My Pirate Platform

Ol' Chumbucket greets a three-year-old pirate at Saturday's Talk Like a Pirate Day party in Studio City, Calif.
Ol’ Chumbucket greets a three-year-old pirate at Saturday’s Talk Like a Pirate Day party in Studio City, Calif.

Saturday was another grand Talk Like a Pirate Day. My friend, Mark Summers, and I started the holiday as a private joke twenty years ago. When we told syndicated newspaper columnist Dave Barry (who we now refer to as “our close personal friend, Pulitzer Prize winner Dave Barry”) and he wrote a column about it in 2002, the day just keeps going and going, getting bigger and more outrageous and – I’ll just say it – more absurd, year after year.

We’ve traveled the country with it. We’ve performed in Las Vegas and Los Angeles and New Orleans and Philadelphia. We’ve done our schtick in museums and libraries and bars. We’ve done hundreds – that’s not an exaggeration, hundreds – of radio, TV and newspaper interviews all around the world. I suspect by now we’ve been on just about every radio station in Australia and New Zealand. This year I did an interview with a station in Germany.

It’s not the way your parents might have hoped you’d come to the world’s attention, but when the wave comes up, you ride the wave.

In the book business – maybe in others as well, but definitely in the book business – you hear a lot about platforms. You have to have a platform. There’s a lot of definitions as to the exact meaning of “platform,” but you’ve gotta have one. It’s the area you’re known for, how people identify you, sort of the reason anyone can be expected to buy your book.

There are good discussions of the exact meaning here and here. But the point is, you have to have one.

And my platform is pirates. A lot of people in the pirate re-enactor community – or as I prefer to call it, the pirate world – know me, recognize my name. At least, they recognize my pirate name – Ol’ Chumbucket. And most know that that’s me.

So my first three novels were all pirate adventures, including “Chrissie Warren: Pirate Hunter,” which I thought was the best of them and the most ready to self-pub. And that gives me another venue for going out to sell the book. Along with libraries (I’ve got my first library reading tonight!) and bookstores, I’m looking at pirate festivals all over the south and east. Hope to have more to say on that very soon.

Getting very excited about this evening’s event at the East Jefferson Parish Regional Library. I’m one of three authors presenting their debut novels. (Between you and me, I’ve looked at the other two online and mine is head and shoulders above theirs.) I don’t know if many or even any people show up, but I’m looking forward to it. At least the other two authors will be there, so that’s something.

I didn’t sell as many books as I’ve had liked in Los Angeles, but the venue really wasn’t right for it. Place was crawling with pirates but there wasn’t really a schedule or set up to read or sign. Still, it was a case of showing my face and getting out there so the public – or your public – can see you and get excited.

You take these opportunities and you do the best you can with them, learning from them, and move on.

Straight Outta …

The movie “Straight Outta Compton” is out this week, and this is part of the buzz-building machine for it. Got a good picture in which the lower half of the middle is more or less vacant? Upload it at and have fun.


My friend Mark Summers and I invented International Talk Like a Pirate Day (long story that we’ve told many, many times already) and have been riding that wave ever since. The holiday is celebrated every Sept. 19, which is – not coincidentally – why my book, “Chrissie Warren” Pirate Hunter,”  is coming out that week. This is just a fun little thing. But if you’ve got a pic, go try it out.

The Never-Ending Battle

Tori is making a last pass over the manuscripts and found more words that I can’t use in “Chrissie Warren: Pirate Hunter.” One of them I should have known better. In fact I DID know better, just didn’t think about it. Can’t call Davy Leech’s eyes mesmerizing. First used in 1829, the word refers to the German hypnotist Franz Mesmer, 1734-1815. So that’s out. So is hypnotic, which existed as a word in the 17th century but only in the sense of “sleep-inducing,” which is sort of the opposite of what I mean.

And I can’t let Jack Farmer call himself “a real spellbinder” in 1718 if the word didn’t exist until 1808. So I figured I’d just switch it to raconteur, a great word – which unfortunately was first recorded in 1828.

And I can’t replace it with the obvious “yarn spinner,” because the first use of “spin a yarn” to mean “tell a story” wasn’t recorded until 1812. Yes, in a nautical setting, but almost a hundred years after my story.

Why do I care so much? After all, most readers won’t recognize I’ve used  a word that didn’t exist yet, probably 98 percent of the readers. (Well, mesmerize would probably ring a lot of bells, but other than that I could probably get away with them.) I suppose it’s because I’d know, and it would annoy me if no one else. Keeping the language period is important. You’re trying to tell a story in a real, believable, recognizable world, and language is one of your most important tools. If it causes one reader in a thousand to stop and say, “Wait, ‘okay’ didn’t exist until the 1820s, this guy is an idiot,” that’d be one too many. It’s like the very popular mystery I read last year that had a character shot down in his Spitfire over Berlin in 1940. The author should have known the Spitfire was a short range fighter that never flew over Berlin. If she didn’t, what else didn’t she know? There were a couple of other even more egregious things (Duke Ellington’s “In the Mood? Come on!) that I have never been tempted to pick up another book by that author.

I love “Chrissie Warren: Pirate Hunter,” and can’t wait for readers to get hold of it. But I’m really looking forward to getting to work on my next project, which will be set in the present. That’ll be one problem off my back. I’ll be able to use any damn word I know!

Who IS that guy in the picture? And a story about my neck

After a while, you get tired of looking at your own face. For me it was after the third photo.

We’re down to it, getting “Chrissie Warren: Pirate Hunter,” ready to meet the public. One of the tasks still on the list was “take an author photo.”

We went to the local park this morning with a change of wardrobe and Tori started taking pictures. I have new respect for the contestants on “America’s Next Top Model,” because that gets really old, really fast. Tori. on the other hand, loved it.

“Work it! Work it! Now look over my shoulder! Smile! Now serious! Work it!” I couldn’t blame her. She was trying to get the perfect picture, and she had this to work with.

We got home and started sorting through 251 pictures. Culled it to the Top 10, or as I thought of them, the ten that made me feel the least ridiculous. After a while it was like that wasn’t even my face. I couldn’t recognize the person in the picture. It was a little creepy.

author pixGot the ten down to four. Then Tori began touching them up, getting rid of lines and blotches that I couldn’t even see. At one point she asked, “Do you want me to fix your neck?” There’s a true story about my neck which I’ll tell at the end of this. Anyway, I said, “Fix whatever you think you need to fix.” She sighed and said, “I’m going to be here for a while, I guess.”

We finally got them down to the last two, the two posted on this story. You can see a larger version of the image by clicking on it. Tell us what you think. Just don’t ask me to look at the pictures again.


And now about my neck.

It was 2004 or 2005, I’m not certain. Figuring it out would involve crossing the room and finding the book on the shelf and … no. It was 2004 or 2005. Mark – my partner in the pirate world, the friend with whom I co-created International Talk Like a Pirate Day, Cap’n Slappy – Mark and I had just self-published our first book – “Well Blow Me Down – A Guy’s Guide to Talking Like a Pirate,” and were in San Francisco for our very first book reading/signing event.

There is a blog post you can read about it here and the follow up here. This is the part that I never got around to telling.

We performed for a modest crowd, 50 to 70 people, if memory serves, and were set up to sign as many books as people wanted to purchase. Sales were a little lower than I’d hoped, but still in double digits. The event was winding down and we had to drive to Vegas that night. (Long, strange story there, but not right now.)

One woman wanted to talk. And talk. She was an older woman, either in great shape for 80 or really showing her age at 60, you know what I mean? And she didn’t talk. She brayed. She had a loud voice with an edge on it, a real Jersey kind of accent. She kept talking, and I didn’t want to cut her off because there was still a chance she’d buy a book. In the course of the conversation I mentioned my six children.

“You don’t have six children,” she said, not as a question but as a statement of fact, daring me to dispute her.

“Yes I do. Of course I do.” And I reeled off their names.

You couldn’t have six children,” she insisted. “You’re too young.”

“I’m 49 years old.”

“No you’re not. You couldn’t possibly be.”

“I am, I promise you. Why would I lie about that?”

“You aren’t old enough,” she repeated. “Look at that face. You have a baby face.”

Then she peered in, and suddenly said. “Ooooohhh!”

As if it was my fault, as if she’d just “caught me,” she said, “You’ve got a young face but an old neck.”

And she turned and left. Without buying a book.

And that’s what Tori was talking about when she offered to “touch up” my neck.

Putting a Cap on That

File Jun 01, 7 02 10 PM  I was going to write a post on writing – on the question of whether it makes more sense to sit down everyday and write, regardless of whether you feel you have something to say, or to wait until inspiration hits, when the words inside you are burning to come out and you can’t type fast enough. But I didn’t.

I’ll do that another time, maybe Tuesday or Wednesday, although I’ve got work to do both days – rent copy, you understand, as opposed to the great American novel, or in my case, the great pirate novel (coming this summer to a bookselling website near you!) So I can’t promise much. Listening to politicians jabber away for hours on end is hard enough without feeling guilty about not meeting some self-imposed deadline.

Instead, I want to tell you (and when I say “you,” I have no idea if that number includes more than one or two people, so forgive me if my words echo hauntingly in this empty hall) why I didn’t. I was having too much fun.

My birthday – a milestone, I’m 60 now) was back in February. As is usual, I paid it little notice. But my wife, Tori, made it very special. We ordered me a new pirate hat. Please understand, I love my old hat, the one from Captain Jack’s Pirate Hats. The McKay did a great job on it. But I’ve had it a dozen years, and like me, it’s showing its age. So we ordered a new hat from a local craftsman, the Chapeaux Pirate. It took three months to get it, but it was worth the wait. Today (Monday) we drove out to pick it up. He lives in the heart of Cajun country, in a town called Breaux Bridge, just outside Lafayette, a two-hour drive from our home in the New Orleans area. It’s a charming town, small, quiet, the main drag lined with local eateries and antique stores. Trouble was, virtually everything in Breaux Bridge is closed on Monday, including the restaurant where we were supposed to me.File Jun 01, 7 02 35 PM

There was one antique store opened, and Tori went in there while I waited for Laffite to show up. When he came around the corner, I tried njot to look at what he held in his hands until we’d found Tori. She was talking to the woman in the the antique store, they were having an animated conversation. We interrupted them and –

It’s beautiful. It’s just damn beautiful. The pictures don’t quite do it justice. It’s leather dyed a rich mahogany, fading into black at the brim, with three feathers, blue and yellow, and two hand cast pins holding the brim curled up. It’s just amazing. Can’t wait to wear it at the Billy Bowlegs Pirate Festival, and in other appearances around the country in the next year. It’s an amazing hat.

We spent a good 45 minutes standing in the antique shop chatting. The woman at the counter seemed bemused, but it’s not like there were any other people in the store so we weren’t getting in the way. And there was literally nothing else open. Breaux Bridge is a weekend town, and MOnday they sleep in, or go fishing. So we couldn’t see much of it, but I hear it’s lvoely.

But not nearly as lovely as my hat.

Chapeaux Pirarate – you are an artist! And a gentleman! Great job. Great hat.File Jun 01, 7 03 06 PM

That Feels Real Now

Been very heartened by the response my initial announcement received, a lot of you out there seem very positive about my decision to self-publish “Chrissie Warren: Pirate Hunter.”

While it was all great, I have to say my favorite comment came from my friend Lance “Clapeye” English, who said, “We who are about to read salute you!” Colorful as always, Clapeye.

Yesterday I spent some money, getting the ISBN and a bar code, for the three versions of the book. It’s one of those business things you have to consider when you’re a “publisher,” as opposed to simply a writer. Each version – the ebook, the paperback and the limited edition hardcover – have to have their own ISBN, which is the string of numbers that identify the book when it is sold. I only need one bar code, because the trade paperback, at this point, is the only version that will ever even potentially be scanned at a cash register. But it all added up to a tidy enough sum that I had to say to myself, “You’re sure about this?” Well, I am, and having announced it, I really had no choice.

This isn’t like when I said I’d quit smoking, then didn’t. Yesterday involved real money that I really spent. So this is feeling more and more real.

Next step is to set up the pre-order. Have to have that done in the next few days. I want everything worked about by next Thursday, when I’m off to take in the Billy Bowlegs Pirate Festival. Don’t want anything hanging over my head. Just want to enjoy being a pirate!