September 19, 2012

Where Pirates Sail: a guest post by Alex Bledsoe

I read my first Alex Bledsoe novel last year with TheHum and the Shiver, which I thought was just great. When checking out what else he'd written, I gravitated more towards the vampire novels (Blood Groove) than his Eddie LaCrosse novels. That is, until I saw what Alex had planned with the fourth installment. Now I'm thinking I need to put this series on my watch list too.

Aspart of Alex's blog tour, promoting Wake of the Bloody Angel, he was generous enough to write a little bit about some of the research that went into the novel. Enjoy.

Where Pirates Sail
Sources for “Wake of the Bloody Angel”
by Alex Bledsoe

When I decided pirates were going to be the main topic of my fourth Eddie LaCrosse novel, Wake of the Bloody Angel, I began researching real-life buccaneers in addition to watching and re-watching as many pirate movies as I could find. I wanted my book to have the feel both of those films, and of real-life pirates. That sort of thing is found in the details of real pirate life, and in the sprawling action scenes surrounding Errol Flynn and Tyrone Power.

I couldn't simply turn Eddie into a pirate, though. I'd done three prior novels that established his character and career. Still, I needed to get him to sea quickly, and in the company of the sort of people I loved seeing in pirate movies. So I came up with Jane Argo, another sword jockey who was previously both a pirate hunter and a pirate herself. The ship on which they spent most of their time is captained by Dylan Clift, a man who physically resembles both Errol Flynn and Douglas Fairbanks, but is a lot more complicated. There's also a supporting cast that I hope has the same sense of community and camaraderie found in such classics as The Sea Hawk and Captain Horatio Hornblower.

But since I was also writing a fantasy novel, in a universe in which I'd already established the paranormal (discreetly, to be sure, but undeniably), I had to include things that had no historical basis. And that was where it got interesting, because although there are plenty of paranormal tales about real-life pirates (Blackbeard's headless body supposedly swam around his ship seven times after he was decapitated), they aren't part of classic pirate fiction. At least, not until Tim Powers and On Stranger Tides.

This 1987 novel was so seminal that Disney used it as the basis for its fourth Pirates of the Caribbean movie (after years of people saying the whole PotC series had been ripped off from Powers in the first place, a claim that does seem to have some basis when you read the book). It was the first, or at least certainly the most popular, pirate novel that brought in real supernatural themes and ideas. And with the ongoing success of the Pirates of the Caribbean films, the connection between pirates and the supernatural is now fixed.

So the trope of the supernatural pirate adventure is a relatively recent one, but one whose success demands you take note of it. Not everyone does: Michael Crichton's posthumous 2009 novel, Pirate Latitudes, includes nothing supernatural. Peter Benchley's dire 1979 novel, The Island, tries to bring classical pirates into the twentieth century, with rather disgusting results. But most writers, myself included, now see the supernatural as, if you'll forgive the wordplay, part of the pirates' natural world. And how does the supernatural manifest in my book? You'll have to read it to see.

The last classic element I wanted to bring in was the idea of the sea monster. When I told him the story of the novel I was writing, my seven-year-old son insisted I needed a monster, and he was absolutely right. That, too, has never been specifically linked with pirates, but in the broader sense of sea-based fiction, it's been around since Homer, and reached its apotheosis with Jules Verne and Herman Melville.

So Wake of the Bloody Angel, like the previous Eddie LaCrosse novels, takes a particular trope, adjusts it to fit into Eddie's world, and then runs with it. This allows me, as the writer, to both tell an original story and at the same time include everything about the particular trope that I think is cool. Ideally, if I've done my job correctly, you'll get it both ways: as knowing shout-out and self-contained narrative. Readers don't have to know pirate lit to enjoy this book, but if they do, they'll hopefully get a giggle from some bits. If not, they'll (also hopefully) get a swashbuckling mystery that keeps them turning pages until the final reveal.


  1. I loved Jane Argo's character. She's fantastically ruthless and bloodthirsty while still having a bit of a soft side, and I'd hate to get on her bad side. :D

  2. I'm really looking forward to diving into this series - I'm already a fan of this author from his first Tufa book!

    Thanks for featuring Alex for the tour.