Youngblood Blog

Writing weblog, local, topical, personal, spiritual

Writing for Pleasure or Pitch?

January with the Gremlins

Wormholes in Time -- a dominant theme of my ABNA 2012 entry, 'Coco Bay: the Awakening'

Earlier in the year — mid-January, to be exact — I was panicking slightly because some of my blogging buddies were focusing not just on producing their regular blogs, but also doing edits and re-writes of their WIP (work-in-progress) for submission to ABNA. I’ve covered the finer points of entry to this annual award in my bloghop post, immediately below.

At the time I was mostly concentrating on encouraging other bloghop authors — younger/newer, published or not — to enter, just to get the ‘feel’ of an international competition. The Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award is bigtime, but it’s also fairly simple to enter and before the fun begins — judging — it is not too taxing to come up with five (required) items that qualify you for entry:

1. Your bio — called ‘About You’
2. Your contact details: self-explanatory
3. Book description — ‘About your Book’
4. Your excerpt — up to the first three chapters of your book
5. Upload your MS — ‘Your Entry’.

Simple. You would think so, wouldn’t you?

It’s that last bit, ‘Your Entry’, that creates palpitations, anxiety, sleeplessness and sometimes compels the most fearless of writers to break down and cry. And it’s not because you haven’t edited your WIP to perfection, had three Beta Readers review and revise it, and rewritten the ending to your own plot-bunnies’ demands, see also below.

It’s the pitch.

Southern rim of the Bermuda Triangle, the Bahamas set in deep ocean trenches, as seen from Space

While on the submit-to-agents, submit-to-publisher circuit, it’s known as the infamous query letter. Ah, I hear you sigh, that. The query letter is that most difficult of all instruments for a creative writer of fiction to write, because s/he is tearing her hair to describe from a ‘marketing’ perspective what s/he has slaved over for the last —fill the gap— months, dreamed dreams over plot, character nuances and surprise twists in a story that was close to one’s heart. Now, to present it to the reading world, it must go through the hoops of the query circuit. We have to distill our fledgling work of 50k+ words into a 300-word bullet. Not only that, every line has to catch the eye of the destined agent. Or it gets rejected. All of us who have trodden that thorny path know how soul-destroying (ongoing) rejection can be.

Amazon use exactly the same method to get you to capture the essence of your newest baby: but instead of having to write them a query letter, they ask you to submit a pitch. That’s not the same as ‘about your Book’. More exactly, it’s a short ‘snappy’ catch-all to hook readers. More significantly, in the ABNA contest, your completed entry will be judged in Round One solely on your pitch.

Now that the competition is officially closed while first round judging takes place, five thousand writers in each category (general fiction and YoungAdult fiction) are biting their nails, comparing blogs and praying they hit the target with their pitch: one thousand of those praying will be chosen to go through to round two — *Round One ‘winners’ announced February 23rd.

My ABNA 2012 entry 'Coco Bay' combines deepsea breeding tanks with deepspace time-travel

So, just for laughs, here’s a link to the first chapter of my entry, ‘Coco Bay: the Awakening’, the second in my Green Turtle Cay trilogy of deepsea, deepspace, deeptime fantasies to cross the final frontier. If, after you have read my opening chapter, you want to compare it with my pitch, below, please be my guest.

But you will surely be able to tell, won’t you? that I still feel I wrote one, but not the other! It’s the perennial schizm that working authors face. No wonder they say we’re neurotic.

Coco Bay: the Awakening by Marian Youngblood — the Pitch:

Philadelphia Experiment witnesses say Navy destroyer USS Eldridge disappeared in a mist cloud in 1943

When Annabelle awakes from a scary dream of a WWII Navy ship returning through a time wormhole in the Bermuda Triangle with crew’s limbs stuck randomly to the bulkheads, she knows she’s in for an interesting week at the new Seaquarium.

In Green Turtle trilogy Part-1 she met the mysterious John, head of a Bahamian initiative to save world oceans, when she started work for the consortium in its ocean-floor lab.

In part two, Coco Bay, she discovers the marine project has endless resources — both financial and electromagnetic — somehow connected with 500,000 square miles of Bermuda Triangle on their doorstep. Harnessing electromagnetic Triangle energy could work miracles for her local Out-Island community and she finds herself drawn by the thrill of rescuing endangered species, without really understanding where these never-before glimpsed denizens of the deep are being rescued from!

When an entire human family returns through the wormhole to help John scale up the operation from eco-project to wholesale planetary migration, she dives in to help. These are John’s own children, missing in the time-fabric since the project began forty years earlier.

A random chain of events may save earth’s sister world, Europa, with its great mysterious deep, but may also redeem Earth’s inhabitants from destroying their own future.

Coco Bay — second in the fantasy trilogy — will appeal to a wide age/readership, within the present-day context of world concern for mass extinctions. Its scientific reality pulls readers into a scenario which crosses electromagnetic boundaries, suggested by exciting developments in plasma science current with astronomers and physicists.

Parliament buildings, Rawson Square, Nassau, Bahamas


The Bahamas’ unique setting and history will appeal to readers, travelers and piracy buffs alike.

Fantasy/borderlineSciFi novel along the lines of Cosmic Connection meets The Abyss, its final (electromagnetic) surprise twist should entice readers for more.

*ABNA first round neurosis ends February 23rd when they announce 1000 authors in each category who will go forward. Wish us luck.
©2012 Marian Youngblood

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February 11, 2012 Posted by | authors, culture, fiction, novel, popular, publishing, writing | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Bloghopping and Plot Bunnies

MONTHLY IWSG
Plot Bunnies

ABNA ...like nursing your Plot Bunnies and then putting them out for Adoption...

I’ve spent the last ten days in the hutch with my favourite bunnies: the ones that usually come out when my mind is in full right-brain (Muse-driven) fantasy, mid-novel-draft, to help me plot. At those times the Muse seems sensitive to a modicum of left-brain tweaking by these slightly-controlling little guys. Contrarily, these latest fellas came and crawled all over my keyboard and tried to get me to change things in the novel* I wrote for NaNoWriMo last November: that’s the novel even NaNoWriMo veterans suggest is worth submitting only two months down the road to its first literary contest.

We’ve all heard the sound advice: to let a newly-completed novel rest for at least a month before tackling the arduous (less-writerly, more-editorial, left-brain) process of tidying it up.

Plot Bunnies to the Rescue
I had kept nose to grindstone all November — assisted mightly by the little guys, above and below — released my little fantasy baby* into the Word-Cosmos on November 30th (50k in 30 days), and wiped my brow. I hadn’t looked at the MS once over Christmas.

ABNA pops up its timely head at the end of January. I succumbed to its persuasive positive hype last year. I thought maybe I should try a second time. So, throwing caution aside, I went for it again this year.

Thing is, I should never have ventured near the bunny hutch, because what I was supposed to be doing in the last two weeks of January was ‘polishing’ my novel for submission — edit/re-write, i.e. left-brain mode. I had no idea they could switch sides so easily!

Right-brained Plot Bunnies can sometimes appear suddenly during the editing process


But, seriously, nursing one’s progeny (literally your 30-day Wonderbaby) thru NaNo and getting your beloved WIP ready (edits, rewrites, reading by a friend) for submission and then being brave enough to release it into ABNA’s clutches, is emotionally equivalent to raising all your bunnies in one basket and then putting them up for adoption. I kid you not. I am sure they sensed that their babies (the ones I’d allowed them to help nurture all through November) were suddenly being thrown to the lions. That’s why they popped up last week.

Nevertheless, brushing them off lightly with a ‘you’ll get your chance for another WIP again soon’, I succeeded in submitting within the (still open) window and want to share a few thoughts today, on Alex’s bloghop. Somehow, the little guys made me say that. All because I’m submitting to ABNA.

ABNA is not for the faint-hearted. It stretches the writer’s creative schedule to the limits while also tempting her/him with long-term incentive. Amazon must know the vulnerability of the writer –always to have a dream ahead in order to reach her/his goal– how else do we survive the rebuffs of the query circuit? And the prizes are indeed one-of-a-kind.

Small print below: thanks to my intrepid friend and ABNA cohort (she’s done so much better than me in past ABNAs), Hart Johnson.

She says –and she knows– “If you’ve written a sure best seller, don’t enter. i.e. James Patterson should not apply.** The contest would tie up your work for six months, during which time you can’t apply to other publishers.”

Her other caveat:

One-trick ponies with intentions to sell this and only this work NOW. The contest puts you on hold with this work.

“If this is your ONLY work and you want to market it to publishers, you will not be able to do that for six months. That seems a very long time if you only have one book. You can, during this time, seek an agent. You can also write other books, shop other books, polish other books– you can polish THIS book– the only time that isn’t helpful is if they loved the earlier version so much they won’t take your changes.”
Hart Johnson

During the period your work is active in the contest, you give up:

The right to negotiate IF YOU WIN. The contract is the contract is the contract. (Hart already HAS a Penguin contract, and she doesn’t believe they gain anything by not giving a FAIR contract to a winner).

Also, if you win, you take that with you through your whole career.

What sponsors Amazon and Penguin and PublishersWeekly are on the lookout for are new writers. If that’s you, and if you are still in two minds about submitting your latest novel — 50,000 words minimum — I would encourage you to give it a try. What do you have to lose?

The contest started January 23rd, 2012, with a submitting ‘window’ open until February 5th; or until 5,000 entries have been received.

Briefly, the 2012 Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award Contest timeline is:

From now till Friday midnight, February 5th
open for entry and submissions
February 5th – 23rd
qualifying period in which Amazon editors evaluate the submission Pitch,
February 24th – March 20th
Second round- Amazon editors and Amazon Vine Reviewers evaluate Excerpts from the submission,
March 21st – April 24th
Quarter-Final period Excerpts are posted online for public feedback (through ratings and reviews) and PublishersWeekly reviews the full MS,
April 25th – May 22nd
Semi-Final period where Penguin editors review the full Manuscript to select the Finalists, announced May 22nd. There is a (Final) final period when Amazon customers may vote to determine the Winners.

Seems worth a try, doesn’t it? Besides, there are all of Alex’s fearless bloghoppers here to cheer you along.

Once again, I am grateful to Alex for his supportive leadership in perpetuating this First Wednesday IWSG bloghop. Among its network of versatile scribes, we get to pick up and throw in a few pointers along the way. Following Alex’s lead, in this fiercely competitive world called Publishing, (deeply immersed or on the writerly periphery), it is wonderful to feel there is a support network out there to share our joys and sorrows; and to know they are the first ones to give praise, chivy us along, or render a timely piece of advice. I’ve met some new friends in this bloghop.

It’s catching.

'Coco Bay: The Awakening', 2nd in Green Turtle Cay trilogy, deepsea, deepspace, deeptime

Even the naughty bunnies hope they triggered some good.

In BunnySpeak, they want to wish all ABNA entrants, veteran or newbie, the best of luck both with ongoing works (WIPs), and especially if they enter the ABNA enclosure (BunnySpeak). They also offer to dig a BIG HOLE in the compound’s predator-proof fence, if you need to escape at dawn… … oh those bad bunnies.

*Marian’s Bunny-inspired Baby is ‘Coco Bay: The Awakening’, a deep-sea, deep-space deep-time fantasy and the second in her Green Turtle Cay trilogy. It is set in the azure waters off Abaco in the Bahamas, on the southern edge of the Bermuda Triangle.

**Alex J Cavanaugh will also not be entering because, hold your breath, 🙂 his second novel CassaFire is being released by Dancing Lemur Press on February 28th. We wish him great good fortune.

©February 2012 Marian Youngblood
thanks to Alex J Cavanaugh’s Bloghop Wednesday and the
INSECURE WRITERS’ SUPPORT GROUP

February 1, 2012 Posted by | authors, blogging, culture, novel, publishing, writing | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Genre-Bender or just Plain Naïve?

INSECURE WRITERS CORNER

NaNo keeps one at it, leaving little room for impromptu extras

You must stay drunk on writing so reality cannot destroy you
~ Ray Bradbury

It’s no surprise to anyone reading this blog — and coincidentally involved with Alex J Cavanaugh’s Insecure Writers’ Group — that November is a heads-down month for writers, authors, part-time-bloggers and scribes of every description. This covers those aspiring authors who blog in the bath, motived teenagers desperate to show they can break away from their school curriculum, to seasoned veterans like the icon quoted above (which, after February’s launch of his second book, CassaFire, will include our host, Alex). Hope he doesn’t mind being called a veteran, but I’m sure he won’t mind being thrown in with Ray Bradbury, 90!

This means that I, newbie NaNo-er only three years in, will make this particular blog shorter than my usual efforts — more inkeeping with my prolific (and self-disciplined) blogging buddies who seem capable of blogging day and night seven days a week for 365 days at a stretch. My headscarf is doffed to them, but I am the first to admit I usually only write when the Muse directs and, under normal circumstances — unless I’m NaNo-ing — I tend to wait for her signal.

This is probably naïve of me. But I admit to being naïve. There’s no point in pretending — particularly when it comes to writing and allowing the word to flow through the mind, down the arms, via hands and fingertips on to the blank page.

I am first to admit I still find the process miraculous. Almost like subconsciously intending to bathe, and five minutes later finding oneself soaking deep in the luxurious warm waters, without any recollection of having undressed, lit candles, found towel, shampoo and soap and turned on the taps to fill the bath. But I digress.

The same goes for knowing how to describe what I write. Naïve. On Twitter — which, as you know, requires a brief description in fewer than 140 characters to describe oneself and one’s tweets — I say I write New Age fiction. But, as far as I know, that isn’t a genuine genre. This was brought succinctly home to me when preparing my new profile and studying the genres suggested in this year’s NaNo — which, as you probably know, has put together a whole new user-friendly novel-conducive webpage, just to get us all fired up to CREATE for the next 30 days.

In case you hadn’t noticed, the genres in question — which have to be mentioned in query letters, and are important concerns to agents and publishers, the serious dramatis personae of the Publishing Industry — are not exactly well-defined. You are supposed to know. And sometimes trial and error is not an option open to you. If you have been writing query letters for the last six years and you’ve been describing your work as Sci-Fi and somebody *in the know* says they like your ‘Fantasy’ work, you swallow hard and start all over — with the knowledge that you’ve probably wasted a lot of time that could have been salvaged if you’d done your homework. Problem is, however much homework you do, it is still difficult to know the difference between ‘magical realism’ and ‘paranormal romance’. Well, maybe some of you experienced authors do know the difference. But, as I said at the beginning, I’m naïve. And it takes time — and loads of errors — to get it right.

So what do you think?

The genres which NaNo lists as ‘standard’ in this year’s contest are:

Adventure, Chicklit, Erotic Fiction, Fantasy, Historical Fiction, Horror & Supernatural, Literary Fiction, Mainstream Fiction, Mystery Thriller & Suspense, Religious Spiritual & New Age, Romance, Satire Humor & Parody, Sci-Fi, Young Adult & Youth, and Other.

No Magical Realism, you’ll note.

When I first started out submitting queries, I was paralyzed by my inability to decide which genre my MS fit into. Being a Brit, it was, for me, even more daunting to read young American beginner writers (on Facebook and elsewhere) bandying about their knowledge of genres with fluent ease — as if I ought to KNOW. It has taken me a decade or two to calm down and use a couple of standards when querying.

Mt.Shasta's presence is awesome, even from a distance of 80miles, photo ©2008MCYoungblood

This quandary is purely self-inflicted, because I wrote historical non-fiction for years, before finding my voice in novels. Since the switch I have written not only historical romance, (Phantom’s Child, pictured below right) but also am blessed that my supernatural novella, Cockatrice is to be published early in 2012 by NetBound Publishing; and my New Age tome, SHASTA: Critical Mass, (sidebar-2, right, and pictured above) has been picked up by AllThingsthatMatterPress, also for publication in 2012. Two of my recent NaNo novels in the Green Turtle Cay series fall under the banner of fantasy, although they are borderline Sci-Fi.

So, you can see my dilemma. It might seem I have not yet honed myself — as any sensible person might — to fit one genre. It certainly makes for intrigue and change of pace. And it keeps me on my toes. But the question remains. How does one decide on one label, when so many strands and possibilities exist within a single manuscript which might make it more suitable under another?

In order to maintain my sanity — and because NaNo calls, which means I shall have to wind this up 🙂 — I blame the system that insists on labels. Bureaucracy in the microcosm. I may not like having to live with it, but live with it I must, if I wish to continue to write and be published.

Your opinions and personal experiences in this thorny field, dear Reader, are most welcome because, at this stage, I suspect I am not alone in this duel with the Publishing Powers-that-Be. Thanks for listening. And thank you, Alex, for allowing me another shot at these insecure blues…
©2011 Marian Youngblood

November 2, 2011 Posted by | authors, blogging, culture, novel, popular, publishing, writing | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 9 Comments

Green Turtle Cay-ripples and submissions

Entry ‘hook’ for Show Me The Voice

Cetaceans at home beneath the waves

Not my usual frequency–blogging twice in two days–but circumstances dictate. And all writers know how those dreaded circumstances aka deadlines, have a way of changing time-worn habits. If it makes you feel any better, see this as a postscriptum to yesterday’s post, below.

If you have not yet read about Brenda Drake’s Show Me The Voice Blogfest Contest run in cooperation with agent Natalie Fischer, then scroll down to that blog, Blogs and Novels and Voice, for details.

In a word: here is my (updated, pared-down to 250 words) entry to the Voice Blogfest Contest. Many thank-yous to friends–known, loved and unknown bloggers– who critiqued in the very short time we all had to prepare for this adventure. In writing lingo: this is the Chapter One ‘hook’ with which we writers and authors attempt to snare you, dear Reader.

Here goes. Wish me luck.

Name: Marian Youngblood
Title: Green Turtle Cay
Genre: Adult Fiction: Fantasy-Magical Realism


“Next stop Marsh ‘Arbor, Habaco.” The ferry captain’s solid Bahamian voice echoed through the launch. It took Annabelle right back to her teens. With their Miami traffic, what a miracle the Islands still sounded Colonial.

Bimini via Green Turtle Cay
, her ticket said. Closest to Florida, Bimini was considered American—until you got there. So retro. Two stops and she’d be there. Her spirit rose as they headed out from Abaco.

Thirty years of mainland living hadn’t dulled her love of the ocean. Its sheer blue clarity curling around white atolls–amazing fish swarms–she felt comfortable in its watery embrace.

Green Turtle Trench guarded one of Earth’s stable populations of dolphin and basking shark. And shark city was where she was headed—if only for one night. She studied the approaching shore, knowing Tom planned to bring her back in his own boat. Nice of him. The old guy had asked his niece-–his nearest relative-–to check out an offer from a consortium to run a shark center here. Sounded like fun. Paradise for him—a shark man from way back. Green Turtle looked as placid as ever–not a sign of this new project he described. Maybe she’d adapted to change.

Back then, you visited the Islands if you owned an airplane, or a friend’s private yacht transported you magically from Nassau. Nowadays major airlines flew to the doorstep.

When she’d stepped off the plane—when the wall of heat hit her—she felt that childhood pull again, couldn’t wait to get out on the water.
©2011 Marian Youngblood

March 22, 2011 Posted by | authors, culture, fiction, novel, writing | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

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

March 20, 2011 Posted by | authors, environment, fiction, history, novel, publishing, writing | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

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

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