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Algonkian Retreats and Workshops - Assignments 2024

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1. Story Statement.
Half sisters must reunite in order to conquer private traumas and survive internet conspiracies. 

The text is versatile. It may be told in traditional linear fashion as a single novel, starting with Lilith. It may also be told in two interchangeable parts, each narrated by one of the sisters. The complete text is 90,000 words. Individual volumes are around 45,000 each. There is room for expansion.  

2. Antagonist.
Dr Blake and the Plum both reckon with loneliness and romantic rejection. While the women in the story direct the pain of their core wounds towards themselves, the antagonists contort it into violence directed outwards. Both men seek to avenge their private griefs through sometimes violent possession of Isla Bradley.

3. Title
Lilith & The Rib
Drink & Fast

4. Comps
My book would appeal to readers who enjoy the pacing, theme, and dialogue of Sally Rooney's novels but would like to see a plot that engages with post-college age women.

Claire Keegan's novels balance engaging plot with an incisive understanding of characters' interior lives. Their slim size may furthermore appeal to people who regained their reading habit during the pandemic and wish to continue engaging with quality books as their lives have become busier. This aspect of the comp is particularly apt if Lilith and The Rib and are marketed as separate volumes.  

Additional possibilities: Lauren Groff's Matrix, Rebecca Makkai's I Have Some Questions For You, Emma Cline's The Guest

5. Conflict.
Isla Bradley is trying to escape an unstable marriage to her former therapist. When she suffers a violent and highly publicized betrayal, she must resurrect the psychological bond she shares with her half sister in order to survive the online backlash that results. 

6. Two more layers of conflict

Internal wounds: At the end of Lilith, Isla left a gun in the Plum's apartment after his attempted assault, although she was fully aware of his volatile emotional state.  This is the weapon that the Plum used to commit suicide. In The Rib, Isla struggles to understand whether or not she should bear guilt for his death. This internal conflict is a major motivating factor. 

Situation: Isla's cousin has asked whether she's guilty of the Plum's murder, as the internet alleges. Isla responds with the truth. 

“I don’t know,” I say.
“What do you mean?”
“Whether I did it or not.”
“Explain yourself.”
“After – the incident, he was crying. I drank a quick cup of whiskey. I don’t drink much, so it hit me. He was panicking. I saw the state he was in. He was coming unhinged. It made me so angry. Because what right did he have! What right did that man have to suffer! And so loudly. I was furious. So I grabbed my purse and took a single credit card and some cash out of my wallet. Then I put the wallet back. And why do you think?”
“So that it would still seem like a mistake. Like you left the purse behind by accident.”
“I put the purse on the counter, right where he’d see it. I even unzippered it a little bit.”
“So that he’d realize what was inside. And what was inside?”
I left the silence speak for itself.
“I see. Not an unreasonable precaution for a woman serving her husband with divorce papers that morning.”
“Exactly right. An unstable husband, remember.”
“So it was on purpose. That’s what you’re saying? You knew what you were doing.”
“I even smiled about it. Once I’d left.”
Aleks nods. Their eyes trace the outline of the bar’s ceiling before returning, almost audibly, to look straight at my face.
“And now? When you think about it now. Do you still smile?”

Secondary Conflicts:
The instigating event for the story is Isla's unstable marriage to her former therapist. The arc of this relationship is charted in The Rib. Both Isla and Dr Blake rationalized their affair in opposing ways, which come into increasing conflict as they embark on married life. 

Situation: Isla and Dr Blake argue, and the true core of the more superficial conflict is shown to be their opposing understandings of their relationship's origins. The scene also touches on Dr Blake's core wound, i.e. an infatuation he had with a patient early in his career.

At dinner on another night I asked him, “Aren’t you ever bored?”
He bent one eyebrow and leaned back in his chair. He didn’t suffer me any words in response.
“I mean, we never do anything.”
“Do you think life is just happy hours and hook-ups?”
The words took me aback.
“No,” I said. “No! Of course not! Where did that even come from? Is that the impression you got from me? When we were in session?”
“Oh, you know sessions. They all blend together.”
“Do they?” An edge in my voice that I didn’t seek to soften.
“Yes of course. What’s the matter?”
“They didn’t with Bella.”
A pause.
Anybody who only knew Dr Blake from sessions or situations like a church service would have been shocked to realize all of the heat that simmered beneath the serenity of his passive eyes. How quickly it could spike to a boil.
“You don’t know anything about that.”
“Of course I do. You told me yourself! How you couldn’t help becoming – I think the word you used was smitten –”
“Infatuated, more likely.” Thin-voiced, straight lips. His hands were folded.
“Infatuated with her when she sat there and told you all about her life. About losing her mother when she was a child. Substance abuse in college. All of that.”
“Don’t talk about things you can’t understand. That was different.”
“How! Wasn’t it the same with me?”
He didn’t answer. Rage and fear held hands and surrounded me.
“Wasn’t it the same with me!”
“For Christ’s sake, Isla!”
“You know. Sometimes I think you’re kind of a weirdo.”
“Stop it, Isla.”
“I mean with this woman. You never even saw her outside of your office. You never even knew her!”
“I knew her.”
“And you’ve been obsessed with her for years.”
“Goddamn it Isla!”
He smacked the table and stood up. He walked over to me and put his hands on my shoulders. A sheer sheet of ice might have held more warmth than Dr Blake’s face in that moment, but I wasn’t afraid. I said, “Was it different with me? How? Tell me.”

7. Setting
The sisters’ childhood home in Boone, North Carolina comprises the nostalgic core of both stories. The motivating force of nostalgia is a primary theme. The natural environment of the Blue Ridge Mountains is a fundamental part of both sisters' psyche.

Lilith focuses on such sweeping settings as the Blue Ridge Mountains and extensive flashbacks to St. Petersburg, Russia.

Example:  St Petersburg: Shore of the Finnish Gulf --> Dumskaya Street
  Isla would sit there for hours watching the polar dusk that darkens the midafternoon. Sheltered by the decaying shadow of the dreaded and dead Soviet Union, she lounged with a bottle of vodka or cheap champagne and she watched the lights from so many ships that she imagined to be military as they floated in the Gulf and glittered like earthbound constellations. The unfamiliar horizon darkened. It teetered on the extreme edge of things, and the wind’s chill has an edge and it was a stirring edge that plumbed Isla's heart as it raked the concrete in the dimming light.
  Even when she was a little girl, my sister was always the happiest when everything inside of her was astir and her imagination revved itself into a fever so that reality got all tangled up in her own mysticisms. Existence or it’s illusion prostrated itself at her feet, like a tableau. Night would come to Primorskaya. The violet darknesses would settle themselves thickly among the brutal shapes of a thousand Stalinist apartment complexes. Isla pulled her purse onto her shoulder and threw away her trash. Almost every evening she’d trust her safety to a gypsy cab and head joyfully towards Dumskaya Street...
...The bar that she’d been sitting in up until a few minutes ago was called Fidel’s. It was a very narrow venue, with no more than six feet of space between the bar and the wall which was painted black and strung up with twinkly lights that glittered while American punk music blared through the speakers. The place was so packed on a Tuesday night that there was barely any room to move. Despite which, a resilient group of Danes forged on against the odds in their quest to successfully operate the extremely sticky foosball table lodged in the corner and they kept yelling and beating their chest as if their subpar ability to operate a rusted toy after several shots of vodka plus some beers made them roughly as sexually attractive as a footballer from FIFA.

The Rib focuses on the fractured intimacy of small, strange spaces. 

Example: The basement apartment in Philadelphia where Isla isolates herself after her story goes viral.
Numberless are the happy hours!  That I’ve spent imagining the life of the glittering soul who lived here before me. Because only a superstar of considerable wattage could have aspired to turn this rotting dump of a basement crawl-space into something so absurd and magical. And glittery? Oh yes, very. Unwilling to allow ugliness lie fallow and fester, this fabulous stranger sought to resurrect it into beauty.
They failed, of course, and the attempt ended up as nothing but dirty chintz. But the attempt was there. Sanctity hovers around all attempts at beautification and creation and perhaps especially around those that are doomed on account of societal tragedies beyond the artist’s control.
“What color would you call these walls,” Ainsley asked.
“Turquoise. Definitely.”
“Hm.” She stalked across the linoleum floor in stiletto heels. Her button nose wrinkled primly against its scent.
“What’s with all the Japanese dressing screens?” Ainsley asked. The scenes painted on each of the several large screens was tastefully pornographic in nature. “Did you...bring those here yourself?”
“No. No no. They were left here by the previous tenant. Apparently they come with the space.”
Ainsley didn’t say anything about the trim of wallpaper along the ceiling that depicted topless mermaids in a variety of poses. Nor did she suffer to comment on the thin patina of silver glitter that overlaid the white cabinets in the kitchenette.
“You already signed the lease? Without even fucking running it by me.”
I shrugged with a sheepish but affirming smile.
“It’d be nice if there were at least a ceiling.” We looked over our heads at the unfinished morass of wires and copper pipes.
“To be fair, it isn’t like we photograph the ceiling.”

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1.      Story Statement:

A celebrity newscaster, hunting down his last big investigative scoop on Earth, must seek out a cure for an unanticipated infection or risk losing his berth on a generation spaceship scheduled for immediate launch to escape Earth’s collapsed ecosystem.

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

The world order and survivability of the human species is in full environmental and societal collapse. The generations today only know the Earth as an orange world in shades of black, brown, and gray. The world smells sickly ‘orange.’ They’ve never known clean water or green fields spotted with bright flowers.

An AI entity, Fluid Living Intuitive Companion Kernal (FLICK), embedded in Lexis’ brain communicates with him seamlessly, but takes a potentially sinister turn when FLICK establishes a language link with plants and begins to communicate with them. This becomes critical as AI as a whole begins to realize that humans created the disaster that has befallen Earth as told through the stories of the remaining plants. This becomes a vital change agent as Lexis undergoes his own physical metamorphosis.

A scientist, Dr. Federer, who has worked for the good of humankind to solve the problems has fallen into the trap of survival-of-the-human-species at all moral costs. Lexis unwittingly becomes one of Federer’s experiments.

Note on Science: Besides gene splicing, the scientists in this world have begun to master the development of pheno-typic plasticity in humans, which is a key driving feature in the rapid evolution of a species. For example, Holly trees with smooth leaves will respond to intense deer predation. When they are consumed by deer, to the point of a denuded lower half of the tree, they will grow spiked leaves the next year as a defense.

Above all things, the military and space force seem detached, but are also willing pawns of the power elites who have direct power over the populace. Tech giants control the body politic that serves at their bidding, The brainchild of Ian McMillan, the Generational Skip Program, Cosmic Odyssey for Settling Mankind Offworld (COSMO), consumed 90% of the power resources of the planet to put the elites and genetically ‘pure’ into space for the purpose of moving Earth’s ‘humanity’ and technology to an untouched and unexploited planet. McMillan’s power over Lexis comes into play when Lexis’ threatens COSMO.

3.      Titles:

·         Greenskin (Current Working)

·         Bio Mecca or Bio Mecha

·         The Euglena Factor

4.      Comparables:

Disclaimer: This list is based on research only; I have not read these at this point. Thematically, they did seem to resonate with my current work.:

"Project Hail Mary" (2021) by Andy Weir - Weir's previous novel, "The Martian," was a New York Times bestseller and adapted into a successful film. "Project Hail Mary" was winner of the 2022 Audie Awards' Audiobook of the Year. While not a perfect match, the story centers around a last-chance mission in which humanity and the Earth will perish if it fails.

"The Water Knife" (2015) by Paolo Bacigalupi: This novel is set in a future where water scarcity has led to a collapse of society, and powerful individuals and corporations fight over control of the remaining water sources. It involves characters from different backgrounds navigating this harsh world and confronting moral dilemmas. It won the 2016 Locus Award for Best Science Fiction Novel and was nominated for the Nebula Award for Best Novel.

"The Windup Girl" (2009) by Paolo Bacigalupi: Set in a future where biotechnology is dominant, this novel explores themes of environmental collapse, corporate power, and the struggle for survival in a world ravaged by climate change and genetic engineering. It won the Hugo Award for Best Novel, the Nebula Award for Best Novel, and the Locus Award for Best First Novel.

"2312" (2012) by Kim Stanley Robinson: In this novel, humanity has spread across the solar system, but faces environmental challenges. It explores themes of political intrigue, environmentalism, and the survival of humanity in a hostile universe. It was nominated for the Nebula Award for Best Novel and the Hugo Award for Best Novel.

"The MaddAddam Trilogy" by Margaret Atwood: This series, consisting of "Oryx and Crake" (2003- shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize for Fiction), "The Year of the Flood" (2009), and "MaddAddam" (2013), presents a dystopian future where genetic engineering has gone awry, leading to environmental devastation and societal collapse. It features characters from different walks of life struggling to survive and confront the consequences of humanity's actions.

"New York 2140" (2017) by Kim Stanley Robinson: Set in a future where sea levels have risen and submerged much of New York City, this novel explores themes of climate change, inequality, and resilience as a diverse cast of characters navigate the flooded cityscape and confront the powerful interests shaping their world. It was nominated for the Hugo Award for Best Novel and the Locus Award for Best Science Fiction Novel.

5.      Logline:

On the eve of a planet-wide exodus-of-elites from an exhausted Earth, a celebrity newscaster is exposed to dangerous genetic material and undergoes a deadly transformation, which might make him Earth’s last great hope, but will more-than-likely kill him.

6.      Conditions for Conflict (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. Sketch a hypothetical scenario for the "secondary conflict" involving the social environment. Will this involve family? Friends? Associates? What is the nature of it?

Primary Conflict (drives through the core of the work from beginning to end and which zeniths with an important climax (falling action and denouement to follow).

The planetary survival environment sets the tone for the protagonist, who is a member of the elite class of society who will be able to leave the dying planet on a generation space ship. His world order is upended when he becomes a fugitive being sought for dissection. Surrounding his journey, others less fortunate are victims of the wealthy and scientists using them as test subjects. The action rises and falls around the protag as he comes to grips with his new reality, which doesn’t include access to the fleeing ships, but rather to a new order on Earth.

Secondary Conflicts or Complications [which can take various social forms (anything from a vigorous love subplot to family issues to turmoil with fellow characters)]

The protag has a love interest who toys with him as he does with her. He is willing to leave her when she doesn’t land a berth on the ship, but he is surprised when she betrays him for his berth on his ship. He’s also forced to forge new alliances and friendships with those he pities and sees as beneath him. But he’s not a total shit when it comes to those less fortunate, which is demonstrated when, early on, he sends enforcers in another direction from their pursuit, a street urchin.

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.

The protag starts off a bit shallow and conceited. He’s pretty and a ‘player,’ but his aspiration is to join the social elites on the journey away from Earth. He’s deemed a proper ‘breeder,’ as well as a celebrity newscaster. As one of the elites, he considers himself immune from the suffering of the world around him until it becomes his personal reality. The story begins with his reporting on a ‘cleansing’ in Sector 24. What Wil fails to report is that a small society of the dispossessed live there and the robotic machines that scoop the rubbish for the power furnaces don’t distinguish between the trash and the humans. He must grapple with his own culpability.

His relationship with Tara is counter balanced with his new relationship with Rigby, and is recognized and resolved in the denouement. In the beginning it appears that he and Tara will find something deeper, but in the end, Tara betrays him. During Wil’s journey, Rigby becomes the deeper, richer relationship that he actually needed.

 7.      Setting

 Overall: Earth is choked with CO2. Once great rivers, like the Shenandoah, trickle with sludge and waste. Most animal and plant species have suffered mass extinctions. Climate controlled buildings house the elites, while everyone and everything else suffers in the ‘real’ world. The power needs to feed AI and EV are monumental and massive trash processor plants spew fumes as they turn rubbish and bodies into power.

Newsroom: This is the future newsroom – Researchers, writers, and editors collaborate with off-site sources and field reporters, using elaborate heads-up displays. News feeds can send out customized news to individuals as well as broadcasting to large audiences. The newsroom is abuzz with researchers, editors and videographers with hover cams following them. Open on the news being delivered by Wil Lexis, celebrity ‘pretty boy’ newscaster and ace reporter. This world is bright with artificial light and high energy.

Sector 24: Like all the other sectors outside the tightly controlled Central City, Sector 24 is a stark contrast to Lexis’ world.  It’s a forbidding world of dispossessed and impoverished scavengers and folks trying to eke out a ‘normal’ life. An old woman trying to nurse a tomato plant… children scavenging and fighting for trash… the dystopian existence brought about by great leaders like Warren Buffet who posited that frugality and poverty were relative, and that one wasn’t poor when there was roadkill to eat…

 Central City: The city should be any modern city on an enlightened world. But the world glow is orange, dark, and forbidding. One can’t be in the open-air of the city without a breathing assist device. These devices are ubiquitous in this time of gross pollution fouling air, water, and land alike. Lexis has strange run-ins that foreshadow his future.

 U-genics Labs: A strange lead is the inciting incident that sends reporter Lexis into the world of U-genics Labs where a mishap leads to his transformation. The work of the lab, both on Earth and in the spaceship plays a key setting in the science of the story and the corruption of the science in unethical hands. The holistic, state-of-the-art lab is intimately involved with the redesign of the human species, focusing on pheno-typic plasticity as the key driving feature in the evolution of a species (Holly Tree example).

 A Sector Dump: Mutant rats and violent scavengers have full run of the dump where Lexis’ body is dumped after he discovers the true nature of U-genics Labs.

 Lexis’ Apartment: This is the modern apartment of Wil Lexis. Thinking of amping this scene with a new setting:

“Synthia” a Psycho-Sensory Underground Club: Escapism is a part of this world (like any other), but with augmented reality and psychotropic drugs readily available, this version of Earth escapism is akin to an opium den on the wharf of old seafaring cities. People can choose their ‘poison’ as hey escape from the bleakness of their everyday lives through sensory overload. But the experiences range from euphoric highs to those who choose nightmarish hallucinations.

World Hospital and Mutant Refuge: This is a popup field hospital run by Dr. Rho who champions mutant rights and cares for the poor. She’s the Mother Theresa of her time, but not as cruel. She leads the unique community of mutants who face persecution from both humans and machines.

 Space Port: Shuttles are commandeered and the generation ship is infiltrated via the space port.

 New Hope—Generation Spaceship: This is the ship where the final physical battle ensues just before its launch window. Two of the ‘evil’ dudes escape justice and launch a shuttle from Earth to reach the normalcy of the world inside the ship (where they also wield power) and thus escape the ravages of the planet. But the ship is beyond reach and the shuttle with barely 5 minutes of burn time disintegrates as it burns falling back through the atmosphere. In a slight twist, a small cilium wriggles along the captain’s neck, earning a slight scratch.

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First Assignment: Story Statement

The 4th World follows Emilia Strom, a member of an FBI investigation team of a Native American murder and looting on the Hopi Reservation, but soon becomes entangled in Hopi secrets of quantum universes shrouded with mysteries and rarely seen by mankind. (Premise)

Second Assignment: Antagonist Plots to Point

The 4th World enlists a string of suspects, each driven by different motives of spiritual power, greed, revenge and the darkness of witchcraft; but soon their unity crumbles as they become conflicted in a common goal for a ‘secret client.’  

Third Assignment: Break Out title

The 4th World - Out of Balance

The 4th World - A Timeless Warning

Fourth Assignment 4: Genre & Comparables

Genre: Crime: mystery/suspense

Comparable: Tony Hillerman’s, Navajo Police Detective Joe Leaphorn Series (currently a TV series produced by Robert Redford) and Dan Brown’s DiVinci Code.

Fifth Assignment: Protagonist Conflict, tension, and complications

Logline: Emilia Strom, a member of an FBI team investigating a murder and looting of a Hopi Native American shrine containing the tribe’s most sacred ceremonial items that could trigger the end of the current 4th World; but while asleep one night she’s visited by an ancient eye hovering in front of her, holding her gaze, wobbling back-and-forth attached to nothing but air, creating a hypnotic effect, entangles her in ancient Hopi secrets of quantum universes shrouded with mystery and rarely seen by mankind.

First Major plot point:  Stolen Hopi ceremonial items that have supernatural powers could throw the “current 4th world out of balance” or even worse, end the current world. Return the stolen ceremonial items to the Hopi tribe and restore balance to the earth.

Tensions with fellow characters:

·       Tension between the Hopi Police and the Tribal Council

·       Conflicts between the Hopi Police and the FBI Special Agent (trope who screws up leading to missed opportunities and tribal deaths)

·       Tensions between the Hopi Tribe and Washington D.C. politics and dysfunctional bureaucracy. (Social commentary)

·       Antagonists: (Social commentary) Native American tribes and federal government; tensions between looters lead to multiple murders.

Assignment 6: Inner Conflict:

Protagonist, Emilia Strom did not measure up her mother’s expectations driven by conflicts of different worldviews. Her mother’s world view centers on organized religion and is deeply rooted in the church community. While Emilia seeks spirituality in a more personal introspective way. She also feels like she was born in to the wrong family. So to resolve these inner conflicts, Emilia learned to let go of the guilt and move to the big city seeking to define her own view of the world. (Note: In my manuscript, the above sketch is detailed a “show don’t tell” family arguments.)

Assignment 7: The Incredible Importance of Setting (Global)

Inciting Incident occurs in Arizona’s Painted Desert’s badlands, canyons and arroyos are home to Native American reservations, offering readers an opportunity to travel to places they have never visited before.

Investigation starts on the Hopi Reservation: The Hopi Reservation’s shaped like a donut hole surrounded three hundred sixty degrees by the Navajo Nation. Arizona State Highway 264 starts at the Reservation’s western border near Tuba City and winds its way along three mesas until it reaches Window Rock at the eastern border of Arizona and New Mexico. From the top of the mesas, the Hopi observe the Arizona morning sun rise over the desert year after year. For over a millennium invaders have come and gone, but their Kachina’s sustain them daily helping them maintain the Hopi way.

Antagonists hide in the nearby state of New Mexico, the Hopi Powaqa sisterhood celebrate their successful looting of the secret Hopi shrine and the Blue Kachina. Tonight’s ceremony’s is held in a new location inside the Canyon de Chelly’s Mummy’s Cave. The Cave’s three hundred feet above the Canyon‘s floor with two deep alcoves filled with ruins. On a wide ledge between the alcoves sits a large, multi-story pueblo. And where the Powaqa relocated their rituals from the Hopi Reservation’s first mesa.

Protagonist lives and works in Washington DC. It’s morning in Washington DC! Commuters from Virginia and Maryland stream into the District from underground metro stations and public transportation buses.

Black marketer (Antagonist) lives in Taos, New Mexico. On August 29, 1540, Capitan Hernando Alvarado joined Francisco Vasquez de Coronado's expedition in Taos, New Mexico. Alvarado visited the famous Taos Pueblo, known for its magnificent ancient pueblo structures and the tranquil Tiwa Indians who have called it home for centuries. Antagonist is an antiquities dealer with international black market contacts.

Back story of Hopi Earthly origins start in Sedona Arizona. Thousands of years ago, the Hopi made their way to Earth. It’s believed the Hopi lived in Sedona’s Red City in the presence of Kachina spirits. Legend has it that Kachina spirits descended from the stars to help the Hopi on their human journey in their new home, Earth.

Investigation ends in Paris, France - New Year’s Eve. (Antagonist) Champs-Élysées trees are aglow with shimmering lights decorated for the New Year’s festivities. The Arch de Triomphe holds the title for being the largest Arc in the world. But tonight, Parisians united at the base of their Arc to mark the start of the New Year. The international black market dealer and his secret client had plotted this crime, but the investigation returns home to ruination and justice.

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Pre-event Assignments




Jen must protect her teenage daughter Isabelle from a terrible truth that could destroy them both.



Who will blow Jen’s cancer survivor cover? Will it be Jade, her daughter’s freshman dorm roommate, a young woman fighting for her life and selected to room with Isabelle because of her own cancer diagnosis? Will it be her philandering husband Brian, whose careful crafting of a life of lies gave Jen the idea and the excuse to plunge herself into this game of deceit? Perhaps it will be Reggie from the yoga studio, who sees in Jen’s survival affirmation of the wondrous powers of the angel Ariel, and whose own life depends on belief in her access to another realm. Perhaps Jen will be forced to face the truth herself?




“Cancer Mom”


“Sex, Lies, and Chemotherapy”



“Beyond Suspicion” An insurance salesman's humdrum existence takes a turn when a stranger, ex-con Auggie Rose, unexpectedly dies in his arms. Assuming the identity of the dead man, the salesman embarks on a double life, keeping it secret from his live-in girlfriend.

“Dear Evan Hansen” A teen builds a false self based on undeserved sympathy and compassion and struggles mightily to maintain it upon reaping benefits—including (almost) getting the girl—that had been forever outside his reach.

Genre fits into the “Psychological Thriller with a Sense of Humor” drawer



“Cancer Mom” asks a simple but elemental question: Can you lie your way to the truth? Jen, the protagonist, becomes obsessed with the secret life her husband leads as he carries on an affair. She constructs her own secret life in response, and then a cancer scare, and a subsequent biopsy, leads her to a tantalizing opportunity. Becoming a cancer patient, and then a survivor, results in the end of her husband’s affair, and Jen becomes a hero in her daughter’s eyes, who uses the experience in her application letter to Wesleyan University. Her life complete and whole again, Jen is ready to move on, until…




Having been “Cancer Mom” during her daughter’s last two years of high school, can Jen return to the role for another full year, especially when confronted with her daughter’s ill roommate, fighting her own battle against the disease?


What could the discovery of Jen’s deception do to her family’s reputation? Could her husband’s integrity as a lawyer survive the revelation? Would Wesleyan kick her daughter out, since so much of her admission was weighted on her touching mother-fights-cancer personal statement?


7.    Setting

This manuscript is currently a play, and so setting is determined by the nature of the sets, which so far include a yoga studio, a cemetery plot, a dorm room, and the dining room table around which the crisis comes to a head.

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Hook Line

As a conflict that will rend the nation escalates into a war of brother against brother, a New England tradesman navigates the halls of a contentious government and parlays his business skills and a special friendship into making sure that the symbol of the Union survives.

Inspired by a magical fountain on her family’s property in South Carolina, which had not flowed since the Civil War, author Ann Waigand went searching for its origins only to discover not just Charles Fowler but a web of relationships that connected from her family and their community in the Antebellum South to the U.S. Capitol dome. It’s a story of enduring friendships as well as friendships shattered.



Montgomery Meigs, Engineer in Charge of the Capitol Extension

His mother described him, at age six, as “high-tempered, unyielding, tyrannical toward his brothers, and very persevering in pursuit of anything he wishes” and by the time he is overseeing the Capitol dome work, he has grown into a full-fledged megalomaniac (check out his name, preserved for eternity in the ironwork of every single riser on the steps of the Washington Aqueduct). He’s in constant battle with architect Walter—and just about anyone who stands in his way. A control freak, he records everything in a diary written in his own, self-created shorthand that will take someone decades to decipher. And he holds grudges. Just ask Jefferson Davis and Robert E. Lee. Meigs ignored Varina Davis’ plea to help secure the release of his former friend and mentor, Jefferson, from prison and ordered grave diggers at the newly-created Arlington Cemetery to put graves as close to Lee’s family mansion as possible. According to his nemesis, Thomas Walter, Architect of the Capitol, “that old scamp makes trouble wherever he goes, and like the skunk he leaves a long odor behind him.” And to make matters worse, Meigs’ taste, for the Capitol Extension, runs to opulence—to the point of garishness.



My Dear Charlie: A Friendship Forged in Iron that Forever Changed the Landscape of American Democracy

My Dear Charlie: The Iron-Clad Friendship that Built the U.S. Capitol Dome

A Friendship Forged in Iron: Charles Fowler, Thomas Walter, and the Building of the U.S. Capitol Dome


GENRE: Now, that is the question! My original intent was to write a narrative nonfiction book about the friendship between architect Thomas Walter and iron tradesman Charles Fowler. Frankly, interleaving multiple stories, in the North and in the South, creates a far more compelling narrative. Taking into account the disparity in verifiable facts from one character to another, I have resolved to write a novel which will let the characters meet and interact in ways that adhering to straight history would not allow.


Becoming Jane Austen by John Hunter Spence…plus the film Becoming Jane, described as a biographical romantic film, screenplay by Sarah Williams and Kevin Hood

Reading the book, in tandem with watching the film, is a master class in how to turn a rather dull, poorly structured, cleave-to-the-facts, nonfiction book into a compelling dramatic work—which is (as stated above) my goal.

America’s First Daughter: A Novel. by Stephanie Dray and Laura Kamoie

From Monticello to Jefferson’s White House

She Shaped the Legacy of a Nation

richly researcheddraws from thousands of letters…(to) tell the fascinating untold story (that) shaped…not just (her father’s) political legacy, but that of the nation he founded…bringing to life a colorful cast of characters who conceived our new nation”



Wounded pride, an overpowering need for ownership and control, fundamental disagreements in taste, a battle to take center stage in history—all characterize a conflagration between Architect of the Capitol, Thomas U. Walter, and Engineer in Charge, Montgomery C. Meigs, that consumes more than a decade. In Walter’s words, “I have been in open war…contending for the dignity of our [architectural] Profession against the assumptions and despotism of a military upstart who happens to have the power to annoy.” The battle reaches its climax when Meigs’ successor takes away the contract for the Congressional Library extension awarded to Walter’s friend and compatriot in the years of struggle, Charles Fowler. What  makes it even worse, the contract is not with Janes, Fowler, Kirtland & Co., the firm Fowler represented for almost two decades, the firm that built the Capitol dome. Instead the government has contracted Fowler alone, acting as his own company, and Walter knows that this has been the ultimate goal of his friend’s years of work. Walter’s resigns the job he loves, that has been his life, his ambition, his raison d’être. “There comes a time when a man has to stand up not just for himself but for his friend. That time is now.”


Inner Conflict:

For Fowler: My friendship with Walter was originally driven solely by business but now I really like the man, our families have become close, and I find myself having to be careful that the insider deals we strike don’t ricochet back against him. I’m a straightforward businessman, and this is a complication I hadn’t reckoned with. And to get the work done, I have to be cordial with his worst enemy, Meigs, while at the same time commiserating with Walter. I’m constantly watching what I say and do, knowing that I have to keep it a secret that I’m getting along with—and talking to—people who are each other’s mortal enemies.

For Walter: It’s bad enough I’m having to deal with that snake Meigs, and all these different administrations, I have personal worries, too. My son Thomas, my namesake, is a failure and a scoundrel. My friend Charlie (Fowler) tried to help him, got him into the guano business, but Thomas messed that up, too. Now he’s gone and joined the Confederate Army. I’ve told my wife (and Charlie) that Thomas is dead to me but I still worry about him and about my sons Robert and Horace, those two honorably fighting to preserve our great union.

For Meigs: I was left to work in Washington, DC, while my former commanding officer Robert E. Lee and many of my fellow West Pointers garnered fame in the Mexican War. I have to do something to equal—no, to surpass—their accomplishments. In the Washington Aqueduct project, I’ve accomplished something that will “connect my name imperishably with a work greater in its beneficial results than all the military glory of the Mexican War”,,,but that’s not enough. I can’t stop there. I’ve got to keep proving my worth, in fact, that I’m better than everybody else.

Other Conflicts:

Conflict between architecture and engineering

Conflict between senses of style (classicism versus opulence/gaudiness)

Conflict between professions and tradesmen


Hartford, CT; Philadelphia, PA; New York City,  Abbeville, SC, but primarily:


The U.S. Capitol, a relatively small building with an anemic dome, exemplifies the promise of a democratic nation but the country has simply outgrown it. In disarray, it remains a work in progress (for more than a decade), where conflict and contention are ever-present challenges, and dueling forces preen, pander, and pounce every time a decision needs to be made. Elected representatives and government bureaucrats squabble and scheme, almost as much over building plans as in defense of, or opposition to, the all-important issue of slavery. A congressman is viciously caned, and crippled, by a fellow “lawmaker.” As if in eerie reflection of a ruptured nation, both chambers of Congress and even the very heart of the building above which the dome is taking shape are torn apart. The smell of burned timbers and paper permeates the building; the background symphony combines a timpani of hammers with the percussion of iron dragged from the grounds and forced into place. By the early 1860s, troops drill in the Capitol’s halls; the army’s commissary bakes bread in the building’s basement, with smoke and soot invading the Congressional Library above; and Union regiments bivouac on the grounds. The noble attempt to create a space large enough to accommodate a growing nation, and worthy enough to celebrate a great national union, is happening at exactly the time this very union is being ripped asunder.


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1. Story Statement:

Sorenya of Faul’s Run must learn to take control of her own destiny and escape the dark forces that seek to claim her life, mastering new magic while adapting to an unwanted life as one of the scale-bound.

2. The Antagonist:

Kshiael has made a pact with his gods—a stranger’s life for the power to rule the kingdom of Merridell—but is thwarted when the scale-bound intervene, killing the one he seeks. Instead, he must find her daughter, Sorenya, who is now under their protection. Slowly, he comes to realise that everything in Merridell is not as it seems. Sinister plots take root around him even as he becomes less certain of his ability to trust his own perceptions. Grappling with failing health, twisting reality, and the looming threat of his own death, he must find a way to capture Sorenya, or lose everything he has worked for.

3. Breakout Titles:


Shadow Wing

4. Comps:

  • Anne McCaffrey, DragonRiders of Pern series

Why: This was my original inspiration. Both are YA fantasy fiction that focus on what life might be like with dragons; however, my novel challenges the trope that dragons/their riders are inherently good. Unlike McCaffrey, I also added a greater focus on magic/mages, and the relationship I felt would develop between dragons—who give their partners power—and those born with power.

  • Christopher Paolini: Eragon

Why: Both novels appeal to fantasy fans with a dragons, magic, and grand-scale battles. The settings are similar (high fantasy kingdoms ruled by monarchies), and both deal with coming-of-age stories.

  • Additionally: Rebecca Yarrow, Fourth Wing and the video game, DragonAge: Origins

5. Hook Line:

Two fates, intertwined: A young girl—torn from home by the scale-bound—must learn to take control and fight to escape what seems inevitable. Meanwhile, a faraway king struggles to uphold a dark bargain with his god and defend his throne as sinister plots unfold, all the while questioning his own sense of reality.

6. Primary Conflict: 

Ripped from her home by the scale-bound, Sorenya finds herself hunted by dark forces and struggling to escape the war that follows. Forced to flee her fallen keep before she’s ready, she must choose between her own safety and finding help for the only friends she has left. Lost and stranded after her escape, she meets a mysterious young warden named Piper—and the two unwittingly head directly towards danger, discovering a land ravaged by spreading darkness along the way.

  • Secondary Conflict:

Sorenya craves her freedom, but feels unable to contemplate it. Little by little, the people around her introduce her to the concept that she can make her own decisions.

  • Tertiary Conflict:

Kshiael struggles to protect his throne and find Sorenya. He slowly discovers a web of plots against him.

7. Settings:


  • •Setting: Frozen, inescapable darkness only accessibly by dragon’s back. Nothingness.


  • •Ruled by prominent houses of wealthy DragonKnights and mages who pay for their children’s lives
  • •Setting: An alternate “mirrored” plane of reality with light that never changes. It looks like the real world, but is not quite right.

Cilynorian Wilds (central Cilynor):

  • •Languages: Cylinorian
  • •Setting: Snowy, but not as bitter as the far north. Great planes of snow fens stretch to distant horizons. This is the heart of Cilynor

Cilynorian North:

  • •Languages: Orelian, Cilynorian
  • •Setting: Snowy and mountainous, sparsely populated with scattered, rural villages.

Cilynorian Southeast:

  • •Languages: Pyrrian, Wyrish, Cilynorian
  • •Setting: Alpine; redwood forests bordering cliffs that drop to a battered coast and angry seas. Rolling, green hills. Icy, babbling brooks. Mild weather—less harsh than the bitter north.

Cilynorian Southwest:

  • •Setting: Desert and the golden plains. Not explored, just briefly mentioned.

Cilynorian Southern Islands:

  • •Setting: Tropics. Not explored, just briefly mentioned.

Northern Vael:

  • •Languages: Vaelish, celestial
  • •Setting: The frozen north. Merridell—in the northern-most mountains—is the capital. Also includes the magical Scarlet Wood, the Under, and the Seam (mountains).

Southern Vael:

  • •Languages: Laiteca
  • •Setting: Desert, sand flats, and deep canyons.

Middle Kingdoms of Vael:

  • •Setting: Grass plains meeting with untamed forest and endless, lush farmland that is being overtaken by blight and darkness.

Act one of the novel primarily takes place in northern Cilynor across a range of cities—mainly the snowy north. The scale-bound live in the Ba'sanar, an alternate plan of reality where they train and spend their free time.

Act two of the novel takes place as the MC moves through Vael to the northernmost city of Merridell.

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Based on my experiences as a gay man in the USSR and post-Soviet Russia, the memoir covers the period from 1970 (at age 19) to 2017.  During this time I made 27 different trips (some for extended periods) to the country that was America's ideological foe and "other" throughout the Cold War and beyond. Drawing upon detailed journals from nearly every trip (as student, professor, researcher, tour guide, journalist), the memoir focuses on the relationships (romantic and otherwise) I formed with gay men living in a hostile homophobic environment, and their deep bonds of fellowship. But the main theme is my own story: my struggle to come to terms with my sexuality and how these experiences in Russia helped me to find my place in the world.



The antagonist is this story is not one person, but homophobia.  As a young gay man growing up in the 1950s and 1960s, I faced stubborn resistance against my homosexual desires from my family and surroundings in a small New England city. Later I travelled around the world, to escape this oppressive environment, but still brought these feelings with me wherever I went. My engagement with Russia began when I was a teenager and lasted for decades after that. Ironically, it was in Cold War Moscow that I experienced some of my warmest and most successful friendships with other gay men living an underground existence. Their camaraderie inspired me. When I returned to the USA, I brought these feelings with me. My experiences in Russia helped me better understand the nature of homophobia in different cultures. In many ways the main antagonist in this story was myself, fighting against my true sexual and emotional nature.





This is, I believe, my strongest title, which gives a sense of what the memoir is about and the environment.

2) other possible title:


3) other possible title:









 GAY BAR: WHY WE WENT OUT by Jeremy Atherton Lin




Struggling to accept his gay sexuality, an American professor finds unexpected validation and love in Cold War Moscow.



Primary conflict: The protagonist of the memoir is struggling against his gay identity, trapped in traditional ideas and family/social heterosexual conventions from his conservative religious upbringing.

Often he finds himself in social situations where homophobic remarks are made by acquittances, friends and co-workers, which provoke several anxiety and loneliness. Often this leads him to seek out dangerous anonymous sex.

Secondary conflict: Difficulties in remaining part of his family, and maintaining relationships with his brothers who are reluctant to accept his gay identity and align with  his parents' extremely negative reaction when he comes out to them, deepening his feelings of alienation and negative self-image, of worthlessness and "not being enough." Also conflicts in revealing his gay identity to co-workers at the university, unsure how they will react and whether it will negative impact his professional career and advancement. When she comes out to his mother, she tells him "well you can never have a career then."  His father writes him that "We cannot understand why you have chosen such a sordid lifestyle."  This happens at a time when he is also jilted by a boyfriend with whom he is passionately in love--worse, the boyfriend takes up with his best friend.

Third conflict: bonding with gay men he meets in Moscow's underground scene, finding they are welcoming and affectionate despite the severe and dangerous obstacles to homosexuality in Soviet society. Their need to lead double lives gives him empathy and more compassion about his own struggles when he returns home to USA.



The setting is Moscow and other locations in the USSR, from 1979 through the collapse of the USSR in early 1990s. Living for extended periods in Moscow and Leningrad, the protagonist/narrator dives deep into Russian/Soviet reality, learning the language and culture and music that sustains his friends in the very oppressive and spartan environment. He is in Moscow when Soviet troops invade Afghanistan in late 1979, and the USA pulls out of the Moscow Olympics, a low point in the Cold War. Later he is in Moscow during the amazing period of new freedoms during Glasnost in the late 1980s, when for the first time in Soviet history a gay liberation movement struggles to emerge. He meets with gay activists and visits gay discos and gay house parties, but sees how deeply engrained in the Russian mentality is hostility to homosexuality and fear of being different.

He travels on the Trans-Siberian railroad and meets a cast of foreigners and Russians some of whom cannot believe that he is an American.  

He begins a relationship with a married man, the husband of his close friend, and they spend an idyllic winter weekend at the man's dacha snowbound in the countryside outside Moscow.




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It's the summer of 1992. Popular and vibrant 20-year-old university student Rukmini Roy just had her heart broken. What she doesn't know yet, is that her best friend and all her other friends in her social circle are keeping a secret from her. The young man who broke her heart, Kash, has already started dating her best friend, Soloni. This coming-of-age story begins with how Rukmini overcomes betrayal by her friends. This tangled situation is only the beginning of her journey through young love, connection, and complicated friendships and eventually moving forward and understanding the hidden parts of people you don't expect. 


SECOND ASSIGNMENT: Antagonist or Antagonistic force 

Soloni is the first antagonist in Rukmini’s story. Soloni is her childhood best friend. She is not an obvious antagonist as she is introduced as a shy, insecure, awkward, and studious 11-year-old. Soloni idolizes Rukmini. For her part, Rukmini loves having a loyal protege in the form of a best friend, especially since she doesn’t get much attention at home from her immigrant parents and isn’t popular at school. As they grow up, Soloni begins to show flashes of an inner darkness brewing inside, due to a jealous spirit. Secretly, Soloni hates how perfect everyone thinks Rukmini is and even Solini’s mother is constantly speaking of her praises. Soloni quietly studies everything Rukmini does, says, and wears. Friends at university start to comment on how similar they are to each other. Then one day Soloni starts dating Rukmini’s ex-boyfriend right after he breaks her heart. Soloni then preys on the sympathies of their mutual friends, swearing them to secrecy about her new relationship. There will be other antagonists but this is the one that starts the story off during a painful and confusing chapter in Rukmini’s growth. 


THIRD ASSIGNMENT: Create a breakout title

The Chronicles of Rukmini

Rukmini Roy

The Loves that Led Me to You


FOURTH ASSIGNMENT: Two smart comparables

I found answering this question challenging as the authors below are widely admired. Reading these books were the direct inspirations for writing my book.

Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout: The main character is Olive but this collection of short stories takes the stories of other characters in her town and different key points in Olive’s life and has a self-contained story in each chapter. This is a closer look at the human condition. 

A Spool of Blue Thread by Anne Tyler: Tells the story of three generations in the Whitshank family. This has a similar feel to Olive Kitteridge in that each chapter is a different point in time in the Whitshank legacy and the study of how each personality in the family came to be the way they are.


Interpreter of Maladies by Jumpha Lahiri: This is a collection of short stories about the Bengali immigrant experience in the United States that describes the emotional journeys of characters seeking love and overcoming barriers in settling in a newly adopted homeland.

Anne of Green Gables by Lucy Maud Montgomery: Adventures of our favourite red-head by the iconic Canadian author.


FIFTH ASSIGNMENT: Hook line (logline) with conflict and core wound 

A young woman must contend with the betrayal of her childhood best friend who is now dating the man who broke her heart and she must also contend with all the friends who kept the secret of this betrayal. 



Inner Conflict:

Rukmini is struggling with just getting dumped by a guy she finally decided to give a chance to whom she normally wouldn’t date. She is nursing her broken heart and relying on her friend Soloni as a shoulder to cry on for support. Soloni has hinted that she is staying in touch with Rukmini’s ex-boyfriend because Rukmini has remained friends with Kash. There is no reason to stop Soloni from not having a friendship with her ex if they are remaining in each other’s lives. After the breakup, her ex, Kash reaches out to Soloni for a “friendship” and Rukmini feels it is for support and that he must be having a hard time with the break up as well but something feels off after a certain conversation with Soloni. She is troubled by this and doesn’t know where to place this sinking feeling. Soloni has always been a good loyal devoted friend. Rukmini asks Soloni, “Does he ever talk about me?” Soloni responds with “I’m sorry he never brought you up.” Rukmini is surprised and feels worried and is a bit turmoiled by her perception that they are getting closer. Is it friendship or could it be more? She knows Kash enough to know he seems interested in Soloni and Soloni doesn’t seem to be putting up any boundaries. They keep making plans to see each other under the guise of friendship. Soloni informs Rukmini that she enjoys her friendship with Kash because she is usually uncomfortable around men, especially given how they grew up in a conservative household. She tells Rukmini that she feels comfortable around Kash. It’s the early 90s and both young women were raised in an immigrant family so neither of them grew up dating in their teens. Rukmini desperately wishes to appear cool with the whole thing. She decides she must handle this breakup with maturity since Kash has made it clear he does not have feelings for her anymore. She silently struggles with this conflict in how she appears to the rest of the world while she is devastated by this breakup and not knowing if Kash is moving on with her best friend. Rukmini would like to appear emotionally mature and not let her insecurities get the best of her. For years, Soloni has jokingly and sometimes not so jokingly teased Rukmini about always wanting to be the center of attention telling her she has a big ego and needs to be humbled at times. She feels that Kash thought the same of her during their relationship. She does not want to be that person anymore. Rukmini wants to be seen as humble and down to earth by the people around her but doesn’t know how to be that person when she is hurting. She wants to be a better person and being a better person means being humble, without ego, more like Soloni. For most of her life, it was Soloni who was trying to be like Rukmini but now she finds herself wanting to be more like Soloni, quiet, and unassuming, the type of girl that Kash wants to be with because she imagines them eventually falling in love and getting married and living happily ever after. She confides in another friend that she is worried they are getting closer. That friend finally breaks the news to Rukmini that they are indeed in a relationship now and everyone has known about this for a while but no one wanted to break the news to Rukmini. The two of them even came out to social gatherings with their friends when Rukmini wasn’t around. She quickly rationalizes that this is for the best but she is angry at her friends for hiding this big secret and feels doubly betrayed.


Secondary Conflict:

While Rukmini is popular at her university and within her social circle, she didn’t grow up like this. Growing up she was never a stand-out at school and her parents didn’t pay much attention to her. Her mother was always more concerned with status and appearances and what their social standing was in the city’s thriving and growing Bengali community. Her mother was constantly comparing Rukmini to other girls in the community. Many of them were getting excellent grades but Rukmini was a solid C + student and this caused Rukmini much shame. She just assumed all her friends were smarter than her. Not only that, she had to deal with being one of the few brown kids at her school. At cultural gatherings when the Bengali community came together, her friends, discussed such things as who was on their way to receiving scholarships, who was lighter skinned, and who amongst them planned on a career in engineering or medicine. Rukmini struggled with the feeling that she disappointed her parents in all these categories. She was not light-skinned and she didn’t have a head for math or science, and the prospect of a future in engineering gave her a feeling of paralyzing boredom. She wanted romance and a life full of travel and adventure. Her father was an engineer and didn’t seem at all interested in anything Rukmini did but was mostly focused on her little brother who didn’t have a care in the world being the long-wanted son born to an Indian family. Her little brother was born when she was 10, Rukmini couldn’t help but feel that her parents finally welcomed the child they had been waiting for all their lives. He was doted upon by her parents and nobody mentioned anything about the shade of his skin. She felt constantly overlooked at home and school. She never really felt like she received any of her father’s attention or her mother's love so lived her life into her 20s constantly seeking what she saw as the ultimate validation in the form of the male gaze. She just wanted someone to notice her and tell her she was pretty. The only person who thought she was special was her friend Soloni who admired everything about Rukmini. As Rukmini experimented with makeup and styles, she likened herself as a mentor to a very eager Soloni, teaching her how to dress and display more confidence. While Rukmini struggled with her confidence at home, she felt self-assured around her Bengali community misfit of friends.


While she never had a boyfriend in high school, because no one showed any interest in her, by the time she started university in her hometown of Calgary it was a new beginning. It was the dawn of the 1990s and a whole new world had opened up for her. She started dressing better and had more friends in university, including her childhood family friends from the community that she had grown up with. Then finally she had a boyfriend. Kash was not the type of guy she normally dated because he was a bit of a loser, truth be told. It all began when he desperately wanted to cross the line of friendship and be her boyfriend, so she let him. Unfortunately for Rukmini, upon winning the prize of making her his girlfriend, he broke up with her after a few months saying he didn’t feel the way he thought he initially did. She was right all along; they were better off as friends. So what could Rukmini do but accept this after introducing him to all her closest friends? 


He seemed to take an interest in Soloni right away and that made Rukmini uneasy. Rukmini always had everything over Soloni. If she didn’t feel pretty enough, confident enough, she always secretly knew she was “better than” Soloni at least. She wasn’t insecure like Soloni. She was the pretty one, even though Soloni was the smart one. Now here is a guy who chose Soloni, over her and this is a hard pill to swallow.



The setting is in the early 1990s in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. There is a small-town feel to this mid-sized Canadian city. Some scenes take place in mostly suburban homes, community halls where South Asian cultural festivals are held, and then, when the characters are older, in nightclubs in the city’s downtown core. The city is not known for its diversity so many of the young people from different immigrant groups come together in social settings at the university, favorite local haunts, and their homes. The many young immigrant twenty-somethings who hadn’t gone away for university still lived at home and answered to their parents as most of the characters in this story are children of immigrants, twenty years after the mass immigration from South Asia in the 1970s took place in Canada. Given this era of Generation X, these children of immigrants had a more conservative upbringing than the current-day second and third-generation offspring of immigrants in North America. These characters often must deal with their parents' traumatic decisions rooted in survival mode and scarcity issues. For these characters, it often shows up as over-protective parenting all while having few financial resources and wanting to preserve one’s culture while settling in a new country.

One of the first scenes is set on a blistering cold winter’s night after the two friends, Soloni and Rukmini have come back from a night out of dancing. The winter cold is piercing but Rukmini is reassured by the comfort and warmth of her friendship with one of her oldest and dearest friends as they attempt to warm their limbs in the refuge of Soloni’s car. The heat from the car’s radiator provides some respite to her icy hands and feet in the blistering prairie winter. She has been left out in the cold (by way of getting dumped by Kash) but here is her friend making her feel better by taking her on a night out to let off some steam and bond like they did when they were younger. Rukmini, after getting tipsy at their favorite majestic nightclub, in a moment of vulnerability, confessed how much she was still hurting from her breakup with Kash and how much she still missed him. Soloni appears to be comforting her but she is also masking her deceit as a relationship (unbeknownst to Rukmini) has already begun between her and Kash.

They return to Soloni’s parent’s home and settle in on the pull-out couch in her homey suburban basement for an impromptu slumber party, much like they did years before as teenagers. Soloni now in the safety of her home dwelling is less guarded. She lets a few things slip. Here is where Rukmini picks up on a few clues that Soloni may be hiding something from her regarding the nature of her relationship with Kash. 

There are flashbacks to warmer Calgary summer days when life was full of promise and when Rukmini’s romance with Kash was just blossoming. The sky is crisp, endless, and blue, as Alberta is known as “Big Sky Country” so the possibilities were endless and hopeful as to where this new romance was to lead Rukmini. It began at the Calgary Stampede, an annual country exhibition and fair that has been enthusiastically celebrated in the city for generations. Kash wins a huge stuffed animal on the fairgrounds for Rukmini and she is charmed by him. This begins their romance.

Cultural events at community centers, halls, and old churches play a big part in the setting of this story. When there is a cultural festival, immigrant groups rent out these halls decorate them with their cultural ornaments, and gather together for food and prayer. While many cultural groups now in 2024 have dedicated temples and cultural clubhouses, at the time in the 90s many of these buildings and gathering locations were still being built after years of fundraising. Here families and participants dress up in their best cultural garb, bring potluck, feast, pray, and rejoice, and hold shows showcasing local talent in the community to entertain all who are invited. It’s something that’s looked forward to by all the Bengalis around the city from different neighborhoods eager to come together a few times a year for Navrathri Holi or Durga Puja.




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Part 1


1.     A mother dealing with the repercussions of her daughter’s mental illness is desperately trying to save her daughter from herself.


2.     Antagonist


Liz, 18 years old and away at college suddenly becomes mentally ill and must leave college in order to receive medical treatment. She is diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder. The doctors try to find the proper mixture of medication but nothing seems to be working. It is discovered that along with the prescribed medication she is taking, she is also taking illicit drugs. She must be hospitalized in order to manage her illness. But once she is released from the hospital, she stops taking her medication. Her mother desperately tries to help her but finds that because her daughter is an adult she4 has no authority over her medical treatment and has to fight with the mental health professionals to get her daughter the help she needs.  Liz spends the next 30 years in and out of hospitals and living on the streets in Southern California.  Her mother must raise the two children she has and battle with Liz and her husband over custody through the courts.


The children feeling angry that they are not able to live with their parents and must live with their grandmother (Liz’s mother) become re4bellious. The grandmother not only has to save her daughter but also, must find a way to save her grandchildren from drugs and crime.


3, Breakout Title

A.   The Rollercoaster of Mental Illness Through a Mother’s Lens: A Memoir

B.    Saving My Daughter from Mental Illness


4.     Comparables

A.   Finding Us: A Mother’s Memoir of Braving Mental Illness with Her Young Daughter by Kristen Rohan Rehkamp.

B.    Broken Brain Fortified Faith by Virginia Pillars.


      Both of thses books deal with the struggles of managing and coping with a daughter’s mental  



5.     Hook Line

       A mother. Examines her own part in her daughter’s mental illness while facing the

       challenges of dealing with the consequences of her daghter’s aactions over a 30 year period

       in and out of hospitals.


6.     Suzanne must fight her desire and need to be a good mother or accept that she has no power to change her daughter. She comes to the conclusion when her daughter refuses to get the mental help she needs after Suzanne begs her to get help for several hours. Her daughter instead escapes out the window of her home.



7.     The Setting

The story begins in. the 1970’s in a beautiful home in Malibu , California overlooking a panoramic view of the Pacific Ocean and concurrently in Miami Beach,  Florida at the University of Miami. The story continues for a 30 year span taking the reader to Santa Barbara, California, Boone, North Carolina, and a ranch in San Diego, California. The secondary setting occurs in numerous hospials and the streets of Southern California.




Part 3 The Beginning of The Rollercoaster of Mental Illness Through a Mother’s Lens: A Memoir


 It's three o’clock in the morning. I am fast asleep. Lying next to me is my husband of twenty-five years. The phone rings. Little do I know my life is about to change.  I answered the phone.

“Hello.” At the other end, I hear a jubilant, energetic voice.                                                            

 “Hey, mom. What’s happening?”

 “Liz, are you okay? It’s three in the morning.” I ask, both groggily and yet worried at the same time. 

“Whoa, I’m great. Just been out rollerblading down by the beach. How are you?” she boasts.

  “I was sleeping, is everything okay?” I ask again. “

Yeah, I just called to see how you’re doing.” 

 I decided to stay talking to her, instead of telling her I’m going back to bed, hoping that whatever is wrong, if something is wrong, she will eventually tell me.  “Is school going, okay? How are you getting along with the other kids?”

I dropped her off at the University of Miami in Coral Gables only two months before. This was her dream school and the only one she was willing to attend. It was the university that all the beautiful girls and football stars attended, she bragged.  She had applied for early admission and after being waitlisted for several months, she was finally accepted.  Liz had not done well on her SAT’s and her grades were just above average. Going to the University of Miami would prove to her she was one of the “it girls.”

I was nervous to send her far away but excited that she got into the school of her choice. I also thought it would be a great experience to be away from home. We lived in Malibu in a beautiful ranch style home overlooking the Pacific Ocean. I thought the atmosphere at the school and in Miami would not be that much different from where she grew up her whole life, and she would acclimate well.

Liz tells me, speaking a mile a minute, “Everything’s great. I’m going to get into a sorority and I’m getting A’s in my classes. Oh, oh and I got a job giving samples of cigarettes on Miami Beach. They only pick the beautiful girls for the job.  It’s kind of like modeling.”

“Liz, I don’t want you to be in a sorority your first semester or get a job for that matter, let alone that it is a job giving out cigarettes” I tell her, incredulously.

 “Yeah Mom, but it’s the kind of cigarettes you used to smoke, so I think it’s a sign.” She tries to convince me.  “Oh, did I tell you I’m going out with one of the football players? He’s Black.”

 As I start to speak, she tells me she has to go and abruptly hangs up the phone.

I look at the receiver, like what has just happened. Was that my daughter I was just talking to?  A quiet voice in my head tells me I should be concerned, but I quickly silence that voice and tell myself That was weird.

Dave, who has been listening to my end of the conversation, asks me, “What was that all about?” I quickly reassured him everything is okay, just a bizarre phone call from Liz at three in the morning. At this point, I wasn’t sure whether I should be concerned or was I just being overly paranoid. But a red flag went up in my mind.

“Can you believe she was out rollerblading at three in the morning?”  I ask.

He doesn’t answer me and falls back asleep immediately. I on the other hand am up the rest of the night going over our conversation trying to understand why she didn’t think it was inappropriate to call in the middle of the night just to say hi and I was worried about her getting a job selling cigarettes.  Little did I know this would be only the first of many conversations that would keep me up at night. And little did I know that my life was about to change forever, as was Liz’s.



Pitch Part 4


I was married for 27 years, living in Malibu, California with a son and a daughter living a relatively normal life. My children were fairly successful in school and their outside school activities. Both my children went to good colleges. Life seemed to be good and then all hell broke loose and my family life became a rollercoaster ride


Then my daughter, 18 years old and away at the University of Miami suddenly became mentally ill with Bipolar Disorder. My daughter must leave school and seek psychiatric treatment. She is given different mixtures of anti-psychotic drugs and go into a mental institution.


However, when she leaves the hospital she stops taking her medication and her hallucinations and psychosis returns. She engages in risky behavior by taking drugs and engaging prostitution. She lives on the street. She has two children which I must raise. I must do everything in my power to save her from herself and her mental illness.








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What if you could have everything you ever wanted? Would that make you happy? Would that be enough to make you feel fulfilled and living your purpose with passion? Let’s ask the little girl who had everything, shall we?
Once upon a time, in a faraway land there lived a little sprout of a girl. Some called her contrary, others said “that little girls sure got moxie” and yet others thought her too big for her little britches, one that needed to be knocked down a notch or two. Things were never easy for this little sprout of a girl, and she seemed to attract controversy no matter where she went, what she did, or even how she did it!

Why, I see everything…

The wise elders, well, they simply saw her as the one that marched to the beat of her own drum, that did things her own way. But on one thing, they all agreed. She had the most beautiful big green eyes, doe like, the kind that always saw straight through things, right to the very heart of a matter. Direct like, and on target: the kind that saw right through you and sized you up. The kind that made you uncomfortable to hold the gaze for very long, as if they knew everything about you; things you didn’t even yet comprehend about yourself. When asked what she saw, the little girl always responded in the same way: “What do I see?  Why I see everything!”

You can be anything you set your mind to… 

She went about matters in her own way, and flitted from here to there, never staying too long in one place. She was hugely talented in so many ways; she could draw, sing, dance, write, tell stories, imagine the most magnificent people, places and things into being! It seemed there was nothing this girl couldn’t do, and to all who knew her that everything she tried, she mastered effortlessly. She did well in almost every subject in school and was well liked and respected by teachers and classmates alike. Everyone said: “This little girl can grow up to be anything she likes, to have whatever she wants, whatever her heart desires!  She has so many natural gifts and talents.  She is so lucky, this little girl!”

However, you cannot be everything…

And then one day, she was asked exactly what she wanted to be when she grew up? A doctor, a lawyer, a musician, a painter or perhaps an engineer? Did she want to be an astronaut and fly to the moon, lay down mason bricks, or create beautiful storybooks? A kindly teacher took her aside one day, and told her:  “you must decide, my child – what you want.  What do you want to be?”  The little girl was almost speechless: “Why what do you mean I must decide? I want to do it all, why everything!  Why can’t I be everything that I want to be? The sky is the limit, you’ve said before I can be anything at all that I set my mind to, absolutely anything at all!  Why, oh why must I decide?”  The wise teacher then gently explained: “Yes, you can be anything at all my child, anything you set your mind to – indeed, however you cannot be everything.

The little girl with the big green eyes, ran far, far away as fast as she could. She cried and cried, the day she discovered that she couldn’t in fact be everything as she had believed her whole life until now. She could be anything, but not everything! This thought had never occurred to her before and felt so very limiting. This was so unfair! How would she ever decide upon the single thing she wished to be when she grew up? How would she know? What if she was wrong in what she selected, only to find out once it was too late to change? Oh misery! Her mind darted too and fro, so anxious and so worried she fell asleep exhausted and defeated.

And then, a very wise woman appeared…

And just as she was drifting into a deep sleep, a very wise woman appeared to her in a dream. Surrounded by light, with golden hair and sparkly eyes the wise woman asked: “What’s wrong dear one? The little girl amazed by the vision, in awe of the light surrounding the wise woman stuttered: “They, why they say I must choose. That I can be anything but cannot be everything.  Oh, what shall I do…. How shall I choose, whatever shall I be?”  The wise woman laughed and said: “Oh, but it is true! If you should try to be everything, you will grasp and grab and exhaust yourself attempting to put your energy everywhere at once, and you will find dear one in trying to have everything, that you will instead have nothing to show for your efforts.”

So here is what we shall do…
“You must ask yourself, way deep down inside, what is it that makes your heart sing, what is it that makes you happy, makes you smile in spite of yourself and just sets your soul on fire? Why, everything!” the little girl quickly responded. “Everything, really it does!!!!” Here, the wise woman handed her a pen and a beautiful hand tooled leather journal. “These, these are magic tools” the wise woman said, “When you hold these and close your eyes, and believe that you will receive the answer – why then the pen magically writes only one thing in your journal….. only one, you see the magic really comes from you!  So now, close your eyes….. and ask yourself who am I?  If an answer doesn’t come right away, just keep asking. And then what do I want?”


And so it was then …

And so it was, then, that the little girl learned the spirit of discernment. She closed her eyes that day and went deep inside to the very center of the stillness, the depths of her soul. And it was here that she so earnestly asked, so very fervently: “Please tell me, who I am, what I want, oh please?” At first her pleas were met with only silence. And then a very still very quiet voice, seemingly from nowhere whispered to her: “Go deeper still, the answers you seek are seeking you.” And it was through this process of self-inquiry, that the little girl who wanted everything, came to understand that she could indeed be anything. Her voice was her tool, and her choice was her power. It was through this process of self-inquiry that she learned the art of discernment, of listening carefully to the murmurs of her heart, and focusing the power of her intention. It was this combination, she knew now, that would be her saving grace. She now knew what she must do.

She awoke to a renewed sense of purpose…

She awoke to a new sense of purpose and passion that next morning. She had really known all along what she must do! The wise woman was gone, yet her magic pen and journal remained. She hurried to write down her new message of hope, and turning to the first page and discovered, like magic, the first entry had already been made. Her heart skipped a beat, as she recognized the words she had known all along:


What if you were to be handed a magic pen and beautiful leather-bound journal.

Imagine opening it…

What Does It Say?


Rebekah has been chosen to carry the ways of her people forward into the New World. The Old World will soon disappear; the ways of her people lost forever, unless she successfully navigates alone across the great unknown, the place of the In-Between World to reach the New World before it self-destructs of its own accord. Without the ways of her people, the New World will perish from the earth forever, the new ways unsustainable. From her earliest memory, she had been labeled the “Chosen One” designated and trained to complete this quest alone. She prays to the Great Creator, and from her prayer springs forth her path through the great unknown. She fears not the creatures of the forest, lakes, rivers, meadows, and mountains, they are her friends and helpers. She fears not her journey, she has studied and trained well, and she trusts the path will unfold, her destination becoming clear as the quest continues. Her mantra: Follow Your Heart, Speak Your Truth, Trust Your Intuition it had been written as such when she learned of her destiny. The elders and the wise ones have foretold that she will travel alone, there will be no others. And so it is, Rebekah embarks upon her journey, only to discover that which she does fear. There is another, like her, she learns along the way. In the forest woodland, she discovers the Others. It is a ragtag band comprised of a tall man, with wild hair, and skin the color of moss; a sort of fairy of the forest, a young child, and another, who she learns of as a shapeshifter, and also as her brother. They speak an unknown language, and together are able to communicate by developing a language all their own. She must struggle with the knowledge that the elders, and the wise ones were wrong, they were here, the Others. Either they were wrong, or they did not know, or they knew and kept this from her, the wise ones who set her upon this quest. For the first time, Rebekah knows fear, and begins to question the very premise of her journey. And suddenly she is pursued, by what she does not know, a heavy darkness follows her, gaining ground and coming closer every day. She must face her fears and find the courage and strength within herself to carry on this mission of her people. Will she succeed? Just as she finds renewed purpose, she is once again confronted by the shapeshifter, who she learns is not only her brother, but also her twin. The darkness and the light, two sides of the same coin. She must determine if he is friend or foe, time is running out, she must reach the New World. She is befriended by a creature of the forest, who tells her she can trust the forest fairy man, who she learns to be the teller of the truth, the only truth. He confirms that it is she, Rebekah, who indeed has been ordained the “Chosen One.” With this knowledge comes a warning, she must trust no one else, especially not her twin. For he is also on a quest, a quest of becoming, from the darkness he yearns to live, like Rebekah in the light. He has a prayer to the Great Creator; he recites every morning, he yearns for the light, yet darkness always finds him. She must choose who to trust, in the end she must rely only upon herself. The New World teetering upon the brink of destruction, the Old World set to disappear forever.  Rebekah's prayer:

Oh, Great Creator –
Please show me the way.  The path forward from here. How may I spread my love and compassion, as seeds sown deep within the fertile soil. My gift of speaking with the spirits, and the creatures with no voice to speak aloud, to heal. I carry this gift into the world, alone and searching. A careful container handed me by those that came before.  The wise ones. Show me how to use my gifts for good.  This sacred space I dedicate, now as keeper of the gifts of life. That I may create from the imagined forward to the words, symbols of meaning and purveyor of ideas, so rich, so clear the written word not enough. My art will then endure, pregnant with beauty, sweating beads of color, transformed as precious gems and crystals, sparkling, and shining upon the page. The canvas of my dreams, and so it is. Bring color and light to the seeds within my soul, the far reaches not even yet known to me. Lift my art upon your breast, bring forth your brilliance upon these pages, illuminate the yet unseen birthed within my heart of hearts, fed and nurtured with desire to be born, to exist, to express, to be. Tell me who I am, tell me what I want, and what I want to be, to serve, to live, to know the very essence of existence. With grateful heart, I pray.  I speak now aloud: The time has come to be fully me, through you, I pray, I AM.



In this story, Arturo or Bear Man is the antagonist. He is the long-lost twin brother to the Protagonist, Rebekah. They were separated from one another at birth. Arturo is everything that Rebekah is not, she represents all that is light, and he represents darkness. He was sent to wander in the In-Between world, and legend has it that he devours small children, and if he is able to devour enough small children it will turn his darkness into light, and he will then be allowed to enter the New World. He was banished from the Old World at birth, as soon as it became known that he was a shapeshifter, demonstrated to those that birthed him, and terrifying to those that would have raised him. Instead, he was banished, and forced to live alone, and survive in the great beyond of the In-Between World. He raised himself, and in so doing wanted nothing more than to be good, and decent and loved. His deviant nature precluded him from achieving his goal. He prayed to the Great Creator, to let him know the light, to establish him in the light of his true nature, as he knew he could be. However, his destiny was to the darkness, to destroy all that is light in the world, his mantle to bear. He would give anything to have his prayer answered. And then, the Chosen One came into the In-Between World, his only chance to redeem himself, through her: Rebekah.  Arturo's prayer:


JOURNEY DEEP WITHIN (An Odyssey into the World of In-Between)

JOURNEY OF A LIFETIME (One Girl’s Quest to Save the World)

THE JOURNEY (A story of Darkness, Becoming the Light)

FOURTH ASSIGNMENT: Developing Comparables

N. Scott Momaday, House Made of Dawn

N. Scott Momaday, The Ancient Child

M.J. Pettengill, The Crow’s Path

Dr. Clarissa Pinkola Estés, Mother Night: Myths, Stories and Teachings for Learning to See in the Dark.

FIFTH ASSIGNMENT: Hook Line (with Conflict & Core Wound)

A young gifted girl, the Chosen One, raised by grandparents, never knowing her own parents or family, must travel into the Great Beyond, and across the Great In-Between alone being stalked by unknown dark forces, to take the old ways of her people to the New World, in time to save it from certain destruction of it's own accord.  On this trek she meets her twin brother, a shapeshifter, who was banished to the Great In-Between, and is determined to find a way out of the darkness into the light of the New World even if this means betraying her. She must face the truth of her own origins, and triumph over the darkness to bring light to the New World.


SIXTH ASSIGNMENT: Secondary Conflict

FINAL ASSIGNMENT: Detailed Setting



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To avoid the shame of being ‘Talent-blind’, 51-year old Seja works her farm and raises the children in solitude, until her grown son is kidnapped and she leaves everything to rescue him. When she learns there’s a dark Talent behind the kidnapping who’s plotting world domination she must find a way to unblock her elemental Talent and work with an overbearing dragon to thwart the dark Talent’s plans.


Kasiran of Ryemin. Born in Arjenkaria, the eastern continent, to parents so poor they have not earned a surname. At age 6 he’s tested in the annual Sweep for Talents. Although he’s highly gifted in four elements, this is so rare the Tester stops looking after finding Earth Talent. Kasiran is taken from his family. His parents are paid a year’s wages and forced to sign a contract dis-owning him.

At the state academy he’s outwardly a good student. Required to specialize in one or two elements, he practices in secret, gradually falling into dark uses of Talent. At 14 he accidentally kills a classmate. The Head Teacher has him abducted from school and left in the wilderness. Taken from his family, betrayed by the school, he vows to never be controlled again. He believes four element Talent makes him invincible. He can take over the minds of his followers, and keeps slaves to draw life-force from, for healing himself after using dark Talent. In his late 20's he allies with extremists who believe Talents are entitled to rule, and others are lesser. They move to Riata, take over an abandoned fort at Ryemin, and begin taking steps to conquer the entire continent.

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

I'm still looking for other titles. These are the first few I've thought of.

The Fire that Reveals

Child of Earth & Fire

An Unwanted Dragon

FOURTH ASSIGNMENT: Develop two smart comparables for your novel.


Genre: Epic Fantasy with dragons and elemental magic

COMPARABLES *See second Reply post for update**

Eye of the World, Robert Jordan

I'm certainly not at the level of Robert Jordan, but his "magic" system is similar in that it uses inborn gifts that need mental focus to use, and these gifts can be difficult or impossible to use if the practitioner has an emotional difficulty.

Legend of Paksennarion series, Eliz. Moon

It’s been difficult, but perhaps not surprising, to find fantasy epics with middle-aged protagonists. Although I haven’t read these, I’ve listed them based on basic research. Each book has a protagonist with strong skills or gifts, living quiet lives, until they are unexpectedly thrust into a quest to save the world/their families.

The Shadow of What Was Lost, James Islington

The Last Ranger, J.D.L. Rosell

The Song of All, Bk 1, Tina LeCount Myers

FIFTH ASSIGNMENT: write your own hook line (logline).

A Talent-blind middle-aged woman searching for her kidnapped son must unblock her elemental Talent and work with an overbearing dragon to defeat a dark Talent plotting to enslave her world.

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

Inner Conflict of Protagonist: Seja T’Larenn, eldest daughter of her clan, is the “Dai”, or leader of the clan, responsible for the clan’s well-being, success, and their jointly-owned land. Raised by parents who valued self-control above displays of affection, and whose love was conditional on meeting their standards of behavior and achievement, Seja learned she was not worthy of love unless she could do everything for herself to a very high standard. In her mind, showing vulnerability and needing help invites rejection. 16 years ago her husband Teral left her, and she believes it was her fault he was unhappy. Her emotional journey is learning that she’s worthy of love, it’s alright to need others, be vulnerable, and accept help without feeling like a failure.

Scenario: While searching for her kidnapped son, she’s captured by a group of border raiders and discovers her long-lost husband is with them. He pretends not to know her, and she notices he is close to another woman in the group. This confirms her belief she isn’t worthy of love, but seeing it with her own eyes is devastating. Teral visits secretly one night, wanting to talk, but she expresses her pain as rage, pouring out so much vitriol he never gets a word in, and has to leave before others notice.

The next day she’s tortured by the group’s leader to find out what she knows. That night Teral’s female companion comes to clean and heal Seja’s wounds. Bound hand and foot, Seja must allow it, but is angry and silent. As she works on Seja’s wounds, the woman quietly tells Seja what happened to Teral, and how they’re unwillingly trapped in this group. Seja doesn’t respond and the woman leaves. But Seja considers what the woman said and begins to get the barest glimmer that it might not be all ‘her fault’. Maybe Teral’s discontent was partly due to his own dreams of what his life could be, and his failure to communicate with her.

A few nights later, when others are asleep, Teral and the woman come to the tent. They untie Seja, give her food and water, and together they sneak out of camp. They plan to help Seja escape, and they’ll escape in another direction. As they get away someone wakes up, notices Seja is gone, and the group comes after them. As they run Teral is wounded by an arrow. They find a cave to hide in. Teral insists Seja get away. She runs but is torn with many conflicting emotions, including gratitude, anger, fear, regret.

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

Secondary/Inner Conflict with Social Environment & Family: Seja was one of the strongest earth Talents in many generations and known throughout her region. Earth Talent gave her the ability to heal and to nurture the soil, plants and animals. It also helped her become highly skilled at spinning and weaving.

When her husband left 16 years ago without explanation, Seja suppressed her pain and rejection so completely she can no longer use her earth Talent. Losing her abilities is shattering. She feels worthless and blames herself, without understanding it’s a problem she could resolve by facing her inner pain.

Scenario: Seja is ‘Talent-blind’, and Nerreth society looks down on the Talent-blind. Elemental Talents allow the Talented person to draw the life-force of the planet and use it manipulate earth, water, fire or air, in various ways. Talents also help people produce crafts and other goods to a very high standard. Now Seja cannot heal others, and her craft-work is seen as low quality by her country’s standards. Plus, working the farm without earth Talent to assist is far more difficult.

Scenarios: At the beginning of the story the barn burns down. Seja and her son can’t put the fire out. It would’ve been easy if she still had Talent. Even more humbling, she can’t heal their wounds, so they’re healed by the village healer.

After her son leaves to start his apprenticeship Seja’s family is concerned she can’t take care of the farm alone. Her sister wants to move to the farm so her children can learn more about farming. Seja refuses because, as she sees it, she’s being treated as a decrepit old woman who can’t fend for herself.

Seja and her daughter Jyra don’t get along. Jyra blames her mother for her father’s desertion, and doesn’t understand why her mother hasn’t got over it yet. Jyra is ashamed that her mother, once a respected healer and farmer, is now Talent-blind.

FINAL ASSIGNMENT: sketch out your setting in detail.

I’ve done a lot of world-building, but I’ve tried to minimize geeky details that don’t affect the plot much.

Planet: The planet Tal’effa averages a little cooler than Earth. Natural laws are approximately the same, but the plants, animals and people are different than Earth’s in some ways. There are naturally-occurring dragons. There’s only one moon, and its shadows look like a dragon, just as shadows on Earth’s full moon look like a rabbit or a face. Dragons are significant in all cultures, though in different ways.

The action takes place in the northern hemisphere. Two large continents are separated by about one-third of the planet’s surface. There are relatively few people. They’ve invented things like water mills, ore refineries and metal working, sailing, pottery and glass, but there’s no large-scale industries. It’s only in the last 100 years that sailing vessels could reliably make the journey between continents. Most people live at a pre-industrial level of development.

Talent: Talent is genetic. Having an elemental Talent means the person can draw on the natural energy (life-force) of one, sometimes two, elements, Air, Water, Fire and Earth, to do things like affect the weather in a limited area, create a fire, move large amounts of earth, heal injuries, encourage plants to grow, etc. People have varying levels of Talent, just like any other inherited trait. About 5% of people are born highly Talented.

Cost of Talent: The effort of drawing on elemental energy to perform tasks uses bodily energy. Constant overuse, especially when young, can eventually result in weakened bones and muscles, affect brain or nervous system function, and reduce the body’s ability to fight germs and disease.

Dark Talent: Using Talent for dark purposes, like hurting or killing other living beings, causes negative effects on the user to a greater degree than simple overuse.

The Three Lands (western continent)

Nerreth: Main character’s country. Covers most of the western half of the continent, geography and climate similar to western Norway; generally cool, with snowy winters and mild summers. The coast is cliffs or narrow bands of sloping land. Rivers run from the central mountains into long glacier-carved sea inlets. People farm or graze livestock on the sloping ground along sea inlets, or in a few inland valleys.

Nerreth is socially and politically different than its neighbors. Inheritance and family lines are matrilineal. It elects leaders, there is no noble class, and it doesn’t keep a standing army. From birth, all Nerreth citizens learn to contribute to the common good as needed, for the benefit of all. All Nerrethans are artistic/creative to various extents. They believe if you’re going to make a thing, it should be well-made and beautiful, as well as useful.

These characteristics make Nerreth seem weak to other countries. Some story conflict is because the neighboring country, Riata, is plotting to take over Nerreth for its rich silver ore deposits, abundant water, timber and fish stocks, as well as its people who produce finely-crafted goods.

Talents in Nerreth: All Nerrethans with Talent are trained from childhood in mental focus techniques so they can use Talent and remain healthy. Nerreth is also the only country that requires an Oath to prevent Talented people from hurting others or themselves. The Oath brings immediate physical consequences for dark use of Talents.

Most people use Talent to augment their skills. Nerreth society has high expectations for the highly-Talented. There’s little social tolerance for low quality. The Talent-blind, or those with low Talent, must work harder to meet expectations, or find careers where Talent isn’t relevant.

Low Talented people like Seja’s son Giri, and her aunt Riann, have sour feelings about Nerrethan attitudes towards Talent. They did their training, but have decided life is easier if they pretend they have none at all.

Nerreth Scenes:

The T’Larenn family farm. Set on a northern sea inlet, where the River Larenn meets ocean water. The land and house are owned by the whole family, but it’s inhabited by the eldest daughter of the direct family line, currently the protagonist, Seja. It's a big responsibility, including livestock, grazing land, forest preserve, the house and outbuildings. It’s meant to be run by a family.

Multiple opening scenes happen on the farm. Family members visit for a holiday, or to see Seja. A barn catches fire and burns down because Seja and son Giri can’t put it out alone. Other family members begin to question whether Seja can continue managing alone, after her son leaves home.

The village of Jirrin is a 30-minute ride east from the farm. Possible scene showing Seja and her daughter Jyra disagreeing about whether Seja should look for Giri.

The Dragon Spines. High central mountain range on Nerreth’s eastern border with Riata. These form the continental divide. It’s a remote rugged area with just a few small villages.

Seja travels alone into the Dragon Spines to find her son. On her journey she gets caught in a large storm, takes shelter in a cave, is caught in a cave-in, meets a dragon, and is captured by Riatan border raiders.

Seja’s son Giri, a secondary POV character, travels to the Spines with Riann in a trade caravan. They escape a mud slide, and Giri is captured by border raiders.

Various dragon characters live in these mountains and reveal themselves to the main character during the story. The young dragon Falyrra, a secondary POV character, becomes Seja's travel companion.

Riata: Riata is east of the Dragon Spines. It’s the same latitudes as Nerreth, but extends further south. The rain shadow of the Dragon Spines make Riata generally drier.

Society and government are based on inheritance through the male line. There is a tradition of consensus and balance of power between the King and the Advisors, so no one gains a long-term advantage. But there’s always an unhappy minority wanting more power.

Riatans know of Talent but there are fewer Talented people than in Nerreth. Riata doesn’t require an Oath or training, so fewer survive to middle age.

Riata Scenes:

Riatan raiders prey on Nerrethan trade caravans passing through the mountains. 

Giri is captured by Riatan raiders in the Dragon Spine mountains.

Seja’s missing husband is trapped into working for Riatan raiders. If he tries to leave he’ll be killed.

Seja is captured by Riatan border raiders working for the antagonist. Teral helps her escape.

The antagonist uses these groups to put his followers on the border of Nerreth. There they look for highly-Talented people to enslave, as he works towards taking over the continent.

The antagonist, Kasiran, spends time in the capital, Reatha, a port city at the mouth of the Temyr River. He meets political officials and begins subverting the discontented minority of Riatan royal Advisors for his purposes.

Kasiran and his followers take over an abandoned fort, Ryemin, on the Temyr River. This is where Seja and the dragon find him. A number of battles are fought here before Kasiran is defeated.

Eras: Eras is mostly arid, with few known natural resources. Much of the country is ungoverned. It’s hard to settle border disputes because the ruler may not be acknowledged by all the tribes. The population is made up of indigenous groups that follow the weather and movement of herd animals for survival. The primary ones are Ayamel, Kiatren, and Xeralan. Elemental Talents are rare, seem to occur randomly, and Erasnans are suspicious of them. Because there’s no Oath or training, fewer Talented people survive to middle age.

Eras Scenes: So far there are none located in Eras. Seja’s aunt Riann leads the trade caravan Giri is kidnapped from. Riann has a long-time partnership with an Ayamel tribal group from Eras who serve as caravan guards.

Arjenkaria (eastern continent)

Generally warmer than the Three Lands. Two major mountain ranges run north to south, one on the west side, the other on the east side. The central plain averages 2-3,000 feet altitude. In the north it’s predominantly wet grassland, transitioning to drier biomes south of the capital, Abirkan. The main city in southern Arjenkaria is Tajor. The northern, ‘northran’ culture tends to dominate the country. Southern Arjenkaria tends to be drier, more rural, and people are poorer. There is some low-key social stigma attached to being ‘southran’.

“The Thirteen” are ancient noble families descended from highly-Talented war-lords who amassed feudal territories before the country’s political Consolidation 1,000 years ago. Below them are nobles, merchants, and the labor class. Noble families outside The Thirteen rose to power after the Consolidation.

Nobles are born with surnames. Everyone else must earn a surname. Surnames can be awarded by serving the monarch, or for notable military or government services. People who’ve acquired enough wealth and reputation can apply for a surname from the government, and hope it’s granted. Those in the labor class have little social mobility, unless they have a lot of Talent. All nobility treat anyone in the labor class as servants.

Government: The Monarch (m. or f.) must come from The Thirteen, and must have strong Talent. Monarch and Council of Nobles govern the country. The Monarch has veto power, but must also please the Council members or potentially face a coup. Coups are common, and can be deadly or just exile. Council then chooses the strongest Talent from the next generation of the Monarch’s clan as new Monarch, unless there’s a strong negative trait that rules them out. Refusal to become Monarch can also be hazardous.

Exclusionists: An extremist minority who believe the highly-Talented are inherently superior beings, and by natural right should rule over low-Talents. They have not been able to gain enough influence on the Council to enforce their beliefs through laws, so their political power waxes and wanes.

Talents: In Arjenkaria the frequency of highly-talented people is the same, around 5% of the population. Arjenkarians consider the highly-Talented to be blessed by their gods, and thus more worthy of respect. Talented children of all classes are required to attend an academy in the nearest large city. No vow is required. Talented can use their gifts for any purpose, as long as it’s discreet and doesn’t cause embarrassment or expense to the government. Frequent Dark use results in the user’s disease and death, reducing the Talented population.

Sweeps: The government conducts annual Sweeps to find highly talented children in the merchant and labor classes who’ve reached age six. The children are removed from their families for training and become wards of the monarchy. They must serve the monarchy for 10 years. The family is paid off.

Arjenkaria Scenes:

The antagonist, Kasiran, lives in Arjenkaria. His first scene is in Abirkan, when he’s “Swept” at age six.

There are multiple scenes at the talent academy, a fortified compound outside of Abirkan. Kasiran learns to use all four elemental Talents (very rare). He gradually falls into darker and darker uses of Talent. He accidentally kills a classmate.

The academy headmaster has him abducted and abandoned in the wilderness.

We next see Kasiran as an angry young adult living in Abirkan. He’s a very powerful Talent. Any remorse or kindness he might have had is gone. All he wants now is to control everyone around him, to use them as he wants. He begins gathering followers from the Exclusionists.

He decides to use the Exclusionists to further his ambitions. The Three Lands is a softer target, so he takes a ship to Riata.


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For some reason the forum will only let me change a few words here and there. So I've written a revised answer to the 4th Assignment - Comps.

COMPARABLES Revised Version.

Recent Titles:

It’s been difficult to find newer fantasy epics with middle-aged protagonists. I’ve listed the three below based on reading the samples and plot descriptions. Each has a protagonist with strong skills or gifts, living quiet lives until they’re unexpectedly thrust into a quest to save the world/their families.

The Shadow of What Was Lost, James Islington

The Last Ranger, J.D.L. Rosell

The Song of All, Bk 1, Tina LeCount Myers

Older Titles:

Eye of the World, series, Robert Jordan: While I'm not at the level of Robert Jordan, his "magic" system is similar in that it uses inborn gifts that need mental focus to use, and they can be difficult or impossible to use if the practitioner has an emotional difficulty.

I see the two series below as “aspirational” in their prose style and characterizations. I like the authors’ writing, the action moves at a good pace, and the characters are relatable (and past their 20's, with life experience to show for it). The world-building is detailed and feels “lived in”.

Legend of Paksennarion series, Elizabeth Moon: A protagonist unaware of the magic he’s inherited, until he finds his unknown family background. Protag and allies must protect their kingdoms from dark magic.

World of Five Gods series, Lois McMaster Bujold: Two of the three books in this trilogy have middle-aged protagonists who must use their wits and life experience to defeat dark-magic antagonists.

Meanwhile, the search for more recent comp titles goes on…

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"King of Pantsers"?


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