Tuesday, August 16, 2011


Laurie King writes to say that "Pirates are the new Vampires" in pop culture. Does this mean I was 10 years ahead of my time?

This week, my pirate novel, The Witch From the Sea celebrates its tenth anniversary. Back in those pre-Captain Jack Sparrow days, pirate stories were considered strictly kid stuff, or else the province of capital-R Romance novels with brawny, half-naked rogues fondling their flintlocks splashed across the covers.

It must have seemed like a pretty radical idea, a grown-up historical adventure novel with pirates, told from a woman's perspective. My heroine, Tory Lightfoot, twice damned as a woman without family or prospects, and a runaway orphan of mixed white and Native American blood, joins a crew of pirates in 1823 to escape her constricted female life ashore. But I was fortunate enough to find an intrepid small publisher, Beagle Bay Books, who believed in my story and midwifed my novel into existence.

Speaking of covers, this was my original concept sketch for The Witch cover art. Pretty atmospheric, no? The full moon, the pirate vessel, a woman, um, evidently rising up out of the middle of the ocean like Esther Williams in one of those gigantic MGM aquatic musical numbers. Well, think of it as metaphor, just as the pirates in my book function as a metaphor for the freedom Tory craves.

I'm a little superstitious about rendering my character's faces; I don't want to interfere with the reader's imagination. But when I published a chapter out of The Witch as a short story in the pirate fanzine No Quarter Given, I drew this illustration to go with it.

It's a moment of psychological tension, wherein the pirates attempt to coerce information from the crew of a merchant vessel they've captured. That's Tory, on the left, looking apprehensive—until she (and the reader) realize what's really going on in this scene. (Oh, no, I'll never tell—you'll have to read the book!)

(Hmmm...looking at this image again, I wonder if it's too late to re-do The Witch as a graphic novel...)

But both of these images are vast improvements over my early attempt to collage together a cover, way back when my novel was titled Blesséd Providence (the name of the pirate ship in the tale). Talk about a bad case of TMI!

Notice how I tried to cram in every plot point: gold doubloons, pirate ship, Tarot cards (they figure in the plot and color Tory's view of the world), a map of the Indies, my protagonist's femaleness. Whew! I'm exhausted just looking at it now!

I'm too embarrassed to show you the very first cover I ever attempted, which also included a volume of Shakespeare and a Harlequin figure, in honor of my second protagonist, Jack, expatriate Englishman, acrobat, and failed Shakespearean actor-turned-pirate.

You can see how the Beagle Bay book cover turned out up there in the menu bar. The artist did a good job overall —I just love that burning ship! But I don't think he quite captured the spirit of Tory and Jack. Here's the detail:

Is it just me, or does Tory look about 12 years old in this image? (In the book, she's 18.) As for Jack, he must by the most neatly barbered buccaneer in the history of piracy. Just call him Metrosexual Jack, the Scourge of the Indies.

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