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August 15, 2011

Pirates and Other Strong Women

Laurie R. King is a longtime Friend of the Chronicles, and an Edgar-winning, NYT-bestselling author of the Mary Russell & Sherlock Holmes stories. And, lucky me, she is my personal friend. Last year's GOD OF THE HIVE was one of my absolute favorite books--suspenseful, witty and utterly poignant. Is there anything better than loving your friends and loving your friends' writing? I can't wait to be pulled back in time with PIRATE KING. ~Harley


by Laurie R. King

Laurie_parrot I like strong women.  I write mostly about women, and not just because it’s hard to think myself into a character who has to run a razor over his face every day, who considers football cool and heavily sauced chicken wings food.  No, the women I write about often do things most women, or even men, don’t (although Buffalo wings don’t enter into it, much) because after all, fiction should take us a step beyond ourselves.  I write about women who live real hard-core guy lives.  Strong women.

I’ve written about a cop, and a woman who builds an island house, and another woman who goes into dangerous cults for the FBI.  The series I’m writing at the moment has a young woman who meets, befriends, and kicks the stuffing out of the ultimate detective, Sherlock Holmes.  Deeply satisfying, as a writer and as a reader, for a young woman to face down and outsmart the smartest man out there. 

But invariably, when fiction comes up against reality, it loses.

Take pirates, for example—which I did for my upcoming novel.  A simple glance at the Wiki article on women pirates is deliciously tantalizing: the Moroccan sayyida al Hurra.  Jacquotte “Back from the Dead Red” Dalayahe.  And the Killigrew family, whose husbands (noblemen privateers) went to sea while their wives, clearly bored to tears by needlework, took to capturing ships that ventured near their castles, selling the goods for a little pin money—although the article scrupulously notes that since Lady Elizabeth may not actually have boarded the ship she took, perhaps she does not qualify for the title “pirate.”

However, stay-at-homes are not the only lady pirates out there.  From China to the Caribbean, women proved that they were men’s equal when it came to brutality and bloodshed on the bounding main.  Daniel Defoe, in addition to writing Robinson Crusoe (a novel that begins with Crusoe taken by pirates and sold into captivity—in the same Moroccan town to which the characters in Pirate King are taken, 273 years later) compiled a History of the Pyrates from testimony and trial records.  Defoe writes of:

Mary Read and Anne Bonny, alias Bonn, which were the true Names of these two Pyrates; the odd Incidents of their rambling Lives are such that some may be tempted to think the whole Story no better than a Novel or Romance.

Howard-pyle-pirate-captain-poster-15-2-web-200x300 Tempting indeed. Mary Read and Anne Bonny make me want to change historical periods, trading the 1920s for the 18th century, and put on some swashbuckling.  (In fact, nothing would make me happier than learning to swashbuckle at the Sussex Sword Academy, formerly the Sussex Rapier School, who no doubt teach “swashing and making noise on the buckler” better than any school in the world.)

And then I stop to think.  A typical ship of the time was maybe 80 feet long and 20 feet at its widest, and could have as many as two hundred men on board.  Ignore for the moment the stench—even residents of manor houses with plentiful water supplies tended not to bathe much—but just consider the mechanics of acting as a man.  Granted, shipboard life didn’t require much locker-room display of flesh, since once you donned clothing, you tended to stay in it until it fell apart.  And many sailors couldn’t swim, figuring that to learn would only delay the inevitable if they went overboard.  But surely in such close proximity, someone would have noticed that there was one young man who never grew a beard, never went shirtless, and never, ever peed over the side?

But of Mary Read, Defoe says, “Her Sex was not so much as suspected by any Person on board till Anne Bonny, who was not altogether so reserved in Point of Chastity, took a particular Liking to her…”

I’d guess the other 198 sailors on board were too busy talking about football and thinking about their next plate of Buffalo wings.

The eleventh volume of Mary Russell memoirs, out September 6, is Pirate King.  It is best described as: A Swashbuckling tale of Love, Murder, Detection, Poetry, Musical Interludes, & Thirteen Blonde Actresses.  Read an excerpt from Pirate King here, and pre-order a signed copy of Pirate King from the Poisoned Pen, here




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Laurie, I just love your Mary Russell/Sherlock Holmes stories. I only discovered your books 2 years ago and read them all in a two week period. Now I eagerly await each new installment in Mary's memoirs.

Don't have any pirates as an ancestor, but I do have and ancestor captured by the Barbary Pirates. Captain Richard O'Brien and his crew were captured and held by the Dey of Algiers for nearly 10 years. The Captain was in chains for nearly 3 years until he performed some service for the Dey and pretended to convert to Islam. Several letters written by him and about him are in the National Archives. 3 were in an exhibit last year at the Capital Visitor center on the Barbary pirates. Eventually congress paid the ransom and he was freed. He was then appointed the first consul to Algiers. He married an English serving girl he met while serving as consul.

He's an interesting guy and is buried in the Congressional Cemetery in the Anacosta district of Washington DC as he died of a fever while on a trip to DC.

Welcome to TLC, Laurie. Although . . . I am now an hour behind schedule today from listening to your Library talk.

Yes, those Barbary Pirates--and don't you love that he was held captive by Algiers, then became consul? You'd think he might want to slink home for the rest of his days.
Glad you're enjoying the books, hope you like Pirate King.

Laurie ARrrgh! King

Hi Margaret, sorry to take you your day with my rambles!

Wow, where is everybody today?

Laurie, I'm in love with your books. Your strong women are a big reason why. I love the pirate stories - Can't wait until I get my hands on PIRATE KING.

So, how long after writing and release of the book will your desire to insert Pirate-speak into everyday conversations last, do you think? ;)

Great to see you here!

Ooh, a new series, this time with piraates! Looking forward to cracking this one open, Laurie. I have enjoyed many of your other books.

Nope, I can''t imagine how a woman could manage to pass as a man in such a situation.

I adore G&S's Pirates of Penzance and am looking forward to reading what you've done with it. That you've let Ms. Russell dislike it should only add to the fun. (Have missed seeing you at conferences.)

Welcome Laurie! Night Work is one of my all time favourite books, so glad to see you here.

While there are no pirates in my family history, I did have a great grandmother who was a bootlegger . . .

Laurie, it just so happens that I have become pirate-obsessed this summer! What are the chances?

This book sounds irresistible. When I went to order it I found that it is book 11 in a series! Now I can't wait to get started at the beginning.

Wasn't it Samuel Johnson who said that the only difference between a boat and jail is that you might be able to escape from jail?

I, too, am a G and S afficionado having played in several of the musicals. I adore all of your ladies and books and am eagerly anticipating this new one.

Interestingly, pirata in Latin is declined as a feminine noun, but it is masculine in gender.

I shared theTLC link on FB, and tagged a couple of piratical friends. We have a Pirate Fest at our Ren. Faire site in Wentzville, and my friend Maria will be there with Swords and Roses. Fictional pirates are so much more fun . . .

PIRATE KING is incredibly funny and so clever...Laurie, lovely to see you here! And I think we need a big Gilbert and Sullivan resurgence.

All together now... It is,it is a glorious thing to be a________... !

Hi Laura, the thing I'm worried about is not the speech, it's the song I'll be singing every event in September...

Sorry, Karen, not a pirate series, although that would indeed be a gas. No, it's a Russell.

And Gaylin, a grand maternal bootlegger sounds great. I'm envious.

Carol: enjoy!

Katbraden, thanks for the Latin lesson. Surely Russell ought to know that..?

Oh, Hank, it's ringing through my head already...

Just remember: Pirate is the new Vampire!

Thanks for your efforts to fix this problem.

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