Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Guest Author Mia Marlowe: The Naked Truth about Pirates (or Why Research is So Desperately Important!)

Mia Marlowe writes historical romance for Kensington and Sourcebooks. Her work has been featured in People magazine and one of her novels is on display at the Museum of London Docklands next to Johnny Depp memorabilia. Her books have been translated into 8 different languages. Publishers Weekly has named her Touch of a Rogue one of the Top Ten Romances for Spring 2012! Mia loves to connect with other writers and readers and invites you to visit her cyber-home, http://www.miamarlowe.com ! 



Pirates? Arrg! There’s just something about a man who takes what he wants and makes us like it! When the Pirates of the Caribbean movies came out, with the charmingly spacey Captain Jack and devastatingly attractive Will Turner, I was moved to write a swashbuckling hero with a saucy heroine to match.

In order to make my pirate believable, I had to do more than watch Johnny Depp and Orlando Bloom (though I’ll confess to doing a little of that, too!). Getting the facts right is important, so I researched the pirate era and the fascinating characters that sailed the seas in search of plunder. So here’s the naked truth about those Caribbean bad boys.

1. They weren’t all in the Caribbean. Piracy was common to every sea on earth. Barbary corsairs plied the coast of Africa. Malaccan pirates preyed on pilgrims bound for Mecca. Chinese junks join together to form massive pirate navies. Where ever you sailed, there were those with a cavalier attitude toward property ownership.

2. They weren’t all boys. While it was generally considered bad luck to bring a woman on board (and the penalty for sneaking one on could be death or marooning!), there were a few notable female pirates. Both Anne Bonney and Mary Read sailed with Calico Jack and were reputedly fierce fighters. When his ship was finally taken by the British navy, the two women were the only ones who put up any resistance. The rest of the crew was too drunk to fight. But when Anne and Mary were convicted of piracy, they “pleaded their bellies” and escaped the noose because they were pregnant. Calico Jack wasn’t so lucky. When Anne Bonney visited him while he waited for the hangman, she comforted him with, “if you’d fought like a man, you needn’t be hanged like a dog.” Talk about being an “I told you so!”

3. They weren’t all bad. Or at least, they didn’t start out that way. Like Gabriel Drake in How to Please a Pirate, some honest seamen turned to piracy because they had no choice. Black Bart Roberts began his career as a naval navigator, but was pressed into piracy when his ship was taken. He went on to become one of the most successful pirate captains in history.

4. They weren’t all naked. Though pirates went barefoot at sea, they enjoyed dressing well on land. Since they often took prizes of silk bales or rich brocade, pirates delighted in devising flamboyant costumes to wear once they hit port. Buccaneers had plenty of free time during long days at sea to sew. Since women were not welcome aboard ships, what else did they have to do?

5. They held to their own code of conduct. Pirate crews practiced a rough form of democracy, electing their captains and signing articles defining their goals and expected behavior. In How to Please a Pirate, Gabriel Drake’s first mate reminds him that according to the articles he drew up himself, ‘meddling’ with a woman of prudence is strictly forbidden. Good thing my heroine isn’t the prudent type.

6. They took care of their own. Pirates were often maimed in the course of spreading mayhem. As part of the articles they signed, payment for loss of an eye or a limb was agreed upon ahead of time. What a way to fund your retirement!

7. They were only deemed pirates if they stole from the wrong people. A privateer—one bearing a Letter of Marque—might commit the very same acts as a pirate, seizing goods and ships, with the blessing of his Sovereign so long as he shared the booty with the Crown. However, if he made the mistake of attacking the wrong ship, even a Letter of Marque couldn’t save him. Captain Kidd mistakenly attacked a British vessel and though he possessed a Letter, it wasn’t enough to save him from the noose and the gibbet.

8. They didn’t just hang a convicted pirate. They made an example of him. First, he was hung with a short rope, so his neck wouldn’t break. Death for a pirate was a protracted public strangulation. His body was left to be covered by three tides, then tarred and put on display in a gibbet as a warning to other seafaring men who might be tempted to piracy. Pirate hangings were treated as holidays by the public. When Gabriel Drake is led to the gallows in How to Please a Pirate, there’s much jostling to secure the best place from which to view the spectacle. These people seriously needed cable TV.

9. They didn’t all fly the Jolly-Roger. Each pirate captain devised his own version of the skull and cross-bones in an effort to appear as fearsome as possible. But if he really wanted to scare the living lights out of his prey, he’d run up a solid red flag. It was a signal that he’d neither give nor accept quarter. He intended to kill every soul on board.

10. Pirates didn’t bury their treasure. A few pirates might cache their goods from time to time (and in How to Please a Pirate, a treasure is rumored to be hidden somewhere in Dragon Caern, Gabriel Drake’s castle). But pirates would never leave a map to indicate where their treasure lies, lest it fall into the wrong hands. Besides, they were more likely to spend their ill-gotten gains in riotous living than to salt it away for their unlikely retirement. There were very few old pirates. “A merry life and a short one” was their motto.

Which just goes to prove what I suspected all along. Pirates just wanna have fun! And as a writer, my way to have fun is uncovering all these facts. Do I use everything I learn in my stories? No. What reader wants an info-dump? But a thorough research of the period lends a flavor of authenticity to a historical romance that readers are looking for. Disappoint them at your peril.

I'd like to offer a chance to win a How to Please a Pirate in the winner's choice of either Kindle or Nook format. All you have to do is leave a comment or question for me to be entered in a random drawing.

Blurb: After earning a royal pardon for his wicked ways, Gabriel Drake decides to play the prodigal and come home to the life of a gentleman. But a change of station doesn’t change his pirate’s heart. And what a pirate wants, a pirate takes.

Mia loves to connect with readers and other writers. Find her at MiaMarlowe.com, Facebook & Twitter!

25 comments:

Liane Spicer said...

Welcome back to Novel Spaces, Mia. Fascinating pirate facts! I particularly like the ones about the lady pirates. I'm from the Caribbean and your mention of Letters of Marque took me right back to fourth form history class. :)

Mia Marlowe said...

Wow, you had better history classes as a kid than I did. It seems like all my teachers focused on were the political machinations of each age. I'm always more interested in how ordinary people lived their lives and viewed themselves and their place in the world. That's what I always try to uncover in my research.

Betty Hamilton said...

What what better fun can one have than pleasing a pirate?? I don't remember having much fun in my history classes.

Stephanie Queen said...

Mia! What a riot of fun pirate facts! Loved it and now I feel compelled to try your book How to Please a Pirate.
Stephanie Queen

P.S. Did they really make captives walk the plank?

lorimeehan said...

I loved all the pirate info. I also love your cover. How do you go about picking the titles for your books. I think "How to Please a Pirate" is a great title.

Jen said...

But did they talk like a pirate?

Talk Like a Pirate day is one of my favorite silly holidays.

Charles Gramlich said...

Pirates are a great mainstay of all kinds of fiction. I always enjoy 'em.

flchen1 said...

Awesome pirate facts, Mia! I find it fascinating that women participated too! I've read a little about modern day pirates, and while it's somewhat romantic to read about piracy as a part of history, I must confess that modern day piracy doesn't have that same appeal.

Congrats on How to Please a Pirate! Do you think you might write more pirate stories in the future?

f dot chen at comcast dot net

KeVin K. said...

Welcome back to Novel Spaces, Mia.

One of my peeves with historical romances is the lack of period accuracy. I've read too many complain that these facts make good storytelling difficult or get in the way of making heroes and heroines sympathetic to modern readers. Good to see someone point out some accuracy in historical characters can be interesting, and that facts enhance the story.

Pirates and privateers were an interest of mine for part of my childhood in Florida (after dinosaurs and before the space program). My one fantasy story was set aboard a privateer.

My favorite pirate fact is that they weren't all clumsy with sharp implements. Those eye patches weren't covering empty eye sockets. They kept their dominant eye covered in daylight to protect their night vision. After full dark they'd switch the patch to the other eye and were able to sail without light. (Good for smuggling and evading, but not fighting; the first muzzle flash would blind them.)

Julie said...

This is all so fascinating--I can see why it's hard for authors to throttle back, lest they overwhelm the reader with info-dumps. Thanks for sharing your research with us!

Jena Lang said...

I ♥ pirates! Thanks for sharing these pirate facts. I look forward to reading your book.

jenalang(at)live(dot)com

Barbara E. said...

There's nothing like a good pirate story, bring on How to Please a Pirate, I can't wait to read it.

Barbed1951 at aol dot com

William Doonan said...

I visited Disneyland Paris and was delighted to find that the Pirates of the Caribbean spoke French - as it should be!

William Doonan
www.themummiesofblogspace9.com

Mia Marlowe said...

Betty--I always enjoyed history class, but I had to dig in deeper to find the type of history that interested me. I wanted to know how people lived their daily lives, how they thought about themselves and their world.

Mia Marlowe said...

Stephanie--Yes they did make people walk the plank. Along with other rather nasty ways of killing people, flogging and keel hauling, for example.

Mia Marlowe said...

Lori--I try to think about the story, the tone of the piece and then I do some brainstorming about titles. I always check to see if what I come up with has been used before, even though you can't copyright a title. (For example, someone has used my January release's title SINS OF THE HIGHLANDER, for her erotica story which came out later.) I choose to feel flattered and wish her many sales.

Mia Marlowe said...

Jen--Pirates probably spoke much like all the other sailing men of their era.

Mia Marlowe said...

Charles--Good point. I know FIREFLY was labels a space cowboy story, I always felt Mal was more pirate than anything else.

Mia Marlowe said...

flchen--Agreed! Only fictional pirates are romantic. But even then, I have little use for those with no respect for the property rights of others. That's why my pirate has earned a pardon and is now a prodigal pirate, trying to fit back into Society.

MIa Marlowe said...

KeVin--Interesting about the eye patches. I was unaware.

There is always a tension between trying to get the history right and writing for a modern audience. No where is this more evident than in historical romance. There are many truths about the 18th century--general lack of hygiene, poor dental health, and appalling illiteracy to name just a few--that I must gloss over lest I lose my audience. Gritty reality may make for gripping fiction, but I can't forget that I'm writing a romance and the relationship is the main attraction.

Mia Marlowe said...

Julie--When I give a writing workshop, I always tell my students that there are things about your character that only you will ever know. And you should keep it that way.

Mia Marlowe said...

Thanks, Jena! I hope you enjoy my PIRATE.

Mia Marlowe said...

Thanks, Barbara. Reviewers have been kind to my Pirate. Hope readers will love him too.

Mia Marlowe said...

William--Pirates came from all sorts of different nations. French was just one of them.

Liane Spicer said...

Mia, this was fun! Thank you for being our guest once again, and thank you everyone who joined in the discussion.

The winner of Mia Marlowe's How to Please a Pirate, chosen at random from the comment thread, is Jena Lang. Congratulations, Jena! Enjoy!