Title: BOY OF THE BAYOU
Genre: Middle Grade Historical Fiction
Word Count: 58,000
My Main Character's Most Stressful Relationship is:
Jean Paul’s worst relationship is with his father, a gambler who keeps his feelings hidden. Jean Paul has trouble reading facial expressions and voice cues due to Asperger’s Syndrome. He doesn’t understand why Papa doesn’t love him, but Papa knows Jean Paul isn’t his. The boy talks too much, hides from shadows, and fears change. These behaviors repel risk-loving Papa. Jean Paul makes money for the family’s chandlery business, which is why Papa tolerates him. Jean Paul’s new friendship with an escaped slave who knows too much causes Papa to hunt down both the friend and Jean Paul.
Children in the corrupt and decadent New Orleans of 1751 do not choose their futures, their parents do.
When ten-year-old Jean Paul eavesdrops, he learns his father paid his gambling debts by selling Jean Paul into indentured servitude with his aunt. Jean Paul is autistic, and loves his routine at the chandlery, where he feels secure. Unable to believe his own father sold him, he flees to hide in his skiff before his aunt takes him back to Biloxi to spend his life working on her fishing fleet.
Before he can reach his little boat, he encounters Black Hawk, a runaway slave with a hoodoo pouch of magick. Fighting his usual stranger anxiety, Jean Paul befriends the man. When authorities find the corpse of a member of Louis XV’s secret police bobbing in the Mississippi River, Jean Paul’s Papa convinces the Captain of the Gates to accuse Black Hawk. The slave is a danger to Papa, because he saw Papa commit the murder. Black Hawk takes Jean Paul hostage to make his escape.
Jean Paul and Black Hawk must work together to stay ahead of Papa’s pursuit on a flight up the Mississippi River. If Papa catches them, Jean Paul will be shipped off to Biloxi for a lifetime of indentured servitude and Black Hawk will be hung for a murder he didn’t commit.
First 250 words:
New Orleans, New France, May 1751
Even before the hoodoo began, Jean Paul knew that day in May was different.
Aunt Elise’s fishing boat arrived at the port early in the morning. The household cook prepared breakfast for everyone, but Maman, Papa, and Aunt Elise huddled at the end of the table and whispered. Jean Paul watched closely from the corner of his eye.
Fear stopped him from asking what they were saying. Maybe he had done something wrong again, like the time he lined up the chandlery ropes by color not length. Papa whipped him for that. Jean Paul winced.
Papa told Aunt Elise and Maman to “take it to the parlor”, and Jean Paul decided to eavesdrop. The way they whispered and looked at him, he knew the "it" might be about him. He snuck down the hall after them. If Papa caught him, it meant another whipping. But, he had to know what they were saying.
Squatting by the parlor door, he pressed close to it. Tall and thin, he had to curl himself like a cooked shrimp to position his right ear as close as possible to the keyhole.
“We have a signed contract!“ Elise shouted. Heavy footsteps muted part of Aunt Elise’s words. “…you agreed that if we helped your son Luc start as a merchant seaman, then Jean Paul would come with me to Biloxi as my indentured servant.”
Aunt Elise’s screech removed any question about the topic of the conversation. It was about his future.