INTERVIEW WITH A PIRATE LADY: CINDY VALLAR
conducted by Lucinda MacGregor
Q) How did you develop your interest in pirates?
While in college, I began researching Jean Laffite, a gentleman privateer who played an instrumental role in the Battle of New Orleans. He led a group of pirates, privateers, and smugglers based at Barataria, a three-day journey from New Orleans by pirogue through the bayous of Louisiana. To lend authenticity to my story, I needed to gain knowledge of pirates and how they operated.
When I decided to write full-time, I had to acquire publishing credits to demonstrate my writing abilities and my ability to meet deadlines. Suite101.com was looking for editors to write columns on a variety of topics. I submitted an application to write a monthly column on the history of maritime piracy entitled Pirates and Privateers (http://www.suite101.com/welcome.cfm/pirates). They hired me and in March 2000 my first article, Jean Laffite, Enigma and Legend, debuted. (http://www.suite101.com/article.cfm/pirates/33757)
Q) What is your background in writing? How does it relate to your interest in pirates and history?
My initial attempts at writing began in high school where I wrote poetry whenever I got bored in class. The literary magazine published one poem and two others later appeared in collegiate anthologies while I was a senior at Towson University. In college, I watched a television show where Walt Disney introduced Jean Laffite. His description of this enigmatic gentleman intrigued me enough to research Laffites life and eventually led me to work on a novel about him.
Marriage and my career as a school librarian put that novel on hold until I began working in a school for severely emotionally challenged teenagers. To relieve the stress I resumed working on the Laffite novel, but the story and characters wouldnt gel, so I started another manuscript. In 2002 NovelBooks, Inc. (http://www.novelbooksinc.com/) published my debut novel, THE SCOTTISH THISTLE.
Historical events are the main focus of my novels, but I intertwine them with love stories. THE SCOTTISH THISTLE tells the story of Scotlands Rising of 1745 when Bonnie Prince Charlie attempted to regain the British throne for the Royal House of Stuart. Forced to wed, Rory MacGregor and Duncan Cameron participate in the Rising in different ways while combating prejudice and intrigue that threaten to destroy their tenuous marriage. THE REBEL AND THE SPY, my current work-in-progress, centers on Jean Laffite and the Baratarians during the War of 1812. Alexine, Laffites younger sister, tangles with Lucas, the cousin of William Claiborne, the Governor of Louisiana whos keen on destroying the Laffites.
Q) How did your profession as a librarian come into play with your interests?
Being a librarian allows me to explore any topic that interests me anytime I want. It gives me an edge in doing research because of my training in how to do effective searches for information. I also know how to evaluate resources as to their accuracy and reliability.
Q) Why did you become a writer? How difficult was it breaking into the field of writing?
Ive been fairly lucky in breaking into the field of writing, but it does require work. In part my success stems from choosing not to follow traditional paths (such as getting an agent and trying to get published by a traditional publisher). When applying to become a Suite Editor, I chose a topic thats difficult to find reliable information on a subject, but also one familiar to people of all ages. I believe writing Pirates and Privateers established my reputation as an author and allowed me to amass my initial reader base, which I then used to promote my other writings.
Thats not to say I havent encountered roadblocks and pitfalls along the way. I have, but I learned from my mistakes and tried again. I dont quit. Ive made friends and contacts around the world and they help me spread the word about what I write. I also read about how to promote and treat my writing as a business, because once your first novels published, its success or failure depends on you.
Q) You have an outstanding website. It is extremely informative, entertaining, and well designed. What motivated you to develop your website (particularly the area devoted to pirates)?
Web sites are a promotional tool for authors. As I worked to develop Thistles & Pirates (http://www.cindyvallar.com), I realized I had a variety of information to offer readers and writers besides just promoting what I write. Some of those items, such as the bibliographies and favorite research links, stem from my twenty years of library work.
The pirate section of my web site (http://www.cindyvallar.com/pirates.html) consisted originally of links to my column at Suite101.com. When they encountered financial problems, there was a chance that all my work would disappear. Since I knew how valuable the information was for readers and visitors, I decided to create a mirror site within my own web site where people can access the same information found at Pirates and Privateers (http://www.suite101.com/welcome.cfm/pirates). One difference between the two sites is that its easier for me to keep my own pages up-to-date than for me to check every article Ive written at Suite101.com. Also, I include more graphics than youll find at Pirates & Privateers. My most recent article, however, is only accessible at Suite101.com.
While maintaining a duplicate set of everything found at Pirates & Privateers requires extra time and effort, it allows me to include items not permissible at Suite101.com. Now that I review pirate books, I keep the more involved reviews at Suite101.com and link to them at Thistles & Pirates. This allows visitors to use both resources.
Q) What has the response been to your website, and what are your future plans for the site?
Response to my web site is positive and almost everyone finds something to interest him or her, such as the photographs that compliment my book or the pirate articles. When people write me about the web site, I add their comments to my reviews.
I dont really have set plans for the future of my web site. I add to it as I find items I think would interest others. Eventually, I will add to the Jean Laffite pages once that book is published. Ill develop other pages that compliment future books as needed. In fact, the page on Historical Fiction vs. History (http://www.cindyvallar.com/histfic.html) is a recent addition and stems from the passage Andrew M. Greeley wrote in the afterword of one of his novels that I read.
Q) Do you think pirate fiction will always be popular and why? What is their popularity compared to other types of fiction?
Pirate fiction allows readers to step away from the societal restraints we encounter in our everyday lives. The thrill and adventure appeal to us without requiring us to relinquish our safety nets. I explore this further in an article entitled The Lure of Piracy Reality vs. Romanticism. (http://www.cindyvallar.com/romanticism.html)
I cant say how their popularity compares to other fiction. I believe what a person reads is subjective and depends on his or her tastes and life experiences. It also depends on what publishers believe the public wants, even if its not a true indicator of what people like to read.
Q) What time in history was pirate activity at its peak, and what was the impact on history?
The peak of pirate activity came during the first three decades of the eighteenth century. This period is known as the Golden Age of Piracy. When you think of pirates, these are the ones that come to mind. They include Blackbeard, Anne Bonny and Mary Read, and many more. The ultimate impact on history is that their raids on maritime commerce eventually led nations to enact laws that outlawed piracy and privateering. Although piracy remains a problem even today, it no longer garners the attention it did in the past. If youd like to know more about pirates of this era, my columns in March and April will highlight the pirates of the Golden Age of Piracy.
Q) How much historical material is available about pirates? How does it help with writing historical fiction?
A lot of historical information is available on pirates, but its not always accurate. Primary accounts of trials provide the best resource for factual information, as do other first-hand accounts by pirates and their victims. These, however, are rare. The more one reads about pirates, the more one acquires a general understanding of what piracy entails. You also learn who and what are the best resources to consult for background and details.
Q) Who were some of the most notable pirates, how did they choose that life, and what were their motivations?
Blackbeard, Anne Bonny and Mary Read, Cheng I Sao, LOllonais, and William Kidd are just a few notable pirates. Those portrayed in novels and films are perhaps the better known.
Pirates became pirates for many reasons. Some sought the promise of wealth. Some had no choice either join or die. Many began their maritime careers as privateers, respectable mariners who preyed on enemy commerce during war, or naval personnel. When the war ended, however, they lost their means of legal livelihood, leaving them the choice of turning outlaw or starving to death. Some escaped the harsh brutality of serving in the navy or under the command of sadistic sea captains.
Piracy allotted them freedoms they didnt have in regular society. They were their own bosses. They looked out for their own. In essence they were the forerunners of a democratic society. They instituted an early form of health insurance.
Q) What books have you written about pirates?
Im currently working on THE REBEL AND THE SPY, a novel about Jean Laffite and the War of 1812.
Q) What books projects are you working on and will they include pirates?
Q) Who are some of the popular writers of pirates in fiction and nonfiction?
Im not necessarily familiar with the most popular writers of fictional pirates as I read more factual books than novels. The ones listed here are from my collection of pirate books. If youd like a more comprehensive list of pirate books in English, I recommend a visit to Larry Voyers Piratical Bibliography (http://voyer.crosswinds.net/).
Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson
Captain Blood by Rafael Sabatini
Angel in the Rigging by Erika Nau
The Sweet Trade by Elizabeth Garrett
Dead Mans Chest by Roger L. Johnson
The Witch from the Sea by Lisa Jensen
The Deadly Lady of Madagascar by Frank G. Slaughter
Captain Mary, Buccaneer by Jacqueline Church Simonds
Blackbirder by James L. Nelson
The Buccaneers by Iain Lawrence
Under the Black Flag by David Cordingly
Bold in Her Breeches edited by Jo Stanley
A General History of the Pyrates by Daniel Defoe (sometimes listed as Captain Johnson)
Dangerous Waters by John S. Burnett
Jolly Roger with an Uzi by Jack A. Gottschalk and Brian P. Flanagan
Pirate by Richard Platt
The Pirate Hunter by Richard Zacks
The History of Pirates by Angus Konstam
Pirates: Terror on the High Seas from the Caribbean to the South China Sea
Pirates and Privateers of the Caribbean by Jenifer Marx
Q) How frequently has the giant sea monster or the mermaid been used in pirate tales?
I dont know how often these appear in pirate tales. They are very common in maritime tales, though. The pirate fiction I read tends to portray pirates in a more historically accurate vein, so these arent present in them.
Q) How realistic or romanticized are the portrayals of pirates in film and literature?
The early depictions of pirates in literature didnt glamorize pirates. They were cruel villains. The myth of piracy and the romanticism began in the early 1800s when Lord Byrons Corsair became a wronged hero who had Robin Hood characteristics. Sabatinis Captain Blood made them romantic heroes. Most pirate films tend toward romanticized portrayals and often lack historical accuracy. If youd like to read a more in-depth look at this aspect of piracy, read my article The Lure of Piracy, which I mentioned in a previous answer.
Q) What are some of the most notable battles involving pirates?
I suppose the most notable is the one that ended with Blackbeards beheading, but pirates didnt operate in this manner. Their successes came when they swooped down on unsuspecting prey, raided the ship, and then left as quickly as they appeared. The battle scenes depicted in pirate films rarely happened. Pirates wanted the ship and its cargo. To participate in battles endangered what they sought so they were more apt not to fire unless given no other choice.
Q) How structurally sound were the pirate ships? Do any of these ships still exist? What about replicas?
How sound they were depended on their age and how well kept they were. If ships werent careened often, then they became slow and their hulls rotted. Im not aware of any pirate ship from the past that exists intact today, although several shipwrecks have been found. The most notable are The Whydah, which was Black Sam Bellamys ship, and Queen Annes Revenge, Blackbeards flagship. Some pirate re-enactors have acquired wooden sailing ships that have become pirate ships, but I dont have firsthand knowledge of these. Youd probably learn more about replicas by visiting No Quarter Given (http://www.noquartergiven.net/).
Q) What important pirate treasures have been discovered and where?
Im not aware of any pirate treasures having been discovered unless you count the remains of The Whydah and Queen Annes Revenge. The artifacts uncovered are treasures themselves, but of a historical nature rather than a monetary one. Buried treasure is more a myth than a reality. Most pirates squandered the money they acquired.
Q) Discuss some of your interests outside of pirates such as books you have written, and your writer's critiquing service.
THE SCOTTISH THISTLE is the only published novel Ive written. In addition to working on THE REBEL AND THE SPY, Im currently researching a book set in western Kansas during the Great Depression and the Dust Bowl.
When Im not working on my novels, I write articles for my piracy column. I also have two newsletters for my readers one devoted to my writing in general and the other specifically to pirates. Occasionally I also write articles on the craft of writing and researching. I review historical novels, pirate books, and history books for several venues. I teach online courses about piracy and Scottish history and culture. I also maintain my web site, Thistles & Pirates (http://www.cindyvallar.com).
I spent many years editing student papers, newspaper articles, and yearbook copy while I was a librarian. Ive also participated in critique groups. Using my education and acquired knowledge, I applied to Wings Press as a copyeditor and editor of their historical and contemporary romances and romantic suspense novels. After critiquing novels for several friends and other authors, I decided to open my own critique service (http://www.cindyvallar.com/critiques.html) where I offer to copyedit, edit, or critique novels for authors.
I critique the first chapter of a work for free so potential clients see how I work and what I look for when I critique their novels. A copyedit of a work means I check grammar, punctuation, spelling, and search for logic errors. I charge $3 per each 1000 words for this service. A full edit/critique includes a copyedit but also covers what works vs. what doesnt, where to flesh out scenes and characters, where to delete too much information, etc. I charge $6 per each 1000 words for a critique.
While my expertise lies in historical novels, Ive critiqued fantasy and contemporary stories as well as non-fiction. Some of the books Ive edited have gone on to win awards. I include recommendations from other authors on my web page for potential clients.
Q) What advice would you give to any wannabe writer of pirate tales?
Do your research. Check and double-check your facts. Never let history interfere with the story. Never stop dreaming!
Editor of Pirates and Privateers: The History of Maritime Piracy
E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org - Thistles & Pirates:
MORE PIRATE BOOTY TO COME!