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Introduction to Pre-event Assignments 

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

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

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

Michael Neff

Algonkian Conference Director


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

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

att.jpg FIRST ASSIGNMENT: write your story statement. 



Antagonist (Photo Javert from "Les Misérables")

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

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

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


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



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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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



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

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


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


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

We have reviewed these and agree 110%.



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



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



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



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


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A history student named ALAN witnesses a gruesome death during a debate, and recognizes the symptoms are identical to an unsolved poisoning from the 1850’s. He researches the historical case, initially out of curiosity, but when his activities run him afoul of the police, he must continue the investigation to clear his name. The murderer recognizes Alan is getting too close for comfort and poisons him, leading to a frantic dash for the antidote and a subsequent sting operation to bring the villain to justice.



Alan is apprehended behind crime scene tape in the university library, reading a book about an identical murder. This is after giving a TV interview where he implies that he knows who is going to die during the debate. The lead detective treats Alan as a prime suspect, and the impending court case hangs over Alan like a cloud.

The murderer tries to steer Alan away from his research, and when that fails, plants false evidence that causes one of the other suspects to be arrested. When Alan figures out he’s been misled, he determines the actual murderer, but only after he’s drunk mugs of poisoned coffee. There is a dramatic confrontation between the two, before Alan escapes and is administered the antidote with minutes to spare. He plots an ingenious setup to tempt the villain out of hiding, leading to a final face-off at an airport where the murderer is trying to flee the country under a false identity.  


3.       TITLE

The Coldest Cold Case

History can be Deadly

The Poisoned Grail



The theme is a lead character performing historical research to unearth clues to a current-day crime. As such, comparable stories are:


The Ellie McClellan Genealogy Mysteries by Beth Farrar



An insecure history student trying to assist in a current day murder by researching an identical historical crime, stumbles from crisis to crisis as he is treated more like a suspect than a collaborator in the investigation.


Alan promises his mother he’ll cease his historical research as it could jeopardize his dissertation. However, when an aging attorney who gets Alan released from jail dies unexpectedly, Alan feels he must vindicate the man’s death by continuing his research. Since he lives at home, he is constantly deceiving his mother, knowing that eventually he’ll have to confess as he needs her financial assistance to hire a lawyer for his court case. This is exacerbated by Alan’s promise to his dying father that he’ll never be a burden.

A secondary conflict occurs when a professor is arrested based on Alan’s research, but Alan subsequently realizes the evidence was planted. Even worse, it looks like the person who did that was Alan’s supposed friend and partner in the investigation.


7.       SETTING

The action takes place in a venerable but fading Virginia University, where a visiting professor dies grotesquely during a high-profile debate with TV cameras rolling. Alan’s research takes him to the creepy innards of a holding cell after his arrest, a fascinating and highly-automated library, a staid pre-clinical research facility where an antidote is being developed, and an ancient stone barn full of molding artefacts and aggressive critters. The poison itself is eventually found in the wine cellar of an elegant estate, after Alan solves a confounding puzzle hidden in plain sight in a periodical from the 1870’s.  

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Assignment One:  Story Statement (what's the mission of the protagonists)


Thera, a tough, smart engineer, and Katya, a determined journalist, join forces to fight powerful special interests who are using misinformation and murder to cover up a sinister plan.  Poorly understood natural forces are driving environmental change on their planet, Elpida, Earth’s first successful colony beyond the solar system.  Thera and Katya learn that the plan exploits this change and will benefit a wealthy elite, but dooms the rest of the population to poverty and possible extinction.

One-sentence version:

Thera, a tough, smart engineer, and Katya, a determined journalist, uncover a sinister plan to exploit environmental changes on Elpida, Earth’s first successful colony beyond the solar system.

Assignment Two: The Antagonists

The antagonists are two generations of a wealthy, ruthless family.  The patriarch, Gustak, initiates a multi-generational plan to control access to water on the planet Elpida.  His scheme includes corruption of key government officials, misinformation through control of the media, discrediting of journalists and scientists who get too close to the story, and, if necessary, their disappearance.  Gustak’s son, Alfrix, is even more ruthless than his father.  He murders his first wife, and later his second, when he suspects they disapprove of the scheme and plan to reveal it to the authorities and the public.  Thera and Katya have to find a way to alert the public to the dangers of the scheme while avoiding the grisly fates of previous whistle-blowers.


Assignment Three:  Breakout Title

Second Colony

Justification:  The title has two meanings. The obvious one is that the planet (Elpida) is humanity’s second colony on a planet beyond Earth.  The first colony, Mars, failed due to that planet’s lack of water and limited atmospheric oxygen.  Elpida is initially a lush, water- and oxygen-rich planet, enabling the colonists to thrive for a few hundred years.  However, cyclical changes in the climate, initially not appreciated by the colonists or the mission planners on Earth, force the colonists to adapt and examine their planet more closely.  In doing so, they learn they are not the first civilization to colonize Elpida. That knowledge will help Thera and Katya in their struggle.


Assignment Four:  Genre and Comparables

Genre: Science Fiction (SF)

Sub-genre:  Hard SF (no magic, no time travel)

Comparables:  Aurora (Kim Stanley Robinson)

                                    Seven Eves (Neal Stevenson)

In both novels, environmental problems on Earth force some sort of space travel, either to near-Earth orbit (Seven Eves) or to a different star system (Aurora)


Assignment Five:  Log line

I struggled with this assignment, in part because I have two main characters, each with ‘core wounds’ that are not easily described in one sentence. One character has ignored her parent’s advice to be suspicious of government motives, later discovering her naivete has led her to inadvertently support a corrupt regime.  The other character lost a sister under violent circumstances and feels responsible for her death. Also, by focusing on these characters, I would not be able to describe the key plot element in one sentence.  Help!


Here is my first attempt (no core wounds, but it might hook some people):

What if humanity colonized a second planet, found environmental conditions changing for the worse, then discovered that an earlier civilization was driven to extinction by the same changes?


Assignment Six (inner conflicts of the two protagonists)

Thera: rejected her parents’ warning that their government was not to be trusted and made a career for herself in a key civil service position.  She realizes too late that she has been deceived. This is her core wound.  The main arc for this character throughout the novel is the gradual realization that she has been naïve in a number of ways and has to change many of her opinions and assumptions — about the government, her parents, and, towards the end of the novel, even about the nature of the planet she’s been living on.  

Example scene: Thera finds herself hiding from the police after a series of false accusations have been leveled against her.  She has to remain stock-still while standing in the shadows so as not to trigger the doppler sensor of a nearby surveillance drone.  Her thoughts go back to a violent argument with her parents, the last time they’d talked.  Her parents had tried to warn her about the nature of their government.  Harsh words were exchanged and Thera left the house, never to return.

Love interest: At the beginning of the novel, Thera holds a high visibility, high stress job.  She realizes she may never have a close relationship.  As the novel progresses and her career path is upended, this may change.

Example scene:  Early in the novel, Thera makes an appointment to visit the manager of an engineering company about a type of scientific data she needs for her job.  She is surprised that the owner/manager is quite young, her own age, and has an interesting backstory.  After she leaves, she finds herself thinking about him, dreaming up excuses to see him again, then realizing she might be sliding into a relationship she can’t have.

Katya: blames herself for the death of her sister, who disappeared under suspicious circumstances two years before the main events of the novel.  Katya has vowed to find out what happened to her sister and bring the guilty parties to justice.

Secondary conflict: As a result of a childhood accident (one where her sister helped rescue her) Katya has a fear of the outdoors.  Overcoming this fear will be a key plot point at a later stage in the novel.

Example scene. Near the end of the novel, in the final battle against the protagonists, Katya needs to traverse a large, empty section of desert to save a friend.  She is initially paralyzed by fear and must force herself to overcome her phobia for the sake of her friend.


Assignment Seven:  Settings

The novel takes place in three time frames. The main time frame and place is the planet Elpida (Greek for ‘hope’) roughly 800 years in the future. Elpida is a mostly desolate place, a dry, desert-like environment with little vegetation except in the polar regions. Most people live in a single underground city close to the equator, protected by a large wall to keep out the sand storms that rage during the day. Like most deserts on Earth, things cool off at night, and residents come to the surface to watch the stars and play their favorite game, futbol, similar to soccer, except for the rocket augments and robo-goalies.

At a later stage in the novel, the protagonists travel to the polar region, which has a more equitable climate, some vegetation, and deep caverns floored by standing water.  It is in one of these caverns that the protagonists discover something about their planet that will change their world view, and may allow them to finally destroy their antagonists.

The middle time frame is also on the planet Elpida, several hundred years earlier, when the colonists from Earth first arrive.  They choose to establish their colony in a lush green, water-rich setting near the equator, unaware that the climate will gradually change due to natural cycles and forcing the colonists to adapt.

The early time frame is set on Earth, about 200 years from now, as the mission to send colonists to Elpida is conceived.  The setting is kept deliberately vague, as we see the Earth of this time frame through the eyes of the protagonists – they have adapted to their conditions and don’t consider them extraordinary.  However, the narrative hints that the Earth of this time period is hot and crowded.  Forests and other wild greenspace have been replaced by monocultures of food crops, and there are huge wealth disparities.  While some people enjoy great luxury, the great majority have limited options, spending most of their free time immersed in a virtual reality world (the ‘vids’).


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Peace has ruled Kosmos for generations, which made the world blind and complacent. When a devastating attack rocks an international event for peace, Kosmos is titled on its axis. Sorin and Thalus, two royal children from rival kingdoms, escape the attack together, kicking off a harrowing and brutal journey as they travel north to safety. Lady Diana, Thalus's mother and a northern diplomat, embarks on a journey to the south to hold the rival kingdoms together and figure out who orchestrated the violence, putting her in as much danger as her son moving north.


MYRALYNN (full series antagonist): MyraLynn is a primary antagonist of the entire series. She is an anicent woman who uses long-forgotten and ancient blood magic (acquired by drinking the blood of newborns) to sustain herself and her powers. She is one of the behind the scenes orchestrators of the attack on Rubiton that kicks off the story, though this is only hinted at in her one POV chapter. The other protagonists are either unaware of her existence or her role in the greater conspiracy behind the story. In her encounter with Sorin and Thalus, she pretends to be a kind fortune teller and plants an intentional lie to confuse Sorin going forward -- she is behind a false prophecy that insists that Sorin will one day have to kill Thalus. She intentionally found Sorin to set the stage for her further manipulation in the world of Kosmos. MyraLynn is a violent and evil woman, who takes glee in witnessing the pain of the women she steals the newborns from, unnaturally speeding up the delivery process. Her blind devotion to her ancient religion guides her nonexistent morals. 

MORGANA (Sorin & Thalus antagonist): Morgana helps manage Diamondglen's night district, a dangerous compound where prostitution, illegal drug sale and distribution, and human trafficking occurs. Morgana displays psychopathic traits and has zero remorse for her role in selling children into slavery, though she warns Sorin that he should leave the compound after Thalus is kidnapped in an act of confusing kindness. Morgana requires zero justification for her actions -- she simply doesn't care about the violence she perpetuates. Morgana's actions push Sorin to save Thalus from the compound, solidifying their relationship and setting up a redemption arc for Sorin. Her actions put Thalus in grave danger and compel him to murder his captors, setting him down a path of internal darkness and hatred.

JOVEN (Diana antagonist): Joven is the ruthless and calculated leader of an aristocratic house seeking to destabilize the elven royal family so he can take power. Joven works behind the scenes during Diana's visit to convince the elves that Diana and her queen orchestrated the devastating attack that killed thousands in Rubiton. Ultimately, his plan succeeds and Diana is imprisoned, setting off a crash collision toward war. Joven is calculated, selfish and hateful, displaying no remorse for the terrible things he does. Though his actions backfire, and he is imprisoned alongside Diana. 


book title: Find Us in the Wind, A Spark to Start the Ashes

series title: Saints in the Sky, Saints of the Sky, Saviors in the Sky


Adult High Fantasy

Throne of Glass, Sarah J. Maas

The Expanse, James S.A. Corey


In the wake of a devastating and destabalizing attack, Sorin and Thalus -- two royal children from rival kingdoms -- embark on a dangerous journey north, exposing them to the violence and brutality hidden outside their castle walls as deep-seated resentments develop a fissure between them. 



CONFLICT: Sorin is driven by resentment and abandonment issues, as his mother has ignored him his entire life and left him in the care of his grandmother. During the attack, his grandmother is killed, and he winds up traveling with Thalus out of necessity -- despite his extreme dislike for him. His conflict revolves around reckoning his privileged, cynical and limited view of the world with the brutal realities of Kosmos. 

SCENE: Sorin and Thalus are arguing about their situation after being brought into safety by Morgana (their antagonist). Thalus insults Sorin and calls him out for his bigotry and arrogance, causing Sorin to viciously insult Thalus. This insult causes Thalus to leave him and eventually get kidnapped. This leads to a huge moment of remorse, which pushes Sorin to finally accept his constructed false reality is nothing more than a wall he put up to shield himself from his abandonment and self-image issues. 


CONFLICT: Thalus is driven by hope and a childlike innocence that helps convince him he can survive his brutal journey north. Thalus has been sheltered his entire life and is immature thanks to Diana's overprotection. His conflict revolves around trying to maintain his hope for the world while confronting brutal and violent realities and gaining his independence in the midst of it all. 

SCENE: While sitting on a boat after leaving a fishing village days after the terrorist attack in Rubiton, Thalus leans back and looks up to the sky, letting out a deep breath. He talks himself down from a moment of panic and tells Sorin that despite all of the terrors he's seen, he's convinced that there is still good in the world. 


CONFLICT: Diana's conflict revolves around her trying to reconcile her son's disappearance with carrying out her duties and a burgeoning love interest. Diana's diplomatic mission is interrupted by a feeling of guilt, where she feels sinful for doing anything but mourn and panic for her son, despite her innate ability to sense he's alive. This is furthered when she begins to fall in love with Prince Alistair, and she wrestles with guilt for finding joy in a time of great heartache and suffering. 

SCENE: Diana given into herself and makes love to Alistair, pushing aside her guilt in finding joy and deciding for just a moment, she deserves to feel something good.  


The mythical land of Kosmos is gigantic super continent that stretches thousands of miles and various climates. The continent is surrounded by large island chains populated by different peoples. The continent is separated into a great number of different kingdoms with the kingdoms in the far west commanding the most wealth. The far east of Kosmos is a desolate wasteland with no vegetation of inhabitants (known as "The Blacklands"), a leftover piece of destruction from an ancient conflict. The city of Rubiton is on the center western coast, and is co-ruled by "the witches" (citizens of the north, regardless of race/species) and "the elves" (southern citizens). The witches and the elves are the two most powerful societies in the world. The attack in Rubiton kicks off the conflict, and its central location makes the problem worse.

The setting is wonderful because it allows deep exploration of a broader world, essentially a sandbox of fantasy lore which is explored in this book, but leaves so much more room for exploration and world-building throughout the series. The largeness of the map projects a strong image of large scope helping the novel have an extremely high concept feel. 

Further, the world strays from traditional fantasy settings, incorporating some medieval tropes (from more than just european societies), while also having modern technology present in some areas. The far-western south is by far the most advanced and wealthy society in the world -- they have advanced medicine (vaccines, medications, etc.), skyscrapers in their capital, an advanced military and life extension technology that prolongs the aging process. The rest of the world is dirt poor in comparison, causing deep-seated resentments worldwide (which is part of the conflict between Sorin and Thalus). The north is much more traditionally medieval, with less access medicine and a great share of poor peasants.

The rest of the world (while not yet explored), borrows from ancient cultures from all over the world, from Asian, middle eastern, African, Native-American, European and pacific islanders. Different regions of the world have different "species" of people (mimicking race in our world). These people have different lifespans and some even possess minimal "magical" abilities, even though Kosmos in the present is mostly devoid of magic and the vast majority of people from all species can't use it. Political systems vary as well, from near totalitarian dictatorships to places of relatively open freedom of expression, though there are no democracies in Kosmos and almost all leadership is inheritied. The world is generally more open to women in power (though there are still patriarchal structures and gender politics, just more modern) and the world is more open to homosexuality than what is stereotyped as mediaval fantasy. 

The varying landscapes, economies, and wealth-levels of the different areas allow the series to explore different characters in very different circumstances. Through the varied setting, the most powerful and wealthy and the poorest and downtrodden will have POV chapters and important stories, fleshing out Kosmos from the bottom up. 

Climates vary as well, from pyramid covered deserts to glacier ridden tundras and green pastures. It is written to be serene and beautiful, particularly the parts of the kingdoms that border the long coastlines of Kosmos.

In shape, Kosmos looks like Australia if its size was multiplied five-fold, providing ample room for global exploration. 

(I have intention to design a complete and total map of the world in the event the book makes it to an agent!) 

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Kill someone she loves to prove herself worthy and return to her beloved incubi. 


Doctor Samuel, a sexually traumatized psychologist, takes pride in his academia and one day hopes to open his prestigious private practice. Meanwhile, he makes a living as a forensic psychologist for the court to support his baby-fevered wife. 

Until now, he has successfully suppressed his child-hood trauma and become a loving husband. But then he is assigned to Misty McCafferty’s case. Misty, only nineteen, violently killed her new husband and says her brain infection made her do it. Doctor Samuel must determine if she is guilty by insanity or just plain guilty. Misty sizes him up fast as a robot shrink, pretending to play doctor. 

Gradually, Misty confides in Doctor Samuel about her motives, which to him are delusional but explainable. His rational explanations irritate Misty and interfere with her supernatural beliefs and salvation. 

Doctor Samuel’s past emerges, causing him to develop symptoms like Misty’s and to act out in extreme sexual and violent ways. Desperate to hold onto his sanity, he clings to any logic presented to him and continues to force it on Misty, not to help her but himself. Finally, he accepts his madness and ditches his wife in hopes to be with Misty, his newfound obsession.


I Need a Lover to Kill

Devil Bug Girl

Cicada Eyes


Genre - Psychological Horror 

Ward D by Freida McFadden – Creepy mental institution like the one Misty is in.

The Only One Left by Riley Sager – Possible haunting/possible paranormal

One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest meets Netflix Paranormal  

Also, in some ways it reminds me of the Wizard of Oz, both Dorothy and Misty want to return to where they feel they belong with the help of a cast of characters. But the difference is Misty wants to return to the incubi and the characters who help her get there are psychopaths.  Both must kill to get to their destination: Dorothy, the witch she hates, and Misty, someone she loves.


An outcast goth girl traumatized by the world around her has a utopian one offered to her at an excruciating price. 


Internal Conflict - Misty, a lover of Edgar Allan Poe and The Sex Pistols, struggles to fit in and is ignored by her peers. To exasperate, her dark mood, she witnessed her sister’s rape and admittedly feels guilty for doing nothing to stop it. Subsequently, her sister kills herself and Misty finds her body. To cope, she gets lost in classic gothic literature, longing to go away to college where she can leave her problems behind and be with like-minded people.  

External Conflict - Finally, Misty’s last day of high school arrives. While walking home alone through the woods, she is swarmed by a brood of seven-teen-year cicadas. That night she has an erotic visitation by an incubus. Misty become addicted to their nightly seductions, but more importantly, feels a strong sense of belonging in their presence. Finally, Misty has someone (or something), as unusual as her to relate to. All of it is taken away, when the leader of the incubi tells her if she wants to continue to receive their offerings and eventually live with them in their tolerant world, she must kill someone she loves by proving herself worthy and extricating herself from her current existence. In the meantime, they leave her alone and sexually frustrated. Misty spirals into a world of sex addiction but can never get her fix. Desperate for relief, she kills her new husband, leaving her locked up in a mental institution for the criminally insane and waiting for the incubi to rescue her. 


The novel is set in Perkins Medical Hospital in 1989. The lobby glows with beams of light with its vaulted sky-lit vaulted ceiling, casting a glow over it. It looks like any typical hospital lobby for the physically sick, with its brown Berber couches and glass coffee tables decorated with everyday magazines like People and News Week. The outside looks structured and organized, with nicely trimmed box hedges aligning its brick façade. What doesn’t belong… that overgrown weeping willow. It sways beneath the sky like a Portuguese Man O War, whispering something is not as it seems. Finally, the barbed wire fence rising from its soil exposes the truth about this hospital, one of the few hospitals in the country and the only hospital in Virginia that houses the dangerously insane.  

Beyond the lobby is a dank visitation room, where most of the doctor’s evaluations of his insane patient are performed. It has little airflow, with only one cutout window sealed with worn-out weather stripping. Even the radiator has a Needs Repair sign taped to it. The stench of bodily fluids, like urine and drool, fills the airway of anyone who sits there. There is one metal table, a metal chair for the patient (Misty), and a swivel chair for the doctor assigned to her case (Doctor Samuel). Doctor Samuel mistakenly allows Misty to sit in the swivel chair, which Misty loves to spin around in, messing with the tension in the room. A stack of puzzles in the corner provides the only color in this room and the only sign of anything pleasant. 

The dining room is damp and has rows of tables with benches attached. Guards stand watch at each corner of the room. It, too, has limited airflow and smells of mushy, tasteless food that can be eaten with the only utensil allowed: a spoon. Misty’s favorite table is on the end and against the wall underneath a window. In the morning, she waits for a beam of dusty sun to come through, blocking the view of two gawking male patients who can’t take their eyes off her. There is a large pantry full of canned goods in the corner, where the skinny bald guard likes to stand, hoping to lure an attractive patient in for a quick blow job. 

The dayroom wreaks of bodily fluids from stained couches by those who have not had enough meds to suppress their libidos. There is a table with a chess board, but no one plays properly. They just study the pieces, pretending they are little kingdom people. There are toys on the shelves with puzzles, books, and one baby doll that one of the female patients adopts. She hides it under her shirt until it is born, then nurses it in one of the rocking chairs.

Outside is an adult playground enclosed by a bobbed-wire fence. It has wooden splintery benches and plastic bins filled with red rubber balls like in elementary school. Misty constantly dodges them for fear of getting hit in her infected head. In the distance, you can see the tops of cars going by, but Misty avoids looking that far as it reminds her of people who have lives and are going places.  

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Assignment #1: Story Statement

Free her soulmate from a fake reality, even if she loses him, but at all costs save magic.

Assignment #2: Antagonist Sketch

Spell Eaters steal magic. They are feared and misunderstood, but are one half of a natural balance. The other half, their foes, are Time Spinners, who protect magic thru time travel. To Spell Eaters, Time Spinners are Time Sinners, as they manipulate time in dangerous ways. Spell Eaters believe they protect magic by stopping it from becoming too strong or concentrated, whether individual or group. Powerfully concentrated magic calls to Spell Eaters. They find it, they eat it and then expel the magic into the Void. It’s their code, as too much magic held for too long corrupts. But some buckle. Alderic is one. He walked that thin line, until he couldn’t. Now, he only wants to eat more magic until he has it all. All inside him. And he’ll stop anything that stands in his way… which is only one, overconfident Time Spinner who has no idea he holds enough magic to consume her powers, too. Once Alderic eats Time Spinner magic, all magic will be his.

Assignment #3: Breakout Title

Time Spinner

Never in Time

Series title: Spellbound Library series

Assignment #4: Genre/Comparables

I had a hard time finding comparables, and feel I might be reaching too high. It’s harder to find up and coming authors. UPDATE: "Bourne Identity" but instead of espionage, it's magic. But feel this is a very dated comparable.

Genre: Contemporary Fantasy (time travel, mythical elements, romance) 

“The Wizard’s Butler” by Nathan Lowell, which is based in a contemporary world, and the play between contemporary and magical feels comparable.

“Cinder” by Marissa Meyer, due to the level of adventure and romance, even though my story does not have fairy tale elements. It's also dialogue heavy, as mine is, with a lot of character banter.

Assignment #5: Logline/Hook

A Time Spinner traps her mortal enemy—a Spell Eater—in a time bubble, but it wipes their memories and throws them into fake lives in different time periods. Whoever remembers first will either save or destroy magic.


A young idealist controls time with no memory of how—or that she’s losing an ancient battle with a Spell Eater trying to destroy all magic.

LOGLINE UPDATE #2, based on Publisher's Marketplace examples:

Suffering from memory loss, a young Time Spinner is losing a battle she doesn’t remember—and wielding magic she doesn’t understand, but so is her rival—a Spell Eater. The first to remember will either destroy or save magic—along with a love that spans a century.

Assignment #6: Conflict - UPDATED

Primary conflict: Can magic be saved? Should it? Magic starts out as a given birthright in this story, but becomes questioned. Is it a disease?

Social conflict: Can anyone be trusted when nothing is as it seems? All magicals are harboring secrets, and they all spark conflict as they stand in the way of MC's goal, and sub-goals. Especially when MC's goal shifts and she sees she's been fighting the wrong battle. Her course change creates conflict where none ever existed.

Inner Conflict: (all related to trust/loyalty)

  1. Evangeline is a loner and it causes her to have trust issues, all due to her calling as a Time Spinner. However, the trust issues shift when she realizes something is wrong with the Time Spinner/Spell Eater balance, and her side might be wrong. So, when she loses her memory, the trust issues shift (going inward) and she is left with a core wound of not knowing if she’s good or evil.
  2. The antagonist, Spell-Eater Alderic is going against his own Code, having been corrupted by too much magic, so he’s lost his loyalty to the Code and it’s a wound that bothers him. He’s trying to find a new code but nothing works, which makes him more ruthless.
  3. Love Interest/Stakes Character Samuel has the positive side of him ripped away from the angry side, so whichever version is present its wound is either too optimistic or too pessimistic. When the sides are once again joined, he doesn’t know who he is anymore and it creates a wound that makes he untrustworthy.
  4. The secondary characters explore the loyalty side of trust. Danna is a witch that turns against her coven, because they take a stand against Evangeline. Kenji is an apprentice/helper to Evangeline (although she doesn’t remember him) and his loyalty is tested, because she’s forgotten so much, can he still follow her lead?

Assignment #7: Settings

The Setting starts small in an old Carnegie Library in 2024, but as the magical world begins to peek around every dark corner, the library is shown as an epicenter of magic, setting this up for the whole series. What seems like an innocent location shifts in multiple ways over the course of the story. The libraries are the power behind MC’s Time Spinner magic. The Carnegie library is shown as a link between the physical world, time travel and the Void/Veil. The magic builds within its walls, almost like a Tardis, as MC learns who she is. (She enters the story not knowing she’s lost her memory.) The library books “talk” to her, plus the library grounds her time travel ability. She travels back & forth between 1910 when the library was built to 2024 when she’s renovating it. Both time periods play off of each other in fun and mysterious ways, with allies and antagonists on either end. The library is also her home. It’s the first library in the planned book series, but for the climax of the first story, a second library is introduced that shows the scope of the libraries. As MC gains more control of her powers, she’ll be able to go to a famous library in Herculaneum, Italy. She must go their to retrieve an ancient magic scroll, and it becomes the setting for the climax. The antagonist follows her there just before the library is destroyed by Mount Vesuvius in 79AD. The devastating eruption is part of the battle at the story’s climax.

Other settings are Limbo, the Void/Veil separating the physical world from what's beyond, the coven's hidden cavern with Oxford school vibes, and several locations in the Carnegie Library's fictional town of Baxter Creek, a coastal California town. The town is part of the fake reality MC creates, and is her picture-perfect town. It will also be seen after that reality is gone, and subsequent library locations will be historical ones, that once actually existed.

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FIRST ASSIGNMENT: Story statement

After her mother dies, twelve-year-old Ursula must make a home for herself with the grandparents who unwittingly colluded with the Catholic Church in shielding the priest who fathered her and rebuild a family devastated by betrayal and guilt.


Michael Jaworski thinks he knows himself. A former Jesuit priest, he uses theology and years of therapy to examine his past, and yet he has never recognized what lurks within him. He has accepted his therapist’s counsel that his relationship with Mary Frances (Ursula’s mother) was human intimacy, but in his heart he still clings to the belief that they shared a profound, even sublime, connection.

When he learns of Mary Frances’ death, he is torn between claiming his daughter and continuing to protect the reputation of the Catholic Church, for although he has left the priesthood, he remains convinced that his purpose in life is to serve God—but what, exactly, does God want from him? Spurred on by his fiancée, he becomes increasingly convinced that the answer to that question lies in Ursula. In his pursuit of child custody, he learns about Mary Frances’ life as a single mother and is appalled by many of her choices, including changing her name to Marilyn Adams. His conception of Mary Frances as a spiritual being is dashed; she is now an evil seductress named Marilyn. Only a confrontation with Ursula herself can make him finally see what really happened and who he truly is.

THIRD ASSIGNMENT: Title suggestions

Ursula Adams

After Marilyn

The Fierce Girl


Genre—literary fiction/upmarket book club fiction

1)     Foster by Claire Keegan (2022).  

(Similar theme—a girl sent to live with relatives by her inadequate parents learns love and loyalty and helps to heal the wounds of the past.)

2) Demon Copperhead by Barbara Kingsolver (2022)

(Similar theme, elements of humor--a child of single mother relies on his intelligence and sense of humor to navigate through circumstances beyond his control)


Twelve-year-old Ursula wants nothing to do with her father, a Catholic priest who raped her mother, and she’s not too sure about her mother’s family, who never believed him guilty. But when her mother dies and her father leaves the priesthood and seeks custody, the family is forced to face the truth, and Ursula must decide where her loyalty lies.

SIXTH ASSIGNMENT: Inner and Secondary Conflicts

Inner conflict:

When Ursula’s father inserts himself into her life, she is terrified…and intrigued, flattered and, in a way, validated, because the father who has denied her existence suddenly wants to claim her. A small part of her is gratified by his attention, despite everything she knows about him. She feels guilty for her reaction not only because she knows she should not welcome his attention, but also because it is a betrayal of her mother.

Scene in which this plays out:

(This conflict plays out multiple times in the course of the novel. The scene sketched below is actually in the novel; I was uncertain about the “hypothetical” requirement.)

Ursula desperately wants her maternal grandparents to win the custody suit; she fears her father and knows that he conceals a violent streak. When the judge decides that her grandparents will be  legal and custodial guardians, and her father will have supervised visitation rights, Ursula is relieved, but she watches her father for his reaction. She can’t read him, and that bothers her. How he feels about her is desperately important, but she wishes it wasn’t.

Secondary conflict involving social environment:

Ursula’s secondary conflict is with the Catholic church and its role in her family.

Ursula has to decide whether or not to accept the sacrament of confirmation. She had intended to be confirmed to please her devout grandparents even though she doesn’t believe in God. But after her father asserts his paternity, her grandparents’ confidence in the church is shaken. Complicating the matter is the Catholic tradition of having the bishop perform the confirmation—the same bishop who failed them when they turned to him for help. In their ambivalence, her grandparents tell Ursula that confirmation is no longer a “given” but a decision that Ursula must make on her own. Ursula’s main concern is still to please her grandparents, but now she is unsure which choice is the right one.

Scene in which this plays out:

(Again, this is actually a scene in the novel; in fact; it’s the conclusion.)

After one of her aunts confesses that she doesn’t believe in Catholic doctrine but still firmly identifies as Catholic, Ursula considers that Catholicism is more than a religion, it’s an institution that binds her family together almost as much as genetics. She decides that, for her, confirmation is not about joining the church but accepting the full mantle of family membership. She sees it as a rite that encompasses the elements of family that go beyond the legal definition covered by adoption. However, although she is happy to  accept her Catholic identity, she cannot accept the church’s authority. So, at the moment in the ritual when the bishop shakes her hand and says, “Peace be with you,” she responds not with, “And also with you,” but, “Back at ya, Jack.” Then, to make sure he gets the point, she gives him a big, slow wink before turning, victorious, to her family.


The setting is a working-class, Catholic community in southeastern Connecticut, and the time period in which the action takes place—the late 1950s to the early 1970s—is especially critical.

Ursula’s mother, then called Mary Frances, is a sheltered, 14-year-old Catholic schoolgirl when the principal of her school, a Catholic priest, begins grooming her for a sexual relationship in 1956. When she becomes pregnant and gives birth in 1959, the unquestioned authority of the Catholic church and the societal tendency to blame the victims of rape combine to shield the priest and cast shame on Mary Frances. She is sent to a home for wayward girls where she is renamed Marilyn (giving the residents of these institutions an assumed name was common practice at the time) and subjected to intense pressure to give the baby up for adoption, another common practice. In this case the pressure is intensified as the bishop would like to have the “evidence” safely hidden, but newly-minted Marilyn does not succumb. Ursula is born into and grows up in an atmosphere where shame, secrecy and defiance all coexist.

Marilyn dies in 1971 and Ursula is placed with her maternal grandparents by the foster care system. Her sudden reappearance forces the family to look at decisions made in the 1950s in the glare of post-1960s, post-Vatican II liberalism. They feel their own justifications wearing thin, but they are still unwilling to believe that a priest fathered Ursula until he actually claims paternity and sues for custody. Now they must do battle. More liberal attitudes toward divorce means that more fathers are being granted custody of their children, but it is a still decades before victims of sexual assault will be treated with respect, or it is possible to imagine accusing a Catholic priest of rape. .

The novel is a deep dive into the not-so-distant past, when Roe vs. Wade, #metoo and the Spotlight investigation didn’t inform the zeitgeist. It’s also a painful reminder of how women’s lives have been—and continue to be—shaped, and sometimes warped, by attitudes toward sex. Although some women are crushed, more find ways to persist and thrive.




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Title: Biography of the Sea
historical fiction with dual timeline 93k words


Story Summary A tale of love's endurance and redemption against the backdrop of an island community in Maine. In the summer of 1962, Galene MacGregor's dreams of going to college to study the sea collide with her responsibility to her father, a retired lobsterman who is going blind. She takes a job as the maid to summer resident and famous author Rachel Carson, who’s working on the final edits of her seminal work, Silent Spring. Inspired by Carson’s struggles in both her personal and professional life, Galene is determined to make it off the island and into college. Unfortunately, a summer fling with James, an outsider from Boston, sabotages her plans. When he entangles her in his family’s dark secrets, she makes a heart-wrenching choice to betray him. An unplanned pregnancy forces her to settle into a marriage of convenience with a high school boyfriend. In the late-1980s, she returns to the island as a respected scientist, and runs into James, forcing her to come terms with her past decisions.



Antagonist Plot Points: Ironically, the vast sea surrounding Galene creates a sense of isolation, claustrophobia, and a feeling of entrapment. When she meets a guy ‘from away’, James, she envisions a life in Boston, escape from her family commitments, and her cloistered life. What she doesn’t see is that the dark secrets James family harbors and his sexual allure will entrap her as well. At first James is friendly with Galene out of curiosity, but when she witnesses James's mother driving drunk, creating an accident, his motivations change. He’s told by his father to court Galene, get her on their side, so she won’t testify in a costly civil lawsuit against his mother for a hit and run. As their relationship intensifies, it’s not apparent keeping Galene quiet is James' primary motivation. It only becomes clear when Galene calls the police, to stop James’ mother from driving inebriated with James’ brother in the car. James' mother is arrested and he turns on Galene. They reunite in Boston. He intercepts her on the way to a deposition against his mother. They have sex, and Galene discovers he has a serious girlfriend. A few weeks go by and she discovers she’s pregnant. She never tells James until twenty-five years later when they see each other at a memorial event for Rachel Carson.



Comp titles:

The Guest Book—Sarah Blake (Maine setting, family saga)

The Stars Are Fire—Anita Shreve (Maine setting female protagonist, family saga)

CODA the movie—(coming of age, rural community, struggling fishing community, family saga)


I understand these are best sellers but in terms of the topic and genre it fits.

Lessons in Chemistry (historical women’s fiction and women in science) Bonnie Garmus

Where The Crawdads Sing (coming of age, historical women’s fiction, women in science, family saga)—Delia Owens



Logline: Logline: In 1962, seventeen-year-old Galene Macgregor, works for the author Rachel Carson, a summer resident in Southport, Maine. Rachel inspires Galene to become a marine scientist. Caretaking for her ailing father, a retired lobsterman, and a summer fling that turns sinister, derails her ambitions. Modeling Rachel’s own struggles to succeed, Galene is determined to reach her goals no matter the odds.



Other Matters of Conflict:

Set in the summer of 1962 with a dual timeline in the late-1980s on a small island in Maine, The Biography of the Sea is the story of Galene MacGregor, the daughter of a lobsterman who has ambitions to escape her small town and go to college, but is thwarted by family responsibilities.

Her father is going blind and her brother, Sam, tries to keep the family financially stable but is flailing in the lobster business. To help with finances, Sam recruits Galene to be his sternman on the lobster boat. A job she hates. Galene’s best friend, Sasha, who has a crush on Sam, proposes a job switch. Galene becomes the maid for famous author Rachel Carson, who summers on the island while Sasha works with Sam. A tumultuous relationship develops between Sasha and Sam, with Galene in the middle.

Galene meets a boy named James from Boston who is summering on the island with his family. To impress him, she lies about her role as Carson’s maid, telling him instead she’s doing research for Carson. She grapples with this lie while introducing him to the wonders of the sea, mimicking Carson’s explorations so vividly described in her book The Edge of the Sea. Galene’s pretense continues as she falls for James. But he has his own secrets to hide. His mother is an alcoholic who a year earlier, at their summer home on Cape Cod, ran over a little girl, crippling her. James’ family escaped to Maine to avoid public scrutiny and a lawsuit.


While working for Rachel Carson, Galene is privy to aspects of Rachel’s personal life that Carson keeps private: her deep affection for her friend Dorothy Freeman, a married neighbor, and her struggle to fight cancer. When Carson's work, Silent Spring, sparks a national controversy, Galene shields her from a nosy reporter who comes to the island seeking to interview Rachel over what he calls, ‘the chaos’ she’s created. Galene's life takes a dramatic turn when she witnesses a car accident involving James' mother, prompting a Boston lawyer to contact her for her testimony. Galene and James become romantically involved and she gets pregnant, putting her in an untenable position: testify against James' family or protect their secrets. Galene discovers James has another girlfriend, and was using her to stay quiet about his mother’s accident. Faced with a choice, Galene testifies against James’ family and they lose a lot of money in a lawsuit. She marries a local boy, Henry, a high school sweetheart; letting him think it’s his baby. As a wedding gift, Henry’s father buys James’ family home at foreclosure.


Then tragedy strikes. She loses her father and husband in a car accident. Her brother has married Sasha and their lobster business is thriving. She has no future or purpose on the island. Overcome with grief, she leaves the island with her baby to fulfill her dreams of going to college.


Years later, now a renowned marine scientist, Galene returns to her hometown for a memorial on the twenty-fifth anniversary of Rachel Carson's death. At the end of her speech, James, who she hasn’t seen since he got her pregnant, steps up to talk to her. He’s an owner of a real estate company and plans to buy back his family’s summer house. Galene goes to his office in Boston, confronting him. She tells him the truth about their daughter, telling him he’d be taking away his daughter’s inheritance if he buys the house in foreclosure. Childless himself, he relents, giving Galene the money she needs to keep the house. He tells her he wouldn’t be able to develop the property anyway, there’s a protected gull colony on the rocky shore nearby. He then requests Galene reveal the truth to their daughter when the time is right. In a poignant moment, Galene and James return to one of their old haunts, arm in arm, reflecting on the complexities of their shared past. The story beautifully weaves together themes of love, betrayal, and redemption, capturing the essence of an era and the enduring power of the sea.



Setting: Southport, Maine, is a small island community. The economy subsists on the lobstering families and tourism. Set in 1962, rapid technological changes and industrial fishing at scale, are collapsing the Cod fishery. Families on the island become more reliant on lobstering and without the resources to upgrade equipment, they struggle to make ends meet. Southport is also a tight-knit community. Generations of families have made Southport their primary home. A few leave to find economic opportunity elsewhere, but the majority are loyal to their community. A young woman growing up in the 1960s with an ambition to attend college would face numerous obstacles, including financial, family obligations, and prejudice about her role in society as caretaker. Galene and her best friend Sasha struggle to find agency in this male dominated community, and are eventually successful. Getting around in this coastal community is quicker by boat. This method of transportation has risks, including the fact that there are major fog events called ‘vapors’ by the fishermen. Galene and her friend Sasha frequently assist on their family’s lobster boats. There are numerous scenes set at sea as they take part in the lobster business. Rachel Carson’s trilogy on the sea enchants Galene. As she matures, she observes the creatures and plant species that surround her, creating a sense of wonder and awe.



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1. Story Statement.
Estranged half sisters Isla and Hecate must overcome the generational forces of social violence and private addiction that have long plagued their family in order to find their way back to one another. 

The novel is told in two (potentially interchangeable) parts. In Drink, Hecate narrates the events leading up to Isla’s sexual assault at the hands of Plum, an old college friend. Plum is later found dead and Isla is initially arrested for his murder. In the second part, Fast, Plum’s death has been ruled a suicide but the story has gone viral. Isla isolates herself from society as she delves into family secrets and attempts to confront the violent consequences of her story’s publicity. 

2. Antagonist. 
The Plum has been in love with Isla since they studied abroad together in St. Petersburg, Russia. Insecurities about his appearance and social skills have consumed him to the point where the insecurities have transformed into an aggrieved anger. More pitiable than cruel, there is a weakness at Plum's core that renders him incapable of taking responsibility for any of his struggles. When Isla asks him for help escaping a dangerous marriage, he sees this as his opportunity to get the love he feels he deserves. When his advances are rebuffed, he assaults Isla. A year later, after Isla’s story goes viral, the same forces that motivated the Plum become generalized in the form of protesters amassing outside of Isla’s home. Isla must find the strength to act as a counterpoint to the violence that threatens her in order to salvage her life’s work and her relationship with her half-sister. 

3. Title
Drink & Fast
The Lily and the Hazelnut

4. Comps
Emma Cline – In The Guest, Cline delivers a fast and entrancing account of a week in the life of a troubled but resourceful young woman. Readers who enjoy a female narrator rendered unreliable by her own flaws and delusions will find similar satisfaction in the distinctive voices of Hecate and Isla.

Lauren Groff - Her novel Matrix features a female protagonist whose strong interior life informs the action of the novel. It appeals to women who want to read books that approach the female experience with seriousness, though not without humor.

Additional possibilities…

Otessa Moshfegh - In novels such as Eileen and My Year of Rest and Relaxation, Moshfegh is unafraid to portray an image of the world distilled through the eyes of flawed female characters.

Tana French - Her novels are driven by suspense and fast-paced plotting paired with a literary approach to prose and character development. They appeal to readers who enjoy good writing as well as a thrilling story.

Julia Philips - In Disappearing Earth, the interwoven nature of place and history create an immersive setting that becomes a force of it’s own within the plot. The book’s Russian setting is analogous to portions of my novel, which immerse the characters in a scenic Russian landscape while also confronting the country’s troubled political history.

5. Conflict.
In order to find their way back to each other, estranged half sisters Isla and Hecate must face the tragedy of their mother’s early death as they grapple with a sexual assault against Isla that leaves the perpetrator dead and the violent protest that erupts when Isla’s story goes viral.

6. Two more layers of conflict

Internal wounds:
Lily Bradley, Hecate and Isla’s mother, died in what may have been a suicide when the girls were young children. Neither has recovered. They were raised by their grandfather and his wife, Val, in Boone, North Carolina. It is known that their mother was the product of an affair, and that Val is not their biological grandmother. 

Just as her mother and grandfather before her, Hecate struggles with a crippling addiction to alcohol. Hecate lives alone in the old house in Boone and she tells herself that her substance abuse allows her to access the more mystic and borderline occult aspects of reality. What her alcoholism more truly allows for is Hecate's desire to hide from the generations of family trauma that plague both her and her half sister.  When Isla unexpectedly shows up at her home, Hecate is so overcome by emotion that she uses her illness as an excuse to treat Isla with indifference and cruelty rather than show her the enduring love that she truly feels:

Her arrival earlier that morning had been entirely unannounced. She told me nothing about what had happened to her, at the hands of her Plum. I’ve often wondered in the time intervening whether she ever even considered confiding in me, about the incident. I guess it doesn’t matter. By the time she got here, she’d decided against it. I’d only find out about it much later. And only as a result of her arrest.
I’m saying all of this in my defense. Not to you because I don’t know who you are and (no offense, my dears) I don’t particularly give a damn. I’m defending myself to myself, for numberless reasons. One among them being how I greeted my half sister when she showed up at my door all harried and bedraggled like an unfed dog and all I could bring myself to say to her was what the fuck are you doing here at my house without asking.

Rather than reconciling, which both of them desire more than anything in the world, Hecate pushes her sister further away. 

Isla, meanwhile, deals with her mother’s death by engaging in a series of destructive romantic relationships. When these prove catastrophic enough to drive her into isolation, she delves into their family history. Their grandfather has told them that their true grandmother was a Russian woman who defected from the Soviet Union. Hecate never believes this story, but as an adult Isla uses genetic testing to locate her. By the time Isla finds her grandmother, Dezh, she is suffering from late-stage Alzheimer’s. However, Dezh has written extensively about her own mother who was imprisoned in Stalin’s gulag. Isla had been contracted to write a tell-all book about the assault, but instead she uses the material from her grandmother to compose an extensive history of the women in her family and the violence that they suffered.

Secondary Conflicts:
Prior to the main action of the story, Isla embarked on an affair with her therapist. He surprises Isla by asking her to marry him. She agrees, but the marriage is marred by Dr Blake’s own emotional instability and his ambiguous motivations for pursuing the relationship with Isla. She enlists the Plum’s help to serve Dr Blake papers and escape the relationship. 

Later, Isla is at her grandmother’s nursing home when the protest erupts outside her apartment. She must face the conspiratorial forces of violence and internet-induced paranoia in order to save her home and rescue the history that she has written out longhand, a fragile and ephemeral document that cannot fall prey to the rampaging social ills that are baying at her very door. 

7. Setting
The nostalgic core of the novel is Boone, North Carolina. The house where the sisters were raised by their grandfather and his wife is nestled in the Blue Ridge Mountains. Love for the place itself and a longing for the love that the sisters shared back then is a main motivating factor in the plot. Within the first two pages, Hecate says that “We grew up in that wild country as a couple of beasts blessed by the sunlight...We climbed through the secret places deep in the hills that teemed with animals whose habits we learned and mimicked… If I could have made time stop or even killed it altogether while my sister and I were young and happy monsters exchanging private whispers underneath the cathedral of trees with their stained glass leaves and owl-cluttered steeples..then the universe would be paradise indeed. I would never sneak another solo drink. I would never smoke another weed.  But there is no freedom for us here. And so time passed.

Russia provides an important secondary setting. Isla studies abroad in St. Petersburg in order feel closer to her apparently Russian grandmother. St Petersburg is beautiful, but haunted by apocalyptic overtones. It is repeatedly mentioned that it was built on the bones of it’s founders, as Peter the Great summoned vast numbers of serfs to build it from scratch and many of them died as they worked and were buried in mass graves. Later, Isla explores her great-grandmother’s life story from the time of her arrest in St Petersburg to her imprisonment on the Solovetsky Islands, which houses a medieval monastery that was converted into a gulag. The far northern landscape is exquisite, but marred by the political evil that Isla’s grandmother endures to the point of death.

Finally, careful attention is placed on interior settings. As Hecate confronts her memories of her mother, she travels downwards through a transformed version of her childhood home and towards the basement where her mother died. After the assault, Isla moves into a basement apartment in the Kensington section of Philadelphia that has turquoise walls, glitter-paint on the cabinets, and a wallpaper border featuring topless mermaids.

Their grandmother, Dezh, lives in a nursing home surrounded by the thousands and thousands of pages that she has written about her mother’s imprisonment, even as she herself descends into dementia. Every inch of Dezh’s walls are covered by an array of Russian icons and by her collection of antique mirrors. Dezh sits in the midst of it, non-verbal and plagued by cataracts but still endlessly acting out the motion of writing the same history of her mother.

At the end of the novel, the story of the places comes full circle just as the action does. When Isla describes great-grandmother death in the gulag, the language used to describe the environment echoes the language that Hecate used to describe their home in Boone. It is immediately after this that Isla and Hecate reconcile on the phone, but Isla succumbs to the protestors before they can meet in person. 





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7 assignments for Jeff Kramer (March 2024 conference.)  Working title of book-in-progress has been changed to Mud Season, but Cementhead is still in play :


First Assignment: Mud Season/Cementhead Story Statement: Driven to reinvent himself and avenge his detractors, laid-off journalist Woody Hackworth plunges into writing an online novel whose premise provokes  growing disapproval from his wife and wealthy in-laws.


Second Assignment: Woody Hackworth’s primary antagonist is a fictional character, one of Woody’s invention. His name is Al Holmes. He’s the evil father in-law in a novel Woody is serializing online.  Al runs a corrupt sand-and-gravel business with one of the largest fleets of cement mixer trucks in Upstate, New York. His grotesque business practices and willingness to resort to violence drive the plot of Woody’’s novel and of the exterior book, where Woody must reckon with the real-life consequences of his dark literary portrayals.

Ultimately, then, Woody is unwittingly his own antagonist because his creative impulses are sabotaging his most important relationships. He’s blinded by hubris, seduced by fame and slow to accept the damage his book is doing to the people who love him most. Somehow all this is funny.


Third Assignment: Breakout title


  1. Mud Season
  2. Cementhead
  3. ?


“Mud Season” is the more writerly title. It has intrigue and carries triple meaning: Mud Season is the bridge season in Upstate New York between Winter and Spring. It’s a muddy time of year. Mud is also the industry euphemism for wet concrete, which figures heavily, no pun intended, into the novel. Finally, the main character, Woody, has trapped himself in a muddy  melodrama 


“Cementhead” was my previous favorite and still in the running. It addresses the stubbornness and cluelessness of the main character and, more literally, to the subject he’s writing about.


4. Fourth Assignment: Comparable titles


Erasure by Percival Everett, while not a new novel (2001),  is the subject of a new movie by Orion Pictures. It’s fabulous, btw.   Erasure  is the story of an African-American novelist, Thelonious “Monk” Ellison, who keeps being told his writing isn’t Black enough. As an act of rebellion he writes an over-the-top novel about the “Black Experience” that, much to his chagrin, becomes a hit. Accordingly, the novelist’s value’s come into conflict with his newfound success, often in a humorous way. My novel has a similar frame. Greater-than-expected success for unintended reasons forces an inner reckoning on my protagonist/ novelist, Woody Hackworth. Like Erasure, Mud Season/Cementhead handles the conflict with humor as a means of making meaningful commentary on a variety of topics. One point of departure: The success of Monk’s novel has implications for him professionally, but it does not directly create  family discord the way my book does. Monk’s family discord is almost incidental to his novel.


Magpie Murders (2017) by Andy Horowitz uses the novel-in-a-novel trope with great fluidity. Editor Susan Reyland begins reading the manuscript of a bestselling mystery writer, Alan Conway, whom she subsequently  learns is dead from a mysterious fall. Also perplexing: The final chapter of his novel is missing. This sets up a double mystery — Reyland’s search for answers intertwining with Conway’s fictional detective trying to solve a murder. Horowitz adapted the book into a 2022 mini-series.


My book, Mud Season/Cementhead, intertwines two newspaper reporters. The   “real” one, Woody Hackworth, was recently fired and has turned to writing fiction as an outlet. His alter ego, Cus Stanton, is investigating environmental crimes. Woody intentionally places Cus in mortal peril while unintentionally placing himself in domestic dystopia. As with Magpie Murders, the two stories exist in relation to one another and are woven into a unified whole.


Death in a Strange Country (2017) — An environmental mystery rooted in toxic waste.


Less current:


Confederacy of Dunces: Like Ignatius, my protagonist, Woody Hackworth, is a writer who suffers from self-delusion, grandiosity and stubbornness. He’s his own worst enemy,  yet we root for him as many of his demons ring familiar.


Wonderboys: A comedic novel about a novelist struggling to finish and publish a book. The challenges of Michael Chabon’s writer character, Grady, are not direct consequences of the plot of his unfinished manuscript, as they are in my book, but the voice of the narrator — a writer struggling to achieve amidst personal turmoil — create points of commonality.


Breakfast of Champions: An aging writer finds to his horror that a Midwest car dealer is taking his fiction as truth. In Mud Season/Cementhead, Woody’s horror is that most of his readers suspect he’s writing about his family when he isn’t.


5. Logline

A laid off newspaper columnist seeking redemption finds unexpected success serializing his toxic waste mystery thriller online, but must deal with family backlash because but many readers mistakenly believing he’s outing his in-laws as criminals. Family pressure for the protagonist to abort the novel-in-progress rises to unbearable and hilarious levels.


Assignment 6: Conflict sketches.


Woody experiences conflict and anxiety in ever-expanding measures whenever he encounters his wife and her family once they become aware of the content of his novel. Indeed he’s  anxious and conflicted even before that point, as he tries to hide the particulars of his project during a family barbecue. Seemingly benign family gatherings are anything but for Woody. They are where he must confront the consequences of his work. Guilt, anger, defiance, self-doubt and even fear stalk Woody at every turn — and it’s  mostly his own making. Moments of ultra-high drama occur when his father in-law hands him a cease-and-desist order during a boat ride and when his brother in-law and wife attempt an intervention at the family business to get him to stop writing his book.


A secondary conflict is when Woody’s unfinished book is placed under severe scrutiny during a meeting at a  New York literary agency. Another conflict is with his daughter who is being taunted about the book at school.


The interior novel has many scenes of conflict — some quite violent. Perhaps the most memorable one is during a boat ride when the heroic main character, an investigative reporter, watches his father in-law’s hired goon mutilate a fish as a threat: Stop investigating the family business … or else.



Assignment 7: Icarus, a medium-sized Upstate, New York city that might bear a resemblance to Syracuse provides the setting for Mud Season/Cementhead and the embedded novel “Fear as Mud.” There’s a gritty, forlorn  quality to fictional Icarus. The town is a world in and of itself, largely ignored by tourists, ambitious young people and celebrities. All of that clashes with the main character’s lofty ambitions. Woody feels stuck, physically and emotionally. Extreme weather, geographic isolation and limited career mobility place the character in a box — a guided one. Family money softens the blow of unemployment but intensifies his awareness of his dependence. The main character’s need for external validation arises in part from believing he is “better” than his geographic circumstances.


Conversely, the interior novel, the one Woody is writing, plays off the beauty and grandeur of the region.  Woody needs his protagonist, Cus, Stanton to have a cause worth fighting for, and that cause is nature. There’s intrinsic  tension between a grimy pragmatic-minded city with industrial roots that happens to sit amidst  abundant natural splendor. Polluters  need something valuable to pollute. The verdant surroundings of fictional Tiberius in the embedded novel provide the foil. 




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Title: Albert Cunning

75k words; upmarket fiction


#1 Story Statement

Duff is the laziest, most bumbling music journalist at The New York Times.  In order to save his job, he must look into the potentially violent demise of his favorite band, the legendary Albert Cunning, who lost two members to a tragic house fire.  


# 2 The Antagonist Plots the Point

The primary antagonists are the band members themselves: Nick Winter (singer), Charlie Stroud (guitar player), Peter Pearson (bassist), and Smoky Wood (drummer).  Through their genius they are allowed the freedom to engage in selfish behavior and pay no consequences for it, particularly Charlie—who carries grievous wounds as a result of his unhappy upbringing.  Their selfishness and ego-driven clashes create a combustible mixture that ultimately results in tragedy.  Learning more about their history puts Duff’s love of Albert Cunning—and his bedrock opinion that rock is a force for good—at risk.

A secondary antagonist is Barry, Duff’s new boss at the paper.  He is the anthesis of Duff: a boring careerist square who succeeds in life because of his willingness to engage in office politics.  The arrival of Barry as Duff’s boss puts his job in jeopardy.


#3 Title

1.     Albert Cunning.

2.     The Many Lies of Albert Cunning

3.     Who Killed Albert Cunning?


Comparable Works

I think my book sits in the upmarket fiction category.  Comparables are below: 

1.     Daisy Jones and the Six – Taylor Jenkins Reid

Recent bestseller (upmarket fiction) examining the rise and fall of an iconic band that was made into a popular limited series on Amazon Prime.  While Albert Cunning is considerably darker, both examine the genius and excess of the golden age of rock, and the toll that success takes on the relationships of band members and the people they are closest to.

2.     Inherent Vice – Thomas Pynchon

Written in 2009, a hilarious literary fiction novel where the protagonist is a similarly underestimated pothead who undertakes an investigation filled with comedic mishaps, all the while proving himself to be cleverer than his critics give him credit for.  Also made into a successful movie by Paul Thomas Anderson in 2014.   


#5 Logline and Core Wound

An emotionally stunted journalist must go beyond his own limitations to discover a truth that may end up undermining his love of rock and roll—and tarnish rock’s fading legacy.


#6 Conflict: Two More Levels

Primary Conflict: Duff is the only journalist in history who doesn’t want to uncover a juicy story that will make his career; he loves Albert Cunning’s music too much.  As he looks into the circumstances surrounding the fire, however, he cannot help but continue to dig as he realizes the human toll involved.

Secondary Conflict: Duff is in love with his ex-girlfriend (and current best friend) Caroline, but lacks the courage to declare his feelings to her.

Internal Conflict: With his career in shambles, his parents recently deceased, and his personal life a wreck, Duff must finally grow up from his extended adolescence.  


#7 Setting

There are numerous settings in the story, as Duff travels around the country and the world to interview the survivors of the fire, as well as the band’s manager, producer, and various ex-wives and girlfriends.  His travels take him to various locales of the cultural and social elite: London, New York, Carmel-by-the-Sea, Sag Harbor, and the Garden District of New Orleans.  The opulence of these locations makes Duff question if the social meaning of rock was nothing more than window-dressing to obscure the selfish materialism and hedonism involved.  


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Jack McCoy is a novice newspaper reporter who stalks his subjects under the guise of journalism.  When he becomes obsessed with Stella--- a pathological liar and a hauntingly beautiful, musical genius on the rise to fame----he uncovers her entanglement with a vast criminal network that reaches the highest levels of society.   Plagued by psychosis, the mysterious murder of her mother, and her controlling, sociopathic manager, Stella’s fame hastens her descent into madness----and Jack is eager to follow her there. 


Jack is a sociopath with special skills.  Both a gifted photographer and a professional creep, he lands a summer job as an assistant for a photojournalist named Raymond. 

Suspicious of Raymond’s recent failure to pay Jack on time, Jack follows Raymond one night after work expecting to find that Raymond has resumed his gambling habit. 

Instead, Raymond unwittingly leads him to a starry, mysterious nightclub where Jack tumbles instantly into a pathological infatuation with the nightclub’s glamorous-yet-deranged lounge singer, Stella Madden.   

Stella has secrets.  And Jack has a malignant curiosity.

3.       TITLE

The Devil’s Note

God Loves the Devil’s Music


Mad Honey by Jodi Picoult 

The Virgin Suicides by Jeffrey Eugenides


Stella’s creative genius is hereditary.  The daughter of a talented canvas artist, she suspects her father is the wealthy, Pulitzer-Prize winning photographer, Alastair Van Dyke.  Why else would Van Dyke allow Stella and her mother to stay in the apartments over Van Dyke’s family-owned, prestigious jazz club? 

Stella knows the club is really just a front for a high-end brothel.  And not just any brothel, but one that caters to famous, powerful men.

So, when her mother is murdered one crystalline winter night, her mother’s secret life becomes her daughter’s burden.


A representative from his Van Dyke’s family-owned record label appears in the aftermath of Stella’s mother’s death to offer her a record contract.

Alone and young in the world, Stella signs the contract and becomes under total control of her own mother’s rapist.

But as she rises to prominence in the music world, her fame---and her voice in the public sphere---becomes increasingly risky for Van Dyke.

7.       SETTING

Much of this novel takes place with Stella on the run---from fame, from Alastair Van Dyke, and from Jack McCoy. 

Scenes span the globe from New York to New Delhi, Cairo, London, Las Vegas and New Orleans.

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Assignment 1: Story Statement

A psychic teen girl must learn to conquer her powers to fight the evil forces kidnapping and killing psychic kids like her.

Assignment 2: Antagonist Sketch

Eli Kyle, 17, a transplant from Georgia to Franklin Station, NY, and the main antagonist, a love interest, also the only other powerful elemental psychic in the story with a fire-starting ability, amongst others. He’s enigmatic at first, watchful, and even mischievous when it comes to Riza, the protagonist. Underneath, he carries guilt, shame, and fear. It’s that fear that makes him lethal because he’s willing to do anything to survive.

From the start, he shows interest in Riza, even agreeing to help her with controlling her powers. At first, it seems like it’s all just out of his desire to not get caught selling drugs (Riza uses this as blackmail to get him to train her) but as they work together, it transforms into more romantic interest in Riza. However, all of this is a manipulation tactic to gain Riza’s trust. 

Eli is known as a tracker, a psychic that can sense others' powers, and given his age, and handsome looks, he’s perfect at gaining the trust and luring the psychic kids they need. His other hidden abilities make this tactic more insidious as he can remote speak with his victims and temporarily alter minds, leaving no trace or witnesses when the abduction occurs.

His reason for all this is out of his fear of becoming a target. In a way, he is a victim himself, his older brother holding over his head the knowledge that Eli is a murderer and can turn him over to the mysterious people they work for at any moment. Eli lives in fear of this, his sadistic older brother and haunted by the people he’s set on fire in the past. 

Randall Kyle, 31 also hailing from Georgia with his brother Eli, is our other antagonist. Unlike his brother, Randall is charming, calculated, resourceful, and highly manipulative. He’s been in charge of his little brother’s care since he was a teen, signed up for the Army as soon as he was able, and has been using his training and natural ability to control others, to survive. 

During his time in the military, he earned the title of Breaker, using his “talents” to gain information from prisoners, which ultimately also led to his discharge. Nevertheless, Randall was resourceful, making connections within his unit before his departure. Once he was back in the U.S., moving from state to state with Eli, he manipulated his brother with the knowledge of Eli’s murder, and of his fire-starting abilities, threatening to turn him over to the mysterious people they work for but never does. 

His ability to manipulate is his biggest threat. The idea to use Eli to gain access to Riza is his plan from the start. He uses that leverage to infiltrate her life, in parallel his past military connections gained him access to the police. Thanks to his careful planning, he’s able to operate wide open, not drawing attention.

Randall has a hidden ability of his own, though not an elemental, it’s a strong ability to tap the nervous system, contort bodies, and create immense pain for his victims. It’s with this “breaking” power that he weeds the weak psychics from the strongest. He views what he does as survival and has no issue taking revenge if necessary.

The elemental powers are antagonist forces. Riza’s lightning and shadow are highly destructive and when she combines them, nothing can stop them from obliterating everything. She views it as chaos in her mind and has always thought of it as something wrong that shouldn’t exist. As for Eli’s fire, it reflects his nature at one moment dim like an ember that ignites into a rage, in particular when he feels threatened. Because of the volatility of those forces, their collision is disastrous for anyone and anything in their path. Similar to the relationship between Eli and Riza, which is destructive and toxic.

Assignment 3: Breakout Title


Spark & Flame

Assignment 4: Genre and Comparable Titles

Genre: Contemporary Fantasy with sub-genres of Romance and Science Fiction

Comp titles:

  1. Spells for Forgetting by Adrienne Young (Atmosphere, vibe, romance, mystery, murder)

  2. Firestarter by Stephen King (Fire ability, scientific research, murder, father-daughter relationship)

  3. Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard (Lightning and fire abilities, love triangle romantic sub-plot, betrayal) 

  4. One Dark Window by Rachel Gillig (Hidden secrets, power like an infection, working with the antagonist)

  5. Stranger Things, Netflix series created by the Duffer Brothers (Young FMC psychic, powerful telekinetic, mind-bending, eclectic friend group)

Assignment 5: Write Your Own Hookline (Logline)

A psychic teen girl, Riza, with elemental powers of dangerous proportions experiences a horrific vision of someone close to her dying, and they continue getting worse. With her psychic father, best friend, and a mysterious but alluring new firestarter, she must learn to conquer her powers to fight the evil forces kidnapping and killing psychic kids like her or fall victim to the monsters outside and within.

Assignment 6: Protagonist Inner Conflict; Hypothetical Scenario for Secondary Conflict

Riza internalized that there is something wrong with her from the moment that her powers first surged, effectively killing her fifth-grade teacher in a car wreck. Afterward, her father taught her to seal away her power, confirming to her that her abilities were monstrous. As she grew, she feared losing control, so maintained distance from gaining real friendships, save for one. 

Scenario: In the opening scene of the story, Riza is feeling ill. It could be the onset of a surge but this one feels a bit different. She continues with her cello practice and when she’s asked by her classmate if she’s sick, it sparks something in her and Riza realizes she needs to leave immediately. When she’s out, she sees her only friend Max at soccer practice. Alternatively, he has a normal life, laughing with his teammates. She bottles in her longing for something even close to that, on top of her growing surge. As she walks home, electricity and shadow surge from her, felling trees and scorching the ground but something is different. Riza has a vision of someone being killed. It terrifies her. When she goes to see her father, he’s concerned if she hurt anyone, if anyone saw since it happened in broad daylight, and makes her go through the steps of sealing her powers. That prioritization, she realizes, over what harm she can unleash is her reality and one she can never escape. 

This leads to her secondary conflict, wanting connection but not being capable because of this wrongness/otherness dwelling in her. Max, her first friend and only person who knows of her powers up until the beginning of the story having discovered them by chance, becomes her first love interest. The tension and feelings are there between them, but suffering surges and even hurting Max accidentally, on top of hearing confirmation from Eli later on in the story that she is unlike everyone and, therefore cannot connect with anyone else, she doesn’t act on her feelings for Max.

Scenario: Soon after her initial vision, Riza is on her way to a pep rally bonfire. It’s been only two days and she’s afraid of when her vision will come to pass. Without being able to see the face of the victim, she even fears it could be her. Again, she feels the onset of a surge only this time, it feels so much stronger. She starts to surge in the bus with almost thirty other students and shorts it, the engine catching fire, and tires popping. When the students exit the failing bus, she flees into the nearby woods, trying to seal her escaping power, only her will isn’t strong enough and it lashes out at her in a violent storm. Max’s brother having witnessed Riza running off, seeks out Max in the bonfire telling him what happened. This sounds familiar and Max fears for her and goes to look for Riza with his brothers. When they find her, Riza is caught in a whirlwind of electricity and shadow of her own making, and it’s threatening to destroy her. Max jumps to pull her out while Riza battles trying to suppress it again. In the process, it slashes his arm and he’s thrown against a tree. Seeing what she did, she manages to gain control before her power kills him. Later that same night, Max informs her that his brothers saw everything and are pretty much confused and terrified. But Riza is only focused on the injury she caused him. When Max stays with her, holding her, she keeps her distance from him and she can tell it hurts him to see her pull away.

Assignment 7: Sketch Out Your Setting

Franklin Station, NY (Pop: 12,439)

Nestled in the Hudson Valley, Franklin Station is three and a half hours from Lake George and north of neighboring towns Newburgh and Beacon. It is one and a half hours from New York City.

Because of its proximity to the Hudson River, it was once a mining community, now turned into a quaint residential town of the working class with a large cement plant owning a large portion of land. Surrounded by woods, a lake, smaller rivers, and hiking trails, Franklin Station is a great location to raise a family and enjoy nature.

In contrast to the small yet lively picture of Franklin Station, Old Mine is a community that still resembles the mining days. Log cabins, dirt roads, isolated by the woods, the people that live there like to keep to themselves and are suspicious of visitors, even from Franklin Station. It’s somewhat a forgotten section, harboring good working people, but also some shadier individuals; the kind of place you grow up in and either get stuck or don’t return.

The mines scattered through the woods of Franklin Station and its smaller community, Old Mine, contain many naturally occurring minerals and crystals, including Magnetite. A black rock-crystalline found in iron ore, but only smaller deposits exist now. Interestingly, this substance has been observed in the human brain. 

For those interested in undisturbed research on the connection between psychic ability and environmental effects, it’s the perfect setting. As it is for those searching for those same psychics, the mines provide endless places to hide and operate for far darker purposes. 

And, it is the home of one the strongest elemental psychics ever documented, a rare dark power embedded with the very earth surrounding her.

Riza has lived in Franklin Station her whole life and since turning ten, she’s been suffering the effects of living so close to Magnetite found in the mines around her home. As a natural-born electrokinetic psychic, her powers have adapted to their environment, making her an “elemental” with an unusual ability to draw this substance from the earth around her and within her, creating a powerful shadow that is charged by her electricity, capable of demolishing a car within seconds as did happen on her very first surge of power.

For years, Riza’s been plagued with sudden surges of power, forcing her to keep them sealed, but as she’s grown, so have her abilities, specifically, pre-cognition. Driven back into the woods, her visions are directly connected to the mines and slowly peeling away at the secrets hidden in them.

Uncharted mines, long-forgotten tunnels, and caverns deep in the earth not only breed elementals but also hide. For Eli and Randall, they use Old Mine and its direct connection to these mines as their home base to track, lure, hide, and break psychics. With the ability to move undetected, and utilize the transport routes of the cement factory, and the river, it's almost impossible for police to pin them down.

To a lesser degree, Lake George is an important location for Riza and the Whitaker family (Max’s family) having spent summers there. Where Franklin Station is the setting for Riza’s surges, visions, and later battle for survival, Lake George is a sanctuary for her and Max. They have their secret spots on the islands that they visited when they were younger and become the places where they can be together as a couple in the present day. Eli uses this information at one point after he’s been revealed to Riza, as a way to torture her by sending threatening images of him burning the family lake home and everyone in it.

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Act of Story Statement

In a near and frightening future shattered by water scarcity, a quartet of flawed yet formidable protagonists struggle to defeat the horrific schemes of an unlawful mastermind bent on dominating the world’s vanishing freshwater resources. 


The Antagonist Plots the Point

Evil is a narrative too small for mastermind Mikail Vidovic.  Others say he can see around corners. He lives where unhealed lacerations, revenge, misinterpreted prophecy, substance abuse, and criminal enterprise unite.  He wields power through zealous followers, and manipulates them beneath a veil of secrecy. Larger prey may soon bow down. 

Global scientists gather to solidify a rescue plan to reverse water scarcity and famine. A kaleidoscope of actionable solutions offer potential. Mikail eviscerates them with Operation Marquette. Hope fails. 

Desalinization plants offer a plausible resolution to freshwater shortages. Mikail demolishes them with operation Dark Seas. Fourteen plants on four continents are destroyed in a single night. Leaders are incapacitated. Tensions rise.

The worlds only large-scale water distribution system serves China’s urban north with the retreating waters of the south. This could be a model for global adoption. Mikail annihilates with operation False Flag. War begins.

Large water tankers could redistribute rainfall from lands of plenty to parched cities in need. With thirty-years of foresight and engineering, Mikail is already in production with Operation SpotWater. Resignation abounds.

Out of time, retreat and resettlement to freshwater lakes offer the final option for humanity.  Mikail controls the key global alliances and the high ground. He unleashes his final, prophetic fury. 


Conjuring Your Breakout Title 

Tides of Conflict

Final River

Disputed Waters


Two Smart Comparables

Saul Herzog – “The Fixer”

Travis Davis – “Flames of Deception”



In a near and frightening future shattered by water scarcity, a quartet of flawed yet formidable protagonists struggle to defeat the horrific schemes of an unlawful mastermind bent on dominating the world’s vanishing freshwater resources. 


Other Matters of Conflict – Two More Levels

Inner Conflict – Protagonist Kat choosing romantic intimacy over professional boundaries 


Kat sensed a physical, magnetic chemistry with only one possible destination. 

“Do you live alone?” she asked.

The first rays of dawn began to break through the horizontal blinds.  Kat awakened to the sound of a shower and the smell of strong coffee.  Ari’s modest yet cozy flat revealed bits of last night’s clothing, here and there. 

This could get complicated.


Interpersonal Conflict- Frayed emotions flare between best friends and protagonists Kat and Rachel 

“Holy crap, Rachel.  Calm down!”

Bursting into tears, Rachel screamed, “don’t f’ing tell me to calm down! I’m practically killing myself out here trying to get the world to understand the peril we’re in, and my best friend won’t even take me seriously!” She hung up, and hurled the cellphone across the room.  Again.


The Incredible Importance of Setting

In the near future, widespread water scarcity has crippled every continent.  Long-ignored warnings of experts and scientists remain unheeded, and a thirsty world is tumbling toward a desperate end.

Unthinkable, tragic outcomes arise. Water deprivation, famine, mass migration, global fatalities, terror attacks, and outright war. Governments and markets fail. The wealthy flee. The poor take up arms. Hundreds of millions of people are dying. An ever-larger portion of the world becomes uninhabitable. Unrecognizabletimes and unknowable places ascend.

In the boreal forests of Siberia lies the world’s largest and most ancient freshwater resource, Lake Baikal.  

In the high plains of central Africa, Lake Tanganyika forms the border of the Democratic Republic of Congo and Tanzania.  

On the thirsty shores of four continents lie the worlds fifteen largest desalinization plants.  Places like Shuqaiq, Saudi Arabia and Taweelah, United Arab Emirates. 

As the gondola crossed the eight-acre lake of the Wynn Macau resort, adorned with dancing fountains and floating flowers, he reveled in the aromas of firecracker, incense, tea, and tobacco.   He sensed the history of trade, and dynasties, and Portuguese ship captains teeming from the waters.  

For a millennium, the Brazilian coastal cities of Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro received their rain from the “Flying Rivers” of the Amazon.  Recent deforestation has broken natures ecological water pump.  “The rivers no longer fly.  The rain no longer comes.” 

The air is thick and stale inside the secure conference room of the Chinese Communist Party headquarters within the Zhongnanhai government compound just west of Tiananmen Square in Beijing.  

Lazarus was buried a second time in the catacombs beneath the church of St. Lazarus in Cyprus.  Antagonist Mikail Vidovic has located his lair here; beneath the gorgeous shores of Cyprus and alongside his world-dominating fleet of freshwater tankers.

The mood aboard Air Force One was improving significantly. Even a few smiles and some occasional laughter.  It seemed that Chase’s plan forward had lifted everyone’s spirits, from devastated to mildly optimistic.  

Other settings for TIDES OF CONLFICT’s global rollercoaster include Marquette, MI; Kinshasa, DRC; London, UK; Rublevka, Russia; Deline, Canada; McClean, VA; Muskoka Lakes, Canada; Santorini, Greece; Beijing, China; Tel Aviv, Israel; Kalemie, DRC; Algeciras, Spain; Litsvyanka, Russia; Pingdingshan, China; Ulan-Ude, Russia; and Camp David, MD.

On the forest-lined shores of the Northern Hemisphere’s largest remaining freshwater lakes, and among scattered outposts across the globe, a fractional remnant of humanity survives. Water is now currency. Water is now power. Water is now sovereignty. Just two governments remain. Mikail has succeeded. For now. 

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1st Assignment:  Story Statement

Join the American Nazi Party and help the police destroy its leader or be deported.  

2nd Assignment:  The Antagonist

The American Nazi Party’s leader is a dangerous megalomaniac. His goal is to make the Nazis as powerful as they are in Germany by winning national elections, like they did “back home.” His henchman are sycophantic thugs; he uses them to beat, blackmail or kill those who get in his way. He’s also a narcissist and a bit of a buffoon. He needs the constant praise of his lieutenants. He practices Hitler’s preposterous poses in front of a mirror. He fancies himself a ladies’ man, and loves being seen with beautiful woman at New York’s hottest nightclubs. He scans the tabloids daily, hoping to see his name. His Achilles Heel is a dangerous secret he thinks no one knows: he’s stealing from his own party to fund his lavish lifestyle. If his betrayal is discovered, his wife and mistress will desert him, the police will arrest him, and his followers will try to kill him. He’s confident he can keep his secret hidden, but his boastful ego blinds him to the threat from one of his closest allies.

3rd Assignment: Titles

An Honest American
The No Good Deal
Sauerkraut Boulevard

4th Assignment: Genre & Recent Comps 

Historical thriller, historical crime fiction.

‘Crook Manifesto’ by Colson Whitehead. (Protagonist trying to put a criminal past behind him threatened by dishonest cops and incompetent crooks. Set in a bygone New York era. Dark humor.)

‘Shrines of Gaiety’ by Kate Atkinson. (Some characters based on historical figures. Protagonist trying to escape criminal past. Story inspired by true events.)

5th Assignment: Hook Line/Logline

A safecracker nabbed on a final job needs Meyer Lansky’s Jewish mob to help him destroy the American Nazi party and steal its hidden slush fund or the cops will deport him back to Germany, where he’s wanted by the Gestapo. Inspired by true events.

6th Assignment: Conflicts

Inner Conflict: Hardy Janzen wants to become an honest American, but he undermines himself with his own impulses and decisions. He reluctantly decides the best way to get enough money to start a business is to steal it. He’s caught but then sees another chance to steal, and again can’t resist. He hates violence, but is forced to take part in a robbery that results in three murders. He’s scared the cops will find out he was there, and scared the Nazis will kill him to eliminate a witness. For much of the story it appears his own nature will prevent him from reaching his goal.

Secondary Conflict: Can a thief believe another thief? Can you find true love with a liar? Can Hardy believe the Nazi leader’s mistress? Does she love him and want to run away with him, as she swears, or is she using him to pull off the heist? Will she turn him over to the Nazis? He wants to believe her, and thinks that part of becoming an honest person is having a normal, honest relationship. But he can’t decide: is he fooling himself? Hypothetical scenario: if she proposes they split up to make their getaway and meet later, will he trust her to take the loot?

7th Assignment: Setting

New York, late 1930s, East 86th Street, known as Sauerkraut Boulevard. German and Austrian immigrants throng the wide sidewalks. Butcher shops, bakeries, beer halls and cafes line the street, and all the storefront signs are in German. People speak loudly to be heard over the cacophonous din of vegetable cart vendors calling out prices and drivers honking and newspaper boys screaming headlines from the Staats-Zeitung. Bright lights ring the marquee above the Lorelei Dance Hall and the Yorkville Casino’s theater boasts the city’s only German-language movies. 
Clusters of young men wearing brown uniforms with a swastika pinned on one jacket lapel and an American flag on the other press leaflets into peoples’ hands. The Nazis have been recruiting along the street with mixed success. Most people think they look silly marching with straight legs in their knee-high black boots, and ignore them. But a few worry the fascists will give Germans a bad name, and note that Mayor LaGuardia even went so far as to claim they are a threat to democracy.
A man working at a sidewalk newsstand listens to Father Coughlin, at top volume. The priest hosts the most popular program on radio. He has millions of listeners. As usual, he is railing against Communists, immigrants and the media. America First, he thunders; why should we get mixed up with the rest of the messy world? The sun is out, it’s unseasonably warm, and business is brisk after the recession of 1937, so people are thinking there will finally be good years ahead. 

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Jill Martin – pre-workshop assignments

file:///C:/Users/jillm/AppData/Local/Temp/msohtmlclip1/01/clip_image001.jpg FIRST ASSIGNMENT: write your story statement. 

The protagonist, in each of her manifestations (Jenny, Jen and Jennifer), must overcome the devastating impact of family alcoholism. Ultimately, Jen must decide whether to risk intimacy with a partner, and Jennifer must decide whether to leave her alcoholic husband.

file:///C:/Users/jillm/AppData/Local/Temp/msohtmlclip1/01/clip_image001.jpg SECOND ASSIGNMENT: in 200 words or less, sketch the antagonist or antagonistic force in your story. Keep in mind their goals, their background, and the ways they react to the world about them.

Jenny, Jen and Jennifer must cope with her parents, particularly her mother, as active or passive antagonists. Her parents’ alcoholism, complicated by her mother’s strict guidelines of behavior and appearance, create a lonely, frightening childhood for Jenny. Both adult versions of Jenny must continue to cope with their mother as antagonist, although each manages that relationship differently. Jen spends her adulthood in a constant state of combativeness; Jennifer molds herself to accommodate her mother and her alcoholic husband.

file:///C:/Users/jillm/AppData/Local/Temp/msohtmlclip1/01/clip_image001.jpg THIRD ASSIGNMENT: create a breakout title (list several options, not more than three, and revisit to edit as needed).

Variations on Jenny

The Path Taken

Bottles on the Path

file:///C:/Users/jillm/AppData/Local/Temp/msohtmlclip1/01/clip_image001.jpg FOURTH ASSIGNMENT: - Read this NWOE article on comparables then return here.

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

The Midnight Library by Matt Haig is an emotional bestseller that explores the question of how our lives might have been different if we’d made different choices.  Variations on Jenny similarly has a theme of choices and their differing outcomes, although it portrays only two different life paths for Jenny and does not have a unified character in the end.  

The Post-Birthday World by Lionel Shriver is an acclaimed creative novel that uses a structure of parallel universes to show two alternate lives following a choice by the main character. Variations on Jenny also uses parallel universes, but unlike Post-Birthday World, the character’s two paths do not spring from one choice but from a multitude of small and large choices.  

 file:///C:/Users/jillm/AppData/Local/Temp/msohtmlclip1/01/clip_image001.jpg FIFTH ASSIGNMENT: write your own hook line (logline) with conflict and core wound following the format above. Though you may not have one now, keep in mind this is a great developmental tool. In other words, you best begin focusing on this if you're serious about commercial publication.

Growing up with alcoholic parents, Jenny makes choices throughout her childhood and adolescence that lead to alternate futures for her as either Jen or Jennifer, with dramatically different consequences for her relationships, her career, and ultimately her happiness.

file:///C:/Users/jillm/AppData/Local/Temp/msohtmlclip1/01/clip_image001.jpg SIXTH ASSIGNMENT: sketch out the conditions for the inner conflict your protagonist will have. Why will they feel in turmoil? Conflicted? Anxious? Sketch out one hypothetical scenario in the story wherein this would be the case--consider the trigger and the reaction.

Throughout her childhood, Jenny must battle the inner conflict she feels – the desire to voice her anger at her parents’ alcoholic behavior versus her desire to earn their approval and keep the peace. As the adult Jen, she has chosen the independent, loud voice, but feels conflicted about whether to reconcile with her mother. The adult Jennifer, on the other hand, has chosen the path of appeasement and caregiving towards her mother, but feels conflicted because she wants to be her own person. When her mother calls asking for help after an aunt’s death, Jennifer rushes to her side, while Jen resists, resenting her mother once again.

file:///C:/Users/jillm/AppData/Local/Temp/msohtmlclip1/01/clip_image001.jpg Next, likewise sketch a hypothetical scenario for the "secondary conflict" involving the social environment. Will this involve family? Friends? Associates? What is the nature of it?

Jen believes in the mission of her work as a lawyer for refugees, but is desperate for more financial security. Over the course of the book, she steps into another secondary conflict: she meets Paul, who is eager for a serious relationship, while she is reluctant.

For Jennifer, her husband Mike presents a secondary conflict. She loves him, but no longer wants to live with an alcoholic, and wants her freedom, presenting him with an ultimatum.

 file:///C:/Users/jillm/AppData/Local/Temp/msohtmlclip1/01/clip_image001.jpg FINAL ASSIGNMENT: sketch out your setting in detail. What makes it interesting enough, scene by scene, to allow for uniqueness and cinema in your narrative and story? Please don't simply repeat what you already have which may well be too quiet. You can change it. That's why you're here! Start now. Imagination is your best friend, and be aggressive with it.

The setting for Jen is inauguration day, 2017, in Adams Morgan, the neighborhood in Washington DC where she lives.  The inauguration of President Trump is an event which angers and saddens Jen, for whom politics are very important. The neighborhood she lives in is vibrant and diverse, including immigrants whom Trump vilifies. Jen’s milieu includes friends who are likewise vibrant and diverse. 

For Jennifer, the setting is also inauguration day, 2017, but in her wealthy neighborhood in Chicago, the “Gold Coast.” For Jennifer, the inauguration of Trump is slightly upsetting because her Republican Party is no longer what it used to be. In her neighborhood she has friends who share her wealthy lifestyle but she wishes she had more intimate friendships.

Flashbacks to young Jenny are set in the sixties in her hometown of Mason, Indiana, which is a socially stratified town where the families of the paper mill executives, including Jenny’s father, are the upper echelon. 

The setting for both Jen and Jennifer in 2017 moves to the Hyde Park area of Chicago for Aunt Judy’s funeral. Jen feels comfortable in this neighborhood, but her mother does not, and neither does Jennifer.


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Edited before submitting on Feb 3, 2024:

Premise: In their search for love and security, vulnerable teens are targeted by abusers and then trapped into secrecy. 

1.    Story Statement: A vulnerable Philadelphian teen must break out of the secrecy of abuse so she can free herself from survivor guilt and her friend from domestic sex trafficking.  


2.     Antagonists  

The abusers: Tony (Allee’s father), Stretch (Tanaya’s boyfriend) and Mouse/Frank 

The goal of an abuser is control. Research shows that abusers target vulnerable teens.

Tony Gray is an alcoholic bully who uses his strength, degrading comments, and victim mentality to control his daughter (Allee) and wife (Barb). He knows the girls will stay with him because they are powerless against the hidden dangers lurking in the streets and shelters. Barb worries Social Services will take Allee away from her if she speaks up, so she says nothing. Tony’s abuse, along with his drinking, escalated slowly through the years until it became normalized in their home. Tony kills Barb and is arrested in the third chapter but throughout the novel Allee is haunted with memories of his abuse and degrading comments. Tony used fear and guilt to control. 

Stretch is Tanaya’s coercive boyfriend and he is sex trafficking the girl’s in the local high school. Though Allee is not sex trafficked, she watches as he charms the girls, minimizes Tanaya’s concerns about his infidelity, and uses manipulation for control. Stretch uses his charm to control.

Mouse (and Frank) are Stretch’s support system for manipulation. They help with the girls, the driving, the parties, and anything else Stretch needs. Mouse secretly hates Stretch and is jealous of his power.  Mouse appears creepy and powerless -  but he is dangerous as he grasps for control.


3.     Break Out Titles:

The City’s Allee 

Olney ‘09 

You Have No Rights To Me

(I love this last title but it’s a poem by Ramona Pina and I think I’d need permission to use it)


4.     Comparables: Edgy YA contemporary

Girl in Pieces (Kathleen Glasgow) meets Mare of Easttown (Netflix series) with an added element of domestic sex trafficking.  

Monday’s Not Coming (Tiffany Jackson) As I wrote this novel, April Charles, Monday’s older sister, helped me envision how matter-of-factly young girls handle being trafficked. They consider it 'a way out' of existing hardships.

5.     Core wound and Primary Conflict:

After years of learning to survive by keeping quiet, a young Philadelphian teen must learn to speak up so she can free herself from survivor guilt and her friend from domestic sex trafficking. 

6.     Inner and Secondary Conflict:

Inner:  Ever since her dad killed her mom, Allee can’t resist the urge to cut her forearms. Every cut is a release from the survivor guilt running around in her mind. She thinks if she tells her counselor she'll be sent away to live in an institution. Ashamed of her behavior, Allee decides it’s better to keep it a secret so people don’t think she’s crazy.

Social Environment: Allee’s best friend Tanaya pulls Allee into the secret world of domestic sex trafficking. Tanaya sneaks out of their bedroom in the middle of the night to be with a boyfriend, Stretch. Allee watches a different kind of abuse entrap her friend – the coercive boyfriend. When Allee warns her, Tanaya accuses Allee of being jealous. To protect the friendship, Allee decides it's better to keep her mouth shut. 

7.     Setting: A North Philadelphia neighborhood, Olney, set in 2009 when iPhones were just starting to become popular. Olney is a poor section of the city filled with diversity. 

Twin home made into a duplex: The rented house where Allee and her mom suffered years of abuse.

Rowhome: Tanaya’s home and where Social Services place Allee to finish out her senior year of high school. 

Olney High School: School Counselor and American Lit teachers are instrumental in Allee’s journey to self-awareness so she can start to heal. 

Stores from 5th Street to 3rd Street: Pop’s Pizza Shop, More Bang for Your Buck dollar store, public library, laundromat, Larry’s corner store

Snake Road: Secretive party spot where Stretch can find vulnerable teens to exploit them.

Cherry Allee in Fairmont Park: A place to rest and appreciate beauty in the midst of so much pain and suffering.

House on an abandoned street off the Roosevelt Boulevard: The last place Tanaya is seen alive, Rickety’s makeshift dwelling is a few houses down just inside an alley.


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1. A good Christian woman raised in a Nevada brothel must uncover the truth about the death of her father figure from the ruling family of her western desert town, bringing to light a murder and a vast network of white-collar crime.

2. King of Dirt Glenn “GB” Burney is the family patriarch, church founder, and building magnate of Piles, Nevada. The Burney family has a legacy that goes beyond evangelical values and modular homes. A technophile, GB made his first million selling cement pavers online during the dot-com boom. He paid a fair price for the cutting-edge e-commerce tool to compute square footage. Or so he says.

He’s a power walking, clean living octogenarian. GB laps the teens on the high school track, Sony Walkman cranking his favorite sermons, talking back to the preacher as if they’re in the same room together. His BlackBerry has both Ted Haggard and Nevada Lieutenant Governor Lonnie Hammargren on speed dial.

Business has been booming, but not all is well in Piles, Nevada. The Burney family accountant is dead and GB might be responsible. Or perhaps it was his daughter-in-law Rachel, who he secretly hates. He’s deflecting blame on to her, so our hero should be suspicious. He also could be covering up for one of his sons. Or maybe GB is losing the plot — he was recently diagnosed with dementia. Dust obscures and flood waters run deep in Piles, Nevada.

3. Bad Soil

Kingdom of Dust

The Sower and the Seed

4.  My genre: mystery thriller


Rachel Hawkins’s gothic thrillers — compares to my novel because of the twisty family drama with quirkiness, humor, and darkness; spooky old mansions, cool settings that easily become creepy

Jane Harper’s Aaron Falk mystery series  — community mysteries with page-turning plot and writing, white-collar, domestic crimes; strong sense of place, rural, desert small town community, with a natural disaster looming

From outside literature:

… the anthology series Covenant but set in the dry American West.

… a contemporary version of Red Dead Redemption as a twisty feminist revenge tale.


A good Christian woman raised in a Nevada brothel works to uncover the truth about the death of her father figure, pitting herself against the ruling family of her desert town, which is about to drown beneath a hundred-year flood. This contemporary version of Red Dead Redemption is a twisty feminist revenge tale mimicking the biblical Parable of the Sower.


6.  Clara is the daughter of a Nevada brothel madam, a major figure in the legal sex industry, but that doesn’t mean she knows how to “catch a man.” Born again into the Disciples of the West evangelical movement, Clara wants a godly man, but finds only frustration. And one toad who just won’t leave her alone. Quirky Clara is always the friend, never the girlfriend. And sometimes, because of her notorious mother, the one to avoid and pity.

One scenario is that her pastor and wife will try and set her up with this “godly toad.” This is a trigger for her because she interprets this as her friends thinking she’s only good enough for an unattractive, small man with little imagination. Her reaction is to be shocked and resent her place as the single, disappointed woman in a church full of married, content couples. She acts out the frustration of being the third and fifth wheel, taking care of others people’s children and volunteering in service and prayer ministries — watching everyone else live the godly life she’s supposed to have as well.

7.  The town of Piles could be defined by one geographic certainty: it is the closest to Carson City, the capital of Nevada, while still having the cheapest real estate. It also has the most famous legal brothel, 20 minutes away from the silver dome of the state Capitol, as the crow flies. State protective services can get you there in 10. The residents of Piles, Nevada, population 2,500 last Census, believe whether the sands continue to shift from past ecological malfeasance or the new swarm quakes shake them into a different jurisdiction, Piles will always be cheap. Tawdry as well.

The town was once called Piles Station because this was the rail toll stop and turntable between Carson City and Virginia City, two much more illustrious cities. Piles was the ignominious narrow gauge station where the robber barons either paid taxes or bribes. The taxes decreased with the silver. The bribes not necessarily so.

Today the town has the proximity to city amenities and conveniences without its prices. But none of its charm nor natural beauty either. People generally don’t want to live in a former mining wasteland. Unless they don’t have a choice.

When Clara was young, they were practically giving Storyed County land away to anyone who could wet it down, stopping the dust from blowing onto neighbors and covering them like the lava of Vesuvius. On blustery days, the elevated residents of Virginia City could look down the mountain at a great brown cloud of aridisol hovering like smog. Piles. Piles of dirt in Piles, Nevada, swirling swirling, so the children sang sing-song, like a flushed toilet.

My 84,000-word mystery thriller novel features these other scene settings:

— the Word in Life Worship Center, which has a state-of-the-art sound system built for the pastor’s charismatic worship pastor son complete with Jumbotron

— the Red Rose Ranch, a legal brothel owned by Rose Schafer, Clara’s mother

— the American Flat Mill, a 30-acre industrial ruin that has been turned into an illegal graffiti art museum and rave site

— the American Minerals Co. Mine, the last cyanide leach pit mine on the Comstock

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Write to Pitch Pre-Event Assignments:

A Murder of Crows by Amanda Stuermer

Assignment #1:  Story Statement

Reveal the secrets of the past to expose the injustice of the present.

A Murder of Crows is set during the 1980s, a time when women in the Deep South would have heard of the Equal Rights Amendment and Ms. Magazine but were still expected to uphold traditional family values and subscribe to Better Homes & Gardens. Ginny Calhoun is a single mom who works at the local Piggly Wiggly and dreams of becoming a journalist. When she develops an unlikely friendship with her co-worker Ronda, a former Miss Teen Louisiana, and Claire, the middle-aged debutante whose husband Ronda has been sleeping with, Ginny finds the article she’s been looking to write, but publishing it will force her to expose closely held secrets from her past as well as confront the broader social injustice of the present. 

Assignment #2:  Antagonist(s)

The antagonists are a series of men who represent male privilege in the Deep South in the 1980s. 

Trey Montogomery is a mean drunk. He moves through his teenage years with the swagger of a young man born into a world unapologetically tilted in his favor. He takes what he wants when he wants it. Sex is just one more thing he doesn’t feel he has to ask permission for. 

Johnny Jespers is an angry, abusive man who doesn’t have much use for his daughter Ronda. He wanted sons. The fact that he only got one was a deep wound to his pride. It is one of the many ways his wife has let him down — something he reminds her of regularly. As Ronda gets older, she learns to avoid her father when he comes home with whiskey on his breath and a glazed, hungry look in his eyes. 

Dickie Rowlings is approaching the deep end of middle age but behaves like a perpetual fraternity boy. He carelessly toys with women’s lives while publicly campaigning for ‘family value’ politicians. His wife Claire has long been aware of his sexual escapades. Dickie likes to have things other people covet; she used to be one of those things.

Assignment #3: Breakout Title + Runner Up

A Murder of Crows
Justification: I wove in 
the folktale that says crows gather to judge the fate of another crow. If the verdict goes against the defendant that bird will be killed by the rest of the flock. It ties in with the judgment each of the women in my novel faces in their efforts to become free. In the end, my readers will decide the fate of one of the women. I have also included other avian imagery throughout the novel. 


Justification: Murmuration occurs 1) to provide birds safety in numbers as predators find it hard to target one bird amongst a hypnotizing flock of thousands and 2) to keep warm at night and exchange useful information. This speaks to the way my main female characters come together to push back against the societal expectations and limitations of the time.

Assignment #4: Genre + Comps

 Genre: Women’s Fiction, Upmarket Fiction

Comp 1: Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng

Both novels feature mothers running away from their pasts and raising their daughters on their own. They also each explore class and societal divisions, expectations, and limitations.

Comp 2: Lesson in Chemistry by Bonnie Garmus

Both novels feature strong female protagonists who push back against the sexist societal norms of their times. Each novel also serves as both a time capsule and current social commentary.

Assignment #5: Hook Line

A single mom and aspiring journalist decides to expose the social inequities impacting women in the Deep South during the 1980s, but doing so means revealing the closely held secrets of her past and confronting the man who raped her.

A single mom, who works at the Piggly Wiggly and writes horoscopes on the side, finally gets her shot at becoming a journalist, but she must reveal the closely held secrets of her past before confronting the broader social injustice of the 1980s in the Deep South.

  Assignment #6: Conflict

Primary Conflict: Judgment + Shame. The humid air of 1980s Louisiana is thick with judgment and shame. It wafts off women like heat waves on hot asphalt. We first meet our protagonist, Ginny, when she is twelve and notices the way women judge her mother for not wearing nylon stockings as they walk down the center aisle to take communion at church. This is continuously woven through the novel. Ginny loses both of her parents in a tragic car accident and grows up hearing her name whispered behind cupped hands. When she becomes pregnant in high school, she decides to move further down the interstate to outrun the whispers and seek out a tabula rasa but finds she still must live with the shame of being raped and the judgment of being a single mom in a small southern town. When she develops an unlikely friendship with her co-worker Ronda, a former Miss Teen Louisiana, and Claire, the middle-aged debutante whose husband Ronda has been sleeping with, Ginny realizes she is not the only woman being held captive by social stigmas of the time. An opportunity arises for her to realize her dream of becoming a journalist by sharing these women’s stories, but she must decide whether she is ready to reveal the closely held secrets of her own story and expose the man who raped her and his politically powerful father.

Secondary Conflicts: Each of the secondary female characters in the novel has a conflict they are confronting: 1) Paula, Ginny’s best friend, is a divorced mother attempting to get her pilot license and pushing back against her mother’s judgment around her failed marriage, 2) Ronda, Ginny’s hard-luck co-worker, finds herself pregnant after an affair with a married man falls apart and facing the shame of abortion, 3) Claire, the elegant debutant whose husband Ronda was having an affair with, is preparing to leave her husband and become a social outcast, 4) Beth, Ginny’s aunt who raised her after her parents died, is processing a dire cancer diagnosis and must decide how best to live with her ‘use by date,’ and 5) Joy, Ginny’s daughter, has to come to terms with her choices when she learns the secrets her mother has been keeping. 

Inner Conflicts: Each woman in the novel must decide how far she is willing to go to push back against the judgment and shame heaped upon women in the Deep South during that time. Several male characters serve as their antagonists. The main question is: will each woman find a way to set herself free? Ginny is the through thread that binds them all together and it is she who has the power to tell their stories and expose the injustice women face. Will she do so – or will her desire to keep her past a secret force her to remain silent?

Assignment #7: Setting

My novel is set in a small town in Louisiana during the 1980s, a time when women in the Deep South would have heard of the Equal Rights Amendment and Ms Magazine but were still expected to uphold traditional family values and subscribe to Better Homes & Gardens. Ginny is a single mom working at the local Piggly Wiggly. Ringing up groceries allows her to gather useful information, intimate details about other peoples lives — who is trying to lose weight, who is losing sleep, who is losing to the bottle — while diverting attention from her own. On work breaks, when the rest of the lady checkers sit around the break room swapping gossip and smoking menthol cigarettes, Ginny jots notes into the little blue notepad she keeps in the front apron pocket of her uniform. There are stories on every aisle of that store. She collects them like seashells on the beach: she spots one, presses it gently to her ear, and listens. She’s been losing herself in other people’s stories for so long it has become more than a habit; it has become survival. 

The novel is part time capsule and part current social commentary. The atmosphere of the American South in the 1980s provides the necessary broader social context for the inner conflicts the characters are experiencing as they navigate their complex lives against a backdrop of hardship, prejudice, and dynastic politics.





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Dual timeline novel with separate characters, storylines, and settings.

Assignment 1: Story Statement

-          Following his father's death and information that comes to light in the aftermath, Daniel must decide who he is, what he wants from life, and how to handle the potentially criminal situation his father left him in. 

-          Given a second chance at life, Anne Pierrepont vows to live a life of adventure and freedom by running away to the Colonies and escaping the life of a proper British lady and housewife.

Assignment 2: Antagonist

-          The antagonist in Daniel's story is his father, whose obsession with finding a way to extend his life beyond that which his terminal illness would dictate, creates challenges that Daniel must face after his passing. 

-          The antagonist in Anne's story is the man she was arranged to marry, Arthur Gore.  His expectation of Anne to play the role of a dutiful housewife and bearer of children, along with his temper, drive Anne to run away to the Americas.   The chance of running into him when he comes to America as a British solider, and what happens when she does shape the major plotlines of Anne's story.

Assignment 3: Title


The Second Life of Carolynn Bates


Assignment 4: Genre & Comparables

Timeless is a dual timeline science fiction novel.  Like most dual timeline novels, the timeline in the past resembles more of a historical fiction genre. 

Comparable Novels with similar science fiction timeline / historical dual timelines are:

Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell

Doomsday Book by Connie Willis

The interaction between in past and the future timelines is similar to:

The Lost Apothecary by Sarah Penner


Assignment 5: Hook Line

Gifted a second chance at life, Carolynn Bates goes back in time and becomes a proper lady, trapped by the rules of British society, who runs away from her arranged marriage to seek out a life of adventure and freedom in colonial America on the verge of revolutionary war.


Assignment 6: Conflict

Future Timeline

-          Inner Conflict: Daniel’s mother abandoned him and his father when his father found out he was terminally ill.  Daniel devoted his life and career to helping his father with his research to try to cheat his illness through time travel.  After his father's passing Daniel is confronted with the ethical and moral conflict of the potential dangers of their research and the unsanctioned ways conducted the research. 

-          Scenario: After taking some time to clear his mind, Daniel returns to his place of work and spends time with some of his employees.  He is reminded of the good that the company his family built and realizes just how much he and his father have put at risk with their unsanctioned research.  Daniel reacts by working with his assistant to device a plan to erase all traces of the research and submit a proposal to start over from scratch properly. 

-          Secondary Conflict: Daniel’s company created AI assistants - holographic personal assistants who have programmable personality settings to assist people in their daily tasks and lives.  Daniel created his own AI assistant, Hailey, in the image of what he considers a perfect woman.  Conflict arises as Daniel attempts to maintain appropriate boundaries with his flirtatious and witty assistant. 

-          Scenario: After a late night of drinking as Daniel finally allows himself to mourn the death of his father, Daniel returns home and is seduced by Hailey.  Daniel reacts by trying to pretend that it didn't happen.

Past Timeline

-          Inner Conflict: Anne remembers only snippets of her past life as Carolynn, but primary amongst those memories is her husband encouraging her to live a life of freedom and adventure.  She finds herself in a world where women have no rights and are expected to do things in very particular ways.  How will she honor this gift of a second life and live it the way she wants to?

-          Scenario: Anne’s parents arrange for her to marry an older man from a rich and influential family who wants to move her to the countryside where they can start a family and she can raise their children.  Anne reacts by devising a plan to run away to America.

-          Secondary Conflict: On her journey to America Anne is confronted with the practice of slave trade when the ship she is on stops in Africa to exchange their cargo of textile goods for slaves to take to America.  Anne detests the concept of slavery and conflict arises as she is subjected to the harsh realities of slavery in America.

-          Scenario: Anne witnesses the brutal beating of a slave woman whom she has become friends with when the slave's owner, whom Anne is staying with when she first gets to America, blames the slave woman for not saving his son from a deadly illness.  Anne reacts by helping the slave woman escape and travels north with her to save her life. 

Assignment 7: Setting

Future Timeline

-          The setting of where the novel starts is in 2129 in New York.  The world is a future version of our own, where robots, AI, and self driving cars and planes are a part of every day life.  The primary scene location for the first part of the novel takes place at the company that Daniel has just inherited from his father.  The company was founded by his grandfather as a research facility on developing AI technologies.  His grandmother was a clinical psychologist.  When they married, they merged their businesses and started developing AI technologies to deliver services based on clinical psychological practices.  When Daniel's father found out that he was terminally ill, he began using the company's resources to fund and hide his unsanctioned research into time travel. 

-          Later in the novel Daniel travels to a remote resort to get away and clear his mind.  This resort is built near Iguazu Falls in Argentina and is a stark juxtaposition to the highly developed world Daniel lives in.  The natural wonders of the magnificent falls are nearly untouched by man, and AI and robots are forbidden at the resort. 

-          Sub scene locations include a small town in rural New Jersey, the graveyard at Princeton college, and Central Park. 

Past Timeline

-          The setting where Anne’s story begins is in Mayfair, the rich area of Central London in 1774.  Anne’s family lives in a nice, but not lavish house near Hyde Park.  Anne walks Bond street, where all the finest shops in London are at that time, and goes to a play to see Julius Cesar which played at the Drury theater in Covenant Garden that fall. 

-          The next major scene is a plantation on the outskirts of Charleston, SC.  Anne is exposed to the cruelty of slavery and the rumblings of the beginnings of the American Revolution. 

-          The bulk of the story takes place near a small settlement called Great Plains (modern day Greenville, SC).  Great Plains is within Cherokee lands on the frontier of the settled new world.  Anne hopes to hide out from the war there on the frontier, far away from the battles going on in the north.  But as the war shifts south, the involvement of the Cherokee in supporting the British in the war brings the war to the small settlement. 

-          Sub scene locations include a ship on the Atlantic Ocean, the undeveloped countryside of SC during overland travel by foot, and Princeton NJ.

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DEATH OF A SHOWGIRL / Psychological Thriller / 96,000 words

When Galen discovers that he and a burlesque dancer named Avalon are both pawns in a sinister scheme orchestrated by his celebrity girlfriend, the two of them have to work together to derail her plans and expose her true nature to the world.

Elise Darrow, a pop star who’s been plagued by scandal and tragedy, dreams of having a biological family of her own. She’s always been resourceful and good at manipulating people—but after spending her childhood in foster care, accidentally causing the death of her only sister, and struggling with infertility—Elise is pushed to her breaking point. 
Her obsession with familial loves drives her into the arms of her bastard cousin, Galen, who has no idea of their biological relationship. They conduct an affair under the nose of Elise’s husband together for 10 years, going so far as to conceive a child together using a donor egg. 
Elise’s outlook on life changes significantly when her son Emery is born, but her happiness is short lived. Complications from pregnancy cause Elise to develop epilepsy, and she drops Emery during a seizure, killing him instantly. 
Unable to accept the loss of her son or carry another pregnancy, Elise hatches a plot for Galen and her egg donor to unwittingly conceive a biological sibling to Emery. Once she tracks down the identity of the donor, she knows it will be all too easy to use her fame and influence to bring her and Galen together.  

1. Death Of A Showgirl 
2. That Night At The Sterling
3. When The Curtain Falls

Genre: Psychological Thriller

Comp title one: Rock Paper Scissors by Alice Feeney- Uses the same narrative structure, alternating back and forth between male and female first-person POV.

Comp title two: None Of This Is True by Lisa Jewell- Same complicated character dynamics involving love, obsession, and power dynamics.

(Galen) A love-struck man is unwittingly roped into his celebrity girlfriend’s plans to exploit and entrap a young burlesque dancer.

(Avalon) A burlesque dancer thinks she’s made her big break when a pop star casts her for a music video, unaware of the secret connection she shares with her new celebrity boss. 

(Galen) Inner conflict: Galen perceives Elise’s attention shifting away from him and toward Avalon as a threat to their decade long relationship. He has a compulsive need to understand what the relationship is between the two women and diagnose a root cause for Elise’s obsession. 

(Galen) Secondary conflict: Galen has unaddressed attachment wounds from his childhood. His mother neglected him in favor of her male suitors, leaving young Galen to fend for himself. This amplifies his unhealthy obsession with Elise and his desire to be prioritized by her. 

(Avalon) Inner conflict: Avalon is unhappy with her mediocre office job and dreams about pursuing burlesque as her full-time career. Breaking into the mainstream burlesque world is notoriously difficult, and only a fraction of those who manage to do it make enough money to sustain themselves. 

(Avalon) Secondary conflict: Avalon feels an ‘otherness’ when it comes to her family. Her little sister was always the favorite and has consistently been more successful with her career and education. Her mother died while they were on bad terms, and Avalon never felt like she lived up to her expectations. 

DEATH OF A SHOWGIRL is set in Austin, TX against the opulent backdrop of the city’s burlesque underground. There are two main locations that play an important role in the story. 

The first is the Sterling Theater, the century-old Art Deco venue that hosts the burlesque show where the inciting incident takes place. The theater is where our 3 main characters meet, and the setting represents something important about each of their characters. For Avalon, it’s a manifestation of her dream to perform burlesque full time. For Elise, it’s a reminder of the grandeur and spotlight she lost when she fell out of grace in the public eye. For Galen, the theater represents his struggle for power and frustration with his role as a ‘spectator.’ 

Both the opening and closing acts of the story take place on stage at the Sterling. The destruction of the theater also bears symbolic meaning for all three characters in relation to their arc. Galen is freed of his bond with Elise, Avalon starts her life over without hiding behind her burlesque persona, and Elise’s secrets are all brought to light (literally). The Sterling theater burning to the ground signals the literal and metaphorical end to each journey, but also implies potential rebirth. 

Elise’s mansion is the second main location where the story is set. She lives in a huge, sprawling estate occupied by only herself and her husband. The vast emptiness of the house mirrors the way Elise feels about the loss of her son, Emery, who died there years ago. It’s also the setting where she exerts the most power over people, wielding her material fortune to manipulate others. From her housekeeping staff to Avalon, she treats everyone that sets foot through her door like a personal belonging that she can use however she sees fit. Characters perceive it either as a castle or a prison depending on Elise’s actions. 

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Write to Pitch 2024 Assignment



by David Abis


Story Statement

Young sugar baby on the run in glamorous Palm Beach deludes herself into believing she is living la dolce vita, all while in complete denial of her history as a teenaged victim of domestic abuse, the effect it’s had on her psyche, and the fact that her abuser is still stalking her.


Antagonistic Force

While the initial perceived antagonist is Diana Whitmore, the adult daughter of the protagonist’s sugar daddy, looking to preserve the family fortune from a shameless gold-digger, the true villain is the protagonist’s own father, Hank Pennock, who sexually abused her as a young teenager, killed her mother to cover it up, and is still stalking her. Though the protagonist, Désirée, lives in complete denial of the entire episode, even believing she is twenty-six years old instead of her true age of sixteen, she’s been on the run ever since, hiding out in Palm Beach, where she survives as a glorified prostitute (sugar baby) with daddy issues, forever in search of the loving father figure she never had. Her father sees her as his property, and will stop at nothing to get her back under his control, while Désirée only recognizes him, when ultimately confronted, as a less than human unholy beast that’s come to drag her back down to hell again.


Breakout Title

Delusions of Grandeur


Lost in Palm Beach



While I am no Truman Capote, my novel could be seen as an updated version of Breakfast at Tiffany’s, relocated from Fifth Avenue to Worth Avenue, the initially upbeat story of a beautiful and vivacious life of the party and “gentlemen’s companion” who is ultimately revealed to be a “real phony,” hiding behind a cleverly crafted façade while in denial of her traumatic childhood. The sympathetic protagonist, story, and setting should all appeal to readers looking for a happy upbeat read, yet, once hooked, the reality of a more serious underlying theme is revealed.

Safe Haven by Nicholas Sparks describes a woman and the relationships she forms in a new town while hiding out from the domestic abuser who ultimately tracks her down.

Stephen Chbosky’s Perks of Being a Wallflower explains many of the novel’s problems/conflicts only by finally revealing the protagonist was a victim of childhood sexual abuse, something that’s been so strongly suppressed, even he, as the first-person narrator, is unaware of it.


Hook Line

Young and beautiful Désirée de France, always the life of the party, is Palm Beach’s favorite sugar baby, but just how long can she hide behind her rose-colored glasses, hobnobbing among the rich and famous, before the life-sized skeleton in her closet comes to drag her back down that dark hole she’s chosen to forget?


Protagonist’s inner conflict

Despite her upbeat façade and insistence that she is a twenty-six-year-old descendant of French royalty, , Désirée is, in reality (though unbeknownst even to herself due to the repressed history of sexual abuse by her father) a sixteen-year-old runaway who believes she is not worthy of unconditional love, all love being transactional in nature (merely sex for money), and is forever searching for that loving father figure she never had. She subconsciously feels sinful and unworthy of redemption for having had sex with her father and killing her unborn baby even though neither act was consensual.


Protagonist’s secondary conflict

When Linus, her too-good-to-be-true sugar daddy who appears to truly love her with no expectation of sexual favors, turns out to have dementia, mistakenly believing all the time that Désirée was actually his daughter, she is devastated, believing he never truly loved her. After all, he thought she was someone else all the time.

Désirée is in conflict with her sugar daddy Linus’s grown daughter, Diana, who sees Désirée as a gold-digger after the family fortune, has her barred from Linus’s estate after his death, leaving her homeless. When Désirée is named as Linus’s soul beneficiary, a battle royale ensues over the inheritance of the vast estate.

While Désirée is fine providing sexual companionship for money, she subconsciously believes she is undeserving of unconditional love. So when Romeo, the young man her own age who is truly in love with her, tries to lovingly touch her without financial conditions, she becomes violently ill, something that must be overcome by the novel’s end.

Because of her irrational feelings of guilt for having had sex with her father and aborting her baby, neither consensual, Désirée has an overwhelming desire to be good and do the right thing in the eyes of Jesus by not accepting Linus’s inheritance under false pretenses.



The primary setting is glamourous Palm Beach, Florida with secondary settings in the French Riviera and Italy’s Amalfi Coast. The protagonist hobnobs among the wealthy in Palm Beach, with its landmark hotels, restaurants, yachts, polo club, and opera, where she knows everyone and everything, and is always the life of the party, making her way as a glorified prostitute/sugar baby, all while on the run, in hiding from her dark past. When the real world begins to close in her, she, her young Italian suiter, and her sugar daddy, embark on a tour of “the continent,” including the French Riviera and the Amalfi Coast, ultimately forced to return to Palm Beach to face the music. 

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The Inquisitor’s Apprentice (Upmarket Historical Fiction – in process) by Dean Cycon


Story Statement

13 year-old Blanca, too young to be tortured and imprisoned, is forced to work for the Spanish Inquisition. She must use her wit and intelligence to save her parents and other Conversos languishing in prison in 16th century Cordoba from the vengeance of the “Dark One”, Inquisitor Rodrigo Lucero. Based on a true story.


Antagonistic Forces

The main antagonist is the Inquisitor for Cordoba, Rodrigo Lucero, known as “the Dark One” for his greed and evil deeds. Lucero has come to Cordoba to root out Conversos (converted Jews) who are actually secret Jews who keep to the Law of Moses. In his zeal and bigotry he arrests many prominent and ordinary Conversos, and uses their forced “confessions” to grab others in to his net. Ultimately, Lucero performs a series of Auto da Fe’s, which lead to the burning at the stake of hundreds of Conversos and the confiscation of their property to pay the expenses of the Inquisitor, reward his friends and add a percentage to the Royal Treasury of Ferdinand and Isabel. Other antagonistic forces are the Sovereigns and some, but not all, of the nobles and clergy.


Breakout Title

The Inquisitor’s Apprentice


Genre and Comparables

Upmarket Historical Fiction

1. By Fire, By Water, by Mitchell James Kaplan. In 1500's Spain, a Converso who held high office under Queen Isabel loses favor and is hounded by the Inquisition.

2. The Matrix by Lauren Groff. Young woman in medieval England is forced to enter a monastery and use her wit and intelligence to survive in a corrupt world.


Hook Line





The novel takes place in medieval Cordoba, Spain in the years 1503-1506.The city itself was largely designed by the now vanquished Moors, and the main Cathedral has been built within the walls and exquisite architecture of the Mesquiza, the Moorish mosque. There are no longer any Jews in Cordoba, as they were all expelled or converted in 1492, but most of the Conversos, including Blanca’s family, still live in the old Jewish Quarter, a series of winding, narrow lanes with walls hiding the courtyards and living quarters within. The old synagogue in the Jewish Quarter is now a church, with large tapestries and religious paintings hiding much of the Moorish architecture and the Hebrew inscriptions in the walls. Blanca’s father, Alonso, is a former university professor turned bookbinder of rare and important manuscripts, mostly religious and philosophical tomes sought after by nobles and churchmen alike. He has a large library in his home, which is coveted by the Inquisitor.

The Inquisitor’s offices, the prison cells and the torture rooms are located inside the imposing Fortress, located close to the Cathedral, and the burning grounds are a short walk from there, in the same place the Romans used to burn Christians.

After Alonso is taken in by the Inquisition, Blanca is forced to live with and assist the Notary of the Holy Office, who writes down everything a prisoner says during questioning and torture. She also travels with the Notary to Seville where Inquisition documents are printed by the most famous early printing house in Spain, Jacobo Cromberger and Son.





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