refuge for Neil, a professor of psychology, who purchased it years before he married, and he considers it his sacred space to write. The curved sash windows are tall and bright, and Emily has her desk beneath one, where she can look across the yard to the edge of the woods to see the foxes and deer poke their noses through the shrubs.

Emily will miss this home. But not for long. Her new friend, Kevin, has found an old stone cottage with a Dutch oven fireplace and winding staircase. The wooden floors are infused with a hundred years of smoke and spices. The owner had planted the window boxes, spilling with deep pink impatiens and fern, and Emily is forewarned that a resident pair of testy turkey vultures will roost on the chimney all summer. Here, in a cottage house planted with fragrant iris and healing witch hazel, Emily will not only stake her ground, her soul, and raise her new baby, she will also fall in love again.

Neil leaves for London to see his dying father. To meet him for the very first time. Neil had spent his childhood in England, and here he is, at his old haunt, all the cobwebs intact. The city has changed, but the neighborhood in Notting Hill hasn’t much. The small bakery, cigar shop and book store look as if they hadn’t aged in decades. And when Neil finds his father lying in hospice in a rectory, with the church bells ringing in the courtyard and the scent of pressed linen upon his bed, it's as if this otherworldly air draws the curtains on a stage of eminent death.

Accepting the invitation from one of his colleagues, Neil tags on a trip to Italy. He indulges in the food and wine, and dreams of Machiavelli, tortured in a fire-lit chamber by the thugs of the Medici. He gorges on gelato and people-watches from park benches, gazing at the elaborate marble fountains, the balconies lush with purple geranium, the raucous fishing boats and the lone pelican perched on a piling. His memory is jarred with images of Emily in Paris. Now, thousands of miles from home, the threads of his convictions unravel. With all of this anger, his love for Emily had not wavered.

After Emily gives birth, the hospital is where everyone gathers, in a darkened and quiet room, the IV pinned inside the delicate skin of the sleeping patient’s arm. Neil, his best friend Doug, Kevin, Emily’s sister and mother-in-law are all there. While Emily sleeps, it provides a place for the perfect storm: an altercation with Kevin and Neil. And no one, not even Neil’s best friend nor his mother, can deny how he failed her.

After Kevin gets a new job in Pittsburgh, he settles in with a heavy heart. The rivers, the magnificent snowy days, the shimmering bridges - he can see it all from his hillside apartment. It beckons for a friend to share it with, some diversion in the flesh that can help him stop thinking about Emily. He does run into an old friend, who takes Kevin along the river paths and to his favorite creaky, old pubs.

Kevin returns to Philadelphia to move his father out of his house, to live with him in Pittsburgh. The home Kevin grew up in becomes increasingly empty. Every room is hollow and their voices carry down the hallway. The pond they built together is gathering leaves, and the dove with his mother's ashes still sits at the edge.

Emily is home nursing her baby, a fire in the fireplace and Miles Davis on the turntable. Kevin and his father had come for lunch before heading back to Pittsburgh and the house still smells of cinnamon and coffee. Kevin will be back in a few weeks. Emily walks around the house and makes a list for him: fix the loose hinge on the butter cabinet, replace a baseboard heater, repaint a windowsill. Outside, a quick but furious rainstorm pounds the petals off the roses.


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Story Statement – NIGHT RUNNER                                                                   Dennis Blackmon

Investigator Margaret Loughlin must solve the mystery of the plane crash and live to escape Colombia and reveal the truth.


Antagonist Sketch

A middle-class outcast at his Connecticut Prep School, Brett Crenshaw hated his privileged classmates. He is determined to join the ruling class. He graduates with honors from Harvard and marries a Senator’s daughter. 

His father-in-law gets Brett appointed as Ambassador to Columbia. Brett, however, cannot remain faithful to his wife and she leaves him. Now his father-in-law wants to destroy him.

Desperate, Brett brilliantly orchestrates conflict and generates income from the drug trade. He knows time is running out.

He manipulates the deputy ambassador’s wife, Mandy, into relapsing on cocaine, has her arrested, and blackmails her into trafficking cocaine. 

When an American spy plane intercepts communications between rebel leaders, Brett leaks the story to the press, orders a Stinger missile, and has the Stinger delivered to a paramilitary group in the jungle. He forces Mandy to bring him the flight plan of the spy plane from her husband’s office. The paramilitary shoots down the plane with the Stinger. 

When Investigator Margaret Loughlin tells Brett about missing American soldiers, and that the crash wasn’t pilot error, he decides to silence her and eliminate the soldiers.

Brett flies to Paraguay to run his cocaine cartel.



1.     Twisted Metal Tombstone

2.     Canopy of Lies



Comparable Novels

1.     Don Winslow, The Cartel  (too much?)

2.     Ingrid Rojas Contreras, Fruit of the Drunken Tree (Also too big?)

3.     Bonnar Spring, Toward the Light

4.     Tina Wainscott, One Last Promise


Hook Line – Logline

A troubled aircraft accident investigator on the verge of being fired must solve the mystery of why a spy plane crashed in Colombia, escape the forces who want to silence her, and live to expose the truth.


Inner Conflict

In my story, twenty-seven-year-old Investigator Margaret Loughlin is a hot-headed aircraft accident specialist who was almost fired once before. Her boss and mentor, Harrison Burr, has been like a father to her since her own father died. He assigned her to investigate this crash in Colombia. She thought it was because he believed in her abilities and that he had confidence in her. After a brief tour of the debris field, she expressed her initial theory to the Deputy ambassador, Eugene Norwood, that the plane appeared to have broken apart prior to impact with the ground. His reaction and words cut her to the core. An excerpt from the novel is below:


Norwood wasn’t finished. He pointed across the aisle to Margaret and said, “Don’t you tell Ambassador Crenshaw or anybody else that bullshit or you may never work in government again. Crenshaw has pull, you know. I think you need to fly on out of here when we get back to El Dorado International and we’ll do our own investigation. It was a mistake bringing you here in the first place. Fucking Crenshaw wanting to do some political hack a favor.” Norwood had to stop because he was out of breath.

Margaret froze with shame. Harrison had to call in a favor? I’m that toxic, she thought. And now I’ve just gone off on the next ambassador. Her swagger was gone. She felt like the air had all gone out of her body. The men stared at her.


Margaret feels like a charity case, a pitiful step-child, sent to rubber-stamp whatever these men concluded. Maybe Harrison didn’t have any confidence in her. He just sent her down here after asking the current ambassador if he could do him a favor and take her off his hands for a few weeks. No one really wanted her opinion, and no one respected her expertise. The fact that Harrison was a father figure made the slight hurt more acutely, personally as well as professionally.


Secondary Conflict

 In my story, Margaret is assisted by the Chief of Missions from the embassy. His name is Gabriel Colón. He is from Puerto Rico and he works for the State Department and the CIA. During their dangerous journey, Margaret begins to have feelings for Gabriel. He is brave, handsome, and skilled. She and Gabriel hide in the house of an old friend of his, Julia, and the following takes place:


Margaret asked, “So, how do you know Gabriel?”

Before Julia could answer, Gabriel came back in the kitchen. His face showed the strain of the deteriorating situation. This evening was a welcome respite, but Margaret knew they were still in grave danger, as were one or two American airmen.

Gabriel said, “Julia, darling, could Margaret sleep in the spare room. I’ll take the couch.”

“What, you two not together?” said Julia. Then, looking straight at Margaret, Julia said, “Why not?”

Margaret felt a flush. Why not? No. Why did Julia say that?

Gabriel answered quickly, “It’s not . . . uh.”

Margaret blushed, “Oh, we are not – I don’t even . . . uh” She babbled like a middle school girl with a crush. Her face burned red with shyness. She looked at Gabriel for help. Why did she feel embarrassed? She was a grown-ass woman, but she struggled to look Julia in the eye.

“Margaret and I - we work together,” said Gabriel.

Julia looked at the two of them and laughed.

Margaret was relieved. But is that all we are? Is that really what he thinks we are? We work together?

Margaret swung about to escape into the spare bedroom, cut her eyes over her shoulder at Gabriel and said, “Call me Maggie. Yes, well, good night, then,” and disappeared into the room, alone.



This novel is set almost entirely in Colombia, one of the most dangerous countries in the world in 1999. The scenes are set as follows:

In the canopy of the rainforest where the pilot hangs when her parachute is caught in the tree tops. She gets out of her parachute, down the tree, and into the rainforest. Her travels through the vines, shrubs, ferns, rivers, and mountains challenge her resolve. Further, the forest is full of rebels and paramilitary groups who would do her harm. She rescues one of her crew from a rebel camp deep in the jungle.

On the side of a mountain where the plane crashed, Margaret must inspect the muddy debris field and the broken bodies of the dead crew. She encounters a village that has been destroyed by the paramilitary, passing by burning body parts and tortured deceased villagers. She also has scenes in Bogota at her hotel, in restaurants, in a private home, and at the embassy.

She and Gabriel are captured by the paramilitary group and Margaret is taken to a room to be tortured, but a sudden gun battle outside spares her and she escapes.

Some scenes involving her boss, Harrison, take place in and around Washington DC.

I hope the exotic setting of the Colombian jungle, combined with the inherent danger of being killed, kidnapped, or worse by enemies all around will enhance the drama of my thriller.

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From WWII’s far eastern Poland, to the trail of Anders’ Army, and on to Brooklyn and the Catskills of the 1940s to the present day, A Lvov Story is the interwoven tale of Mariem Malman, daughter of a displaced Jewish doctor, and Josef Darowski, Catholic scholar and boy writer, destined to come together in a city soon to be torn apart, the story of which their granddaughter Rabbi Mira Darowski strives to write, even as her wife leaves her.

SECOND ASSIGNMENT: Antagonists/Antagonistic Forces

As the Nazis and Soviets wrestle for Lvov (today’s Ukrainian Lviv, war-torn again), Josef and Mariem struggle to survive the changing regimes, the more dangerous times of transition, and the personal trials besieging a man and woman thrown together, tasked with protecting, if not loving, each other through escaping Poland and the tribulations of Anders’ Army and on to the U.S.

Religious duties and misconceptions, ethnicities seeking recognition and control clash throughout. Josef’s brother Harald, as twisted and selfish as Josef is compassionate and questing, plays Lvov’s factions for gain, forcing Josef to rid his world of a seed as bad as the outside forces that continue to threaten it.

Preventing the storytelling of the Darowski generations are the frustrations of incomplete stories lost to the past and to trauma-affected memory and contemporary scholarly bickering of Mira, her mother Lisha (writing a memoir of Mira’s father, a celebrated novelist), and Joss (Mira’s father’s literary executor, striving to write his biography). Trauma and lost loves swirl alongside the emotional aftermath of her grandparent’s tragic legacy: Mira’s wife leaving her, choosing to die alone; Lisha’s struggle to accept her daughter for who she is; and Joss’s pining for Mira, his first love.



A Lvov Story

The Bridge to Lost Cities

FOURTH ASSIGNMENT: Comparable Titles

Set in the same Lvov Helen Fremont revealed in After Long Silence, and like The Weight of Ink by Rachel Kadish and The People of the Book by Geraldine Brooks, A Lvov Story is a mystery playing out across time, cities, religions, and lost loves, using quotations and archival artifacts (including the first Pocket Books of Simon and Schuster published at the outbreak of WWII) to build an ergodic journey for the reader, who seeks the clarity and resolution of the tale’s puzzles, just as the characters do. Like The Nesting Dolls by Alina Adams, it is a family saga of three generations, each striving through the power of story to understand what war and generational trauma have wrought and their place within and beyond such narratives.

FIFTH ASSIGNMENT: Hooks/Loglines with character, setting, and conflicts

Because there are four protagonists in alternating POVs throughout the whole of the book, I give each separately.

Josef – A naïve Catholic scholar and boy writer is unaware of the budding stories in which he is about to become a reluctant hero, springing from the day he saves a Jewish medical student’s spectacles and attempts to return them after witnessing his brutal attack in the university courtyard, leading him to act the savior for that student’s fiancé, a woman who will force him to flee with her after ridding the city of his mercenary and violent brother. Once free of WWII’s atrocities and living in the U.S., he attempts to write his story, even as it harms those he loves.

Mariem – After losing her fiancé to the events of WWII, a young Jewish woman in war-torn Lvov grows into a traumatized survivor living in the U.S. Losing all she has known, spurning the dreams of escape to safe spaces she doesn’t believe exist, she becomes the embodiment of the violent upheaval of her people and seeks an unattainable return of herself and the world to an impossible purity. Unable to form a coherent understanding of all she’s endured, she prompts others to write it, so she might bridge the chaos that was her life, acting to free herself and aid those who come after her to know her story and that of the city that was her home.

Mira – A female rabbi in contemporary New York writes the story of her grandparents’ survival of the Shoah, an act of reverence for the grandmother for whom she is named, and with whom she might have in common a threatening melancholy, and for the grandfather who loved her for who she is, a queer woman who is consumed by the past even as her wife leaves her to die alone after a cancer diagnosis. Her estranged mother and an alienated friend of her youth hold the keys to the stories she must unlock to fulfill her duty to her grandparents and history, forcing her to confront them both and seek that they accept and help her.

Joss – A striving young academic and literary executor of a celebrated novelist he has idolized since childhood works to write that man’s biography, including his traumatic youth as the child of Holocaust survivors. Piecing together the tale from artifacts and papers entrusted to him at the university archives, he realizes he is bound to fail unless he can enlist the daughter of his subject, a woman who was the first love of his youth, who now holds materials that may fill the gaps in the archive’s collection, but who has rejected him in the past and attempts to forget her own history even as she delves into that of her family.

SIXTH ASSIGNMENT: Inner and Secondary Conflicts

Again, because there are four protagonists in alternating POVs throughout the whole of the book, I give each separately. I’ve interwoven the inner and secondary conflicts and their triggers as those develop and change as the book progresses.

Josef – Josef lost his mother as a boy and has grown up in a Catholic orphanage, the nuns of which now provide him shelter and scholarship as he studies literature at the university. Unlike his brother, who grabs the world by the horns and relishes in causing it pain, Josef is a thinker and dreamer. He desperately wants to be a writer like the American ones whose work he devours. A professor chides him for writing in English a tale of a lost soldier modeled after the father Josef barely knew, and suggests he find his own story. Just as the war begins, he witnesses an attack of a Jewish student (one which he came close to participating in due to his brother’s prompting) and attempts to return the spectacles lost in the fray, only to find the student has moved to America. Josef writes of this story, is once again chastised for trying to write someone else’s story, and stops writing as the Soviets take the city and he is forced to leave the university and find work, along with other protected intellectuals, in a typhus vaccine lab. As the city is invaded again by the Nazis, Mariem, the fiancé of the student whose attack he witnessed, arrives at the convent, having been brutally attacked and raped. He and one of the nuns, a friend from the orphanage, hide Mariem among the sisters until it is discovered she is pregnant. He feels he must assuage his guilt for failing to protect the attacked Jewish student by helping to further protect her and the baby she births. He is forced to ask his brother, now a pimp to “protected” Jewish women, to hide Mariem. When his brother attacks her and tries to harm the baby, Josef kills his brother, then flees after Mariem to the resistance forces outside the city, then onto the trail of Anders’ Army, the reforming Polish military corps that will be tasked with clearing the way to Allied victory in Italy. Mariem is with him all along, and he feels his penance for the mortal sin of fratricide is to protect her and the baby for the rest of his days if she will have him. She will, but only to save herself, and when likely witnesses to his brother’s murder show up in Mariem’s field hospital ward in Egypt, Josef begs her to flee with him. Following her with the baby after she instead flees from him to Italy and then on to America, he misses the chance to be a celebrated combat soldier in the army he managed to join, a wound he will continue to worry. Yet he still feels he must continue to protect this woman that so many have harmed, as well as the baby who is the result of that harm. Converting to Judaism and becoming a literary agent to support his young family, Josef remains in the loveless marriage, watches as his son—known to no one not to be his own—becomes the celebrated novelist Josef always meant to be himself. Mariem, in and out of residential mental hospitals, may be the key to his writing their story at long last, and he brings her to their successful son’s Catskills cabin to write for one year the tale of their journey. When Mariem takes her own life on the same night as their granddaughter is born, Josef shifts his goals to being all he can for that baby, young Mira, and while he continues to try to write their journey, he gives it up in the last years of his life, hoping that his son or his granddaughter will someday find the words he cannot bring himself to destroy and write them into the book he always meant to write.

Mariem – Young Mariem’s family has been shunted from her prosperous home to the flat of her more conservative uncle. Her father, a doctor now allowed only to practice in the Jewish quarter, is desperately saving money while they await their visas to emigrate to America, a place he believes to be a haven, something Mariem cannot abide. Just before the Nazis and Soviets invade, Mariem’s fiancé is attacked and after he leaves her behind for America, she suffers from disillusionment that he will not wait for her and forms a dangerous predilection for the chaos that engulfs their city. As the war escalates, her mother is lost to typhus and her father shifts his goal of escape to America to aiding in vaccine production, leaving Mariem unmoored. She acts as a resistance courier and has a dalliance with a Soviet soldier who reveals his Judaism to her. As the Nazis invade yet again, she herself is attacked and raped, leaving her to seek aid at the convent where a young Catholic scholar, a boy who once tried to contact her fiancé before he left for America, resides. The trauma of her attack causes her a mental break, and when she discovers she is pregnant, the boy, Josef, and one of the sisters of the convent help her hide with a Polish farming family, hoping she will marry the oldest son. Instead, she gives birth in the barn, witnessed by an Italian soldier Maurizio who, while allied to the Nazis, is a conscript who sees saving this young madonna as his new mission. He helps her and Josef escape onto the trail of Anders’ Army, but not before Josef’s brother Harald abuses her and harms the baby, causing her to flee to the resistance in the hills, where Mariem believes Maurizio will come to her and be more than her savior, but a love who will follow after them when he can. When he does not follow, she is dissociated from their plight and the baby born to her, but follows Josef, thinking that if she can return to being pure, become good through acting as a nurse to soldiers as her father was a doctor, all will be well, and more importantly, that she will be good enough for Maurizio. When Josef comes to her after recognizing wounded soldiers in her ward are men who may have seen them at the time of Harald’s murder, she escapes from Josef and the baby too, believing she is being called to Maurizio’s side finally. Maurizio has returned to his hometown from his service, after Italy has surrendered, but has joined a monastery, never meaning to be more than a guardian angel to Mariem. Considering herself rejected again, Mariem makes her way with demobbing soldiers back to Brooklyn, where she attempts to get the courage up to approach her former fiancé, only to have Josef and the baby find her before she can, whereafter her fiancé rejects her. Teetering on the edge of madness throughout the next years, she seeks to find coherence in the events of her life, first hoping that Josef will write their story, then that her son will. Along the way, she devises a new storyline for herself by a few years’ affair with her former fiancé while her son is a teenager, but when he breaks it off and her son goes away to college to write his own stories, never having written hers, she has a breakdown and spends the next seven years in a mental hospital. Following a suicide attempt there, Josef retrieves her and brings her to stay with him for a year in the Catskills cabin their son has bought, where she agrees to attempt to write her own story alongside him, but in her own warped way. When she realizes, by the end of the year, that she and he will never succeed, she concludes, after the birth of her granddaughter Mira, that if she removes herself from this life, the newborn baby may be her namesake and continue to write toward an understanding she was never able to achieve. She kills herself that evening, but continues beyond her death to influence Mira in a way that becomes clear to the reader, watching her throughout her life and waiting on the side of the path for Mira to catch up to her and carry Mariem forward, her past finally understood as Mira has reconstructed it.

Mira – Mira began life as the namesake of her grandmother, victim of trauma, mental illness, and suicide. Her father is a celebrated novelist prone to drink, her mother an ambitious academic who does not relish her role as a mother, leaving Mira to find the love she needs from her grandfather, her GJoe, who nurtures her and is companion to her, accepting her for what she is, even as she comes to realize what that means. When her mother rejects her as a queer woman, and GJoe dies, Mira changes her career focus from Soviet Jewish history, a subject of interest due to what her grandfather and grandmother lost in the Shoah, to clergy, a career her father prompts her to pursue, rather than academia, his ex-wife’s path. On her first sabbatical after her father’s death, she lives in the Catskills cabin that was her father’s and forms chapters of her grandfather’s writing about the lead-up to the war into the beginnings of a book of their story. Stymied during her second sabbatical by what little he or her grandmother left behind of their experience of the next phase of the war, when the Soviets held the city, she dredges up her old passion for Soviet Jewish history, as well as delves into what she can surmise from materials her father provided her and that she has found in the Catskills cabin. Making this work impossible is the fact that her wife Leah has left her just on the cusp of this time away, and she discovers some weeks into the sabbatical that Leah has been diagnosed with late-stage cancer and has run off to die alone, not wanting to face the treatments her own mother suffered to no avail. A melancholy settles over Mira as the writing falters and the realities of her own life demand much of her. It is only her spirituality, her children away at school, and the thought of her project and not ending like her namesake did that keep her going. Meanwhile, she realizes that she might need the help of Joss, her longtime childhood friend, with whom she tested her sexuality as a teen. He is the literary executor of her father’s estate and reigns over his papers, some of which may offer clues to the story of her grandparents she is still determined to tell. When they do meet, all ends in friction, and she sinks deeper into depression, even as she tries to work. Her mother comes to see her, trying to make amends for all the years she hasn’t been accepting of her, and offers her a job on the university campus where she works. When Joss finds her seeking solace at the synagogue for Yom Kippur services, she means to try again to work with him. Before they can begin, she is so conflicted about what that means, with the offer of her mother’s and all that she is still reeling in with her wife’s departure and impending death, that she begs off from breaking fast with him and returns to the cabin. There she finds the elderly fiancé of her grandmother, finally coming forward to break his silence and aid her in confirming facts for the story. His words prompt Mira to look again in the cabin for what papers might have been hidden there, even from her, and she does indeed find them, including writings by her namesake. These show her the true story of her father’s conception, the traumas her grandmother and grandfather suffered, all in a barrage that no amount of praying can stem or salve. Once again, she considers taking the path of her namesake, leaving the world and this project, especially as the new writings show her that beloved GJoe was not her grandfather after all. But at the site of her namesake’s suicide, she reconsiders, feeling his love even then, and hearing the voices of all, past and present, who will help her write forward. She continues to write, and despite publishers who ultimately want her to whitewash the story into one that ends in hope, she determines, with the help of her new wife, a documentarian from current-day Lviv, Ukraine, to ensure that the full truth of her grandparents’ experiences and all that proceeded from them are eventually told.

Joss – Joss grew up without his mother and with an absent father, always away on business in Europe, leaving others at the family’s Catskills mountaintop resort to raise him. From a young age, he sought the company of Manny Darowski, celebrated novelist and a friend in her youth of his deceased mother, asking him questions about her. As the novelist becomes more and more a father figure to him, albeit reluctantly, Joss eventually asks questions about Manny himself, his history, and his work. Manny’s daughter Mira also becomes focal for Joss, and as they grow from playmates to fast friends in their teen years, Joss realizes he loves her. Before leaving for college, they attempt one awkward and painful sexual encounter, which Joss romanticizes, despite Mira’s clear rejection of him as more than a friend, unable to bring himself to accept her sexual preference for women, his sister Etta among them. Years later, he is a budding academic, a scholar on Darowski’s fiction, his literary executor, but still not taken seriously in academia since he has yet to augment his journal scholarship with a book. An adjunct under department chair Lisha Sandoval Darowski, who is Mira’s mother and Manny Darowski’s ex-wife, he guards his Darowski archives from others as much as he can. When Mira arrives for her sabbatical, Joss realizes he needs some of the materials she might still have and needs as well to heal things over with her. When they meet, he makes a gaffe about her wife Leah and loses the best chance he has of working with her and mending their relationship. Eventually, he realizes he’s been selfish with the archival material and tries to make peace with Lisha, allowing her the access she seeks to help her memoir writing, and further suggests the two of them try again to work with Mira. He is still worried about this, and it is only with the aid of the elderly fiancé of Mira’s grandmother that he musters the courage to renew his relationship that Yom Kippur. He goes on to work alongside the two women and marry a colleague who has long sought his attention.


The setting of Lvov, Poland in the spring of 1939 is one fraught with growing nationalistic policies, popular anti-Semitic attitudes, and more open aggressions against Jews than ever before, despite a long-established, diverse Jewish community that makes up nearly a third of the population. This story unfolds at the university, a petri dish of the city’s attitudes, and that of the wider nation and Europe. We are in courtyards where Jews are subject to knife attacks on student-sanctioned and administration-ignored “Free of Jews days.” We are in classrooms where Jews stand rather than sit on the ghetto benches to hear the lectures of professors, some of whom decided for the sake of their careers to convert from Judaism to Catholicism. We are in garden sheds behind convents where many nuns shun Jews when the war begins as deserving of their fates, even as some are righteous actors in their salvation. We are in the rooms of Poles who debate the place and morality of Jews even as they sink into card games and illicit sexual encounters. We are in markets and doctor’s offices and flats in the Jewish quarter, suffering the current state of things and readying for the next wave of pogroms and Aktions as the city changes hands again and again, debating what it means to be Jewish, Polish, and safe. And whether it was or will ever be possible to be all of those at once.

We are also in the hills beyond the city with resistance fighters of all stripes and motivations, in the farmhouses and barns of allies to the Jews if just because they recognize the immorality of the invaders. We are in typhus vaccine laboratories that strive, even as the invaders sponsor the production, to protect the population, smuggling vaccine to ghettos and sending watered-down concoctions to the Nazi front. We are on the trail of those starving and dying as they trek the whole of the Soviet Union to join the newly forming Anders’ Army, a Polish corps reborn once the Soviets considered themselves allies against the Nazis again. We are in orphanages, field hospitals, and military publications offices in Iran, Iraq, and finally Eretz Yisrael and Egypt, preparing to strike one of the final blows against the Nazis in Italy, just across a tumultuous sea.

And we are in Brooklyn and the Catskills from the mid-1940s until the present day. In synagogues, yeshivas, and bakeries, in children’s hospitals, in flats above tailors’ shops, and in once-coveted well-heeled apartment buildings. We are in mental hospitals upstate and in the Catskills, summer haven for New York’s vacationing Jews, in camps and rented cabins and on docks by the lake. We view the surrounding hills from mountaintop resorts, downtown coffee shops, and doctor’s houses, in police stations, post offices, shops, and cafes under siege by protesting students from the university campus, itself a place of division and ever-warring factions.

And finally, we are in a mountaintop cabin that housed three generations of pain, of writers striving to know themselves and the truths they each tried to hide from one another. There we are witness to this and other struggles, including births and deaths under the moon as man first walked on it. And down below it, we are at a stream that leads to and from the falls, where one story ends and another begins.

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SEVEN QUESTIONS: The Opposite of Eve

1.    Story Statement: Eve must take revenge on Travis; to help herself heal, to prevent him from harming other women, but most of all, to keep him from developing a relationship with their son. 

2.    Sketch of the Antagonist: The antagonist in The Opposite of Eve is Travis Lynch, a man who has lived an entitled life. Only son of one of the wealthiest families in Henrysville, Travis captained the lacrosse team and cherished his popularity among his classmates. He attends Prom with Eve, and when they start making out, he won’t stop, even though she fights back and tries to run away from him. Years later, as the novel opens, Travis moves back to Henrysville with his wife and daughters to become Athletic Director at the high school. He was never held to account for his assault of Eve. Now, he is up to no good again, cheating on his wife and possibly guilty of further assaults. He still thinks he can go through life, harming others without consequence. But Eve will set him straight.

3.    Title Options:
a.    The Opposite of Eve
b.    The Harmless One
c.    Eve Robins Fights Back

4.    Two Comparables:
“My Dark Vanessa” by Kate Elizabeth Russell, “True Story” by Kate Reed Petty
My Dark Vanessa is a comp for my novel because it is a dual-timeline, upmarket novel with a sexual assault at its center. “True Story” follows the fallout from a high-school sexual assault, years after its occurrence. 

5.    Core Wound: When a single mother’s Prom Night assailant moves back to her hometown, she plots revenge, but when her plan backfires, turning her son against her, she is forced to confront a tougher menace: the trauma left by the long-ago assault, which has driven her to lie to her loved ones and close herself to new relationships. 

6.    Inner Conflict & Secondary Conflict
Inner conflict:
Eve feels partially to blame for her sexual assault, since news, media, and her education informed her that she had to ward off men’s advances by dressing modestly, not getting drunk, not acting flirtatious, etc. She doesn’t trust men, but neither does she trust herself around them. Consequently, when she’s starting to make friends with Devin and he gives her an alcoholic drink, despite her insistence that she doesn’t drink, she lashes out, accusing him of trying to get her drunk, and runs away. 

Secondary conflict:
Eve never told her parents about her assault, so they don’t know their grandson was conceived in a rape. Eve’s mother remarks that Ben should be allowed to know his father, which stirs Eve’s anger. Eve and her mother can never reach a place of mutual understanding as long as this secret stands between them. 


7.    Setting:     Henrysville, Virginia is a fictional small town (pop. approximately 25,000) in which memories run deep. The Lynch family, of which Travis is the only heir, is one of the wealthiest and oldest families in central Virginia. For Eve to accuse him of assault would amount to a nobody taking on one of most powerful families. 

In Henrysville, wealthy kids and poor kids alike go to the public high school, but social strata remain, based on wealth and intangibles such as athletic skill and sociability. Eve believed her crush on Travis to be fruitless, until he surprised both of them by asking her out. Crossing those social boundaries was noteworthy, because her swimming prowess was not enough to elevate her to the level of social stature of Travis, one of the most popular kids in school. Now eighteen years later, that social divide continues to cut deep, when she sees the mansion that Travis moves into and feels guilt that she has denied her son the benefits that Lynch wealth could have brought.  

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A)    The Act of a Story Statement

The scion of family of prominent medical researchers, is torn between the mounting pressure to pursue a career of academic research over his passion to care for the medically underserved. His residency at the famed Johns Hopkins Hospital is further jeopardized when he becomes the prime suspect in a seemingly impossible murder. Faced with public humiliation, professional ruin and quite possibly prison, he begins to search for answers beneath this iconic symbol of academic medicine. While racing to solve the murder, he is forced to navigate many unanticipated land mines, only to find out that nothing in his life is what it appears to be. 

B)    The Antagonist Plots the Point

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

C)    Conjuring a Breakout Title

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

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

D)    Deciding Your Genre and Approaching Comparables

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

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

E)    Core Wound and the Primary Conflict 

An idealistic medical resident is torn between following the footsteps of his father in the “family business” of medical research and his inner desire to care for the underprivileged community of East Baltimore. Hank’s tragic flaw is his charming naïveté, which effectively blinds him to the surrounding web of intrigue and deception.

F)     Other Matters of Conflict

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

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

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

G)    The Incredible Importance of Setting

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


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Doc Varga

Seven Assignments

Assignment 1

Dr. Rebecca Ansley provides mandatory counseling for assisted suicide patients at Life for Humanity, an organization allowed to conduct medical research on those who meet the state criteria to die. LFH’s advances have saved countless lives, but some consider them predators, leeching the weak to benefit the rich and powerful.

Something is different about Rebecca’s newest patient, a young prodigy named Derrick. Not only does he prove a match for her highly controlled, occasionally manipulative counseling sessions, but his masochistic personality shares strange parallels with Rebecca’s incarcerated brother. The case quickly turns personal, and she must unravel Derrick’s psyche before her own professional and personal reputation collapses.


Assignment 2

Derrick is a young prodigy who wants to donate his life to science. He prescribes to a brutally honest, but unsustainable belief that to survive, one must cause suffering. Whether it be the simple act of eating—stealing the energy of lesser living beings—or the constant social maneuvering to achieve our own ends, every moment of survival means another creature must suffer. He believes in no absolutions or atonement, and because of his intellectual gifts, he is uniquely aware and haunted by the anguish of others. Death is his only solution.

Rebecca spent her entire life trying to make amends for her sins. Also attuned to the grief of others, she is driven to do good by her desire to offset the pain she has and continues to cause. Derrick challenges her good deeds and false pretenses, identifying her as a predator feeding her own ego. Intellectual equals, the two spar while Derrick reveals clues to a dark, underground movement that targets young men as proof that he is right.


Assignment 3





Assignment 4

THE SILENT PATIENT - Alex Michaelides

A psychological thriller that is focused on the mental deconstruction of its two main characters wrapped in a twisty mystery that leads to a dark conclusion.

GONE GIRL – Gillian Flynn

Targets readers of psychological thrillers with complex motivations and surprising turns.

AN ANONYMOUS GIRL - Greer Hendricks and Sarah Pekkanen

Morality questions intertwined with a driving, commercially structured narrative and deeply flawed characters.


Assignment 5

When therapist Rebecca is assigned as the counselor to dissuade Derrick from state-assisted suicide, she uncovers an online underground movement victimizing young men that threatens not only her family and her life, but forces Rebecca to confront her abusive past with her younger brother.


Assignment 6

Dr. Rebecca Ansley is a winner. She has succeeded in almost everything she’s done, from Jiu-Jitsu, to writing, to her highly lauded medical record with LFH. Winning and being the best have become more of an obsession than a practice. This need is driven by her desire to make up for an abusive relationship with her younger brother. She has tied winning with not only self-worth but atonement for her past sins. When Derrick stands in the way of both her beliefs and her chance at winning a “Save” record at work, keeping him alive becomes the lynchpin that holds her entire worldview in place.

This conflict extends home to Rebecca’s family life. She is the breadwinner, and her husband, Mark, is the caretaker. Though she loves them, she finds it difficult to connect with her husband and two children. Rather than be open and vulnerable herself, afraid that her family might notice her dark side, she spies on them to emulate closeness.


Assignment 7

In the skyline of late 21st century Philadelphia, skyscrapers of all shapes and sizes catch the sunlight and spread it upon the parks and boroughs below it, like priests holding mass. The air is hot and humid in summer—a new heat record is set almost every year—but it’s hardly noticeable under the protection of the endless rows of buildings. While the Center City, especially around the Life For Humanity twin towers, is clean and sterile, the markets by the river and in the arts district offer a more grounded urban experience.

Due to the cultural and economic influx from LFH’s headquarters, Philadelphia has become a beacon city. The massive infusion of money the program generated allowed for a ground-up refurbishment of all public institutions, including schools, libraries, public works, and buildings. Arts and a melting pot of different cultures took root in different boroughs, offering diversity on an unprecedented level. Innovators and businesses also flocked to the city, and it has become a world-renowned symbol of hope for the future.

However, most of the world outside Philadelphia is depressingly like our present. In the wake of several pandemics, world-spanning conflicts, punishing economic conditions that further separated the rich and the poor, and spikes in climate change-related disasters, for the first time since the industrial revolution, science and technology have found themselves chasing problems rather than pioneering. Once big businesses focused on money-making arthritis drugs or the latest update to the iPhone. Now they are pressed for life-saving vaccines and to ensure their stocks are not undercut by the latest virtual currency. With the increase in global threats and no-win scenarios, governments have become more morally flexible, which helped give rise to the Life For Humanity movement. Though heavily protested, the giant leaps it provided in medical tech are undeniable.

While LFH provided many groundbreaking medical discoveries, most aspects of life were simply refined. Self-driving cars are commonplace, smartphones interconnect with bio-activity to monitor wellness levels 24/7, and weekly activities such as shopping and dining experiences have become more sterile and private. But below the cleanliness, there is a deep undercurrent of unrest in the populace. People feel they have less control over their lives than ever before and are desperate to wield power in the face of what seems an inevitable fall.

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1.    The Act of Story Statement:

Tommy Flowers, an electrical engineer in London, must race against the clock and plunge his family into debt to complete his computing machine for Allied High Command in time for D-Day while keeping it a secret under government orders or he will face the noose for treason. 

2.    The Antagonist Plots the Point: 

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

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

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

3.    Conjuring Your Breakout Title:  Against the Turn of Day 

4.    Deciding Your Genre and Approaching Comparables: 

Genre: Narrative Nonfiction 


Code Talker: The First and Only Memoir by One of the Original Navajo Code Talkers of WII by Chester Nez and Judith Schiess Avila

Growing up Navajo in New Mexico, Chester Nez had to create an English name for himself, was punished for speaking his native language at school, and had teachers who tried to rid him of his culture and traditions, but that didn’t stop Chester from answering the call to defend his country. Not only did he excel as a marine, but he and his fellow Navajo recruits went on to create the only unbroken code in modern warfare which helped assure victory over Japan. In Against the Turn of Day, Tommy Flowers, an unknown electrical engineer from London’s East End, is summoned by the British government to build a codebreaking machine for Bletchley Park. Tommy and his valves are rejected by the Bletchley elite, so Tommy goes into debt to build his own machine that goes on to break the most important cipher of the war from Hitler to Rommel just in time for D-Day. Despite their humble beginnings and the discrimination they faced, these ordinary men went on to achieve remarkable feats that place them amongst the biggest unsung heroes of WWII. 

Jackdaws by Ken Follett

D-Day is approaching and Felicity “Flick” Clairet, one of Britain’s top operatives in Northern France, and her Resistance-leader husband fail to destroy the heart of German communications, the largest telephone exchange in all of Europe. A team of unlikely females, code-named the Jackdaws, is then assembled and trained within days to make a second attempt on the exchange just days before the invasion. In Against the Turn of Day, Tommy Flowers, an unknown electrical engineer, is likewise ordered to do the miraculous in time for D-Day, to build a codebreaking machine to break Hitler’s ciphers in spite of the shortage of engineering supplies and funds. Both stories tell the tale of ordinary people doing extraordinary things in extraordinary times, of men and women who never got the recognition they so deserved for their heroic achievements.

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

With the future of the world at stake, an unknown electrical engineer is asked by the British government to do the impossible and create a machine that will break Hitler’s code before it’s too late, a machine that will become the world’s first modern computer, a machine that will nearly cost him everything.

6.    Other Matters of Conflict: Two More Levels

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

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

7.    The Incredible Importance of Setting:

Against the Turn of Day unfolds across four primary settings: 

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

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

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

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

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

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Matt S., Speculative Fiction, Seven Assignments

I. Story Statement

A brilliant scientist, condemned as a traitor and heretic, wants to bury his past and reclaim his rightful legacy, but the price of redemption demands he confront the supremacism he embraced to justify the miraculous but devastating consequences of his discovery.

II. Antagonists


Von Trotha: A political opportunist who masks his ruthless supremacism and thirst for power under a facade of charm and quiet efficiency. As the planetary colonies are threatened by an ominous presence, Von Trotha unleashes a plan to ensure humanity's interstellar supremacy — an army of telesthetic warriors — but first he must secure the unwilling cooperation of Eid Mastis, the same man he condemned as a heretic and traitor, and who may be humanity’s last hope.

Secondary Antagonistic Forces

The Ech Khuvit is a fanatical religious sect that rises to prominence under the austere living conditions on the isolated planetary colonies. They proudly refer to themselves as “originals” — those who have chosen to forego neuro-augmentaion enhancements. They are dedicated to the total eradication of technological dependence which they see as the one true path toward spiritual enlightenment and salvation. The sect’s prophecies seed a revolt among the poor and disenfranchised of the outer planetary outposts. They believe Eid Mastis’ neuro-augmentation technology represents the pinnacle of humankind’s sinful turn from God and are intent on eliminating Mastis and purging his followers from their domain.

The D.A.R.: The Department of Academic Restoration is the Ech Khuvit’s all-powerful secret police responsible for enforcing academic purity codes and administering the knowledge tax system under the Ech Khuvit’s new spiritual and territorial governing authority. Headed by Von Trotha, the DAR hunts down neuro-augmentees and places them in internment camps awaiting genetic de-augmentation. Mastis is arrested and sentenced to death, but Von Trotha intervenes, offering life in exile in return for cooperation in hunting  down fellow augmentees. The DAR administers a synthetic virus-code that prevents Mastis from accessing his long-term memories and portions of his cerebral cortex.

The Uuhnser-Gesch: A race of mysterious, free-form inter-dimensional beings that exist across space-time. In the Kuhr language, the term translates into “divine over-spirits” and the Kuhr people worship them as gods. According to Kuhr folklore, the Uuhnser-Gesch have the ability to generate reality distortion fields, vibrant illusions that prey on our fears and desires. They later appear as angels in the spiritual writings reinterpreted and adopted by the Ech Khuvit’s guiding scriptures. Unbeknownst to him, the Uuhnser-Gesch are using Mastis as a pawn, manipulating his sense of time and reality to alter the future of humankind.

III. Breakout Titles

  • A Selfish Prayer for Light
  • And the Universe Be Still as Bright
  • Darkness Has No Need of Aid

IV. Comparables

— Similar to the universe building detail and inter-planetary conflicts of Liu Cixun’s award winning science fiction novel “The Three-Body Problem”

— Influenced but the style and mind-bending imagination in Ted Chiang’s speculative fiction works such as “Arrival

Other Influences:

— Olivia Butler’s “Lilith’s Brood" 

V. Logline w/Primary Dramatic Conflict and Core Wounds

Condemned to die as a heretic and traitor on a remote planet, Professor Eid Mastis, the brilliant, tormented creator of the telesthesia genome, may be humanity’s last hope for survival, but to gain his freedom he must join with the same malevolent forces that imprisoned him.

VI. Other Matters of Conflict

Inner Conflict:

A Reversal of Fortune: As a young neuro-psychiatrist, Eid Mastis was once hailed as the father of neuro-augmentation, the science behind a genetically induced, bio-processor in the cerebral plexus capable of processing and transmitting exabytes of data using synthetic DNA. He aspires to create the first ever colony of extended cognition, an advanced bio-network of telesthetic humans. But like so many scientific revolutions prior, humankind is unprepared for this new technology and its unintended consequences. Gifted with the ability to temporally visualize and decipher unlimited amounts of data, augmentees turn inward, withdrawing from society and inadvertently creating a new caste system that pits augmentees against ordinary humans, derisively referred to as “originals.” His discovery devastates human society and gives rise to a powerful new fanatical religion, the Ech Khuvit, who are bent on eradicating humankind’s technological dependence. Mastis, shocked and filled with remorse at his scientific arrogance, sinks into a deep depression.

Unbearable Shame and Guilt: Mastis is eventually arrested and labeled a heretic by the Ech Khuvit. Moreover, in a bargain to save his life and the life of Kerykes, his long-time companion, Von Trotha coerces him to betray his academic colleagues and fellow augmentees. Later, after years of isolation in exile, with only the deaf-mute Kerykes for a companion, Mastis recoils from the shame of his betrayals. Far worse, he lives under a repressed shadow of guilt and horror from witnessing and performing experimental atrocities on imprisoned indigenous Kuhrans, all carried out in the name of scientific research. Filled with self-loathing, he feels unworthy of love or freedom. Despite having altered the course of humanity through his discovery of neuro-augmentation, he is filled with regret and doubts, and struggles to find meaning as he contemplates ending his life.

Scenario Sketch

A representative of the Ech Khuvit’s D.A.R., the all-powerful Department of Academic Restoration, visits Mastis in his exiled isolation with an offer: recount the details of the horrific research he performed in the Kuhr Resettlement Camps in exchange for freedom and full academic rehabilitation. Tempted by the offer, Mastis agrees, unaware that Von Trotha is recording his restored memories to revive the neuro-augmentation program. The interviews are both confession and revelation, triggering an emotional retelling of his account on Kuhr. He retraces his experience from his initial observation of colonial atrocities to gradual participation and acceptance. The horrific memories force him now, decades later, to acknowledge his role and question both the scientific achievement they generated and his own deeply held beliefs about human supremacy. Eventually he must return to Kuhr, where, with the help of a long lost patient, he must face his past and answer to the Uuhnser-Gesch, the divine over-spirits, who will at last reveal their plans for him.

Secondary Social Conflicts:

Kerykes: Kerykes is a biological telesthetic from the planet Kuhr and Mastis long-time personal herald. The two share a complicated history and an unbreakable emotional bond. Born a female, her external sexual glands were surgically removed to enhance her telesthetic abilities. Mastis later adopts Kerykes and raises them genderless. The loss of sexual glands results in the deprivation of a Kuhran’s external senses and gradually renders them deaf and blind as their facial features — eyes, ears, and nose — recede upon adulthood. As a telesthetic, Kerykes is able to interpret the thoughts and emotions of others, but they lack a language of their own, communicating instead using the neurochemistry of emotions and images transmitted telepathically. The DAR holds Kerykes hostage in order to coerce Mastis into cooperating with their plans. Acting as his emotional reservoir, Kerykes triggers a troubled recounting of his experience on Kuhr. As the story unfolds, Kerykes reveals that she is a conduit to the Uunhser-Gesch, part of their plan to assist Mastis’ reconciliation with his tormented, horrific past.

Arund Ivoire: Ivoire is the only known offspring of Human-Kuhran parents. Sexual reproduction between humans and Kuhrans is believed to be impossible. He is orphaned on Kuhr, rejected by both Kuhr and humans alike until he is adopted by an Ech Khuvit missionary. His Kuhran name, Kharan-Khul, literally translates as “One Without Darkness.” After the missionary disappears, Ivoire is arrested for murder by colonial authorities and is forced to stand trial pending a competency hearing. Assigned to assess his mental condition, a young Mastis is fascinated as Ivoire reveals his encounter with the mysterious Uuhnser-Gesch. Succumbing to the supremacist lure of the colonial outposts, Mastis falsely declares Ivoire mentally incompetent, and decides to use him to further his research into the telesthetic genome. His plans are abruptly ended when Ivoire mysteriously vanishes from his isolation cell on board the orbiting asylum. Von Trotha is certain that Ivoire’s DNA is instrumental in developing human telesthesia, which he believes is the key to defending humanity against the Uuhnser-Gesch. As he becomes increasingly obsessed with Ivoire, he enlists a reluctant Mastis to help track him down on Kuhr.

VII. Setting

The story is set in the speculative future as humankind begins to explore and colonize distant worlds. A hefty percentage of science fiction plots are about humans defending themselves against a superior alien race bent on our destruction. What happens when we reverse the scenario? That is, in the eyes of extraterrestrials, humans are the superior alien race bent on their destruction? Setting and background combine to establish a rich political and social environment to launch the main character's narrative arc:

Humankind begins exploring the stars in 2188. The advent of the Aeolus Direct Fusion Drive, the Hero’s Engine, enables humans to travel great distances at sub-light speeds. The first humans reach Earth’s closest neighbor, Proxima Centauri, in 2211. Despite the advancements in fusion propulsion, interplanetary exploration is incredibly costly, requires decades to accomplish and relies heavily on stasis hibernation technology. However, by 2466, humankind has explored and colonized several Near-Earth Systems, introducing humans to the incredible diversity of life across our corner of the galaxy.

Due to the huge expense, space travel is largely profit driven and interplanetary exploration becomes the domain of large corporations. Although humans can now travel into the far reaches of space at roughly 22% the speed of light, the great distances and durations still prohibit timely communication between home-worlds, interplanetary vessels, and distant exoplanets. The earliest space explorers are very much like the earliest sea-faring captains on Earth: operating in near isolation, far removed from their home worlds and free from the social constraints of human civilization. Corporate executives and administrators become accustomed to exercising local autonomous jurisdiction, untethered to the norms and values that no longer restrain their decisions and beliefs.

Despite humankind’s lengthy experience with predatory racial hierarchies and supremacism, colonists and their elected corporate representatives extol a philosophy of human exceptionalism and benevolent superiority. They perceive indigenous terrestrials as lower evolutionary creatures, and treat them as if they exist outside the realm of humankind’s moral obligation. These conditions lead to a system of unregulated colonization, resource stripping, and the unconstrained exploitation of indigenous inhabitants. Reports of atrocities committed in defense of humankind’s progress are not uncommon.

The inter-planetary situation changes dramatically when an exploration company, funded by venture capitalists from the independent Ehrmis (Air-mees) colony, discovers untapped kobold deposits on a moon planet known to the indigenous inhabitants as Kuhr. Kobold is a precious interstellar element essential to generating the electro-magnetic plasma fields used in advanced fusion drives. The company quickly begins to colonize the planet for the purpose of mining and trade.

Kuhr is inhabited by agrarian and nomadic kinship-based societies, often categorized by human anthropologists as skeython, or “near-humans,” a discriminatory (often pejorative) biological category describing sentient beings that have human characteristics but cannot reproduce with humans. Because of the Kuhrans’  humanoid appearance and the presence of kobold — an ancient word with fantastical connotations — human colonists often refer to Kuhr derisively as the “Goblin” planet. Kuhrans do not possess the capacity to wage technological war or defend themselves against the space-faring explorers. The population is soon enlisted in the mining and exploitation of their planet. Although largely unexplored, Kuhr becomes essentially a forced labor economy organized around the extraction of resources to feed the growing demand for fusion energy.

Shortly after the Independent Kuhr Free Territory is established as a colonial protectorate, their lead scientists confirm reports that a small percentage of the population, primarily female, have telepathic powers to communicate with one another over great distances. Indigenous patriarchs use the female telepaths to communicate with other clans and distant groups, although the planet as a whole remains technologically undeveloped.

These discoveries lead to the founding of neuro-telesthesia - the study of telepathy. A wave of inter-planetary anthropologists and neuroscientists descend on Kuhr to advance their understanding of Kuhran biology. A leading neuroscientist, Fischer Lothar, discovers that young indigenous Kuhr females possess a unique ability to generate a quantum “vibration” at the plexus of their amygdala and hippocampus. They are able to open an inter-dimensional portal that allows them to transmit charged, entangled particles — quantum “messages” — that can then be sent across time and space, creating near simultaneous communication between compatible telesthetics. These untapped telepathic powers peak before the females reach puberty.

Following their discovery, a small army of scientists conscript Kuhr women to act as long-distance transmitter/receivers, first between deep-space probes, and later between planets. However, indigenous Kuhr have difficulty adapting to humankind’s advancements and space-flight, and their efficiency is reduced as they enter child-rearing age. Fischer establishes the Valkenburg Asylum, a medical institute on Kuhr purportedly created to treat Kuhrans for psychological maladaptation, but in reality the institute is performing research into biological telethesia.

Lothar’s attempts to genetically induce or recreate telesthetic abilities in humans prove elusive. He and his staff begin applying existing indigenous methods for extending the female gender’s telepathic powers through removal of their sex glands and reproductive organs, a known ritualized custom on Kuhr. They then devise a method for a drug-induced amygdalabotomy that strips the Kuhrans of independent will and reduces obstacles to Kuhran adaptation to humankind’s advanced society while retaining their telepathic powers. The women are essentially rendered into revenants, living bio-transmitter vessels devoid of personality and independent thought. Thus a long-range inter-planetary communication system is organized around the female revenants which becomes known as the heraldry system.

As the news gradually travels back to colonies and other populated planets, the discovery of a planet of telepathic beings inspires a religious revolution among the disenfranchised. One such religious sect's message, the Ech Khuvit, begins to dominate. Ech Khuvit, or “originals” as they refer to themselves, are dedicated to the eradication of technological dependence as the one true path to God. The sect’s founder is a charismatic former soldier who cites his encounters with telesthetic Kuhrans as proof of God’s plan using a technologically free existence to find inner peace and salvation. A small percentage of fanatical believers begin to blind themselves with a hot poker in a misguided attempt to gain telesthetic powers and commune closer with God.

Planet Ehrmis is managed by the Lehpoldus Parliament, an independent commercial entity that is not an established member of the Interplanetary Federacy. Its administration of Kuhr is therefore free from the interference and observation of the Federacy’s legal oversight, although it provides updates of its “benevolent and compassionate” approach to colonization.

As the closest populated planet to Kuhr, Ehrmis has become a waypoint for Ech Khuvit pilgrims. The Lehpoldus Parliament authorizes a small colony of Ech Khuvit missionaries to settle on Kuhr to help “advance” Kuhr’s rural society. The missionaries are shocked and dismayed at the living conditions and the Free Territory's treatment of rural Kuhrans. As the Ech Khuvit missionaries’ presence grows, their upstart leader, Armas Pretorius protests the horrific conditions and threatens to seize control of the vast kobold mining operations. Emboldened by Pretorius’ support, and after suffering through decades of slavery, abuse, and the indignity of colonial rule, the indigenous Kuhr are encouraged to unite and rebel.

The Federation takes an intense interest in Kuhr as a resource rich exoplanet that is also the key to expanding interplanetary travel and maintaining the heraldry communication system. They decide to reinforce the Independent Kuhr Free Territory’s small colonial administration with a growing military contingent to assist Ehrmis in maintaining control over mining resources and ensure uninterrupted access to Kuhran female foundlings (being groomed as heralds). The Federation appoints Von Trotha as the Deputy Governor-General on Kuhr to quell the uprising. As the situation on Kuhr deteriorates, the Lehpoldus Parliament authorizes Von Trotha to establish resettlement and internment camps for the rebelling Kuhrans. Women, children, and entire clans are forcibly resettled from their homelands and sentenced to forced labor. Later, the internment orders are expanded to include Ech Khuvit combatants and non-combatants as well. When word of the heinous treatment inside the internment camps leaks out, support for the Ech Khuvit and their spiritual revolution spreads slowly to other colonies and company operations.

It is at this critical turning point that a young Mastis, finishing a 17 year deep-space journey, arrives on Kuhr where Von Trotha assigns him to head the Valkenberg Asylum. The asylum is now a hospital for both traumatized Federation soldiers as well as a research institution for mentally ill Kuhrans. It is here that Mastis first meets Arund Ivoire and learns about the Uuhnser-Gesch, as he completes his ghastly research to discover the secret to human telesthesia.

The civil war on Kuhr will eventually result in the expulsion of the Federacy. Over the course of the ensuing decades, as Mastis’ revolutionary neuro-augmentation process spreads across the known galaxy, the Ech Khuvit rebellion leapfrogs across the outer colonial settlements displacing the Federacy. These break-away colonies under Ech Khuvit control form a growing confederacy of planetary systems that call themselves the New Dominion. The Dominion’s rise to power is accompanied by a ban on science and individual technology. They enforce a “knowledge tax” on all forms of learning and education. Later, the New Dominion forcefully rounds up neuro-augmentees in new concentration camps and conducts show-trials. They offer enhanced augmentees a choice between death and virally induced de-augmentation. As the story opens, Mastis is at the end of his life, exiled and under house arrest for over a decade, and the mysterious Uuhnser-Gesch are threatening to end humanity’s interstellar supremacy.

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An unconventional academic on a research assignment in the Republic of Georgia, fights to save her career and find the link between food and freedom. 


Schulyer J. Blakewell III, is the lauded chair of the Political Science department at Anderson College, and Harper Hanigan’s domineering supervisor. Blakewell is a dyed in the wool WASP, but he slouches around campus like a hipster-type professor better suited to the Philosophy department. He disliked Harper immediately because she was a smart outsider who saw him as an ingratiating fake. 

Blakewell is an ambitious, successful man, accustomed to getting what he wants. He is not afraid to deceive, manipulate and even plagiarize, if he thinks he can get away with it. When he sees an opportunity to take credit for Harper’s work and sabotage her career, Blakewell rises to the occasion. 


Current title – Feast 

Alternative titles 

1.     The Song of Jam

2.     Harper’s Poiesis 

3.     Food, Love & War Behind the Iron Curtain

4) COMPARABLE TITLES - Genre is Literary Fiction, Upmarket 

Feast is on a continuum between Eat Pray Love, by Elizabeth Gilbert, and Amor Towles’ A Gentleman in Moscow.


An unconventional academic alone in a former Soviet Republic, wrestles with her past and a colleague’s treachery, while desperately searching for the link between food and freedom. 


A. INNER CONFLICT/core wound

One of Harper’s strongest early memories is staring at the glossy tile floor of the rec hall, speckled squares flickered in the sunlight just like the ones in the lunchroom. Black shoes tucked under rows of blue plastic chairs. A man in a dull brown suite stood near a window talking about Ray Sandaburg, killed in a terrible accident. Kids in a pickup-truck riding through the desert; when the truck flipped over if cut off Ray’s head. The man in the brown suite didn’t say that but Harper knew it was true. She heard her brother Hank talking to Marty about it. Marty was in the truck too. That same autumn, just a few months before Josie ran away, the sweet old man who ran the laundry mat was robbed and murdered with a two-by-four. Someone had hammered long nails in one end and beaten him with it. She and Mama used to go there once a week. The Penny Wash, smelled like bath bubbles and the old man always had a lollypop for Harper. Mama used to hum songs from Oklahoma when she pulled sheets from the dryer. Occasionally, they sang the lyrics together. Harper’s favorite was the part about the corn and the elephants. But Mama didn’t hum anymore. The world outside Harper’s front door was ugly and dangerous. She felt like a stranger there, as if her family had gotten lost on the way to somewhere else. 

            A few years later, when her parents had more money, they sent Harper to a private Lutheran School on the other side of town. They wanted Harper in a safer environment, but it wasn’t. The principal’s daughter told the entire fifth grade class that the new girl was poor, and her family never went to church. From her first day of school, the kids whispered about the poor sinner-girl from Trailor Estates. At first, Harper was confused because everyone at the new school pretended to be nice, but they really weren’t. She was an outsider there too, but she got used to it. Playing alone was safest. How could Harper tell her parents, who had sacrificed so much to send there, she was swimming with sharks.

            Looking back, Harper realized that for as long as she could remember, she’d been desperate to prove her value, to transcend circumstances, to prove that pretty did not equal stupid, that poor did not equal dirty and useless. A tangled sense of inadequacy, pride and rage burned inside her.

B. SECONDARY CONFLICT (Obstacles/challenges in her research)

It rained steadily for the next three days. Harper sat, dangling bare legs off the ledge of her bedroom window, staring at life on the street below, drinking bottles of warm Stolichnaya, and smoking cheap Russian cigarettes. She liked the way they burned in her throat. 

Nothing made sense anymore, and she longed to hear her mother’s voice, just the sound, the gentle lilting notes, could always sooth her. Harper felt confused, hurt, and trapped by Blakewell. In her gut she knew analytical analysis and formulas were not going to capture any truths. Yet, she’d been cornered into doing some trivial research bullshit when she knew there was a bigger story out there. Something deeper, subtler, more poetic. Harper’s mind raced. She thought about two upcoming interviews, and about Rancière’s concept of rupture, which was relevant, she just wasn’t sure how yet. She thought about tiny acts of dissidence, and survival, and feminized labor, and the kitchen as the locus of cultural preservation… there was a connection, she knew there was. She just couldn’t see it. Harper didn’t want to analyze data, she wanted to tackle big ideasbut she knew that’s not what academia was interested in anymore, unless you’re Jacques Rancière, which she wasn’t. “This is social science. Leave the big ideas to Art,” Blakewell had snarled at her once. Maybe he was right, she didn’t have the skills to tackle thick research with layers of meaning. Clearly, she was too stupid to understand Davit. Maybe she’d wasted years of her life on that damn PhD. What am I doing here? What happened to my life? 


Georgia is a lush, verdant former Soviet republic known for a rich culinary landscape, wine making techniques dating back two thousand years, polyphony singing, and acrobatic dance. In John Steinbeck’s 1948 travelogue, A Russian Journal, he wrote that wherever he went, the Russians spoke of “Georgians as supermen, as great drinkers, great dancers, great musicians, great workers and lovers. And they spoke of the country in the Caucasus and around the Black Sea as a kind of second heaven.” 

Georgia is also the birthplace of Joseph Stalin, a brilliant crook who blossomed into a tyrannical murderer in the 1930s at the helm of a nascent empire. Thanks to Vladimir Putin, his bloody legacy has been polished, and across Russia, Stalin’s cult of personality is on the rise. For some in Georgia, Stalin’s popularity has never waned, neither has Russian influence, nor the supremacy of the Orthodox church. But many others, particularly the young, long to join the European Union and embrace the liberal individualism of the West. Georgia is a country at war with itself, and has been, in varying degrees, since 1990.  This is the setting of Feast.

Sub-settings within the narrative also include Amsterdam, India, and South Africa.



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Open Commitment is the story of one couple’s journey to explore non-monogamy as a way to affair-proof their relationship and stay together. They established their own rules for their relationship despite pressure from friends, family, and society. After 12 years of an open relationship, when too much freedom threatens their marriage, they must decide if they should be monogamous. 


The antagonistic force in OPEN COMMITMENT is society, specifically that most members of society fervently believe that a life-long marriage is the only measure of relationship success. This antagonistic force will be brought to life in two main characters throughout the book: 
My best friend, a woman who married her college sweetheart and waited till her wedding night to lose her virginity. She supported me unconditionally at the beginning of my relationship until she learned that we were non-monogamous. Her disapproval of our relationship was grounded in wanting what was best for me. 
My parents, a couple that have been married for 40+ years and represented my idea of a happy marriage throughout my childhood. My sister threatened to tell them about my non-monogamous marriage, forcing my husband and I to tell them instead. Their greatest concern was about the damage that an open relationship could have on our two children. 


As ethical non-monogamy enters more into the mainstream, depictions of polyamorous couples remain young, urban, and alternative. The story of our relationship, one that stretches from early dating to marriage with children, has yet to be told. My memoir is for readers, whether they intend to open up their own relationships or live vicariously through mine, looking to learn more about the non-monogamous lifestyle. In OPEN COMMITMENT, they’ll find the personable, approachable take on poly romance of THE SMART GIRL’S GUIDE TO POLYAMORY mixed with the salacious, voyeuristic storytelling of Lisa Taddeo’s WOMEN.

A new couple decides that to have their happily ever after, they will also date other people – OPEN COMMITMENT.  

The primary conflict introduced in the third chapter is deciding to be in an open relationship. When Rich and I met, we had both seen marriages and families destroyed by affairs, so he asked, “can we affair proof our relationship and be together forever if we are open?” We spent the first two years, the first part of the book, exploring non-monogamy to figure out our own rules and define commitment for us. The velocity at which we dated others and shared experiences with others started slow but grew. Then Although we never broke our rules, we made huge mistakes along the way, causing us to doubt and re-evaluate our relationship. After 12 years of non-monogamy, we asked ourselves a new question, “should we now be monogamous?” 

Throughout our relationship, I was plagued with “What ifs?” What if I never agreed to be non-monogamous? What if he found someone else? What if there was someone out there who really did fulfill all my needs? What if I got pregnant with someone else's child? Even in the most beautiful moments of our relationship, those thoughts whispered in the back of my mind, often in the voices of those I loved. But in the fragile moments, the birth of our first child and the death of his mother, the moments that stripped us raw and reforged us together, their whispers were silent. And in that silence, I built up my strength. 

The book will open at home, a beautiful home after two parents have tucked their children into bed. It’s the idyllic, quintessential American home for an upper-middle-class family of four. But the couple will sit down with a glass of wine to decide, after 12 years of non-monogamy, should they be monogamous?
OPEN COMMITMENT will then transport the reader back in time to Amsterdam, where the couple first met, and across Europe to tell the story of how we decided to be non-monogamous at the beginning of our relationship. I will bring the reader with us to a hidden Swingers Club outside of Amsterdam, to a traditional wedding in the Bavarian Alps, and to our first threesome in the bustle of London. And yet, many chapters will end with quiet, intimate moments with us where we “check-in” on our relationship. 
The second half of our story primarily takes place in California, where, once we have decided to be non-monogamous, we live our rules. The tranquility, beauty, adventure, and turbulence of the Bay Area, will also be reflected in our experiences. I had an affair that I still to this day regret in the most beautiful hotel in San Francisco. I fell back in love with my body after motherhood, sailing under the Golden Gate bridge. 

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Write Your Story Statement

Uncover the crimes of his senator father to break the story himself before an ambitious journalist can finish his investigation.


Antagonist Plots the Point

Senator Jack Porter’s wealth and success weren’t built from intellect or ingenuity. Because beneath the persona of Texas charm and cowboy cosplay is a man whose life of privilege bred a winner-take-all mentality marked by ruthless selfishness and a mastery of manipulation. After inheriting the family’s billion-dollar whiskey business, he’d spent the early eighties single-handedly fighting against a new law aimed at raising the drinking-age. Leading him to discover that politics bring a whole new level of control and power where he can rewrite the very laws he navigates.
It’s how today, Jack’s platform of conservative politics has positioned him as the hand of holy justice. Using the mask of God and country to control the masses.
But with his senate seat in jeopardy, Jack’s facing conflict-of-interest charges for maintaining his operation of the family whiskey empire. Always calculated, the senator begins pulling on the marionette he’s used to control his son—the only person who could take over without forfeiting Jack’s majority stake in the business. But his son has never believed the façade Jack wears to the masses and fights against his father’s manipulation, attempting to uncover the double life the senator’s been living. As Jack’s Christian values are turned against him, he’ll sacrifice anything to save his reputation—even his own son.


Conjuring Your Breakout Title



Deciding Your Genre and Approaching Comparables

THRILLER/SUSPENSE with a Romantic Subplot





Core Wound and Primary Conflict Logline

Discovering a journalist is poised to break a story connecting a political campaign to the tithes of the largest mega church in Texas, the son of the senator in question and the daughter of the accused reverend attempt to beat the New Yorker to print by revealing the sex-fueled crimes of their parents in an effort to sever the strings their famous families use to control them.


Two More Levels

Inner Conflict:
Trying to prove his worth to himself and others by outperforming in his career, Ezra Porter believes his own financial success apart from his famous last name will give him the solid footing he’ll need to resist his legacy. As a fourth generation Porter, he’s next in line to take over the family whiskey empire. But he promised his mother before she died that he would build his own career before that time would come. His mother had her own personal success and accomplishments. She gave it all up to be the Senator’s wife, but knowing she’d achieved so much on her own—that was her worth. Ezra assumed her intention in making him promise to climb his own ladder was her way to ensure that stepping into his future would feel like the choice she had and not the chain his father holds.
But now Ezra’s senator father is pressuring him to take over the business early. Conflicted of his own worth and unwilling to break the promise he made to his mother, Ezra becomes desperate. And when a journalist seeking information for an exposé on Ezra’s father confronts him, he believes he may have the ticket to fast-tracking his success. Because while Ezra doesn’t have the missing proof of his father’s corruption, he knows who does. He justifies the ethical concerns of stealing the journalist’s facts to beat him to publication with the promise of building a solid platform to turn down his legacy and choose his own future like he’d promised his mother.
Secondary Conflict with HENLEY JONES:
Ezra knows that the source holding the missing proof to his father’s corruption is the preacher’s daughter from Calvary Megachurch, Henley Jones. Forcing him to reunite with the very girl who broke up with him via police report rather than admit that the sex they’d been caught having as teens was consensual. Facing the church’s judgement, Henley used her preacher’s kid persona as a get out of jail free card. Ezra was pushed out of his hometown, agreeing that to ever contact her again would risk him being charged for the crime he didn’t commit. But he’ll take that gamble if it means gaining his freedom.
This secondary conflict with Henley places both characters in a battle of uncovering what really happened in the past, forcing them to address their parent’s manipulations head on. When face-to-face with the emotions that still linger between them, convincing Henley to take down her family proves to be the least of Ezra’s problems.

Once united in their goal to take down their parents, Ezra and Henley are thrust into the consequences of their past. The investigation centers around the small town of Oak Haven, Texas, where the citizens loyalties are tied to the church. A girl’s faith is measured by her virginity. And, of course, that’s how this conservative town and the church felt. Because, why not? Christians spare the men from blame. Even the fall of man was the result of Eve. Poor, poor, Adam didn’t stand a chance against her feminine wiles. “Ezra couldn’t help himself.” Their teenage scandal was an easy target that the same journalist they’re up against now had used in an article he’d published ten years earlier that connected their public sin to Ezra’s father pulling out of a deal to move the billion-dollar whiskey business to Oak Haven. Henley was left as the martyr and purity culture as the weapon of choice. And if Ezra and Henley have any hope at securing more information about the church, they’ll have to navigate the judgement that’s alive and well and standing in their way.
Secondary Conflict with THE REPORTER (TREY EDWARDS):
Ezra flirts with the idea of using the journalist’s platform to destroy his father and Porter House Whiskey, but he knows it wouldn’t be enough to sever the strings of his father’s control. Because the bottom line is that this ambitious journalist is just as self-serving as Ezra’s father. Trey Edwards will make damn sure he gets the credit and the success from breaking the story. This leads Ezra to justify his decision to break the story himself with a tell-all. Not only will it pay off the loans his father has saddled him with and expose his father’s duplicity, but Ezra could also get the personal success of pulling this off. But the paper trails of illegal funds point directly to a sex addiction Sunday school class at the megachurch and reek of the exploitations of the community their parents vow to serve. With each new reveal of corruption, Ezra cares less about his own agenda and more about one thing—taking down Jack Porter. But calling the senator and the reverend’s bluff at the big table proves to cost more than the center pot. As Ezra finds himself playing the role of Jack’s sacrificial lamb, teaming up with Trey becomes the only way to finish the job.
Ezra quickly learns the pitfall of investigative journalism. You poke your head in too many doors and someone might get smart. Discovering Ezra’s intentions, his father’s intimidation tactics reach epic proportions. His every move is not only being trailed by the reporter, now his father’s security has joined in on the chase. But in this case, family manipulation doesn’t hold a prayer candle to the family hypocrisy. Henley and Ezra discover new information, uncovering the hidden identities of their parents and highlighting the conflict of interest that takes place when the lines between church and state blur.


The Incredible Importance of Setting

The novel begins in New York City, representing Ezra’s ambition and drive for independence. We follow him to his office, showcasing how his intense efforts to further his own career haven't resulted in a prestige even close to rivaling his father. His time spent at The Bookstore is a setting that highlights his found family where the owner, Gretchen, loves him like a son. This setting holds the truth that the worth and success he’s chasing are things he already has. He'll only see them once he's learned the story point that self worth is realized, not earned.

At the catalyst, Ezra and Henley meet at The Bowery Hotel. It’s meant to represent the lifestyle they’ve grown accustomed to, highlighting the personas of old wealth and the famous last names they can't help but wear to the outside world.

Immediately after, a road trip back to Texas lands them in a one-night stay at The Arcadia Motel. This setting highlights what they can provide for themselves when privilege and their parents’ funds are stripped away.

Arriving in Oak Haven, Texas, Henley’s Childhood Home is a return to baseline. This setting provides a vulnerability that strips Ezra and Henley from who they’ve convinced themselves they’ve become to reveal who they truly are, the family control they'd never escaped, and the sexual tension that cannot be ignored.

The Little Dove Bar showcases the judgment of this small Texas town with the fallout of purity culture and holy judgment of the church. Following a lead, Ezra and Henley meet the church accountant at Luanne’s Diner. Its location on the outskirts of town symbolizes how Ezra remains just far enough from the truth to not be within earshot. As secrets are revealed here, we also see that honesty and common ground are only found outside of Jack’s orbit.

They're led to the senator’s and the reverend’s joint business, The Preserve. What appears to be a dementia care facility is actually a front for an illegal operation. This setting reveals how facades often hide dark secrets. Though the most tangible proof of corruption is hidden in a Storage Unit in town. This closed room symbolizes how the truth never disappears, it can only be locked away.

When drugged and kidnapped, Ezra and Henley find themselves at The Porter Family Hunting Cabin. This is the ultimate power move from the parents. Senator Jack Porter has taken them to the place he visits for the kill, foreshadowing the hunt and a willingness to sacrifice his own son.

After the climax, Ezra returns to New York. The tragedy of the loss of Gretchen leads Henley to follow him and the journalist to offer his services. They secretly meet in a Brooklyn Apartment to plan the takedown. New York was never the safe haven he thought it was. His father’s influence will follow until he severs the strings.

The return to The Bookstore at the end of the novel, reveals how much Ezra Porter has changed. In the beginning he'd worn the cosplay of an ambitious man. The return represents his character growth. Having served justice, he earned a solid platform to turn down his legacy and choose his own future. Not with personal success, but by knowing his worth—what his mother had actually wanted.


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First Assignment: Story Statement

Marza Penn, an unlikely and somewhat unwilling heroine, appears to be the world's best hope for keeping reality from unraveling. 

Second Assignment: The Antagonist

Bruce Boosch is arrogant and greedy. He epitomizes of the world-eating bajillionaire class whose only goal is to have more money and toys than everyone else. The ex-husband of Sara Beacon, the technocrat wannabe heroine of the story, Bruce is keenly devoted to becoming richer and more powerful than her, even though it means piggybacking on her inventions to get there. This is how Marza, the protagonist, gets caught in their crossfire. Both Sara and Bruce are trying to find the right mind to infuse into their AI to give it consciousness, and they both discover Marza through a test designed by Sara. Though Marza doesn’t trust Sara entirely, Bruce’s smarmy business-bro swagger continually pushes her to help Sara instead of side with him—and that just makes him push harder. 

Third Assignment: Breakout Title

Pigs Fly
In All Unlikelihood
The Unraveling

Fourth Assignment: Comps

Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Douglas Adams
Project Hail Mary, Andy Weir

Fifth Assignment: Hook Line

A woman fed up with her predictably disappointing life is thrown into chaos when warring billionaires discover her singularly average mind is the key to making AI conscious—which might just save reality from unraveling.

Sixth Assignment: Inner Conflict

Marza has always known she has more to offer, but whenever she’s tried to live up to her potential, it feels like the world has smacked her down. So when two big-deal tech billionaires decide they want her for their special projects, she’s suspicious and anxious, sure that things are bound to go horribly wrong for her if she steps outside the cramped box of her life.

Seventh Assignment: Setting

In the near future, AI is infused in the decision-making processes of all levels of society—government, banking, the market, healthcare, transportation, justice, communications, and every other system you can think of. But it isn't just big business that lives and dies by what AI thinks. Everyone has an AI constant companion that grows and learns with their digital history. These AI nodes are constant companions that help with everything from dating to shopping to deciding what you should eat and watch and do with almost every second of every day. Think progeny of Siri several generations down the logic tree.

But something has gone wrong in this algorithmically defined world. Statistically unlikely things begin to happen with alarming frequency, but only a few people are able to see the pattern behind these events—that reality is unraveling. Nearly entirely safe birth control is failing, too many people named Jacob get elected mayor, dice stop rolling over to the number six. This all goes back to a research lab where some precocious grad students wangled a pig into flight, and the realization of this impossibility essentially broke the universe’s brain. Because in this world, there is a force called phi. It is akin to gravity and electromagnetism in that it is a basic physical mechanism that makes the universe go. It is the force that makes a quark go up or down, become strange or charming, and complicates the particle physics to no end. It is the weave of consciousness that unites all things. It is the intelligence that emerges from the physical chaos. And those damn kids went and broke it. 

One of the very few people to see this breakdown for what it is is Sara Beacon, the technocrat who created the StratoSphere, the digital space where most everyone spends all their time. It's like if Google and Facebook had a savant child people couldn't turn away from. Sara intends to save the world—both the conventional one and her data-dependent digital one—from her mad-scientist tech lab located in a sprawling underground complex, where androids and holograms and even unicorns roam not-so-free on farm-like ranges. She thinks generating enough humdrum, highly rational phi can patch up whatever hole has been torn in reality, which is totally doable if she can just infuse all her AI with genuine consciousness. That’s why she needs Marza Penn, whose mind is so middle-of-the road that the AI network will accept it. 

But Earth might not be big enough for all this intelligent life. When it becomes apparent that giving all the AI consciousness has not shored up the rips in reality as she hoped, Sara sees fit to send AMI (artificial Marza intelligence, who is the OG of AI consciousness) to Mars to live out its days as a robot cheetah. But the AI has other plans. 


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1. Story Statement

Jordie Furman is on a mission to break free of the poverty that has gripped his life since his parents abandoned him and find a surrogate family.

2. Antagonistic Force

Milo Johnson is a high-end grifter, constructing a message of economic empowerment through a selective understanding of Christianity. He is a ruthless marketer, a grinning salesman always searching for a way to separate a mark from their money. He treats his family like the expensive suits he favors, a tool to cloak himself in the auspices of success and a happy life. Worst of all, on a fundamental level, Milo understands his fraud. He is willing to compromise any ideal he may hold close, shape-shifting as the opportunity arrives to monetize in a different way. Despite his fortune, he always feels as if he is running in place, away from a childhood of poverty and neglect. His appetite for more clouds his judgement and is his greatest weakness.

3. Create a breakout title


4. Comparables

Hark by Sam Lispsyte, The Righteous Gemstones

5. Hook Line

(ANTAGONIST BASED) A TV Preacher and his wife build a viral empire based on a toxic stew of spirituality and economic self-empowerment, while dodging accountability for their past crimes. 

(PROTAGONIST BASED) A small-town loser finds hope in a huckster TV preacher, and must decide how far he is willing to fall into the farce.

6. Inner Conflict

Jordie’s abandonment by his parents is his core wound, which leads him into the arms of Milo. He is at first enamored with Milo’s message of success, but as he is exposed to Milo’s operation he becomes wise to the many scams. As he manages to stumble into success, Milo offers Jordie more opportunity, and he must choose whether to help Milo get away with his schemes.

In return for lying about the nature of Milo’s kidnapping and rescue, Jordie is offered a chance to be Milo’s “right-hand-man.” When he has to confront the lie in front of people, he snaps and leaves Milo’s lush life to return to his dilapidated shack in rural Maine.

Two Examples of Secondary Conflicts

Similar to the moral quandary faced by Jordie, Milo is offered an opportunity to construct a lucrative app. With CONFETTI, one of the largest tech companies in the world. To unlock this opportunity he must tailor a more secular message.

As Milo’s professional bubble is popped and his life begins to unwind, he absconds to Las Vegas on a private plane. Jordie discovers him with a prostitute on each arm. When they return home, his wife Summer, confronts Milo about his infidelity. Although it is never said, it is implied that this is a recurring issue in their relationship. She chases him out of the house, leading to Milo’s mentally breaking down and setting in motion his final plan to fake his own kidnapping and disappear.

7. Settings

Major Settings:

  • Lawson, Maine (Jordie’s home town): The book opens in the middle of a sweaty summer in rural Maine. Jordie lives in a shack that was left to him when his mother left town. Unable to afford the utilities and unskilled in maintenance, it has fallen into a state of extreme disrepair.
  • Central Florida: Milo lives in an opulent McMansion. Jordie finds familiar quarters, staying in a concrete shack in Milo’s backyard. The grass is filled with snakes, lizards and all manner of creature unfamiliar, but threatening to Jordie.
  • Success Ministries: Milo's office is a boiler room populated with sharks in polos, fighting over commission scraps, and the last muffin in the break room. The walls are white and concrete, the lighting is harsh and neon. Offices are status symbols dotting fields of cubicles.
  • California: CONFETTI’s headquarters are a stereotypical tech campus, complete with employee dining room located underwater, on the bottom of the Pacific Ocean. Executives sit on yoga balls and the elevators are all secret.
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7 Assignments

1.    The Act of Story Statement

Molly Aldredge must overcome her husband’s attempts to make her the scapegoat for his many crimes or risk losing her own life.

2.    The Antagonist

Unbeknownst to Molly, her husband--Jeff Aldredge—is the antagonist. His goal is to make her look insane so that she takes the fall for his many crimes, including the murder of his identical twin brother during a jealous rage in Las Vegas. Surface-level, Jeff seems like an affable, easy-going guy, but he is scarred from the trauma of his own father abandoning him as a child and his mother’s ongoing criticism and conditional love.

Jeff possesses an inferiority complex with respect to his twin brother given that Bill is the one who amassed a financial fortune from the company they co-founded together after Bill pushed Jeff out of the CEO role and took it for himself. As an egomaniac, Jeff cares little about his actual relationships. His only goal is to make his own mark on the world by successfully launching an invention that has the power to make any relationship perfect—regardless of what it might cost him.

3.    Titles

a.    INSTANT 10


c.     SNAP 10

4.    Comps

a.    The Mother-in-Law meets The Dropout

b.    The Husbands mixed with the humor of Lessons in Chemistry

c.     Big Little Lies meets Bad Blood (too big/not recent enough?)


5.    Hook line (Protagonist core wound and primary conflict)

A desperate woman haunted by mistakes of her past uses an invention that promises to save her marriage—but instead lands her in the middle of a murder investigation that culminates with her own race for survival.

6.    Conflicts

a.    Inner Conflict

As the maxed-out mother of triplets, Molly often feels like she’s losing her mind, suffering from a severe case of “mom brain." She feels like a failure as a parent because of the time she took her daughter to the park in the middle of the night and accidentally forgot her there (or at least, this is what she has been led to believe by her husband, although he was the one who left her there).

Molly also feels like a failure as a wife because her husband accused her of cheating on him in Las Vegas as retaliation for him losing their life savings while gambling. And although Molly doesn’t believe she actually did the things she was accused of, forged journal entries about that night make her second-guess what really happened and whether or not she is actually innocent—only furthering her self-loathing.

b.    Secondary Conflict

Molly’s own self-doubts about her ability to parent her children are called into question when the nanny claims that she saw Molly bite their son in order to teach him a lesson about biting and also hit their daughter. Although Molly denies these claims (and in reality, they are untrue), the allegations force her to reconsider whether or not she is actually ready to leave her marriage and risk losing her children if her parental credibility is called into question.

7.    Setting

INSTANT 10 is primarily set in the San Francisco Bay area, near Silicon Valley—an epicenter of innovation and capital of billion-dollar unicorns. The sub-settings are intended to give a view into each main character’s world. (The book alternates their POVs.)

 Molly’s chapters are nearly all set within the chaos of her own home in San Rafael, where the Tesla is the neighborhood station wagon and all of the moms wear a uniform of yoga pants and Birkenstocks to nearby Gerstle Park.

Van’s chapters are mostly set within the i-Love office where she works, a 30-story skyscraper with a swimming pool, gym, yoga room, and meditation zone—the outside of which gets lit up every night with a big heart just like the Empire State building in Sleepless in Seattle.

And Bianka’s chapters nearly all take place within the grandeur of her one-of-a-kind Bernard Maybeck mansion on Jackson Street, a Tudor estate with mahogany paneling and a scarlet red front door (Bianka’s signature color). The glamorous setting with custom details like a wall full of antique axes provide ongoing fodder for the trolls stalking Bianka’s Instagram and is in direct contrast to Molly’s world, which is overstuffed with children’s toys and has ketchup squirted on the walls.

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Pre-Event Assignments - The Cleveland Phoenix (SF)

First Assignment - Act of Story Statement:
Interstellar pirate Iona of Arkan yearns to evacuate her adoptive people from their searing, desolate planet near a dying trinary star–if only they’d let her. When she discovers a charred ship on the edge of the system, Iona takes on a hitchhiker, stranded scientist Freia Fasno, clinging to a ragged, lumpy cloth sack. Whatever’s in the bag attracts the attention of a vengeful high priestess and the nefarious Serpens Communion. Now, Iona has a new problem to tackle: Helping Fasno save the galaxy.

Second Assignment - Antagonist/Antagonist Force Sketch:  
The Cleveland Phoenix weaves together a triad of antagonists, led by antagonistic force, the Serpens Communion–a religious order with a ubiquitous, police-like grip around the Ophiuchus system. The Communion longs to expand into neighboring systems, a process their millennia-old prophecy calls the Alignment.

The prophecy names the Chosen Born as the leader of the Alignment, and the Communion believes D’Liia Kal Elana is that person. A calculating warrior and strategist, D’Liia is the main antagonist–but her connection to the Communion is complicated. Sold to the Communion as a child, their so-called prophecy destroyed everything she’s ever cared about. And when they place her in charge of building a dangerous device, D’Liia develops her own plans.

But the scientist who built the device disappears and D’Liia must hunt him down. She learns he’s joined forces with The Cleveland Phoenix, a ship once owned by Cassander of Arkan–a dead mercenary she hired years ago. But is Cass alive? Or is someone else piloting his ship?

 As D’Liia hunts, a hidden antagonist, Communion priestess and crimson-eyed captain of The Maelstrom, emerges. And she’s been on D’Liia’s tail–and the tail of The Cleveland Phoenix–for decades. Just waiting for D’Liia to make a mistake.

Third Assignment - Breakout Titles:
The Cleveland Phoenix is named after the key ship in the story that unites the main protagonist to her father, and his checkered past as a pirate in his own right. Below are a few other names to explore that capture the action of the manuscript. 

Iona of Arkan
Ophiuchus Rising

The Moros and the Snake Charmer

Fourth Assignment - Comparables:
For this assignment, I chose two comparables by women science fiction writers. Both of these books also feature women protagonists, which was an important goal for me in writing my manuscript as well. I chose these comparables for story structure and writing style.

The Stars Are Legion - Kameron Hurley 
Although my writing style and perspective are quite different from Kameron Hurley's, my story structure and themes are similar: An antagonistic force threatens the galaxy and a female protagonist is key to the resolution. Thematically, I also tackle the concepts of love, motherhood, and how we struggle with--or release--generational baggage.

Ancillary Justice - Ann Leckie 
The second comparable for The Cleveland Phoenix is Ann Leckie’s Ancillary Justice. I love Leckie’s ebullient writing style, and although we use different perspectives for our books, my cadence and tone are similar to Leckie’s in Ancillary Justice. Her use of mixed sentence length, and varying dialogue flow resonates with what I wanted for my manuscript. Additionally, Leckie pulled the first book into a series, and I have written the draft of The Cleveland Phoenix’s sequel, The Chain of Seven. And, of course, the book features a female protagonist.

Fifth Assignment - Hook/Logline:
Interstellar pirate Iona of Arkan is desperate to save her adoptive people from a dying trinary star. But after picking up a stranded scientist, Iona finds herself on the run from the nefarious Serpens Communion and has another problem–saving the galaxy.

alternate hook

Interstellar pirate Iona of Arkan just wants to wolf down a plate of Ligurian narr steak and eggs at the Equatorial Food Hall on Katel, and sketch out a plan to save her adoptive people–after she figures out what her hitchhiker scientist has in his bag…

Sixth Assignment - Conflicts and Hypotheticals:

Primary conflict:  Iona of Arkan is an interstellar pirate…well, more of a privateer, really. A job she took on from her late human father, Cassander–along with his ship, The Cleveland Phoenix, and his persona, a disguise he called the Moros. Before he died years ago, Cass left her with an adoptive warrior clan, the Haroth. Now that she’s grown, Iona's primary concerns are twofold: Staying off the radar of the police-like Serpens Communion and trying to relocate the Haroth from their dying planet–if only they’d let her.

In the meantime, like any space-worthy pirate, Iona operates on credits. When she receives a distress call from stranded scientist Freia Fasno, she smells an opportunity for fast money. Only, Fasno quickly becomes a liability, and his cargo an incredible threat. Forced to run, Iona stumbles across a thread woven into the scientist's dangerous invention, a Communion prophecy, and the decades-old scheme of a vengeful high priestess–all attached to her father’s murky past.

Hypothetical scenario:  Iona of Arkan uses the persona, the Moros, to conduct most of her privateering and pirating work–a black fabric mask with a gruff, electronic translator. It’s an easy way to be less human, less identifiable. But it’s also a way for her to hide from even herself. A hypothetical scenario could be if Iona were to lose the mask, or accidentally destroy it, rendering her unable to use it. Iona would feel naked, exposed. Tapping her old Earthen combat boot, she'd debate engaging with anyone unless she could find her disguise--unable to channel the confidence of her father as she extorts her way across the system.

Secondary conflict:
Iona's secondary conflict is the slow unravelling of her father's past, ignited by the discovery of several bounties the Communion placed on The Cleveland Phoenix years ago. Iona’s father, Cassander of Arkan, had one job–a quick, lucrative Communion contractor-for-hire project in some backwater system, setting up a mine for a rare element. Cass didn’t know what it was for. He didn’t really want to know. And he didn’t like working for the Communion, but the credits on offer were too good to pass up. At least, that’s what he tried to tell himself. But the high priestess in charge of the job, D’Liia Kal Elana–eyes like frozen sapphires–might have been the real reason he couldn’t seem to walk away.

Cassander's history unfolds through his eyes, and the eyes of the “Chosen Born,” D’Liia. The high priestess is now the leader of the Communion’s movement to take over the neighboring systems, the Alignment. She’s been plotting to build and take on the device for years, refusing to let anything get in her way. But there's a fly in the ointment: D’Liia believes Cassander of Arkan is dead. So, when Freia Fasno, creator of the Communion’s top-secret device, escapes with the help of Cass’s old ship, The Cleveland Phoenix, D’Liia begins to wonder if perhaps he’s alive after all. Either way, she needs to get her hands on Freia Fasno’s device–no matter who’s captaining The Cleveland Phoenix.

Hypothetical scenario: As the leader of the Alignment, D’Liia is desperate to get her hands on The Cleveland Phoenix, control Fasno’s device, and learn the identity of the captain. If the Communion, not D’Liia, were to get their hands on The Phoenix first, she would lose her ability to control the weapon. And the Communion might get their hands on Cass, a human she thought was long dead. Anxiety causes D'Liia her to bite at her thumb, dig a fingernail into her palm. But the strategic high priestess would look for another way around the Communion, around the problem. She’s waited almost twenty years to carry out her brand of justice, her own personal Alignment, and any setback is just that—an opportunity to find a new way through.

Protagonist inner conflict:
Iona desperately wants to help the Haroth–mainly because she’s eager to absolve what they call the Debt of Raising, a selfless act that triggers passage into adulthood. It means true acceptance into the clan. And as a human raised by Haroth, she’s always felt somewhat on the outside. To heal this rift, Iona’s big idea is to help them evacuate their planet. Only they dismiss her concerns as premature, making her feel irrelevant. Overly cautious. Gaslighted.

Worse, her biological family–Cassander’s family–the Arkans, are constantly pestering her to return. But she’s not ready to do that, not ready to see her father’s grave on the Arkan ship. Not yet.

Still, when she uses her father’s ship and persona–the Moros–to extort and pirate, Iona feels more connected to who he was instead of who she is. Or who she could be. Before she can find clarity, Teelar scientist Freia Fasno throws a wrench in her plans and instead presents a new problem, a new question to answer: Who is Iona of Arkan to the galaxy?

Seventh Assignment - Setting Sketch:
The Cleveland Phoenix
takes place eighty-one lightyears from a decimated Earth, halfway to the outer rings of the Milky Way, in Star Year 2737. Though humans survived a series of solar storms on Earth centuries ago, they sent ships–Arkan generation ships–out into the galaxy to find new homes. Iona of Arkan’s biological family now drifts, living a nomadic life on such a ship, near what humans once called Ophiuchus–a loose gathering of stars the Serpens Communion named The Bearer

The Bearer acts as the hub of three linked collections of systems: More of a triangle of stars with lanky arms and feet, the Bearer merges with the Serpent, a line creating the main trade route across the system. Both hover over the Scorpion–a chain of seven major stars–and home to Antares, seat of the Communion.

Like her father before her, Iona skulks along the trade routes in these systems. Sometimes working freelance for the Mining Magistrate–more of a commodities union than a formal government. Sometimes upgrading The Phoenix with chemical plating, or eating Ligurian narr steak and eggs on Katel, a tidally locked purple rock that acts as the system’s food and fuel station, revolving in a perpetual golden-hued twilight.

Lazy and overbearing, the Communion putters about the systems, eliminating threats in the form of casual policing on places like Katel, or Rolphos X–known as RX–home to the system’s largest gaming casino, The Lesath. Here, Martites, Vikaanians, and even Sochen traders lose credits at the Varlinder-Jay tables, while the Communion keeps expectant fingers on the pulse of the galaxy’s goings-on.

Iona’s adoptive family, the Haroth, live in the Marfik system, a dying furnace of a trinary star with one inhabited planet, the red-rock-lined Rynek. The Haroth spend the planet's molten days on Rynek in a cool, cavernous underground city, emerging at night to build cooking fires under the glow of the Broken Moon—an oblong, misshapen object that hugs the planet in a loose orbit.

Planets like Rynek are the chief concern of Teelar scientist Freia Fasno--planets with unforgiving, dying suns. On the other side of the system, he tests his device on Eta Aquilae–a white dwarf star nearing its final days in the galaxy. When he runs to the Marfik system to evade the Communion, he’s picked up by Iona. Together, the two run to even deeper, less-frequented parts of the galaxy, including Gerelium, a distant exomoon teeming with life—and revealing other secrets linked to Iona's past.


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FIRST ASSIGNMENT  Story Statement. 

In a near-future society dominated by bionic enhancements, and a future-future society where humanity’s AI creations have brought about near extinction, one grieving geneticist will take extreme measures to protect what’s left of her world, and one teenager must rise from her underground sanctuary to stop the forces that threaten to wipe them all out. 


There are two antagonists within these dual POV 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 and training them to continue the battle against the Others for the existence of the human race. Every 6 months one Subject 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 and fulfilling her life's purpose – which begs the question, why?

2) Edric is the son of a biotech 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 enhanced body modifications for all… he orchestrated the 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.


The Final Orchard 

Level 23

Helix Colony


The Maze Runner by James Dashner, Wayward Pines trilogy by Blake Crouch,  The 100 by Kass Morgan, 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 bereaved geneticist desperate for her lost child, teams up with a ruthless biotech tycoon creating illicit body upgrades for Elites in his underground facility  But when outside threats prevent her from bolting with her daughter’s replica, she must take extreme measures to protect the child at all costs.


Protagonist 1 - Primary Conflict:

After a car crash ripped her daughter from her life, a heartbroken geneticist strives to get back what she lost and succeed where she previously failed– motherhood.

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 geneticist  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 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. 

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, 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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1.       A shy librarian with an uncanny talent for languages must stop an ancient conspiracy of Dagons -- “superior” men using dark magic to corrupt and dominate humankind.

2.       The Dagons are descended from an ancient god-king named Azan. Azan was a good but quick-tempered, impatient king. When his kingdom was under attack and he had no other way to save his people, Azan used a forbidden stone to gain godlike powers. He used these powers to save his people, but a spirit trapped in the stone gradually corrupted his mind and he became an evil tyrant. The corrupting spirit was none other than the fallen angel Yitzhal, whose fall was the very cause of all suffering on earth. Through Azan, this fallen angel fathered five sons known as the Dagons. When Azan was killed by an angelic assassin, the five Dagons fled to the far corners of the earth, where they established great empires, fathering tyrants and bloodthirsty warlords. But Dagons were almost always born male, so with each generation of breeding with mortal women, their powers grew weaker. This weakness combined with their tendency to fight one another allowed humankind to rebel during the democratic revolutions in modern history. As our story opens, the Dagons are poised to join forces, regain their ancient power, and dominate humankind once again.

3.       The working title for this novel is Forge of Angels.

4.       My comps need work, but for now I can say it’s rather like The Lord of the Rings meets The DaVinci Code. It’s high fantasy that crosses over into “real world” history and plays out in a Gotham-style New York City as well a mythological ancient Middle East and central Asia. I am currently exploring more comparable works.

5.       When an ancient conspiracy of “Superior” men called Dagons spark mass violence on a global scale, an insecure librarian must find the power stop them before they can use her child to complete their plan. 

6.       The librarian protagonist, Sheila Whitaker, had a mother who was mentally unstable. Sheila’s childhood was a nightmare. But when she learns that she is descended from an angel sent to destroy the ancient god-king millennia ago, Sheila realizes that her mother’s insanity was due to her not understanding the angelic nature, a nature she had inherited from her oppressed female ancestors and passed on to Sheila.
In society at large, the wounds of historical, collective trauma are playing themselves out. This conflict is personified in Sheila’s lover Jake Santiago, who is descended from Dagon conquistadors and indigenous people. Jake struggles to stop the ancestors who created such vast traumas from taking over his will. To defeat the Dagons -- and save their child -- Sheila and Jake will have to find the key to ending the repetition of these collective traumas.

7.       Setting: the immediate setting is a Gotham-like, postapocalyptic New York City. There is also a sprawling Dagon mansion set on an island off the New England coast. In the ancient mythological part of the story, there is a rich Middle Eastern kingdom, wild central Asian steppelands and sacred mountains with a magical valley from which one can glimpse the first of the Nine Heavens, where the Blacksmith god forges angels, stars and worlds. Finally, the stone in which the fallen angel was trapped, called Shadowstone, contains a shadowy MC Escher-like labyrinth which the Dagons use to trap victims, and defy the laws of physics by traveling as shadows through shadows. The Dagons use shadowstone rings to enter and navigate this Shadow realm. They plan to unite and use the combined power of their rings to manifest the Shadowstone Realm across the entire world, turning our planet into a dark and terrifying maze ruled by the fallen angel.

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By Jeff Keller

First Assignment: Story Statement

In a remote Congolese village 45 years ago, Sophie Tembo, the vulnerable but impetuous wife of the village school director, is framed for murder by witchcraft and demands a traditional trial by poison as a last resort to prove her innocence. Drinking the poison, she falls into a coma and travels to the land of the dead, where her ancestors give her a warning about the Congo’s impending future (based on subsequent events but open-ended). The Good News is that people have the God-given ability to change. Sophie’s task is to deliver this message to Mobutu Sese Sesko, a dictator who has renamed the country Zaire and is busy looting its natural resources.


Second Assignment: Antagonists

            The antagonistic force is represented by the Acquirers (historically a popular name for Mobutu’s cronies) who strive to enrich themselves no matter what. The leader of Sophie’s clan ancestors who were/are Acquirers is the spirit of Sadiki, who, when she was alive, acquired wealth by collaborating with an Arab slaver. When accused by an ancestor of betraying him, she blames him for oversleeping when the rest of his village fled the slave raid. She is a champion of the elite, who she says is in possession of a superior survival strategy. She is the one who insists that Sophie must go to Mobutu. She also crashes meetings with other ancestors to harass them. When Sophie rejects her, she sabotages the mission.

Sadiki’s living counterpart is Assistant Commissar of Politics Lemba, a soulless, philandering, perpetually distracted, kleptocratic clan member who has access to Mobutu. He is Sophie’s initial target.

As a group, the ancestors act like a nonprofit board of directors from hell. As for Sophie’s fellow Congolese, she’s not the one who’s deluded, but it doesn’t matter. No one wants to hear what she has to say, which boils down to "We got it all wrong; we must make it right." A major foil is her deadbeat brother, whom she meets on her journey to the Assistant Commissar. The main foil is, of course, Sophie herself, who wants to go back to her children as much as she wants to succeed and chafes at the burden put upon her to give others a choice.

Third Assignment: Title

The Good News of Sophie Tembo. It’s positive, intriguingly alien (African), and biblical sounding, and it reflects the story.

Fourth Assignment: Genre and Comparables

The market for The Good News of Sophie Tembo is the same as for The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver. Twenty-four years after it was published, people still ask her about that book in particular. Add to that such stories as Conrad’s Heart of Darkness and Naipaul’s A Bend in the River, and you have a tradition of high-quality literary novels about the Congo.

 Within that tradition, The Good News of Sophie Tembo’s genre is an upmarket quest novel, which goes back to Don Quixote. Unlike other quest novels, it is about the difficulty of sharing, not obtaining, the McGuffin (the ancestors’ message).

The time is right for another steppingstone in the Congo novel, in this case, an accessible narrative companion to The Power of Women by Denis Mukwege, Dancing in the Glory of Monsters by Jason Stearns, or Congo Inc. by Koli Jean Bofane, a portrait of the generation who endured the Congo wars at the turn of this century.

Fifth Assignment: Logline

            The vulnerable but impetuous wife of the school director in a remote Congolese village drinks poison to prove she is not a witch, falls into a coma, and is given a warning by her ancestors. She must deliver this warning to her country’s kleptocratic dictator, Mobutu Sese Seko.

Sixth Assignment: Core Wound and the Primary Conflict

            Sophie’s primary conflict is with circumstances beyond her control, beginning with a traumatic event during a raid of her village by Melele rebels when she was a girl. Her grandmother is killed by a blow on the head while trying to protect her. Then, while being forced to commit a shameful act in order to protect her grandmother, whom she doesn’t know is dying, she is rescued by her father, uncle, and male cousins. The resulting wound resurfaces in the plot and plays a role. (Sophie’s grandmother also plays a role in the story once Sophie visits the land of the dead.)

Sophie's ultimate core wound is her knowledge of the future, culminating in a vision of herself as a baby whose mother is forced by invading soldiers to crush her in a mortar.

At the story’s first plot point, she has no choice but to endure a trial by poison. Then she is given a message that she has no choice but deliver.

            As an ordinary person given an extraordinary task, Sophie has to cope with being possessed and then prematurely dispossessed by the Holy Spirit, the demands of her ancestors, the very gravity of her task, and the sabotage of ancestors known as Acquirers, as well as with those who don’t want to hear her message. Her desire is to be herself and do things her own way, for she is led down the wrong path. In the end, she must pay the price to do what she believes she has to, and a new era begins for her.

Seventh Assignment: Setting

                Prophets are pretty common in the Congo. When I was in the Peace Corps, in a small Congolese village, my neighbor announced one day that she was a prophet possessed by the Holy Spirit. That experience was my initial inspiration. It has been augmented by more than 30 years of experience with my wife’s extended Congolese family.

 The heart of the story is Sophie’s 400-mile journey through eastern Congo, from a remote village in the province of Kivu to Lubumbashi, the capital of Katanga, where Assistant Commissar Lemba is temporarily residing. The goal is to put the reader in that world, crawling on a flimsy, single-plank bridge over a river at night, for example, or passing through the annual burning of the savannah on a train.

 In that world, many things can happen that would be difficult to attempt elsewhere. The protagonist’s ancestors can vie to possess her neighbor’s baby, in order to give her conflicting advice, for example. She can heal a dozen gravely ill people, visit the land of the dead, and react to dozens of uniquely Congolese situations. The story becomes a collage of interactions that compounds as it goes.

 I want to immerse the reader in the world of the Congo, explore the nature of prophecy, and develop Zaire as a metaphor, a possible future for all of us. Those are three major reasons why I chose the Congo for my setting.

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STORY STATEMENT: Sisters must overcome differences and work together to save their family and each other.


There are two main antagonists (working together) in THE HOPEFULS.

The first, DAMIAN WILLIAMS: a polished, talented dragon hunter who served as right hand to leader of the dragon hunters for over a decade. She is confident, self-assured, capable, stunning—all qualities our main protagonist feels she is not. Damian has plotted with the dragons to “raze the world” to save it, positioning herself (and the dragons she has partnered with) as leaders with global influence who can cut through red tape and accomplish real change. She see’s opportunity in devastation: the forests that flourish after volcanoes erupt. She is also (secretly) half-dragon, who’s wings were removed as a child to prevent her from ever shifting back into her draconian form. She believes the end goal justifies any means necessary.

Damian's accomplice, an adult dragon called BONESCRAPER, is an arrogant, overlooked second son who can control weather patterns with deadly accuracy and force. He unknowingly forms an inescapable bond with one of the protagonists, which complicates his desires to burn the world to the ground as their life forces are now linked. Bonescraper considers humans “meatsack necessities” that are overdue for culling.



-          The Hopefuls

-          The Hopefuls: Usurper Queen

GENRE: Contemporary Fantasy/ Comedic Fantasy / Women's Fiction


o   For fans of girl gangs/female friendships like in Paper Girls by: Brian K. Vaughan

o   For fans of irreverent, comedic fantasy like The Last Dragon Slayer, by: Jasper Fforde

o   For fans of alternate histories and sentient dragons (with distinct personalities) like the Temeraire Series by Naomi Novik


o   The Goonies

o   Jurassic Park

o   Stranger Things

HOOK LINES: Two sisters, discovering how their family’s past haunts their collective futures, struggle to work together to save everything they love from one other … and from dragons.

(additional options tbd)


Dual POVS.

Estel/Older Sister: a former dragon hunter who was the sole survivor of her training  after a brutal dragon attack that also claimed her older brother. She retired in disgrace when she refused to hunt their killers. Now, 10 years later, as siblings and friends hit adult “milestones,” Estel feels abysmally far from, she’s starting to feel as though she’s squandering the life she got to have and, worse, that dragon hunting was the only thing she ever did well.  She will stop at nothing to not fail her family again and will sacrifice anything to keep them safe.

Hope/Younger Sister: has been born into a time of peace never knowing there was a war. Shortly after her 13th birthday, she discovers a dragon egg, but, prior to that event, had no idea dragons even existed—let alone that her entire immediate family used to hunt them. What Hope does know is this: her family lived an entire history before her that she knows nothing about—not even a dead older brother who died the year she was born. She notices how her siblings curse in front of eachother—but apologize when they do it in front of her, or cut off jokes or stories when she enters a room. They’ve grown up and, literally, left her behind. Even thought she’s been the so-called “favorite” her entire life, Hope’s never felt like as though she’s truly fit in among them. And she’s lonely. She wants to earn her place among her siblings, but is also tired of being treated like a kid and being told what to do.



The sisters’ strained relationship, and resulting complications, are the main conflict. The secondary conflict is the discovery of a whole world involving dragons and, more importantly, how that has impacted this family as a whole. The threat of dragons reemerging into the world is a major conflict they will all have to cooperate with in order to overcome.



This story is set in a small town in rural, modern day Western New York, largely in an old manor house that has been in the main characters’ family for generations. They are perched on the top of a sweeping valley, with a snow globe view of the surrounding countryside and blue ridge mountains in late summer. School is starting in a few weeks, the farm’s barley fields have been harvest, their rolling white-fenced fields are bordered by a tree line still thick with lush green leaves. It’s been hot, the steamy, last dregs of summer kind, and fireflies light up their fields at night. The old red barn their few horses live in is in a slow state of decay and the old house, once brimming with the family’s many children, has fallen quiet as the two protagonists (and their parents) are now the only inhabitants. It’s like a living museum, a preservation of a golden age for their family that is now startlingly empty. The house itself is steeped in secrets, including a secret military bunker beneath the basement which connects to a series of tunnels leading into town. This story very much upon the remaining inhabitants of this house, and the soon to be discovered history it contains.

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1. Story statement:

 A grieving law student's investigation into a suspicious suicide, identical to her sister's, lands her captive in the hospital where they occurred. Her knowledge of its CEO's crimes puts her life at risk.


A power-hungry narcissist, Conrad Sinclair, comes from generations of neurosurgeons. He planned to follow the same expected career path, but the problem is he suffers from hand tremors. Deemed a disappointment, he sets out to be the wealthiest and most successful Sinclair. 
Conrad chose psychiatry because his mother suffered from a mental illness but was never treated due to the stigma and his father’s denial. He's a great psychiatrist but doesn’t want to help addicts - refusing to believe it is an illness no matter his education and training. Conrad views addicts as weak and selfish. He opened a Behavioral Health Center with plans to open centers across Florida and the rest of the country in pursuit of success while helping people with the same afflictions as his mother. Funding the project presents difficulties, but Conrad finds a workaround by committing insurance fraud, called patient brokering and raking in mass amounts of money at the expense of the addicts being cycled through the center. 
Conrad, a philandering misogamist, had a delinquent illegitimate son who found him. To protect his reputation, he hires him to work in his center. Conrad’s son rapes many patients in the hospital, accidentally killing a patient in the process, and Conrad covers up the murder. When he fires his son, he steals a hard drive with evidence of patient brokering that could put Conrad in jail for years and ruin his plans and life. Conrad has leverage over his son armed with the crimes he committed, but not the woman his son sought out to deliver the hard drive to the police. Conrad will do anything to get the hard drive—even murder.

3. Titles:

Where Dragonflies Die

Chasing Patient Dragonfly 

4. Comps:

Imposter by Bradeigh Godfrey

 Sometimes I Lie by Alice Feeney

The Silent Patient by Alex Michaelides

 5. Logline: A grief-stricken young woman, Addie Davenport, cannot remember the days surrounding her bipolar sister’s suicide and must face her repressed memories to learn the truth of her sister’s death.

6. Inner Conflict:  Addie Davenport is convinced she suffers from PGD—prolonged grief disorder -- and repressed memories caused by trauma. Mired in grief and the past, Addie obsesses over her sister’s suicide. But when she turns to a psychiatrist for help, the psychiatrist questions if it’s PGD or something else. Addie always focused on her sister’s mental illness but never her own mental health. There’s more to what plagues Addie than grief, which connects her to the events leading to her sister’s death that she can’t remember. She’ll need to face her inner demons to heal.

7. Setting:

Where Dragonflies Die takes place in South Florida during a blazing hot, humid summer, the dual timeline has two locales: 

Dunshore is an affluent coastal city near the southern tip of Florida along the Atlantic Ocean. Tourists flock to Dunshore for its world-famous beaches and extensive waterway system. But the city has problems --rising sea levels and a collapsing infrastructure. With a closer look, it’s a seedy area with a large unassisted homeless population and a haven for drug addicts who walk the same streets as owners of waterfront mansions. You’ll find rundown motels sitting beside five-star resorts. Dunshore is beautiful with a vile underbelly of corruption, drug addiction, and scams. 

The second setting is inside Sinclair Behavioral Health Center, which treats mental illnesses and drug addiction. The exterior, lobby, and public areas are beautiful, with state-of-the-art features. The wards and treatment sites have yet to be renovated, are rundown and neglected. The hospital doesn’t advertise their padded rooms or restraints, but they exist in Sinclair. The treatment center is building a new rehabilitation wing, and the construction fills Sinclair with barricaded areas, zip walls, tarps, gutted hallways and debris. Sinclair is a modern treatment center where patients are paychecks, not treated for their conditions. It airs a new-age creepiness that provokes fear like a traditional psychiatric hospital. There are no shock treatments or lobotomies anymore because they don’t want your mind--it’s your insurance they’re after.

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