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Evangeline and Teach

Green Turtle Cay, Abaco in the Bahamas: one of Blackbeard's hideouts for his slave-ship raids

Inspired by an episode in my former life, this is chapter 15 of my current novel ‘Green Turtle Cay‘ written as part of the annual NaNoWriMo write-a-thon. NaNo suggests participants write every day for the 30 days of November and then stretch back langorously and take a long look at what the Muse has let them produce. That’s the theory, anyway.

In practice, it works out rather differently. Family, friends, eating, drinking, sustenance, nourishment and a few other of life’s ‘essentials’ go by the board. Friends have been known to fall out over NaNo. Families to starve. Or eat out. Only cats and keyboards remain constant companions. Anybody else with any sense has already taken charge of the situation and is ignoring the solitary writer/novelist-to-be.

words in pictures, courtesy of Wordie

Because at the end of 30 days, that’s what has developed. If not a fully-fledged, plot-intensive, character-filled bestseller which will wow the editors, agents and publishers for years to come, at least the bones of something like it.

With five days to go, I should be pulling in the strands which draw my novel to a close, but instead I am procrastinating — because that’s one of the virtues of NanoWriMo. Chris Baty in the San Francisco Office of Letters and Light says it’s all part of the learning curve. So why aren’t you doing it, too?

EVANGELINE AND TEACH
Evangeline was her English Island name.

Back home in French Guinea she had had another name. She was forbidden by her own sacred tradition to speak it in this life, to reveal who she had been in that former time.

Daughter of the tribal chief, she had their trust, she would one day have ruled when Father was too old to lead. And she wondered if that day had come when Father welcomed the strangers to their shore, gave them food and wine, made them honored guests at his table and provided concubines for a night’s rest in their guest villa overlooking the shore.

Out in the Bay, these French mariners described such a ship. A barque made out of full-grown oak trees that they had in their homeland, not like the sappy fig they grew in Guinea. So large they said, one tree could create four walls of the villa alone and leave wood to spare for roofing. And Father was taken in. He saw something out in the Bay — two vessels, she learned later— that were so foreign to his vision, his mind would not allow him to see such alien craft. So he believed totally what the strangers said and believed them when they said they were bedecked with color streamers, paper lanterns. and that they had only come ashore to replenish their provisions of milk and honey and butter and ale. They even said, if the village were willing to trade with them for such a meager request, they would show them international trawling techniques, practise a little fishing in their offshore fishing grounds. Their barrels had run low, they needed to stock up before heading back into the fray. They would be on their way on the morrow, back on the high seas in pursuit of the foreign English who were attacking their borders.

And Father had believed every word. Father had offered them the prize guest seats next to him at the High Table for the feast which all villagers shared to celebrate such an unusual arrival in their rich fishing grounds. Father had given them the sleeping tent reserved only for honored guests, a canvas awning which few others deserved to use. And two concubines each for the foreign sea captain and his officers. The captain said the rest of his men would remain on board. It sounded reasonable. None of the villagers had any reason to suspect. Father usually did the best for the tribe and trade was always beneficial for everyone.

It would be a long night for Father, so Evangeline went to her own quarters earlier than usual, as she saw her presence was not needed, save to be introduced formally to the French captain. He looked and sounded polite. She had no suspicions on that score. Besides, back then, she had no knowledge of what was going on on the high seas except that two European nations were at war and that didn’t usually affect the dominions of the African continent. Their sea traffic came from neighboring tribes. The farthest travelers came was from shores of the southern desert.

So it was from a deep sleep and a vivid dream that she was awakened in the middle of the night — she remembered the moon had just reached its horizon point and was about to set — so a couple of hours before dawn light would flood the land and wake the tribe. In tribal medicine, it was known as an inauspicious time.

Bermuda sloop fitted out as a man-o'-war, 1831

It had been by stealth they came upon her, her family, her brother and of course Father, the Chief. They tied them together with their hands behind their backs and herded them like cattle down to the jetty where their simple outriggers were the only craft to be seen. Then a huge row boat, wider and longer and more massive than any she had ever seen, rounded the end of the pier and nudged in to shore, where the small harbor afforded shelter. Twenty-one of them were poked and pushed and hustled on board, made to sit in groups on heavy trusses that served for seats in the hull as the vessel was rowed silently out of the harbor. None of the tribal elders heard a sound. Her mother, nursing her youngest, only two seasons old, and with her younger sister in the same bed, had not awakened. Had she known she would never see them again, that vision would have given her pain. As it was, much worse had since happened, so remembering her parental home as it was before the disruption sometimes gave her a moment of joy in her grief.

They were taken as slaves. The European gentlemen with their northern manners and their white faces and blond beards and fancy uniforms were nothing more than thieves. She was rowed out into the bay with twenty other young people and Father. None of them knew why. Then, as they neared the enormous vessel, Father stood up to look.

Then and there they slit his throat and threw him to the waves. At the moment he stood up to look into the decks of a ship he had never seen in his entire existence before, not in reality and not in picture books left by other traders — as he rose to help his people out of the low craft and into this mystery ship — they took his life.

He’d been tethered like the rest, but their purpose was finally revealed. He had merely been taken from the village to ensure silence and cooperation. Out here in the bay, as they saw the vessel prepare for a long voyage into equatorial winds and currents, he was an old man, a nuisance, a hindrance.

Her mind reran the event a thousand times. She watched him rise from an unaccustomed positon in the bottom of the boat and stand proud as they neared the tall galleon. His chiefly stance was brave. He still believed he could rescue the situation. That’s what she meant about Father having outlived his time. His belief in the good of Man had been betrayed. It was perhaps the Great Spirit’s way of showing him his time on earth was over. Without a word, without salutation, greeting, or any show of respect, one of the crew stepped forward from his position at the oars. He had a cutlass in his hand. He didn’t even pretend to hide it. Even before he reached Father, Evangeline knew what was going to happen.

Guineaman, a frigate man-of-war capable of supporting 120 guns

She called out ‘Father’, but her voice was unheard. He still believed he was about to be raised with ceremony into this magnificent ship with rigging above reaching to the night skies, and ropes thrown below to raise them up. He believed he was going on board. That’s how he was deceived. The crewman took him from behind, held his chained arm in his left hand and slit his throat with the cutlass in his right. There was no sound. Father collapsed in the bow of the boat and the other young occupants knew there was now no hope for them.

They were taken then, one by one, shuffling past the silent body of the man who had been their Chief, up a shaking gangway over the side and on to the main deck of the Guineaman. Evangeline had a momentary impression of the French ship’s enormous size — it rose even more powerfully up towards the prow where wheelhouse, rigging and full sail added to its grandeur. This was indeed a trader for a long voyage. The rumors had truth. There were far off lands where young people and children were spirited away never to return to their homes or their culture or their families. Always fated to watch the sun rise on another continent, over a different sea or, for some, never to see the sea ever again.

Now, years later she knew this to be a familiar story. She’d heard of others taken like her friends, her cousins and brother from the sea, overland to foreign places where the earth was dry and crops starved from lack of water. They were made to work, to harvest food not for themselves, but for another man. The man who controlled them operated what was called a plantation, where many had been taken to live in vile quarters with none of the gentle trappings of noble life in a village a million miles away on the other side of the world.

Another life, another time, another earth, another past. A dream ago — when she was young.

Years on, in another future, Evangeline learned that her fate had been blessed compared with the stories she heard of those slaves who were sold to plantation owners in South Carolina, Georgia and Virginia.

The brigantine advanced on the French Guineaman with piracy in mind

Back then, twelve days out, twenty miles off the South Carolina coast, Evangeline’s ropes were untied. Captain’s orders. They were to come forward from where she and four friends were held in the mate’s cabin up to the foredeck where Cap’n stood at the prow: to negotiate, he said.

The hand that untied them and pushed them gently up the companionway to where the Captain stood under the forward mainsail, was the same young hand who had stolen meat to feed her when rations ran out after their first week aboard. They were made to stand beside the ship’s bell: La Concorde, she read on its heavy bronze lip. He whispered as he pointed to where the captain and navigator scanned the horizon with a hand telescope.

‘There is another ship. The captain thinks they mean to board us. You will have to stand forward on display, in case they mean us harm.’

‘What d’you mean?’ Evangeline would remember his answer to her dying day.

‘Captain says it is Teach. The pirate. You will be taken prisoner and we shall go free.‘

Of course the hand had not been correct. There was something about La Concorde that pleased Edward Teach. He needed a new flagship, or he was tired of his old brigantine. Or he had a new girlfriend who wanted a ship. It could have been any one of those reasons. Teach was indeed a brigand and a thief, plundered the rich to feather his own operation. But in the Islands he was known for picking on slave ships because in releasing them, in some way he felt he paid his debt to society for robbing those powerful Europeans who’d banished him from serving as a genuine officer in the British Navy. Queen Anne would suffer for ignoring him. He had become a presence to be reckoned with. He would soon have a fleet of ships which would rule the seas between Bermuda, the Bahamas and the South Carolina coast.

Evangeline stood tall. She felt no fear. She’d heard of the pirate and thought life as a free woman in the islands might not be as wonderful as life had been back home — long ago when Father was alive — but preferable to that working long hours in the dust for an alien white lord. At least they said in the Islands you could work your own property, find a new love, build a new life in a wooden shack and, if the fates favored her, she might even meet the great man Teach himself.

'Blackbeard', Captain Edward Teach of pirate fame

She too had heard the rumors. How he burned firecrackers in his beard and hair to terrorize the crews of the ships he boarded and plundered. But those were merchant ships, carrying gold and jewels and with possessions in the hold belonging to the rich, bound for a new life in Carolina, Virginia and even farther north on that great continent. That’s where the British were fighting for their colonies in America. It was a land for the white man. The black man must find his own future elsewhere. Some day they, too, would have their own empire and way of life — remember the beauty of the old country, the old life and old traditions.

For now she would remain calm. She would allow her fate to unfold before her. If this was indeed Blackbeard’s ship, she would go along with her fate and ask him for mercy.

Looking back on that night in the balmy waters off the Carolina shore, she had no way of knowing how her life would end up in the Bahama Islands, how gentle would be her fate. How kind would be the pirate captain, and how fortunate her life was to turn out.

Evangeline sighed and added another row of stitching to her sampler. She raised a glass of pomegranate juice and stretched her eyes to the horizon. Even Blackbeard was gone now. But those had been the days. She smiled, picked up her fan and cooled her aging brow.
©2010 Marian Youngblood

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November 25, 2010 Posted by | authors, fiction, history, novel, writing | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Displacement Activity during NaNo month

FEATURED WRITERS CORNER

November is NaNo writing month

I love deadlines. I like the whooshing sound they make as they fly by
– Douglas Adams

My last two blogs have featured talented — and busy — authors: the GuestBlog is such a boon when you’re feeling not quite writerly yourself.

Er, well, it’s not that I haven’t been writerly, I have. Just otherwise focused.

NaNo started on November 1st and won’t stop until November 30th and we’re not quite half way through the introductions yet. NaNo is when you abandon all hope of having a life, get up each day knowing you have an obligation to fulfill, fall into bed far too late into the wee hours because you know you won’t get a good night’s sleep otherwise, and generally find it difficult to communicate with your family — unless they’re on Facebook for a couple of minutes. Did I say eat? Whatever’s within reach. So long as it’s quick.

By now all leaf color is a leaf carpet

But November is also the month of Scorpio. That black and white personality, do or die, and if you die, don’t expect anyone to come and pick up the pieces — kind of month. Winter approaches. You can feel it in every breath. Watery autumnal sunlight, and where I live up here on the 57th parallel (cf Juneau, AK), light is gone from the day by 4p.m. Leaves are no longer pretending to cling to tree branches because most of the colorful ones are now carpeting the driveway. That kind of month. A time when one should be out there making the nest ready for hibernation through the next three months of dire weather and even direr temperatures.

And yet that’s the month a small group of writer-stroke-genius displacement activists chose to nurture the NaNo Bug.

Those of our critics who aren’t writers themselves say writing is ‘displacement activity’ from Life with a capital L. As a child, were we encouraged to write or were we encouraged to get an education which would slot us into a ‘good job’?

No displacement activity

Nevertheless I am writing. It’s what a writer is supposed to do.

NaNo was founded in 1999 by a looseknit group (I like the picture that conjures up, kind of like a quilting bee) of writerly types in San Francisco, CA. They chose to set aside the month of November — all 30 days of it — to create the bones of a novel. The ‘bones’ amounts to 50,000 words. Or writing a minimum of 1667 words every day. In order to nourish, challenge and encourage each other, certain perks, ‘gifts’, achievement stickers and carrots are used.

While the pain and self-immolation this exercise invokes might seem to be some people’s idea of lunacy, the Nano idea grew.

Gradually a body of supporters, themselves plunging into writerly waters for the marathon type-in, brought Nano fame. And purpose to November for writers. The month made the real world go away. Instead of the world of lethal freeze outside, your world turns inwards, into the novel or what the novel will become. You hand yourself over to an overlighting presence. You become just the fingers on the keyboard. The body on the bed.

NaNo’s acronym grew from the idea that November is now National Novel Writing Month and a website encourages the cotidien and foolhardy habit, suggesting you upload* a daily wordcount, so as to see your own (growing) stats and feel you are accomplishing something. There are free stickers and website widgets to egg you on, should you feel in need of a boost. And at the end of it, when you’ve passed the 50,000 word mark (some achieve 70,000-100,000. Hey, let’s not knock it), they proclaim you a Winner and you get a purple ‘winner’s’ accolade; plus the offer of a proof hardcopy of your book in print from Amazon’s CreateSpace.

But what happens to this human being who has committed her/himself to such a daily chore (sometimes a pleasure, sometimes a chore)? Does the Muse** visit every day and hold her/his hand through the ordeal?

Even if you don’t feel the Muse holding your hand every day, there are a couple of NaNo folks who do. They’ve taken on the volunteer job of keeping you at it. Been there, done that. They too, most of them, are sitting at their laptops in Peoria Illinois and Ashland Oregon and Walnut Creek California and (Rome, Madrid, London and Skye) pitching in again this November to finish writing their very own ‘new’ idea, plot, adventure, MS, WIP, exercise in writer’s-block-removal.

First, find out what your hero wants, then just follow him
– Ray Bradbury

At the end of the 30 days, if you drag yourself kicking and screaming to the keyboard every day, and create a piece of work, long or short — ignoring edits, spelling errors, lack of thought-flow; just get it out there — there’s one thing you’ll have achieved. A 50,000-word story. It may feel awful, scratchy, patchy, unformed or uninformed, and half the characters may have glaring holes in their back-stories, but it’s the bones of your next novel, your very own WIP — the Work in Progress that will make you feel a teensy bit achieving.

It may take another year before it becomes fit to print, but that’s not the point. During the process, and especially in the middle doldrums — Week Two Blues — it’s the vision of a completed task that draws you on when you tell yourself the last thing you want to do today is sit down and write a chapter about some silly characters that won’t talk to each other.

That’s part of the clever NaNo trick. They must have learned it from Jack Kerouac. He pasted sheets of copier paper top-and-tail together and fed the roll into a typewriter carriage, stocked up with coffee and ‘uppers’ and wrote ‘On the Road‘ in three weeks.

I’m not suggesting the ‘uppers’. Besides, NaNo ‘writing buddies’ are quite good at keeping you going if you flag. Or Facebook. Remember what they say: if your Subconscious has been alerted and informed by your Will that it has to regurgitate something every day in November, believe me, the Subconscious does.

And it sends in the Muse.

You may not like Her. You may not even be able to identify with Her, but at the end of 30 days, you will have Her staring you in the face, handing you a story. And when you really have something finished — I didn’t say polished: that comes after — you really feel you have to do something with it! Because it’s your WIP and it’s all yours.

They say writers are the least likely people to market their own wares. Isaac Asimov said:

Rejection slips, query and form letters, and synopses, however tactfully phrased, are lacerations of the soul, if not quite inventions of the devil, but there is no way around them.

2010 NaNo in progress

Which brings me back to Displacement Activity. What NaNo does for writers is just such a way around the roadblock that Asimov thought inevitable. It physically takes over space and time and allows the writerly urge to come through. Displacement activity is put aside to make way for words. That means life functions, regardless/oblivious of eating, drinking, sleeping, making love, shopping, paying bills or stoking fires — or any other life chore, for that matter — take a back seat, offering space for the writer and Muse to get to know one another all over again. And ideally during the process, all distractions, such as rejection slips, plotlines, query letter seminars, agent/ editor suggestions or even how the story’s going to end (along with cell phones) fall into the file drawer below the supply of tea/coffee, twinkies/cookies, cheese bits, and granola.

The rest of the world can criticize you for making writing your Displacement Activity from Life. But by the time you’re past Week Two, the halfway hurdle, and you find you’ve got a story going, your characters are coming alive, even if you’re not quite on the home stretch, you (hopefully) don’t believe your activity is displacement at all. You’ve found a new friend.

So why am I here writing this blog? Must be Nano Displacement Activity. Sorry, dear readers and fellow writers, I got to get back. My NaNo Muse is calling.

* An exciting widget until year 2010 was the wordcount widget. You copy & paste your daily output as input to the NaNo page and it counted the result for you and pasted the glorious total as part of your personal and site-wide stats. In 2010 this feature will only become available to site visitors after November 25th when the widget will be available to participants to ‘verify’ their (completed) output/MS/novel.
**Some days She does; some days She doesn’t.

Ed. As evidence of Marian’s supreme NaNo Displacement Activity, she wrote the following little Drabble for entry in the December Drabble contest over at Burrowers, Books and Balderdash.

NOLA HOLA

She’d worked hard – her beads sparkled in December sunshine. Farmers market always busy on weekends, the tomato and squash guy in the next stall said, selling his pumpkins for pennies. Mark ’em down low was his recipe for getting home early.

Freezing, only her second time, she gotta stay to cover costs. Don’t come back without a Franklin, or I break your arm, he’d said.

That weirdo, watching from a doorway since lunchtime, came over, handed her a 1000 dollar bill.
‘Cleveland cover it?’ he asked, picking up the jewel case.
Passport outta Dodge, she thought.
‘Sure,’ she said. ‘Thanks.’

©2010 Marian Youngblood
photo ‘Colourful beads’ by Natasha Ramarathnam
A Drabble is a story — a bullet, an idea, a character outline, a work of fiction that is exactly 100 words long: no more, no less.
December Drabble Theme at Burrowers, Books and Balderdash

November 13, 2010 Posted by | astrology, authors, culture, novel, seasonal, winter, writing | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments