Sunday, September 17, 2017

1st 5 Pages September Workshop - Singrey Rev 2

Name: Abigail Singrey
Genre: Middle Grade Historical Fiction
Title: Finding North


13-year-old Nate Allen refuses to believe his father died in Barbados, despite the dangers of life in 1796 - war, yellow fever, and lawless privateers. Thanks to clues in a diary left behind, Nate knows right where to start looking - at the privateer Drax's sugar plantation. Nate will face down his childhood bully, jealous shipmates and French privateers to discover the truth. But the worst thing Nate must face is the realization that his father may not want to be found.

Finding North is a 47,000 word upper middle grade novel. It is Some Kind of Courage set on the high seas. I am a former newspaper reporter and a member of SCBWI. This is my first book.

Chapter One

The Susan sailed into Plymouth Harbor just ahead of the hurricane.

Nate heard the news on Market Street. He’d stumbled like a big wave had swept over him, dragging him under. After all this time, he’d get a second chance to find some answers.

Nate touched the piece of scrimshaw in the pouch strapped to his waist. The carved whale’s tooth was his last – no, his only—gift from his missing father, and his good luck charm on his voyages. Maybe, if he hadn’t given it to Nate . . .

At the end of the street, masts lined Catwater Harbor, sheltered from the wind and the waves. Nate pulled his spyglass out of his pouch, scanning the names painted on the sides of the ships. He skipped the Royal Navy frigates and galleons, their guns pointed outward, ready if the Frenchies attacked. He moved past the East Indiamen, huge merchant vessels that traded with China and the Far East. He stopped when he reached the tiny, two-mast merchant ships.  The FalconThe St. GeorgeThe Susan.

Nate’s heart skipped a beat. The last time he’d seen that ship was burned into his memory like a brand from George the blacksmith’s forge. His heart still felt the thud of Captain Williams, that vile man, dropping his father’s sea chest at their front door. The words swirled in his head. Gone. Disappeared. Don’t know what happened. Maybe yellow fever. Deserter. Here’s his things. And Nate’s world had shattered.

The wooden dock was as empty as if Plymouth was a ghost town.  The Susan’s crew had hurried off the ship already and dispersed into the taverns and lodging houses that filled Plymouth. He was too late. Now, he’d have to track them down one by one to find any news. He bit his lip.

A raindrop fell on Nate’s head, as the wind whipped through the cobblestone streets. It roared between the shops and houses, banging an unfastened shutter. It billowed through Nate’s too-big jacket, sending stabbing shivers down his spine. The hurricane had almost arrived. And Mother would need the basket of bread Nate clutched in his hand. By now, the dining hall in the lodging house would be filled with hungry, loud sailors ready to fall on the midday meal like a pack of ravenous wolves. With any luck, though, one of The Susan’s crew might have gone there. They did all know his father.

Nate walked the streets by memory, lost in his thoughts. As soon as he walked into the kitchen, Mother said, “You’re late.” She yanked the basket of bread from his hands and hustled to the table, grabbing a knife to slice it. Her blonde hair fell out of her bun, and soup splatters clung to her apron.

“New ship in harbor,” Nate said.

She nodded. Nate spent every free second running down to the harbor to meet new ships. Nate opened his mouth to tell her it was The Susan, then bit his tongue. He wasn’t ready. Instead, he ducked straight up the back stairs to his cramped attic bedroom. With his father’s sea chest looming against one wall, and his cot and chamber pot shoved against another, every time he turned around he bumped into something. Ever since he turned thirteen and got his growth spurt, he’d seemed too big. For both his bedroom and his life here in Plymouth.

Nate threw open the lid of the sea chest. Mother had sold off everything of value from the chest to help make ends meet around the lodging house, except for the one thing that had no value to anyone but Nate- his father’s diary. Nate smoothed open the salt-stained pages, catching a whiff of Father’s peculiar scent of sweat and tobacco.

Nate had read it so many times he about had it memorized. He’d studied every entry about the weather and how much father won and lost -mostly lost - gambling, searching for some hidden meaning or clue. But he’d only found one, the cryptic last entry that scrawled across the last page as if Father had written it in a hurry. “Meeting Henry Drax tomorrow. May make my fortune. B. told me where to go.”

Nate shut the diary. He was tired of waiting for answers in Plymouth. Tired of meeting every ship from Barbados at the dock, and interrogating the crew. Tired of everyone saying they hadn’t heard from his father. Nate needed to find a ship to take him to Barbados so he could see for himself.

“Nate! Come down!” his mother called. Nate sighed and went to help serve dinner.

As soon as he entered the dining room, the stench hit his nose. Spoiled fish, tar and who knows what else. Wet sailor smelled as bad as wet dog. The recent arrivals jockeyed for position by the fire, trying to get the damp out of their clothes, while the dryer ones filled the long table, laughing and calling back and forth as Mother filled their cups.

Then the door opened. A blast of cold air entered the room as a tall, bundled-up figure arrived. From his rolling gait, the man had just gotten off a ship and hadn’t quite gotten his land legs yet. Another customer for dinner.

Nate started to turn, when he caught a glimpse of the man’s face. He stared. Was it . . . Nate’s teeth clenched, then he spat.

Captain Williams stood in the dining room of Nate’s lodging house. He stamped his fashionable buckled shoes on the rug, then bent down with a frown to brush a piece of grass off. He straightened up and looked right at Mother, his brown eyes softening. The same softening every sailor had when he looked at Nate’s tiny blonde mother. Nate’s eyes narrowed.

Mother froze in the middle of the room, holding a pitcher with one hand, while her free hand twisted her apron. Her mouth formed a perfect, “O.” She didn’t scream or drop anything, though. She swayed a little, then steadied herself.

The sailors sitting at the table didn’t glance up, distracted by their food, but the three sitting by the fire noticed the tension in the room. They leaned forward, straining to hear. Gawking. Gathering gossip to share at the dockyard tomorrow. Nate wanted to grab them by their rank-smelling collars and hustle them out, even though they were burly and twice his size. His family tragedy was not for their personal amusement. But they were paying customers, drinking steaming cups of tea.

Instead, Nate stepped closer. Between them and Mother. Block their view a little. His hands clenched into fists. The nerve of that ship captain. Leaving his father in Barbados then coming traipsing in here like nothing had even happened. That moment changed Nate’s life forever. Did he not know Mother still cried herself to sleep at night? That Nate ached to see his father again? He didn’t seem to care.

“Mary, wanted to see how you was doing.” Captain Williams gestured, his well-manicured nails contrasting with the rough calluses on his fingers. Father always said you could tell a lot about a man by his hands.

“We’re fine. Just fine.” Mother jerked the pitcher back, sloshing water on a sailor’s sleeve.

“Storm’s a’brewin’,” Captain Williams said. “Pity any ship hasn’t made it in yet.” He shifted his weight from one leg to the other, uncomfortable towering over Mother’s tiny figure.

“What do you want?” Mother took a step back.


  1. Your pitch is so concise, but conveys a lot of action. And I love the end of the first paragraph with the part about his dad might not want to be found, that's got some power to it!

    I'm guessing that Nate ends up on a ship in order to get to the sugar plantation? That might be something to mention in the pitch- that despite the dangers of the sea (Ocean? I mean, he's on the ocean, but what do Sailors call it?, I feel like sea is grittier, but I have no idea what proper lingo is!) he leaves behind his mother to find the truth.

    And I adore the paragraph where Nate is looking through his spy glass at the ships. I could see it, the ships bobbing in the harbor, the masts and rigging, it created a beautiful picture!

    I still really want to give this to my nephews to read, I think they would love it!

  2. Hi Abigail!

    This is a nice, concise pitch, but I think you're rushing a bit. The first two lines set things up nicely, but you're glossing quite a bit here: "Nate will face down his childhood bully, jealous shipmates and French privateers to discover the truth." We jump from him finding a diary to suddenly facing bullies--maybe on a ship?--and it left me wondering what actually *happens* in the book. Does he set sail for Barbados? You don't actually say. What does the bully have to do with anything? Is he on the boat, or does he show up in Barbados? And why does bullying matter to this story--why is it important to this character? In other words, I'd like to see you actually tell me a bit more about what to expect ("Nate sets sail for Barbados, with nothing but a bag of coins and his dad's diary...") instead of listing plot points. Also, just a small nitpick: titles should be in CAPS, like so.

    As for the pages: I loved them. You do a great job of weaving worldbuilding into the pages without slowing things down, and I got a great sense of what kind of kid Nate is: adventurous, curious, but also protective and a little lonely, with a touch of guilt. You also did a great job of creating tension around Capt Williams without having him do anything overtly aggressive or intimidating, and I found myself very curious to know what was going to happen next.

    Whenever you're ready, please send me a query and your first 15 pages to with First 5 Pages Workshop Request in the subj line :)

    Lauren Spieller
    TriadaUS Literary Agency

  3. Your pitch is very to the point but I think on the lighter side of the word count, so you definitely have room to flesh it out. Generally queries or pitches follow the formula of: who is the MC/MCs, what does he/she/they want, what is going to get in his/her/their way, and finally what are the consequences if he/she/they fail.

    I think if you answer these questions separately and then piece them together, you’ll have a nice outline that hits all the important beats.

    I’d still watch the mechanics of your writing and do some more refining – watch the showing versus telling, which I’m noticing, as well as varying your sentence structure (Nate spent, Nate opened, etc) so the reading doesn’t get repetitive.

    My last comment is that I’m confused who Drax is in the query when the pages seem to set up Captain William’s as Nate’s/the story’s antagonist.

  4. Hi Abigail, I love how much you've crammed into these pages. I get an excellent sense of the story and the character here. I agree with Lauren about your pitch, too--I'd love to see more about the stakes and obstacles there. As for the pages, what I'd do now that you've got a great opening is to go back and refine-- I'd love to see more voice, more subtext, more emotion in that subtext, a hint or two of something really unique but also relatable about this kid. A habit, hobby, interest, something fascinating about him. Polishing every line with those things in mind will definitely add that magic something that makes even a short passage stick with readers and make them keep reading.

    Thanks for allowing us to read, and best of luck to you in the query trenches!

  5. Minor point, but I kinda feel like you should spell out “Thirteen.” It wouldn’t bother me in the middle of a sentence but I thought it looked odd to start your query with a number. I liked the ending line. It set up an interesting emotional stake, and I like that instead of finishing with physical danger you used a more creative clincher.

    Overall, I think the pitch could be longer: most queries are two paragraphs so you have the space to give readers more detail.

    Good job with the revisions! I liked how you changed up the Captain’s dialogue. I have more of an understanding of his character now: he’s awkward and intruding where he isn’t wanted but he may not be a bad guy (although I can understand why Nate would feel differently.)

    Thanks for all your feedback during the workshop. I got a lot of good advice out of doing this.

  6. Hi Abigail,

    Thank you for sharing your revision and pitch with us today!

    I, too, think you have a little more room to expand the pitch. It's great that you're aiming for something compact, but we need to know a little bit more about how Nate's quest begins. I love the last sentence about the father--makes me feel invested in Nate's journey right away.

    As for your pages, you should be proud. They have come such a long way! Now we have a scene that unfolds in a logical order with great details layered in. I spotted a few instances of word repetition, such as "walked" in this section:

    "Nate walked the streets by memory, lost in his thoughts. As soon as he walked"

    Make sure you check for repetition and read aloud. A few of the sentences have awkward transitions or places where the rhythm might be a bit smoother. I'd also like to see Nate's mom say a line of dialogue when we first see her. The first meeting is such a great opportunity to get a feel for a character. When Cpt Williams enters, his first words say a lot about him. Give the mother that moment as well.

    Great work here and good luck to you!

    My best
    Melanie Conklin
    First Five Mentor

  7. Hey there!

    So I love how short your pitch is. You were really able to summarize what goes on in your story in just a few short sentences. However, the flow of the sentences feels a little bit off, probably because the first two sentences both have a dash and a fragment at the end. I think you definitely have room to add a little more information in, like more of the things that set your story apart and make it interesting. If you put this in between those first two sentences, it could really help with your flow. Sentence variety is important.

    As for your revisions, I love the new beginning! It's much more striking, and has an edge of suspense as well. I can see you've tightened up the rest of your pages, and the work definitely shows. It reads more smoothly now. In particular, you do a good job of describing characters' actions during dialogue, which really helps readers picture the conversation. Nicely done!

    Best of luck with your writing,