Cover Reveal: The Unbinding of Mary Reade

I’m always excited to see great book covers. And when a cover belongs to a book written by one of my VCFA classmates, well, I’m overjoyed! Feast your eyes on the cover for The Unbinding of Mary Reade, a young adult historical novel written by the awesome Miriam McNamara. Miriam is represented by Linda Epstein at Emerald City Literary Agency.

Summary

There’s no place for a girl in Mary’s world. Not in the home of her mother, desperately drunk and poor. Not in the household of her wealthy granny, where a girl could never be named an heir. And certainly not in the arms of Nat, her childhood love who never knew her for who she was. As a hired sailor aboard a Caribbean merchant ship, Mary’s profession―and her safety―depend on her ability to disguise the fact that she’s a girl.

Leastways, that’s what she thinks is true. But then pirates attack the ship, and right in the middle of the swashbuckling crowd of bloodthirsty pirates, Mary spots something she never could have imagined: a girl pirate. The sight of a girl standing unafraid upon the deck, gun and sword in hand, changes everything. In a split-second decision, Mary turns her gun on her own captain and earns herself a spot among the pirates’ crew.

For the first time, Mary has a shot at freedom. But imagining living life as her true self is easier, it seems, than actually doing it. And when Mary finds herself falling for the captain’s mistress, she risks everything―her childhood love, her place among the crew, and even her life.

The Unbinding of Mary Reade will be published by Sky Pony Press on February 6, 2018. Now, let’s talk to Miriam!

El Space: What was the inspiration behind this book?
Miriam: I’ve always been fascinated by the story of Anne Bonny and Mary Reade. They are such mythical people: two women who joined a pirate crew in a time when women had no power. I was particularly drawn to Mary Reade, who was raised as a boy by her family―so the story goes―as part of an elaborate scheme to keep them off the streets. The idea of someone being raised as someone they know they are not is very timely, even if Mary Reade’s story is unique. I thought it would be an interesting lens to examine gender through. As a queer teenager, it was hard for me to unravel the connections and differences between gender and sexuality. I wanted to tell a story about a character for whom no easy lines could be drawn regarding either. Mary doesn’t fit any convenient labels, so she really has to figure out who she is starting from scratch.

I love outsider cultures, the communities that are formed by those who don’t fit into the mainstream. I love to explore what happens when people break the rules, especially when they break them just by being who they are. I love to explore what happens when people follow the rules and are still let down by them, as so many people often are. I also just wanted to write a love story about queer girls, because there aren’t enough of them.

El Space: What a gorgeous cover! What, if any, suggestions were you expected to provide for the cover? Did you have any say over what was depicted on it?
Miriam: I was not expecting to have any say regarding the cover, so I was thrilled when my editor, Rachel Stark at Sky Pony Press, asked me if I had any input. I found a couple of covers of other books that I absolutely loved and put together a mood board with the covers and a few other images, and wrote a paragraph or two about what I envisioned. Fonts, color schemes, images, etc. Nothing too specific. When I sent it to Rachel, it turned out that we’d picked out mostly the exact same book covers as comps! So I knew we were on the right track.

El Space: Who worked on the cover? How long was the process?
Miriam: It was almost exactly a month later when I heard back from Rachel. I was psyched about the cover, but both of us had the same concern about one tiny detail. Rachel relayed the feedback to the design team, and I received the final cover the next day!

El Space: How did you react when you saw the cover?
Miriam: I was really pleased. One idea I’d thrown out was having the font of the title be kind of like a binding coming undone, with a ribbony, fabric-like quality to it. You can see that they nailed that! And I love the ship! And the color scheme is PERFECT. It’s got a great romantic feel to it. So yes, I’m very happy!


Author Bio

Miriam McNamara was born in Ireland, raised in the Southern US, and is a new, proud resident of the Midwest. She has dressed up as some variation on pirate for Halloween more years than she has not—her favorite still being Rollerskating Pirate, circa 2003. She has an MFA from Vermont College of Fine Arts, where The Unbinding of Mary Reade won the Norma Fox Mazer Award for a YA work-in-progress. She lives with her wife, two dogs, and two cats in a tiny house in North Minneapolis, but she also calls Asheville, North Carolina home. You can find her at www.miriammcnamara.com or on Twitter at @McNamaraMiriam.

Author photo by Rose Kaz at Rose Photo. Book cover courtesy of the author.

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A Writer’s Process (2b)

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We’re back for round 2 of the writer’s process discussion with the marvelous Miriam McNamara. And thanks to Dreamland’s Insurgents, you can hum along to the suggested theme music here. Meanwhile, I’m really wishing I had a bagel right about now.

For those of you just tuning in, this is part two of the discussion, so you might want to refer back to part 1 if you haven’t already done so. You’ll find Miriam’s bio there. And as a reminder, Miriam’s young adult novel is The Unbinding of Mary Reade. Thanks to all of you for your comments. They really mean a lot. Now, on with the discussion.

El Space: Tell us about your main character. How is she like you? Different from you?
Miriam: Mary is raised as a boy—her dead half-brother Mark—in order to scam money out of Mark’s relatively wealthy grandmother. This deception keeps them out of utter poverty, so their lives really depend on Mary pretending to be someone she isn’t from the time she is very young. This shapes her character in a profound way. She yearns to be like other girls, but her upbringing ensures that she is like no one at all.

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She’s not a boy, but she’s not a proper girl either. Her desire for the neighbor boy, and eventually for Anne Bonny, push her to explore different identities throughout the novel as she tries to figure out who she is.

I gave Mary my own confusion about who I was when I was a teenager. I also spent many years as a young adult trying on different identities/presentations in my quest to figure out who I was. I’ve also given her the strength of my desire and my imagination; the way she fantasizes and desires authentic love and belonging comes straight from my own heart. And I’ve given her a fluid sexuality like mine; she is attracted to boys and girls. But she’s very different from me, too.

I based some elements of her character on boys and girls I know that struggled even more with gender identity than I have. Her childhood was radically restricted by having to pretend to be a different gender than she knew she was inside, similar to the experience of some transgender and genderqueer people. She falls a lot closer to “boyish” on the gender spectrum than the average eighteenth-century girl, but she still identifies as female—the sex she was born with. She isn’t transgender, but she does fall somewhere that isn’t easily categorized. I love that complexity.

El Space: And the more complex the character, the more compelling the story. Intriguing, Miriam! Okay, we all know about the success of Pirates of the Caribbean. How did the success of this series affect the way you approached your story? Was it more or less difficult to write because of characters like Elizabeth Swann (played by Kiera Knightley) and Captain Jack Sparrow (played by Johnny Depp)? Why?
Miriam: You know, the pirate captain in my story is the very pirate that the character Jack Sparrow is based on. Isn’t that insane?

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His name is Jack as well, and I’ve had people tell me that I need to change his name, and make him less flamboyant. But those are two things I just can’t change—that’s who the real Jack Rackham was! I didn’t base my character on the movie character at all—so in my head, at least, Jack Rackham is a very different person than Jack Sparrow.

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El Space: Johnny Depp showed such complexity in his performance. He definitely marked this character as his own. How did you shape Jack’s character in your novel?
Miriam: In the first scene that Jack appears in my novel, he makes a very flamboyant entrance—but as the novel progresses, he becomes more and more intricate and human, while I think Jack Sparrow remains that flamboyant, fantastical character throughout the movie series. My story is not fantasy, which POC and most well-known pirate characters are.

El Space: Your Jack sounds colorful and alive in the way of great characters in great fiction. Awesome! To wrap up, any advice for someone about to use a well-known trope in a story?
Miriam: There are reasons that we are attracted to tropes and use them in our stories over and over again. Strong desire and powerful conflict are embedded automatically. For me, I was attracted to pirates in general, and Mary and Anne in particular, but the initial reasons were shallow. Romance! Adventure! I didn’t know what I really wanted to say. But as I started exploring these characters and their world, I realized this story communicated important ideas that I hadn’t read before.

Mary ended up being a unique character that helped me explore my own thoughts on issues that matter a lot to me. I guess that’s the challenge: taking a trope—a ready-made, flat character—and making it into something that can surprise people and make them question the stereotypes they have. If you, the writer, can look beyond the trope and find a unique character, you can force your readers to look more closely at their own assumptions about the world.

Sadly, we’ve come to the end, as all good things do. Thanks again, Miriam, for sharing your process. This has been great! Give it up for Miriam, everyone! If you have questions or comments for Miriam about her process, please comment below.

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From LOL Cats

Photo of Johnny Depp as Captain Jack Sparrow is from mariouana.com. Mary Reade image from mrugala.net. Calico Jack image from thepiratesrealm.com. For more information on Mary Reade, click here and here.

A Writer’s Process (2a)

Good. You’re here. Hope you brought your own coffee. Now, let’s talk process. With me today is another friend from VCFA, the incomparable and incandescent Miriam McNamara!

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This discussion will conclude on Friday. We have a lot to cover, so let’s get started.

El Space: Bio please, for the curious.
Miriam: I have a B.Ed. in Elementary Education from Warren Wilson College and an M.F.A. in Writing from VCFA—oh yeah, and a Certificate of Cosmetology from Blue Ridge Community College, too. I am a hairstylist by day and a writer by morning and night. My favorite genres are historical fiction, science fiction, and fantasy—I love exploring different worlds. I live in Asheville, North Carolina with my partner and our four fuzzy animals.

El Space: Awesome! And now, a brief synopsis of your young adult novel, if you please.
Miriam: The Unbinding of Mary Reade is the story of a girl forced to live as a boy to survive in early eighteenth-century London. When her obsession with the neighbor boy makes it impossible to lie any longer, Mary follows him to the New World on a pirate-hunting mission, determined to win his love. But her objective is sidelined when her ship is taken by a pirate crew that includes the seductive girl-pirate Anne Bonny. Mary’s new connection with a girl as unconventional as herself forces Mary to reject the falsehoods and fantasies that sustained her as a child—but as tensions between the law and the outlaws mount, will the person she is beneath the disguise be strong enough to survive without the lies?

El Space: Sounds great! What attracted you to the subject of pirates? What was your plan for making your concept fresh?
Miriam: Well, pirates have always been a trope that appeals to me. Real-life pirates are complicated, though; the whole steal-pillage-rape thing is hard to stomach along with all that romantic swashbuckling and adventuring, which I think is why a lot of people go for a more fantastical pirate. But I think that real-life complexity is fascinating.

In the early 1700s, when my novel is set, the European elite were pillaging and raping the New World, and the common people who worked in the Navies and on merchant ships led bleak and short-lived lives. Poor people, women, and non-Whites really had no rights. The Golden-Age Caribbean pirates, despite their flaws, were arguably forerunners of American democracy: every member of the crew got a vote and a fair share of the loot. Pirate captains were elected and, if they fell out of favor, replaced by someone else. I wanted to show the yearning for fairness and freedom, as well as the greed and violence.

I was drawn in particular to the real-life characters of Mary Reade and Anne Bonny, two women pirates that crewed the same ship and were eventually caught and tried for their crimes together. I wondered, what kind of woman would join a pirate crew? What would her life be like? What would drive her to take that kind of risk? It was surely that same yearning for fairness and freedom that drove men to become pirates, but I think that yearning and desperation would have to be even greater for a girl.

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I knew the girl-disguised-as-a-boy-on-a-ship thing has been done a thousand times, as well as the pirate thing, so I did have concerns that Mary’s story would lack originality. It’s the character of Mary and her struggles that make this story unique. Despite the swashbuckling context, the story is really about a terrifically unusual girl trying to figure out who she is, and if there is a place in the world for that person. It explores themes that are extremely relevant today: the intersection and divergence of gender, sexuality, and justice.

El Space: Very compelling! So, what pirate books have you read that you thought were done well?
Miriam: My favorite pirate book is nonfiction: The Republic of Pirates: Being the True and Surprising Story of the Caribbean Pirates and the Man Who Brought Them Down by Colin Woodard. It’s narrative nonfiction, so it’s a very engaging read. I think everyone who is intrigued by the romantic ideal of the Caribbean pirates should read it, to get the facts behind the fiction. It is extremely well-researched, and he still manages to keep all the romance and adventure while sticking to the facts.

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The “original” Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson is my favorite pirate novel. I haven’t read any contemporary pirate novels that compare.

El Space: What aspects of writing historical fiction did you find most challenging? Why?
Miriam: Whew! The research was so much more complicated than I could have imagined. I knew a lot about the political milieu of the time, but when I sat down to write the story I was stymied again and again by the details. What did every little piece of the ship look like? How does one sail a ship? Where do they use the bathroom? What was London like? Where did poor people live? What did they eat and drink? Did they have cigarettes/glass windows/underwear? What did things cost? Details, man.

During this particular time period, the lives of the poor went mostly undocumented: most records are ship logs, trial and prison records. This was a blessing and a curse. I could make some stuff up, but I had to be careful that I didn’t make something up that couldn’t have happened. And since my main character was a real person, that made it even more challenging. I couldn’t change certain plot elements, but because of the unreliability of many sources of the time period, I gave myself permission to massage some of them a bit in the name of story.

We’ll stop here for today. Tune in tomorrow for more Q and A with Miriam. If you have questions for Miriam about her book or her process, please comment below. Thanks for stopping by!

Illustration of Mary Reade and Anne Bonny is from arrrpirates.wikispaces.com.