Wednesday, January 22, 2014

First Two (Adult Fiction) #14

TITLE: Captain
GENRE: Adult Fiction

James Lamport was going to sea.

He had made the decision long ago, when his Uncle Argo first came home with a story about a yogi in Bombay. The man slept on a bed of nails, he had said. He could put his legs behind his head and could stand himself up on the palm of one hand. James was overwhelmed with curiosity.

Then Argo told a story of snake charmers who controlled serpents with music. The young boy shivered with excitement.

Then there was the story of people riding painted elephants through the streets. He shuddered with glee.

James, as a boy, could hardly breathe as he had thought about all these strange and wonderful things that actually existed somewhere out in the world. All he had ever known was England, and the boring grey place that it was.

That was when he decided – he was going to see it. The world. All of it.

Now, twenty years later, as he strode toward the London Docks, his ears burned to hear all the details from his uncle’s latest trip. Tales of fantastic sea creatures, of cannibal tribes in exotic lands, and of waters teeming with bloodthirsty pirates were always in order when the old sailor came home. Stroking his full brown beard, with the smoke from his pipe disappearing above head, his uncle’s eyes would light up like flames as he related the storybook adventures in which he took part. He was everything James wanted to be; all he had ever dreamt of was a life on the open ocean.

He passed the bustling stevedores, the mountains of barrels of pickled herring from the North Sea, the merchants selling tobacco and pearl necklaces and shrunken heads, and he imagined the Saint Angela moving up the Thames right at that moment. He smelled the filth of the docks and his heart quickened. This was the day, he knew. This was the day for which he had waited for years. He was finally going to make his life happen. He was going to ask to go along the next time Argo went out.

He reached the edge of the docks and asked a carriage driver for the time. Three thirty-four. Right on time. Every day for the past week James had stood at the edge of the docks, in the same spot, at the same time, the wind whipping through his dark hair, waiting for the Saint Angela to emerge. Every day for the past week, however, he had gone home alone. Not today, he knew. He had a good feeling about today.

As if on cue, James saw the prow of a ship slice through the curtain of London fog. The wooden mermaid on the front appeared to pull back the curtain, peer out and, deciding all was clear, continue through the hole in the fog toward the dock. It was the Saint Angela. His uncle was home.


  1. This is wonderfully written, and I can feel James's anticipation, but the voice feels too young. However, that's my only quibble and it would depend on each reader whether or not it's a deal breaker. I would keep reading because I want to go on the adventure with James.

  2. Love the first line. It makes me want to find out what happens and if he's going out to sea. I agree with Lanette that the voice does feel a little young, and part of that could be because of his reflection on the stories from his youth. I think the reader can get the point that the stories affected him and he wants to leave England and go on an adventure. If you shorten the reflection and have the ship come sooner, this opening would be even more engaging.

  3. I like Ali C.'s idea above to shorten the reflection. I liked the first line. There's a little bit of a puzzle set up...he's going to sea, but right now, he just seems to be waiting for his uncle. So how, exactly, is he going to sea.

    Maybe one way to make the voice sound a little older, if that's what you want, is to get more specific details about his memories. Sometimes, it lapsed into the generic idea of someone's fantasies of going to sea or seeing India. Maybe a tiny sense of why this is appealing to him? Is there something else pushing him away as well as pulling him?

    I would keep reading to find out how he gets to sea or if he actually does.

  4. This passage is beautifully written, but I have to agree with the observation that the voice sounds too young. I'm guessing that the setting is 18th or early-19th century. In that time, a man in his mid-twenties would have been a settled adult with a job and responsibilities. James sounds like a wide-eyed teenager.

    That could easily be adjusted by trimming some of the reminiscence and inserting a small reference to what James does with his time now. If he works, show him leaving his office, or if he's a man of leisure, show him leaving his house or his club.

    Even so, I'd keep reading to see where this goes.

  5. Hello, and thank you for sharing your work with us!

    Great opening line. It hooks me because I want to know who James is, why he's going to sea, and what drove that decision.

    Then, you get in to the stories, and hit us over the head with his excitement. My suggestion is to tell the story, go to the next, and let James' action of deciding to go to sea speak to his excitement.

    Also, you have this listed as adult fiction, but it reads like a historical novel.

    Also, how did he know the ship would show up at that precise time? And if he knew, why would he show up every day? That part is confusing.

    I love how you describe the ship making its way through the fog.

    Good luck!

  6. I agree with the other comments, esp. Rebecca's observation about the historical details. Love the vivid descriptions of the setting, esp. of the ship coming into view. The reminiscences from childhood stories of the uncle (particularly if he's an ongoing or important character) would work better in dialog form, I think.

  7. I enjoy the diction here, and I love some of the imagery -- it does foretell a story of adventure. My issue here is that the entire opening is told.

    There are definitely places for telling and, stylistically, I think telling is a choice here, but as a reader, I want to meet this guy myself, not have him interpreted for me.

  8. Others have commented on the voice sounding young and I would definitely agree, but I would say that it sounds very young. In fact, the tone and the simplicity of the language would be ideal for an advanced mid-grade historical.

    So although there are some nice bits here, it's far from having the level of detail and sophistication of language most readers would expect from an adult novel about this kind of subject. Not knowing what happens in the book or how long it is, it's impossible to say whether it would be feasible to rework this into a MG book, but I'm wondering if that might be a realistic direction to go with this.

  9. Like the descriptions they really come to life when he gets to the dock.

    Watch out for "he had" you seem to be overusing "he had" and it pulled me out of the story a bit.


    "James Lamport was going to sea.

    He made the decision long ago, when his Uncle Argo first came home with a story about a yogi in Bombay."

    Might just be me but it sounds better to my ears.

  10. While the descriptions are nice, this is 500 words that tell us almost nothing. Nothing happened here, and even the opening line is misleading. James Lamport was going to sea. But he wasn't. He was only going to ask to go. WHen I reached that line, my reaction was disappointment. He was only asking? He wasn't going?

    My suggestion is to cut almost the entire opening and start with - The prow of a ship sliced through the curtain of London fog. The wooden mermaid on the front appeared to pull back the curtain, peer out and, deciding all was clear, continue through the hole in the fog toward the dock. It was the Saint Angela. His uncle was home.

    But that's only if he's actually going to get on the ship and go. If his Uncle is going to get off and they're going to talk or leave on another day, then don't start where I suggested. Start with him getting on the ship and going, if this is, in fact, a story of a man at sea, or leaving for adventure.

    After he's aboard ship and you've got the story going, then you can take a moment to let him look out to sea and remember his uncle's stories, but in the beginning, you really need something more than a man thinking.