Researching Asian Pirates

This post was originally written for Jeannie Lin’s blog.

This is the story of how I did NOT use a great deal of my research.

When I began writing The Duke and the Pirate Queen I knew that the heroine, Captain Imena Leung, was of mixed race; her mother from a fictional empire analogous to China, and her father from somewhere else. I never did decide exactly where he came from, as he has only a small role in the novel; I suspect he’s from somewhere in this world’s equivalent to the Southern Pacific islands. I did know, however, that I wanted Imena to have fought pirates. And I wanted her ship to be attacked by pirates in the novel.

I began to research Asian pirates. I can’t recommend this book enough: Pirate of the Far East: 811-1639, for a concise yet detailed overview of that period, which includes not only details of pirate clothing, weapons, and tactics but fits those details into the appropriate geographic and political settings. I also read various accounts (in English) of Chinese pirates who encountered Westerners, and some further academic essays on how accurate those translations and compilations might be from an Asian perspective.

After all that, I had more than enough information to write about Asian pirates. However, I realized, too late, that I needed Imena to be surprised. I needed her to come up against something new to her that would throw her off-balance; since I’d already established she’d worked as a privateer for the Horizon Empire (the China analogue), she would already be familiar with the varieties of Asian pirates, and they would not incite much fear in her. I was, to use a nautical phrase, hoist on my own petard.

There was the added complication that, much as I enjoyed my reading about Asian pirates, when the majority of readers saw the word “pirate,” they would envision Pirates of the Caribbean. If I had the whole novel to set up my Asian pirates, I might have managed it; but I was focusing on the love story, which takes place mainly aboard ship, so the lovers are isolated from the rest of the world. By the time I realized the way I should have arranged the plot to use more of the research, I was too far into the novel to change it, and still make my deadline.

I finally decided to (mostly) use pirates that would bring to mind classic Hollywood movies, while adding just a few fantastical touches to make them fit better into the novel’s fantasy world. I used as much of my research as I could without letting my worldbuilding take over the romance.

So I didn’t get to use most of my research, but I was left with a thirst for further knowledge and a scarily long reading list. This will probably be my next read, if I can obtain a copy: Pirates, Prostitutes and Pullers: Explorations in the Ethno- and Social History of Southeast Asia. Hey, there’s always a future novel that needs researching!

About Victoria Janssen

Victoria Janssen [she, her] currently writes cozy space opera for Kalikoi. The novella series A Place of Refuge begins with Finding Refuge: Telepathic warrior Talia Avi, genius engineer Miki Boudreaux, and augmented soldier Faigin Balfour fought the fascist Federated Colonies for ten years, following the charismatic dissenter Jon Churchill. Then Jon disappeared, Talia was thought dead, and Miki and Faigin struggled to take Jon’s place and stay alive. When the FC is unexpectedly upended, Talia is reunited with her friends and they are given sanctuary on the enigmatic planet Refuge. The trio of former guerillas strive to recover from lifetimes of trauma, build new lives on a planet with endless horizons, and forge tender new connections with each other.
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