Youngblood Blog

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Blogs and Novels and Voice

Fishing the Deep: entering the Contest World

Tongue of the Ocean--deepest channel in the Bahamas which lured ships to their death-and into pirate heaven

GREEN TURTLE CAY is my current WIP, a novel of approximately 60,000 words which I was inspired to write during last November’s NaNoWriMo writing marathon.

All writers are, by virtue of choice, reclusive, immersed in their own fantasy world, sometimes difficult to understand (except by other writers), often remote–even monosyllabic, unless drawn into their subject. It is usually the hardest task for a novelist to emerge from her story and write a self-critique. Even worse: to write a pitch, a review, a ‘sales’ angle to her own story (see ABNA below).

Blogging, now. That’s slightly different: blogging is kind of like writing–only you get to show your readers a little at a time. That’s a lot easier than telling an (unknown) potential audience what you thought you were writing about.

So when a fellow blogger offers you a little help up the ladder along the way you jump at the chance. Don’t you? If this sounds like you–read on. Thank you fellow blogger Hart Johnson–aka Watery Tart (Confessions of) for this headsup.

Amazing blogger Brenda Drake is hosting a blog contest this week. ‘Show Me the Voice Blogfest Contest‘ starts on her birthday–day after equinox–March 22, 2011. She has managed to secure another amazing talent–agent Natalie Fischer–to judge the entries. So far she has over 100 soon-to-be published authors/writers/bloggers who have thrown themselves into the deep water. Sorry — my entry is getting my metaphors mixed!

If you fancy competing yourself, go right now to Brenda’s Voice Blog and join in. All the rules and requirements are there. It can do no harm. It might even advance your career.

The lovely Natalie--new to Laura Bradford's Literary Agency

That is one of the reasons I am submitting the current first chapter of my Green Turtle Cay. One of the rules states that your work-in-progress, your WIP, has actually to be complete. That doesn’t mean you aren’t still working on it–WIPing.

But the story must be finished. Just edits and rewrites to go. Brenda allows one more day of edits to make it better–and to pare the entry down to just 250 words–that’s where your ‘Voice’ comes in–your own unique way of hooking your reader, first off. Then it’s all up to the agenting skills of Natalie Fischer–her critiques being first, second and third prizes!

Natalie Fischer is the new agent on the block at the BRADFORD LITERARY AGENCY in San Diego, who specialize in Romance –historical, romantic suspense, paranormal, category, contemporary, erotic– urban fantasy, women’s fiction, mystery, thrillers, and young adult. Non fiction topics include business, relationships, biography/ memoir, self-help, parenting, narrative humor. They work long and hard with their chosen writers. It is a partnership for life.

Green Turtle Cay: a Fantasy
So: This is Chapter One of my WIP Green Turtle Cay. Stay with me. I have two days until I can submit the pared down version (first 250 words)… but for those interested, (it does hook you after a while–there I go, another fishy analogy), I posted another excerpt of the NaNo version Evangeline and Teach a couple of months back here.

GREEN TURTLE CAY by Marian Youngblood
“Next stop Marsh ‘Arbour, Habaco.” The boat captain’s solid Bahamian voice echoed through the launch. It took Annabelle right back to her teens. Surely they didn’t still drop their aitches and add H to their As. With all the traffic from Miami and the Florida coast, it was a miracle the spelling had not changed to American.

Bimini via Green Turtle Cay
, it said on her ticket. Two more stops and she would be there, she thought happily as the launch headed out from the Abaco capital.

They still spelled Cay with a C. An old Brit legacy she was grateful for. All the Florida Keys were spelled the American way. Even Bimini, the closest to the Florida mainland, was seen by some as American, until you got there. Isolated. Ooo: it was nice to be back. Thirty years on the ‘mainland’ had not dulled her love of the ocean, the sheer blue clarity of it circling the islands. The way it curled around these barren white atolls and made her somehow comfortable in their watery embrace.

And the wildlife was incredible. The Abaco Bank and Bahamian Trench still held one of the earth’s most stable populations of dolphin, barracuda and basking shark. Shark city was where she was headed, if only for one night.

“Wonder if Tom ever takes time off just to enjoy all this.” She studied the shoreline as they approached Green Turtle Cay, knowing Tom planned to bring her back here from Bimini in his own boat. Nice of him. The old guy had asked his niece–his nearest relative–to check out an offer he’d had from a consortium to run a shark center here. Sounded like fun. She knew it would be paradise for him. He was a shark man from way back. Nothing seemed to have changed. Green Turtle looked as placid as ever. Not a sign of this new project he spoke of, but maybe her eyes had grown accustomed to change. Thirty years was a long time for things to stay the same.

In the ’sixties the Out Islands were where you went only if you had your own airplane, your own private yacht or a friend’s to lift you there magically from the communications hub in Nassau. Nowadays major airlines flew into both Nassau and Grand Bahama where Freeport acted like any airport in the world–faceless, impersonal. In its opaque glass air lounges you could be anywhere.

But when she stepped off the plane—when the wall of heat hit her—she was back in familiar territory, could not wait to get out of the airport, down to the docks, catch the ferry and get back out on the water again.

After the launch left New Providence Island behind, when they were out in the open sea flanking the small, 30-mile stretch of beaches and millionaires’ homes they called the Islands’ capital, she began to relax, to breathe in the smell of the ocean, the salty taste on her lips, the scent of a fresh breeze in her hair. She was back in childhood, where life thrived in a primeval state, in fish swarms, sea egg colonies, forests of drifting kelp and live nutrients for one of the earth’s few remaining wild places: the coral reefs off the US Mainland.

Life on the reef: constantly evolving

Funny that. The USA still thought of the coral reefs of the Bahamas as ‘theirs’. Wonder what the dolphins and fish feel: the gray Caribbean reef shark that visits from its habitat farther south, and the cuddly gray nurse shark that always seems to hug the coastline. They fed on crabs, shrimp, lobster, and octopuses, along with fish, but they always seemed so disinterested in humans because they fed at night and humans are mostly diving and swimming during the day. She had a fondness for the gray creature. It had never scared her. Locals called it the sand tiger.

Tom had started his shark colony on Bimini all those years ago when sharks were plentiful and politically ‘expendable’. Now sharks were in decline worldwide, so what made this blue-water archipelago such a sanctuary? why were they so abundant in Bahamian waters? Had to have something to do with warm water from the Gulf of Mexico hitting the Tongue of the Ocean and its deep flow of pure Atlantic currents straight from the Azores.

She remembered researching a feature piece for National Geographic and the literary details stuck. How Ernest Hemingway hid out in the islands in the mid-1930s with his typewriter and rods. He was stirred to write of fish and fly lines and the steady pull of the sail, but he battled the sharks that ravaged his catch. He killed scores of them in reprisal, shooting them and burning their bodies on the beach. He must have had respect for the animal, though. He had made Santiago in The Old Man and the Sea, say of a mako shark breaking the surface,

‘Everything about him was beautiful except his jaws… He is not a scavenger nor just a moving appetite… He is beautiful and noble and knows no fear of anything.’

That was closer to her own view of the predator. Herman Melville called it ‘pale ravener of horrible meat,’ but his generation had been whalers whose lives depended on their catch. She mused how little had changed here.

Green Turtle Cay–most of the archipelago, in fact—over 700 islands and cays scattered for 500 miles southeast of Florida—was still free of industrial development. That in itself was a miracle. Locals still made a living off catching Bahamian lobster, red snapper and delicious conch. Conch salad was her favorite: chunks of flesh from these succulent shellfish toasted or deep fried with a stunning dressing of hot peppers, garlic and limes. She licked her lips unconsciously, remembering the flavors.

Other memories flooded her mind. The way they called sea urchins sea eggs always made sense to her. You didn’t want to stand on one–EVER. The spiney needles hurt too much: dark brown with red liquid pouring out… or maybe that was her own blood they had drawn when they punctured her skin. She remembered as a child thinking of them lying there on the sandy bottom like eggs laid by some giant beast. It had struck her as funny then and she giggled, but she avoided them wherever possible.

Sharks, on the other hand, were mostly her friends.

Tom asserted more than forty species patroled Bahamian waters. Including lemons, great hammerheads, bulls, blacktips, makos, silkies and nurses. Even migrating blues and massive whale sharks passed through. Others lived here year-round, giving birth in the same quiet lagoons where they were born.

As the launch left Green Turtle Cay and headed out for Bimini, she looked over the side into the clearest of clear blue. In her mind she was instantly back in the water.

* * * * * * *

The name Bahamas came from the Spanish, Baja Mar for ‘shallow seas’. The archipelago rests on a pair of limestone platforms, the Great and Little Bahama Banks, but it was divided by channels that plunge as deep as 13,000 feet. As deep as the Altiplano is high. This combination of sheer drops and shallows, of rocky ledges and sandy shores, of coral reefs, grass flats, mangroves and lagoons nurtured life of all sizes. Clean waters blended to create a seafood feast that drew sharks from near and far.

Now, she thought—like thirty years ago—this clean blue place is still their Eden.

She was swimming lazily through mangrove roots that spidered in all directions, crabs skittering before her into hiding in a deep dense green tidal forest. A baby shark grazed her ankle, sending shivers up and down her spine. She broke out of her reverie and strained her eyes towards her destination.

Tom’s shark nursery off Bimini had kept the species alive, against all odds, a birthing and feeding area where young sharks—barely bigger than wine bottles—could eat and grow without being eaten themselves. She wished someone at the time had thought to create a similar nursery somewhere for whales–darlings of the eco-warriors.

Sharks bit fewer people each year than New Yorkers, according to Health department records. Another piece of her trivia journalist research. It was beguiling to know she was more likely to die in the bathtub or be murdered by her lover than to die in the jaws of a shark. The movie ‘Jaws’ had done the animals a disservice. She strained to look through the moving waves to discover if one followed the boat, but there was only clear sandy bottom below the hull.

Though she had not been with her uncle in several years, she was looking forward to being with the old sea-dog again. With his dark eyes shaded from the sun’s glare behind retro sunglasses, a red bandana tied round his head to fend off more rays and the occasional mosquito, he looked more like an outlaw biker than a marine scientist. She remembered Tom’s fondness for Tiger Sharks.

‘Amazing’ he called them. They did indeed eat anything, but had obviously gotten tired of competing with humans, so mostly cleaned up after them. They ate tires, license plates, other sharks, anything floating by that looked interesting. After the Great White, the Tiger was said to be the world’s most dangerous shark, but to Tom it always seemed too lazy to bother with a human meal when there was clearly plenty other fodder in the deep blue depths.

She once herself encountered a big female that swam by so close, out of sheer curiosity, that she allowed Annabelle to see the pores punctuating her snout—shark antennae that help her sense the electromagnetic energy of living flesh. She clearly was not interested in human smell that day. But she had not left either. Annabelle remembered stretching out her hand while the huge silent creature allowed her to run her hand along her gray blotched skin. It felt like fine-grain sandpaper.

Tom once showed her how to stroke a young Tiger, flipped on its back, allowing it to slip into a dreamlike state called tonic immobility–like in a dream world where the lion might lie down with the lamb. It did not flinch when she stroked it. Almost purred like a cat.

She brought herself back to the present as the launch ate up the intervening miles of ocean and Bimini appeared on the horizon. Tom, a biologist working in his natural shark nursery in the crook of the island, was finally having to come to terms with the ‘real world’. His nursery was under threat of development. That was why the Green Turtle offer was so important for them to check out.

In his makeshift HQ Tom Roberts had been studying lemon sharks for thirty-five years, had amassed a detailed database that was the envy of marine researchers worldwide. He was prickly about the threat of an outsize resort elbowing its way into his territory. He made it his business to keep intruders out, sometimes going to extreme lengths. Even been known to wield a harpoon in mock threat to safeguard his mangroves. Condos, a marina and a casino were the last things he –or his sharks– needed.

Torn fishnets festooned the yard. The lab’s donated truck, when it ran, was a health hazard and passengers were usually put off because of the noxious fumes that filled the cab.

Volunteers recruited from mainland universities for much of the summer work lived in a double-wide mobile home painted in loud colors. Bunking arrangements were sparse but friendly. Young twentysomethings looking sleep-deprived and hungry, lined up in droves to do hands-on research in a place where sharks relaxed and swam in their back yard. Nocturnal net-patrol —catching, tagging and releasing young lemon sharks— helped the team build a lemon shark family tree. Lush mangrove forests and isolation from fishing and cruiseboat routes, helped keep generations of lemons close to home.

Bahamian government agencies were aware than the islands needed better faciites for visitors, because of the cash injection it brought to the resident population, both human and piscean. It was a difficult balancing act. Development done right, gentle on the environment and drawing tourists in manageable numbers could help protect sharks and their ecosystem. Tom knew that. But too much development, like they had in the ’eighties at Freeport in Grand Bahama and Paradise Island in Nassau, would destroy them.

It wasn’t like the rest of the world had grown more sentient, more ecologically-friendly to the shark population in the intervening thirty years. The animal population had shrunk in direct contrast to the increasing human proliferation of the planet. But Tom was convinced that the shark in his school were probably the only ones left in the entire seven oceans with such a natural and unspoiled habitat. He intended to keep it that way.

He scratched his grizzly beard and set his bandana back over his warm forehead as he stretched his sun-drenched arm to his brow to scan the horizon. Another boat coming. He would have to be ready for whoever it brought. It didn’t look like it was headed in any other direction.

Pirately ways and pirate culture were still a way of life here in the Islands

As recently as 2002 there had been a government plan to set aside five marine enclaves to protect the ecological lifeblood of the Out Islands. His area had been one of them. But in a change in government the plan had been set aside, in spite of calls of protestation and corrupt dealings — always the Bahamian way. If your society had grown up surrounding pirate culture, they would always accuse you of piracy. And now the government was selling off its real estate cheap, he told one reporter who had come to interview him from the Miami Herald. The Bahamas Tourist Office didn’t exactly deny the claim, either. They said they needed the cash injection from the US, from foreign nationals even more now since their independence from Britain in 1973.

They were learning their own lessons now and it was likely they would make ‘a few mistakes’. Tom thought this mistake was their biggest yet.

Tourism accounted for nearly half the GDP of the Bahamas. Diving was a multi-million-dollar industry here and sharks were an increasing draw. A single live shark in healthy habitat was worth as much as $200,000 in tourism revenue over its lifetime. It was a daunting thought.

As far as he was concerned, a shark’s ecological value was inestimable. Not only did they weed out sick and weak fish, leaving the healthiest to breed but as apex predators they kept other carnivores in check, preventing them from depleting the algae-eating fish that kept the coral reefs healthy.

Caribbean research studies farther south showed that where sharks were key species, their depletion actually toppled ancient foodchain hierarchies and ultimately brought the downfall of the reef itself.

In the Bahamas commercial long-line fishing had been illegal since 1993 and shark parts could no longer be exported from the country–so that took care of the wasteful Oriental sharkfin soup industry, he was pleased to tell people.

Sport fishermen took some sharks, but demand for meat was low. Thank God. This all helped keep the blue waters a sanctuary for the blacktip, reef and nurse sharks that vied for nibbles from nooks in the coral, for the oceanic whitetip on its global wanderings and for the great hammerhead rocking its bizarre snout side to side in search of prey.

He knew that as developers made their way around the islands, shark habitat would continue to be whittled away. These big creatures were magnificent in their own right and vital to the naturally replenishing system that surrounded the coral. If the sharks went, so would the bountiful ecosystem that fed the locals and kept outsiders coming back to the islands to fish, to dive, to write, to dream.

He wiped his brow and reset his red bandana as he headed down to the jetty to check out what surprise awaited him aboard the approaching launch.
©2010-2011 Marian Youngblood

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March 20, 2011 - Posted by | authors, environment, fiction, history, novel, publishing, writing | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

7 Comments »

  1. Okey dokey. I didn’t read the whole thing as I have, so far, a hundred of these to go through so I read your first 250 words. I like the feeling of this. I think you have your protagonist’s voice AND you need to edit out the telling – too much info loading up front. Trust us to move into your story and find out what needs to be known. And that includes the dialect (just let it be -we’ll figure it) and how keys and cays are spelled. I want to know who this woman is…
    keep going and I’ll be back to your site – it looks very interesting.
    Jan Morrison

    Comment by Jan | March 20, 2011 | Reply

    • wow, Jan: Thank YOU. I haven’t had a moment to go to yours! but I shall. As I was uploading I knew already where there was too much telling and not enough showing. You hit it. Appreciate your visit. Such a goodie, this project. ❤ Marian

      Comment by siderealview | March 20, 2011 | Reply

  2. As to the critique, I second Jan’s comments. I also did not read the whole thing. I don’t think the object of this contest is to reduce an entire chapter to 250 shiny words–it’s to make that first page really hook the reader into the story, and to show the tone (voice) of the book as a whole. often, the first page is as far as an agent reads (and you won’t be there in person when they do, to tell them that it gets better).

    It’s pretty common in our critique group, that when new members join, they hear, “Your story really starts on page 10 or 20–the stuff before it is throat-clearing.” I think you need to open with more action or a strong, active voice. Hope that helps!

    Comment by Angelica | March 20, 2011 | Reply

    • Angelica: I was unprepared for such devotion! You are an active group. Thank you for gentle urging. You’re right about grabbing the reader. You can tell– I’ve been polishing all day

      Comment by siderealview | March 20, 2011 | Reply

  3. Hey, thanks for the shout out! I also only read the beginning, as I am running very sort on time. I love the feel–it pulls me right into it. I think Jan’s comments are great to keep in mind, but I think some of that thinking feels like your MCs personality–the constant evaluation… maybe consider whether or not you want her to be that analytical, and if you do, leave some portion, but if it is just you communicating to the reader, cut most of it. I really love the set-up and MC.

    Comment by Hart | March 21, 2011 | Reply

  4. Also only read the first 250 words — I like a lot of your visual descriptions, and you have some nice prose phrasing, but sometimes you tell a bit too much, where less would be better. For example, in the opening paragraph, when you add “Surely they didn’t still drop their aitches and add H to their As. With all the traffic from Miami and the Florida coast, it was a miracle the spelling had not changed to American.” <– we can tell the captain is speaking in an accent from the "'Arbor" and the Bahamian mention in the dialogue tag. This extra description at the end feels extraneous, because we can see where he dropped an H, and when she tells us the name of the place is Abaco, we can see that he added an H, as well.

    Comment by Ellen | March 21, 2011 | Reply

  5. Hart- you always get right to the crux. Thank you. I’ll listen to you first & last! Good luck with your own entry.
    Ellen- good of you to stop by. Thanks for a precision critique in the midst of your own work.

    Appreciate both contributions- go for it, gals

    Comment by siderealview | March 21, 2011 | Reply


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