Thursday, December 31, 2015

A blog's 2015 in review

It's rather gratifying to see which five Hook's Waltz posts of 2015 were the most-read.

By Trina Schart Hyman, 1980

Searching for the lost boys
I didn't realize the lost boys were so popular. It was fun investigating various visualizations of them throughout the years. Some of their portrayals--particularly current ones--are very far from J. M. Barrie's understanding indeed.

A Partnership
I'm pleased this was popular, both because it's an example of my fiction writing and because I got to explore the character of  'Becca Bloom in more detail than The Stowaway allows.

Berliner Ensemble/Cocorosie interpretation of Peter Pan

New Directions for Peter Pan
For all the versions I find problematic, there are other interpretations that I find intriguing and worthwhile.

Mural at Grand Ormond Street Hospital

Peter at the hospital
Also gratifying, because the staff at Great Ormond Street Hospital are lovely and do good things. I'm pleased that I got to visit them and that I can tell people about them and J. M. Barrie's financial gift.

"The Libertine's Death," from Rose Mortimer,
or, The Ballet Girl's Revenge
, 1865

Defending the Victorians
Written because I had reached the end of my tolerance of people speaking of Victorian England as if it marked some low in human civilization, when in fact it was the era that birthed attitudes and reforms we are still working to perfect today. A huge amount of research went into this, so I'm glad to know others find the topic interesting.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Tall ships and historical inaccuracies

I welcomed a movie about life aboard a ship, dramatizing incidents I've been reading about this year, as an entertaning addition to my research. I thoroughly enjoyed the book In the Heart of the Sea: The Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex by Nathaniel Philbrick, and looked forward to the dramatization. But I did have some reservations, and unfortunately, those reservations turned out to be on the nose.

I suppose anyone who studies history is frequently disappointed in historical films, but there's a fundamental mismatch between this particular story and the approach taken by the filmmakers. Maybe this is a story that can't be filmed, or shouldn't be. Maybe the themes alone are too big to fit into a two-hour movie. But I've seen action and philosophy coexist in a film, if not often, and I wish that had been accomplished here. A feature about whaling was going to have difficulty finding an audience, Chris Hemsworth notwithstanding. But if it had delved into some of the themes in the book, perhaps it could have achieved comparable relevance.

I'm not certain anyone connected with the movie gave the book more than the most cursory of readings. I suspect most of the reviewers haven't either, or I would have seen more criticism of the aspects I find most irksome.


Philbrick's 2001 book describes the 1819 voyage of a whaling ship that was destroyed by a sperm whale--an incident which provided Herman Melville with the basis for his Moby-Dick. ( has a good synopsis.) A book that rates five out of five stars for me is one that I can't stop talking about, whether or not anyone around me wants to hear more about it, and this is one of my five-star books. It's not only a straight-forward yet graceful account of some horrifying incidents, it gives the story historical and philosophical grounding that show how the sinking of the Essex remains relevant to the current era. It's also readable and quick-moving, not glossing over the unpleasantness of the story but also not dwelling overly on the more sensational aspects.

In particular, the book's descriptions of the Nantucket whaling trade demonstrate a small-scale culture of greed and ignorance that is endemic today. And Philbrick also shows a sensitivity to the complexity of human relationships and motivations that make survival less straightforward a task than one might expect.

After doing the amount of research I have for The Stowaway, I accept that I have an esoteric knowledge base about careers at sea. I've read Moby-DickAhab's WifeMaster and Commander, and In the Heart of the Sea in the past year and taken scads of notes on all four. I wondered how the filmmakers would approach the grisly job of rendering a whale, and this is shown, if briefly, including in one scene that reminded me of a scene in Moby-Dick that is one of the most hilariously gruesome things I've ever read.

But the most controversial and horrific aspects of the story, if addressed at all, have little of the context and impact of their counterparts in the book. The cannibalism among the survivors aboard the whaleboats is touched on only lightly. And the ending of the book, which is chillingly effective, was evidently decreed too intense to be included in the film.

It's hard to be my book.

More disturbingly, the movie disregards the fact that in reality none of the ship's black crewmen made it home from the wreck of the Essex (and for that matter, no non-Nantucketers, a fact mentioned in passing but in such as way as to cast the cliquishness of those particular men as a purely admirable trait.)

And some of the historical blunders are significant enough to ruin entire crucial scenes for me and even make me laugh out loud. For instance, in real life, whalers advanced upon a whale in a small boat and lanced it with a harpoon attached to a rope. The crew held fast to this line as best they could, towed by their prey until it became exhausted and it was safe for them to stab the whale repeatedly until it bled to death. If anyone ever killed a whale simply by lancing the animal with a harpoon attached to nothing, it was a fluke. (Pun acknowledged but not withdrawn.)

On top of that scene's inaccuracies, it's a glowing example of a cinematic sentimentality throughout the film which does not engage actual emotions. Chase's teary-eyed wife is more of a trope than a character, and pensive stares into space by the actors do little to convey the horror and trauma of the experience of the Essex survivors.

And there are more bothersome inaccuracies as well. Some of the historical representations strike me as unfair, especially that of Captain George Pollard, who was assigned every bad decision made by the officers of the Essex. But other characters fare almost as badly. Even first mate Owen Chase's own account of the voyage, while glossing over his mistakes, did not portray Chase as heroically as does this film. Pollard's nephew manages to be both more and less noble than in real life. In actuality, the officers were both more selfish and hubristic, and more stubbornly determined to survive, than the movie conveys.

The movie does contain some beautiful cinematography (although it falls so squarely into the blue and orange category that it became distracting). The difference in lighting between scenes on the Atlantic and Pacific oceans is glorious. But a technique almost unavoidable in blockbusters--quick cutaway shots--both misrepresents the often tedious reality of life on a ship and made it hard to follow the action. If I hadn't read the book, I wouldn't have been completely sure what had happened to the Essex in the Gulf Stream or when the whale rammed it. The bracketing scenes with Herman Melville interviewing former cabin boy Thomas Nickerson disrupt the action and dilute the tension of the film, though Ben Wishaw and Brendan Gleeson deserve credit for their portrayals.

I was unsure from the outset if Richie Cunningham was the right director for In the Heart of the Sea, and my misgivings were confirmed from the first scenes. I've been considering which other living director(s) might have been able to do this book justice--someone with less of a commercial instinct and a greater willingness to explore the themes with honesty. Someone who doesn't flinch at the rougher aspects of the story but still has an eye for the drama inherent in it. Perhaps Alejandro González Iñárritu or Martin Scorcese or John Sayles (director of both The Secret of Roan Inish and Lone Star), or maybe Werner Herzog for a documentary retelling. I welcome further suggestions in the comments.

Grey whale skeleton at Pacific Science Center

For more discussion of the actual nature of whales, see How realistic are the vengeful whales of "Moby-Dick" and "In the Heart of the Sea," really? at

Saturday, November 28, 2015

NaNoReMo and the Windward Isles

No, I didn't mean NaNoWriMo. I don't work at that pace, I don't have anything new that I need outside incentive to start, and word count is not my problem. (Ahem.) But I ran across someone doing NaNoEdMo--National Novel Editing Month--which seemed more helpful. Then I realized I was stalled on my current revision of The Stowaway because I needed to do some specific research before I could continue, and aha--NaNoReMo was born.

This part of The Stowaway has been a bit challenging because I've never been to the Caribbean, being more inclined personally to cooler temperatures and temperate forests. But I located a comprehensive book about the flora and fauna of the area (Understanding the Eastern Caribbean and the Antilles by Nelson Marshall) and another with information about navigation as well as vivid descriptions of the experience of sailing among the islands (Islands to Windward, Crossing the Caribbees, by Carleton Mitchell). Between those and selected internet sites, I've located some very specific information I didn't expect to find, which is turning out to be useful.

1908 was a La Niña year, which means Vivian and the Captain would make quick progress from England to to the Lesser Antilles due to strong trade winds. Thus I know what kind of weather conditions they would encounter on two journeys there in spring and fall, when winds would be strongest and rains heaviest. And in 1902, volcanoes erupted on Martinique and St. Vincent, one day apart, the effects of which would have been felt on my tiny fictional island of Ala Blanca.

Ala Blanca, or "White Wing," is now located among the islands of the Grenadines, just south of St. Vincent. I've made notes on the constellations Vivian would learn to navigate by. I've learned that a Beaufort Wind Force Scale of 6 means winds of 17-21 knots, or 19-24 mph, and waves of moderate height and length, with many white caps and a bit of flying spray. And water temperatures are useful to know when a hapless character tips over a dinghy on the way to the island.

Rays and sharks, porpoises and frigate birds would all make appearances on such a voyage,

as would sea turtles and Portuguese Man-o'-War jellyfish.

Passion flowers are only one of the flowers and plants that Vivian Drew would find intriguing--if not downright alarming--during her first travels outside of England.

I'm not going to "win" NaNoReMo, mind you--regular life has conspired, as it does, to prevent me from reading all the books and watching all the videos. But I have managed to make a concerted effort to finish what I need to do to make a fictional Caribbean island real to me and perhaps to readers as well. And after all this research, I'd rather like to see Nevis Island for myself, and the variegated blues of the waters and the myriad creatures of a coral reef.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Helping the Peter Pan Manga fly on

Update 11/30/2015: The Kickstarter is funded! But there's another week to go and some stretch goals I'd love to see funded--in particular, more "slice of life" Neverland comics.

Last year, at Emerald City Comic Con, I met and interviewed Elaine Tipping, creator of the Peter Pan manga. Elaine is doing something I wholeheartedly support--using a modern style of art to tell J. M. Barrie's story. Strictly J. M. Barrie--nothing from Disney or Dave Barry/Ridley Scott or Once Upon a Time--just the original.

But that manga was only the first part of the story, and now the Kickstarter for the second part has gone live. I have to encourage my readers to support this. Because Elaine cares about the original book and making it more widely available for people who are only familiar with retellings of Peter Pan which ignore important parts of the story.

And she's filling in some of the adventures that Barrie only hinted at, which I have been enjoying thoroughly, and which I've never known anyone else to do. The new manga will have even more of those--ten four-panel comic stories. Wendy plays a large part in these adventures, and animals and fairies too.

But perhaps most importantly (said the blogger with a wink), Elaine has a proper appreciation for Captain Jas. Hook and does not treat him like a buffoon. Probably because she's read the book.

The Captain Hook Kickstarter reward level includes two keychains, two postcards, a digital illustration, my name in the book... Look at that face. You wouldn't want to deprive me of that, would you? I thought not.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Shot from a canon

With another Peter Pan movie, of sorts, having hit the big screen and slid down it to die, I've been considering the idea of canon: events and characters in a story that should be immovable, not remastered to tell a tale that's possibly at odds with the original. And in a neat bit of timing, Chuck Wendig, who along with his other ventures writes in the Star Wars universe, has addressed this very issue.

Since The Stowaway takes place in an existing universe with many existing characters, of necessity I've given a great deal of thought to where canon should be adhered to, and where and when it can be broken. I tend to fall on the side of respecting it. (Past posts here at Hook's Waltz may tend to bear that out.) J. M. Barrie's Peter Pan has meant a great deal to me on a deep level, and many retellings strike me as a betrayal of the story's essence...which leads me to wonder if my own digressions from canon make me a hypocrite.

Thomas Kinkade's "Moonrise Over Pirate Cove," created for
Disneyland's 50th anniversary. Beautiful ship!
But not the kind Captain Hook sailed.

Interestingly, Barrie himself didn't always keep to his own canon. The play that was finally produced in 1904 went through innumerable changes beforehand (for one, Tinker Bell was first named Tippytoe and spoke her lines). And "Hook at Eton," the speech he wrote in 1927, contained some details that contradicted the 1911 novelization that was Peter and Wendy--some details which again complicated my own plot.

This was not the only challenging part of trying to adhere to Barrie's script. I have an irritating mental image of him leaning over my shoulder to say, "If you're sincere about following my plot, Mr. Starkey has to stay in Neverland." (That one necessitated a rewrite of the last section of the book and the absence of a character I'd come to appreciate.) But I felt that I needed to build on the scaffolding of the existing story as much as possible to keep my changes from flying off in directions that Barrie wouldn't appreciate.

There are some beloved elements common to both the book and the better-known Disney film that I wanted to keep--the flying ship, Tinker Bell's temper, the ticking crocodile. There are others I do alter, hoping that I am keeping true to the heart of the story in the process. Where I diverge, I like to think it's in directions Barrie would at least understand, and maybe even appreciate. The character of Tiger Lily, for example, is not one that can be responsibly transferred from the original as written. But Barrie didn't live in a time and place where information about American indigenous cultures would have been readily available, and he was more focused on writing a children's adventure story reminiscent of others popular at the time than on creating an accurate historical depiction. Maybe it's naive of me to consider, but he was a man who prized kindness, and perhaps he would encourage a more realistic and humane view of his "Indian" characters today.

I'm lucky that Peter Pan is known to have a loose relationship with the truth. (It's canon!)When my maternal grandmother wanted to ask if someone was lying, she would say, "Are you telling a story?" And this is crucial to the character of Peter. He loves stories. He first visited the Darling children because he wanted to hear the end of "Cinderella." To him, the line between a story and what the rest of the world recognizes as shared truth is gossamer. We know Peter Pan didn't really kill Blackbeard or Long John Silver, no matter what he says. It's not such a leap for me to tell a story that doesn't quite align with Peter's interpretation of events.

 I love Marjorie Torrey's 1957 illustrations, but her Tinker Bell
is neither voluptuous nor dressed in a single leaf as she should be.

Ultimately, canon is a complicated beast. Several different versions of the Land of Oz--L. Frank Baum's creation, Gregory Maguire's Wicked series--co-exist in my head perfectly compatibly, each appreciated in its own right. But I'm not able to do this with Peter Pan writings because I have too personal an interest in the story. Yet I have a decent collection of illustrated versions of Peter Pan, and I love seeing the variety of approaches artists take. I may be distracted by errors I catch, but there are so many beautiful interpretations which I enjoy on their own terms.

Considering fan fiction (amateur and traditionally published, because the latter absolutely does exist and has for centuries) gives me a few more clues. Alternate or contradictory timelines can be confusing, but I find them possible to compartmentalize. Once fanfic begins taking too many liberties with characters and situations as I've come to understand them, I begin to lose interest. Cross-overs and alternate universes, I leave almost entirely to those who can appreciate them. And once characters begin to act in ways that are antithetical to their origins, I wonder why writers don't cut them loose entirely, accept that they are now writing an entirely new piece, and forge forward with that.

In the end, I believe I accept digressions from canon as long as they respect the author's intent and hew closely enough to it that the initial message isn't lost. I like variations that explore aspects of characters and happenings which were absent from the initial work, that find alternate interpretations of actions and motives, that create occurrences and meetings that could well fit into the official canon but weren't initially written into it. Ideas that actually do fit into the original story if you turn it a bit so the light hits it a new way. This is what I'm trying to do with The Stowaway.

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Defending Blackbeard

Blackbeard the pirate has been a fixture in pop culture since he first appeared during what we now call the Golden Age of Piracy in the early 1700s. He seems to have become increasingly present in movies and TV shows of the last decade, although his portrayals have diverged increasingly from his reality. This is unfortunate, because the man and his life are more entertaining than most of what screenwriters have devised for him.

Blackbeard's origins are unclear, as are origins for most people of that era. It seems he was born in approximately 1680, likely in the English city of Bristol, and was named Edward Teach (alternately Tach, Thatch, or other surnames similarly-spelled). He was a merchant seaman, then a privateer, and acquired solid seamanship experience before 1713, when he became an apprentice to Benjamin Hornigold, the most infamous pirate captain in the Bahamas at that time. By 1717, he was a pirate chief in his own right with three sloops under his command, including the slave ship he captured, refitted, and made into his flagship Queen Anne's Revenge.

Teach knew the value of presentation. He rejected fancy dress in order to draw more attention to his personal appearance. According to Captain Johnson: “So our Heroe, Captain Thatch, assumed the Cognomen of Black-beard, from that large Quantity of Hair, which covered his whole Face, and frightn’d America, more than any Comet that has appear’d there a long Time....This Beard was Black, which he had suffered to grow of an extravagant Length; as to Breadth, it came up to his Eyes; he was accustomed to twist it with Ribbons, in small time of Action, he wore a Sling over his Shoulders, with three brace of Pistols, hanging from Holsters like Bandoliers; he wore a Fur-Cap, and stuck a lighted Match on each Side, under it, which appearing on each side of his Face, his Eyes naturally looking Fierce and Wild, made him altogether such a Figure, that Imagination cannot form an idea of a Fury, from hell, to look more frightful."

While Pyrates in general contains a good dose of mythology and sensation, this description is not contradicted by contemporary accounts, including one by Lieutenant Robert Maynard, who led the final expedition against Blackbeard and fought him to his death. (Cordingly) Why fictional depictions of Blackbeard omit the detail of the lit matches in his hair, I do not know, because I find that detail the most fascinating.

But Edward Teach may have presented so fearsome an image that it led to his destruction. "Blackbeard was a victim of his own reputation, attacked and killed more for what he represented than what he actually did," Kostam writes.

The Golden Age of Piracy only lasted about ten years, its high point arriving in 1718. Blackbeard was one of the most famous names of the era, and captained one of the largest pirate ships in the Caribbean. But perhaps his most notably, he made his fame through his reputation rather than from committing acts of murder and violence. There is no evidence that he killed or tortured a captive, and rather, many reports to the contrary. "Blackbeard had the charm and charisma to ensure the loyalty of his shipmates, while he also had the Machiavellian intelligence to outsmart them," says Kostam. Teach was literate, intelligent, and capable. He possessed great charm and was popular with his crew.

Blackbeard's own variation on the Jolly Roger: A skeleton
stabbing a heart while toasting the devil.

But the pirates were driven from the Caribbean by Woodes Rogers, governor of Bahamas and former buccaneer, who teamed with Hornigold, who had himself taken the pardon offered by the British government and and become a pirate hunter. And thus Blackbeard moved his operations to America.

"Almost single-handedly he engineered the pirate crisis that swept North America in the summer of 1718," Kostam writes. Teach blockaded Charles Town, South Carolina, with four ships for almost a week and sent the town into a panic, although all he demanded was a chest of medicine (possibly to treat syphilis or yellow fever). "Blackbeard wasn’t there to make a fortune in plunder. He was there to make a point." 

Blackbeard then asked Charles Eden, governor of North Carolina, for a pardon in return for a promise to mend his piratical ways. He beached two of his ships, including Queen Anne's Revenge, and marooned a large part of his crew in order to set up a smaller base on Ocracoke Island. Two months later, it seems he had returned to piracy, though there is no hard evidence to support this--a fact which made no difference to his pursuers or the courts. During this time, the need to maintain control over what remained of his crew led to Teach's only recorded act of violence--in a drunken night with three of the crew, he fired two pistol shots under the table in his cabin, and hit his second-in-command Israel Hands in the knee. (Israel Hands has now been fictionalized as well, in Treasure Island and other pirate tales.)

When the infamous pirate Charles Vane passed through the area, his crew joined that of Teach for a week-long bacchanal, an association which helped lead to Blackbeard's destruction. Gov. Alexander Spotswood of Virginia, besieged by political opponents, was infuriated that North Carolina was unable to stop the predations of pirates. He may also have had financial and political reasons to pursue Blackbeard, including a hope of annexing the colony of North Carolina into Virginia. Spotswood sent Lieutenant Robert Maynard of the Royal Navy of Virginia to surprise Blackbeard in his settlement on Okrakoke Island. In the ensuing bloody fight, Maynard provided the death blow that put an end to the life and career of Edward Teach. 

Blackbeard's body was decapitated, and his head hung from the bowsprit of Maynard's ship. And then, as if the man himself had not already made a dramatic enough tour of the eastern seaboard, his skull then made an equally colorful journey--at least according to local legend. From his head being displayed in Newport News, Va., the skull was next made into a drinking vessel in Williamsburg. An object purported to be that cup is now part of the Edward Rowe Snow collection at the Maritime Museum in Newport News.

In 1996, the wreck of the Queen Anne's Revenge was discovered off the coast of North Carolina, where it continues to provide a bounty of artifacts. 

J. M. Barrie referred to Captain Hook as "Blackbeard's bo'sun," but it seems likely this is only another one of Peter Pan's tales. Peter also believed he killed Blackbeard himself, which makes the rest of his story suspect. (As we find in The Stowaway, what we learn of famous figures is not necessarily what is true.)

Today Blackbeard continues to be an iconic personality, a trajectory started perhaps by Captain Johnson and later perpetuated by scores of stories and films. Perhaps he would be entertained by his continued popularity, especially given how neatly he orchestrated his reputation and thus his fame, but I imagine he would be bemused by some of the interpretations.

His first fictional adventure was the "serio-comic ballet of action, in two acts" Blackbeard; or, The Captive Princess, which debuted in London in 1798 and ran for many years. And Robert Louis Stevenson used the character for comedy in his 1889 novel The Master of Ballantrae.

Closer to our own time, West Country actor Robert Newton--he of "Talk Like a Pirate" fame--became a Blackbeard who is still an influence today . Evidently Newton had read Charles Johnston, and "by his overacting exuberance Newton also encouraged the perception of Blackbeard as a somewhat preposterous figure," Angus Kostam says. Kostam argues that Johnny Depp's Captain Jack Sparrow, star of the Pirates of the Caribbean movies, is actually closer to the truth. I think of a competent and frightening Jack Sparrow, and the result is impressive.

Blackbeard is currently played by Charles Mesure in ABC's "Once Upon a Time" and by Ian McShane in the fourth Pirates of the Caribbean installment, On Stranger Tides. (Confession: I have a fondness for McShane that lingers from Deadwood, and at least he and Mesure both look the part.) Other current filmmakers and showrunners create stories about Blackbeard that are decidedly odd.

The three-hour Hallmark Channel 2006 miniseries seems
to be notable for its historical inaccuracies.

John Malkovich is the 2014 Blackbeard who has visions and did not die
in the battle of 1718, but went in search of the fabled
"longitude chronometer"

With Hugh Jackman's orphan-napping Blackbeard,
we have gone completely off-script.


Cordingly, David, Under the Black Flag, Random House, 1996

Johnson, Charles, A General History of the Robberies and Murders of the most notorious Pyrates, 1724. (So popular was this book with readers that four revised and expanded editions were published within ten years. Captain Charles Johnson was a pseudoynym, but it's conjectured that he was in reality Daniel Defoe, author of Robinson Crusoe.)

Konstam, Angus, Blackbeard: America's Most Notorious Pirate, Turner Publishing Company. 2008, Kindle Edition.

Rennie, Neil, Treasure Neverland: Real and Imaginary Pirates, Oxford University Press, 2013.

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Talking like a pirate? Probably not

When I first heard of Talk Like a Pirate Day ten years ago, I thought it was a cute enough idea. But that was before I started writing The Stowaway, before I'd done hours of research on the reality of pirate life, before I knew how the celebration had started and why.

Now I cringe, as I've learned its premise is based almost entirely upon misconceptions, including the fact that its central conceit is, well, wrong. Participants are not only talking like Hollywood pirates, not real ones, but like a single actor in particular: Robert Newton. He exaggerated his own English West Country accent for the part of Long John Silver in the 1950 Treasure Island film and an additional 1954 Long John Silver movie for Disney that spun off into a 26-episode TV series. He also played leading role in 1952's Blackbeard the Pirate. Yes, the West Country produced a number of well-known pirates, Henry Every in particular, but so did many other parts of England and the rest of the world.

Robert Newton with Bobby Driscoll in a publicity shot
for the 1950 film Treasure Island

Slate has a nice discussion of how pirates actually talked, and whether they actually said "aaarrr." (Short answer: No.)

Many of the terms we now associate with pirates weren't even used by them or during the era they made famous. Grog, for example,is a Royal Navy term: 1760-70; from Old Grog (alluding to his grogram cloak), the nickname of Edward Vernon (died 1757), British admiral, who in 1740 ordered the alcoholic mixture to be served, instead of pure spirits, to sailors. It was also coined 30 years after the heyday of the Caribbean pirates.

Learning more about TLAPD has just made me more discouraged. Founders.Oregonians John Baur and Mark Summers, who title themselves Ol' Chumbucket and Cap'n Slappy. It was an in-joke between them until they wrote a letter about their idea to comic Dave Barry in 2002, and he promoted the idea in his column. Yes, that Dave Barry, he who with Ridley Scott so besmirched the character of Captain Hook and the other Jolly Roger pirates in their Peter and the Starcatchers books. I loved Barry's humor columns when I was growing up, but I've got a bone to pick with him now.

Perhaps I'm losing my sense of humor. But when Facebook and Krispy Kreme are jumping on board (so to speak), maybe the joke has run its course. (To be fair, I suppose Long John Silver's restaurants didn't have much of a choice.)

Walking the plank happened probably
once. It makes a good threat, though.

One of the themes of The Stowaway is the many-layered nature of truth, which is not served by simplification or the few selected details of a story presented for the stage. Talk Like a Pirate Day serves to make comedy of people and a way of life which were not comic in the least, and ignores much of the colorful realities that make pirates fascinating to the current day--including a level of violence that would shock even our media-soaked society. I'm finding this level of fictionalization increasingly hard to forgive. And no, a doughnut won't help.

Saturday, September 5, 2015

Peter Pan flies to Russia

He must, or how else would there be so many beautifully illustrated Russian versions of his story? I've been lucky enough to acquire three of them, from 1971, 1993, and 2010, all showing a love of J.M. Barrie's original tale despite their variance in style.

I find the loose watercolor illustrations from this 1971 Piter Pan, by May Miturich, absolutely charming.

I don't read Cyrillic--I wish I did--but this rendition of the book characters almost makes me feel like I can. Nevertheless, my artist information on these books may well be incorrect. If any of you readers do read Cyrillic and have translations for me, I will gladly add that information to this post.

Never Neverland, as seen in the dreams of May Miturich.

A completely different interpretation, in a folk-influenced, ornamental style, was printed in 1993. The retelling is by Irina Tokmakova, with illustrations by painter Tikhonov.

The black and white illustrations are as lush and intricate as the double-page color plates.

I have a special fondness for this book with its lovely, respectful portrait of J.M. Barrie.

And editions of Peter Pan continue to be printed in Russia, such as this one from 2010 by artist Mikko.

While it doesn't entirely escape the Disney influence (I note also some possible undertones of Anne Graham Johnstone and even Mabel Lucie Attwell) and modern tendency to make Peter a bit more adolescent than he was originally written, the detail of the illustrations shows the artist's fondness for the story.

I was also very pleased to find this plate within. I'd found it online, and it's the header I use for my writing inspiration Tumblr blog (a Tumblr I keep private because unfortunately, it contains a huge number of unattributed images I don't have time to research). I'd never been able to find what book it was from, and it was delightful to find it here.

This seems like an appropriate time to ask if anyone knows where I could find a copy of Piter Pan illustrated by Maxim Mitrafanov. I've been looking for this for some time, to no avail.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Unavoidably detained

Anyone who's read this blog or talked for me for longer than fifteen minutes knows I love research. Yet it's a project that expands and apparently has no end, and it's slowing my progress on The Stowaway considerably. So why am I so insistent on absorbing every bit of information about sailing that I reasonably can? Because of people like me.

Exhibit #1. Assassin's Creed IV, Black Flag.

I laughed when I saw this. It's a historical video game (more or less--there are some real missed opportunities here), it's about pirates, it's set on a brig--the same type of ship helmed by Captain Hook. But I've learned that a ship, unlike a car, does not swing immediately to the side as soon as its wheel is turned, and a sail does not drop instantly--flump!--when it's unfurled. (As a former crew member of the Lady put it, it can take ten minutes just to muster the crew to get started.) And as I watched this very pretty game, I wondered, "Where is all the rigging?"

I know the game's depiction isn't right because of--you guessed it--my research, from sources I've found to be accurate. For instance, here's a photo of mine from a battle sail on board the Lady Washington, which is also a brig. Note the difference. I realize accuracy in this case would interfere with the game play of "Black Flag," but leaving it out altogether is a mistake I don't want to make in The Stowaway.

By further comparison, here is an illustration from Seamanship In the Age of Sail,

which was recommended to me by a captain of the Lady Washington as his favorite resource for general ship knowledge. It's readable and clear and will be even more helpful to me once I spend more time with it--time being the resource I am most in need of these days.

I have this as well, though I find it denser and harder to parse.

I am also reading Patrick O'Brian's Master and Commander whilst taking notes and looking up every term that could possibly apply to The Stowaway in this companion volume, A Sea of Words: A Lexicon and Companion to the Complete Seafaring Tales of Patrick O'Brian, by Dean King with John. B. Hattendorf and J. Worth Estes. This process is not helping me enjoy the pace of the book as the adventure story it was intended to be, but it's tremendously helpful in giving me an idea of how life was conducted at sea and what words were used in directions and commands.

Exhibit 2: Master and Commander, page 164
The brig was the obvious choice and they set a course to cut her off, keeping closest watch upon her the while: she sailed on placidly enough under courses and topsails, while the Sophie set her royals and topgallants and hurried along on the larboard tack with the wind one point free, heeling so that her lee-channels were under the water; and as their courses converged the Sophies were astonished to see that the stranger was extraordinarily like their own vessel, even to the exaggerated steeve of her bowsprit.

Without A Sea of Words, I wouldn't know what half of that meant or if it was useful to me. Now the challenge is to make sure I get my own terms right.

Research can become a labyrinth, and soon I may need to break out heavy tools and hack my way through the side. But it matters to me that I make the effort. Every writer may not find it important to give the reader a vivid and accurate rendering of their setting, but it matters to me when I'm reading, and I want to give my readers that respect. I know to my sadness that it's not possible for me to get every detail right, but I'm going to get as close as I possibly can.

Saturday, August 15, 2015


Thank you, readers of Hook's Waltz!

This blog has had 25,000 page views--a statistic I might have missed had I not been working on a new post tonight. This may not be a tremendous achievement in the world of blogs, but given the niche nature of this one, I'm going to allow myself a moment of pride.

In commemoration of the event, please enjoy two pictures from a 1987 edition of Peter Pan, by an illustrator who demonstrates a proper appreciation of Captain Hook: Jan Ormerod.