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.

No Peeking!

004Remember when you were a kid, and you tried to figure out what was in those boxes under the Christmas tree? (Maybe you still do.) Perhaps you grabbed a box and did the shake test to figure out its contents. (With the shake test, you run the risk of it backfiring if you are particularly vigorous and the package’s contents particularly fragile.) Or, maybe you were bold enough to tear off a tiny corner of the wrapping paper, which you later blamed on the dog or cat or a sibling, especially after a parent told you, “Hey, no peeking!”

If you’re anything like me, you didn’t wait for presents to be added to the tree. You went looking for them. I usually did, especially after hearing my older brother say, “I saw something in Mom and Dad’s closet.” Yes, I was gullible enough to take him at his word. And of course I didn’t find anything in the closet. But I continued the search by poking under their bed and in the living room closet. And you know what? My parents were way ahead of us. With three curious children, they didn’t bother hiding gifts in the house. A locked car trunk ensured that our Christmas gifts remained unopened until Christmas Day.

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Hello Kitty wants to peek inside this gift. But the tied string thwarts her. Poor Kitty. She failed to realize that the gift is in the envelope. The thing on top of it is a crocheted Christmas tree light stuffed with cotton.

What is it about surprises that make us try to figure them out beforehand? Some surprises, like wrapped Christmas gifts, are all about delayed gratification. But in our instant, I-can’t-even-wait-a-second-for-my-download society, we have to know NOW. “I’ve gotta peek,” we tell ourselves. But does learning the outcome right away make getting the gift any better? (I hear some of you murmuring, “It sure does.”)

Waiting is part of the magic of Christmas. Think about it. When a parent refused to give in to any demands to tell you RIGHT NOW what’s in those packages, the anticipation was all the more heightened. Consider how excited you were as you lay in bed, counting the seconds until you could spring up and rush to the tree.

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This season, is there anything for which you’re waiting? What can you do to regain that delightful sense of anticipation if you haven’t felt it for a while?

While you think about that, let me move on to another item of business. Those of you who waited for the Christmas book giveaway reveal, the wait is over! (Wondering what I’m talking about? Look here.) Drumroll, please . . .

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First up is a preorder of Audacity by Melanie Crowder.

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The winner of is . . .

Is . . .

Is . . .

Courtney Stein!

Next is The Terror of the Southlands by Caroline Carlson.

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The winner of is . . .

Is . . .

Is . . .

Nancy Hatch!

Last, but not least, is Caminar by Skila Brown.

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The winner is . . .

Is . . .

Is . . .

Laurie Morrison!

Congratulations, winners! See? You didn’t have to shake a package or look in a closet or under the bed. Merry Christmas! When you confirm below, please provide an email address. Thanks for commenting.

Christmas gifts from ivysays.com. Santa hat from dcafterfive.com. Drumroll from funylool.com.

Deck the Halls with Three Good Books (Fa-la-la-la-la, la-la-la-la)

santa 9Ho ho ho! Santa’s got a brand-new bag. (If you’re a James Brown aficianado, you’ll have “Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag” in your head now. Mwahahaha!) Today on the blog, I’m thrilled to welcome three great authors and fellow VCFA alums: Melanie Crowder, Caroline Carlson, and Skila Brown. They agreed to a quick interview without any coercion from moi or that cupcake-wielding supervillain, Hello Kitty. If you’re totally confused by that last statement, go here.

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Melanie, who also wrote Parched, is here to talk about her upcoming young adult historical novel-in-verse, Audacity, which will be coming to a bookstore near you on January 8, 2015 (published by Philomel Books/Penguin). Melanie is represented by Ammi-Joan Paquette.

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Caroline is here to discuss The Terror of the Southlands, book 2 of her middle grade series, The Very Nearly Honorable League of Pirates, published by HarperCollins. If you were around last year, you’ll remember that Caroline stopped by just before the first book of her series debuted. (See here and here.) Good times. Caroline is represented by Sarah Davies.

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And last, but certainly not least, Skila is here to talk about her middle grade historical novel-in-verse, Caminar, published by Candlewick Press. Skila is represented by Tina Wexler.

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After our discussion, I’ll talk about a holiday giveaway that I hope will be an annual thing.

El Space: Greetings and welcome to the blog. Could each of you provide an elevator pitch for your book to bring readers up to speed about it?
Melanie: Audacity is the inspiring story of Clara Lemlich, whose fight for equal rights led to the largest strike by women in American history.

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Caroline: Hilary Westfield is a full-fledged pirate now, but if she doesn’t prove her boldness and daring by rescuing a kidnapped Enchantress, she’ll be kicked out of the Very Nearly Honorable League of Pirates for good.
Skila: Set in 1981 Guatemala, this novel-in-verse tells the powerful tale of a boy who must decide what it means to be a man during a time of war.

El Space: Awesome. So, tell us what inspired you to write your book.
Melanie: Clara’s story just wouldn’t let go of me. I first discovered her in 2010, while looking for topics to try my hand at picture book biographies during the second semester of my MFA at Vermont College. But the more I read about Clara, the more I was captivated. I began to suspect that this would turn into a novel-length book. And then her voice showed up—in free verse, no less! I had to follow. . . .
Caroline: The Terror of the Southlands is a sequel to my first book, Magic Marks the Spot. I wanted to continue the story of Hilary’s adventures on the High Seas, explore more of her world, and learn more about the characters I’d created for the first book. Also, I love detective stories, and this book, while not a traditional mystery, is absolutely swarming with detectives. Pirates too, of course!

pirate_clipart_ship_2Skila: I spent a long time reading and learning about Guatemala’s Armed Conflict and the role that the U.S. played in that violence. It made me angry—angry about what happened and angry that not many people know about it. There are so many things I can’t do about so many issues in the world. But one thing I can do is tell a story. So that’s what I did. I told a story about a boy who survived. I think survival stories are the best kind of stories to read.

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El Space: You’ve all intrigued me! If you had a choice of educating, astounding, amusing, or challenging a child or a teen with your writing, which would you choose? Why? You can pick a combination of two if you wish.
Melanie: Challenging. Definitely. This is a book for teens, and Clara was a teen when she became an activist. I absolutely want readers to find her story and to know that they, too, can change the world.
Caroline: I love reading and writing humor, so one of my main goals every time I sit down at the keyboard is to amuse both myself and my eventual readers. That said, I hope that while kids are laughing, they’re also being challenged, astounded, and only very occasionally educated.
Skila: Challenging. I was the kid who loved to be challenged and also who loved to challenge. There’s always that one kid in every class, right? Raising her hand in class to say, “I think you’re wrong,” to the teacher. I would love the idea of my book challenging what you might believe about war, or the way you think about the world, or the capabilities of a child. I love books that make me think. I hope Caminar is a book like that.

El Space: If your main character had a Christmas stocking or made a Hanukkah wish, what would this character wish for? Why?

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Melanie: Books! Clara loved poetry, and she loved learning—languages, social theory, literature—all of it!
Caroline: Hilary’s Christmas stocking would probably include a sword-polishing kit, a packet of homemade cookies from her governess, and a good book she could read aloud to her gargoyle.
Skila: Carlos would probably wish for food, for obvious reasons. But on a lighter note: candy! And maybe a radio.

Thanks, Melanie, Caroline, and Skila for stopping by! I’d love to have you guys come back again!

And if you’ve popped over to check out these authors, thanks for stopping by. There are other places where they can be found. Looking for Melanie? Look here. Looking for Caroline? Look here. Looking for Skila? Look here. You can find each wonderful book by clicking on its title:

Audacity (preorders only)
The Terror of the Southlands
Caminar

You can also find each book at Barnes & Noble and Amazon. If you’ve been wishing for more books this holiday season, your wish is about to be granted. I’m giving away a preorder of Audacity and a copy of The Terror of the Southlands and Caminar. Comment below to be entered in the drawing. Winners will be announced on Monday, December 22.

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Jordie and his archnemesis have agreed on a truce during the holidays. Each is hoping Santa will bring him/her books by Melanie, Caroline, and Skila. Um . . . yes, Jordie and Hello Kitty still believe in Santa. Don’t you?

Christmas ornament from realestateyak.com. Hanukkah menorah from tucker-tribune.blogspot.com. Christmas stocking image from dryicons.com. Santa bag from its-so-cute.blogspot.com. Pirate ship from free-clipart-pictures.net. Strike photo from historymatters.gmu.edu.

Check This Out: Magic Marks the Spot (b)

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Arr, mateys! Caroline Carlson, Scourge o’ the Seven Seas, is back to answer more of me questions. Strap on yer cutlasses or hoist yerselves a tankard o’ grog and give a listen. Mind the parrot!

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Bear this in mind: This be part 2 of our chat about Caroline’s book, Magic Marks the Spot, book 1 of The Very Nearly Honorable League of Pirates trilogy. Ye can find part 1 here if ye missed it.

Magic Marks the Spot sails into port on September 10.

Later, I’ll announce the treasure that awaits one o’ ye. . . . Avast! I see ye trying to skip ahead. Heave to there! Wait for it or walk the plank!

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El Space: Why’d ye choose to write about scallywags like pirates?
Caroline: I have always loved pirates—and I should mention here that I’m referring specifically to the grog-swilling, treasure-burying, hook-wielding pirates of literary and cinematic tradition rather than real-life pirates, who were (and are) nothing like the pirates of popular culture. I think there’s something about this pop culture idea of piracy that’s very appealing, especially to kids—setting out in search of adventure and fortune, ignoring society’s rules, and never having to do your homework.

El Space: A fine life, if ye ask me! (Uh, but kids, stay in school.)
Caroline: I’d wanted to write a story about a pirate treasure hunt for ages, and when I visited the medieval Swedish city of Visby, which was once a pirate stronghold, I knew I’d found the perfect setting for my story. Gunpowder Island, the pirate stronghold in Magic Marks the Spot, is loosely modeled on Visby, though it’s really become its own place at this point.

It didn’t take long after that for me to decide that the heroine of this story should be a girl who dreams of being a pirate. Since characters can’t always get what they want, however, I had to come up with a way to keep my pirate girl from achieving her dream. I decided to give her the opposite of what she longed for: a stint at a terribly proper finishing school.

El Space: Yer a clever one and no mistake. How did ye come up with a talking gargoyle?
Caroline: He made his first appearance in my life during my senior year of high school, when he was a minor character in a story I was writing. The story wasn’t all that memorable, but the gargoyle was—he liked to read romantic tales of adventure on the high seas, and he stayed in the back of my mind for years.

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A gargoyle in Visby, Sweden. Photo from Wikipedia.

When I started writing Magic Marks the Spot, I realized that I needed someone for my protagonist, Hilary, to talk to in the first chapter as she prepared to go to finishing school. Who would be a better conversation partner than the gargoyle? So I put him over Hilary’s bedroom door and let them chat. Originally, I thought the gargoyle would stay behind and Hilary would recount her adventures to him at the end of the book, but by the time I’d finished writing that first chapter, I’d fallen utterly in love with the gargoyle. I couldn’t bear to stop writing about him! So he went off in Hilary’s luggage, and now he’s in nearly every scene in the book.

El Space: Arr! Glad I am that he is! Since yer character came into yer life when ye were a teen, what advice would ye offer a young writer?
Caroline: Everyone tells young writers to read as much as they can, and that’s great advice, so I’ll say that too. Read! And write as often as you can—school assignments, journal entries, letters, emails, blog posts—but don’t get discouraged if you can’t sit down and write out an entire story just yet. The important thing is to practice.

My biggest piece of advice, though, is to learn as much as you can about everything else in the world that’s interesting to you and that has nothing to do with being a writer. Find out about what’s going on in your town, in your country, and in the rest of the world. Learn a little bit about astronomy, archaeology, animals, architecture, archery, or anything else that’s interesting to you. Visit new places if you can, or take some time to explore your own neighborhood. Learn to play a sport or cook something delicious. All of the new things you learn will be your story fuel. They’ll get jumbled together in your brain, and months or years later, they’ll turn into a great idea for a book.

Sage words! A fine time I’ve had jawing with ye, Caroline! Yer welcome aboard the blog anytime!

For those of ye who signed on to this voyage, if ye haven’t clicked on the links below to preorder Caroline’s book, ye can do so now. And no, ye won’t be made to walk the plank if ye don’t!

Amazon
Barnes and Noble
Powell’s Books
Anderson Bookshop

SPECIAL GIVEAWAY: One of you who comments below will win a $15 gift card (ecard) to Amazon so that you can preorder Caroline’s book. Ye read that right!!! A $15 ecard!

Just comment and ye’ll be entered in the drawing! Of course, this be the honor system, so I won’t be looking over yer shoulder nor can I make ye walk the plank if ye sneak and order something else. But this card is for a preorder of Magic Marks the Spot. The winner will be announced on Sunday. Winners of previous giveaways are not eligible for this drawing. Gives others a chance, ye understand?

Thanks for sailing with us!
Please note: This offer is for today ONLY.

parrotAuthor photo by Amy Rose Capetta. Pirate images from ewallpapers.eu. Parrot from animalinformations.blogspot.com.

Check This Out: Magic Marks the Spot (a)

Ahoy there! Here we be with the great Caroline Carlson, whose book Magic Marks the Spot—the first of a trilogy, mind ye—sails into stores September 10, thanks to the good folks at HarperCollins Children’s Books. Caroline is represented by Sarah Davies at the Greenhouse Literary Agency.

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She’s here today and tomorrow, mateys! And tomorrow, we have a special giveaway, so be sure and stop over. And no, I didn’t have to resort to pressganging. Caroline is here of her own free will!

I see that hand there. Aye, ye guessed it. I know Caroline from VCFA. Here be a synopsis of Magic Marks the Spot:

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Pirates! Magic! Treasure! A gargoyle? Caroline Carlson’s hilarious tween novel The Very Nearly Honorable League of Pirates #1: Magic Marks the Spot is perfect for fans of Lemony Snicket’s Series of Unfortunate Events and Trenton Lee Stewart’s Mysterious Benedict Society.

Hilary Westfield has always dreamed of being a pirate. She can tread water for thirty-seven minutes. She can tie a knot faster than a fleet of sailors, and she already owns a rather pointy sword.

There’s only one problem: The Very Nearly Honorable League of Pirates refuses to let any girl join their ranks of scourges and scallywags.

But Hilary is not the kind of girl to take no for answer. To escape a life of petticoats and politeness at her stuffy finishing school, Hilary sets out in search of her own seaworthy adventure, where she gets swept up in a madcap quest involving a map without an X, a magical treasure that likely doesn’t exist, a talking gargoyle, a crew of misfit scallywags, and the most treacherous—and unexpected—villain on the High Seas.

Written with uproarious wit and an inviting storyteller tone, the first book in Caroline Carlson’s quirky seafaring series is a piratical tale like no other.

pirate-cutlass-sword-721415El Space: Let’s start with four quick facts about yerself, lass.
Caroline: 1) I’ve worked as a library assistant, as a textbook editor, and now as a writer. 2) When I’m feeling stressed, I watch old episodes of Friends. 3) I am not sure there’s a point to a life without cheese. 4) I love swimming, baking, and being outdoors; I hate running, going to the dentist, and talking on the phone.

El Space: Arr, a fine list there. Plotter or pantser—which be ye? How’d ye make this discovery?
Caroline: I’m mostly a plotter. Before I start writing a new story, I need to know how the first twenty pages will go and what the climax of the story will be. I also usually have ideas for a few scenes that will take place somewhere along the way, though I don’t necessarily know how my characters will get from the beginning of the book to the end. Sometimes I’ll make an outline, but that only happens when I’m at least halfway through writing a first draft. I’m a fairly slow writer, so I try to make my basic story structure as solid as possible right from the start. Then, if all goes well, I won’t have to make huge structural revisions later on. But that’s a very big if.

Book two in The Very Nearly Honorable League of Pirates trilogy is sort of a mystery, so it required a lot of elaborate plotting. I had to know where the heroes and villains were at all times, what they were up to, and how long it would take them to travel from one place to the next. I discovered, though, that plotting a story to that extent can squelch some of the great spontaneous moments that come when you sit down in front of a blank page with no idea about what happens next. For the third book in the series, I’m planning to dive in without knowing too much about what my characters are in for. It’ll be scary, but I’m pretty sure it’ll also be fun.

El Space: How much is Hilary like ye? Different from ye?
Caroline: Hilary and I aren’t much alike, at least superficially. She’s brave and tough, and I am a total wimp. Hilary hates dressing up and learning to dance at finishing school, but I love dancing, and I’m more than happy to wear a fluffy, fancy gown now and then. I’m also pleased to report that my parents are much nicer than Hilary’s parents are.

What Hilary and I have in common is that both of us are passionate about following our dreams, and we won’t let anyone stop us from doing what we love. It turns out that being a pirate and being a writer both require a lot of determination and sheer willpower. We’re also both fiercely loyal to the people we love. Thankfully, I have never needed to use a cutlass to defend my friends, but I absolutely would if the occasion arose. And both of us can tread water for at least thirty-seven minutes.

El Space: Treading water is a fine trait for a pirate. Useful for when ye have to walk the plank. Now, what was yer favorite book growing up?
210329Caroline: This is a question that’s nearly impossible to answer! I loved stories about magic, mystery stories, and anything funny. Coincidentally, those are the same types of books I love now. Some of my all-time favorite children’s books are The Dark Is Rising by Susan Cooper, The Ordinary Princess by M. M. Kaye, I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith, the Anastasia series by Lois Lowry, and pretty much everything by Edward Eager, Madeleine L’Engle, and Diana Wynne Jones.

Alas, that be all the time we have today. Stow yer grumbling! Caroline’ll be back tomorrow. Tune in then for the special giveaway. In the meantime, ye can comment below or click on the links below to preorder Caroline’s book. Be sure to check out Caroline’s website here. Ye can also hail her on Twitter.

Amazon
Barnes and Noble
Powell’s Books
Anderson Bookshop

Author photo by Amy Rose Capetta. Amy Rose’s book, Entangled, debuts October 1, 2013. Watch for it! Book covers from Goodreads.com. Pirate sword from mrcostumes.com.

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.

mary_and_anne

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.