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Women's Fiction - CASTRATING CUPID - Sheree Chalfant Troy


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PITCH:  This sometimes pithy, often humorous case-study follows one woman's obsessive behavior over unrequited love. Sacrificing much of her younger years in futile attempts to win back the man of her dreams, she finds herself spending a chance afternoon and evening with him four decades later, on a boat, where suppressed feelings surface and she realizes her fixation has been unhealthy and especially hurtful to the one man who truly loves her: her husband. But can she shake her deep-rooted fixation on the one who got away?

PROLOGUE (see below)

PART ONE - Present Day  Begins in Isle of Hope, Georgia, then Sarah (protagonist) and Ben (husband) travel to their trawler, Leonard, docked at a quirky blue-collar marina in southwest Florida, full of colorful characters. One day while Ben's out of town, Sarah spots old lover, Marshall, at a seafood restaurant. The remainder of PART 1 is centered around Sarah’s anxiety over seeing Marshall after thirty-five years—it hadn’t end well for her. She joins his table and invites him back to her boat. PART 1 ends as they walk along the waterfront toward the trawler.

PART TWO - Recollections and Reflections, 1975-1983 – Sarah and Marshall’s backstory, showing her obsession with him from Day 1 when she first saw him in the college cafeteria in 1975, through their early days and first breakup. For eight years attempts to win him back, only to find herself pregnant. Before she can tell him, he confesses his love for another woman. PART 2 ends in 1983 with Sarah choosing to keep their baby only to miscarry four months later after a car accident. Her injuries necessitate a hysterectomy. Sarah is left barren.

PART THREE - Remember When We . . .? Begins where PART 1 ended, with Sarah and Marshall heading toward trawler Leonard. The next several hours are spent aboard reminiscing. Old feelings resurface, Sarah itches to tell Marshall about their lost baby but doesn’t want to break her promise to husband Ben, and herself years ago, that Marshall would never know. She also doesn't want to spoil the afternoon, she is, after all, with the "man who got away." Later, she decides she’ll tell Marshall about the baby over mojo-marinated roast pork, red beans, and rice at a Cuban restaurant. She heads to the bathroom to freshen up before leaving for dinner.

PART FOUR – Reclamations and Revelations - Sarah returns to the main salon and discovers Marshall having a heart attack. She radios the Coast Guard and tends to him until medics arrive and take him to the hospital. When he’s stable, she returns to the boat for a restless night. The next day she goes back to the hospital determined to tell Marshall about the baby. She loses her nerve seeing him tethered to monitors. Later, back home in Georgia, she can't shake Marshall from her mind. She sits next to her fire pit, carefully picking through her Marshall memory box, drifting back in time with each items. Suddenly she wings a precious memento into the flames. Then another. Until every treasured keepsake is incinerated. She’s horrified and exhilarated. She's manic with a sense of freedom.
SARAH’S EPIPHANY: The only way she’ll truly rid herself of smarmy Cupid's malignant hold is to write her story in a book. Part 4 concludes with Sarah typing her Prologue and early pages of her book, all of which mirror mine. The reader goes full-circle, realizing the novel they've finished reading was actually Sarah's novel, Castrating Cupid.

EPILOGUE  jumps three years and has Sarah's novel published. She's on a book signing tour when Marshall appears holding the signed copy she’d sent him. He says "I'm so sorry, Sarah. I had no idea." Her reply, "It was a long time ago, Marshall." Epilogue ends with Marshall walking away, and Ben and Sarah looking deeply into one another's eyes...each seeing the depth of their love, respect, and commitment.

____________________________

The following excerpt is from the beginning of my book. It includes the Prologue, followed by the first few pages from Chapter 1 which take place just before Sarah spots Marshall at the marina… 

PROLOGUE 

All I ever wanted was a boyfriend. Was that too much for a little girl to ask? We’d hang out together after school or talk endlessly on the phone each night or hold hands while changing class or sneak kisses behind the bleachers at the football field.

I realize now it was love and attention I craved. Someone to tell me how special I was. How smart. How funny. How amazingly creative and talented. Someone who didn’t call me lazy or hateful or moody…or different.

Like my parents did.

Most of all I wanted someone to tell me I was pretty.

I learned at an early age that looks mattered. Cute girls were popular. Rich kids wore the latest style or vacationed in the coolest places. If you were cute and rich, well, the world was your oyster.

But what did that mean exactly?

That if I was pretty and my dad wore a suit to work, I’d be a future pearl?

Then I wanted to be a pearl in some boy’s eyes. But I seemed destined to remain a fleck of sand in the mollusk of life. An irritant dreaming of one day growing up and becoming a lustrous, blemish-free, highly sought-after pearl.

My wish came true in the fall of 1975. But Cupid had other plans for me. Rather than aim for my heart, he drew back his bow and penetrated the depth of my soul. It was a lethal dose, having no known cure, no known remedy and no known antibody yet discovered. Its toxin circulated through my core that afternoon, leaving a residual sediment that would last my lifetime.

So, if you’re of the mindset that Cupid is a fun-loving, romance-creating, toddler-human-person, flitting about shooting golden arrows laced with secret love potions, you’ve been misled. For the record, he’s one smarmy character.

Trust me, if I’d have known back then, all the regrets and sadness associated with falling in love, I’d have been the first in line lopping off Cupid’s nuts with a rusty nail file.

 

PART 1

Present Day

 

  

So much of life is happenstance.

It makes me laugh when I go to a book store

and see all those titles about controlling your life.

You’re lucky if you can control your bladder.

- Rita Mae Brown

 

 ___________________

 

CHAPTER 1

Isle of Hope, Georgia, and River Bend Marina, southwest Florida

Hubby Ben and I were packed and ready to leave our Georgia home for a couple weeks aboard our trawler in Florida, when I came upon a whopper of a seagull lounging on my new Brown Jordan patio chaise. Turns out it was dead. Something about the odd angle of its head, plus the factoid that seagulls aren’t known for napping in public.

“Poor baby,” I said in a hushed tone, respectful of the recently departed. Picking it up by its precious bird feet, I found a hand shovel and turned toward our azalea garden. That’s when I saw the shattered upstairs window pane.

“Goddam friggin’ seagull!” Forgoing my usual critter eulogy, I winged it behind a Formosa Azalea, then wiped my hands on my pants. I could’ve wrung its pudgy seagull neck, except Fate had done that for me.

“It took a lot of gull to bust that window,” Ben said over a beer later that night. He’s big on catchy comments. Mostly I ignore him, but in this case I suggested he channel his creativity in finding us a reliable window restoration company.

But here was the snag. The window was a six-over-six, double sash, true-divided-light window. Meaning the wooden muntins weren’t for show; they actually outlined twelve separate panes of glass. Twelve separate panes of antique, hundred-year-old, impossible to match glass.

And that’s exactly what our neighbor Betty Ann said when she recommended See-Through, a glass restoration company in Savannah.

“That type glass is next to impossible to match, you know.”

Grady, the owner of the window company, was more direct. “Ain’t no way in hell I’ll be able to match that sucker.” He’d been jawing a plug of tobacco at the time and had repurposed the potted geraniums as his personal spittoon.

The headache of matching the glass, waiting for a piece to be overnighted from Bismark, North Dakota, scheduling the work, removing the trim work without damaging it, and having Grady and crew traipsing in and out, well, the whole ordeal delayed us a week. By that point, Ben and I were antsy to get on the road.

How was I to know this delay would play a key role in the timing of what happened a few days later?

We’d arrived at the marina on a Tuesday. Soon after boarding trawler Leonard, I busied myself in our stateroom unpacking luggage. About the time I'd placed my perfectly folded tee-shirts in the drawer under my berth—Marie Kondo would be impressed—Ben hollered down from the main salon.

“Hey Sarah, the anchorage is empty. Wanna head over?” He was referring to the mangrove-encircled basin at the entrance to our marina. Aptly referred to as Mangrove Bight, catchy huh, it was the quintessential “hurricane hole,” providing protection from heavy weather. Not that we were expecting whipping winds and stinging rain during our visit, but the anchorage also offered a bit of privacy from the snooping eyes of the condo folk. It’s such a tight spot though, only one boat could anchor at a time. Truly a first-come, first-serve basin.

“You betcha. If you’re waiting on me you’re backing up.” Another one of Ben’s lines. It never made sense to me, but I thought I’d try it out. I hurried upstairs to the salon.

Ben popped out of the floor hatch to the engine room. “Everything looks good.” Meaning nothing was dripping too badly for a five-minute cruise. He was rubbing forty years old, so leaks and drips were expected from the ol’ codger. Leonard that is. Not Ben. Ben’s much older, but leaks far less.

Within minutes I’d untied our lines and we were off. Relieving Ben at the bridge helm, he headed to the bow pulpit to drop anchor. Down it splashed. Through a system of elementary hand signals—he pointed aft—I backed Leonard while Ben let out our traditional hundred feet of chain.

“You know it’s overkill to drop that much chain in shallow waters.” He’d said this twenty years ago at our first anchorage.

“Maybe. But I’m afraid we’ll drag anchor in the middle of the night.”

“And what, get caught in rocky rapids or swept over the falls?” He enjoyed making fun of me. “Hell, the weight of the chain alone will hold us.”

Regardless, since that first night “on the hook” we’ve dropped a hundred feet of chain. Keeps me happy. When mama’s happy, pappy’s happy.

Back in Mangrove Bight, Ben’s fisted hand in the air signaled me to stop. The anchor was set. Perfecto. The little hideaway would be our home for the next couple weeks. The only drawback of the anchorage was the dinghy ride to and from shore.

On Friday morning Ben was headed to an architectural trade show in Tampa. By the time we’d finished breakfast there was already a heavy blanket of humidity. The day’s forecast called for another clammy day with a good chance of thunderstorms forming over the Gulf of Mexico by late afternoon.

It had been a lovely ride across the basin. The water was smooth and glistening.

“Man, is this barefoot skiing conditions, or what?” Ben commented as he steered us toward the dock. Ben had told me his last time on skis—water or snow—was in 1972 when he flew down the bunny trail at Seven Springs in Pennsylvania, on his grandfather’s 6 ft long wooden skis. He claimed snow skiing wasn’t challenging, but I sensed it was the icy puddle he skidded into at the base that cured him of the sport.

As we motored back to shore, I saw the water as endless yards of tranquil glistening satin to trail my fingertips through. Give me a parasol, white lace gloves, and a mint julep. “Just call me Sarah Belle.” I daintily fanned a hand in front of my face.

“Well Miss Sarah Belle, you might wanna fend off.” Ben nodded toward a barnacle encrusted piling dead ahead.

“Oops. Sorry, Captain. I was enjoying my daydream.”

We’d kissed good-bye at the dock; Ben headed to his cool and comfy air-conditioned Land Rover, while lucky me was sentenced to the confines of the marina laundry room. I’m not big on domesticity, but pretty confident Ben was thrilled at the prospect of having fresh sheets and clean undershorts for a change.

 Gone was the breeze of the dinghy ride. The bathing suit under my beach coverup clung to my body like plastic wrap. Sweat tickled my spine. Far to the east, a familiar smudge of smoke topped the trees from Glades sugarcane farmers burning their fields for easier harvesting. Since the wind was coming from that direction, the distinctive smell and dusting of soot would soon reach the marina. Onward I trudged, arms wrapped around a bulging bundle of dirty laundry.

By the time I’d upended my net bag and whipped my stuff into three attentively-sorted, color-coordinated, like-fabric stacks, I was sweaty and cranky and hot and bothered. And that was before seeing marina management had raised the cost of doing a load of laundry from a buck-twenty-five to a buck-fifty.

A dollar friggin’ fifty?!

The inconsequential price hike set me off.

 

 

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Hi Sheree, 

I love the details of the boat life. It's clear you know what you're writing about, and I was able to feel like I was right there with Sarah. But I must admit, I'm much more interested in Sarah's relationship with her husband and eventually Marshall than I am with the boat (or the seagull or the window breaking).

If this is a story about running into an old lover, I'd love to be immersed in her love life right away. I'm not saying we have to meet Marshall on page 1 (but that is an option). Rather, I'd like to see what is going on in her marriage that primes her for this old lover to matter to her. If she has a happy marriage, she'd see Marshall and be like, Oh hey! So good to see you! But that won't be her reaction. She's going to start obsessing about him. Why? There must be something missing or lacking in her current relationship. Let's see that.

Also, I wonder if you could increase the stakes by making the pregnancy she had with Marshall a full term pregnancy. Maybe she raised the child herself. Maybe she put the child up for adoption. Or maybe she even had an abortion. Any of those choices seem to be higher stakes than having a miscarriage. Obviously, a miscarriage is a tragedy, I'm not diminishing that. But is it a secret that you'd keep forever and then want to reveal upon seeing the father? 

Has Sarah had kids? I'd love to know more about that, too. And in looking at how you're writing this in four parts, I also wonder if it could be stronger if you tell the story of running into Marshall and how that impacts her life and her marriage, while weaving in the backstory throughout, rather than doing it in huge chunks? 

You have rich material to work with. A marriage, a former lover, a secret. And a great setting. Can't wait to see what you do with it all! 

Brenda

 

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Hi Brenda,

Where to begin? Your comments touched on a variety of points. I'm not sure which to tackle first.

Sarah's obsession with Marshall is deep-rooted. When he ended their relationship in 1983—not knowing she was pregnant—Sarah's young world crashed. She'd naively thought they had a future together. His sudden rejection was an emotional shock, a sort of PTSD of her soul. A psychological trauma she never shook. 

Her decision to keep the baby was based mostly on her desire to retain a part of Marshall in her life. When she lost the baby in the car accident, Marshall was gone for good. Soon after the miscarriage, her injuries necessitated a hysterectomy, leaving her barren. A few years later she met Ben. When their relationship was getting serious, she told him about Marshall, the baby, the accident...and not being able to have children. It becomes apparent to the reader, that Ben and Sarah love each other, but like so many relationships, it's full of psychological baggage.

Initially I wrote Sarah having a thirty-something daughter who knew about her mother's one true love, but considered Ben her Daddy because he raised her from, say, four years onward. Marshall was solely her birth father. Later, I opted to delete the grown daughter when she became too prevalent in the story line. I wanted Sarah—and her decades of rumination over losing Marshall—to be the key factor in why suddenly seeing him thirty-five years later would cause such anxiety. Sarah's trauma was always about losing Marshall and the miscarriage only represented the physical expulsion of Marshall. Choosing to give the baby up for adoption or carrying the baby to term or having a grown daughter simply doesn't work with my story line of obsession, rejection, and rumination.

Which brings me to my pitch. You made me realize I'm not cementing Sarah's toxic obsession with Marshall. Seeing him thirty-five years later would throw her into a frenzy. Never ever could she see him as "just an old boyfriend." He was the love of her life until she finally realizes—her forty-year-later epiphany—that this fixation has been toxic and must end. I've got some work to do to convey this in my pitch.

Thank you, thank you, thank you for inadvertently bringing this to my attention.

Sheree

 

 

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You're welcome, Sheree! 

I think hearing that Sarah ended up barren due to the miscarriage is important information. I also think readers will be puzzled about how you can have a happy marriage while obsessing about an old lover at the same time. I'm not saying it's impossible, but it sure is different, and you'll want to help the reader to understand more about her marriage. Question to throw out there... Does Sarah have to be married? 

Good luck!

Brenda

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