A Sneak Preview: Chapter 1 of A Storm Hits Valparaíso

I want to give you a sneak preview of my upcoming novel, which has the working title of A Storm Hits Valparaíso. I’m currently on the final pass, but it’s quite convoluted and could take a month or two before it is ready for the editor.

I started writing this in 2006. It was a classic case of an inexperienced writer biting off far more than he can chew. It has seven main characters who all start in different locations and their narrative strands gradually interweave.

In technical terms, it’s by far the most difficult thing I have ever attempted to write, and I have no shame in saying that at several points I felt it was beyond me, and walked away.

But it always drew me back. It’s still early days on the rewrite, but for the first time in a while I actually have confidence that I will wrestle it over the finish line. If it doesn’t kill me first. And that’s not a joke. This is tough.

Here’s the quick blurb:

A Storm Hits Valparaíso is an epic historical adventure starring San Martín and his army of thieves, rogues, mercenaries, slaves, and prostitutes as they fight to free Argentina from the Spanish Empire.

And here’s the first chapter. Bear in mind that this has neither been edited nor beta-ed, I just need to air it a little. Oh and that cover above is just something a friend knocked up for fun a few years back.

Chapter One – A Storm Hits Valparaíso

Catalina Flores de la Peña’s tongue got her in more trouble than any other part of her body, even though there were far more likely candidates. However, as soon as anyone brought these to her attention, they realized why most men preferred to admire her from the dusty corners of her father’s tavern, rather than approach her directly. So legendary was her temper that the mayor had ordered her father to lock her in her room when dignitaries came to visit the tavern, fearing a repeat of the night she broke the magistrate’s nose.

When she was confined upstairs, customers tended not to linger; there was no-one to hasten the hours between the first pisco and the fall of night. Watching her glide between tables, flirting with one man, berating another, eyes flashing one moment, soft and kind the next, was one of the more pleasant ways to avoid thinking about the weather on Valparaíso’s long winter nights.

Her father—Don Flores—was a stern man and no-one was quite sure of his first name. One customer swore their uncle grew up with him in Pucon, and that he was called Ignacio. Another insisted their brother once loitered outside the confessional and heard old Father Guido call him Ricardo. Catalina’s father never let on, happy to give the men something to talk about other than his daughter. And, anyway, the majority of his patrons were content simply calling him Don Flores, the honorific reflecting the distance he kept from his customers.

Don Flores’ low opinion of his fellow man resulted from years of seeing them at their worst, for he slept when he wasn’t working and he worked when he wasn’t sleeping. His daughter was spared this judgment. He showered her with all the love and affection he withheld from the rest of society. When Catalina was old enough, he insisted she work at the bar so that she would form the same useful opinion of humanity that protected and comforted him in equal measure.

Catalina could feel his eyes—watching her. She tried to ignore him, but every time she looked, there he was. Most men had the decency to look away when she caught them, but this Spanish puerco just went on staring, with the faintest hint of a sneer at the corner of his lips.

Something about him kept her on edge. She tried to put him out of her mind; she had troubles enough tonight. The crew of the Esmeralda had descended on Valparaíso with no good in mind. Their ship had docked needing repairs and they were taking advantage of several days of unexpected shore leave before continuing on to Lima. It had been a long voyage from Spain. The sailors hadn’t seen port during the journey across the Atlantic, down the barren coast of Patagonia, past the frozen wastelands of Tierra del Fuego, and around Cape Horn into the Pacific. The Chilean rebels had no ships worthy of the name and their forces withdrew on sight of the frigate, their one paltry cannon no match for its forty-two guns. The Spaniards had secured the waterfront in under an hour, encountering no resistance. Sentries were posted at each street corner, while the sailors who escaped guard duty were determined to make the most of this opportunity.

Towards midnight, the bawdy crowd began to clear, following the musicians down the street, looking for whores and gambling tables. An hour later, only one table was left: Spanish sailors, drunk, shouting insults. Except for him; he just watched. She tried to shake it off, hoping they would be gone soon. Instead, they called for another drink.

“Very well, señores,” said Don Flores, as he poured the pisco, “one more, then we close.”

Catalina approached the table, grateful the night was nearly over, already thinking of bed. She placed the drinks on the table. As she turned to leave, the puerco grabbed her arm.

“I hope you are not going to throw us out on the street just yet. It’s still early.”

Catalina glared at him. “Let go of me, puerco, or you’ll be out now.”

He pulled her down onto his lap, grabbing her breast. “Chica, the night’s only beginning—” He stopped short, her cold metal blade pressed against his throat. The bar fell silent. His companions jumped up from their chairs, upending the table in their haste. Catalina pulled the puerco’s head back, exposing his sweaty neck. One of the sailors edged closer. Catalina pressed the tip of her dagger into the puerco’s skin, drawing a small bead of blood.

“Stand back lads,” he cautioned.

Catalina turned to his companions. “You two, leave.”

They paused. The puerco gave a slight nod, the knife still firmly at his neck. Eyes on Catalina, they staggered backwards towards the door, and stepped outside. Her father hurried to her side and eased the knife from her fingers. With his other hand, he twisted the puerco’s arm up behind his back and marched him after his companions.

“You tell that bitch this isn’t finished.” The puerco struggled. “I’ll be back for her.”

Don Flores threw him out the door, bolting it shut. He sighed then looked at his daughter. “Go to bed mi hija. It has been a long night. Tomorrow we can clean.”

Catalina nodded then went upstairs.

The next morning, Catalina drummed her fingers on the bar, surveying the damage, the air thick with an admixture of stale sweat and tobacco. This day wasn’t going to improve in a hurry, she thought. Last night’s crowd had been rough. Aside from dirty glasses and plates, she had smashed bottles and broken chairs to contend with. At least her regulars knew the rules—and occasionally respected them—but those animals, they had no respect for anything. She cursed as a glass slipped from her hand and shattered. A groan came from the doorway outside. Pedro, she thought, a smile sailing through the storm of her face.

Every night Pedro Villar fell asleep in the doorway of the bar with a flower in his hand, intending to profess his love to Catalina. His courage would falter, leaving him slumped outside, cursing his cowardice and mourning his solitude. Each morning Catalina sent him home to his mother—a stern woman who put a raw egg in his coffee as punishment for his nightly excesses. Catalina opened the door and shooed Pedro away with the broom, unmindful of the heart she broke a little more each day.

“Pedro Villar?” Her father appeared as she was re-locking the door.

Catalina laughed. “Who else?”

“He has too much interest in you for my liking.”

“That drunk would chase a burro in a dress.”

Her father grunted. “Catalina, put down that broom. I want to talk to you.”

“What is it, Papa?”

“I’m sending you to Santiago for a few days, to your aunt. I don’t want any argument. It’s not safe for you here.”

“But Papa, we can’t let—”

“Sergeant Eduardo came by last night, after you went to bed. He is worried about these sailors. They are hot-headed and foolish enough to do something stupid.” Don Flores took a bottle of pisco from the shelf, cleaning the label with his thumb before pouring himself a healthy measure. “He can’t protect us. His hands are tied. None of his men can enter Valparaíso while there is a Spanish warship in the bay.” He emptied the contents with one gulp. “He feels it would be best if you visited some relatives until they leave town.”

“But this is my home.”

“I have made my decision, Catalina. Just for a few days, until these sailors leave.” He raised his hands, as if to brook further discussion.

“Papa…”

“That’s enough!”

Catalina continued cleaning in silence. There was no point arguing further, her father’s mind was made up. She had no siblings to share the burden of her father’s protectiveness, no mother to soften his resolve; she was going to Santiago.

About David Gaughran

David Gaughran is Irish, living in Prague, and the author of Mercenary, A Storm Hits Valparaiso, Let's Get Digital, Let's Get Visible, and this here blog.
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43 Responses to A Sneak Preview: Chapter 1 of A Storm Hits Valparaíso

  1. David, I am definitely looking forward to this novel. I think you have inspired me to share the first few pages of my new WIP in progress. Mind you, I’m almost finished but there is no harm in sharing. Thank you.😉

    • Thank you Danielle. I usually NEVER share a work in progress, not publicly anyway, but a version of this chapter has been online for a while now anyway, and I think I might release a few more chapters in the build-up.

  2. Jaye says:

    Thanks for sharing, David. Looks like you might have a winner on your hands.

  3. Looks great David. The setting and the characters remind me of a Steinbeck work. I posted a sneak peak of my latest work on my blog as well, with some trepidation. Now we must produce!
    Good luck.
    P.S.
    I like the cover, too.

  4. Josephine Wade says:

    I’ll be honest when people mention historical novel’s I’m always a little leery, I think dry, but this has my interest. Thanks for sharing and I’m hoping for more!

    • Me too, to be honest. I like historicals, but I have very particular tastes. I’m not so much into the manners and morals and dresses, I like them to be a little faster paced, more story than deportment and whatnot.

  5. I like this, David. Catalina sounds like a spitfire. I can’t wait to read the full novel. I love your work!

    I understand about tackling a subject that seems far beyond the scope of what I initially intended to write. I am working on the final edits of my saga I started several years back. I put it aside several times and finally sat down and finished the first draft last year. Now it’s almost ready for publication.

    Keep at it. You’ll get your story where you want it to be.
    Katriina

  6. I said to myself, “I’ll read the first few lines to see what it’s about,” and next thing I know, I’ve read to the very end, looking for more (trust me when I say that I’m not one to blow sunshine up your bum, either). Catalina is feisty. I like that. Looking forward to seeing what happens to her in Santiago. Nice work!🙂

  7. Interesting! Looking forward to reading the rest of this.😀

  8. Certainly sounds good inside my head. I like the way your words roll. You do a great job of creating the atmosphere.

  9. Martin Lake says:

    A beguiling beginning with lots of characters who I sense will grow. I liked the dialogue which was punchy and told us a lot about the society. A better start than the last South American book i read, Nostromo.

    Look forward to reading the rest of the novel.

  10. Neil says:

    Great start!

    I enjoyed the read. It ‘sucks the reader in.’

    Neil

  11. Great cast of characters, great opening line (always important), lovely word descriptions, enjoyable to read. I’d say you’re off to a good start. And isn’t the journey grand.
    Enjoy always, T

  12. Neil says:

    David,

    Mind some constructive criticism? I think you need one or two sentences of ‘fade to black’ references to Catalina’s sensual nature.

    For example: “Catalina could feel his eyes—watching her. She tried to ignore him, but every time she looked, there he was. Most men had the decency to look away when she caught them,”

    Change the 2nd sentence. Perhaps (and there is a reason I’m not an author…): Most men had the decency to look away when caught, but would order more drink in the mistaken belief that liquid spirits would mask their study of their favorite part of her fine figure.

    I do love the chapter, but it needs just a little tweak to make it obvious that another man desiring her wouldn’t normal be worthy of thought.

    Neil

    • I’d definitely go with “Most men had the decency to look away when caught.” The “she” and “them” in my version are redundant. Not so sure about the second bit… anytime I write something like that I sound lecherous.

  13. David,
    I think it’s pretty darn good as is. It certainly held my interest, and if there had been a page to turn, I’d have turned it.

    Bob

  14. Love the chapter, Dave. Good luck with the launch!

  15. T.T. Thomas says:

    Hi David,

    I loved it–held my attention, intrigued me and the pacing and characterization were excellent. One question (and I know this is a draft, so take it with love from a perpetual fellow first draft working stiff!), in the second sentence, the word “these”—is that supposed to be “this,” or does it refer to the other “candidates”? Seems like it was a bit of both, but would probably be better if it were “this” (this meaning when people brought to her attention how much her mouth got her in trouble). Anyway, please use all the encouragement to get those other 59 chapters whipped into shape because I can’t wait to read the whole book. By the way, do you use beta readers at all? I’m looking for some myself. It seems like a really good way to go after one has finished the dreaded first or second edits. Best…tarra http://www.ttthomas. com

  16. James Ullrich says:

    Terrific, David. It leaves us liking Catalina and looking forward to seeing her journey, literal and otherwise. I know editing a big, complex novel is tough. It’s like crossing the ocean in a little rowboat all by yourself. But keep at it!! Cut as many words as you can to get to the core of the characters and their story. You can do it!
    -James Ullrich

  17. Ellis Shuman says:

    You almost lost me when in one paragraph you’re talking about her father, and then the next paragraph starts with “Catalina could feel his eyes—watching her. ” Was it her father watching her? That’s what I thought, thinking it a bit strange.

    Other than that, it was quite captivating!

  18. Reminds me a little of taming of the shrew so far. Interesting enough for me to want to read more. Well done.

  19. David: Thanks for sharing this. Like the commenters above I enjoyed it all the way through. But as soon as I read “Catalina could feel his eyes—watching her…” I thought, THIS is where the story begins. The paragraphs before are all backstory that need to be worked in gradually so as not to interfere with the forward momentum.

    That said I really enjoyed it and look forward to reading more…

    • I’ve had that exact comment before from some betas and editors I sent the sample to, a year or so back when I was last working on this. I see your point (and theirs), and I’m torn over it. I love the page or so that goes before, but I am not strictly starting in media res, which is what is commonly (and correctly) advised. I guess its a stylistic choice on my behalf, but I’m not beholden to any of the words in the book. When I’m done with the rewrite, and when I get it beta-ed and edited, and if that is a response I keep getting, I will certainly cut it – or rework somehow.

  20. I love the writing that goes before too (especially the tongue) so I’m not suggesting cutting it; just a reorder. But it sounds like you’ve got good reasons for presenting as is, as well as good perspective. So whatever works best for you with the final draft is what you should go with.

  21. E Hunter says:

    Enjoyed it! Love this area of the world, and I just watched No Reservations: Chile, so I smiled when I saw the pisco reference. Very cool, David. I haven’t read historical fiction in a while, but I’m looking forward to this! Good luck.

    As far as the opening goes, I liked it. I liked the impression formed in the readers mind regarding Catalina. She’s a very strong character, and I think she can carry the opening. Depending on her role in the overall story and how integral she is to the action, I would keep it.

    • Well, there are seven main characters, but the story really centers around three of them, and she is one of those three.

      I have played with the chapter order innumerable times, as there are any amount of possible combinations given that all but two of the characters start in different locations and don’t even begin to meet up until a third of the way through the book.

      I wanted to start with Catalina because while this book is in one sense about a war and the historical figures that fought it, it’s also about the ordinary people that get left out of the history books – and women rarely graced those pages despite their importance in the lives of the “great men” and to society as a whole. I was also quite conscious of the fact that women make up the vast majority of the American book buying public, and that I didn’t want them to have the (false) impression that this book was just about a bunch of men running around killing each other.

      But partly it was because I wrote that opening line and knew I had to open the book with it.

      • E Hunter says:

        I think that’s a good move on your part. And when you’re dealing with that large a cast, there’s really no perfect way to introduce all of them. I think the choice to begin with an ordinary, relatable character is best for what sounds like a project of such large scope.

  22. James says:

    Excellent, and a very fine opening line. And oh, Catalina! Is it hot in here, or is it just her?

  23. Can’t wait to read the rest. The first paragraph is the amazing. We learn so much about Catalina in those few sentences. You’ve set-up the potential mystery/conflict with the stranger. Will only get better with beta and edits.

  24. I actually really like that cover. Really distinct image. (Story good too, but lots of people have said that…!)

  25. Summer Grey says:

    I seem to remember you from the Absolute Write forums. I think you were posting on the self publishing forums. In my experience, the self publishing forums over there are mostly just arguments and name calling. Obviously, I have taken myself elsewhere for information. Your blog is one of those places.

    This chapter is excellent, by the way. Every indie writer with real writing chops (and there are many, many of them) warms my heart. Thanks for sharing.

  26. Pingback: Sneak Preview: Chapter 2 of A Storm Hits Valparaíso | David Gaughran

  27. Pingback: Exclusive: Chapter 3 of A Storm Hits Valparaíso | David Gaughran

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