Interview with Kerry Lynne, Author of Pirate Captain

Today I have a bit of a treat! Several months ago I had the opportunity to read (and enjoy) Pirate Captain: Chronicles of a Legend by author Kerry Lynne, and she has graciously agreed to let me host a blog interview about the book, her work, and what’s next in the series. If you’re a fan of pirates, you’ll probably want to keep reading.

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Pirate Captain: Chronicles of a Legend by Kerry Lynne

Image used with permission.

Pirate Captain: Chronicles of a Legend is your first novel. What inspired you to begin writing the story?

Like everyone else, I had written a lot in high school. A brutal English instructor in college put an end to it, however. The only thing I wrote for 30+ years after that was cryptic instructions and a few magazine articles. The pirate thing came out of the blue; I owe my husband for that one. He was watching Pirates of the Caribbean on TV for what seemed like forever. Finally, trying to be the good, dutiful wife, I sat down with him and watched. Jack Sparrow won me over; I was gone from there.

That was about the time I discovered there was such a thing as fanfiction (I know, late bloomer). Stories had been rolling around in my head for most of my life, but now I had a place to write, play, and most of all, learn. I was shockingly rusty. I owe my fanfiction friends a ton for a number of things, but getting me on the right path is at the top of the list.

I was merrily writing along for about five years, introducing a lot of new characters (not an easy path in fanfiction). Gradually, I found that I wanted to go places that the canon wouldn’t allow. Jack Sparrow faded into the horizon and Captain Nathanael Blackthorne stepped forward. My life hasn’t been the same since.

On that train of thought, I had my first request from someone wishing to write Pirate Captain fanfiction. The circle is complete!

With the recent popularity of all things pirate, what do you feel Pirate Captain delivers that sets it apart from other high-seas adventures on the market?

It’s not Romance, and it’s not a Treasure Island wannabe. No disrespect to either, but anything that I’ve been able to find currently out there (or from the last decade or so) tends to fall into one of those two categories. Sure, there’s a romance (with two hundred men and one woman aboard, how could you not?) but I’d like to think this book offers a lot more.

The plot of most books centers around the MCs’ quest to gain something. This book is a bit of a reverse. Whether they know it or not, Cate and Nathan start the book with getting what they want most. The story becomes about what they are willing to do to keep it.

So many people are fascinated by the tall ships and sailing, but they are grossly confounded by the lingo. This book is a stepping stone into that world. Patrick O’Brian or C. F. Forrester, for example, are great storytellers, but their books are a tough read for the landlubber. Hopefully, by the time one is done reading it, they feel like they at least know fore from aft and “their butts from a bitt,” as Nathan would say.

The “Hell’s Angels” aspect of pirates bothered me for quite a while, until I started to understand that pirates (a few deviant personalities aside) were just sailors trying to find a way to get through this world. Pirates were the first pure democracy, their captains (and often their officers) being elected. No venture was set upon without the approval of the majority. They were also the first limited corporation, their only pay being a share of the profits (swag or treasure). They were also the first to institute disability insurance, their ship’s codes often allowing extra money for the loss of fingers, eyes or legs.

Your main characters, Nathanael Blackthorne and Catherine Mackenzie, are flawed individuals whose troubled pasts have left them scarred inside and out. When developing your characters, what led to your decision to make them “less than perfect”?

Imperfect is ever so much more interesting, isn’t it? Where’s the interest in reading about perfect people, who have had charmed lives and everything has always gone their way?

I have to say first that my characters tend to develop themselves. First, I figure out what kind of a person I need, and then I work backwards, figuring out what personal traits or experiences would have brought them to be that way. Once I reach childhood, then I have to work forward again, because each trait or experience will have other consequences which I hadn’t planned on, like Cate’s horror of being held down or Nathan’s disinterest in food.

Nathan and Cate come from two diverse paths, and yet they share the same issue: trust, or more specifically, the inability to do so. Cate’s story is one of loss, starting with her mother dying when she was young, to losing her husband, home and life to a war. She doesn’t trust that Providence will ever allow her happiness. Nathan’s story is one of betrayal, starting with a father who never returned. There’s going to be two categories of readers: those who love Nathan and those who hate him.

My characters are forever changing. Perhaps “evolving” might be a better word. They are always surprising me, like Nathan’s sweet tooth. I had no idea, until in one scene he walked to the honey jar and stuck his finger in. There are times when I expect Cate to be a little stronger in the face of some hazard or tribulation, and she falters.

Nathan is an incredibly multifaceted character who takes the popular “Jack Sparrow” pirate captain mold and pretty much smashes it to smithereens. As new readers come to the novel, what do you hope they’ll take way from his characterization?

The comparison to Jack Sparrow is a natural one, since there hasn’t been such a popular pirate since Errol Flynn and Captain Blood. I realize that, as anyone picks up the book, they will be expecting some version of Jack. Hopefully, like you, the reader will soon see the vast difference between Jack and Nathan. As I might have mentioned earlier, I can’t explain where Nathan came from. He just stepped up off the page one day and refused to leave.

My hope is that readers won’t know whether they love him or hate him. I work by the guideline “if you want your characters to seem real then make them like real people.” That means with all the flaws and strengths; likes and dislikes; disappointments and desires; quirks and scars. The more you add, the realer they become. A writer has to be two-thirds people observer and one-third therapist. Diana Gabaldon calls it “cannibalizing,” a gross, but appropriate word, because that’s what a writer does: take in all these observations, chew them up, and then spit out a new character.

Conflict is the key, not only in the plot, but within the characters, as well. As someone once suggested, “What cage has the character put himself in?” is the question to ask yourself as the writer. Add to that the fact that the more you love your characters, the more you disrupt their lives, because you’re anxious to see how they will react and whether or not they will prevail.

Like any person, historical or modern day, Nathan is a product of his time. If life hadn’t taken such violent twists, he might well have been the dashing Errol-Flynn-type sea captain, with the world at his fingertips, and hence a fairly cliché character. But life wasn’t kind, and he’s wound up doing what he had vowed he’d never do. So now, not only is he fighting the enemy (of which he has several), he’s fighting himself. That sets up some great conflicts.

Pirate Captain is set in 1753, and there was a lot going on in the world at that time. Your level of research and dedication to historical accuracy shines through the narrative, but you manage to corral the history into what’s pertinent to the characters aboard the Ciara Morganse. How did you decide which historical elements to include?

Oh, dear! It wasn’t easy. I’m a Virgo, so details are everything. As everyone is probably well aware, after all that hard-earned research, you’re dying to show it all off. Not without a few tears, to be sure, I kept it down to only what I needed to tell the story, but I’d have to add “the way I wanted to tell it.” The minimalists (those who feel you should use only what is directly relevant to the plot, and nothing more) would point to a wad of things as unnecessary. But then, I’m not a minimalist <grin>. I incorporated what I needed to either underpaint a scene or flesh out a character. It helps that I’m not a linear writer; I’m a patchworker. I write whatever comes to mind each day, and then find where it fits into the grand scheme of things. It’s a good way for me to take the best advantage of the creative juices when they are flowing. Heaven knows we don’t want to interfere with that! It means that I’m always working back and forth, which gives me prime opportunities to weave in all those little juicy bits in.

The year 1753 was chosen, because of Cate’s backstory. I needed an event catastrophic enough to wipe away a person’s life: the Jacobite War of ’45 was perfect. That time frame, however, put the story after what is commonly known as the Golden Age of Piracy, so I needed Nathan’s backstory to accommodate that. That also allowed me the freedom to work without the expectations of encountering any of the more famous personalities. I intentionally avoided using real persons, although there are a couple names that slipped in. I preferred to use the time period as a backdrop, rather than a mold into which I had to fit the story.

The ignorant are always there for us writers to use. Using Cate’s POV was advantageous here, too. As she was being educated, so was the reader. At a certain point, however, that ploy becomes too obvious, so I had to find other ways of weaving in information. The nauticalese I incorporated only enough to give it flavor. In the meantime, the nautical purists will rip me open because I haven’t been entirely accurate on a lot of things. But again, it’s a delicate balance, because if I wrote to please them, I would have lost the landlubbers. I really wanted this book to lure the reader into the world at sea, show them that it doesn’t have to be such a confusing and scary place.

Who or what were your real life inspirations for the characters, ships, and locations?

Writing inspiration came from Diana Gabaldon. Whether she knows it or not (I have told her a couple times) she’s responsible. Some say nothing happens without a reason. A friend recommended her books to me. That was the first time I found myself thinking “I want to write like that!” It was several years after before I actually started writing again, but her generosity with those trying to learn and her pragmatic approach was a godsend. She’s also the one who gave me permission to not write linear, as everyone had been telling me I had to do up until then.

What was the most difficult aspect of researching the setting, personalities, and nautical jargon?

I see too many historical fiction writers being handcuffed by history, worried about all the things that has to be. I prefer to look at it as what could be. These were just people, with all the fears, dreams and motivations as people today.

Having sailed for over 30+ years helped; I’m not sure I would have attempted this without. At the risk of stepping on a few toes, I’ve read several attempts by writers who didn’t know anything about ships or sailing and it showed. The same thing goes for pirates: if you’re going to write about them, then you’re obliged to include all the sailing stuff, including the lingo. For men of the sea, ships and sailing is more than just a part of their lives: it’s them. To ignore it is to ignore the core of the character.

My biggest challenge was trying to understand the workings of a square-rigger. Once I figured out what their greatest concerns were at sea (for the most part, getting caught with too much sail aboard or with land in their lee), then I had a fair grasp, although there’s still so much to learn.

My most valuable tool was a gift from a dear friend: the entire audio set of Patrick O’Brian’s Master and Commander series. It was invaluable in getting the ear tuned to the 18th Century way of speaking. Listening helps in ways that reading never can, when it comes to that. The version narrated by Patrick Talb is wonderful, for not only the nautical jargon, but the various English (as in England) dialects.

I tried to incorporate as many of the mariner’s sayings as I could, because these men still live with us today: bone in her teeth, chewing the fat, chocked full, bitter end, let the cat out of the bag, scuttlebutt, slush fund, worth his salt, three squares a day… The list goes on and on. A glossary can be found at the back of the e-book version or at our website www.piratecaptain.net for the print version.

It’s been suggested that I might be channeling people from the past, because there is so much of this book that I have no idea where it came from. There are whole passages that I look back at and wonder who wrote it. I can’t begin to explain Nathan’s turn of the tongue; I rarely know what’s going to fall out of his mouth.

There’s a love story woven into the rich narrative, but Pirate Captain isn’t a traditional romance by any means. What challenges have you faced in writing this book in that regard?

No, it’s most certainly not traditional, but then these aren’t traditional romance characters either. I’ve had several readers comment that the opening scenes of when Cate is first brought aboard the Ciara Morganse made them realize this book was different.

Again, staying mostly in Cate’s POV worked well. If we knew what Nathan was thinking in Chapter 2, there would be no more mystery, would there? The surprise, the tension and everything would be gone. It’s the not knowing that makes the heart flutter. Does he or doesn’t he? Will he or won’t he? If Cate and Nathan were to suddenly drop all their defenses and declare everlasting love and fall into bed together by Chapter 4 it would have been completely out of character. The reader wouldn’t have known either of them enough to care whether they did so or not.

A therapist once told me a person’s strengths are very often their weaknesses. The very things that a person relies upon will also lead to their biggest problems. Cate and Nathan are both survivors, achieved mostly through stubbornness. But it’s also their downfall when it comes to a personal life. Nathan’s ability to hide his thoughts makes him a great captain, but it also makes it impossible for Cate to see inside.

The greatest challenge often comes from within yourself, the writer. In the spirit of doing what the story calls for, you often have to face down your own fears and whatever issues you might have. It’s not always easy. As a historical fiction writer, you also have to get past all your modern day biases and compulsions. No, in the 18thC they didn’t wash their hands before every meal. And no, they didn’t refuse to eat something, because it hadn’t been refrigerated. No, they didn’t send for a doctor if someone broke a leg. If you can’t get yourself past that, then you need to find a different era about which to write, because you’re not going to be able to be truthful with yourself or your readers.

Nor Gold is the next installment in the Pirate Captain series. Can you give us a sneak peak into what’s in store for Nathan and Cate? When is your projected release date?

I’m about half finished with Nor Gold; hopefully it will be out about this time next year.

Without being too spoilerish, Thomas becomes a more central figure. There will be much more of both Cate and Nathan’s backstory, which comes around to haunt them. There will be a bit more in the way mystical, which ties in with Nathan’s backstory. The nautical world is filled with lore and superstition. They were simple people; what phenomena they didn’t understand they attributed to some god or superstition.

More and more, Nathan discovers that what he wants most is going to become more and more impossible to have. Suffice to say, nothing is ever going to go smoothly with these three.

Several hints have been dropped in book one, Nor Silver… the reader just has to find them. <grin>

How many books do you anticipate will become part of the Pirate Captain series?

God be willin’ and the creek don’t rise, I’m looking at four or five books right now, but there’s a good chance that will grow. Even if no one is reading, I’ll still be writing, because I can’t imagine leaving Cate and Nathan behind.

The back cover copy of Pirate Captain gives us Nathan’s take on the set up of the story, but most of the narrative is told from Cate’s point of view. Will we get to see more events through Nathan’s eyes in subsequent volumes?

Ugh! Those blurbs always sound so Madison Avenue sales pitch. Instead of the traditional third person impersonal, I used Nathan’s narrative, because I thought it would better represent what the reader could expect: something different.

As for seeing more events through Nathan’s eyes? Oh, dear, yes I’m afraid so. It’s going to be a challenge for both me and the reader. There’s no holding Nathan back once he gets on a tear.

Again, without being too spoilerish, the first part of Nor Gold will be in his POV. There’s a fair-sized stretch at the end that the reader will be in his head. A good portion of the third book will be in his POV as well.

You’ve been receiving great reviews on Amazon and Goodreads. How has this feedback helped as you continue with Nathan and Cate’s story?

As a writer, you dream of bunches of great reviews. The irony is when you hear people don’t believe it if it’s all five-star reviews. They think it’s all friends and family. So I guess we need to hope for a few people to rip your work apart. <wry grin>

Like any writer, some positive feedback always fuels the fires to keep going. The Demon Self-Doubt is always firmly entrenched on my shoulder. I would be writing, however, even if no one was reading, because Nathan is jumping up and down for his story to be told, and there’s no putting him off.

A lot of authors are gravitating toward increasingly accessible self-publishing options to get their work in the hands of readers. What led to your decision to self-publish rather than pursue a traditional publishing contract?  What are some of the rewards and challenges of that decision?

Timing was a big thing. Pirates are popular now. Three or four TV channels are planning or already filming pirate series or mini-series. Starz Channel has already signed their mini-series Black Sails for a second season, before the first season has even aired. Spielberg has bought the rights to Crichton’s Pirate Latitudes, and I understand the rights to Pirate Hunter (Captain Kidd’s story) has been purchased as well. Pirates of the Caribbean 5 is on deck to start filming this winter, to be released in 2015. Rumor has it that they will be filming 6 at the same time. I didn’t feel as though I had the couple years it takes to work your way from agent to being picked up by a publisher to actually hitting the shelves.

The couple online writing sites that I hang out at did a very fine job of convincing me that I’d never be able to sell a book so large (in the vicinity of 350,000 words). Still, I’m toying with spamming out some query letters and see if anyone will bite.

It’s still early; I have no way of knowing if this book is going to be able to find its audience. The trick is getting it in front of the reader. As you’ve probably heard a kazillion times, it’s really tough for a book to rise above the morass of others and be noticed. Bookstores are really reluctant to pick it up. There is every thing from animosity to contempt for self-pubbing. The attitude is swinging around a bit, but you still have a lot of prejudice to live down.

I have a couple reviews pending that should prove significant (assuming they like it <grin>).

What advice would you give to new authors?

Know yourself and your audience, and write to please them. Write the book you would like to read, because there is a good chance a good many others feel the same way. The more you try to please everyone (which is an impossibility) the more watered down the work becomes.

The online writing and critting sites are fine, but sooner or later you have to take ownership of your work. Don’t be snowed by all the rules. The best “rule” is one Diana Gabaldon uses: “You can do anything, so long as you do it well.”

Think outside the box. Characters and plots become cliché only because they have been done the same way over and over. There’s nothing purely original; finding a different way to present it makes it yours and unique.

If you’re struggling with a scene, chances are it’s because you’re trying to get the characters to do something they don’t want to do. Sit back and ask them; perhaps you don’t know them as well as you think. <g>

Okay, this question’s really just for fun. Some fans have deemed Pirate Captain worthy of a film adaptation. Until Hollywood comes knocking on your door, do you have a “dream cast” in mind?

I’ve had several people suggest that very thing. Judging from what I’ve seen Hollywood usually does to a book, I’d rather not. It would take a lot to get me to hand my characters over to someone else.

I don’t work with specific character pictures, but then I’ve written it as if it was a movie playing in my head.

Of course, everyone thinks Johnny Depp should be Nathan, but that’s probably because there hasn’t been another popular pirate movie since Captain Blood. I’ve had some suggest that Maureen O’Hara would make a great Cate. At one point, I had Catherine Zeta-Jones in mind, mainly because she has a body type more typical of a woman, as opposed to those refugee-from-a-prison-camp types that Hollywood seems to think we should admire. Bo Hoskins would make a good Mr. Kirkland. The crew would be a field day for all those great character actors out there. The more elder Sean Connery would make a great Mr. Pryce. And Thomas? Hmm…. Not sure there.

What takes up your time when you’re not sailing the high seas with Nathan Blackthorne and Company?

I write nearly every day. There are index cards and little scraps of paper everywhere. If I can think clearly enough to write, then I edit.

We spend a month every summer on our sailboat on the Great Lakes. We aren’t saltwater sailors, much to everyone’s surprise. I was an artist and loved doing needlework (crazy quilting mostly) but lost the fine motor skills in my hand, so I’m not able to do any of that. I live in hope it’ll come back one day. Otherwise, I’m out in the garden venting my pent up energy on the weeds.

If readers are interested in learning more about the Age of Piracy, what resources would you recommend?

First of all, I’ve banned Wikipedia from my existence. It’s fine, if you use the footnotes to find primary resources, but as an end-all resource, not so much. I’ve found far too many errors. I also prefer the print version of a book, as opposed to online. There’s nothing like those little treasures you discover as you’re thumbing through the pages!

For Pirates:

David Cordingly is the going expert. His book Under the Black Flag is a great resource.

The Sea Rover’s Practice by Benerson Little is good as well. 

Choundas’ The Pirate Primer is invaluable for pirate-speak (and 18th Century mariners in general)

The Pirate Dictionary by Terry Breverton is just plain fun, with a lot of mariner and pirate-speak.

For ships and sailing,

The Young Sea Officer’s Sheet Anchor

The Seaman’s Friend by Richard Dana (of Two Years Before the Mast fame) 

A Sea of Words by Dean King was written as a lexicon for the Patrick O’Brian series, but has a lot of relevant information.

Seamanship by John Harland

Thanks so much for your time!

It was my pleasure. I’m always dying to talk about this passion and the characters it has brought me.

On a closing note, I’d like to tell everyone that I’d love to hear what you think of the book, good, bad or indifferent. There’s not much that can be done to change this one, but I am working on a second. I’m not setting myself up as an expert, but if anyone has any questions about ships, sailing or pirates, email me at klynne@piratecaptain.net.

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For more information about the Pirate Captain Series, or to commandeer a copy for yourself, visit Kerry and the crew of the Ciara Morganse, visit PirateCaptain.net or check out the Pirate Captain page on Facebook.

Print and e-book versions of Pirate Captain: Chronicles of a Legend are available on Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

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