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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 appellation '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 Haven Public House 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)      Emily must contend with divorce while she is unexpectedly pregnant.

2)      Neil, her husband, assumes the role of decision-maker and impresses upon Emily their agreement to never have children. He is a nationally recognized psychologist, yet privately, he asserts his position and will with hurtful truths, condescension and distance. He makes it clear she should get an abortion. Emily does not comply, so he files for divorce and tells her to leave their home—his home.

3)      A Year from September

         Ever After


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)      Unexpectedly pregnant, and with a husband who never wanted children, Emily contends with divorce. But when her husband changes his mind, she must choose between Neil, the man she’s vowed to spend her life with—and the father of her child—or a man who’s given her a love she’s never felt before. 

6)      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.

Later, Emily and her new friend, 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)      The setting is Pennsylvania. Rolling hills, small towns, big rivers. Philadelphia, too, with big city bustle. Neil also takes business trips to NYC, London and Vienna. But for the most part, Emily finds herself in a small stone cottage house, waiting for baby, the grounds quiet and planted with wild gardens.


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Story Statement – Blast Furnace                                                                    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

3.     Last Known Contact


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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