May 15, 2009

Query- Story for a Shipwright

A revision of this query has been posted. Click here to read it.
Click here to read the most recent revision.

I am seeking representation for Story for a Shipwright, a General Fiction novel with romantic undercurrents of 82,000 words.

Shipwreck is more than a metaphor, when a peculiar waif, harboring a century old secret, drifts into the stagnating life of a Maine shipwright.

Family dysfunction and responsibilities weigh on Samuel Wesley; he has no time for himself, let alone na├»ve Marlena, hired to stay on at his mother’s bed & breakfast. A story within a story develops when she reveals a tale of shipwreck and survival. Her farfetched stories leave Samuel wondering if they are merely the imaginings of a delusional girl—he cannot possibly know she holds the key to his family’s past; that she will launch him into recollections of his own repressed memories.

Samuel’s intrigue grows, and so do his feelings for Marlena. Now he must compete with his womanizing best friend, and quell his psychiatrist brother’s suspicions over her motives, while keeping his own emotional fallout at bay.

If he pursues the relationship, he risks yet another failed romance, and complicates his already thorny life. Yet if he does not see it through, he will miss out on the most extraordinary woman, and incredible story he could ever imagine.

Marlena and Samuel, through their own unique perceptions, help each other find the home and love we are all looking for. This character driven exploration, of our needs versus wants in a world where ordinary converges with extraordinary, resonates with all who have been at the crossroads of personal and familial reconciliation and discovery.
Thank you for your consideration.

First 4 Pages:
The faintest odor of diesel lingered in the salt air as I hurried from our bed-and-breakfast, across the dooryard toward the boathouse, just as I do every morning. Coffee in my mug warmed my hands; it’s aroma mingled with every breath, carried by the late frost congealing mud beneath my feet. As I stepped into a rut, rupturing a skin of ice, water splashed up and into my boot, and by the time I reached my destination, I felt damp and chilled from the drizzling rain.

To me, the air smelled like spring. Heavy, like mud. In the shop, it seemed to suspend everything—fine dust and particles, even time. When I’m working, I tend to lose track that way, and I can’t say for sure how long I had been running my sander—it could have been hours or perhaps only minutes—when I noticed an intruder. At first, I thought it might be my hired guy. Unfortunately, it wasn’t; unless he had taken up wearing skirts.
I doubt I would have noticed her at all except she managed to plant herself right there, in that spot where at high noon the sun shoots through that hole in the roof which won’t get fixed for a month. No one had seen the sun for two weeks, but in that moment, it split the clouds, thrust a shard through that narrow fissure and reflected off every hovering dust particle surrounding her. I hate to sound like a spiritualist, or worse yet, a romantic, but at first glance, she seemed like an apparition, haloed by glowing filaments of frizzed hair. Even the folds of her skirt were radiant. If not for her quirky suitcase, the size of a tackle box, I might have dropped to my knees.

Had I known her, I’m afraid I might have been right-out rude. I know everyone in this little town and tourists wouldn’t be showing up for another month. It occurred to me that she could be Mother’s new ‘Girl’; although, we had talked about it after the last one left and agreed that this year I would have at least some input in the selection process. Perhaps Mother made another one of her unilateral decisions and failed to mention it. Or maybe she did say something and I tuned her out the way I do when she begins wringing her hands. ‘Just add it to the list’ is what I usually tell her.

I suppose I expected impatience from this apparition, especially once the sun retreated and she was no longer ablaze. But she stood unperturbed and silent, as if she had been watching me for minutes, studying me without expectation, without concern over whether I would be so kind as to shut off the disk sander and acknowledge her. Which of course I did, but with my mother’s impatience.

“Are you looking for the bed-and-breakfast?” I shouted, as though my equipment were still running.

“I found it,” she said, “but no one’s around.”

At that moment, I remembered something about Mother taking Buck, my grandfather, to town. I know my eyes probably looked as if they were rolling right out of their sockets, belying my attempt to be nice, when I responded, “Why don’t you go wait on the front steps. Someone will be back soon.”

In spite of what came out abruptly, she smiled and walked away, apparently satisfied that I wasn’t trying to put her off unnecessarily; I mean, it was pretty obvious I couldn’t just drop everything. I pulled the respirator back over my face and started up the sander, but I continued watching her as she walked from the shadows out into the haze of the boatyard. In addition to her wild dark hair, which fell beyond her shoulders, I noticed she carried herself with the most nonchalant femininity I had ever seen. Just the same, I wasted no time, immersing myself in lists and deadlines, resolving to settle the hired help issue with Mother, later. Within minutes I had forgotten about her altogether. I figured that if she stayed on, she would be no different from all of Mother’s other Girls.

I had been up late, several nights in a row, scarfing that frame repair on a sloop I’d had in shop all winter. I don’t run a big operation, just a small family shipwright business handed down for generations, of which I am the seventh, and if life continues as is, the last. My regular guy, Mitch, was recovering from rotator cuff surgery, putting me as behind schedule as the arrival of spring. With only a few hours sleep, I started early at it again, finalizing the contour—real dusty work. Would love to have been doing it outside, but the boat is thirty immovable-feet long. Besides that, rain showers hadn’t let up for three days with no clear weather forecast for a week.

On the coast of Maine, the season following winter has less to do with a calendar date than it does the thaw—when ice melts, and mud takes over. We have spent the better part of five months suspended in the kind of cold that gnaws at our bones and blows through us, sucking breath from our lungs. So, when any weather resembling spring arrives, we lunge forward, only to trip headlong into the thick of mud season. It’s during this time of year that I work even longer and harder than usual, pushing to get boats in the water by Memorial Day.

Therefore, I worked without a break, the way I do once I’m into a project, right on through lunchtime. When I finally emerged, and only at the insistence of hunger pangs, I noticed the girl, still waiting on the front steps. I then realized Mother hadn’t returned with the car, that Buck’s appointment at the clinic must have involved an unusually long wait. Suddenly, I felt bad. She had been sitting under scant cover of the porch during intermittent downpours for at least several hours.

As I approached, plodding through deep and unavoidable furrows of softening earth, I noticed her reading, using that little suitcase as a desk in her lap. She glanced up at me with delight, as if only minutes had passed, not hours. And, she was smiling, which put me on edge. I was all at once aware of my disheveled appearance, but didn’t even bother brushing the dust from my thinning hair.

Embarrassed by my miscalculation, and knowing I couldn’t ignore her, I veered toward the stoop. She stuffed her book into a duffel bag as I approached, and when she stood, I hoped my reaction to her outfit didn’t show as a smirk on my face. Honestly, she looked like an orphan in her oversized clothes, anklet socks, and muddied white sneakers with mismatched laces. Not that I qualify as any kind of fashion critic, but she was about as poorly put together as the crew I’ve seen climb out of the daytrip van from the County Institution.

“I’m sorry,” I said, hoping to sound sincere, “I honestly thought my mother would be back sooner. I’m surprised she didn’t mention you were coming.” It would have been unnecessarily rude to tell her that I completely forgot she existed.

“It’s okay…I’m sort of unexpected. I didn’t make a reservation.” Dispelling my assumption that she was Mother’s new Girl, she continued, “Do I need a reservation to get a room for a week or two?”

In disbelief, I stared long enough to make her uncomfortable. “We aren’t open to guests for another month,” I said, “it’s right in our brochure.”

She winced. “Oh—I guess I don’t have one of those.”

I forced civility through my impatience. “Well, sorry…Can’t really help you there.”

For a moment, her expression went blank, turning to an embarrassed smile. She said,
“Okay…I’ll just come back in a month,” as if it weren’t any inconvenience at all. Then she looked at me with some unaccounted for familiarity, and said, “You’re Samuel Wesley.”

I gave her a squint and a nod, certain we had never met. I would have pursued it, but frankly, I didn’t want to encourage conversation.


Eden said...

You could cut the second line and get right into the story details.

jbchicoine said...

Thanks for having a look! I was hoping that line would be the hook, but perhaps it is extraneous. I’m new to all this so I appreciate any feedback I can get. Thanks!

Rick Daley said...

I liked a lot of what I read in the sample pages. I think there are a couple items to address in the query and the sample.

For the first line of the query, I would re-word it like this:
I am seeking representation for my novel STORY FOR A SHIPWRIGHT, a work of commercial fiction complete at 82,000 words.

Reasons: Commercial Fiction is more of a standard term then general fiction, and while you capitalized General Fiction, I advise against ever following the word "Fiction" with "novel" because it is redundant. The way it is worded in the query implies that there are 82,000 words of romantic undercurrents; also, the romance is something you want to show, not tell about.

"Shipwreck is more than a metaphor..." This struck me as awkward, and it made me confuse shipwright in the title for shipwreck. I think you could strike the sentence.

The description of the story is good.

In the first paragraph: "it's aroma" should be its without the apostrophe since it's possessive. This stuck out to me because it's so early into the sample.

jbchicoine said...

Thanks. All of this is very helpful. Thank you so much for posting this blog--what a great opportunity for me and all the others posted here.

Eden said...

YW. I wish I could have done more feedback but my 3 yr old woke up as soon as I got that line written. This is the first chance I've had to stop back by today :) I'm glad it was useful. Off to read your rewrites before I say more :)