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Workshop => Review My Work => Topic started by: msgretagreen on May 13, 2019, 08:56:18 AM

Title: Hunting for an agent (1507 words) - historical fiction
Post by: msgretagreen on May 13, 2019, 08:56:18 AM
Hello All,

I am currently seeking representation for my historical fiction. So far, I have received one request for a partial and 5 rejections. I don't know if I am losing interest in my query letter, or after the first pages. Any constructive criticism is much appreciated.
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“Bla-Ros, White-Pink”

1829, La Digue, Seychelles

     As a child, Adine collected enough bits and pieces of her parent’s romance to assemble a pretty collage, but it wasn’t until she neared sixteen that her flat picture became three-dimensional.

* * *

     Adine padded into her parent’s stuffy room, its sour smell filling her with trepidation. She sat on a stool by her sleeping father and observed how his brow glistened and his body jerked as if gripped by a nightmare.
     “Papa?”ť She reached for his shoulder and shook him gently.
     He did not stir.
     Adine scrutinized the deep wrinkles lining her father’s forehead and the gray pallor of his skin. She scanned his thinning hairline and marveled over how white his blonde hair had become. Jean-Baptiste was fifty-four, seventeen years older than her mother Camille, yet Adine had not considered the magnitude of this difference until now.
     “Adine,” he mumbled slack-lipped, his cheek pressed into a pillow. “Water.”
     She raised a bedside gourd to his mouth and liquid dribbled down his jowls. He wheezed and squeezed shut his eyes.
     “Would you like me to read?” she asked.
     Jean-Baptiste grunted, which Adine interpreted for yes, and she read from the Bible.

     By nightfall his condition worsened, and Camille took over as the nursemaid and doctor. Adine watched her mother care for her father with both tenderness and clinical detachment, separating her feelings of wife from those of healer.
     “Why not sleep?” asked Camille.
     “I cannot,”ť said Adine, rubbing her eyes.
     She followed Camille into the back kitchen and her stomach twisted. Jean-Baptiste’s favorite fish stew, rich in garlic and onions, had turned cold and grown a skin. Adine could not appreciate her mother’s efforts anymore than her sick father could and placed a heavy lid on the pot.
     Behind her, Camille searched for a remedy - something to steady his arrhythmic heart. She opened her medicinal cabinet and rifled through her pantry of dried herbs, hoping a missed cure might materialize. After her fifth foray, she and Adine returned empty-handed to Jean-Baptiste’s bedside. His bluish foot poked from underneath a thinning wool blanket. Camille blanched, then pinched his toe as if this trick could bring color to his body.
     “Jean.” She leaned over and shook his bulk. “Jean-Baptiste.”
     He did not wake.
     Camille seized her husband’s wrist and checked for a pulse.
     “Is he asleep?”
     Her mother nodded.
     Herbal concoctions brewed over a fire. Wasted efforts, thought Adine, rushing to administer a cool compress to his brow. She suppressed her panic by doting on her father, until Camille grabbed her upper arm and said, “Stop. It is enough.”
     Camille slumped by her husband, his limp hand in hers, and massaged his rough palms.
     Adine felt a warm tear trace the side of her face. She kneeled beside her mother, and they listened to his labored breathing.
     When the sounds from Jean-Baptiste’s throat became coarse, Adine’s body tensed. Her father’s eyes shot open, then rolled backward exposing the whites. Adine gasped. Camille pulled her close to shield the sight, but Adine twisted from her grasp. When her father convulsed with spasms, she shuddered with sobs. When an eerie croak escaped from his lips, it queued a moan from hers, and when his chest sunk, her heart broke.
     Jean-Baptiste Duplessis, the fabled French pirate, devoted husband, and champion father, was alive no more.

* * *

     Camille, a free woman of mixed African and European heritage, came from a long line of Central African healers. When her grandmother Dia first set foot on the Seychelles, the island chain was largely uninhabited with no indigenous population. According to family lore, Dia had been stolen from her village, raped by a Dutch slaver, and imprisoned in a dank shipping hull. She was destined for the Arab slave markets when a storm saved her life. Her survival of a shipwreck was a miracle, but she did not escape unscathed. By the time Dia and a handful of Africans washed up on La Digue’s shore, she was pregnant with her rapist’s child.
     The survivors first hid on the tangled hillside of Belle Vue, La Digue’s highest peak, but eventually established their home by the water in a place called La Passe. With no material possessions, these men and women of the woods brought what their memory could carry: herbalism, shamanic drumming, and the spiritual practice of gris-gris.
     Camille inherited her Grandmother Dia’s magical prowess and followed the customs of her African ancestors. She learned how to use charms and amulets to tell fortunes, cast spells, and pronounce incantations for protection. But above all, Camille learned how to heal the sick.
     Adine had finally fallen asleep, worn by the force of her tears, and lay sprawled by Camille’s feet. Desolate and unobserved, Camille’s chest heaved with silent sobs. Her herbs had failed…
     At dawn’s break, Camille sent Adine for help, while she kept vigil by Jean-Baptiste’s corpse. Dia had taught her to take special care between death and burial, a critical period when a sorcerer could steal a body and turn it into a dandotia, a zombie.
     Adine returned with Camille’s older brother Ephraine and a few close friends. They laid Jean-Baptiste in a sturdy takamaka coffin and helped bury him in the island’s makeshift cemetery. Camille deferred to her husband’s Catholic faith with the erection of a cross, but insisted on a second adornment.
     At the foot of his grave and facing the setting sun, Camille positioned the nautical figurehead from Jean-Baptiste’s beloved ship, L’Eve de Poison. His unorthodox tomb marker featured a woman carved from ebony wood, in the storied likeness of biblical Eve. For over thirty years at sea, this figurehead placated the gods. Camille imagined no better guide for Jean-Baptiste’s voyage to the underworld.
     “Ephraine, please loan me your knife,”ť said Camille.
     She took his blade, cut into the tip of her fourth finger on her left hand, and smeared blood on her wooden doppelgänger’s breast.
     “From my heart to yours.”
     Camille took one last look at the fresh dirt mound covering her love, and bade, “Adieu, mon prince.”

* * *
 
     A week after the burial, Delphin Rousseau received news of Jean-Baptiste’s passing. With shaky hands he set aside Camille’s note and retrieved a small traveling case from under his bed. He hadn’t left Mahe island to see the Duplessises in over a decade, absorbed by his plantation work and family life to the exclusion of old friends.
     He shuffled between his armoire and a dresser, packing random garments without focus, and recalled Jean-Baptiste’s swagger - his audacity. The brazen pirate used to taunt Rousseau for his inferior passions, and claimed La Digue, “my personal playground, my lady.” It was this cocky, self-assurance that both rankled Rousseau and won his admiration.
     Rousseau’s eyes smarted with unaccustomed tears. He tossed a tortoise-shell comb into his bag and sat on his bed. Jean-Baptiste’s death sharpened his regrets as an absent friend. Adine was his goddaughter, and he owed Camille his help. Although she was a gifted healer whose European husband never defined her status, Rousseau wondered if others viewed Adine through the same filter. Without her father’s introductions, he imagined her options limited. The truth of his worries were racial, because Adine straddled two divergent pools of DNA, each representative of separate societal spheres and opportunity. What he doubted was Camille’s ability to navigate between both worlds, especially one that might exclude her, and he planned to step in as her daughter’s liaison.
     His coming trip to La Digue was more than a show of sympathy; it was a second chance at redemption. If he couldn’t be the hero in his own life, perhaps he could be the hero for another?

     Before sunrise, Rousseau woke and dressed in the dark so as not to wake his woman Jeannette. He kissed her plump cheek goodbye and crept toward the door.
     “Don’t forget the boys,”ť she called in a groggy voice. “They expect your goodbye.”ť
     “Of course, mon cśur,” he said, shutting the door with a soft click.
     Like Jean-Baptiste, Rousseau fell in love with a woman of African descent. But unlike Jean-Baptiste, Rousseau did not have the courage to marry Jeannette or flaunt his love outside friends and fellow mixed-race families. He did claim parentage of their offspring, two curly-haired, mischievous little boys, by bestowing his name and guaranteeing their inheritance.
     After a two-hour carriage ride, he arrived at Mahe’s port, boarded a ship, and sailed for the day. By late afternoon his vessel slipped through a gap in La Digue’s surrounding reef and anchored off island. The crew lowered several crates into a waiting pirogue, then instructed Rousseau to disembark by a rope ladder. A laborer rowed him to the shore where he arranged his final transportation. With the sun setting behind him, he rode by oxcart to Adine and Camille’s small cottage. Jean-Baptiste had referred to the house as their hideaway, because it lay on the outskirts of La Passe, inland from the sea, and obscured by a dense forest of green.
Title: Re: Hunting for an agent (1507 words) - historical fiction
Post by: heartsongjt on May 18, 2019, 01:34:54 PM
 trepidation(feeling of fear) was a new word for me  but  it is well written piece that left me wanting to read more.
Title: Re: Hunting for an agent (1507 words) - historical fiction
Post by: pltrish on May 19, 2019, 02:40:51 PM
Thanks for sharing your story :)

It seems quite interesting at the beginning, but, some parts are a little too deep for my understanding...

Eg:
Quote
grown a skin

and, after reading a few paragraphs, I got quite lost. My apology. :-\
Title: Re: Hunting for an agent (1507 words) - historical fiction
Post by: TRex on May 19, 2019, 09:49:54 PM
msgretagreen.

Thanks for letting me read this - I too am curious for more.

Some thoughts:

1. I don't think you need the break after the first sentence, unless that is something that becomes apparent later.

2. Your pace and sentence structure is very good.

3. I would eliminate many of the returns/new paragraphs that aren't someone new speaking.  It comes across as just a tad disjointed when it could read in better unity if you kept some sentences with the dialogue until the next speaker.

Hope there is more soon.
Title: Hunting for an agent (1507 wds + end of chapter: 2000 wds) - hist. fiction
Post by: msgretagreen on May 20, 2019, 09:22:47 AM
Hello All! Thank you so much for taking the time to read my first pages. I really appreciate the feedback. I’ll specifically consider having less separated paragraphs. I’m including the end of my first chapter here (since many agent submissions require the whole first chapter). Happy writing!
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     The moment Rousseau entered their humble home and wrapped his arms around Camille, she released a torrent of tears. Adine could not tear herself away from the spectacle of her mother’s sadness. In her heart, she knew her mother was not all coolness and stoicism, but her self control seemed infinite.
     Rousseau’s arrival triggered memories of the past. He was the only friend who knew Jean-Baptiste longer and loved him as much as they did. The men met on La Digue over twenty-seven years ago, when the French Revolutionary Wars were ending and the Seychelles were a haven between battles. Rousseau was then a privateersman and Jean-Baptiste an infamous corsair.
     The weariness of ocean and road travel were apparent on Rousseau’s fine, rumpled clothing, but his person sparked with life. To Adine, his presence felt magical. When he first ducked through their doorway, his great height awed her. His legs were long and spindly, but his torso thick, widening at his shoulders. He had a full head of shoulder-grazing, wavy gray and brown hair, and a narrow face with an elongated chin that curved like a crescent moon. The warmth of his smile and the benevolence in his brown eyes made his comical features handsome.
     Still shocked by the loss of her papa, Adine sat at her mother’s feet. She listened to their conversation while Camille caressed her scalp.
     Rousseau asked her mother, “I know you were young, but how old?”
     “Eighteen.”ť
     He took a moment to appraise her face, a smile upon his lips, then looked to Adine. “Your mother stood before us with eyes shut, hands on her hips and legs apart, and her feet burrowed in the sand. We both froze and held our breath, but she heard us. When her eyes opened, they landed first on your father. Such a lucky man!”
     As if she were eighteen again, Camille covered her mouth to suppress a giggle and hide the heat in her cheeks.
     Rousseau went silent and stared at Camille until she returned his gaze. “It is true. You were a sight. Jean-Baptiste said you looked like a wise tree with roots growing straight into the marrow of La Digue. You were the flesh and bones embodiment of everything he loved about this island.”
     They hushed. Adine had never heard her parent’s first encounter described this way. Rousseau was the only witness to the instant alchemy between these two spirited people, and now Adine pictured them as separate puzzle pieces meant for conjoining.
     Rousseau said to Adine, “I too was captivated by your mother, but who could compete with Jean-Baptiste? He was an old man with a peeling, pink sunburn on his big nose, and your mother still found him irresistible.”ť
     “Rousseau, he was only thirty-five,”ť said Camille.
     “Forgive me. But was it not love at first sight?”
     Adine spun her head to see her mother nod, the sweet truth naked upon her face. Adine never doubted the love between her parents, but her father—impulsive with his kisses—was more demonstrative. He looked at Camille as if she was the most magnificent being he ever encountered, and with her on his arm, he strolled the beach bursting with pride.
     When Rousseau spoke next, his low voice warbled. “I have always respected your relationship and looked up to you both. Your bravery is hard to match.”
     “Jean-Baptiste made it easy.”ť
     “I know it was not always so.”
     Adine felt invisible as she watched the effects of Rousseau’s words.
     “Well… we were lucky,” said Camille. “The people of La Digue make little fuss.”
     “Yes. This motley crew are skilled at turning a blind eye, but that does not mean they sanctioned your union or that wagging tongues kept silent.”
     “Maman, what did they say?”ť interrupted Adine.
     Camille wavered, then explained, “Your father had many admirers. People were jealous of our relationship. Some thought I deserved him not while others… others thought we were an equal abomination.”
     “Abomination? How?” Adine got up on her knees.
     “Adine. Because I am black, and your father was white.”ť
     Oh that, thought Adine. She set herself back on her heels, so easily forgetful of what was forefront to others, and embarrassed by her stupidity. She knew the rumors. They cast her mother as a dark seductress who lashed her body to a marauding pirate and used black magic to weave a tether to his heart. Adine judged ridiculous anyone who assumed her father weak or susceptible to spells.
     “People are fools,”ť said Rousseau. “Your bond with Jean-Baptiste was preordained by God Himself. Still, with this ugly thinking I worry about you and Adine. Maybe I am the fool after the tales I heard?”
     “What now?”
     “There are rumors of inherited treasure, that Adine is set for life.”ť
     “That is absurd,”ť said Camille. “Though I wish it were true.”
     Rousseau’s forehead crinkled.
     “Oh, stop it with your face. We are not poor. My work keeps food on the table.”
     If not for Camille’s vegetable and herb garden, and the gifts her clients exchanged for remedies, the Duplessis larder would not have been a cornucopia of abundance. Camille never lorded this over her husband, nor would she shame his memory in the telling, for the riches he brought to her life were without measure. Jean-Baptiste had loved her with a fierce and proud passion, but most importantly, without a dram of shame.
     Camille nudged her daughter aside and stretched her legs.
     “Adine, it is time for bed. Leave your granmoun to converse in privacy.”ť
     Adine said goodnight to her elders and Camille and Rousseau sank into silence, melting into the comfort of their wicker armchairs and the corridors of their minds. With a lone candle illuminating the hallowed space between them, Rousseau looked around the Duplessis parlor, trying to decipher its darkened contents. The minimal furniture pieces were modest - a petite armoire, a mahogany chest and side table, two chairs, and an ottoman - but Jean-Baptiste’s souvenirs were bountiful. Curios hung from hooks and crowded every surface.
     “Your daughter is turning into an uncommon beauty.”
     Camille nodded in agreement. “She has Jean-Baptiste written all over her.”
     Adine’s features mimicked the shape of her mother’s, including a large mouth with full lips and a slightly wide and flat nose, but the coloring was of her father, like her frizzed and voluminous, ashy blonde hair. She had lovely, doe-shaped eyes inherited from Camille, but painted the spell-binding aquamarine of Jean-Baptiste’s - pure magic that reduced the rest of her features to a blur. On islands populated with a murky medley of imports - people of African, Malagasy, Indian, Chinese, French, and British descent - and with the greatest number of residents being dark-skinned slaves, Adine’s unusual coloring would set her apart from the bouillabaisse of eligible ladies.
     “What education has Adine?” asked Rousseau.
     “You know she is literate,”ť said Camille.
     “I expect nothing less.”
     “Jean-Baptiste oversaw her book learning. They read the Bible together, and he taught her French songs—including the bawdy shanties of sailors.”
     “Mon Dieu, forgive him,”ť said Rousseau, shaking his head.
     Camille laughed. “Adine also had a tutor. She enjoyed best his lessons on the natural sciences, but French is where he helped her most. Mine too.”ť
     “Is that true?”ť
     “What? Can you not tell? My tongue is better suited to the patois of Creole, but—”
     “I jest.”
     Camille leaned back with a pout, and Rousseau waited.
     “Camille, I want to help Adine. She is almost sixteen and nearing the marriageable age.”ť
     “What is it you propose?”
     “As her Godfather, I want to introduce her to society, to distinguished men and women.”
     “You mean men.”ť
     “Gatherings are mixed. But yes, I am referring to a potential partner. A good man who will value Adine for who she is and offer a comfortable life. I know many successful and well-respected men.”ť
     “What do you mean by ‘value her for who she is?’ Are you speaking of her inner self or something else? Do you think Adine knows who she is yet, or that either of us has a clue of her wants and desires?”
     “We are not speaking of arranged marriages. I only suggest we open select doors to increase Adine’s choices. With your example, I do not imagine her settling for anyone without love.”
     Camille sat back and stared into the dark distance beyond Rousseau’s head. “Let us not be oblique. Is race not the gist of your involvement?”
     Before Rousseau answered, Camille continued. “I admit, I forget to consider Adine’s unique opportunities. She is not me.”ť Her voice flared. “But that is the question. Who is she? How will others define her? You suggest the Grands Blancs would accept her presence, but how can you assure me they would not mistreat her?”ť
     Rousseau pushed his palms together and tapped his lips with his pointer fingers. He had always thought of Jean-Baptiste and Camille as exceptions. They did not conform to societal expectations and lived a rare life without rules. It wasn’t Jean-Baptiste’s open pursuit of Camille, a woman of color, that shocked La Digue’s small population, but rather his determination to make her his wife.
     From Rousseau’s experience, their ideal was unattainable. The best he did was introduce subtle challenges to the status quo and ease the lives of those he loved. He saw his role as a protector against harsh realities, and prepared for each punch with the careful placement of cushions.
     “I understand your concerns, and although I cannot speak for others, I can be truthful. Because of Adine/s bla-ros fairness, her mixed blood is a small hurdle. Many men prize Creole women.”
     “I know about men’s personal appetites,”ť snapped Camille. “You need not explain how her pale skin offers legitimacy, while her much maligned African blood increases desirability. This is the thinking I fear.”
     Rousseau winced. “There are good, honorable men in this world. They might not fight bigotry like Jean-Baptiste did, but they protest injustice in quiet ways. I try to surround myself with open-minded people and can attest that times are changing.”ť
     “Be careful what you promise.”ť
     “I make no promise. I cannot guarantee that any of these men are worthy of your daughter for a multitude of reasons, but I will not tolerate their disrespect.”
     “Oh, Rousseau.”ť Camille closed her eyes and dropped her forehead into a propped hand.
     Rousseau leaned in and spoke softer. “Camille, you and I can speak without pretense. Adine will fall in love someday, and she will want her own home. Is it not better for her to fall in love with someone who has prestige and the means to provide for her? Do you imagine supporting her for the rest of your life?”ť
     Camille shook her head. “This is difficult for me. Do you not see how strange it is that I would advocate for wealth or reputation when my life has been a battle against the judgment of others?”ť
     “That is why I am here. It is because of cruelty and ignorance I meddle. Imagine if we could spare Adine similar trials. Do not take offense. I was only thinking of your daughter as I do my own children and wishing her the best in life.”ť
     Camille unclenched her fists and rubbed her palms across the top of her thighs. “I appreciate your intention. I also understand the reasons for a debut, no matter how harsh my reaction.”
     “What would Jean-Baptiste have done?” said Rousseau.
     Camille stilled, and they locked eyes. When she answered, the words caught in her throat. “He thought no one was good enough for Adine, that she deserved only the best.” She reached for Rousseau’s hand and gripped it tight. “I cannot agree that money or status make for the best man, but neither does poverty nor disdain make for the best life. Jean-Baptiste would have broken any door for his daughter.”
     Rousseau reached for her other hand. “Then is it settled? Shall we do this together?”ť
     “My part feels small since the introductions depend on you, but I concede it cannot hurt. Play matchmaker.”
     Rousseau squeezed Camille’s hands.
     “I have one request,”ť she said.
     “What? Ask for anything.”ť
     “Give us one year. One year to grieve Jean-Baptiste and preserve what little is left of Adine’s youth.”

* * *

     In May 1830, Camille set aside her mourning clothes, swept away the dust of depression, and reentered humanity’s fray. With her compliance, Delphin Rousseau had arranged a special dinner party for Adine’s social debut. Mother and Daughter would leave soon for Mahe with ample time to settle into Rousseau’s home, outfit themselves for their new lives, and educate Adine on unspoken expectations.
     Turning toward her daughter, Camille said, “It is time to begin anew. For me, there will never be another man like your father. But for you? There is an ocean of possibility.”