This post was originally written for The Smutketeers; I’ve expanded it here.
Why did I want to write about pirates? Well, because they’re sexy. It’s the outfits, you know. All that silk and tattered finery! The amazing tattoos. The cutlasses. The way they grab hostages and lock them in cabins for their own pleasure. And finally, the isolation. Being stuck on a ship together is like the traditional “trapped in a lonely cabin” story, only with the possibility of being eaten by sharks. It’s just plain fun. I had a blast reading the back cover blurbs on a pile of pirate romance novels, and making lists of all the tropes.
I was never the biggest fan of pirates before. I enjoyed reading the classic Captain Blood in high school and, more recently, saw the first Pirates of the Caribbean movie. I’ve read some pirate and sea adventure romances, and am looking forward to reading, in particular, Captured by Beverly Jenkins. I researched Asian pirates, particularly Japanese pirates in conflict with China and Korea, which was really fascinating. But my true loves so far as ocean novels goes are the Napoleonic sea adventure novels by C.S. Forester (the Hornblower series) and Patrick O’Brian (the Aubrey-Maturin series). (Yes, I’ve seen all of the film and television adaptations, but I love the books best.)
Since my novel was set in a fantasy world, I decided to combine these two sub-genres, pirate romances and sea adventures, for The Duke and the Pirate Queen. I took elements from my reading on Asian pirates and combined them with Napoleonic-era European ships and the tropes of sea adventure novels. The heroine, Imena Leung, is the daughter of an Imperial admiral who married one of her barbarian captives. Imena fought pirates, so really she’s a privateer, but the world doesn’t see her that way, and now pirates are after her again, when she thought she’d put it all behind her. And now she isn’t just protecting herself, but her lover.
For my pirates, I had fun both with making them eeeevil and also making them a bit more complex than one’s standard mental image of a pirate who is all outfit and greed. I ended up with two major pirate characters. One of them I made into a flamboyantly angry and greedy villain. The other was more ambiguous; at times she appears cruel and violent, but there are also good reasons for some of the things she does.
I used the pirates’ attack as a way of propelling several aspects of the plot. First, their attack created an opportunity for a big action scene! But eventually, their attack also led to emotional revelations for the hero and heroine.
Pirate attack is better than relationship therapy? Who knew?