Cindy Vallar, Editor & Reviewer
P. O. Box 425, Keller, TX 76244-0425
I’ll never forget the day I began what would ultimately become my young adult pirate fantasy: The Dangerous Legacy. It was a boiling summer day in California’s desert southwest, and I found myself missing the ocean. I was raised in Redondo Beach and when my professional life brought me to the desert, the only way to really survive the summers was to head to the coast whenever possible. During one particular summer, I, for whatever reason, hadn’t gotten to the beach. So I decided to write about the ocean. As I did, that got me thinking about a dare in my younger years in which a friend challenged me to jump from the pier. That dare and my love for the ocean—a love that in my young adult years led me to take sailing lessons on a Newport 28—guided me down the path of writing a pirate novel.
I share that story as a preface to this article so readers can understand that when I started, I had no more background on the Golden Age of Piracy than any other casual fan of the Pirates of the Caribbean movies. Sure, I had read Treasure Island, and a few more pirate tales, but I was in no position to describe the rich and vast pirate world in any authentic manner. Somehow that didn’t stop me, and after purchasing books on pirates, pirate hunters, and nautical history, and after taking a course on the period, I began my journey into what would be the most fun, exhilarating experience I’ve had as a writer. The same sense of freedom I feel around the ocean, and that I imagine those aboard a pirate ship would have felt on a day of fair winds, came to me as I poured myself into life in the 1700s around the Caribbean. I hope my sense of wonder about the world of pirates comes across in the novel I crafted.
All of that said, the point I would like to get to is a critical choice I made in writing the book—to not only use fictional characters but to also tap into historical pirates and pirate hunters. I also wanted to delve into historical buccaneers who, while widely known to those who are well versed in the period, might not be as well-known to people like me—those whose knowledge of pirates is limited to the likes of Blackbeard, Captain Kidd and Calico Jack. I wanted to bring to life other pirates whose time on the seas was every bit as notable—both for their success and violence—as those just mentioned. In choosing to incorporate a level of historical fantasy, my novel took on a complication I never anticipated, but doing so made writing this book a more enriching experience that pushed my creativity.
The challenge as an author is to make these historical pirates three-dimensional on the page, to give them voices, mannerisms, fitting garb and weaponry when there is not a lot of description of the way they dressed or expressed themselves. Sure, there is much written about their exploits on the seas, and even some artistic renderings, but more complete descriptions—at least as far as my research revealed—were lacking.
Still undaunted, I began my search for the pirates I would choose, and the first one I became fascinated with was Henry Every (also spelled Avery). Known for his plundering of the Indian vessel the Ganj-i-Sawai, Every had a major price on his head. He escaped capture and his last known whereabouts were along the North American coastline where he simply disappeared. I knew I had to include him in my story, but the events in my story take place long after his disappearance. That meant I had to invent an explanation for his vanishing. In the end, Every became central to my story as the adventure focuses on a thirteen-year-old boy from the present with ties to the past whose name just happens to be Sam Every. His name clearly is no accident as readers will find. And every description of pirates and pirate hunters, both real and imagined, is offered through Sam’s eyes. As he discovers these pirates, so does the reader. As you might guess, Henry Every becomes very important to Sam.
In describing Henry Every, I imagined an older man, who no longer had the same wanderlust as his younger self, who had some regrets over the lives he had taken through his plunders. When the Indian vessel was sacked, as was typical in the pirate world, unthinkable violence fell on the men and women aboard the plundered ship. This was a violent time, no matter how much movies tend to romanticize piracy. While the true Every probably never had regrets, it just made sense for my story. This is how I chose to describe him:
The flame cast the man in an eerie yellow glow, but shed enough light to see him better. He was dressed all in white—breeches, long coat, boots, and three-cornered hat. Again, just like the vision. The man was tall and lean, his face square and weathered with age. A beard, as gray as the mustache, reached to his chest.In terms of his speech, I wrote:
Finally, the man spoke in a stern and wary voice, his English accent a match to Thaddeus’. He spoke with nobility, like he was from the British Royal Navy.
Henry Every, Blackbeard, Governor Woodes Rogers
The next pirate (or in this case pirate hunter) to catch my attention was Benjamin Hornigold, who, before becoming a pirate hunter, had mentored other famous pirates, including Blackbeard. I think that’s what drew me to him—that and the fact he was respected by his fellow pirates. I was also drawn to the stories of how he and other pirates planned to trick Governor Rogers into believing they would accept pardons when, in fact, they planned to continue their pirating ways. Of course, Rogers had other plans and Hornigold chose to become a pirate hunter, seemingly to do Rogers’ bidding. I knew I wanted to incorporate Hornigold, but doing so in my story’s timeline meant he would not have long to live as he died in a shipwreck in 1719. That actually was a bit of a sad note for me as a writer, knowing this key character in my novel would die the very same year as my story.
Nevertheless, I envisioned Hornigold as a large, blustery man with a bold voice, who enjoyed a good trick. This is how I described him.
Captain Hornigold paced along the deck of Ranger, scratching his long, brown beard, tinged with gray. His voice was loud even though he spoke in close quarters. His accent was unmistakably British, and he spoke like he was educated in the British Royal Navy, but he could not disguise his pirate past. His voice was rough, maybe from all the years he downed rum and commanded tough men.I further describe him in this manner.
Sam studied him. A large man, Hornigold had a good-sized gut and arms and legs as thick as tree trunks, but he carried the bulk well. His mustache, which accentuated his rounded cheeks, hid his mouth. He carried a large sword with an elaborate gold handle. His clothing was clean and crisp but simple. A long, dark coat covered most of his frame and spotless black boots reached up to his knees. A knife was tucked into his breeches under this coat. A pistol was tied to a ribbon, which hung from the back of his neck. A black, three-cornered hat covered his head.
One additional pirate who captured my imagination was Charles Vane, one pirate who chose not to accept Governor Rogers’ pardon. Vane fascinated me, particularly the incident where he chose to break off an engagement against a French man-of-war and how that decision led him to lose his ship to his quartermaster, John “Calico Jack” Rackham. He was allowed to sail away in a sloop with men loyal to him. In The Dangerous Legacy my lead protagonist encounters him after he has lost his ship and before he is shipwrecked in Honduras, an unfortunate event that eventually led to his demise. I give reasons for his breaking off the attack on the French vessel and for his heading to Honduras.
Charles Vane & Calico Jack Rackham
Despite his supposed cowardly act against the French, I envisioned him as fearless and intelligent. Here’s my description of him.
The pirates parted down the middle to reveal the man who laughed. He had to be Captain Charles Vane. He wore finely tailored clothing, as though his outfit had been cut to fit his rather tall, thin frame. A red coat with a thick black belt covered him. A pistol hung from what could have been a silk scarf tied around his neck. A second pistol was tucked into his belt. He wore knee breeches and a dark three-cornered hat. Long, curly hair fell down the sides of his face, though it could have been a wig. If he had a beard, it was little more than stubble. He sat on a chest in the sand, his legs crossed. He fingered what might have been a gold coin in his right hand. The flames behind him seemed to make the coin glow. Vane didn’t bother to rise before he spoke.In writing this piece, I am in no way suggesting my descriptions of pirates like Every, Hornigold and Vane are accurate, though hopefully, the clothing is authentic for the time. I merely mean to show there is a certain amount of artistic impression that goes into recreating these larger-than-life swashbuckling personalities. And, I think it is important to note that, when authors make a decision to tap into historical figures, they must show great care and attentiveness in doing so. These pirates and pirate hunters deserve that.
Even as an author takes creative license with historical events and moments in time, the goal must be to create a seamless tie between the world you are creating and the true history around which that world revolves. Take, for instance, the case of Vane and his action, as mentioned above, to call off an assault on the French man-of-war. History notes that he felt his ship would be outmatched and outgunned. I described the reasons for his actions a little differently to fit my story, but I think it weaves well into the fabric of time.
Vane held up what might have been a scroll. “This gold was seized by Sir Henry Morgan in his raid on Panama in 1671.”
“So it is true! Not all of Morgan’s gold was found! Morgan hid some of it!”
“Aye, and this map led me to it.” Vane held the scroll to his chest. “But it has come at a price. We were sailing in the Windwards when I told my crew I possessed Morgan’s map. They doubted its authenticity. When we mistakenly fired on a French man-o’-war, I knew we would lose the battle and I might lose this map, so I broke off the attack. My crew branded me a coward and mutinied. My quartermaster, that villain John Rackham, took my ship. I and these men loyal to me were cast off in the sloop you have now seized.”
Henry Morgan and the Battle of Old Panama (Source: Wikipedia.com)
In my story, Vane, like any good pirate, was out to protect a treasure. He was driven by greed, not fear. An historically accurate portrayal of events? No. Yet care was taken to incorporate an historical event while considering a “what if” scenario. As I said, I think my pirate fantasy novel is stronger for the effort to tie in history. As a writer, it meant something to me to go that extra step.
I also have to say that in writing The Dangerous Legacy, I developed a fondness for pirates, and that’s not to suggest they were good men. My goal was never to address the morality of their lives, although they did live under a code of ethics—for pirates. Still, I never lost sight of the fact that the men I wrote about were truly violent. That aside, I couldn’t help but imagine sailing alongside them on the open sea and wondering what life was truly like for them.
In the end, I am happy I incorporated these historical pirates and the historical settings within the novel (along with my fictional elements) as doing so allowed me to grow as a writer and turned me into more than just a casual fan of the pirate world. I am so fortunate to be able to share this new passion with others through the written word and I look forward to continuing to do so.
Darren Simon has been a writer for much of his life. His career has included working as a journalist in Los Angeles, Israel and Southern California along the Mexican and Arizona borders. He presently works in government affairs on California water issues, teaches college English for the California Community College system, and does freelance writing for regional magazines. His work as an author focuses on middle grade and young adult readers to inspire them to read the way he was inspired, first by comic books and then the science fiction and fantasy novels that were so important to his youth. He resides in California’s Desert Southwest with his wife and sons.
Visit Darren's website
Read Irwin Bryan's review of The Dangerous Legacy
Listen to Darren's Interview at Under the Crossbones
Copyright © 2016 Darren Simon
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