My dear Literati,
I am offering to take you on a journey: two, actually. The first is down the Kuala Lumpur on the Malay peninsula, as I tell you a story.
The second journey invites you to join me as I navigate the eddies and sand bars, rapids and waterfalls in search of an agent to represent this completed manuscript. I have chosen to attempt landing this with a traditional publisher rather than publish under our banner, A Word with You Press, for several reasons. First, while I enjoy a client list based exclusively on referrals for paid editing work, I need a broader base to improve the ratio of feast to famine, as editing and writing tends to be. Being published by a well-known publishing house should elevate my credentials as I solicit new clients. Secondly, I don’t have the time to promote my own work if we publish it in-house. I sold fewer than 200 copies of The Boy with a Torn Hat in spite of being a finalist by USA Books for best literary fiction when it was published.
And thirdly, I just like to tell stories. We have promised a shift for our website, and The Courtesans of God is the promised step in that direction. We envision other writers being able to serialize their completed novels on the site, and, perhaps after each chapter, the reader will find a link where they can buy the book or ebook rather than having to wait each week for a new installment.
So I am publishing here the synopsis/cover letter that is going out to prospective agents, though each letter is customized depending on what the agent is looking for. With each new installment–none more than 10 or 15 pages– I will update you if an agent shows an interest, and perhaps I can amuse you with the form rejection slips I am sure to encounter. In the meantime, please read and enjoy. The prologue and chapter one begin after the synopsis.
Czeers from Ceske Budejovice, and PLEASE contribute to our success as a website by subscribing to our free newsletter, and by sharing this link with your friends. Who knows…maybe somebody knows somebody who knows somebody…
I have a completed and independently edited novel for your consideration(150,000 words).
The Courtesans of God is the fictionalized account of Catherine D’Cruz, whose maternal grandfather was the chief of the last Iban tribe of head-hunters in Borneo, paid by the British near the end of WWII to deliver their bounty at the rate of ten pounds Sterling per head.
Eric D’Cruz, the man who would become Catherine’s father, was a Malayan soldier captured by the Japanese, fated to slave across the South China Sea with other POWs to lay track for the notorious Burmese railroad. He was spared certain death when, under cover of darkness, the young daughter of the Iban chief slithered into the Japanese encampment and cut him free. Together they returned to the Malay Peninsula, to start married life under the matriarchy of Sarafina Madrigal D’Cruz at their dynastic pineapple and rubber plantation.
Things went terribly awry. The grandmother’s instant dislike of Miri, that jungle woman, led to violence and abuse that cascaded onto her granddaughter, Catherine.
Sarafina’s relentless brutality failed to “domesticate” Miri and, after a final brawl, Miri fled with the blood of her mother-in-law on her hands. In retaliation, Sarafina abandoned Catherine to a Catholic orphanage in Kuala Lumpur, knowing the nuns were as malicious as the family that abused and disowned her, out-sourcing her punishment for being the daughter of that defiant Iban.
Catherine survived the horror of her childhood in a most unconventional way: she created multiple personalities into which she could evaporate when under fire.
When these episodes expressed themselves in the convent, the nuns feared Catherine was possessed. After she led an insurrection among the orphans, she was beaten severely for her defiance and cast out on the street to fend for herself. Near death, she was discovered by a cult of healers “so ethereal of spirit they left no footprint where they stepped.” Catherine’s fortunes immediately changed for the better. Because of a sign on her palm, the Disappearing Ones believed they had found the incarnation of their next spiritual leader, and Catherine was prepared for the roll by being tutored in the healing arts, which included not only the extraordinary use of herbal medicine, but also ritualistic dance to seduce illness from within the body of the infirm, dispelling it into the universe. Paramount to her ascendancy was the teaching of sexual technique and maneuvers that elevated the carnal desires of sex into an act of spiritual cleansing and renewal.
The mystics, who became Catherine’s surrogate family, offered a different interpretation of Catherine’s manifestation of other personalities. As white light through a prism reveals multiple colors that were always there, Catherine was the prism through which God’s light penetrated to reveal His many personas: Jews, Hindi, Christian, Muslims, and even “…women like us, the courtesans of God.”
There are villains to despise and heroes and heroines to love, in this story based on tragic and ultimately triumphant events of the last courtesan of God.
Please consider accepting the rest of the manuscript to read.
I have enclosed the prologue and an excerpt from the first chapter.
No one knew for certain how old the woman really was. Those who had quietly seen their own hair turning gray could only recall from distant childhoods that she had always been as old as they themselves were now becoming.
She slept on a low bed made of straw, and silk, and clouds, and she slept very soundly until she felt the breath of Bendihara, the tiger, blow hot across her cheeks and brow. He had padded through the halls of the temple to find her, to join her.
“Your breath!” she said. With her eyes still closed she reached up to push away the tiger’s chin, but he was persistent, and would not let her rise until that chin of his was properly scratched.
“All right, all right!” she said, with pretended anger. “Only, don’t drool!”
Bendihara turned his chin this way and that to make certain she got all the spots that itched, and then, feeling more content, he stretched out alongside her bed, and waited.
The old woman sat up and took one of the green leaves from the clay pot beside the bed and slipped it into the side of her cheek. Night-to-day, sleep-to-wakefulness, even, life-to-death; these were transitions that required dignity and she was not going to rush any of these events.
It was a while, then, before she stood.
Barefoot, she ambled through the archway that opened to her private garden, where the morning sun was illuminating the ferns and warming her favorite spot. “Are you coming?”
Bendihara followed at her heels and watched as she ascended the stone with some effort. Bendihara leapt up beside her with no effort at all. The broad, flat granite had been worn smooth over the centuries, by the old woman and those who came before her. The sun quickly penetrated her thin, white tunic, entered her shoulders and rejuvenated her blood. She sat, lotus-like, as she did each morning, and invited the tiger to rest his head in the hollow of her lap. She scratched behind his ears and adored the fire in his perfect, golden eyes.
The old woman began to feel the power flow from the leaf that was softening in her toothless jaw.
When the tiger had fallen asleep, his head heavy in her lap, she tuned her own breathing to the rhythm of his primordial purr, and she entered the dream-sleep of meditation. There she gossiped freely with her younger selves.
Before the trance evaporated, before Che’Wan approached her with a cup of warm, green tea and kissed her brow, it was they, the blissful inhabitants of dream-sleep, who on this morning foretold the coming of the young girl who would sit upon this very stone, and release her, at last, from all worldly obligations.
“Is it you?” she whispered. “I’ve waited so long.”
It was the Year of the Monkey, in the heart of the tropics, on the morning of a perpetual, centuries old summer. Not far from the river, which God had thickened with mud to slow the advance of time, a nimble girl of seven hoisted herself through the branches of the tallest tree in the yard of the Madrigal plantation.
The uppermost branches swayed with the uncertainty of her weight, slight though it was. She could feel the muscle of the meranti tree tighten and flex, and the leaves tremble, as if they, too, feared the fall should her weight prove too much for the bough. She focused on remembered words: When you start at the trunk of the tree, her mother had told her, you must be strong, like a caterpillar. But when you reach the top, you are light, your grip is soft. You are a butterfly.
She could feel her mother urging her upwards. Whatever was coming on the far side of the river could only be seen from the branches where the birds nested. She had never come so high, at least, not without her mother. If only she could see me, thought Catherine. Now, she had only to wait.
Every few moments, with her legs locked around the limb on which she sat, she twisted around and parted the leaves behind her, and looked down upon the house, its zinc roof slowly being eaten by the morning sun. Her grandmother’s presence was very strong, and her rocking chair on the veranda, though vacant and still, faced the tree and gathered information. The house itself was as quiet as the summer heat, as listless as a snake with a goat in its belly. She sleeps, thought Catherine. Her grandmother had already caught her once earlier in the week climbing the tree, and offered the perfect threat: “Girl! I’ll burn it down, if I catch you up there again.”
Not this tree, Catherine swore. Not ever. This tree belongs to my mother, and it will be standing here, I will be here, when, someday, she returns for me.
Before the violence had changed everything, sometimes, when Gran’ma had gone to market, Catherine’s mother would slip off her sandals and sarong and her high-collared blouse—everything, in fact, that civilized society had deemed proper—and leave it in a heap while she would climb the very branch that Catherine herself now straddled. When Catherine was an infant, her mother would sling her over her shoulders in a straw kit until she was old enough to grasp the branches herself. Cooking, cleaning, or tending to the needs of men; these would be the dubious skills that others would force upon her, but her mother taught her how to climb her way to the heavens, akin to the gift of flight. Miri, as her mother was called, would cradle Catherine in the comfort of the branches, and comb and braid her hair. For time measured only by the passing of clouds she would tell her daughter stories of the far-off land of Borneo, across the South China Sea, stories of hunting and of the Great War, stories of her tribe and the British soldier who fell into their kampong from the sky, clinging to the net of a captured cloud, scattering the goats and children, bargaining, offering Western cigarettes and money for each Japanese head Miri’s father delivered. And, without any trace of sadness, Miri would tell the story of how she stole Catherine’s father from the Japanese as the war drew to a close, and how that brought her here. That was Catherine’s favorite story, and she often begged her mother to tell it over and over again. Not only did the telling let her feel herself heir to her mother’s bravery, she could imagine her father as the Malay soldier, young and bold, and not the man with the bent back, who smoked too much, who drank too much, who cursed his own mother under his breath and did her bidding.
“Your mother lies,” her grandmother would say. “It’s all rubbish.” Catherine would nod in agreement and say nothing, schooled in the consequences of contradicting her, but she hung upon her mother’s every word and believed. Gran’ma also said the stories that Miri told offended God, especially the ones about how babies were made. Catherine failed to understand why, but, of course, she never asked her grandmother to explain. She only knew the stories angered her, the powerful Sarafina Madrigal D’Cruz, who spat on the roots of the tree whenever Miri went aloft, beyond her jurisdiction.
“Get down here and put on your clothes!” The grandmother would scowl at her daughter-in-law from the ground below, bludgeoning her with modesty. “Heathen!”
When Catherine’s mother would walk through the house in only a loincloth, oblivious to her own half-nudity, the grandmother would march stiffly after her with a brassiere in her hand, like a halter for a half-wild animal. Catherine would watch from behind the divan as her bewildered mother complied, and dressed, only to be defiant the very next day and be scolded all over again. And then one morning, the bare skin of that jungle woman, as Catherine’s grandmother called her, was sufficiently scarred with the accumulation of shame that she began routinely to dress in the manner of a civilized housewife, and did so until the day that left blood on the carpet.
But in this tree Catherine’s mother felt no shame, and felt no obligations to Sarafina, mother of her husband and matriarch of the family. This tree was her sanctuary, and within the embrace of its branches Miri would shade her daughter from the blazing heat of Sarafina’s wrath as best she could. She would stroke her skin and tell her all she knew of the world she had left behind for the captivity of privilege. Though a full two years had passed since Catherine had even seen her mother, the memory of her touch was renewed every time the tree invited her aloft, and for this—the scent, the shadow, the silhouette of her mother’s spirit—no risk was too great.
Now, she looked back in the direction of the river and could see startled birds rising in panic along the trail. She was right; there was something there. Elders of late, particularly Pak Sarkia, looked at her sternly, as if to silence her, when she spoke of the body of things before they actually appeared, or events before they unfolded.
She worked her way down through the branches, concealed by the thin veil of leaves. It must be the whore coming, she speculated. This moment might be her best chance to find out for sure, while her grandmother took her morning nap, and while Kamille, the amah, tended to the younger children of the household and hung the laundry in the back yard. This, too, she had seen over the zinc roof of the house. Two plump children chased butterflies around the grass. These were the well-fed children of the good mother, Auntie Joyce, sister of Catherine’s father. Catherine’s own brother and sister, spawn of that ungrateful jungle woman, followed Kamille with a basket of wet the clothes, unaware their sister spied upon them from the tree.
A week earlier Catherine had made her usual forbidden foray into the pantry to steal food for herself and Fin and Beni, her siblings. She had become their protector since her mother vanished. As if she knew that day would be coming, Miri tutored her daughter in the art of stealth, teaching her just how much food she could smuggle without it being noticed as missing. Neither mother nor daughter were ever caught. But there could always be a first time. Catherine caught her breath when the groaning of the rocking chair on the veranda stopped, and, when she heard the rasp of hinges to the screen door of the kitchen, she dropped behind the coarse gunny-sacks of rice, making herself small. Sarafina Madrigal D’Cruz lumbered into the kitchen, with the ever-obedient Kamille on her heels, returned from market with fresh food and fresher gossip.
“And what is the talk, today, Kamille?” she began passively, as Kamille put down her wares on the table in the center of the room. Sarafina’s back was to her servant, and she opened a drawer where an arsenal of her sharpest knives lay at her disposal.
“The elders, Ma’am. They got a letter tied with a yellow ribbon.” A shank of goat’s meat, though wrapped in butcher paper, was drawing the first flies.
“Yellow? Are you sure?” Sarafina stiffened, her fingers choking the handle of a cleaver. She had yet to turn to face Kamille.
“Yes, Ma’am. Yellow, I’m sure.”
“Do you know what it said?”
“Yes, Ma’am. Everyone knows. Che’Wan is coming here, to Sentul.”
Sarafina spun in place, stabbing the air as she spoke. “That’s rubbish! She robbed this village the last cycle. What, has it been seven years already? She never comes to the same place twice.”
Kamille flinched, shocked by the proximity of the blade to her face. “But it’s true! Pak Sarkia has called for a meeting tonight after prayer. Everyone is excited! Everyone was talking about it! They …”
“She’s going to bring trouble with her. You’ll see!”
“I’m sorry. I …”
“Sorry no cure! You think I don’t know what she does?”
“Yes, Ma’am, I mean, no I …”
“Never you mind. She’s got no business coming here again.” From her hiding place, Catherine saw each word her grandmother spoke flame briefly, and then turn gray and black, and fall like a dead cloud.
“But Ma’am! She’s a Disappearing One.” The strength in Kamille’s voice trailed off as she realized, too late, that she was falling from her matron’s good graces so early in the day.
“Che’Wan is a witch! You tell them that!” It was more than a complaint—it was an order—and she expected Kamille to carry it out.
The ashes of ugly words settled on the food on the table, and Catherine lost all appetite. Kamille took a step backwards and covered her mouth and coughed unavoidably. Sarafina set down the cleaver momentarily and unraveled the butcher paper. She slapped down the slab of meat and pinioned it to the chopping block, and took up the knife again. “And another thing … I forbid you to mention that woman’s name in this house.” She sliced the air with the knife, and the blade dripped red before it ever touched the meat immobilized beneath her grip. For reasons she never bothered to explain to herself, Sarafina was suspicious, even contemptuous, of any occurrence within her fiefdom that she herself did not germinate. And Che’Wan was a woman! A man might be forgiven for being so important. Kamille was almost out the back door. “And as for Catherine! You keep that runt of the litter away from that whore!”
…In the full week that had passed, nothing more had been said about the matter, but Catherine could think of nothing else. Now the “runt of the litter” had shimmied down from the tree and sprinted across the yard. She was halfway down the grassy slope on the other side of the high wall that surrounded the estate before she realized she had forgotten to close the gate behind her. In that moment, she halted abruptly and turned to charge back up the hill to close the gate before her grandmother noticed, but in that same moment she could hear the commotion down river in the village, and a faint brass gong emanating from a freshly trod trail.
It was irresistible.