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Algonkian Retreats and Workshops 2023 - Assignments

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Introduction to Pre-event Assignments 

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

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

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

Michael Neff

Algonkian Conference Director


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



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

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

att.jpg FIRST ASSIGNMENT: write your story statement. 



Antagonist (Photo Javert from "Les Misérables")

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

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

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


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



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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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



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

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


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


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

We have reviewed these and agree 110%.



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



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



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



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


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1.       THE ACT OF STORY STATEMENT-- develop a simple "story statement." In other words, what's the mission of your protagonist? The goal? What must be done?


When triggered by threats of losing her granddaughter and being dumped into a senior living facility, unresolved trauma begins to surface for unpublished writer Shelby Garrett and she sinks farther into the fantasy world of her fictional characters who have always helped her keep the past at bay. When intruders arrive to rob her and threaten her life, she is convinced the armed aggressors are her very own fictional characters, ones she can control. Unaware of the true dangers, she challenges the intruders and demands a rewrite. But as her hand is forced, the early trauma awakens, and she spirals out of control. One by one her delusions collapse and force her into the fight of her life.


2.     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.

Drystan Hewitt is a sociopath, abused and abandoned as a child. Raised on the streets, he has fought to survive by stealing, selling drugs, and terrorizing the weak. If life doesn’t go his way, he has no problem abusing or killing. He arrives on scene with intentions to harm and retrieve his girlfriend, Trudy. Although amused by the protagonist’s confusion with reality, tormenting the writer first then killing her will be an enjoyable task.

The secondary antagonist is Shelby’s own inner conflict and denial of the past. She has pushed her early trauma, grief, fear, and guilt so deep inside herself that she no longer acknowledges the truth or the uncomfortable realities of the present, despite the evidence, and buries herself deeper into her fictional world with every new stressor that arises. She is unable to leave her property since her husband died, and she lives through her characters. Though she understands her character's need to grow and change, she is unable to face her own need and brokenness. When the intruders enter her home, her fantasy world begins to unravel. Unless she is able to face the truth, deal with the past and live in the present, she will further destroy herself and lose her family, her life, and her sanity.

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

1st choice for title is FICTIONAL CHARACTERS because this is the world the protagonist lives in and she believes the fictional characters in her novel have invaded her home.

Other possible titles are:

Hiding in the Knotweed

Wall of Stories

Watchmen in the Windows

4.     Fourth Assignment (read article) then— 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 Woman in the Window—this psychological thriller is about a woman who cannot face the reality of the past and so she has altered it until a present trauma forces her to face and accept the past and complete the grieving process in a healthy way.

My protagonist has erased the past and lives through her characters by forcing them to face their fears, and to change and grow. But, sadly, she is unable to do the same until a present trauma forces her to fight or die.

Secret Window, Secret Garden by Stephen King—In this psychological metafiction thriller, a writer has a psychotic break, disassociating and splitting into two different personalities which allows him to deny truth and obtain revenge without responsibility.

My protagonist is an unpublished writer who cannot cope with the reality of the past, the early trauma of her brother’s death, and the death of her husband three years earlier. Instead, she buries herself in her fictional characters and lives through them, thereby avoiding the responsibility of living. At times, she cannot distinguish her characters from living breathing people and has no awareness of the real danger she is in when the home invaders arrive and threaten her.

5.     write your own hook line (logline) with conflict and core wound following the format above. 

When the separation from her granddaughter and the threat of being placed in a nursing home threaten to disrupt writer Shelby Garrett’s obsession with her fictional characters, her psyche begins to wobble, then when an intruder arrives to rob and threaten her life, she is forced to face the lies she’s constructed that help her forget a past she cannot face.

6.     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.

Unpublished writer, Shelby Garrett, has created the perfect world where she controls her characters’ emotions, trauma, past and present. By delving deeply into her stories and fictional characters, Shelby can continue to evade her own reality by detaching from her traumatic past. She will stop at nothing to keep the lies alive and the past buried. When confronted and threatened by intruders, Shelby denies the reality of what is happening and believes these killers are her fictional characters.

In a desperate attempt to retain her protagonists safety in the current novel she is writing, she performs a rewrite by murdering one of the intruders nonchalantly. But when she connects with the surviving intruder and is required to help bury the body and ditch the car, Shelby reacts with absolute fear at leaving the property, which is beyond her comfort level, a a further threat to expose the traumatic past. She refuses to acknowledge the dangers of leaving the car and dead body in plain sight and how this could put her at risk of being caught and prosecuted a murder, which she convinces herself has merely happened inside her novel.

At all costs, Shelby cannot allow herself to see any of the events as real or to remember the past because that could finish her, causing her to lose herself forever. That is, unless her enemy can help her safely uncover the past without destroying her in the process.

B. 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?

Due to grief and loss and an inability to face the past, Shelby is unable to leave her property and buries herself in the fictional world of her characters, disappearing from everyday life and interaction with family and friends. This alienation causes the protagonist to seem uncaring and aloof as well as detached from reality. Angered by Shelby’s refusal to attend off property functions and events and her inability to face the reality of her husband’s death, conflict arises. Because of Shelby’s delusions and emersion into her fictional world, not to mention the clutter and chaos of the home and property, Shelby’s daughter is left with no choice but to keep the granddaughter, Amy, from private visitations. Her hand is forced to begin the process of putting Shelby in a nursing home and getting her counseling.

As the home invasion escalates and Shelby is forced to face the truth, the past surfaces and Shelby spirals downward, losing control of her fantasy world and maladaptive ability to cope. She sinks into the past she has worked so hard to forget. Traumas converge and the lies she has told herself begin to crumble. Shelby will not emotionally survive the blows unless the surviving intruder helps her. Can two enemies help each other break free of the emotional chains of early trauma and erase a murder, thereby, bonding them together forever?

7.     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 of Fictional Characters takes place in an unnamed central Florida town in the country where the protagonist lives alone on an isolated property. The broken-down home is on the outskirts of town off a rarely used dirt road. The property is in disarray, inside and out, with the sheds and barns falling apart, the grass grown up around cluttered yard tools, and an overgrown and weed infested, neglected, and dying rose garden that the dead husband used to care for, as well as a dangerous old well that is similar to the well her brother died in. As Shelby’s psyche and social life have deteriorated, so has this property. When outside, Shelby believes there are watchmen at the property's corners, hiding. She sees shadows and images (the past is always begging to be exposed).

Unable to leave the property due to phobia’s and severe anxiety, she rarely ventures outside and when she does, she might walk the perimeter but never leaves the property. Everything outside is a trigger which she avoids, due to uncomfortable body sensations and a flood of sensory discomfort which trigger the rhyming and repetitive words she uses to cope and calm herself. Benson, one of her past characters, will shadow and present himself when she becomes triggered and he will talk her down.

On the isolated country property is an abandoned well that the protagonist refuses to go near. It is in the center of the back rose garden, which she refuses to tend to. When forced to help bury the body of one of the intruders’ in the abandoned well, Shelby’s early trauma fully surfaces. She is faced with ‘in your face’ memories of her brother who drowned in the grandparents’ old well when she was young as the daily train passed by the property. She blames herself because she was frozen with fear and could not get help fast enough. As the burial of the dead body in the well plunge her into the past, her psyche trembles and begins to deteriorate and the sound of that past and distant train returns to haunt her, the train whistle louder and louder in her head as she disintegrates. She recalls the train, the hideaway, the well, and her brother and husband’s death.

Forced to accept that they are dead and not still alive she falls completely apart. But not before the intruder forces her to help ditch the vehicle. As they drive, Shelby is faced with businesses she used to frequent years ago with her husband. These dark roads, stores, gas stations, and train tracks they must cross to ditch the car are all reminders of the past and the truth she has denied for so long.

The setting also includes a sickly fox (a representation of the brother) who watches her from across the road or from the hedges as they bury the body, and she believes the fox is there to bring her a message or to warn her in some way. She has seen this fox before and it is as he sits beside the knotted weedy edge of the woods that she begins to recall the knotweed fort of her childhood that always kept her safe. In the end, the fox was sickly and dies, as her brother did. But neither deaths were her fault and she will eventually accept this.

During the resolution, Trudy and Shelby pour concrete in the well to hide the body forever, swearing an oath to keep it secret. They clean and restore the rose gardens, creating beauty from the weeded mess, and clean up the property, inside and out.

Trudy leaves to live her life and Shelby is able to leave the property and resume a normal life, but Benson remains beside her, and an integral part of her life and psyche.

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1. Story Statement

When Michelle is arrested for kidnapping her children, she must prove her innocence in a small town judicial system known for corruption and backdoor dealings.

2. Antagonist Sketch

Driven by a cruel desire to dominate, Jeremy must punish Michelle for daring to defy him. Her freedom is an affront to his ego, forcing him to do whatever it takes to weaken her in order to maintain the status quo. Step-by-step, he begins laying the traps, gleefully disregarding the collateral damage he causes not only to strangers, but even to his own family.

3. Breakout Title

Water Bright As Day - (First Choice)

Voice Of Many Waters- (Second Choice)

4. Genre and Comparables

Haunted by constant poverty while residing in a lovely coastal city, my story has similarities to both Where the Crawdads Sing By Delia Owens as well as The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls.

5. Hook line

When Michelle finally musters up the gumption to flee an abusive marriage, she begins to build a new life for herself and her children. But what she doesn’t realize is that her accomplishments are being systematically dismantled at each and every turn. Her progress is thwarted and a trap is laid that will eventually land her in jail.

6. Inner Conflict Pt 1

What must she do to make herself holy enough for God to answer her prayers and give her justice in the court system? If she fails at holiness, will she ever be reunited with her children?

Inner Conflict Pt 2 (secondary conflict)

His stalking had invaded every part of her life. From her place of employment, to her doctor’s office, to the children’s school, her church leaders, her Sunday school class, her landlord, her friends, etc. People began to distance themselves from her. And after a while, she no longer knew who trusted her or who had become infected with his lies.

7. Setting

The sun gives us every drop of her light. It begins the moment she peeks over the marsh. As she heaves herself higher above the horizon, the grass is illuminated, yard by yard, changing from the pre-dawn brunette to a vibrant neon green. The waters turn to fire and flicker between the blades.

On a low tide, the marsh grasses temper the fiery waters. But when the tide is high, the tributaries and creeks burn like smoldering lava. On a high tide, the sun sees her glory. For the water is bright as day.

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Assignment 1.

A lifetime neglect of paternal responsibilities compels an ego-driven Glenn to make peace with his three daughters, who are unaware of their "half sisters" existence until they meet after his death.  Marta, his platonic partner of 20 years, agrees to carry-out the plan at his eastern Montana ranch. In exchange, she will inherit his place. In letters to each daughter, he assures that his death will provide them a life of financial freedom. In addition to the money, the middle daughter sees an opportunity to break away from her mother and their commune life; the youngest obliges in obedience to the convent that raised her and as a possible path to independence; the oldest wants the payback and seeks a final vengeance. Upon arrival, they learn that their inheritance must be earned by reading the individual journals he has created for each daughter. He structures his language to hit the deepest wounds and then soothes with the allurance of the endless skies and vast prairies. A few characters also help him execute the final closure. Coupled with these are small events that produce questions of what they really know about themselves, their relationships and him. Marta plays along with Glenn’s game, but the experiences the women share affects the execution of Glenn’s plan and alters their dreams and desires.



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Story Statement:

After a very public stint in a psychiatric hospital, teenage literary prodigy turned invisible housewife Julia Aldrich will do whatever it takes to show the world—and herself-- that she is smart, sane, and capable. If she can write and sell a hit novel under her married name it will prove that her early success was more than just some fluke. The problem is, she hasn’t been able to string two words together since her hospitalization almost fifteen years ago. But all of that is about to change. When her overbearing husband moves their family to the little town of Harlow, Massachusetts Julia is accepted into the prestigious Friends of Emily Peal writing club, where she is befriended by legendary author Clifton Penn Parker. Cliff promises Julia that he knows the secret formula to making her a famous author again—more famous, even, than she was before. Unfortunately, the more time she spends with Cliff, the more Julia suspects that his secret has something to do with the infamous 1963 disappearance of famed horror writer Emily Peal. As the pieces fall into place, Julia has to dig deep to ask herself what’s more important to her: seeing her name emblazoned on a book cover, or going down in history as the person who finally solved the mystery of Emily Peal’s disappearance, and brought her home—alive—after all these years. Whatever choice she makes will surely prove that her days of being remarkable are not behind her. But neither path forward is without risk, and things aren’t always as simple as they seem. Sometimes a victim is really a villain in disguise. And as everyone knows, it’s not often that a good deed goes unpunished.  



Clifton Penn Parker, respected elderly author of multiple bestselling horror novels, has a secret dark side that only a few people know about. The first person to see it was the mistress he almost strangled to death in the 1950s. The last person to see it is our protagonist, Julia. As his critique partner, Julia is privy to the full scope of Cliff’s darkness when he shares with her, chapter by chapter, the story of what really happened to famous horror writer Emily Peal, whose disappearance in the 1960s after the murder of her “roommate” Joanna has haunted authorities and fans alike for decades. But there’s something about Cliff’s confession that shakes Julia even more than the possibility that this man might have Emily Peal alive, still his captive after all these years. Why is he revealing these secrets to her, now? What’s going to happen to her now that she knows? And what are the chances that none of it is true, and Cliff is just trying to teach Julia some strange lesson on life and writing, playing on her history of mental illness to push her up to—and maybe even over-- the very edge?


Breakout Title:

WHAT HAPPENED TO EMILY PEAL (Cannot come up with even one single alternative that doesn’t sound cheesy as hell!!!)


Comp Titles:

WHAT HAPPENED TO EMILY PEAL is for fans of Colleen Hoover’s VERITY, Alexandra Andrews’ WHO IS MAUD DIXON, and BEHIND THE RED DOOR by Megan Collins


Hook Line:

A young housewife with a disturbing past must decide how far she’ll go and how much she’ll risk to propel herself back to the literary stardom she enjoyed prior to her unjust commitment to a ward for the criminally insane.



Inner Conflict: Despite her vehement insistence that her hospitalization was a setup, Julia is deeply afraid that she might actually be crazy. Her efforts to prove that she is talented and remarkable are primarily a way of convincing herself that she is mentally competent. But the more entangled Julia becomes with Cliff and his methods and writings, the more she is forced to ask herself whether the things she is thinking and doing are appropriate, or if she is coming completely unhinged.

Secondary Conflict: Julia and her husband Nick are having marital issues throughout the novel. In the beginning, we get the impression that Nick has cheated on Julia. As the story progresses, the reader will start to wonder whether Nick’s affair was real, or whether it was something Julia imagined. The true scope of Julia’s mental illness is revealed in the third act when Julia confesses to Cliff that she stalked and would have murdered the woman she suspected of being involved with her husband, if Nick hadn’t intervened in time.



Primary Setting: Harlow, Massachusetts

Harlow is a very small colonial town with a rural, tight-knit community feel to it, and dark, haunted undertones. It is the setting of a famous unsolved murder/disappearance, and the hometown of multiple well-known literary figures throughout the past century. Our protagonist grew up in Boston, and moving to Harlow is a culture shock for her. Her family is living in a large farmhouse that was built in the 1800s, and she is particularly unsettled by its distance from the neighbors and proximity to the dense forest and the wild beasts that lurk there.


Secondary Settings:

Boston, Massachusetts: At the beginning of the novel Julia is a city girl, more comfortable in the concrete jungle than she is in the suspiciously quiet town of Harlow. As the story progresses, it is clear how much trauma Julia has left behind in Boston. She grows accustomed to the simplicity of her new setting, and when she travels to Boston is overwhelmed by the lights, motion, and memories the city holds.

Cape Cod, Massachusetts: Cape Cod is two things in this story—a summer sanctuary, and the setting of a winter nightmare. Nick and Julia have a summer home in a bustling village on the water where they go to decompress. But in the third act, Julia is invited to Cliff’s second home on the Cape in the month of November. Cliff’s Cape house is imposing and isolated, located on a secluded spit of rock by a lighthouse. The bad weather, dangerously lonely locale and cavernous mansion make for a dark, sinister setting for the events of the third act to unfold.

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Groomed for rule her entire life gave descendant of English royalty Joan Beaufort the assumption she would wed a European Monarch. What she did not expect was that it would cause her to live in uncivilized Scotland, even worse, to the King of this land whom her own family captured fourteen years earlier and imprisoned in London ever since. 

Yet, upon meeting her betrothed she believes she can not only love this man, but she embraces her new role as Queen by putting the Scots on a cultured monarchal stage parallel to the rest of the international world. But imposed culture, lavish spending, and dictatorial control fosters the highest level of resentment and revenge from its nobility. 

Now Dowager Queen, she is mother to the six-year-old King, ordering merciless actions that she knew not existed in herself. Her vindictive acts require she rectify her moral agreement with God, while also securing distinctive betrothals for her many princesses before all authority, and her life, are taken from her too.



Margaret Holland; Duchess of Clarence

Joan has been groomed since birth by her pretentious and self-seeking mother, proven further to her when Margaret enforces an opportunity to raise their family’s status and England’s alliance against its foe France by wedding Joan to the imprisoned King of Scotland, a country she deplores. Once she is married and Queen of Scotland, she discovers that she makes the same choices for herself and her own children’s futures, and she needs her mother’s innate advice more than she ever imagined.


Murdac Stewart; Duke of Albany, Robert Graham; Nobleman, & Walter Stewart; Earl of Athol

Seeing Queen Joan and King James only as tyrants and interceptors to the Crown, hatred and resentment for the royal couple grows from their dictatorially enforced laws and extravagant spending. These Albany Stewarts, James’ family, and their kinsmen-supporters are either taken out by their Monarchs, or plot and recruit to take them out instead.



Prince Humphrey; Duke of Gloucester

Joan’s first cousin has always felt threatened by her Beaufort family’s connection to the throne. Son to the former English King, brother to the sitting one, he still resents them, as well as James of Scotland’s relationship with the two Kings.



Queen Joan of Scotland

The First King James I’s Wife

Groomed to Rule

English Queen of Scots



Historical Fiction (Historical Royal Fiction)

·       Anne O’Brien: The Queen’s Choice-This historical fiction novel depicts a lesser-known Queen of England who moved from France to wed a well-known King in the fifteen century. Although she was intelligent, capable, and highly regarded by her husband, her foreign bloodline dismissed her for rule in his absence. The author has clearly researched for accuracy and realism in the details of the story.


·       The Queen in my story is also based on a real person. She has been minimally recorded, and wanting a mostly accurate historical story, I have gathered facts through a variety of sources by researching information about the well-known people that would have assuredly been in her life. This book is also based in the early fifteen century, and similarly to Anne O’Brien’s novel, her husband loved and respected her highly, but most of the Scottish nobility did not see her capable due to her being female and of English blood.


·       Phillipa Gregory: Three Sisters, Three Queens-The story is about three real women who became queens in the sixteenth century. Of the two that are actual sisters of King Henry VIII, it is Margaret, who weds King James IV of Scotland. She moves there and finds that even with her English royal upbringing and her innate ability to rule even being much younger than her husband, she is rejected by the people of the land, as well as her own English family when she is in dire need of support.


·       With Queen Joan Beaufort also being of English royal preparedness for rule just like Queen Margaret Tudor, it is surprising to find minimal books about a Scottish Queen. Equally remarkable is that the Gregory novel requires the Scottish protagonist role to be shared with two other Queens: of England and of France. They both became Stewart Queens and share the direct descendant line of the future Mary Queen of Scots and her son King James I that united both Kingdoms. An important mutual element of Three Sisters, Three Queens and my novel is that they are both uniquely told in the present tense.



An English descendant of royalty must wed a King of fifteenth century Scotland whose murder invokes merciless revenge and domineering decisions from her, leading to inner conflict with her faith and herself.


1.     Angered with her mother being self-serving and for arranging her marriage to be in Scotland.

2.     Accepts her fate and envisions changing Scotland to be the place she had wanted.

3.     She is living her perfect life, but at the cost of others.

4.     Resentment leads to the stripping away her of her perfect life when the Scot’s people kill her husband.

5.     Choices she makes from the anger spurred from them taking away her perfect life and husband cause isolation, and inner turmoil with her Faith.

6.     Reconciliation with God is necessary for her eternal beliefs.

7.     She fears her previous choices and being a foreign-born female are leading to her own death soon.

8.     In final resolve, she knows she must arrange her children’s futures, accepting that her mother had done the same thing.


6. I. OTHER MATTERS OF CONFLICT: inner conflict your protagonist will have.

Joan Beaufort had been groomed in England for a life of high rule through marriage. Overhearing her family plotting to wed her to the imprisoned King of Scotland was too much to bear. She had assumed she would rule in a place of culture and sophistication. Scotland possessed neither in the early fifteen century. But once she had accepted her fate, she was determined to make Scotland a realm of international respect. Her choices created resentment that led her to decisions she never thought she would be making.



6. II. OTHER MATTERS OF CONFLICT: "secondary conflict" involving the social environment.

Would the people of the Scotland accept her? She knew personally two other foreign-born Queens who struggled in their new roles, and they both were allowed lives in her beloved England, but forever resented for their non-English blood. Added to that, those of Scotland that had disallowed their own anointed King his return to justly rule. She found they more than despised both of them once on their thrones. While she endlessly worked to cultivate and control the land to liken greater European kingdoms, her personal gain from such lavish display of wealth from the existing Scots people led to the worst resentments.



The setting begins in 1420 at London’s Windsor Castle as Joan Beaufort is hurrying to her private chambers after overhearing an upsetting conversation. Once in her chambers with her lady companions, she plans to travel to Leeds Castle for advice. This takes her travelling in a carriage scene that allows her to share her royal lineage through memories from ten – fifteen years earlier at Corfe Castle and Smithfield for an important jousting tournament. The smells and sights of these places prior, during, and after the ride allow an understanding of her emotions.

Her obligations then take her to Troyes France to witness King Henry’s wedding and meet the new Queen of England who becomes her close friend. This relationship permits living descriptions for the next years in London, and her acceptance and embrace of King James of Scotland because of Queen Katherine’s coronation at Westminster as well as her residency and James’ confinement at Windsor Castle. Joan too has chambers at Windsor with her royal family status, but she also stays her mother’s royal manor houses. All these castles and manors have elaborate gardens that Joan spends times in with both her ladies and with James, making for both intimate and playful scenes.

Her own wedding is at a Saint Mary Overie Church with her banquet and wedding night detailed at Westminster. From there, James is released from imprisonent, and they have travel stops on their journey north to Brancepeth and Raby Castles in Durham. Scenes consisting of meeting with many English and Scots nobles are conducted here before they travel over to Melrose Abbey and she first encounters Scotland and the story’s most villainous antagonists. From there they arrive through a glorious procession along the streets of Edinburgh and its Castle.

After their double coronation ceremony and first parliament meeting at the Blackfriars Priory in Perth, she returns to spend time at the castle setting up her Scottish retinue. At the same time, the existing Linlithgow Castle burns down, and they focus on rebuilding it into a Pleasure Palace to live, entertain, and raise their children. They also choose to build a Carthusian Priory with a mausoleum for their eventual deaths, and they choose to lavishly adorn all of these places on monies promised to England for his previous captivity and from taxing Scottish lords. With resentment already existing in Joan and James’ positions in Scotland, an assassination is successful and Joan must take her young son, now king, and flee to Stirling Castle and conduct parliament herself for justice. With now 7 children and widowed, she uses all of her knowledge of castle-life and monarchy-rule to betroth her children, trying to also save her own life that she knows is in danger.

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The Algonkian Writers Retreat (March 2023) – Seven Assignments

1.      First Assignment - Story Statement:

A determined, lowborn 18th century colonel battles his peers’ arrogance as he trains his overlooked broodmare to become a successful racehorse in colonial Maryland.


2.      Second Assignment - Antagonists summary:

Colonel Benjamin Tasker, Jr.’s antagonists:

1.      William ByrdSocially gracious, wealthy, but spoiled Virginia lawmaker has no respect for those who are beneath his social level. He’s also devious. He looks older than his age of 27 and he has a failed marriage. He uses his prize Thoroughbred racehorse Tryall to win local dispute races and maintain his prominence and ego, in addition to satisfying his gambling addiction. Aware of Col. Tasker’s horse Selima’s racing success, Byrd attempts to ruin Selima’s chances to participate in a critical horse race against Tryall.         

2.      The Hanson and Darby brothers – They have hereditary privileges and riches that allow them to own the finest farmlands and purchase the finest racehorses. They belittle Tasker’s social rank, his horse Selima, and his attraction to a beautiful wealthy horsewoman

3.       Governor Samuel OgleBecause Tasker is the grandson of an indentured servant, Governor Ogle uses his brother-in-law as his estate manager, horse trainer, and other tasks of servitude. He also speaks his mind without thinking of how it impacts others. The governor later learns to appreciate Tasker for his ambitions and his success with Selima.   

4.      Elizabeth WorthingtonThe beautiful, wealthy, and shallow horsewoman quickly rejects Colonel Tasker’s early romantic interest because of his involvement in trade and lack of hereditary privileges. She is condescending to him at social occasions, but she begins to see him in a different light when the colonel rescues her from a runaway horse and she faces female competition for the colonel’s attention.


3.      Third Assignment - Breakout Title:

Tasker’s Chance

Horse of the Colonies

A Faith Called Selima


4.      Fourth Assignment - Comparables:

Tasker’s Chance is like National Velvet meets My Name is Resolute, except with male protagonists.

Tasker’s Chance is like Seabiscuit meets Poldark.

Tasker’s Chance is like Marguerite Henry’s King of the Wind set in 18th century Maryland.


5.      Fifth Assignment - Hook/Logline (Primary Conflict)

A socially rejected but determined colonel of 18th century Maryland battles the arrogant malice of his peers, especially from a wealthy, powerful Virginia statesman, as he perceives the potential of his broodmare and trains her to become a successful racehorse.

Secondary conflict(s) – Core wounds sketches

Handsome, virtuous Colonel Benjamin Tasker, Jr constantly experiences social rejection from the privileged gentry of 18th century Maryland because of his low birth status (he is the grandson of an indentured servant). Others in high social ranks make Tasker feel that he is good, but not good enough to be fully a part of – and benefit from – their circles of privilege and wealth. Victories at horse races were a means for ensuring a gentleman’s high position in society.  Tasker senses his broodmare Selima’s potential to become a successful racehorse, and he trains her as a means to 1) prove his self-worth to colonial society, particularly and secretly to Elizabeth Worthington, a woman who is socially far above him, and 2) provide a chance for Selima to become successful. He is brilliant with horses but unlucky with women.

1.      Colonel Tasker (protagonist) initially has conflicts with his brother-in-law Governor Samuel Ogle (antagonist). Ogle is a brusque English aristocrat who is not completely happy about being a governor of the Maryland colony. He is married to Tasker’s sister and yet often sees the Tasker family as socially inferior due to their grandfather’s status as an indentured servant, and that Tasker is involved with the spice trade. The governor treats Tasker almost like a plantation manager. He is not pleased that Tasker’s seven-year-old broodmare Selima outperforms his new stallion, Othello, and his other racehorses.

2.      Colonel Tasker has bad luck with women; his fiancé died of smallpox and he has a problematic relationship with beautiful, aristocratic horsewoman Elizabeth Worthington (antagonist). She cruelly, and in public, rebuffs his polite attempts to court her, and Tasker soon senses her shallow frivolous side. However, Tasker remains attracted to Elizabeth but hides his feelings from her and from his friends. Despite their mutual interest in horses, they scorn each other, until Tasker is compelled to rescue Elizabeth when her horse runs away with her. Only after a female rival displays romantic interest in Tasker and Elizabeth’s forced marriage to an older landowner does she realize, too late, that she appreciates and loves Tasker.

3.      William Byrd, (antagonist) a spoiled, wealthy landowner, presents problems for Tasker as well. Byrd is a charming successful politician and a charming host, but he has a gambling problem and a reputation as a cheat. Although Byrd meets him only a few times, he feels threatened by Tasker’s success with Selima. When a bridge collapse delays Selima’s and Tasker’s participation in an important horse race, Byrd attempts to prevent Selima from racing by bribing the racing officials to remain silent to the spectators and the racing authorities when Tasker’s messenger informs Byrd of the party’s delay and the colonel’s intention to race.

4.      Tasker also faces scorn from sons of several wealthy plantation owners (antagonists) who are set to inherit wealth. The Hansons and Darbys treat him as someone beneath them socially because of his low birth. They ask him to train their mediocre racehorses to become successful on the race track and they make fun of Selima. They also become rather jealous when Selima develops into a successful racer. 

5.      Henry Talbot, (a second [sub?] protagonist) and Colonel Tasker’s jockey, has his own conflicts as he finds success with riding Selima. A temperamental stablemaster torments Henry as the slave works his way to becoming a jockey. Jealous of his rising stature, fellow slaves get him into trouble with his owner, Governor Samuel Ogle of Maryland, and rob him of his jockey earnings - Henry’s means of purchasing his own freedom. Henry runs away after Ogle refuses to honor his freedom purchase despite the theft, risking Henry’s jockey career.


6.      Sixth Assignment - Inner conflicts

Inner conflicts of:

Colonel Benjamin Tasker, Jr.An expert horseman and of good character, Tasker is frustrated by his peers’ social rejection and is not sure of what to do about it. He wants at least to be treated with more respect. He is aware that a way to earn respect and improve a reputation among the colonies’ privileged class is to have a fast horse that wins races. Tasker places himself wholeheartedly in this endeavor when he purchases Selima, a broodmare of champion bloodlines. Tasker does indeed begin to earn respect from Governor Ogle and (to some extent) from Elizabeth Worthington, and the jealousy of rival William Byrd. However, Tasker begins to question this respect’s superficiality – do others respect Tasker for his good character as a person or simply that he is the owner of a successful racehorse? This is bold new thinking in 18th century colonial America.   

William ByrdA loyalist to the English king, Byrd is charming, wealthy, young, privileged, a successful Virginia statesman and landowner, yet he has severe gambling problems and is insecure with others’ success. He is unhappily married to a wealthy plantation owner’s daughter. He values the colonial idea that a fast horse ensures a high reputation for its owner, and he treasures his undefeated racehorse, Tryall, for that reason. However, he feels threatened by the success and strength of those beneath his social status, such as Colonel Tasker and his successful racehorse Selima (how can a broodmare be faster than a young stallion?) and the hot-tempered farmer Ewan Lemont. Byrd organizes a grand horse race and puts himself at risk and stress by requiring an enormous wager that he himself would struggle to pay if his horse lost – and is desperate enough to try to ruin Selima’s participation in the race.

Henry TalbotHenry desperately wants to move on from being a slave by becoming a jockey, but he is frustrated by the contempt of his fellow slaves who are jealous of his success, and the difficulty of his cantankerous owner, Governor Ogle. He is often lonely – torn between achieving a higher status in life or remaining friends with his peers. He feels wronged when the governor refuses to grant him his freedom after a slave steals Henry’s earnings and the means to purchase his freedom. Out of anger, he runs away to a boarding house for jockeys, and faces more rejection when the jockeys scorn him for illegally fleeing his owner. Henry finds peace and solace with riding Selima, with whom he formed a bond and at times seems to be his only friend.

Elizabeth Worthington – Elizabeth, the spoiled shallow only daughter of a wealthy planter, wants to marry into the aristocratic but superficial Hansons or Darby families, but is discouraged when her father insists that she marry an old, boring, established, wealthy plantation owner. She rejects flirtations from Colonel Tasker when she learns that he is of low birth, in trade, and is a horse trainer, and thus in her eyes, beneath her social status. When Tasker rescues her from a runaway horse, Worthington is grateful for his actions and begins feel attracted to him, which confuses her. After Selima wins an important race, she feels more amicable towards the colonial, but during a conversation, Tasker politely but boldly asks her if she’s feeling favorably towards Tasker because of his victory with Selima or for his good character, and she becomes confused. She fights these conflicting feelings (it’s often too much for her to think about!) until a female acquaintance shows a clear romantic interest in Tasker, and Worthington’s feelings grow into jealousy. She realizes too late that she is in love with Tasker as she is forced to marry the old plantation owner.


7.      Seventh Assignment - Settings

Most of Tasker’s Chance takes place in colonial Maryland from late summer 1751 to early winter 1752. The epilogue takes place in 1789, after the Revolutionary War and in the southern portion of what is now the State of Maryland.

The story takes place in the following scenes in rough chronological order.

Belair, Governor Ogle’s estate near the settlement of Collington, west of the Maryland capital of Annapolis: Most events take place on the vast Bel Air estate near Collington, MD. The Belair estate consists of an enormous elegant house, 2500 acres or tobacco and pasture, large fine stables, seven or eight slave cabins, and extensive barns and other outbuildings.  Outside of Belair, the population is very sparse, the roads are few and muddy, communication is slow. The few estates and towns are separated by vast acres of farmland, pastureland or dense woods, where Indians roam. 

Tasker Farm, Galesville, Maryland: Some activity takes place on the Tasker Farm, is a small 60 acre farm near Galesville, south of Annapolis and close to the Chesapeake Bay shores. Belair is about a day’s ride away from the farm.

The elegant Wandlebury Stables near Newmarket, England: Large pasturelands extend from the prestigious Wandlebury estate and stables, where the Earl of Godolphin raises Thoroughbreds and Arabian horses. The stables are large and luxurious accommodations for horses; royalty and the aristocracy frequently came here to purchase their high-quality animals for racing purposes.   

Westover, the enormous Virginia estate of William Byrd:  Westover is a larger estate than Belair and is located on the James River near Williamsburg, VA. Byrd frequently hosts barbecues and horse races on this estate.

Annapolis, the small but prosperous capital city of Maryland: Annapolis is a sophisticated city of cobblestone streets, brick townhomes, state government buildings, and large, elegant houses. Governor Ogle owns a house here, and the Taskers are frequent guests. The colonial aristocracy usually congregates in this city, and the less-affluent locals tease them as “more British than the British.”

The Virginia wilderness near the Rappahannock River: Miles of forests, meadows and swamps exist here with poorly built roads and bridges.  The civilization in this region are the tiny settlements of Fredericksburg and Gloucester.

Anderson’s Race Grounds near Gloucester, VA: Anderson Race Grounds is the new form of circular race track that was becoming increasing more popular with horse racing.  The sloping hills from the grounds provide the perfect viewing point to watch the races.

Mt. Airy Farm in Upper Marlboro, MD: The denouement of the story takes place here at Benedict Calvert’s farm in 1785, two years after the Revolutionary War ended.















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FIRST ASSIGNMENT: write your story statement. 

In her memoir, Valerie Woods tells her story of the scarred childhood she and her six siblings endured and has kept hidden for most of her life. Their beautiful but disturbed mother, Patricia (Patty) will go to any lengths to garner attention and love from the theater world and its strangers hidden within, placing her children in various and difficult stages of homelife and mostly neglect. Hope arrives when Patricia brings home famous actor, Jeffrey Lynn whose long burning desire for a warm family life lure him into marriage to melodramatic Patricia. Jeffrey begins to play father to her seven children until Patricia sees beyond more than even he can provide. Her uncontrollable and recurring desires toss the children from a small coal mining town to the suburbs in Connecticut to Los Angeles in the late 60’s. Carrying the wounds of childhood emotional neglect, Valerie begins to fight her own demons until she finds a light at the end of the tunnel.



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.


            Patricia D is the second daughter of western PA couple, Charlie D and his wife, Leona.  As Patricia develops into a bright and beautiful young woman, she finds herself longing to be part of every school production her high school stages. A bright girl, Patricia has no problem excelling in all her classes, but it is the dramatic world she dreams of in her room and in the local movie theaters downtown.

            During her senior year, Patricia applies to a prestigious dramatic academy and is accepted. The dilemma for her life is that in between stage roles, her yearning for attention creates a vulnerability to Larry, an older boy just out of college. Their passions take control and Patricia finds herself pregnant. Her hopes of the acting school are dashed as she and Larry must marry and set up a home to welcome the new infant. Larry’s intense attraction to Patricia results in six more children. 

            Her repressed dreams and desires begin to break through as Larry finds himself home with the children at night, while Patricia begins her desperate pursuit of all she has been denied.


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


            Family, Stage Left


            And Along Came Mother





4. Fourth Assignment (read article) then—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?

            Lit, by Mary Karr – Mary Karr tells the story of her abusive family life and her own demons and addictions with honesty and grit. I only aspire to write as well, but I believe the depth of neglect and pain in her family life have a somewhat similar complexion to mine.


            The Year of Magical Thinking, by Joan Didion – I find Joan Didion’s writing soothing, as if I’m reading a kindred spirit. If I can write even a fraction as beautifully, well, that won’t happen but I hope that my work will have glimmers inspired by her. She writes about an difficult time in her life with the eyes and ears of a poet in the body of a journalist, allowing ideas to float out and then come back.




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



         A young girl struggles to make sense of a world rocked by prolonged upheaval and neglect by her beautiful but psychologically damaged actress mother.


             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. 

I’ve gone over it thousands of times. I was neglected and abandoned along with my six siblings, with no understanding of what childhood could and should be. Any sense of understanding as to why our mother did what she did is obliterated by the fact that the emotional imprint from absence of mothering is permanent. It is a scar and no matter how it fades, even when it is imperceptible and only the tiniest dot, barely seen by the human eye, it is there. And I will feel it forever.


 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?

I withdrew from the throng and sat on Grandpa’s chair in the corner, wishing I had brought my Christmas doll with me. The “creature” that was my mother and whom had bounced in and out of our lives was approaching. Her beauty never made me happy. In fact, it had the opposite effect. Other mothers weren’t like her. She had a posture that seemed formal and even her smile seemed posed. Like a stranger. Dad and his child bride had begun warning me about the hazards of being with my mother, as if something bad could happen. Their words rang in my ears as she stood before me.



 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 gray soot from the Christmas day chimneys floated by us and mingled with falling crystals of snow as we marched the four blocks from Dad’s house to Grandma’s. I had never been outside our house on Christmas day. We were supposed to be in our pajamas for most of the day, playing with new toys and fighting over who was sentenced to clean up of all the torn and crinkled holiday paper which strewn about the living room floor. After Dad shoveled some coal into the furnace, he would have been starting the meatballs and sauce. A day long project which would be simmering for hours and which was liquid gold to us. Each of us would tear a piece of bread to dip into it and gobble down in secret, or so we thought. “Kids, not another piece or you all go to your rooms!” Dad would yell from the living room as we dispersed in different directions. But today, we were walking in the snow and it didn’t feel right. 














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The story is a romance, as the state of the world in the early twentieth century changes the lives of the two protagonists, bringing them together in strife and ultimately separating them in love.

The primary goal of Gretel, a well-born German woman, is to find love and her place in the world after World War 1, and its after-effects destroy much of what she has known and loved. Having lost her fiancé and family’s fortune, she immigrates to rural Minnesota for a new start.

William, a liveryman raised on a farm in Minnesota with a love and affinity for horses, suffers from shell shock and exposure to mustard gas from the same war. As he tries to reenter a changing world, he perceives a world full of injustice.

His goal is to learn to live with the damage he has suffered from the war and reconcile the changing world around him as his health deteriorates.



Overall, the antagonist is the tendency of human nature to prefer one’s own tribe and to consider those different as inferior. This tendency is exemplified through the excessive military nationalism of Germany but is not exclusive to them.

This flaw of human nature is personified through several characters that move the plot at different stages of the story. Several antisemitic, misogynist and nationalistic villagers appear post-war and show their true colors in the pivotal year of 1923 Weimar Germany, including, to a lesser extent, Gretel’s own father and brothers. Some of these characters evolve through strife, while others don’t and are hardened in their prejudice.


William’s antagonists begin with his brother Martin, a firebrand Lutheran pastor whose fundamental Christian beliefs contradict William’s more tempered belief system and doubt. Affected physically and mentally by the war, William wrestles with his memories of horror and guilt over decisions made concerning horses under his care.

Upon returning to life in Minnesota, William begins to perceive the racism and prevalent prejudice in American society against blacks, native Americans, Jews, and a rising anti-German sentiment. These forces are personified in Martin, various members of the rural community, and William’s business partner.






A Note in my Coat Pocket (my original choice)

The German Immigrant

Ordinary Sins



While I worry it’s presumptuous to name All the Light You Cannot See by Anthony Doerr as a comparable novel, I think it’s valid from several perspectives. The best seller traces the paths of two protagonists from different cultures as they are affected and eventually brought together by events of World War 2. They are countered by various antagonists, formed mainly in the hands of racism and greed in German culture. The irony of the final conflict brought on by bombing by Allied forces accentuates the cultural clashes. An interesting fact is that a criticism of the book is that its portrayal is too soft on the sins of Germany. I intend to show equally even-handedness.

The manuscript spends most of the pages following the two protags as their lives change from the effects of World War 1 and its aftermath. There is plenty of irony, as Gretel’s two loves of her life, both German,


My second comparable is The Bohemian Flats: A Novel by Mary Relindes Ellis.

It is a story about an emigrant family's journey from Germany to The Flats in St. Paul, Minnesota, and the conflicts of nationalities forced to live together. The tale is told from a hospital bed of a shell shock victim in a non-linear way, with highly vivid detail. The family eventually needs to balance anti-Germanic sentiment and guilt from the culture's sins.



A Note in my Coat Pocket by Victor Frailing


A young German woman widowed by World War One and a young German immigrant from Germany in the United States, shell shocked from fighting in that same war struggle to overcome nationalistic pride and doubt, individually and ultimately together, by love, faith, and through recognizing and rejecting the nationalism and intolerance that caused world conflict.



Both of the protagonists will face several inner conflicts. The following are specific examples.


Gretel, having been raised in a reasonably wealthy family environment, will be faced with her own pride and intolerance, trying to survive as a homeless pauper to find love in the land of her previous enemy.


To understand the cause of his battle induced shell shock, William must reconcile his fundamentalist faith with the new technique of diagnostic hypnotism recommended by his doctor.  His brother the Lutheran minister gave a famous sermon calling the practice satanism.


A secondary conflict arises in William due to the pervading racism in Jim Crow United States in 1919. Having been raised on a rural Minnesota farm, he had little experience with black people besides a few newspaper articles. Riding the train back to Minnesota after the war, he encounters and befriends a former black soldier with whom he has much in common. A great deal of personal maturity needs to happen to replace his naivety with wisdom.




For the better part of the book, the protagonists are in separate worlds:

Gretel’s story begins in 1919 in their family’s Tudor-style home in Northern Germany, as Gretel’s brothers return from a day f looking or work singing. They are drunk. Once resplendent in Biedermeier furniture, the house is now somewhat threadbare and faded. Late afternoon light slants through the windows, illuminating flecks of meandering dust set alive as the patriarch strides in to demand an explanation. Gretel and her sister sit and mend castoff clothing piled neatly at their feet.

The next scene is in the village market square of Vlotho, Ostfreisland, Germany, a small village near the North Sea. A once proud and brightly colored town square, it is now populated with a spectrum of people of a decimated society.  Women are most obvious, selling scrounged goods, used furniture, and items from various home enterprises. Most of the men hang around the beer tents, drinking, singing, and arguing about politics, sometimes loudly. The conversation centers around the Armistice, Americans, Jews, the French, bankers, and whom to blame for the current state of affairs.

The day is typically beautiful, with sparkling skies and the smell of beer and sausages permeating. A fancifully dressed few, enriched by the black market, prowl for innocents for prostitution and other vices. 

The next scene is in a hospital across the Weser River that cares for the returned and defeated soldiers, many of whom are amputees. It is a former stone monastery with damp cold individual chambers and a large central room where doctors perform surgeries with beds around the periphery.

Gretel’s sister is a nurse here, and Gretel volunteers in an auxiliary society, rendering what aid she can to the women, wives, mothers, and children. Because of social mores, she is not allowed to talk to men—lots of echoes.

Following scenes: Relief center in town, passenger boat to United States, Lutheran Church in Minnesota.



William’s story has scenes in;

The gangplank of troopship disembarking from France, wandering streets of Brooklyn, train (Lakawana Express)  Chicago Central Train station, hospital at Camp Dodge, Iowa. Livery stable,

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1/31/2023 edit

Seven Assignments

1. Story Statement


A lifetime neglect of paternal responsibilities compels an ego-driven Glenn to make peace with his three daughters, who are unaware of their "half sisters" existence until they meet after his death.  Marta, his platonic partner of 20 years, agrees to carry-out the plan at his eastern Montana ranch. In exchange, she will inherit his place. In letters to each daughter, he assures that his death will provide them a life of financial freedom. In addition to the money, the middle daughter sees an opportunity to break away from her mother and their commune life; the youngest obliges in obedience to the convent that raised her and as a possible path to independence; the oldest wants the payback and seeks a final vengeance. Upon arrival, they learn that their inheritance must be earned by reading the individual journals he has created for each daughter. He structures his language to hit the deepest wounds and then soothes with the allurance of the endless skies and vast prairies. A few characters also help him execute the final closure. Coupled with these are small events that produce questions of what they really know about themselves, their relationships and him. Marta plays along with Glenn’s game, but the experiences the women share affects the execution of Glenn’s plan and alters their dreams and desires.

 2. Antagonist Character Sketch

Glenn is a drifter who was obsessed with possessing women by tapping into their sexual desire. It is how his daughters were conceived. (Clarification: He is not a rapist.) As he ages, he settles down on his isolated prairie ranch where he meets Marta, and their platonic relationship guarantees his chores will be done, animals cared for, and his food prepared. For years she assists him in his quest to continue to seduce women, but now they pay him for the privilege.  He finds entertainment in operating as a tantric expert and a mystic. For Marta, the truth is known, but it benefits her to support him. His use of language and landscape to retrofit any hindering negative perceptions is consistently successful. He is a clever mechanic in that way.  When he realizes that he has developed an incurable illness, he uses his pending death to beckon his three illegitimate daughters to his ranch where he will retrofit their histories to fit a narrative that makes him almighty again. Their presence and cooperation include a cash value and he will pay a significant bonus to “honor” their accomplishments. Glenn thrives in pushing his daughters to anger, wonder and heartache; his death protects him from consequence. He pits them against each other: One is his nemesis, another his triumph, and the last, his humility. He wants to die the cleverest man. But he has underestimated the universe, the prairie--and Marta.


3. Three Titles

1.     The Dance of the Quill

2.     Marta's Quill

3.     Where Coulees Collide


4.     Two Comparable Works in Literary Genre

            Jack By Marilynne Robinson

           The Things We Do to Our Friends Heather Darwent

            Both works focus on the dynamic of human relationships. My focus is on the roles mothers, daughters and sisters willfully accept and deny. And the men who use it.


5. Hookline

A dying grassland rancher turned tantric retreat entrepreneur bribes his conjugal partner to bring his three estranged daughters to his isolated spread for their part of an inheritance, but before the payout, he requires completed tasks that reshape their perceptions of him and themselves as daughters, sisters and lovers.

6. Inner Conflict

Marta, a young Metis woman, meets the antagonist, Glenn, when he finds her severely beaten in an abandoned schoolhouse near his ranch. He leaves her at a hospital but she returns and trades her freedom for his safety and security. She uses her agrarian skills and traditional cooking talents to assure her long term survival and a chance to inherit the ranch; they both agree to the platonic relationship. For years, she supports his sexual ventures with female scientists who come to his “Mystic Ranch”  to be enlightened. He loves discussing these experiences with Marta, who because of years of abuse by local women, feels no compassion for them and relishes in his conquest. He admits to her that the “Mystic Ranch” is purely a longitudinal study of women scientists and sexual vulnerability. This gives her a sense of security: he will never marry, and she will never be a victim in his games. When in his dying bed, he decides to bring his three unrelated daughters to the ranch–two of whom she didn't know existed–to see their father and collect their inheritance, she rethinks her safety and security. She is terrified of their arrival, but needs to maintain a civility to please Glenn: she needs the women to sign off on the will in order for her to keep the ranch.

Other Conflict:

Marta employs the neighbor Joe, a popular cowhand who rents a small house on the  neighboring ranch, to help her retrieve the daughters from the train station when her Wagoneer refuses to start. ( She also wants his emotional support but can’t express it to him.) On the sixty minute drive, they have an intimate conversation about her relationship with Glenn, the loss she feels from his death and her future. She fantasizes about having a future with Joe, but this is a guarded conversation. Marta is in love with Joe, but won’t express it and never wants Glenn to know. She also dismisses the practicality of them ever getting together because he “drinks too much”. She wants to be his special girl, but he is the town flirt. He immediately captures the attention of Glenn’s youngest two daughters who entertain his whimsical nature like younger sisters. Glenn’s oldest is more feisty and hard: She smokes, drinks, swears. She is angry and demanding. She wants an immediate ride out of the bleakness of her father’s stead once she gets her money. Joe sees her as a woman different from all the rest; full of flaws and secrets. He comments to Marta later about her being an intriguing read. Marta is consumed with jealousy. Marta, too, was a fighter, but she is now kind and gentle. She, too, was once complicated and adventurous, but now needs the security of the ranch.  She wants Joe to love her, and she hopes that as long as she is in her safe abode and on her soon-to-be 60 acres, he will value who she really is and will love her. Is she isn't enough, maybe the land will be. She is distracted by the fear of what these three women could take from her. 

7. It is in summer of 1974. The three unrelated sisters are on a journey to gain financial security on the surface, but they experience urgings, based on his postal letters, to resolve the history and mystery of their father, Glenn. His directive requires a train ride. Being on a train, they may escape the situation, but can’t flee. Is this all part of Glenn’s plan? It leaves the reader to question these encounters, and begs the mystery of Glenn, their father. Because of his initial letters that arrive at their separate settings, the reader has insight into the history of each of their pasts. Once they arrive at the isolated train stop, they find themselves stranded and waiting for Marta, his conjugal partner. The high plains prairie with its broad spans of nothingness fools the visitor. The restlessness of one daughter is complicated by the sense of discovery and adventure in the other two. The prairie has nowhere to hide which sets the tone for the ranch scenario.  Their ride arrives, but it's as awkward as the small train and empty station. Marta has brought Joe with her to pick them up and it is near dark when they finally arrive. The road to the ranch is long and difficult with few landmarks and no directive signs. The prairie seems dull and endless, yet the vast blue of afternoon sky provides a cover that drops to the horizon. The clouds, the brush and grass, a single tree, and vanishing coulees fluctuate and trick the mind. Each daughter reacts differently. The hours of the day pass and cast reflections that mirror the changes they will experience. On the prairie, one must sit still to absorb its significance. Glenn’s house is a shared structure separated by a kitchen and living area where all congregation occurs.  Marta has her separate quarters attached and its contents tells her story. The isolation of the long gravels roads that rut and become impassable after a rain leaves no escape. The setting is two-fold: an unending landscape with sparse barbed wire fences allures a sense of freedom, yet human desire breeds a need for control. Perceptions are tricky. The isolation incites a longing for love. The stories of sexual desire created by Glenn’s Mystic Ranch further advances Marta’s needs and the oldest daughter’s self-doubt.  The two younger daughters find a sisterhood in the landscape of a domestic ranch but a secret unfolds regarding the middle daughter. Where does she really belong? The symbolic nature of native species of birds, plants and animals set forward a motion that teaches the women about themselves. The setting is, in part, the trickster. 












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Story Statement: Women Who Settle, Women Who Don’t: Resiliance versus Resignation

In a series of women’s stories, all connected in one way or another, women live with the consequences of their decisions with resilience and joy or resignation and disappointment or maybe something in between.  The reader decides which and why.


Hanna’s Story: With her family dead or scattered, on her arrival to New York City from war-torn Poland in the early 1900’s, Anna is determined to keep her family intact despite an arranged marriage to an abusive husband.

Rachel’s Story: Against the strong urging of her parents not to, Rhoda marries a narcissist equally as self-absorbed as she is.  Unable to out run his demons, her husband is completely unable to meet her expectations and her parent’s “I told you so” haunts her.

Jeanne’s Story:  After being told by everyone in her life (parents, 5 siblings, teachers, peers) that she is the “black sheep” of the family, Joan struggles with her addictions and self-esteem trying to find some aspect of her life her family can take pride in.  She can’t look in the mirror without deep sadness and prefers to involve herself in everyone else’s lives.

Celia’s Story:  Being raised in a strict Irish Catholic family, Agnes breaks off an engagement and enters the convent as a compromise she knows will make her family happy and, as an emerging knowledge of her own sexual orientation, will prevent her from entering a marriage that would be a misery.

Madeline’s Story:  As a cubby, shy young woman, Judy finally finds the man of her dreams, but turns her back on every sign her new husband is gay, willing to ignore and deny what she sees to be true to save face with her hypercritical and demanding mother.


Second Assignment: Protagonist Profile

As each woman’s story has its own antagonist and protagonist, I will use Hannah’s story as an example.  Hannah’s protagonist is her husband, Joseph.  Abandoned by his mother at 8 years old, he survived by sheer wit and determination and by 15 was able to secure passage to New York City.  Despite his incredible work ethic and drive to make a good life for himself, he was a bitter man who harbored great anger and resentment over his mother’s abandonment.  He harbored a great distrust of women, all women, especially his wife and daughter.  His sons were put on Earth to work with him and were pulled out of school by 6th grade to do so against Hannah’s protests.  He inherited the narcissistic gene from his mother, which confused and baffled Hannah.  She had never experienced anyone with the complete self-absorption and lack of empathy exhibited by her husband.



Assignment Three:  Working Titles

In no particular order:

And She Lived Happily Ever After?

Resignation, Resilience and Revenge

Women Who Settle, Women Who Don't: resignation versus resilience


Assignment 4: Selecting Genres and Finding Two Comparables

Genre: Womens Fiction, Historical Fiction, Feminism, LBGTQ+

Lessons in Chemistry, by Bonnie Garmus

In this book, the main character is an anomaly for her time, a chemist in a man’s domain.  Set in the 1950’s, the mainstream jobs for women were clear cut: teacher, nurse, secretary, but NOT chemist!  The main character, Elizabeth Zott, fights with grit and determination to bring her feminist views to the public via her cooking show that combines chemistry with art of cooking.  There is tension in the sexist encounters with her male peers, humor (her dog narrates come of the action) and an antagonist you clearly want to cheer on.

Compared to my stories:

My women’s stories are set in time frames starting in the early 1900’s to present day.  Although the context within which each woman struggles is different, struggles remain.  Some of my women are much like Elizabeth Zott – bright, determined and up against cultures and mores that attempt to block their way.  Some of my women’s struggles are completely self-induced.  Some of my antagonists the reader will want to cheer on and some will be more difficult to cheer on.  They’re complicated women with sound motives that may seem nefarious to some.

A Manual for Cleaning Women, Collected Stories by Lucia Berlin, Foreward by Lydia Davis, Edited by Stephen Emerson

This gritty collection of Berlin’s stories, published posthumously, tell tales of hard-living women.  Many of them are semi-autobiographical, as Berlin suffered from alcoholism and fought that demon all her life.  Her clear, unvarnished prose is the clear asset in her stories with just enough humor and wit to keep the reader from descending into a black hole.  Kirkus Reviews states “…she might have had a higher profile if her subject matter had been less gloomy.”  Advice - I’ll take it!

Compared to my stories:

The women in my stories are mostly blue-color women, only one being college-educated.  There are struggles with alcoholism and drug addiction, an inability to live an authentic life because of religious beliefs and homophobia and a woman’s most ineffective coping mechanism: denial.  I want to keep the prose clean and necessary to advance the story, but vary the voice to allow an omnipresent 3rd person to inject humor, wit and outrageousness into what might otherwise be a depressing tale.


Fifth Assignment: Hook line/Logline for each woman's story (originally drafted in first assignment and edited here)

Hannah’s Story: With her family dead or scattered, on her arrival to New York City from war-torn Poland in the early 1900’s, Hannah is determined to keep her family intact despite an arranged marriage to a narcissistic, abusive husband.

Core wound: Loss of family

Conflict: Husband is uncaring and abusive to Hannah and her children

Rachel’s Story: Against the strong urging of her parents not to, Rachel marries a narcissist equally as self-absorbed as she is.  Unable to out run his demons, her husband is completely unable to meet her expectations and her parent’s “I told you so” haunts her.

Core wound: Her beloved parent’s rejection of the man she chooses to marry

Conflict:  As much as Rachel tries to show her parents she made the right choice in a husband, he continues to sabotage her efforts and prove them right.

Jeanne’s Story:  After being told by everyone in her life (parents, 5 siblings, teachers, peers) that she is the “black sheep” of the family, Jeanne struggles with her addictions and self-esteem trying to find some aspect of her life her family can take pride in.  She can’t look in the mirror without deep sadness and prefers to involve herself in everyone else’s lives because hers is too painful to examine.

Core wound: Lack of self-esteem from a childhood of being told she’s the “bad girl” in the family

Conflict: Despite her best efforts, her “bad girl” reputation follows her into her marriage driven by the “magical thinking” her addictions inspire which contribute to a continuing downhill spiral of her self-esteem.

Celia’s Story:  Being raised in a strict Irish Catholic family, Celia breaks off an engagement and enters the convent as a compromise she knows will make her family happy.  This prevents her from entering a marriage that would be a misery as she comes to grips with an emerging knowledge of her sexual orientation, but she exchanged on misery for another.

Core wound: Inability to live an authentic life within her family’s values and beliefs

Conflict: Celia escapes a scam marriage to find herself miserable in the Dominican religious community

Madeline’s Story:  As a cubby, shy, young woman, Madeline finally finds the man of her dreams, but turns her back on every sign her new husband is gay, willing to ignore and deny what she sees to be true and confronted by their son with the truth.  Her denial allows her to save face with her hypercritical and demanding mother.

Core wound: Madeline is the only child of a widowed, demanding, hypercritical mother whom she can never please.

Conflict:  She married a gay man, she can’t let her mother know!

Sixth Assignment: Conditions for Protagonist’s Inner Conflict

Hannah’s brother and sister are smuggled out of Poland in their early teens.  On her deathbed, Hannah’s mother gives her the last of the money she’s been able to save and helps Hannah arrange passage to New York.  Hannah’s dreams for her future are to marry a good man and raise a family in peace and prosperity, far from the difficult struggles of her childhood.  Hannah is in an arranged marriage through a Jewish matchmaker within 3 years of her arrival in the United States.  She is 19 and he is 29 years old.  She has 4 children between 1926 and 1934.  The first child is a girl, Evelyn. The second child, a boy, died within 17 days of “whooping cough”.  A son is finally born in 1929 – a relief to Hannah as Joseph wanted a son.  As she tries desperately to create and maintain a happy home for her family, Joseph decides the oldest boy must quit school and work with him.  Hannah wants her children to be educated and have opportunities she never had.  Joseph sees nothing in his children beyond helpers.  He is a difficult man who has no problem beating the boys and Hannah, if he thought they needed it.    That son turned into a major disappointment to Joseph, he was sickly with asthma and weak, not much of a helper, but as Sam turned 10 years old, it was time for him to quit school and come to work with Joseph.  She is devastated, this is not what she wants for her children, but there is no arguing with Joseph. 

Secondary Conflict

Hannah slowly learns that Joseph and his 3 siblings had been abandoned by their mother, immediately after his father died, when Joseph was 8 years old.  His mother took all the money the family had and left Minsk, Poland for New York.  His siblings, within a year, earned enough money to make their way to the United States leaving Joseph to his own devices. Joseph stowed away in box cars traveling from town to town doing odd jobs until, at the age of 15, he had enough money to come to the United States.  By the time he married Hannah, his mother tracked him down.  She had him come with his horse and cart and move her to a tenement flat close to him and Hannah.  Joseph’s mother carried the most dominant narcissistic gene and manipulated everyone in her sphere to meet her needs.  Joseph was no exception.  He soon expected Hannah to provide meals and help care for his mother, who had no source of income besides the men she married, having 4 or 5 husbands during her lifetime.  Hannah is confused as she doesn’t understand how her husband could have anything but contempt for this woman.  She complies with Joseph’s commands to assist her wicked mother-in-law in an attempt to please her husband.

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Cheryl Herndon

Pre-Event 7 assignments


Story: Our protagonist, screams “watch me!” She constantly seeks attention, searching for validation of her worth. Although ambitious and highly motivated, she has no clue why she acts the was she does or how to get where she wants to go. Her voracious appetite for approval often regurgitates all over the place as she searches for her famous self.


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.

Antagonist: The constant challenge for our protagonist is her struggle to feel not just accepted, but amazing. Her first hurdle is simply ignorance. She does not know what she does not know, about herself, the world or life. She simply knows she wants “more”. Her journey exposes her to circumstances she often feels are the reasons she is not recognized yet as the most famous (insert any definition of a successful performer) ever.      

Is she being held back by her humble beginnings - too poor? Her looks - too many freckles? Her education - or lack of? Rather than a sequential building of facts and experiences toward “true happiness”, she takes a circuitous route, intermittently facing bigger, more complicated obstacles. She encounters difficult societal norms, fluctuating economic challenges and ever-changing cultural values. She’s pretty sure there is also some gender bias out there also thwarting her plans. “Which just isn’t fair,” she complains, stomping her little foot. At times, she feels she is wrestling with bad karma and how does one overcome metaphysical in the real world? Real or imagined, Carol longs to conquer everything and everyone who tries holding her back from being the greatest performer ever.


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


Show off


The Fourth Wall


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

The Paris Library by Janet Skeslien Charles: Loosely based on a true story, The Paris Library is about a young woman working in a library in Paris during WWII who immigrates to Montana. A generation later, the librarian reframes her life’s journey perspective while mentoring a young girl also facing the challenges and tasks of self discovery and growth. Intimate, insightful, detailed settings all add to this intriguing story.

The Beach House by Rachael Hannah (Not Patterson or Monroe): The protagonist is in her 40’s when life circumstances dictate she move to a beach house in North Carolina. As she rebuilds her life, she also reframes her outlook in a meaningful, sometimes frustrating and often hilarious quirky ways. She must deal with past “baggage”, but discovers  new ways to being a more authentic self. Change over time with interesting flashbacks help build this story.

Fried Green Tomatoes by Fanny Flagg: Although I can only dream of writing anything as colorful as this author, I do feel I can “spin a good yarn” adding depth and detail to interesting geographical places from Paris to the Redwoods of California. Hidden agendas, crazy interruptions, unbelievable outcomes are my specialty. And let’s not forget family dynamics. Who’s hungry for a treat at the Whistle Stop Cafe?


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.

Hook line: Carol is determined. She is fiercely passionate about being not just better, but best, at impressing the world with her incredible performance skills. She’s on a mission to prove she is worthy of earth shaking admiration. (Core wound - inferior self esteem)



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.


Inner conflict: Our protagonist has become somewhat successful in her journey toward fame and in finding love, but it’s NOT how she thought it would be. She knows some of her skills led to her rising status, but she  isn’t sure if it was fate or her hard work that have gotten her this far. As she faces the mirror of self absorption, she realizes love, contentment and purpose seem almost as far away as her first venture to the stage as a child. AND, she wants a man. Maybe not just any man. She’s been chasing the epitome of a perfect guy for years, but every time she seems close to a real connection, she manages to sabotage the whole thing - again.


 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.


Setting: The setting involves several unique and interesting world locations as the protagonist experiences her chronological journey of change over time. Our story begins in the 1950’s spanning about 60 years. The contrast between her humble beginnings to becoming a wealthy world travel is vividly portrayed as she pursues her dreams.

She begins in a shanty town in the Pacific Northwest where she hears she is “poor white trash”. But like Scarlet O’Hara, in GWTW, she rises from the ashes declaring, “As God is my witness, they're not going to lick me. I'm going to live through this and when it's all over, I'll never be hungry again. No, nor any of my folk. If I have to lie, steal, cheat or kill. As God is my witness, I'll never be hungry again.

From her humble beginnings in the Pacific North West, and on to New York, London, Paris and Africa provide the reader with a fresh look through “virgin eyes” at this diverse world. The contrasts and similarities among peoples and cultures and geographic locations take the reader on a journey of discovery for themselves.

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Assignment 1 - Two people with conflicting loyalties fall in love during a revolution.


Assignment 2 – The impending British occupation of Charleston hangs over the novel as an antagonistic force, but Josiah Sykes is the embodiment of an antagonist. When he accidentally causes Mia (FMC) to fall in the harbor, Cole (MMC) dives in after her. Then Sykes disappears and when Cole tries to find him, he gets beaten up. Sykes also embodies the threat Cole will face from backwoods loyalists aligned with the British, whose aim is to aid the British in capturing the city. When Sykes steals a cache of weapons from Cole and sells them to the loyalists, Cole heads into physically dangerous territory after him. He confronts Sykes and learns his motivation is simply profit and not a zealous support for England. Sykes cynicism acts as a mirror to Cole’s own mercenary activities, causing Cole to re-examine his world view.


Assignment 3 - Titles

1.     Ride The Wild Wind. (Too GWTW)

2. Rebellion Road. Rebellion Roads — A pirate's refuge | Opinion | postandcourier.com


Assignment 4 – Genre

Romantic historical fiction.

My Dear Hamilton: A Novel of Eliza Schuyler Hamilton. Stephanie Dray & Laura Kay

Spirit of the Winds. Judy Kentrus


Assignment 5 -   Log line.

During the American Revolution, a young shipping heiress’s prejudices are challenged by the arrival of an enigmatic sea captain with a secret cargo and a darker family secret forcing her to choose between Crown and country.


Assignment 6 – Conflict

FMC has attempted to shut off her emotions out of fear of abandonment/death. Having lost their mother as a young teen, she has had to act as mother to her baby sister and longs for the nurturing she missed out on. Burying her emotions in books, her father indulged her keen mind, grooming her to be his heir apparent in the merchant shipping business. When he disappears, FMC is torn, both confused by his abandonment and defensive of him.

A secondary conflict involves the combination of a creditor (MMC) arriving as she is struggling to balance the books, claiming money for a cargo he won’t let her inspect. She is off balance to begin with, with her father’s sudden disappearance and when confronted by the MMC she is distrustful, verging on hostile.

Assignment 7 – Setting

The novel begins in 1775 in a wealthy merchant’s home in Charleston, SC. The opulent furnishings and the seaport provide a sweeping historical setting in a locale not much associated with start of the American Revolution. In the second act, the action moves to the family plantation along the Ashley River and into the backwoods of South Carolina, still a raw and unsettled territory. In the final reversal the male main character returns to an embattled Charleston, and joins the fight, ferrying arms across the harbor for the defense of Sullivan’s Island.

18th century manners are different from our own, and contribute to the overall setting of the novel. As war became inevitable, the tension between loyalists and patriots increased to violence. There was, (and remains) a struggle between class, immigrant, native, white, and black. And, obviously, slavery played a large role during this historical period.


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Algonkian Writer Conference – St. Augustine, Florida

(24-27 February 2023)

Assignment #1, Story Statement:  Become a knight and reunite with his first and one true love.

Assignment #2, Sketch of Antagonist:  First Antagonist – Thomas, earl of Lancaster, and cousin to King Edward II.  Sir Thomas believes that if not for the twist of fate that his father succeeded Edward I from the womb, he would have been king.  So much so, that he is willing to oppose the king (his cousin) and the king’s favorites to the point of civil war.  He is accustomed to privilege, authority, and expects everyone should venerate and defer to him.  He is arrogant, headstrong, quick to anger, and holds grudges.

Second Antagonist - Garrick, eldest son and heir to the earl of Lancaster.  Garrick, like his father, is a man of privilege and carries a strong sense of entitlement.  He is arrogant, cavalier, irascible, self-absorbed, and indifferent to accepted customs of conduct.


Assignment #3, Breakout Title:  Chivalrie

(other titles considered:  2nd & 3rd choices – The Eternal Knight; The Knight of the Holy Chalice)

Assignment #4, Develop Two Smart Comparables:  Bernard Cornwell, Sharon Kay Penman, and Michael Moorcock

Assignment #5, Hook Line (logline):  A widowed knight torn between duty and love, fights to win back the affection of his first, one true love, during the English civil war between King Edward II and the earl of Lancaster.


Assignment #6, Inner Conflict Scenario: 

Aidan nodded.  “I am a fool.  I am a fool to ever think I could march back into your life and expect we could continue where we left off.”

“What kept you away from me for so long?”

“I was badly injured.”

“Why did you not send a message to let me know that you were alive?”  Rhiannon punched Aidan’s upper arm.  “The worst part was the uncertainty, of not knowing.  Do you think that you are the only one who suffered?”

“In the beginning, I was delirious with pain and fever.  There were times I wanted to give up and drift away in my sleep, never to wake again.  But visions of your face continued to flash through my mind, coaxing me on, pulling me forward to climb out of death’s abyss.  In the bleakest hours, I am confident that your love and my desire to be with you again and to gaze upon your face is the only thing that allowed me to persevere, to live.”

Rhiannon reached for Aidan’s hand, holding his fingers ever so softly, “I never stopped believing, though I am not sure why.”

Aidan drew Rhiannon to him, cradling her head against his chest.  There were many adventures and foreign places of which Aidan dreamed, but at this moment, Aidan could not imagine a place he would rather be than holding Rhiannon, as if time could stand still and he would be forever content.

After a spell, Rhiannon broke the silence, “My father and I would have fetched you.”

Aidan replied by squeezing Rhiannon tighter, preferring to prolong the embrace, and refusing to disturb the feeling of reciprocal love.

Rhiannon brought her hand to rest upon Aidan’s chest, her slender fingers tracing the hardened muscles under the tunic.  “What happened?”

“What do you mean?”

“What happened that it took you so long to find your way back to me?”

“After my fall, I was found by a traveling woodsman from the highlands.  Somehow between the woodsman’s herbal medicines and the snow curbing the bleeding from my wounds, he managed to save me and carry me to his home.  The woodsman had a daughter.  She nursed me back to health.  Day and night, she attended and watched over me.  During the bouts of fever, she would lie naked with me, keeping me warm with her body and holding me through the shakes and shivers.  One night she came to me, but I was no longer with fever.  We made love.  From that night forward, I vowed chastity unto her.  I figured I owed her that much.  Once I regained my strength and could contribute, I married her.”

“Does this savior have a name?”

“Rowena…Rowena died giving birth to our son…in the barren white and cold of winter.”

“You have a son?”

“The blood, there was so much blood.  I felt awash in the sanguine liquid, drowning and helpless.  I could not stop its flow.  And my son wrinkled but handsome, lay silent.  My elation dashed like a broken body cast from the white cliffs to the sea below.”

“I am sorry.”  The wind outside cried, and a branch brushed against the near window, a stained-glass depicting Jesus being kissed by the apostle Judas.  “Had Rowena not died, would you be here now?”

Rhiannon did not wait for Aidan to answer.  As he watched Rhiannon walk out of the chapel and likely out of his life, Aidan admitted to himself, “No, probably not.”

Assignment #6, Secondary Conflict Scenario:

Aidan wanted to ask about Rhiannon, but he never got the chance.  Animated for such a late hour, a grin stretching across his handsome features, Sir Geoffrey began to gush about the woman he loved.  During his outpouring, Sir Geoffrey had flipped a bucket over and sat down.

Aidan climbed up on the horse stall opposite, taking it all in.  As the man he had come to know the best and the longest of his short life shared the deepest emotions of his heart, Aidan’s mind wondered back to Rhiannon.  In his mind, he knew circumstances would be different compared to the way circumstances were before that fateful day on top of the ridge, but in his heart, he was hoping against hope that Rhiannon had not moved on.  He half-smiled and listened politely, occasionally comparing similar times he had spent with Rhiannon.

“There is something I need to tell you.  We didn’t know.  We did not know you were alive.  We always believed you dead.”

Aidan listened without really listening.  He was still thinking of Rhiannon.

“Lady Rhiannon and I are planning to marry in June.”

Aidan was jolted back to the present and consciousness.

“In truth, I cannot believe it, as I have been chasing after Lady Rhiannon since childhood.  And finally, she has allowed me to catch her.  Lady Rhiannon has agreed to be my wife.”

Aidan felt the dagger plunge into his stomach, up to the hilt and unmercifully twisted.  Suddenly, he understood why Geoff could not wait to see him.  He did not want Aidan’s return to Castle Caerleon to ruin his plans with Lady Rhiannon.  In truth, Geoff was his best friend, and he was sure that Geoff was sincere in his joy at seeing him alive, but also, Geoff wanted to stake his claim, unequivocally, before Lady Rhiannon discovered Aidan’s resurrection for herself.  Aidan had to face the facts…life had continued without him.

Sir Geoffrey was still talking.  “You will stay and take part in the wedding?

Aidan did the only thing a best friend could do.  He jumped down and embraced Geoff.  “Congratulations.  You honor me with the perfect gift for my homecoming.  As for staying, that will be up to Lord FitzGilbert.”

Assignment #7, Setting:  The 14th century during the English civil war between King Edward II and his cousin, Thomas, earl of Lancaster.  The setting includes castles, dungeons, secret passages, jousting and swords, wedding, the church, medieval food and drink, men-at-arms, knights, ladies, servants, and the wilderness of England.

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Act of story statement

Over the course of fifteen years, the protagonist--a young woman from Austria--builds a home in the U.S. and confronts her truth and childhood trauma, eventually allowing her to claim her voice and identity as a queer woman. 

The antagonist

Over the course of the book, we learn about several antagonists in the main character’s past, including childhood bullies and a narcissistic, neglectful mother who is fighting her own demons. The protagonist has internalized those voices and it is now up to her to break free from her past and to overcome her crippling anxiety. As she undertakes the journey of overcoming her past, she is finally able to claim space in the world.

Conjuring your breakout title

• Option 1: Late bloomer: A queer woman’s journey towards claiming her voice

• Option 2: All the places we call home

Deciding your genre and approaching comparables

I’ve been struggling for several years to settle on a genre. My manuscript started out as a novel inspired by true events before evolving into short stories. More recently, I’ve come to realize that I was trying to hide my own story behind fiction, and that the only way to claim my truth is to tell my authentic story. My manuscript has evolved into a memoir, which is inspired by Jeanette Walls’ The Glass Castle and Mary Karr’s work.

Core wound and the primary conflict

My manuscript is a story of overcoming trauma, about coming to terms with one’s past to find a home in oneself. It’s also a story about forgiveness and breaking free from generational trauma and family expectations. Another conflict arises out of the social stigmas and barriers that continue to prevent queer people from taking up space in the world.

Other matters of conflict

Scenario #1

Hugging and kissing my mom and sister goodbye, something inside of me told me it was not too late to turn around and go home. Maybe taking another stab at trying to fit in wasn’t the worst of ideas? Part of me just wanted to stay in the “comfort” of my small town of 25,000 souls. 25,000 souls that all pretty much looked the same and led predicable lives. With a familiarity about it that didn’t make me face my true self. A town that made me feel out of place, but never quite enough to make me wonder if there was a different place somewhere I might fit in.

No one would be upset if I went home now and acted like nothing ever happened. A lot of people probably kind of expected that anyway since I had never been good at following through with things. But deep down inside of me I knew it was time to leave. Time to leave for the first real adventure in my life and to find my real self hiding somewhere inside of me. This feeling finally dragged me through security, and to my gate to Detroit. I sobbed like a baby as I boarded the flight, but I knew there was no way back to my old life now. Bowling Green, Ohio probably isn’t the first place you would think of when setting out on a journey for self-discovery, but I knew it was where my journey would begin.

Scenario #2

I knew the next step would be hard, but I had a sense that there was no way back now. Life was too short for some of us and I had to stop lying to myself. I’d be leaving the next day, so I had a night to explore the city by myself. I found a cheap hotel near the train station, and after I dropped off my bags, I took the subway back to the city all the way to Canal Street. I kept walking until I reached the water, the night so chilly I could feel my lungs filling up with cold air with every breath.

I watched the sun go down over the frozen Hudson and walked back to Greenwich Village. My heart was racing as I looked for the place I had secretly searched for online earlier that day – a place that women went to meet other women just like them. After I found the street the bar was on, I was debating in my head about whether I should go in, but there was no going back now. There was no line, just the name of the place and a rainbow flag in the window giving it away as the place I was searching for. I took a deep breath. The only thing standing between me and my new life now was a weathered red door.

The incredible importance of setting

At the beginning of the book, the protagonist leaves small-town Austria for an exchange year in Bowling Green, Ohio. Being away from her familiar surroundings and meeting queer people for the very first time in her life gives the protagonist the courage to come out. Over the course of the book, she moves to San Francisco and Washington D.C. As the protagonist experiences her own inner transformation and comes to terms with her own identity, the reader also witnesses the country undergoing a significant time of social change for queer people. However, before fully claiming her space in the world, the protagonist has to take an unexpected journey to her hometown for her estranged father’s funeral. This journey allows the protagonist to come to a place of forgiveness and to finally claim her voice.

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Final 7 assignments

Mindy Halleck

Daughter of Darkness


1.     Story Statement, Daughter of Darkness

A troubled clairvoyant holocaust survivor must overcome a fanatical occultist SS officer in order to return to Egypt and say a final goodbye to her beloved parents.

In Portland Oregon, fifteen years after WWII, a clairvoyant holocaust survivor—trapped between her new life in America, ghostly visions from war, and deeply indoctrinated ancient Egyptian rituals from her past—who believes her powers are evil (core wound), must finally embrace them so she can lure, and battle the fanatical occultist SS officer who has hunted her for years. Only then can she finally return to Egypt, say goodbye to the spirits of her beloved parents, and return to the man she loves.

2.     Antagonist profile, The Wolf

In 1960, Reichsführer Wolfgang Edzard König, AKA the merciless, Wolf of Birkenau is fifty years old, a wealthy fanatical occultist who resides in a penthouse tower in Zürich. He is surrounded by priceless Nazi-acquired artifacts and Jewish art taken in the ‘cleansing’ of Poland.

Aside from his blue-eyed, blonde, physically fit appearance, he has cancer, and only six months to live.

Wolf’s father worked close to Hitler, in berlin, abandoning his family: leaving Wolf to tend to his mother with whom he grew unnaturally close (core wound).

His mother, Adolfa was part of Hitler’s secret circle of spiritualists. Adolfa’s mythos and plans for Wolf were drilled into him from an early age, informing his distorted worldview.

“You were born to me as my son in this life,” she said. “In the next life, we will rule as gods, man, and wife, together.” She gave him a gold box with his mummified umbilical cord inside. “With this cord, your eternal soul will resurrect in the afterlife.”

Wolf believes Esmée Boruvka—whom he’s hunted for fifteen years—stole this cord from him when she escaped him at Gross Rosen concentration camp, and now he’s dying, he needs the key to his afterlife and will do anything to get it. 



Daughter of Darkness (current working title for WIP)

The Guardian Stones

The Girl with The Scarred Face

Esmée’s Mysterious Realm

Hall of Two Truths

Esmée and The Wolf

4.     Comparable Titles;

Genre, literary/magical realism? (Def, from Masterclass:)

Every magical realism novel is different, but there are certain things they all include, such as:

Realistic setting. All magical realism novels take place in a setting in this world that’s familiar to the reader.

Magical elements. From talking objects to dead characters to telepathy, every magical realism story has fantastical elements that do not occur in our world. However, they’re presented as normal within the novel.

Limited information. Magical realism authors deliberately leave the magic in their stories unexplained in order to normalize it as much as possible and reinforce that it is part of everyday life.

A.    The Book Thief, Markus Zusak (2016)

Like my novel, In addition to magical elements in the everyday life, topics o WWII, Holocaust, grief, and persecution are covered.

B.    The House of the Spirits, by Isabel Allende (1982)

Like my novel, Clara and Rosa's magical realist qualities emphasize the power of women as well as the violence inflicted upon them.

C.     The Immortalists, Chloe Benjamin (2018)

Like my novel, The Immortalists probes the line between destiny and choice, reality and illusion, this world and the next. It is a deeply moving testament to the power of story, the nature of belief, and the unrelenting pull of familial bonds.

D.    Beloved by Toni Morrison (1987). A novel about a former slave haunted by an abusive ghost.

Esmée is haunted by demanding ghosts, a promise she can’t keep, and a very real ghost who forces her to do battle.

E.     The Snow Child, Eowyn Ivey (2012)

Because of how the myth of The Snow Child’s protagonist, from her childhood, informs her life, her belief in the magic she’s seeing, and her ultimate decisions, just like Esmée.  

5.     Logline 


A troubled clairvoyant holocaust survivor—trapped between her new life in America and her past—must embrace her dark powers to defeat a fanatical occultist SS officer who is hunting her.


A.    Sketch out the conditions for the inner conflict your protagonist will have.

Esmée is torn between her new life and her past. She wants retribution, but she also wants love. She believes she can't have both. 

From her past, Esmée remains traumatized by her teen years in the concentration camps and as a victim of The Wolf of Birkenau. She believes her guardian stones and her secret Egyptian rituals will keep her safe. She is also haunted by a promise she made to her Papa while in the concentration camp, that she has not been able to keep. And she knows it’s only a matter of time before the Wolf finds her to retrieve what she stole from him the night she escaped Gross Rosen.  She knows he will kill her and anyone in his way, including her beloved Oskar and his daughter Serafina.

In her present, she wants to marry Oskar but is terrified it may put him in danger, and afraid he will not love her when he learns the secrets of her past.

B.    Why will they feel in turmoil?  

Esmée is in turmoil most of the time, she’s anxious, guarded, and suspicious. And to add to her disposition, she sees the ghosts of other holocaust survivors who need her help crossing over to the other world. Or some who bring her messages, warnings, or insights. Though she sees so many ghosts, she never sees her beloved mother, who disappeared one day at the hands of The Wolf. More than any other, Esmée aches to see her mother’s spirit, to say the goodbye that was denied them in the concentration camp. Her inner life is chaos because of her fear of The wolf, and partly because of her lack of closure with her parents.

C.     Conflicted?

Esmée is conflicted because she senses her upcoming battle with The Wolf, which will put Oskar and his daughter in danger. She is afraid to marry Oskar, knowing that even if she survives an encounter with The Wolf, she can’t be the wife Oskar needs and deserves. And though she wants retribution, revenge even on The Wolf, she desperately wants to return to Egypt and is equally as desperate to be with Oskar. Ultimately, she must decide between the two.

D.    Sketch out one hypothetical scenario in the story wherein this would be the case--consider the trigger and the reaction. 

Primary Conflict: Esmée and The Wolf 

Early one morning in 1960, in downtown Portland Oregon, her new home, Esmée finds “Poles Go Home’ signs on her doorstep, then sees them across the street on her neighbor’s store, then on Oskar’s shop door. She panics, remembering the 1930s when she saw those same sentiments in Poland, just before the war. She runs around the street collecting the signs so none of her neighbors have to experience the same paralyzing rush of dread. She then spots a man in the shadows on the corner and senses the time has come, the past returns, The Wolf has found her.

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

Secondary conflict: Wanting to marry Oskar and be stepmother to Serafina

When Esmée traps The Wolf in her basement and Oskar stumbles into the situation. Esmée must choose between retribution and love: her desire to assassinate The Wolf, which would expose Oskar to danger and her true nature, risk prison, and the loss of Oskar and Serafina forever.

7.     Assignment 7 Setting Sketch out your setting in detail:

 The present story is in Portland Oregon, in 1960

Esmée lives in an apartment behind her corner café in NW Portland in a building rumored to be haunted. The humble street entrance of their one-story brick building on Washington Street is a square-shaped structure with a cracked foundation and crumbling bricks that spans the full block. Originally built by and for smugglers sometime in the late 1800s, it’s full of underground passageways, stairways, hiding places, and secrets, and replete with the skull of a human whom Esmée calls Jack and in whom she confides. Esmée’s neighborhood, as well as her café, has become a Jewish and Polish immigrant sanctuary. 70% of the neighbors are Polish concentration camp survivors. Portland has just been voted the favorite American city for Polish immigrants.

Flanking the glass door that leads to the eight apartments are two others: 1214-A, her restaurant, The Harvest Cafe, and 1214-B, Oskar’s Shoe Repair—both with ceiling-high windows. 

In Esmée’s bedroom, she has a secret cabinet where she stores her ritual accouterments; a candle on a small altar, a hand-carved pole made of wood from an oak tree in Israel with the sacred Tree of Life carved around it, two Egyptian Shabti—servants for the deceased in the afterlife—one made of wood and one made of alabaster, a small wood carving of Asherah, the Mother Goddess of Israel, the Wife of God, and the small yellow triangle once pinned to Esmée’s clothes, now wrapped in black velvet, out of sight but always present. These are imitations of the kind of real artifacts that her mother had collected, good enough for Esmée’s weekly rituals during Shabbat.

Oskar’s shoe repair is next door where he and his daughter live behind the shop. There are eight small apartments bordering a private courtyard garden in the center like a prize inside a Cracker-Jack box; benches, cherry blossoms, birds, and flowers which Oskar and Esmée maintain so their elderly Jewish neighbors can sit in peaceful communion with their ghosts. They are a tight-knit enclave, a family with Esmée at its core.

On their rooftop is a tiny private garden with six boxes the size of coffins, built by Oskar, where Esmée grows the potatoes and medicinal herbs for her remedies and recipes. Next to her garden bench is where she keeps her guardian stones filled with prayers and protective invocations––formed into a ring like the Nabta Playa stone circle in Egypt’s Valley of Sacrifices. At the center of each of Esmée’s circles was a stone with the Eye of Horus painted on it.

Esmée’s café was left to her by her dying boss, for whom she worked as a waitress. With Oskar’s help, the ten dust-covered tables and four tattered booths were reborn in emerald-green and white vinyl, and shiny chrome-edged tables and chairs all with a view of busy Washington Street out the ceiling-high windows. The rebirth of the café is a metaphor for the healing and reawakening of its patrons.

While helping Oskar, also a survivor and widower, raise Serafina, Esmée devoted herself to turning The Harvest Café into an eatery with a full menu a tribute to her parents, her Papa’s favorite foods: blueberry pierogis, cheese or meat stuffed pierogis, Polish sausage with potato pierogis and cheddar cheese, and her best-selling item, her Mama’s cinnamon rolls with brandy butter frosting. Now the café is a thriving meeting place for local businesspeople, most of whom are also holocaust survivors, most from Poland, all, like Esmée, sandwiched between two worlds.

The back of Esmée’s café kitchen is a huge one-time bakery kitchen with exposed brick walls with photographs of the Nubian Pyramids, and framed black and white sketches that Esmée has done of people from Gross Rosen, her ghosts, and some of Egypt. There are three ovens, two old-time wooden ice box refrigerators that still work, and two sinks the size of wash basins. And ten-foot-long wooden countertops on each side of the massive room where she and her baker work tirelessly every day.

In the center of the room are a red couch and a table and chairs where Oskar’s daughter comes to do homework, eat and visit when she gets out of school. This is a community room of sorts for Esmée’s inner circle, who come and go at their leisure. This room is haunted by a silent young ghost who also visits Esmée in her garden. This sweet little ghost is looking for someone, but Esmée can’t figure out who, until late in the story.   

The past part of the story is from 1939 into WWII.

Before the Nazis seized their home, Esmée’s family lived in an 1870s dove white manor house with four large pillars out front and a red stone porch beneath them that hugged the entire house.  Her parents often entertained up to one hundred people, intellectuals, professors, and artists who luxuriated, overlooking her mama’s rose gardens, water fountains, and the sweet-smelling lavender field. The first spirits Esmée ever saw were in that lavender field. In the far corner of that porch was where young Esmée collected stones, stacking them along the banister in delicately balanced sculptures and elaborate feats of near megalithic engineering, her engineer papa always said.

Inside, there was an invisible line drawn down the middle of the sitting room––a room with twenty-foot ceilings and so many windows it had the appearance of a solarium. On one side was her mama’s world where she collected discoveries regarding the worship of female goddesses within ancient Israelite and Egyptian religions: black onyx Canopic jars that supposedly held the organs of an Egyptian goddess, stacks upon stacks of books, artifacts carved in wood, etched in stone, burned of bronze or gold––all in a whirlwind of lavender scented dust and disorder. Alongside her mama’s ancient chaos, existing in perfect harmony was her Papa’s orderly world: artifacts of the early engineers displayed on lit shelves or enclosed in shiny glass domes, measuring rods, a picture of them both in Sudan in front of the Nubian Pyramids, photographs, and drawings of other shrines, even a piece of papyrus with ancient engineering notes which hung framed in glass above his well-organized bookshelves.

The dining room was a contrast to the rest of their joyful family home. In the main dining room with its twenty-foot ceilings and gold-leafed wallpapered walls, was an Egyptian Revival table that seated eighteen and that had wood-carved Cleopatra-Sphinx legs. In the center of the table was a black vase with towering plumes of stone-grey ostrich feathers that nearly touched the chandelier. At the end of the palm-lined room with high glass French doors was a pair of Egyptian Revival Thrown Chairs.

And along the Egyptian Revival hutch were antique plates and several Egyptian Shabti––small figures carved in skin-colored alabaster or wood. In one corner stood a bronze statue of Nephthys, the protective goddess of the dead, and on the wall above it hung three pieces of red and gold ancient Funerary Rights Papyrus, all on white and mounted in cherry wood frames, depicting the Weighing of the Heart in the Hall of Two Truths, where the ostrich feather of Ma'at, the goddess of truth and justice responsible for maintaining order in the universe, was used as a balance against the weight of the heart; if the heart weighed more, the soul was condemned and eaten by the demon Ammit, the Devourer of the Dead, the Eater of Hearts, as ancient Egyptians believed.

It is in this room where Esmée learns a dark lesson about herself, and where she meets her lifelong antagonist.

The concentration camp scenes take place in Gross Rosen concentration camp where I lean heavily on sound and smell to describe Esmée’s experience, for example; Everyone’s breath halted, waiting for him to pass their door, praying for the crunch, crunch, crunch of his footsteps to not stop, praying that the door did not groan open and he enter their sleeping quarters, place his ice-cold hand on the shoulder of a sleeping girl and say, “Fraulein, du kommst mit mir.”

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Comparative Narrative


Colony of Maryland

Late August 1751


Colonel Benjamin Tasker Jr. couldn’t take his mind off the intriguing letter he received a week ago from his brother-in-law as he rode his horse on a path through the forests of Anne Arundel County:

I need to talk to you about the purchase of a horse the next time you come to Belair. This venture will require you to travel extensively on my behalf. I will explain more when you arrive.

It ended abruptly with the flourishing signature Samuel Ogle, Royal Provisional Governor of Maryland”.

The handsome 31-year colonel often traveled to Belair, the governor’s imposing estate, from his father’s farm in Galesville near the Chesapeake Bay or from the simple wooden house he sometimes shared with his fellow councilmen in Annapolis, the colony’s capital city. The governor appreciated Tasker’s acumen with business, government, and horses so much that he invited him – and paid him - so frequently to assist with the management at Belair that the colonel felt that he should live at the plantation, instead of traveling so frequently through the woods. It was not safe to do so, especially alone like he was now.

“Require me to travel extensively” the colonel said out loud to his horse Dancer. “For the purchase of a horse. What can that mean? Likely travel to England. That will be a change.” He patted the gray stallion’s neck. Speaking to his horse when he was alone in the woods calmed him. Getting away from the colony may be good….”

A twig snapped to the right. Dancer flinched. Something large moved through the brushy growth in the forest about 70 feet away. Tasker saw him – a dark-skinned, bare-chested man in deerskin trousers with long tangled hair decorated with hawk feathers. A Piscataway Indian. A sizable population of them still lingered more than a century after the English settlers arrived in the colony. Encountering an Indian while traveling alone was dangerous - the savage can pull off an unarmed man from his horse, strike the rider in the head with a club to disable or kill him, climb into the saddle, and gallop off with the horse, both never to be seen again.

The Indian disappeared into the trees’ underbrush. Tasker legged Dancer into a canter, knowing that a clearing was up ahead where the Indian may feel exposed and thus spoil his ambush attempt. The colonel checked his two flintlock pistols in their holsters built within the front part of his saddle, which he always kept loaded but seldom fired. He was a good shot but rusty since his service in the Anne Arundel County militia a few years ago. Dancer and his rider approached the clearing where the trees gave way to an open field thick with high grasses; bobwhites and pheasants fluttered from the trail as they approached.

Tasker slowed Dancer down to a walk and peered around him. The afternoon sun of late fall brightened the surrounding grasslands to a golden light. Faint smells of ripening apples and new-mown hay drifted from nearby farms. Countless varieties of birds chattered at the sudden appearance of the horse and rider. He listened for sounds of movement and heard nothing except Dancer’s hoofbeats, but he sensed the Indian was nearby. Then – there! Over there – still about 70 feet away to the right, the feathered black hair flashed between clusters of shrubbery. The Indian had followed him.

The colonel reached for one of the flintlocks and pulled Dancer to a stop. He aimed the weapon several feet above where he saw the movement and pulled the trigger. Smoke and sparks flew from the pistol’s muzzle and barrel as the shot’s explosion shattered the natural quiet. Tasker now heard running footsteps rustling in the grasses; they grew fainter by the second, and he finally saw the Indian running away from him and Dancer, not bothering to conceal himself and his long hair flying behind him. The colonel watched until the Indian disappeared into a copse of trees a half-mile away. Tasker no longer felt his presence. The savage was gone.

“That one was too close, Dancer old fellow.” I should demand from Sam that I move into Belair. T’would save me and my horse a lot of travel from the farm in Galesville and t’would be far less dangerous. thought the colonel.

He straightened his faded dark blue button-front jacket and beige cotton trousers — worn to a nearly threadbare existence from constant wear in all sorts of weather. He wiped off the brush that caught onto his equally worn-down leather boots. He secured his black three-cornered hat on his head and tied back his long brown hair that came loose during the rush. Tasker then urged his horse onward at a walk and thought about the good things that awaited him at Belair during his visits every few weeks: good hot food, a clean spare bedroom with a goose down mattress on a large bed, cheerful fires in fireplaces that lit up cherrywood floors and wall paneling, warm hospitality from his sister, and courteous – if somewhat aloof - treatment from the governor, her husband. He admitted to himself that he looked forward to these luxuries that didn’t exist in his parents’ modest farmhouse nor their small townhouse in Annapolis, even though Tasker’s father, Benjamin Tasker, Sr, was the mayor of that city.

Tasker’s thoughts returned to Governor Ogle’s letter from the governor that indicated that this trip would have a special purpose.

A purchase of a horse. A purchase that required extensive travel.

“T’will be nice to get away from the colony and Sam’s cronies for a while, wherever Sam sends me.” Tasker said to Dancer. “And to get away from those high-minded blokes from the Hanson and Darby families who treat me like a field hand when I train their lazy racehorses.” The horse pricked his ears back and forth in response.

A thought suddenly struck him, like a face slap, a lightening bolt. He almost stood in his saddle from its intensity. What am I doing?! I’m tired of doing everything Sam asks me to do! Blasted tired of it! Ask me to travel to England to purchase a horse for him?? I will have to temporarily leave my work as a spice trader and commissioner in the Maryland General Assembly. Very difficult for me to do! Who does Sam think he is?

I should take this opportunity to demand a Thoroughbred of my own while in England. Now that would be proper!

The more he thought about the idea, the more it pleased him. After all, I’ve trained the racehorses around Belair and nearby Collington to be successful for years. Why CAN”T I have my own Thoroughbred stallion? With the greatest bloodlines possible? I’m worthy of It and the time is right for me to have one. Yes! I will train him to become the greatest undefeated champion in Anne Arundel County. In the Maryland Colony, perhaps. What respect that will bring me!!

His mind raced. He thought of other situations that could come about from this meeting with the governor. “Travel extensively. What does he mean exactly?" he asked Dancer. "Might it mean travel to Spain to buy an Andalusian stallion? As well as one for myself? Or to Saudi Arabia to purchase an Arabian stallion! How glorious that would be! And to enjoy the seaside of Jeddah!”

Tasker’s imagination flew. He imagined himself riding shiny black Arabians on the Sahara Desert beaches and through the surf’s edges far away from slaves, muddy fields, cold winters, and the haughty airs of Governor Ogle and the nearby plantation families. He wore loose white linens and walked barefoot in the sand. He swam in the warm ocean, ate oranges and dates, and envisioned Priscilla, his deceased fiancé, standing on a nearby sand dune wearing a loose white linen dress that that billowed around her alluringly in the warm wind. She waved to him and laughed.

No. I will not think of her.

The colonel’s mind went dark and quiet. He and Dancer progressed peacefully on the road to Belair. Crickets and tree frogs began to sing in the woods as the sun sank in the west. The sound was soothing, thought Tasker.

At last horse and rider saw the twinkling lights of the mansion ahead of them as the cobalt blue late summer evening settled in. Dancer snorted with excitement, and Tasker allowed him to canter down the road toward the estate. The entrance gates were open; the governor was expecting him. The long alley that stretched from the gates to was covered with crushed oyster shells mixed with sand, bordered on either side with young tulip poplar trees. Dancer hooves made a delightful crunching sound on the crushed shells as he nearly galloped down the alley, and the colonel’s spirits rose. At the end of the alley stood the magnificent three-storied brick house with large wing extensions on either side, its windows sparkling warmly with candlelight. Two lanterns appeared like fireflies near the door as he approached. A person carried each lantern — one of them waved to him. It was Anne, his sister. The other figure was a slave who stood ready to take Dancer to the stables. As he dismounted his horse and warmly greeted his sister, Colonel Tasker sensed that this particular visit, no matter its outcome, was going to be the first of many new pages to turn for him.


Comparative Narrative - Assignment III.docx

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First Assignment: Create your story statement.

     A fledgeling Kleopatra struggles to shed her childhood and gain her father's approval amidst family betrayal and the turbulent politics of Alexandria and Rome in 58 B.C.  After following her father into exile, she would do anything to see him restored to the Alexandrian throne; her older sister Berenike will do anything to prevent his return. The independence of Egypt hangs in the balance, as Kleopatra seps forward to claim her place inn history.



Second Assignment: Anatagonist Sketch.

     As the eldest daughter, Berenike has been raised with the expectation that she will one day be queen. However, tradition dictates that she be required to marry one of her half-brothers, when they come of age. She realizes that by then she will be at the end of her childbearing years and thus her legacy will die. She interprets her father’s reluctance to name her as co-ruler as evidence that he plans to bypass her. She is contemptuous of many of her father’s policies (particularly his seeming pacifism and his alliance with Rome) and feels she would do better. She fails to see that surrounding herself with individuals who openly oppose her father may contribute to his lack of confidence in her. These individuals flatter her and feed her vanity which inflates her ego further. Her arrogance masks an inner feeling of inadequacy. Fear of losing her place in history drives her actions and reactions.  She berates Kleopatra for her blind loyalty to their father and overall naivety. Secretly, she fears her younger sister may steal her place, unaware that she is creating a self-fulfilling prophecy. She is determined not to allow opportunity to pass her by. She will take any action required to gain and maintain her power.



Third Assignment: Breakout Title.

     Glory of Her Father

     Second Daughter

     The Light of Pharos

     A Tale of Two Sisters



Fourth Assignment: Genre and Comparables.

     Genre is Historical Fiction


     Comp # 1 - Three Sisters, Three Queens by Philippa Gregory (2017) - "The little known story of three Tudor women who are united in sisterhood and yet compelled to be rivals when they fulfill their destinies as queens.." "As sisters they share an everlasting bond; as queens they can break each other's hearts..."

This title directly parallels my story of Kleopatra and her inevitable rivalry with her sister Berenike. 


     Comp #2 - Daughters of Rome by Kate Quinn (2011) - "The Roman Empire is up for the taking. With bloodshed spilling out of the palace and into the streets of Rome, chaos has become the status quo..."  "When a bloody coup turns their world upside down, Cornelia and Marcella-- along with their cousins--must maneuver just to stay alive." 

This title takes place in ancient Rome in the century just following my own setting. It outlines the disparate goals of two sisters and theiur cousins as they adapt to a volatile Roman political climate.


Fifth Assignment: Primary Conflict and Core Wound - Logline


     When Alexandria revolts against her father, Kleopatra will be thrown into opposition with her older sister Berenike, and Egypt will become the prize in the volatile political games that ensue.


Sixth Assignmenty: Other conflicts

Primary Conflict (Physical) -Kleopatra wants to return to Alexandria with her father restored as king. Primary Antagonist is her sister, Berenike, who seizes the throne in her father’s absence. Secondary antagonistic forces include anti-roman sentiments in Alexandria, and Roman political factions which oppose Pompey who is her father’s ally.


Inner conflict (Emotional)- Kleopatra wants to be seen as an adult, particularly by her father. Antagonistic force is within Kleopatra, as she continues to act in childish ways. And also, her sister Berenike who as the oldest gets all the attention and has been groomed to be queen. When Berenike begins to behave badly, Kleopatra believes it makes her father trust her even less.


Secondary conflict (Social)- Kleopatra has a rather naïve view of her world. She must discover that Alexandria has fallen far from its glory days, and that her father does not have unlimited power. She will learn to love both anyway and vow to restore Alexandria, and her father’s image.


Romantic tension - Kleopatra will discover that her friend, a young acolyte from the Temple at Memphis has stronger feelings for her. She will resolve that they must just remain friends as her destiny lies elsewhere. She develops a teenage crush on Marcus Antonius when she meets him. He is the cavalry commander in the Roman army which restores her father to the throne. He is also quite taken with her, and will never forget her.


Seventh Assignment: Settings

Prologue – 67 B.C., Island of Cyprus. Palace gardens. Kleopatra’s Uncle, King of Cyprus and his treasurer.

Act I- 58 B.C.- Alexandria, Egypt.

              Library of Alexandria, Kleopatra. Kleopatra’s sister Berenike. Guards.

Palace Kitchens- Kleopatra’s Eunuch, Protarchos. His friend (the kitchen overseer) Milta.

Gynaikon (Women’s quarters), room of former Queen Tryphaena (Berenike’s mother.) Berenike and Tryphaena. Female slave.

Library of Alexandria/Streets of Alexandria- Kleopatra. Palace guard Hierax. Personal bodyguard Rufus. Rioters.

Gynaikon (Women’s Quarters), Kleopatra. Her younger sister Arsinoe.

Throne Room. Kleopatra’s father, King Ptolemy. Alexandrian nobles. Kleopatra. Berenike. Tryphaena. Protarchos. Psheren-Ptah (High Priest.) Psheren-Amun (his nephew and acolyte.)

Private meeting room of the king.  King Ptolemy. Protarchos. Hephastion (vizier.)

Act Two: Traveling, Rhodes, Athens, Rome.

King’s ship. Harbor of Alexandria. Pharos Lighthouse. Statues. Kleopatra. King Ptolemy. Protarchos.  Philostratos (Stoic Philosopher, Kleopatra’s tutor, king’s advisor)

Island of Rhodes. King Ptolemy’s Residence. Kleopatra. Personal bodyguard Rufus.

Island of Rhodes. Residence of Cato. Cato. King Ptolemy. Protarchos. Philostratos.

Island of Cyprus. King of Cyprus. Treasurer.

Athens. Kleopatra. King Ptolemy. Protarchos.

Rome. Outside gates of Rome. Magistrate. King Ptolemy. Kleopatra. Protarchos. Pompey’s freedman.


Act Three: Rome: Pompey’s villa

Atrium. Julia, Pompey, King Ptolemy, Kleopatra.

Pompey’s Library/Study. Kleopatra. Theophanes. Phiulostratos.

Symposium. Roman politicians. Pompey. King Ptolemy. Julia. Kleopatra. Protarchos.

Kleopatra’s guestroom. Kleopatra. Maid.

Kitchen. Protarchos. Kitchen slaves.

Hallway. Kleopatra. Roman politicians (2.) Julia. Protarchos.

Dining area. Julia. Kleopatra. Protarchos.

Atrium of Pompey’s villa. Julia’s weaving loom. Kleopatra. Julia. Politicians’ wives.


Act Four: Ephesus. 57-56 B.C.

Temple of Ephesus. Reception Area. High Priestess. Kleopatra.

Temple of Ephesus. Novice quarters. Kleopatra. Other novices.

Syria. Military camp of Gabinius and Antonius.

Temple of Ephesus. Ceremony for achieving womanhood. Kleopatra. Other attendees. High Priestess.

Agora (Marketplace) in town of Ephesus. Kleopatra. Other novices. Hierax.

Temple of Ephesus courtyard. Protarchos. Rufus. Novice.

Merchant’s tent near docks. Kleopatra. Hierax. Rufus. Other bodyguards.

King Ptolemy’s Quarters. Kleopatra. Protarchos. King Ptolemy.

Healer’s temple. Rufus. King Ptolemy. Kleopatra.


Act Five. 55 B.C. Return to Egypt:     

              Syria. Traveling on horseback. Kleopatra. Marcus Antonius. King Ptolemy.

              Pelusium. Battle lines. King Ptolemy’s Chariot. Addressing troops before battle. King Ptolemy. Kleopatra. Roman troops.

              Pelusium. King Ptolemy’s tent overlooking battle. King Ptolemy. Kleopatra.

              Pelusium. Battlefield littered with bodies. Aftermath of battle. Kleopatra. Marcus Antonius. King Ptolemy.

              Temple of Memphis. Psheren-Amun. Kleopatra.

              Alexandria. Gates of Alexandria. King Ptolemy’s Chariot.

              Alexandria. Throne Room. Berenike. Hierax. Timogenes. Palace guards. Roman soldiers.

              Alexandria. Dungeon. Kleopatra. Berenike. Marcus Antonius.

              Alexandria. Ceremony. Presentation of the Siblings. Giving of gifts. King Ptolemy. Kleopatra’s baby brothers (2) and their nurses, Arsinoe, Kleopatra. Gabinious, Marcus Antonius.


Epilogue: Alexandria. 54 B.C.

              Library of Alexandria. Kleopatra. Philostratos





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Algonkian First 7 assignment


Story statement:

A young woman, Eleni,  grows into her intuitive and psychic powers .  At the time of her Saturn return (age 28), she must choose between the narrow minded small time traditional life she is destined for to develop her abilities fully and change the world for the better, one client at a time.


Antagonist force:

Eleni has always been the “good girl.”  She’s married into the ‘right’ family.  Her future is plotted out by these parameters.  Inside her destiny is ready to bust out, but how will she handle the responsibilities of her family life, her husband’s expectations; her father-in-law’s descent into dementia; her mother’s constant focus on Eleni’s potential in the ‘real’ world.  Yet insider her ancestors are calling her to express her real self and the people she reads for are leading her down a different path.


Breakout Title:

Tarot Reading

Destiny In the Cards

Cartomancy for Suburban Girls



(This is the hardest for me.  I haven’t read these but I’m putting these in just to fill in this blank for now)

Malkah’s Notebook (although not really a graphic novel)

Divorce, Divination and . . . Destiny? : A Paranormal Women's Fiction Novel (Midlife Mayhem Book 2)



6 act, 2 goal conflict


Act 1

Backstory of the two families, Eleni and her husband Johnno

Establish Eleni’s strong will to follow her heart

Establish Johnno’s dependency issues


Act 2

Eleni, after having 2 children thinks about going back to work and is drawn to tarot reading for clients

Eleni’s father in law gets her a job through his connections in a local school


Act 3

Eleni’s early miscarriage of 3rd child

Johnno and others in the family respond/react.  So do her clients, even though they don’t know what’s real about her situation and are overtly reacting to her readings for them.

Johnno does not demonstrate responsibility in the business he is in with his father and doesn’t react with the kind of support Eleni wants regarding the miscarriage.


Act 4

Eleni meets a client at a New Year’s Eve party where she is entertaining as the tarot reader.  His invitation gives her thoughts of a new direction.


Act 5

Eleni investigates this new direction with the support of her cousin and this client who becomes a lover.


Act 6

The lover who has supported Eleni’s moving in a different direction in her life and recognizes her gifts regarding tarot reading, unexpectedly dies.  This makes Eleni reconsider her new direction.  However, she has burned her bridges with her husband and she regains the commitment to her true direction as a tarot reader/astrologer.


Two conflicts

First conflict is with her family

Second conflict is within herself


Eleni’s core wound: the desire to please her family and resist her own desires re her future


Hook line:

A young woman expected to play by the rules of her family can no longer deny  her destiny.


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

Eleni is the first in her generation to have a stable family.  This is essentially a prized situation. She has followed all the rules.  But inside she feels the call to a different destiny that goes beyond this small circle of extended family.  She feels drawn by a voice inside her and by circumstances outside to become larger and share her gifts with the greater world.  Defying the norms of the ‘good girl’ in order to fulfill her potential shakes up her world and enlightens her to the bigger picture of herself beyond her family.  She feels guilt for exploring another world;  betrayed by the path she has originally taken and the potential benefits it holds; excited and anxious about taking her place in the greater world.

In her dreamworld and her tarot readings she begins to understand her inner voice as the voice of her ancestors leading her to a larger destiny.


sketch a hypothetical scenario for the "secondary conflict" involving the social environment

Eleni’s husband feels betrayed by her leaving while he is in the midst of business crisis and caring for/taking over his father’s business due to his father’s early onset dementia.

Eleni’s employer is upset that she will leave her position as a paraprofessional support for an autistic child because she is the only one who has been able to reach him

Eleni’s mother sees her choice as going backward to a time when, from her perspective, their family made a living playing on the superstitions of others who are weaker and unable to manage the realities of life.



Setting, scene by scene:


Part One


Note: The story opens with an invocation from an older woman, grandmotherly, a wise crone.  Throughout the book this voice is a factor.  This spirit comments and provides instruction on tarot readings, spreads, how to’s and even provides diagrams for readings.


Invocation regarding the cards

Friday before Labor Day

Marquetto’s business

Marquetto is Eleni’s father in law and Johnno’s father

He has a construction business and office in a NJ suburb not far from NYC


Marquetto’s office- Johnno has been told by the vo-tech intern that she is pregnant and they have to get  married.  Johnno tells his dad and then goes to the construction site’


The crone provides information and which archetypes the characters most resemble and explans


The construction site.  Johnno gets aggressive and oppositional defiant with the man he’s supposed to be working for/with and is his ‘boss’ for the day.  Other workers including MacGregor, his dad’s construction colleague observe this.


Lunch at a lakeside restaurant, Marquetto Construction has been involved with and Johnno pays the bill like  the sob boss’s son that he is.  We get a flashback of why he is the heir when their dad really wanted his older sister to continue to lead the business.


Marquetto’s office and the end of the summer office party where summer interns leave (Johnno has been playing around with the female summer intern and his father  has to manage the complications.)


Johnno (age 21), at the end of the day, takes some plans over to MacGregor’s a construction colleague and meets MacGregor’s dgtr whom he will eventually marry.


Poker game at Marquetto’s with political cronies in town


He crone, wise woman, is a part of Eleni’s mother’s heritage.  A spiritual voice that provides interpretations and whispers to the older women.  The younger women have not even separated out the voice from their insides.


Eleni (age 14) and her cousin Justine (age 17) start learning tarot/astrology with Justine’s mom, Gemma, with which Eleni’s mom, Mariella, is not completely on board.  We get a flashback of Gemma and how she married and how she and her sisters Mariella and Ora grew up.  Gemma does a reading for Eleni that foreshadows her future.


Monday Labor Day


Labor Day party in town.  The reader sees, first hand the many political relationships in this NJ town, as well as the way Johnno and Eleni’s families interact. 

We get a flashback of the vo-tech and the relationship between the principal and county executive and how they are both pawns in Marquetto’s political power


Part Two:

Eleni does a reading for a client.  We see her in her home that she shares with Johnno and the two children.  As the reading finishes, and she believes she has done a good job, she has a miscarriage with what would have been her third child.  The energy of the reading goes haywire and the client turns on her verbally expressing his anger’  There is a great deal of flashback into Eleni’s childhood and to the grandmother on her father’s side who was a tarot reader, too.

Later that night when Johnno gets home and Eleni calls her mom.  Her mom had many miscarriages before having Eleni.

The next day, Eleni recovering with her Aunt Gemma, mom Mariella, and cousin Justine who is visiting.

Dr’s appt and next steps re family

The Jersey boardwalk where Eleni gets a reading

Labor Day Monday - town party and Eleni gets a job paraprofessional for autistic boy who she connects with

Eleni does a reading for a woman who is dealing with infertility

During Thanksgiving, Justine comes home and she and Eleni go thrifting for a dress since Eleni got a gig to do readings at a fancy New Year’s Eve Party.  We meet Aunt Ora who has a fortune telling business in Greenwich Village

The New Year’s Eve gig where Eleni meets a man who opens up possibilities for her.


Part 3

New Year’s Day and the multiple commitments she has.  First stop at Marquetto’s party. Marquetto is showing signs of early dementia and this means changes in Johnno’s role in the business

Eleni also goes to her mom’s house for their traditional New Year's Day with all the superstitions their side of the family carry on.   Eleni talks to Justine about this feeling she had meeting the man last night and the issues with Johnno since the miscarriage and her work making her more independent/them growing apart. Justine invites her to San Francisco where she is living and where this man is also living

(Here there a few scenes I haven’t worked out that are conflicts between Eleni and Johnno and the parents

Eleni takes the children to San Francisco in the spring

Possible endings: it could end here with Eleni at the airport taking the children to visit Justine; this man who  invited her could die and leave a house to Eleni; she could go to SF and struggle to start her business in this environment and become a more modern version of her Aunt Ora.

Or the ending happens with all of the above bullet point items taking place.


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Algonkian First 7 assignment


1.     Story statement:

Samantha Evans has never kissed a boy. A confident approach on a sunny afternoon leads this bookworm on a 15 year journey of discovery of self. An overbearing grandmother, social anxiety and a wounded heart become too much for her to bare. As Samantha grows into a woman she must confront the wounds of her past in order to function in her future.  

Antagonist force:

Samantha’s mother is determined to ensure that Samantha doesn’t make the same mistakes as she did but Samantha’s grandmother doesn’t like the approach. As Samantha navigates new choices and possibilities she also has to consider her father’s part in that equation as well. Samantha has to make bold choices if she’s going to overcome her “fears” of life. She must forge on beyond a tumultuous summer that forever changed her direction in life. She must face past hurts in order to determine her rightful path.  

2.     Breakout Title:

The Hibiscus Chronicle

Red Sunshine

Island Ruby

3.     Comparable: 

Terry McMillan – I Almost Forgot About You

Virginia DeBerry and Donna Grant – How to Sleep in the Bed You Made

4.     Conflict

Overbearing grandmother doesn’t want her to grow up

There is family drama surrounding Sammy’s changing world

Sammy’s Anxiety 

Sammy’s Lost Love


SAMMY’S BACKGROUND – we meet her family and learn about her upbringing

SAMMY’S  INTRODUCTION TO LOVE – Sammy meets Cameron and finds a little confidence and starts to hear her own voice

SAMMY HAS TO DEAL WITH THE CONSEQUENCES OF HER ACTIONS – Cam suddenly moves away and Sammy takes desperate measures to re-connect with him.


SAMMY is now 30 – she seems to have a good handle on life and is very successful

SAMMY is suddenly confronted with her past and becomes very conflicted about her life

SAMMY is cast into a few precarious situations that threaten to unravel the peace she had made in her life  

Two conflicts

Sammy’s  relationship with her family

Sammy’s anxiety and anger threaten to upend her life


Sammy’s  core wound: her anxiety towards life – she does not want to become her parents and she doesn’t trust herself enough to see her life clearly 

5; Hook line:

A woman working to overcome anxiety to live a life that brings her happiness..

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FIRST ASSIGNMENT: write your story statement. 

Two Lebanese-American women and one Lebanese man, strangers until entangled by an arranged marriage, must grapple with questions of homeplace, identity, and desire as they resist, embrace, and rewrite traditions of family and relationship. 

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

The antagonistic force is patriarchal tradition and familial obligation embodied by antagonists Sarkis Hanna and his granddaughter, Maya. Sarkis Hanna, the deceased Lebanese patriarch and shrewd businessman, has haunted Maya’s dreams to ensure an old debt is paid. Maya, now 86, was expected to have been born a boy and marry the first-born granddaughter of Khalil Elias to complete a transaction between the two patriarchs. But because she was born a girl, the marriage never took place and Sarkis Hanna was never paid for his Tyrian-dyed Phoenician silk, Lebanese cedarwood, and fine marble. The payment was to be a marriage of the two bloodlines and the house built by Elias with these materials, sealed by the birth of a baby to merge the families’ legacies. Maya, ostracized by her family and haunted by her grandfather, has made it her life’s mission to enforce Hanna’s will and make right on the deal set forth by the two patriarchs. When she gives birth to Sayed—first son of first daughter of first son of Hanna—she puts into motion necessary elements to finally make this marriage happen, lay Hanna’s ghost to rest, and redeem her family’s honor, no matter the cost.

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


The Scent of Orange Blossom Water

Marriage of Marble, Silk, and Cedar

The Arranged Marriage of a Lebanese Lesbian 



- 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?

Crescent by Diana Abu-Jaber

An Arab-American woman living in L.A. and working as a chef in a Lebanese Café, falls in love with an Iraqi exile, evoking questions of identity and homeplace. My novel is comparable to Crescent’s themes of identity, love, and homeplace; its lyrical tone and sometimes magical elements; and the strong infusion of cooking and Lebanese food. 

You Exist Too Much by Zaina Arafat

This debut novel follows the life of a Palestinian American woman navigating cultural, religious, and sexual identities. While the plot is very different from my novel, the themes of family, identity, and desire are resonant.


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.


Set in contemporary United States and Lebanon, a Lebanese-American woman and a Lebanese man are required to sacrifice their free will by dutifully agreeing to an arranged marriage that honors an 86 year contract signed by their respective families. On the morning of the wedding, the caterer reveals a secret, and the three must grapple with questions of homeplace, identity, and desire as they resist, embrace, and rewrite traditions of family and relationship. 


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. 

This novel has three main protagonists: Naya, Sayed, and Leila. Their inner conflicts and scenarios are sketched below:

Naya Inner Conflict: 

Naya, U.S. born second-generation Lebanese-American raised in a strict Maronite Catholic household by parents raised by Lebanese immigrants, has always felt the constraints of family expectations to get married and have children. She has never felt accepted for who she was—an independent, organic gardener who loves working with her hands and building her business. She has created her own chosen family and has no desire to ever marry or have kids. In her extended Lebanese-American family and community, her lifestyle is an anomaly, an aberration, a “selfish phase”. Over the years of trying to communicate with her parents, and after many tears of misunderstandings and struggle, she believed they’d finally come to a comfortable place of acceptance of her way of being. So, when her parents inform her that she is required to marry a Lebanese man she’s never met to fulfill a generational debt; that she would have to leave her home and live in Lebanon; andis expected to give birth, she feels not only the deep gash of betrayal, but a severe sense of injustice. Worse, she feels that once and for all, her worst fear has been revealed to her with certainty: her family does not understand her and would never see and respect her for who she is. She always wanted acceptance by her family and from the larger culture. She loves her parents and wants them to be proud of her for who she is. Deep down, she wants to please them. But she has no idea how to reconcile her own personal desires and agency with these deeply entrenched familial obligations. She doesn’t want to marry or leave her home, but she also doesn’t want to deny her family loyalty. Underneath her sadness is a deep-seated sense of anger and injustice she has carried with her by virtue of living in a heteronormative world, enforced microcosmically by her own family.

Naya Scenario:

Naya absent-mindedly nestled the bundles of pineapple sage into the basket. A year ago she had launched her grand opening with the mums and pumpkins. Nine months ago she learned she is expected to marry a stranger. She still had the scrap of paper with the man’s name. She still hadn’t contacted him. She had been too angry. And anyway, she really couldn’t see the point. To contact him would feel like compliance, and she refused to comply with the arranged marriage.

When her dad tried to distinguish this as an arranged marriage rather than a forced marriage, Naya had wanted to scream. That distinction might work for people who are raised with the knowledge that their marriage will be arranged and that they would have the option to choose among the suitors their parents presented to them. But her situation was different. Even if she met the guy and liked him it didn’t mean she’d want to marry him. She didn’t want to get married at all, and especially not to a man. Marriage had never been part of her plan. And so the entire situation felt forced—forced upon her. She felt she was being unfairly forced to be the one responsible for upholding her family’s name and honor, at the expense of her choice to be loyal to herself and to her own well-being. But she knew self-loyalty wasn’t really an option that came without repercussions, not in her family.  As contemporary as her family perceived themselves to be, Naya knew they were still very conservative and very traditional.  Loyalty to the family had been an overriding value for as long as she could remember.

Naya walked out of her garden and sobbed.

Sayed Inner Conflict:

Sayed, a sought-after Lebanese stone sculptor, was raised on the narrative that his obligation was to marry a descendent of the renowned Khalil Elias and inherit the great house Elias built that was promised to Sayed’s family as payment on an old debt. Sayed uncritically has accepted this fate, and is ready to marry without giving it any thought. It isn’t until he meets his future bride, Naya, for the first time, that “bride” is no longer an abstraction, but a very real person. When he realizes how much is at stake for Naya—who doesn’t want to marry and has a full life in the United States— he becomes torn. Sayed is an intuitively compassionate man with much integrity, and he quickly grows to care deeply about Naya and Naya’s feelings. At the same time, as a fellow master stonecarver, he covets this architectural specimen of a house that has always been promised to him by his mother, Maya. Moreover, he feels further pressured by his mother, who has faced lifelong persecution from her family and would finally be redeemed by the marriage between Sayed and Naya. Sayed wants to set his mother free from her long-term suffering from the family’s judgment. He feels that he alone bears the unique responsibility to do this and can attain it by following through with the marriage. Even still, as his awareness for Naya’s well-being deepens, he begins to question his own ready compliance to the marriage, and for the first time in his life, he begins to ask himself what it is that he truly would want if he was free from this lifelong narrative of obligation.

Sayed Scenario:

Sayed stood back up, his heart racing. He read the message once more, trying to decipher its tone. Something about the words “I’ve been informed” struck Sayed right in the center of his heart, but he couldn’t pinpoint exactly why the words jangled so hard. Then suddenly he knew: “I’ve been informed” signifies that this woman had been told just once about the debt and the wedding. A single moment in time. Sayed thought about what it would be like to experience a sudden unexpected burst of information, a directive, about one’s own future. It makes for a completely different story for her than for Sayed.  

Sayed’s entire upbringing, his everyday ongoing narrative, was organized around the debt and the wedding. He startled at the contrast: Sayed’s life was infused by this narrative. Naya’s life was interrupted by it. This American woman’s life, comprehended Sayed. It must be pretty unbelievable for her. He scanned the words,“we are expected to marry” “attempting” “confess” “reluctantly”. He suddenly felt a surge of great compassion for this woman. While his focus had always been on the house rather than the marriage, the actual so-called bride was always an abstraction in his mind. Not a real person with a name and a life and a home and routine, a country and loved ones. The tangible meaning of all of this was sinking in for Sayed. He knew if he were her, he certainly wouldn’t want to be told he had to leave his country and marry a stranger.

Leila Inner Conflict:

Leila is a progressive Lebanese-American chef who is catering her first wedding and is dismayed to learn that the wedding has been arranged and the bride has had no say in the matter. This information puts a sour taste in Leila’s mouth, as she is sensitive to the betrayal Naya must be feeling from her family. For Leila, preparing and presenting Lebanese food is one of her primary love languages. She loves creating pleasure and sensuality through the culinary arts.  How can she create a feast and support an occasion that feels wrong to her? To complicate matters, her dreaming life, which has always been vivid, even lucid, has intensified in the days and months leading up to the wedding, revealing seductive secrets involving both the bride and groom, and blurring the once distinct line between Leila’s dreamlife and her reality. Leila made a promise to herself long ago that she would always do her best to live in truthfulness to herself and others so that the spices in her cooking alchemize perfectly and the food digests easily. But now, on the morning of the wedding, Leila finds herself in the midst of an existential, and possibly culinary, crisis.

 Leila Scenario:

 Leila tried to focus on her task at hand, but really, how could she possibly continue arranging spinach pies on a platter for this wedding after what just happened? How could she serve up this sumptuous feast in celebration of two people she loved with all her heart, when to do so would mean that Sayed and Naya, who do not love each other as husband and wife, would have gone through with the marriage and would be disappearing across the ocean, where she might never see them again. How could she bear to live without Naya, especially now that they’ve met in person? How could she bear to live without Sayed? She felt the lump in her solar plexus swell upward and lodge itself in her heart. She could barely breathe. A sob escaped her. And then another. Suddenly she was crying those deep convulsant sobs, where breath and tears locked up and shook her, one hard sob after another, as though not a single hope remained. She was leaning on the prepping table, but even that couldn’t support her. She felt herself sink to the floor and retreat into fetal position. Her breath unlocked and she started wailing. She had waited her whole life for this love. She had known them her whole life through her dreams. Never knowing if they were real or not, but always sensing that they were. And now to have finally met them. And now they would be leaving. She couldn’t bear this pain. She couldn’t bear any more loss. She had to pull herself together. She had to pull this food together. And should she tell them? But how? And how much? And when? She wanted to tell them everything. In her heart, everything was pure. But she was more unconventional than most people. They might not understand. She looked at the clock. It was 11:06. The wedding would be taking place in less than two hours.

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?

Leila, Naya, and Sayed do not yet know each other. Unbeknownst to the three of them, they’ve each experienced intense, vivid, and recurringly-themed dreams their entire lives. In the past two years before the wedding date, the dreams have intensified for them all. The dreams are often evoked by and/or are accompanied by the scent of orange blossom water. The dreams always take place in the same elaborately constructed house that none of them have seen in their waking lives. The dreams are not exactly dreams, but shared dreamspaces with another individual, always the same stranger—blurry, indistinct, yet intimately familiar— recognizable only by a palpable energetic imprint that has increasingly strengthened in its perceptibility in recent years. These energies are unnamed in dreamspace, but if they were named, they would be known as the energies of Naya and Leila, and the energies of Sayed and Leila. The energies of Naya and Sayed have never met in dreamspace, and Leila has not met either Naya or Sayed in waking life. Even during the wedding planning, Leila has not met the bride nor groom. She has spoken to the reluctant bride briefly on the phone, but most of the bride’s limited correspondence has taken place over email and text. 

 Leila has been in love with both of them—and they her—nearly her whole life in her private intensely lucid dreamworld, never knowing with certainty if they are more than her imagination. When she meets them in person just before the wedding, she is shook to her core. 

It is Friday evening before the Sunday wedding that Naya and Leila unexpectedly meet in person. Naya is bringing the flower arrangements from her garden and the orange blossom flowers she specially ordered, to the reception hall to store in the refrigerators. Naya has just finished placing the vases of flowers on the shelves inside the walk-in cooler. At the exact moment that she exits the cooler and turns to close the cooler door, Leila enters the kitchen wheeling in a cart laden with pans of rolled grape leaves and baked kibbe to be refrigerated. Focused on steering the cart between the prepping tables, Leila glimpses somebody at the cooler and calls out, “You can keep that door open for me please, and I’ll wheel this cart in.” At the same moment that Leila’s voice reaches Naya’s consciousness, Naya’s eyes meet Leila’s, and their hearts leap in an entangled moment of energetic recognition. “Naranj,” Leila whispers. They stare at one another for an eternity then float toward each other like apparitions. They collapse to the ground in an awestruck tangle of limbs and tears. They spend the entire evening fluctuating between heightened arousal, grounded comfort, and deep conversation, marveling at the surrealism of knowing each other forever while also experiencing each other tangibly for the first time. They lament with painful sorrow that just when they’ve finally met, they will be separated by a marriage and an ocean. Their personal existing reservations about the wedding further deepen in even more immediate ways, and each one secretly fantasizes ways to stop the wedding.

Two days later, early morning of the wedding day, Sayed arrives at the reception hall to install the surprise wedding gift he has made for Naya: an exquisitely sculpted calcite alabaster orange-blossom flower. Meanwhile, Leila, still reeling from the confusing emotional whirlwind of erotic adrenaline coursing through her from meeting Naya two days earlier—and seeing her both days since—dutifully drags herself to the reception hall to prepare the food and arrange the platters. She enters through the back loading dock door that enters into the kitchen, then makes her way into the front banquet room to check that the chafing pans are set up on the buffet line. Scanning the room with an appraising eye to check that all the tables are correctly positioned and clothed, she sees a man at the gift table setting up some kind of sculpture as the centerpiece. His back is to her, but something about him seems familiar. She contemplates how she might know him, but can’t place it. 

She turns to the buffet tables and begins counting the sternos when suddenly the back of her neck feels as though it is on fire. Her legs feel wavy, as though she has just run a marathon, and her heart is pounding against her chest. She is breathless as though she has just sprinted across a finish line. She turns to face the man and is disoriented to find him still standing by the gift table. He is staring at her. Before his voice even reaches her ears, she hears him say two words that travel thickly across the room, sounding the way syllables sound when talking underwater, distorted as his image in dreamspace yet simultaneously just as recognizable. His words splash her, and she gasps as though coming up for air, already awake, not dreaming this time, no door between them, visible as a clear window, loud as a crash of symbols, “It’s you.” 

The heat between them has condensed all distance and in one swift movement they are in each other’s arms.

Neither Naya nor Sayed know that the other has been in a dreamspace relationship with Leila; and upon meeting her in person, they each relish the opportunity to finally pursue this relationship with the love of their lives. Leila doesn’t know how to tell each of them that she is in love with them both. Meanwhile, there is the issue of the upcoming wedding.


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 takes place in two primary locations, the contemporary United States and Lebanon. 

 In Lebanon, the setting takes place in the mountain village of Ehden, home of the Cedar Forests of Lebanon. Within Ehden, the primary settings are Sayed’s stone sculpting studio, and the house built by the master stonecarver Khalil Elias that is part of the contract made by Khalil Elias and Sarkis Hanna 86 years ago. This setting of the house spans continents because not only does it physically exist in Ehden, it is also the setting of the vivid dreams that each of the characters share.

 Within the United States, the setting takes place in a (fictionally named) northern midwestern city named Cedar Grove that has a large Lebanese-American population and is located two hours outside of Chicago. Within Cedar Grove, the majority of scenes occur in Leila’s Café and Catering Kitchen, where we see and taste the sensual aromas and rhythms of Lebanese food preparation, and in Naya’s garden, bursting with abundant colors and textures rooted in the depth and patience of soil. 

 Below are sketches of the settings: 

 In Ehden, Lebanon

 Sayed’s Stone-Sculpting Studio

 Sayed sat on his swivel stool and meticulously chipped away at a marble block standing seven feet tall and three feet wide. He was in his element, his workshop, his zone. The floor was thick with an accumulation of marble dust as were the shelves and the single wooden chair. His black hair, his work boots, his blue jeans, everything was coated in the fine dust.  The studio had a roof and three walls, high ceilings and no door with one side completely open to the outdoors so that Sayed could maneuver the large sections of marble. Currently, he was at work on multiple projects, some commissioned, some personal.  At stations in his studio stood stone pillars and angular chunks of marble at varying stages in the carving process. Some had faint wisps of pencil sketches. On others, facial expressions emerged like apparitions out of the hard surfaces, and plump clusters of grapes appeared deceptively juicy despite their obvious stone origins. 

 When Sayed needed to get air, he’d walk out of his studio, down the narrow, winding cobblestone streets past rows of small stone houses where old men sat in their doorways smoking hookahs; past the street vendors at the corners with bushels of green apricots, plums, and apples; past the wrinkled woman tossing large circles of dough between her hands, throwing it on top of the glowing hot dome oven, spreading it with spirals of olive oil and zaatar, then rolling it in paper and handing it to passersby. 

 Finally, Sayed would reach the edge of the village. He’d trample easily through the dusty fields and drying grasses, navigate crumbling stone walls and duck through gnarly branches, until he’d reach his spot among the ancient olive trees. He’d found this abandoned olive grove long ago when he was a young boy and had immediately exhaled into a sense of peace. The feeling of being in solitude, unseen and alone, facilitated his sense of self, helped him to feel that he had an identity and a destiny all his own, different from his mother’s and sisters’ stories of who he was expected to become. He had found the biggest tree and cleared away the queen anne’s lace and wild zataar growing around the base and made a sitting spot where he would go every day and lean sleepily against the slanted trunk, daydreaming upward into the silvery green leaves. On his way to his sitting spot, he would collect small stones from the old ruins of unsalvaged homesteads and then arrange the stones under his tree. By the time Sayed reached his early teens, he had built a small circular wall around his tree and had begun collecting larger stones that he chipped away at every day, finally making the grey shapes into pictures he could begin to understand.

 Now an adult, his inspirational “sitting spot” was his swivel stool; his sacred “olive grove” was his indoor workshop; his “small stones” were now exquisite pieces of marble transported with cranes.

 Every once in a while, but very rarely, much more rarely than when he was younger, Sayed would venture further still, to the spot where the great house built by the master stonecarver Khalil Elias stood.


The Great House Built by Khalil Elias  

 Sitting in a coveted, exquisite location atop the terraced mountainside, the Great House built by Khalil Elias overlooks the village of Ehden, the valleys, the Cedar Forests, and on a clear day, views of the Mediterranean Sea in the distance. The house, built with Elias’s signature carved marble blocks and signature arches, is an expanded and ornate version of the traditional Central Hall house, a style considered a national heritage of Lebanon for the way its architectural elements coexist with the natural landscape. The passageway of the tripartite arcade connects the house and the views, and five exterior arches span the front entrance. The ornate triple set of mandaloun windows on the third floor lead out to a marble balcony rimmed by a wrought-iron railing overlooking the grape vines, the terraces, and the ancient cedar trees that populate the property like sentient guards. Along with the finely carved blocks and the smooth marble pillars supporting the balcony, the rectangular exterior has turquoise accents around each of the windows and doorways, and a red tile roof. The massive front door is made of intricately carved cedarwood, depicting both historic Phoenician scenes and, some say, Elias’s rumored prophetic visions. The door opens into a spacious interior, with the main hall boasting mosaic floors inlaid with glazed tiles of turquoise, yellow, green, and white against a cobalt blue background. Looking directly above the mosaic, the hand painted ceiling depicts vermillion floral medallions at the centers of large ivory squares rimmed in gold and bordered by sky-blue. The walls are a display of ornately sculpted marble shelves and altars, and hand-planed, hand-carved built-in cedarwood chests and drawers. Inside one of the many cedar chests, and unbeknownst so far to anyone alive in the family today, Khalil had saved back and carefully stored one of the very expensive, very rare Tyrean dyed purple Phoenician silks he got from Sarkis Hanna. 

Naya and Leila have yet to see the house in waking life. In dream life, they often travel through the house, not knowing that this is the Khalil Elias house. Sayed has seen the house in waking life, but only the exterior. Never the interior. But he does not recognize the Elias house as the house in his dreams, because his dreams are often distortions of the house:

“Have you seen the house?” This question was posed to Sayed more times than he could count, and it was less a question requiring an answer than it was a declaration of appreciation for the house’s exquisite craftsmanship and beauty.

In truth, Sayed not only had seen the house but had studied it with careful awe ever since he was a small boy. Sayed still remembered the first time he saw the house. He was five years old, and his family had finally moved back to the village where his mother was born.

To say that Sayed Sarkis Hanna Hitti loved the house built by Khalil Elias would be an egregious understatement. One might say instead that the house nurtured his aesthetic sensibilities, or married his passions of precision and eccentrism, or fed his desires for beauty and function, or quite simply, inspired Sayed’s very life path. 

Sayed was a stone sculptor raised by a bricklayer, destined to live in a house built by a master stone carver and woodcrafter, and fed stories—by a wounded mother—of the greatest house in the land. She began the stories when he was stardust, and then a nebula, and then a galaxy, and then finally, when he grew to be as big as the universe, he swirled into light and form, welcomed by his mother’s fervent whispers, “You are the Man of The House.”

So by the time Sayed was five, not only could he mix mortar and eye a level by himself, and steady a wheelbarrow with his father’s help, he could recite his mother’s descriptions of the house so perfectly that both he and his mother would need to be reminded that neither of them had yet to have actually seen it. For young Sayed, the house was an intimate part of his reality; it occupied the landscape of his days and the dreamscape of his nights, and was essentially larger than life. 

It’s not hard then to imagine the excitement that ensued the day his mother told five-year old Sayed they were moving back to her village where he would finally see the house built by Khalil Elias. Sayed marched triumphantly around his bedroom with his chest puffed like a barrel, then feasted with his family on the special meal his mother cooked in celebration: his favorite: kibbeh nayyeh, bread, and fattoush, with mint tea and orange blossom cookies for dessert.

That night, young Sayed dreamed he was standing at the foot of a rugged stone staircase, from out which towered an immense wooden door hand-carved in a quilt of symbols. Sayed easily climbed the first step but realized the next step was tall as a ledge, so he had to reach with his hands and pull himself up. Breathlessly, he reached the next step, relieved to see the third step was a normal height, but as soon as he stepped up, he saw the wooden door was suddenly smaller. He looked again and understood that the door was not smaller, it was further away, standing in the distance atop dozens of stone steps that were rapidly multiplying. He began to climb faster. He felt an urgency to reach the door. Maybe he could outrun the multiplying steps. He needed to get to the door. There was something, somebody, behind the door, and they needed him. Heneeded them. But the faster he climbed, the further away moved the door, until finally the door was a pinhole of blackness and the steps nothing more than a ribbon of gray. Panicking and heartbroken, Sayed stood on the steps and screamed at the door, “But I’m here! I’m here! Please! Open the door! I’m here!” And then he crumpled into the hard stone, his tears turning to pleas, “Please open for me, please,” and the stones began shaking under his feet, shaking his entire body.

“Sayed!” His mother was shaking his shoulder, “Sayed, habibi, wake up! You’re having a bad dream. Wake up!”


Leila’s Café and Catering Kitchen:

Leila knew she’d be taking a financial risk to realize her dream of owning her own commercial kitchen, but she couldn’t pass up the opportunity when her uncle told her he’d heard the old feedstore was going up for sale. A brick storefront in the renovated Warehouse District along the riverfront in the city of Cedar Grove! She scraped together all her savings and maxed out her credit cards to plunk a down-payment and secure a loan, then she immediately went to work to uncover the beauty of the historic building complete with the original, high tin ceilings; windows rising up from wide walnut sills, and old oak floors polished from wear. 

She removed the sections of plaster cracking on the walls to expose the original brick beneath—three shades of tomato reds with marblings of pinks, and old white plaster and cement layered in. She collected used but timeless tables and chairs on Craigslist, and soon populated the café portion of the building with an eclectic assortment of cast-iron, round-wooden, and glass-topped dining sets, that all somehow aesthetically matched. She kept the open concept of the building so that when one walked through the café toward the back kitchen, they could see her at work, chopping, rolling, and preparing foods behind the cedarwood counter and glass display cases filled with her locally-famous Lebanese pastries of honey-infused pistachio baklawa, sugar-powdered ghreybeh, and buttery date-stuffed maamoul. 

When restoring the back kitchen, she preserved the historic components of the building where she could: the tin ceiling, the original windows and woodwork, the exposed brick walls and copper pipes. But when it came to her appliances and accessories, she wanted to create a spacious, inspiring, and efficient kitchen with ample length and space for her professional catering jobs. She installed commercial countertops, prep tables, coolers, sinks, and stoves. She had a traditional brick oven built so that it would get hot enough to bake traditional Lebanese bread. For most of her kitchen surfaces she chose stainless steel, but much of her cookware was of her preferred copper pans and enamel coated cast iron. Her shelves artfully displayed her collection of colorful stoneware, crystal platters, porcelain demitasse cups, antique platters, vintage goblets, bowls, saucers, and even some brass candlesticks, along with a few matching dinnerware sets, including Turkish ceramics and French Le Creuset. 

In front of the bay window by the double-sink, she nestled a refurbished, ornate cast iron plant stand stacked with terra cotta and Talavera pottery sprouting parsley, mint, basil, cilantro, rosemary, lavender, lemon balm, nasturtium, anise, and chives. She kept roses and tomatoes on the back patio when the weather was right, and unsuccessfully tried to grow a lemon tree. In the windows at the front entrance, she had an ornamental fig tree in the corner; violets and geraniums on the sills; ferns and philodendron in hanging pots; and a vase of fresh flowers on each table. 

At the heart of this visual beauty in Leila’s Café and Catering Kitchen, was the fragrance. As soon as the patrons entered through the waft of the doorway’s wind chimes, they were enveloped by the scent of orange blossom water. No matter what was cooking on the stove or being served piping hot on platters—beyond the earthy pungence of garlic and onions singing in olive oil, beneath the cumin wafting from the baked kibbe mingling with the mint and lemon hovering above the tabbouli, enhancing the cinnamon rolled into the grape leaves—the subtle scent of orange blossom water infused each patron and intoxicated them in an embrace of welcoming, nurturing love.

People remarked that even if all that existed at Leila’s was a single lightbulb hanging from a wire, a metal card table, and a bucket turned upside down for a chair, the aroma of her kitchen was enough to call them back like a baby calf again and again to its mother at the location it first nursed.

Even now, the scent of orange blossom water permeated the kitchen where Leila was humming in happiness. She was gliding her extra sharp knife through an extra-large sheet-tray of freshly layered baklawa, singing along to Whitney Houston as she evenly sliced parallel one-inch lines down the length of the pan. She belted the chorus, not caring that she was off-key, and rotated the pan a quarter turn, intersecting the initial lines with a new set of knife lines to make diamonds. “Don’t you wanna dance, hey you wanna dance, don’t you wanna dance…dance.”

Leila was in her element and thrilled. This batch of baklawa was saturated in floral fragrance and exuding golden perfection. It was going to look beautiful displayed in her glass case. Half of this batch was going to Gloria’s Coffeehouse for a baby shower across town. Leila’s baklawa tasted especially sublime served with a demitasse of Gloria’s signature Lebanese cardamom coffee.

Leila carefully packaged the platter of diamond pastries to make it travel-ready. As she gently covered the baklawa with parchment paper, the buttery rich aroma of sweet pistachio mingling with orange blossom infused the air, arousing the memory of Leila’s dream from the night before. Leila had almost forgotten the dream, but then realized quite the opposite: the dream had been lingering all day. She’d been living in it, much like she lives within a fragrant kitchen.

Naya’s Gardens

Naya spent years building her gardens. She laid wide pathways of old brick that led to sitting spots with romantic wooden benches in her oak grove, and cast iron tables around the pond. She created meditation areas with goddess statuary nestled between evergreens and sandstone altars of amethysts and rose quartz. She planted a raucous variety of texture and color that rotated its display like the turn of a kaleidoscope at each season. The purple crocuses opened the show in early spring, blooming through the snow, later joined by the chorus of yellow daffodils, red tulips, and blue iris. When May rolled around, Naya drank in the visual beauty of the dripping wisteria, lazy peonies, and brilliant orange poppies. By summer solstice, the lilies were in bloom, the oregano was ready for another harvest, and the blueberries were ready to pick. Along with a bouquet of sunflowers, she marked summertime with blueberry pie, fresh tomatoes with basil drizzled in olive oil, and cucumbers and laban (homemade yoghurt) tossed with fresh mint. At the end of her long days of weeding, watering, and mulching, her favorite thing to do was to lay in her hammock, look at the stars and inhale the night air, heavy with the fragrance of tuberose. She couldn’t grow orange trees living so far north, but the sensuality of tuberose seduced her the same way as the orange blossoms.

This morning, Naya was sitting on a fading wood bench among cosmos plants and magenta celosia, between fruiting asparagus ferns and flowering fountain grasses. October sun soaked into her while a leg’s distance before her a bee somersaulted in its struggle to escape a sticky web, writhing and twisting frantically. Centered in the web, just inches from the bee, a giant garden spider sat in heightened stillness, waiting, its arms and legs splayed in yellow and black display. The spider’s quiet anticipation amid the bee’s struggle aroused Naya. The breeze kissed her bare skin and carried away her breathing. 

In the rustle she heard a faint plud and her eyes followed the movement. A praying mantis had landed before her on a bed of soft leaves near the web. She looked at the web and did not see the bee.  She saw the spider had not moved.  Her eyes scanned the textures of web silk, leaf wax, petal fur and found the bee, luxuriating, on the celosia plant next to the web, tugging and sucking on a magenta bloom.  She lingered with the free bee, the praying mantis, the splayed spider, the breezy grasses, the berried ferns. 

“Today is going to be a good day for both of us,” she said lazily to the busy bee. 

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1. THE ACT OF STORY STATEMENT-- develop a simple "story statement." In other words, what's the mission of your protagonist? The goal? What must be done? 
J.B. returns to Centrel City, IL, to help her friend Natasha solve some mysteries. The goal is to discover who sabotages negotiations for a lucrative 5-year shipping contract. J.B. goes undercover to find the details of the conspiracy and get proof for the local police to make an arrest and evidence for a conviction of Fox Transfer for racketeering.
2. SECOND ASSIGNMENT: in 200 words or less, sketch your story's antagonist or antagonistic force. Remember their goals, background, and how they react to the world around them.
The antagonistic force is money and muscle from Chicago gangsters who want a piece of the shipping contract. 
3. THIRD ASSIGNMENT: create a breakout title (list several options, not more than three, and revisit to edit as needed).
1st choice for title: MURDER INHERITED:: J.B. BANCROFT MYSTERIES - Book 1
2nd choice for title: MURDER BETWEEN THE HIGHWAYS, which would work for the lead-in to sequels like MURDER BETWEEN THE TEAPOTS, MURDER BETWEEN THE ICE, MURDER BETWEEN THE CHAINS, and MURDER BETWEEN THE BEANS. https://www.pekintimes.com/story/news/2019/12/05/bancroft-mysteries-set-for-relaunch/2147039007/
4. Fourth Assignment (read article): 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?
COMP: USA Today Best Selling Author, Stephanie Damore - Makeup & Murder: Beauty Secrets Mystery Book 1
5. Write your own hook line (logline) with conflict and core wound following the format above. 
J.B. breaks a promise to herself to help her lifelong friend save her trucking company. She puts her life in danger and may pay the ultimate price.
6. SIXTH ASSIGNMENT: sketch the conditions for your protagonist's inner conflict. Why will they feel in turmoil? Conflicted? Anxious? Sketch out one hypothetical scenario in the story wherein this would be the case--consider the trigger and the reaction.
B. Next, sketch a hypothetical scenario for the "secondary conflict" involving the social environment. Will this involve family? Friends? Associates? What is its nature of it?
After five years as an over-the-road trucker, does J.B. want to give up that freedom and settle down to run the inherited one-person AAA Investigations?
Will she move on after losing her partner over those years? Will an old flame light her passion once again?

7. 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 refrain from repeating what you already have, which may be too quiet. You can change it. That's why you're here! Start now. I want you to know that imagination is your best friend and be aggressive.
The series is set in Centrel City, IL, a fictitious community introduced by my dad, Bob Liter, in the Nick Bancroft Mysteries. Centrel City is strikingly similar to Peoria, IL., the area I grew up in and where I worked in Trucking Industry for 30 years.

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Excerpt from In The Cards:

Eleni Giusto was at a standstill.  She gazed out the front lawn at the town green in Bloomfield NJ.   A little taller than average, Eleni was a young woman who was generally at ease in her body.  Sometimes her mom or her Aunt, in the evening, after dinner dishes were put away, might talk about out of body experiences and astral travel.  Eleni was interested from what she considered a professional perspective, but she felt and sensed with all her tactile, kinesthetic neurons and most of the time was very much within her own skin.  She had dressed well today, to make a good impression on her client.  It was the first time she’d be meeting this client and she understood how important repeat business was for her to make a go of becoming a professional.  She wasn’t sure what she wanted to call herself, a psychic, spiritualist, fortuneteller, intuitive?  But she was secure in feeling that she looked sophisticated in her black slacks, and dark, green, cotton knit sweater that set off her deep auburn hair so well. 


She listened patiently to Paolo croon his little clinging song. Her body swayed gently to the rhythm of his tune.  He rocked and held onto her knee.


                             “Mama’s gonna buy me a mockin’ bird,


  Mama’s gonna buy me a puppy dog,


  Mama’s gonna buy me a builder bob…”



              Paolo’s high-pitched sing-song voice was mesmerizing.  Perhaps this little three and half year old was going to become a hypnotist, she thought.  Obviously, he was already trying to en-trance her into buying him everything on his mind.


              “Paolo, Mommy’s going to sit down,” Eleni peeled him off her right knee.  “Go


play with your toys.”  She turned him toward the corner of the living room where his


castle blocks and large scale Legos sat in a cardboard box that had been covered in


bright yellow contact paper and labeled in blue marker: BLOCKS.




              “Mommy, you play,” he entreated.  He was back like glue to her knee. He smiled at her engagingly, his dark eyes looked up from under his long, upturned lashes and his straight dark hair.  Just like a boy to have the luck to inherit those beautiful lashes, Eleni thought as she sat down on the edge of the couch.


              “No, honey, Mommy has to get ready for work.” Eleni hated to put him off for even a moment.  She felt him tug at her heart, but work was good and today, especially, she wanted the income.  “Mommy has a new client today. You be good and play.”  Eleni’s voice was calming and soothing.  It was just the kind of soft voice to which small children respond well.  Her voice was a gift, another gift. 


              Her mother had told her that they’d recognized her gift from the time she was four.  Not much older than her own little boy, now.  Of course, her dad, MacGregor, had always considered her a gift.  He’d found her so precious at four, so interesting with her flirtatious little girl ways and the amazing things she’d say to him.  She’d climb onto him while he relaxed after dinner in the living room.  His recliner, always leaning at the optimal angle for him to watch TV and doze.  Eleni would talk to him while Mariella cleaned up in the kitchen.  She seemed to melt her small body into his chest and bury her head in the slight indentation under his collarbone near the curve of his shoulder.  He’d rest his hand on her slender, delicate back.  He could feel the edge of her wings, his little angel.  Tired from his day, full from dinner, he’d melt, too.


              He would stroke the wild tangle of curly red hair.  She had beautiful, thick, hair, and the slate blue eyes that gleamed with flecks of emerald when she was stubborn and wanted her way. She was his daughter, for sure.  She had the Celtic, Scandinavian look of his family, almost none of the Mediterranean, and Eastern European of Mariella’s

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Talented players in the 1930s Negro League warm up by staging an exuberant pantomime with an imaginary baseball. The mock game is a metaphor for the exclusion of talented Negro athletes from the segregated Major Leagues.

Nearly a century later, a Georgia field hand is discovered for his ability to throw a peach through a watermelon. Lazarus Turner makes his way to the Majors with a 100-mph fastball, but he is unprepared for the racial discrimination and harsh realities he faces. When Laz is released from his team in the middle of an inning, the humiliated pitcher questions his purpose and embarks on a journey of self-actualization.

Laz is befriended by Sam “Scribbler” Siegel, a peripatetic baseball reporter who delivers the Negro pitcher to Youngstown, Ohio in 1932. It is a time when the Great Depression collides with Prohibition and the migration of Negroes to industrial cities in the North during the Jazz Age. The time-traveling Scribbler narrates a story that he has documented in his journal: a tale about identity, the cruelties of racism and the fulfillment of one's talents.

Laz is taunted, demeaned and abused in the evolving America of 1932. His encounters with real-life characters such as the healer Bonesetter Reese, the racist ballplayer Ty Cobb, jazz singer Billie Holiday, numbers kingpin Gus Greenlee and the wise and wiley Satchel Paige enable him to endure the consequences of being Black.



Shadow Ball is a novel about oppression, social change and the struggle for inclusion in evolving America. Set against the racism that stains the National Pastime, the story confronts the myths and history of Major League baseball and the power and endurance of a personal dream. Institutionalized racism in the 1930s, expressed by baseball’s color barrier, is the story’s antagonistic force. It is personified by the hateful Ty Cobb, a despicable racist who is perhaps the greatest player in baseball history. Cobb’s encounters with the protagonist, a talented Black ballplayer from the future (Laz Turner), provide the tension and conflict for scenes that reveal institutional racism, social racism and the economic racism of the times.To achieve his goal of pitching in the Major Leagues, Laz must endure and overcome the obstacles of being Black. Cobb is his foil.



Shadow Ball 

Laz Turner’s Left Arm

The Peach and the Watermelon



(1)  Ragtime by E.L. Doctorow: The celebrated 1975 novel captures the spirit of America in the era between the turn of the century and the First World War.  The story blends fantasy and historical fact with characters real and imagined.

(2) Shoeless Joe by W.P. Kinsella:  “If you build it, he will come.”  A struggling farmer hears voices and enlists a writer, the disgraced ballplayer Joe Jackson and dead players from the past for games at a baseball field that he carves out his cornfield –  inevitably to reconnect with the memory of his father who, like him, is transformed by the magic of baseball. The 1982 novel inspired the movie Field of Dreams.



Lazarus Turner can throw a peach through a watermelon, but the segregated Major Leagues throw curveballs at his soul.



Nearly a century after exposing baseball’s color barrier, Shadow Ball remains an apt metaphor for inequality. Black players faced unrelenting taunts, abuses and discrimination in 1932 America.The conditions remain in present time, when only seven percent of the players on Major League rosters are Black.

Hypothetical scenario: Lazarus Turner, the protagonist, aspires to become the most dominant pitcher in the Major Leagues and an example for all Black ball players in present time. But first, he is compelled to travel back in time where he discovers that while racism is accepted in  2020, it is dangerous in 1932. Laz must fulfill his talents and potential in a journey of self-actualization. Inner conflict emerges as an obstacle to ambition. Which is worse, he wonders, being invisible or being seen? Laz’s conflict is exhausting: the ego, the desire to be noticed – even admired – is always present.  The forces of racism erupt at confrontations with notable, white ball players as well as with the all-white local team that is the pride of a community during a dark time.

Primary trigger and reaction: A game with the local team, the Youngstown Scrappers, serves as a trigger for Laz’s conflict. He participates in the Shadow Ball warmup with Negro teammates, mocking the less-talented white players. He adds to the humiliation of his opponents by pitching brilliantly. Expecting to be celebrated for his performance, Laz is, instead, targeted for being Black and for embarrassing whites. He retreats to the adjacent amusement park where he boards the Tunnel of Love with a white woman. The brazen move triggers a harsh, racial reaction: white players sabotage the ride and beat Laz with a baseball bat. The incident frames Laz’s primary conflict: remain in 1932 and deal with racial discrimination or return to present time and face failure.

Secondary trigger and reaction: Racial discrimination is a factor in all of Laz’s social interactions. In 1932, Ty Cobb taunts Laz during their first meeting, asking why “coloreds” are allowed in the hotel where they meet. Cobb refuses to recognize the “Niggra” pitcher as a ballplayer, then mocks him as inferior and irrelevant. Is Cobb right? Laz wrestles with the question when he is denied lodging in Youngstown because of his race. Conflict reaches a climax in a showdown with Cobb and other Hall of Fame players during a makeshift baseball challenge.



The primary setting is Youngstown, Ohio in the 1930s, a segregated industrial mecca “where smokestacks rise like the arms of God and baseball diamonds turn fallow fields into jewels.” With its steel mills, baseball fields, corruption and jazz clubs, Youngstown is a homestead for the common man. The city represents struggle. It provides a gritty locale for conflict and resolution. The story unfolds on four principal stages in Youngstown:

    • Hotel Pick Ohio (real) where racism and corruption are thinly veiled in a downtown hotel.

    • Bonesetter Reese’s house at 219 Park Ave. (real). A safe house for steelworkers and ballplayers where a renowned healer eases pain in a harsh world.

    • Miss Maisie’s Jazz Kitchen and Rooming House (fictional): a haven to escape the Depression and Prohibition for a few hours.

    • Idora amusement park (real), common ground for civic recreation and the site of the city’s notable baseball stadium.

Additionally, the story unfolds in secondary settings where context is revealed in different time periods:

   • Cordele, Ga. watermelon fields, an unexpected site for legend and lore 

    • MLB stadiums in 2020: Cleveland’s Progressive Field, Atlanta’s Truist Park – modern proving grounds for achievement, failure and redemption

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