First, a happy International Talk Like a Pirate to ye!!! “That time in September when sea dogs remember that grownups still know how to play!”
You’ve got the buckles! It’s time to swash ’em!
This morning I got up earlier than usual, put on me pirate garb, and headed out with Tori (who was also in full pirate) to her school, T.H. Harris Middle School. I don’t know who this Harris fella was, but the school mascot and logo is a pirate. I was there to greet some rather surprised kids getting off buses. They were still fairly groggy and not happy about being awake. I’m not sure whether, from their point of view, having a pirate bellowing at them as the stumbled into school was a good thing or a bad. Pirates are not quiet. (“We go to eleven,” as Cap’n Slappy says) so we got their day started off with a bang!
As we greeted kids coming off the bus, the school’s uniformed police officer came by, curious. I assured him, “No pirates here. Just a couple of ethically challenged merchant seamen.” I think we fooled him.
Then the bell rang and they all headed to class. I headed to the office, where a couple of girls were starting the morning announcements. I let them do the pledge of allegiance, then I took over!
The first announcement was for anyone who wanted to sign up for the football team. They were to see Coach something or other in room 201, and pick up an insurance form. I added that if they wanted to sign up for pillaging on the Spanish Main, they could see me after school down at the docks. No insurance form needed.
The next announcement was a reminder that it was T.H. Harris night at Canes (a local purveyor of fried chicken strips.) A fundraiser for the school.
“Aye! We”ll gather at Canes and scuttle ’em, taking the booty to … wait … What? Really? They’re tellin’ me we’re just gonna go there and buy chicken and some of the proceeds will go to the school. Well, that’s good too.”
Couple more announcements, then I explained Talk Like a Pirate Day and gave them the Five As, so they’d know what was going on during the day.
And then it was time to head home, leavin’ the rapscallions, scallawags and nippers to the tender mercies of their teachers. But the day had been a little different, a little surreal for them, and that’s always good.
Oh, I should mention that I wasn’t wearing me cutlasses this morning. I felt almost naked! But the school has a very strict “no weapons” policy. Now, a pirate’s not afraid of anything! We’ll stare down storms at sea, revel in the shot and shell of battle, hurl ourselves over the side to board a Spanish galleon.
But even pirates don’t want to get detention!
(Thanks to Tori Baur (Mad Sally,) Principal Hubbard, and the faculty, staff and students of T.H. Harris.)
I’m tired of hearing that avocados are some sort of millennial food. That the hipsters somehow discovered avocados and invented eating it. So, rather than point to how long I’ve eaten avocados and the sort of things I eat them with, I’ll just say this.
The first English-language recipe for what could be considered “guacamole” was recorded by a pirate in 1679.
British-born William Dampier has been described as “a pirate of exquisite mind.” He became a pirate before he set off on a voyage of discovery that eventually made him the first person to circumnavigate the globe three times. And in his travels (he was the first European to explore Australia) his picked up a few things.
The following couple of paragraphs are from an article on Atlas Obscura. The whole thing is interesting except for the parts that kind of turn your stomach a little.
“Dampier began a life of piracy in 1679 in Mexico’s Bay of Campeche. Orphaned in his late teens, Dampier set sail for the Caribbean and fell into a twentysomething job scramble. Seeing no future in logging or sugar plantations, he was sucked into the burgeoning realm of New World raiding, beginning what would be the first of his record-breaking three circumnavigations.
“In the Bay of Panama, Dampier wrote of a fruit ‘as big as a large lemon … [with] skin [like] black bark, and pretty smooth.’ Lacking distinct flavor, he wrote, the ripened fruit was “mixed with sugar and lime juice and beaten together [on] a plate.” This was likely the English language’s very first recipe for guacamole. Later, in the Philippines, Dampier noted of young mangoes that locals “cut them in two pieces and pickled them with salt and vinegar, in which they put some cloves of garlic.” This was the English language’s first recipe for mango chutney. His use of the terms “chopsticks,” “barbecue,” “cashew,” “kumquat,” “tortilla,” and “soy sauce” were also the first of their kind.”
For my taste, Dampier’s recipe for guacamole sounds a bit bland. I like tomato, onion and peppers (salsa) in mine, along with the lemon, which keeps it from turning brown.
There are other notes in the story that aren’t quite so appetizing. He had a fondness for manatee, especially baby manatees that were still suckling. He also really liked a serving of flamingo tongues. And – no surprise – sea turtles.
But putting aside differences in dietary habits and what constitutes “food,” Dampier is a fascinating character. And he discovered guacamole for the European world, for which we all owe him a debt of gratitude. And don’t say pirates never did anything that contributed to society.
I’ve been sitting down the last few days with a printed copy of the work in progress, reading and taking notes and getting ready to get to work on the second draft. I’m even using several different colored markers, although truth be told the different colors don’t actiually mean anything other than “this is the pen that was at hand when I had this idea or spotted that typo.”
I haven’t mentioned anything about what the story’s is about, or even the title, which would give the whole thing away. And I’m not ready to yet except in the most general way. I wouldn’t say it’s a “bad luck” thing to talk about it before it’s ready, but it sure doesn’t feel right. So I’ll keep my lips sealed about that, for now.
But I will discuss what it is not, and why.
It’s not a pirate story. Not because I don’t like pirate stories or have abandoned the pirate community, or have no new ideas for pirate stories. Far from it. I have one all but finished, as a matter of fact. I thought I’d have it out for Talk Like a Pirate Day last year, But there’s a problem wth the story and I haven’t figure out yet how to solve it. Something doesn’t quite work. Otherwise it’s a good story. One day I’ll pull it out, look it over, and the answer to the problem will be so blindingly obvious that I’ll rush it out. So I’m not out of the pirate game at all. (See below.)
But the work in progress is not a pirate story. It’s a contemporary story about three kids – two boys in middle school, troublemakers, and the high school sister of one of the boys who is grudgingly along for the ride (since she has a driver’s license and they don’t.) They’re in a very, very bad situation and the fate of the world rests on their shoulders. I’m aiming at a very specific market and the reaction I’ve gotten from reading the chapters to Tori’s sixth grade class tell me I’m on the right track.
It’s an idea that has been floating around our house since 2010, and where it came from I’ll discuss when I’m ready to reveal the book. But first I have to finish it, and that means a second draft, and a third. You just never know.
There’s a very real, very practical reason for doing this, for writing an adventure story that’s not in the pirate vein. First, it has the potential for being a series of books, and I like the idea of a steady stream of income. Second, I would very much like to sell my book to a publisher.
I had an agent who tried for a year and a half to sell my first young adult pirate adventure, “Chance.” Nobody said there was anything wrong with “Chance,” it was well written, a good story, great charactes. A friend – a retired college professor – read it for me and said he’d expected it to take about a week but he was done in two days because “I just couldn’t put it down.”
Chance made it to the last pre-publishing meeting at one of the very big houses. I would have been thrilled to be picked up by that publisher. Any writer would have.
“No one is interested in pirate stories,” they said. “No one’s buying pirate stories.”
And other houses gave similar responses. “Good book, but we’re not looking for pirate stories.”
When I finished “Chrissie Warren: Pirate Hunter,” it was even better than “Chance,” and “Chance” was good. Not “pretty good.” Good. A new agent was very excited about it, and tried for another year and a half before telling me, “No one wants a pirate story. It’s not the writing, it’s the pirates.”
So I decided to prove them wrong and self-publish “Chrissie.” I had a sales number in mind that I was pretty sure I could hit, and it would show the “know it alls” at those publishing houses that they were wrong. That people DID want pirate stories.
And you know what? The publishers were right. I have received a lot of great feedback on “Chrissie,” and sold a lot of copies, but nowhere near what I’d hoped, nothing like a number that would convince a publisher to take another look.
So I thought I’d give a try crafting a story I want to tell in a genre publishers think will sell. I’m having fun with the story and the reaction from Tori’s kids tels me it works. They laughed where I’d hoped, even showed me places where it was funnier than I knew, prompting me to double down on those bits. And they really get into the peril.
More importantly, by their reaction (or lack thereof) the kids pointed me to places where it needs work. I have a bunch of notes for the second draft based on their reactions.
But first I took April off for two other projects. Both of a pirate nature.
One is a podcast idea Tori and I had a year ago that will amuse us, even if no one ever listens to it. And yes, it’s a pirate story, of a sort. The other is a proposal from a friend in the pirate community to collaborate on a couple of projects that are exciting and different for both of us, and I was only too happy to take him up on it. They’re both his ideas, so I don’t want to get too far ahead. I got a good start on it during April.
I’m still in the pirate game. But the work in progress has taken me in a different direction, and it’s a good book. It’s a book that has a good chance of being published. I’ll be back with a pirate story sooner than you think.
Tori and I took off for a mini-vacation last week, Wednesday through Friday at the Gulf Coast in Alabama. We had driven through the area two years ago after missing a freeway entrance and deciding to see what lay down the road. We liked what we saw. I wrote about it here.
We ended up staying last week in Orange Beach, Alabama. In retrospect, we should have gone on down the road a bit to Gulf Shores. Nothing against Orange Beach, it had a beach and that’s what we wanted. But it was all huge condos on the beach side of the main drag, all strip malls on the other. There was a lot of that in Gulf Shores, but there was also some of that “funky beach town” air. Lesson learned.
Still, we woke up to the sound of waves, and were on the beach Thursday and Friday as the sun rose. That was the whole point, so we’re not complaining.
There’s Something about Tori
I don’t know what it is about Tori. People just come up and start talking to her, telling her their life stories. It happened both mornings on the beach.
The first was an older guy (older than me, even) who was walking purposefully up the beach, clearly getting a workout. And he stopped to explain to us why he was using cross country ski poles.
It’s not like we were the only people on the beach. There were scores of folk up and down the sand he could have stopped to chat with, but he chose us. They always do.
He was visiting from Michigan’s Upper Peninsula (or ooper-land, as the residents call it.) There were 300 inches of snow on the ground in the UP, and he and his wife were enjoying the sunshine.
The ski poles were because he has bad knees, he explained, and they help take a little of the weight off them as he walks. He’d had his knees scoped and knows they’re not in good shape, but he doesn’t want knee replacement surgery. A friend of his had that procedure and has never been quite the same. See what I mean? People just start spilling their guts.
His doctor – “a foreigner,” he told us – had kidded him about the problem. “He told me ‘I know what the problem with your knees is,’ and then started poking my stomach.” So, yeah, he as carrying excess weight that put extra stress on the knees. Point taken. I’m working on that same issue myself.
But you get the point. Out of nowhere this guy stops to give us his medical history.
The next day a couple roughly my age walked by with a handful of debris. “We’re picking up trash,” they said. The husband walked on. She stopped to chat.
She was from Franklin, Tennessee, she said, and they were down for a while visiting the beach before spring break brought a load of drunk college kids. I mentioned that when I was a kid I had lived near there in Nashville, while dad worked at a factory in Franklin.
That set us off on a discussion of how much the area had changed since she had moved there with her husband to work at the nearby Saturn plant in Springhill. They were originally from Detroit. And we went on for another 15 minutes or so.
I think it’s Tori. There’s just something about the woman I married that draws strangers to her to tell their life stories.
You Could Feel the Ghosts
The weather on the Gulf Coast was warm and bright Friday, a sparkling day, but as we walked through the tunnel, a brick-lined vaulted passageway into Fort Morgan, and stepped out into the sunny parade ground, I felt a chill. You could feel the ghosts.
Fort Morgan is at the eastern point guarding the entrance to Mobile Bay. The fort actually goes back to the war of 1812, and it played an important role in that conflict. But its pivotal moment came during the Civil War, when Mobile was the only port on the gulf still open to Confederate blockade runners. In August 1864 the Union decided it was time to shut it down.
It wasn’t a huge military action, nothing like Antietam or Gettysburg or even Shiloh or Stones River. But the port was vital to the Confederacy, and thus vital to the Union. It is best remembered, when it’s remembered at all, for the words of Union Admiral David Farragut. When warned by a subordinate of the Confederate “torpedoes” (really floating mines) that had just blown up the ironclad USS Tecumseh as it tried to enter Mobile Bay, he replied, “Damn the torpedoes! Full speed ahead!”
And as we walked into the fort through that long tunnel, I could imagine what it felt like being a Confederate soldier, marching into the fort and not knowing if you’d get the chance to march out. Inside, the fort’s outer wall was lined with large chambers, dark and gloomy. And like I said, I could feel the presence of the men who had fought to defend the place. Standing on the wall looking out into the bay, it didn’t take too strong an imagination to see the Union ships moving into place to blast the fort into submission.
We spent more than two hours in the fort and on the grounds outside. It was time well spent. Then we took the ferry across the mouth of the bay to Dauphin Island, spent a little while at Fort Morgan’s twin, Fort Gaines, on the western entrance to the harbor, and headed home.
The thing that stopped us at Fort Gaines wasn’t the fort itself. Out on the lawn there was large wooden “thing.” That’s all I can come up with to describe what it looked like. Maybe 20 feet long, four feet high and almost that wide. It was obviously made up of many timbers.
Turns out in 1998, when Hurricane Georges blew through the area, this thing had been dredged up from the deep and washed ashore. Examination showed it to be a section of the keel of a wooden sailing ship from around the 1800s. There was no way to tell what ship, where it as from, how it ended up at the bottom, or whatever happened to the crew.
(I know we took a couple of pictures of it, and I’ll post it as soon as I can find it.)
You could see the places where ship’s ribs were attached, how it was pieced together. A timber eight to ten inches square was perpendicular to the main piece, and you could see how it had been cut and shaped by a long-dead hand. There was only one way to do it in the 1800s, no power tools.
It was another set of ghosts. The craftsmen who built the ship, the unknown crew who sailed on her. It doesn’t take much to wake them. All you have to do is be open to them.
Like I said, we had first found ourselves down on Alabama’s Gulf coast by accident. And that paid off again, in a small way, last week. We had left Orange Beach heading west, planning to catch the ferry. We weren’t in a hurry, just ambling west. And we ambled just a little too far.
In Gulf Shores, the coastal highway jogs north, and I missed the turn. Not a problem. I could (and did) jog around a couple of blocks to backtrack, then get back on the route.
But what I saw stopped us in our tracks.
Built into the side of a building was a pirate ship! I assumed, incorrectly as it turned out, that it was the entrance to a restaurant. We stopped. Pictures were taken. Then we got back in the car. And as we drove up the road on the other side of the building, we saw what it was – Souvenir City. A really big shop featuring what I assume are T-shirts, postcards and every plastic geegaw a vacationer could want to remember their trip to the shore. I mean big. I’ve never seen a place that big dedicated solely to the sale of coastal tchotchkes.
What we had seen, made up as a pirate ship, was the rear entrance. The front was a giant shark, and to get in to buy a set of Gulf Shores placemats and a “Roll Tide” backscratcher you have to enter through the shark’s gaping, tooth-lined mouth! Pretty cool, eh? We didn’t go in, we have all the bric-a-brac* we need, but I’m glad we saw it. And we wouldn’t have if I’d have made the right turn in the first place.
Similarly, on Thursday we were exploring to the east. We missed Flora-Bama completely, apparently it’s not so much a town as just a line on a map separating the two states. We ended up on Perdido Key, south of Pensacola, where we pulled into a parking lot to take a break.
And there, down on the pier, two sailing ships were tied up. Not just any ships. These were replicas of Nina and Pinta, two of the three ships that were part of Columbus’s first voyage to the Americas. Why there wasn’t also a Santa Maria replica I cant say. But they were fun to take a look at. And later that day as we lay on Orange Beach we looked up and there was one of them cruising by, then turning slowly and heading back into the sunset.
Anyway, those were some of the highlights of the get away. The best part, of course, as spending the time on the road with Tori. When we married we already both had children, then had more right away. So we never got a whole lot of “us time” until the last couple of years. So it’s always nice to get away, just the two of us.
* Reminds me of one of my all-time favorite reporter quotes. A woman I worked with in Oregon came back from interviewing a little old lady and, to give us an idea of how crowded with a lifetime of souvenirs her home was, commented “The knick knack shelves were choc-a-block with bric-a-brac.” Sheer genius!
That’s how you sell them, one book at a time. One reader at a time. Over and over. You do whatever it takes.
We were at the Louisiana Renaissance Festival last Saturday. The festival has theme weekends, and last weekend was pirates. I had made arrangements with the guy who runs Pigasus Books, a roving Ren Faire book merchant, to sign books.
I was the guest of Master James of York, the owner of Pigasus and a right charming gent. He had set up a table outside his tent and had a chair for me. It looked disreputable, but he told me it was actually very comfortable. I wouldn’t know. I never sat down.
That’s rule No. 1, of course. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – The bookstore or venue will usually provide a table and chair. Never sit down in the chair. If you sit down, you disappear. It’s too easy for the crowd flowing past to ignore you, to refuse to make eye contact, to willfully not see you, even when you’re dressed in full pirate gear. (And at a Renaissance festival, pirate gear tends to blend right in.)
No, you’ve gotta make them see you. You’ve got to engage them, draw them in. Especially at an event that isn’t specifically about books. If you’re working at a bookstore or book fair, people expect to buy books. At a Renaissance festival, books are one of the last things on their minds. So you have to get their attention.
Hardly a soul walked by that didn’t, at the very least, get a hearty “Ahoy!” from me. I talked to almost anyone. If they gave an embarrassed smile and muttered, “Hello!” they got a rejoinder that it was pirate weekend and only “Ahoy!” would do. One woman gave me a “Howdy,” and I chased after her until she mended her ways.
And sometimes that was it. More times than most. But if they slowed, paused, or looked inclined to interact with the pirate, I’d start pitching “a pirate adventure, written for pirates, BY a pirate!”
You never knew what might work. If they wanted to talk, you talked with them. One family was the Jolly Rogers – their last name was Rogers, and by god they were jolly! I explained about International Talk Like a Pirate Day, how I came to write the novel, listened to them talk about the books they liked, and eventually made the sale. Nice people, I hope to see them again.
Then there was the husband and wife from Lafayette who listened, and whose ears perked up when I mentioned writing the first draft while living in the Caribbean. What was that like? Turns out they were feeling very bad about the election and were contemplating moving back overseas. They had been thinking Europe (they’d spent a couple of years in the Czech Republic) but wanted to know what the Caribbean was like. We talked about island life for about ten minutes, maybe more. Then, a little bit to my surprise, they bought a copy of “Chrissie.”
Sometimes you can tell in the first 30 seconds whether you’re going to make a sale, but you never give up. One family had a couple of smaller kids. We chatted, and I talked with the kids, but you could feel it wasn’t happening. Then the wife suddenly looked at Tori and asked, “Were you guys on TV?” I sighed inwardly. She was talking about our “Wife Swap” experience, in which we played the “pirate family” on the ABC “reality” show. (I put “reality” in quotes for a reason.) So we chatted about that for a minute or two, and they ended up buying a copy of “A Li’l Pirate’s ABSeas.”
You do what it takes.
And everyone who bought a book went away with the postcard with book info, my website and my email address, and I asked each one to please write to me and let me know what they thought of the book. I always do that, and I mean it. I really want to know.
By the end of the day, we had moved some paper. And Master James of York took the rest of the stock I”d brought in. So at the end of the day we had had a lot of fun, and made a little money.
Well, we made a little money unless you count the fact that while Tori and I were selling, our kids Max and Kate were out wandering the festival, with my credit card in their pocket. SO it was more of a wash, really.
First, a disclaimer. I met Tom Mason five years ago, have seen him on stage several times, and consider him a friend. In 2012 he told me an idea he had for a song. I gave him a couple of ideas for lines, a couple of which he adapted and used in the song “Talk Like a Pirate,” for which he graciously gave me a co-writing credit. The following is written not because Tom is a friend, but because I want all my friends in the pirate community to know about this terrific album.
How many versions do think have been recorded of “Drunken Sailor?” Of “Blow the Man Down,” “Haul Away Joe” or “Bully in the Alley?”
It’s a rare pirate band that doesn’t have at least one of them – or all of them – on their playlists and CDs. And there are a lot of good pirate bands out there, a lot of recordings.
So if you’re a pirate musician, how do you do something different with it? How do you make your version distinctive?
If you’re Tom Mason, it’s not a problem. Tom Mason and the Blue Buccaneers have a new CD out, and it’s a must-add to anyone’s collection of pirate music. The album is aptly titled “Pirate Party.” It fits. This is the disc you’ll put on when you gather the brethren for a bacchanal. It’s a lot of fun.
The album is made up of eight pirate classics, two of Mason’s original songs from his earlier albums, and three of his originals which haven’t appeared on an album before. (I blush to mention that I was involved in the creation of one them.)
But though the songs are familiar, Mason and the band infuse them with a real, robust joy. It starts with the musicianship. Tom is a great blues and American Folk guitarist and singer/songwriter who was making his living in the music world long before he decided to explore pirate music scene eight years ago. The crew are pros from the Nashville music scene. Together they give the album a rich, full sound.
Their version of “Blow the Man Down” has the swing and swagger of a New Orleans second-line parade and a funky syncopation on the chorus. The old favorite “Drunken Sailor” gets a kick-ass new life, pulsing with a Bo Diddley beat driven by percussionist Pete Pulkrabek. The classic shanty “Haul Away Joe” rocks, and the album opens with a bang with a rousing “Bully in the Alley.”
The other classic numbers are “All for me Grog” and “Wild Mountain Thyme,” and the performance of the latter is the most traditional on the disc, a really beautiful Scottish ballad that’ll have buccaneers reaching for their bandanas to wipe their eyes. (And if you’re wondering why there’s a song about mountain wildflowers on a pirate album, this is exactly the kind of song sailors would sing while gathered on the ship’s bow in the evening, singing along and thinking about home – and wiping their eyes.) “Wild Mountain Thyme” is a gem.
There are two instrumentals, “Irish Washerwoman/Swallowtail Jig” and “Morrison’s Jig/Lilting Banshee,” both of which give Leandria Lott’s violin a real workout.
The new originals are, “Pirate Party,” a good song for an election night party, a number that would not be out of place in a 1930’s Harlem nightclub (if you can imagine Cab Calloway wearing an eye patch); “Talk Like a Pirate” (the song that celebrates International Talk Like a Pirate Day, which Tom graciously gave me co-writing credit on); and the very funny “Pirate Polka.” He rounds out the CD with two numbers from his first album: “The Pirate Song” and – one of my favorites of his numbers – “Throw Me in the Drink,” a celebration of alcohol with an infectiously sing-along chorus and a “pound yer tankard on the table” rhythm.
All in all, “Pirate Party” is a rollicking party of an album suitable for any gathering of filibusters. Invite the crew over and turn the volume up. You’ll have a grand time.
Sure, for you – for most people in the northern hemisphere – that’s old news. Summer for most people, at least as a state of mind, ends on Labor Day. For me, it’s a different holiday – International Talk Like a Pirate Day, every Sept, 19.
I’m not very productive in the summer. I’m just not. (Obviously, the includes blogging.) And the two and a half weeks between Labor Day and Talk Like a Pirate Day I’m even busier. As of the two guys who started the holiday and then took the idea way too far, the buildup is a little like I imagine mid-December would be in Santa’s workshop. Not just getting my own schedule together but dealing with our newsletter – The Poopdeck – and the website and interviews, it all gets a little hectic. It’s slowed down some these days, the holiday has taken on a life of its own. It’s reached critical mass and doesn’t need Cap’n Slappy and Ol’ Chumbucket. It’s reached critical mass. Ten years ago we would do more than 80 interviews in a 36 hour period, radio stations all around the world, starting in Australia and New Zealand and following sunrise around the globe. This year we did a handful, and that’s fine. If something happens to me or Mark, the holiday will go on without us.
I’ll talk a little more about this year’s holiday in a later post this week. (No, seriously, this week.) For now, I’m thinking over what I’ve got to get onto.
I’ve got to keep pushing on. I’ve got three projects lined up in a row, that I’d like to have cleaned up and ready to go in the next year. One that’ll be finished in ten days, one to complete by Dec. 1, and then one to have finished by summer.
It’s all a question of being organized, making a schedule and sticking to it. So far, I’ve got the “making a schedule” part. Now for the “sticking to it” part.