Monday, July 29, 2013

Yo, ho-ho, A Sailing We Go

In pinball, the player tries his darnedest to prevent the steel ball from achieving it's goal of dropping straight into the bottom cup. In the quest, it is bounced, ricocheted, bumped, detoured, and shot about the game. Such should happen to one's hero as he or she strives to win by achieving the worthy theme.

Every author has a style. I am concrete-sequential. That's the way I have lived and that is generally the way I write, moving along a linear path from point A to point B to point ad infinitum to resolution of the thematic question. In the Brethren, our hero has recovered his ship and moved to the open sea. That alone provides a great many possibilities to complicate his life, and allow he and supporting characters to develop.

Crossing the open ocean under sail in 1600 was no cakewalk. Depending on the wind, it took anywhere from 30 to 45 days. The Raven is a Brigantine, two masts with a combination of lateen sails (triangular affairs) and square sails with oars as backup. When cooperative, the wind could push her along at 7 to 10 knots an hour (8-11.5 mph), the average speed being closer to 5 kts. (6 mph). The average walking speed is 2.5 kts. (2.5 to 3 mph.), a jog 5 kts. What does that provide? Boredom, especially if the speed in zilch.

As hinted during the time at San Borondon Island, not all of the crew are our hero's faithful originals. These guys are cramped. One-hundred feet bow to stern and twenty-one feet wide, there is a crew of fifty (decidedly more during the attack). When not working, crew either sit out of the way on deck or sleep in a hammock.

Each person signing on agrees to abide by a code of conduct. Obviously that must be strictly enforced. Hogshead Shaver is a man of reactive-action. When he had a fight break out amidships, his response was to throw the culprit bodily overboard. For the man's sake, ships trailed a rope to grab--if they knew how to swim. Surprisingly, not very many seamen knew how. Our hero possess a much different temperament. How will he handle conflicts and maintain discipline? The code is specific, but how will he handle mutiny?

Yes, the code addresses that, but allows for some discretion. This is where our hero demonstrates that he may not be Mr. Nice Guy. One of his strong points is to know each of his crew personally, and picks up on an emerging problem. The plot was to poison the officers. Forget walking-the-plank which hardly ever happened in real life. Having murdered a crewman who discovered their plan, this is a hanging affair, but that is a slow and nasty. His solution is to allow the co-conspirators to choose between the rope or drinking the poisoned wine. The leader is not given the quick method. To complicate matters, there are a number of young men and boys aboard who he does not wish to observe punishment, yet must learn some invaluable lessons. How does the "father" of the Raven handle that?

Once resolved, the Raven is becalmed. How to deal with sitting around in the heat without a good book to read? But such weather can portend something worse, and in this case, a hurricane which blows them off course.

When the storm ends, they are close to land, but also come across another ship, the Manchester, which is badly damaged. It also has another problem. No captain or quartermaster and no one is talking about what happened to them.

This is a thumbnail sketch of the next few chapters, but what is important is that these pages provide the opportunity to address historical facts about sailing and contending with nature and human behavior. This is, after all, a novel based on historical fact if not events without boring the reader.

Jules Gabriel Verne 1828 – 1905) the French novelist, poet, and playwright best known for his adventure novels and his profound influence on the literary genre of science fiction.
Jules Verne frequently went into long, scientific discourses to show his theories workable. While I love such things, that approach can be a real yawn. The author must find a balance when interjecting realism and keeping the plot moving.There just isn't a formula for such things except for giving your writing over to a reviewer or three for their reaction.

By this time the hero is better fleshed out, although there is some shaping yet to occur. Secondary characters are introduced (or in some cases re-introduced, having been born in earlier books), and begin to function on their own. Discovery of the Manchester and it's problems leads to the next section--re-uniting with the pirate armada. Launching the mission to rescue the old pirate's family may have to go on hold as our hero deals with another problem from left field--Arab slavers.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Problems and Bumps. Do They Never End?.

Now that the story worthy problem is set and main character introduced, our hero, François, sets out to accomplish the goal of helping his pirate mentor-friend rescue his wife and child. No journey is without problems which builds tension, and provides an avenue in which to develop his and others' character. However, a problem is added which our hero will know nothing about until returning—if he returns. That's right, the hero will resolve the story worthy problem, but may not survive the trek. This side story is destined to become a story within the story, relating to something his wife, Mariah, encounters during his absence that must be resolved at home, either by whoever returns.

Returning to the main story, in steps the angel of death from Mariah's dream, the hint that someone may die. François has difficulty deciding to leave his family to embark on this adventure, but his family also has trouble letting him go. Mariah puts up resistance as does his eldest son, Jean-Paul, but where she angrily acquiesces, we only assume Jean-Paul goes along quietly with his father's departure. Wrong.

Because of our hero's past, François has sought to provide a lot of love and stability within his family. In an unusual stance his wife wanted her husband to be present at the birth of their first born (and subsequent children) because of the strength and reassurance he could provide. Except for the two years away being a pirate, he is very close to his children, but especially to Jean-Paul who is so named to honor the privateer who raised and adopted François. As most parents will eventually admit, there comes a time when they find it difficult adjusting to the fact that their little child has grown up. During this time period becoming an adult occurs within the teenage years. At this point Jean-Paul is fifteen, a burgeoning teenager, but for all intent in this era, truly a young adult.

Modern science has confirmed what parents already know, teens don't act normal from the time puberty drops on them until they are in their 20's. This is only a guess, but I believe that was the case in the early 1600's when this story takes place, too. Francois' son is very attached to his father and determines not to be separated. He and a close friend swim out and climb aboard as the ship begins to leave. Problem #1: Throw them overboard to swim back to land (not that far), or take them along.

The issue addressed here is how a parent views their child and when is the child no longer a child. This is as something Francois must reconcile in very little time as the swim becomes longer with each minute. The decision must be done within context of the period. He is helped by the one man responsible for his transformation, friend and fellow pirate Hogshead Shaver, for whom this journey is undertaken. Angry, Francois relents, but determines that his son shall make the final transition into the adult world without special treatment. This is done with the help of certain crew who keep the secret of who the boy really is, and with the stipulation that the boy will be kept from harms way if at all possible. Of course, this portends difficulties in the future. Also revealed is why Francois is so protective. During the first voyage a young orphan joined his crew aboard the Raven with whom he became very close. The lad's death in battle affected him more than had been revealed. Problem #2: How do you keep one's son from suffering the same fate when your ship is obviously going into a fight, not to mention that sailing the ocean in those days was inherently dangerous anyway?

At the outset of this series I determined that some historical accuracy should be a major part of the story. That means some wide ranging research into culture, customs, and history. While the story takes place in the early 1600's, I found a necessity to go back further in time, as early as 1492, as events occurring then shaped beliefs and actions in the story. As with characters, a storyteller needs to know more than he relates, and avoid overwhelming the reader by determining how much tho relate.

This is a sea tale, so things like types of vessels, how they were operated, what went on aboard when sailing, and when not (either becalmed or in port), navigation, dealing with weather, seasickness, social problems (and there were some when cramming a hundred men into a tiny space), sea lore, fears, superstition, a whole barrel of fun things.

A story should never be without some comical relief to give the reader a break in the rising tension. This is achieved by considering what goes on in the crows nest, that little, bitty platform 100 or so feet in the air that sways back and forth, back and forth, back and . . .

(Jeremiah, nicknamed Bones, is Jean-Pauls' companion who also came aboard. He receives his first assignment from a young Irish sailor, Mr. Cochran, who becomes the boys' close friend and mentor)

“Now then, Bones, see that platform up there?" he said, indicating the crow's nest. "Yourself’ll take the watch. Climb up and have a seat. Be sure and tie yourself to the mast. Don’t want to see yourself makin’ a quick trip to the deck. And when yourself has to puke, put it o'r the side and not on deck, or ye'll answer to those below."

“You’re asking me to climb all the way up there?”

“No, I not be askin’ yourself to climb all the way up there, I’m tellin’ ye to climb all the way up there. Now, unless it be me boot yourself wants planted in your arse, be off.”

Jeremiah wasn’t too sure about this, but quickly figured he didn’t have much choice. “What should I be watching for?”

“It be rocks, other sails, somethin’ that might be a problem to navigatin’. If’n ye see somethin’ shout us down the word, “Ahoy on deck,” and says whatever it be. Now, look lively.” (My sense of humor is not going to let this scene slip away without having a bit more fun. More on that in a moment.)

Meanwhile, Jean-Paul, nicknamed Curly, is introduced to the ship and his chores which includes what every seagoing person needs to know—where's the bathroom? And if unable to make it, there's a bucket which Curly and Bones are expected to empty or the contents end up in the bilge (the very bottom of the ship) to stew, and that will require a periodic cleaning. Oh, the joy of sailing tall ships. anyway, Curly also gets his turn in the nest.

Just before calling Bones down to acquaint him with the ship layout, (he knows next to nothing about a ship other than it floats and can sink) the young man sees something and makes his report. As the reader may have noticed, his initial instructions were a bit vague so it is natural this happens.

As he (Mr. Cochran) was about to call Bones down the lad cried out, “Ahoy below. Gray thing ahead shooting steam.”

“What in Neptune’s name do you mean by a gray thing?” Parker answered. (The Sailing Master)
“A small island, or rock, or something.”

“Or something! Good grief, what have we got up there? No steaming islands around here.” He grabbed a telescope and climbed up to take a look. “Where is it?”

“Kinda right of the pointy thing at the front of the boat,” Bones said while pointing forward.

Parker rolled his eyes and mumbled, “What kind of lunatic have I got here?” He looked, but couldn’t see anything, then peering through the telescope he saw it clearly. Looking again without it, he couldn’t make it out, and his eyes were still sharp. The young man's eyesight was impressive. “Well, my apologies, lad. That be a whale and she be blowin’.”

Not all officers were cruel, mean, scallywags. Many were fathers and treated the boys under their command accordingly—firm, but with a degree of caring. In any event, the reader is introduced or re-introduced to some historical details of sailing and a ship's layout while enjoying a bit of humor.

Once the issue of Jean-Paul is more or less resolved for the time being, there is Problem #3, recovery of Francois' pirate ship, Raven. It has come to rest at the mysterious ghost island of San Borondon. This is a fascinating legend from at least the time of Ptolemy (AD 90 – 168) that tends to persist today. Then, El Hierro was considered the furthest western point of civilization, except for this island frequently seen in the distance. There are not only maps of San Borondon, but also pictures, and this being a novel resting on an historical foundation, inclusion of the story is natural. Through dialog and narrative, the history of San Borondon is presented along with some superstitions. Of course, the recovery and rescue is not an easy task, somewhat reminiscent of what Herakles encountered in Homer's The Odyssey.
From old maps in Museo Canario, Las Palmas, Gran Canaria

To this point, more characters important to the story are added, and the backdrop further colored in, which brought me to an editorial decision. I have read a few stories in which the author went into considerable detail about sailing and the description of a ship using lots of terminology. I have a book published in 1754 (thank you Google) giving a lengthy description of every nautical term used. How much detail to include is something an author must consider. Jules Verne went into great detail to explain the science used in his works. Sir Arthur Doyle did likewise. I did not wish to inundate the reader and loose them completely by using more nautical terms than needed to move characters around. Just something to consider.

Bumps along the trail are necessary and realistic to any adventure. Some are easily resolved, some not so easily resolved, and some not at all. With the recovery of the Raven the journey continues, but not without Problem #4—sailing  open waters in something not much longer than a large yatch that leaks.
110' Brigantine, Raven

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Chapter One in Summation

[Again, I apologize for being absent the past few weeks, but work and family do take precedence. However, here we go.]

Up to this point the discussion has centered around the beginning of the novel, the goals, setting, and characters. The first paragraph is the magnet drawing the reader into the story, and a lot information needs included in the first chapter. Does that make it War and Peace length? Not at all. Brief sentences can suffice. Here is what I have included in Chapter One of A Pirate's Legacy: The Brethren.

A successful story begins with a clean thematic question from the hero and a clear thematic argument from the villan.

Thematic question:
         (Hero)    What is more important, glory, fame, and wealth, or family?
         (Villan)   Family is only one stepping stone to achieving glory, fame, and more wealth.

With that, we move into the story with a growing cast of characters.

A Hero
   1.  An orphan
   2.  A pirate
   3.  A successful plantation owner, husband, and father
   4.  A person with moral convictions
   5.  A person with a past he can not forget
   6.  A person who has done something which he regrets and isn't sure how to make amends.
   7.  A person who lives a lie.
   8.  Undeserved misfortune:
           a. loss of natural parents to plague
           b. sinking of Flourette and loss of his pirate family
           c. loss of Henry, his adopted, little brother
           d. sinking of French warship when loses control of temper and the ensuing curse
   9.  Nice to kids and animals
 10.  Quirky and/or fun mannerism
           a.  stands with feet spread and hands clasped behind his back
 11.  Compelling goal
           a.  Stop Lord Chudleigh’s war on pirates and innocent people
           b.  Stakes character(s):
                   1)  Admiral Shaver - if loses his kidnapped family
                   2)  Mariah - if loses her son, Jean-Paul
                   3)  Walter and Melissa if they loses their only son
                   4)  François if discovered to be the pirate Dolphin
                   5)  François if loses his son, Jean-Paul
12.  physical goal
           a.  main action of hero
           b.  is goal that affects most people in story
           c.  goal driven by something that has forced itself on hero in present
               1.  rescue the Admiral's family and get his son home alive
 13.  emotional goal
            a.  objective that means a lot, but only a few people
            b.  directly impacts and drives hero and hero’s inner circle of friends and associates
               1.  come to grips for killing 600 innocent people (most of those on the French warship were passengers.
           b.  Come to face repeating that when engage the English warship - how to cripple into
submission without blowing it to smithereens.
14.  Spiritual goal
       a.  something in hero’s being that is unfulfilled
       b.  does not mean a lot to the many or the few
       c.  innermost fear or regret or ghost hero will deal with from beginning to end
       d.  something has been grappling with for a long time

A Ruthless, committed villian
           a.  Bartholomew Chudleigh
 16.  Mutual goal Chudleigh and Francois are willing to knock heads over
           a.  The treasure of Loro Island? (no - F. doesn't care. He'd give it up)
           b.  Honor?  Chudleigh wants revenge for disgracing his father/family and pirate treasure to compensate.
17.  Chudleigh causes undeserved misfortune - kicks the dog (kills women, children, old people,innocent people. He's not particular.
18.  What Chudleigh wants is the death of Hogshead and the Dolphin which would achieve 16b and deprive the Dolphin of all he values.

 More character points
            a.  Hero does not get respect - there are those like Don Basillio (another landowner on El Hierro) who consider him a Frenchman and because of jealousy, treat him rudely and try to undermine and discredit his position in the community.
            b.  Hero is the absolute best pirate (despite Hogshead Shaver once saying he'd never make a pirate which still gnaws on him.
            c.  Hero starts out being wrong about how he views his son. Slowly comes to realize his son has become a man.

Other characters are introduced to support and help move the story. Some writers will advocate keeping the cast small, but in a tale such as this it takes more than a village to carry the plot along, but they do not become larger than  our hero.

Whoa, that's a lot in 2,876 words that move right along, but credit the years of writing short stories and news reports which have provided the ability to write reasonably tight. All that is left is editing. 

With that accomplished it is time move into Chapter 2 and the action begins.

Saturday, July 6, 2013


When starting an eFile to share information, it is important to make entries on a consistent schedule. That has not happened here which is obvious. We lost two of our main websites - one to vandalism, and one to a website upgrade. As they are a priority to doing business, reconstruction has taken precedence. Well, one site has been restored on a different, more stable provider, and the second is under construction. That means I can resume writing my next novel and providing comments about its structure and content here. That will take place this coming week. Thank you for your patience and understanding.

As always, your comments are valued regarding the content of this eFile.

To see my new author site, click on the picture.

Grateful as always,
Sean O'Mordha