Julie Mark Cohen cellebrates our new contest

(Killer books, huh?)




We all know Julie Mark Cohen as the creator of that loveable assssssymetrical alien Seyfert. But here she is writing outside the box and inside the cell: a prologue for our contest Once Upon a Time, which requires that you begin the novel that, once upon a time, you had threatened to write.

Imagining yourself writing 100,000 words can be a bit intimidating.  But imagine writing only a page or two?  That’s how it begins. A premise, a prologue, and a purpose.  Give it a try yourself.  Here is how:


You could end up discovering that page one begets page two; page two begets page 3; page two hundred ninety seven begets you beloved by an anonymous readership and that person of your favorite gender.

Here is the prologue to

Fate’s Arc

by Julie Mark Cohen

Thomas William Hobart, a Ph.D. who had attained great heights in his career and had been recognized with a MacArthur “genius award”, paced in his top tier San Quentin prison cell, pondering his fate.

He checked his wristwatch and approached the bed, clutching his worn, leather-bound diary. With his free hand, he tugged air where his ponytail had been, then smoothed the blanket and placed the diary on its spine, allowing it to open on its own. He leaned over and studied what he had written nearly one year ago.

Thomas had selected a seat in the middle of the room at the annual San Francisco Science Society’s dinner event and taken the initiative to introduce his table mates to each other. He may have seemed hospitable with no ulterior motives, but he was basically selfish, always on the look-out for research collaborators.

He openly smiled when he recognized the speaker, Dr. Ludwig Otto Friedrich Gärtner, a spry octogenarian. Fondly remembering “Fred” as an adviser on his doctoral thesis committee, he wondered if he would be granted the longevity of his beloved mentor.

“Grüß Gott, Ladies and Gentleman. Guten Abend,” Fred said. “As you know, the National Academy of Botanical Sciences strives to induct seven new members each year. However, this year is an exception.”

The audience of 250 erupted into a mix of delighted tones and outright disgust, none of which pleased Thomas who had no patience for editorialization,

After the audience quieted on its own, Fred continued, “One nominee quickly rose to the top. As a result, we have only one inductee. He’s an extraordinary human being, a gentleman and scholar, botanist extraordinaire-”

The tweed-jacketed middle-aged man to Thomas’ left adjusted his ribbon-bearing, gold-trimmed name tag that displayed “Edsel Arthur Wolfe, III, Ph.D., Sc.D.” and pushed down on his arms to elevate his tush a few inches above the chair seat.

“-and preparer of this evening’s surprisingly delicious vegetarian menu-”

“Huh? What the-?” said Wolfe, frozen in a near-standing position.

“Shhhh.” The audience nearest to Edsel reacted in unison.

“-a founding member of San Francisco’s International Pacifist Society, and a board member of the Humane Society of the County of San Francisco. He’s our preeminent Thomas William Hobart.”

As Thomas rose from his seat, Wolfe finishing standing and rolled onto his toes. A long-time amateur boxer, he instinctively clenched his fists, positioned his legs, and shouted into Thomas’ face. “You bastard. That was supposed to be me. You’ll pay for this.”

Without hesitation, a number of attendees shook their heads as if saying “not again.” Locking arms, they quickly surrounded Edsel and escorted him through a side door.

Visibly unnerved, Thomas proceeded with what had become a tortured trek to the podium, squeezing between chairs, receiving pats on the back peppered by words of disdain.

Thomas flipped the pages of his diary until he found an empty one and took a pen from the wall at the head of his bed.

“Whore Butt!”

A startled Thomas turned to face the impertinent voice. “What the hell do you want now?”

“Your fancy vegetarian dinner with a vegetable-fruit smoothie is served, your highness,” the San Quentin guard said, smirking and bowing, as he shoved a food-laden tray with Thomas’ prescription pills under the bars. “A few more of these… and that’s it for you.”

#   #   #

Copyright 2014 by Julie Mark Cohen

18 thoughts on “Julie Mark Cohen cellebrates our new contest

  1. Parisianne Modert says:

    “Fate’s Arc” by Julie Mark Cohen delivers a concise, language rich mystery yet to unfold with haunting, chiseled faced emotional, masculine ego and questions about the demise of the exceptional award winner into a prison cell. This is an excellently choreographed psychological knife fight dance of human frustrations in being recognized by colleagues, denied by the same, anger towards a fellow scholar and mocking by a cruel authoritarian puppet master. Here are lives placed on their own “spine” falling open to exposure, but leaving us only a taste of the fuller diary entries which a well written prologue should accomplish and no more. This is such that successful prologue beginning a novel well worth taking to the check out counter in a bookstore or a shopping basket online now that we have browsed it.

    • Julie Mark Cohen says:

      Parisianne, Thank you so much for your thoughtful comments. Much appreciated.

      One year ago when a writer friend inspired this story by fatally shooting a fellow apartment dweller (well, loosely inspired this story), I developed a 60-step outline for a possible screenplay. Now, I’m delighted to say an aspect of what you wrote will help me as I reformat my outline for a novel. Thanks!

  2. Beverly Lucey says:

    I love a good cut throat academic setting.

    I’d cut the prologue by half (or is that the flasher in me?) Keep the jail, keep the great botanist who is moving so high with awards that include a MacArther so the downfall without information is the way I’d recommend you go. Then the first chapter starts to show us this guy in action. Pompous. Phoney. Brilliant in work, F in being human. That way the prologue shows us an award winner who winds up thinking up insults for his jail journal, like Whore Butt. How did that happen is the novel.

    • Julie Mark Cohen says:

      Beverly, Thank you for your comments.
      The middle part of my prologue was intended to show that Hobart wasn’t “pompous, phoney, or an F in being human.”
      If you were sitting on Death Row for whatever reason and hadn’t accepted your fate, as yet, might you lash out at the guard, especially if he was sarcastic toward you? I know I would.

      • Beverly Lucey says:

        Oops. I must have taken the ‘basically selfish, always on the look out for…’ and run with it. I thought the Pacifist Society etc. was ironic and ‘ receiving pats on the back peppered by words of disdain.’ was more indication of the mixed feelings the assembled held toward both Edsel and Thomas.

        • Julie Mark Cohen says:

          Beverly, I know several senior professors who are sweethearts to all concerned, but quietly, humbly, and respectfully try to improve their reputations by collaborating and doing whatever is needed to climb their academic ladders — their ambitions come first.
          Also, in academia, intense jealously can be commonplace.

    • Parisianne Modert says:

      I am continually bewildered that a non-fiction book can be extensive and padded with fine details for the wanting to learn, yet a fiction novel which is current is often cut to the bone because modern readers have attention deficits with time excuses. A prologue is not suppose to let you in on characters as if they are your longtime friends, but they need to pull at your heart strings and sensibilities which Julie Mark has. The important elements have the main character or a main influence for the upcoming main character, a scene or two which can be imagined from descriptives and in the case of a mystery thriller a hint as to the motive of what transpired, to be revealed later in the novel body.

      The other issue that I would like to revisit as a reminder is that this site is not a writer’s meetup or workshop or beta reading. What is placed by the author(ess) is officially published. At this point, Beverly and Julie, there is no rewrite available or reprieve available. We send in our finished work not works in progress. Therefore, I encourage reviews that might be considered for the reader not editing opinions and debates over rules. Let the words exist for their and by their merit as a complete effort.

      What I ask is not how long a prologue is, but whether it develops a basic set of structures which hook us into reading further. By cutting this prologue in half this would not have been half as successful and to carry it on would have been unnecessary in my opinion. Whenever reading a published work I give the author(ess) the respect to know their own mind in deciding what to publish or not.

      Last thought which tends to upset me at times about those doing critiques of partial works. It is not fair without reading the entire novel 100 percent to tell an author what their work needs to include and not. A prologue is probably around .5 percent to 1 percent of an entire novel and not always very germane to what will follow. The opportunity of a prologue for commercial writers (not me) is to get people to spend money on it and for artist (this is me) is to put a smear on a white canvas, step back and visualize what to do next. Speaking as an artist rather than a commercial writer, I would throw anyone out of my studio if they intruded upon my beginnings. A commercial writer creates to please others and an artist creates what is in their own soul regardless of what others think of them. In either case I hope the writer’s and the artist’s work will stand on their own as is.

      We aren’t the judge(s), so please accept each work as given.

      • Michael Stang says:

        You raise a point I have considered for some time. A critique after the published fact, however interesting, spot on, and inspiring, is, well, after the fact. A recourse to write it and send it in again is not available. Perhaps in the future, another room could be added to awwyp where this kind of thing could happen. The non-function is particularly relevant in this present contest. Although the information can be used if the writer chooses to go with the novel in other circles.

        • Parisianne Modert says:

          It is my understanding that any work published on A Word With You Press is not available in other circles by agreement for a period of one year. Am I incorrect in my reading of the conditions of publishing here?

          • Thorn says:

            This is from our privacy policy:

            “Unless otherwise stated, publishing rights revert back to the author
            upon publication on our site. If, at the time we solicit and accept
            entries to a contest, we anticipate publishing hard-copy, rights revert
            back to the author after that publication, and we will express this with
            the contest announcement. Submitting to a contest does not obligate us
            to publish your entry either on line or in hard copy. If we do not post
            your story on line by the time the contest concludes and winners are
            announced, all rights remain with the author.”
            Hope this gives clarity

  3. Michael Stang says:

    The bigger they come the harder they fall. When did society think it important to build the pedestals for achievers with initials after their names? The infighting,backstabbing road to murder. Yeah, you bet i’m captivated.
    Uh, just a quick question. The MC doesn’t have three legs does he? Julie? Honest injun now.

    • Julie Mark Cohen says:

      Hi Michael. Thanks for commenting on my prologue.

      ((humble grin)) What really happens to Hobart? Does his character have an arc… or, does his fate have an arc… both or neither?

      Three legs? No, not this time. These are mere mortals… I hope… but, just for you, I’ll check below the toga hems!

  4. Mike Casper says:

    To My Esteemed Colleagues below:
    I am not, as you may have surmised, an exquisite nor erudite raconteur.

    What I am is a teller of tales.
    I am an appreciator of stories.
    I like what I like and I don’t like what I don’t like.

    I like this prologue. I saw myself in the hall with the rest of the attendees. I saw myself in the cell with the perp. I saw myself in the disrespectful guard.

    I identified with the story. That’s integral, and I like that.

    Keep it up, I’d like to see more.
    Ps. Julie, Thomas William Hobart…PhD of what?

    • Julie Mark Cohen says:

      Hello Mike,
      Thanks sooo much for your comments. I’m delighted by them and tickled pink (I need this — no sun here today!).

      Hobart holds a PhD in botany. As with most PhDs, his doctoral dissertation under Fred launched his life’s work/research on tropical plants with a focus on saving rain forest plants.

  5. Tiffany Monique says:

    I’m looking forward to some comedy and intelligent intrigue. Orange is the new Lab Coat White and all that. The thing that gets me as a good prologue is the questions that pop into my head as I am reading. The first to come to the fore – what did he do to get real estate in the penthouse at San Quentin???

    I mean, he could very easily have been placed in a general population area, but that location is special. Either internally, via favors and strategy, or externally via politic and playing to the judicial system. He’s not isolated, but he’s not liked… and so now I sit wondering about the journal and the drugs, and other little details. Well started Julie!

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