I have such a conflicted relationship with this book. It started out with me just wanting to write a kick-ass pirate tale, but something different than you’d get in most pirate fiction.
So, I made all the pirates in the crew women. It made sense. Let’s write a kick-ass story about women pirates. Awesome, right?
But I have a real behavioural issue. No matter what simple idea I give myself, no matter how I try to make it just a vapid, entertaining story, I ultimately end up injecting some kind of philosophical or metaphysical or political statement into it. Worse yet, the devil’s advocate in me is absolutely irresistible and for every idea posited, I can’t help but ask, but what if it’s not that way and it’s some other way?
It’s a curse and a blessing.
Clearly, the first step of any story of female pirates would revolve around their relationship (and inevitably, given the era and general attitudes of men toward women of strength throughout the ages) with men of the age.
A nasty male pirate would make a good foil, as would a seemingly “good” male who actually treats his female protege poorly, by taking advantage of her good will. Because I love a good pirate tale, there had to be treasure, and because everything’s so superstitious in pirate-land, there should be a mystical component, clashing heavily with more realistic ideas.
Pirate havens like Tortuga and Port Royal would not treat women well. Women who dared to stand up for themselves would inevitably find conflict and only being a super-badass would keep them at bay.
Enter Captain Hanna.
And I tried to make it a straight feminist epic. I really did. I wanted the women to come out on top, though not without sacrifice, suffering and loss, because then it’s just an A-Team episode where everything wraps up nicely at the end with no real danger endured or conquered.
Two other things happened on the way to the ending. First, I unfortunately included what I noted in my story is the thing men always threaten with: men’s peckers and women’s bodies, or death. (Straight quote, misquoted, by the way).
I hope it’s not excessive. It feels like it might be, but the idea is to show how little regard men have for women, no matter how strong they were, and it’s symbolic of how women have gotten the shaft, over and over again, throughout history, often literally, and have, for the most part, had no choice but to suffer and endure.
Secondly, I always allow my characters to dictate the story. I have a rough outline I use to determine the general story arc, but any writer worth their salt will tell you characters tend to grow organically, and minor characters force themselves into greater roles, major characters disappear under pressure and main characters develop goals and personalities and flaws and prejudices that end up influencing the story more than the story influences them.
Hanna was a character, strong as she was, that refused to have the story dictated to her. Gardner, though of a different, less bullheaded strength, also refuses to allow the story to dictate her life (eventually). Hanna’s goal was to be the dominant member of a new dominant gender. She, as a pirate captain, was authoritarian and prone to violence. She can be egalitarian and a good storyteller, but ultimately, her command, her power, that’s everything to her. The opportunity for ultimate power is too good to pass up and proves her undoing.
I worry that it also proves the undoing of the primary desire for this story – to create a kick-ass pirate story featuring strong women as the pirates.
But Hanna dictates the story. Violent, willful, unflinching in her vision for a new world order where women are on top and get the opportunity to exact revenge and be the new dominant species. To treat men the way they have been treated for millenia – as cattle, as slaves, as lesser humans.
And part of me is like, YES! GIVE THEM EVERYTHING THEY DESERVE!
And then there’s devil’s advocate, that insists on taking the broader view. That insists on exploring other perspectives.
And it asked, “how is that better?”
Any societal structure that ends up with one oppresses the other is not a good one. I don’t want to promote any authoritarian culture. I am against the patriarchy; it doesn’t help me achieve my goals either. I can’t condone any lifestyle that involves violence and oppression.
So, I had to stop Hanna. And Gardner was the key, being always independent, always ambitious, always capable of thinking outside the box.
They dictated the story, in order to try and reach a place of tolerance (sort of. You’ll see if you read it).
What I worry is that I minimized too greatly the women’s struggles with it, and blew off all the bad shit that happened to them by disregarding Hanna’s vision and not giving her a better resolution.
But… I let the characters dictate. Hanna’s violent, she’s insistent on being in charge and inevitably, she’s hellbent on proving she’s scarier, harder and just plain better than any man alive, because of how she’s been treated all her life. To have her suddenly singing Kumbaya wouldn’t have made any sense. It would have undone everything the character strove to be.
Would a leader like that be able to lay down the sword and change philosophies on a dime? Worse yet, would she be able to do it while holding the kind of godlike power of our mystic artifact grants her?
I suspect not. I suspect the land would become something truly hellish in short order, with no one of value to stand up to her save Gardner, my perspective character.
But did I sell them all short? Was there a better way? A middle ground that allowed for Hanna to grow into something better, while not compromising her strength or her desire for a new, free, dominant woman?
I’m so conflicted, but it’s done. I can’t do it anymore. It needs to go out in the world so the world can provide feedback, and either prove to me that I’ve made a cardinal mistake of unthinking misogyny (that I will fix) or that I’ve not been completely misled, and the message of tolerance bleeds through.
Time will tell, I suppose. I’m off to have my customary whisky (Wolfhead Apple Caramel, save as for Mungk) and cigar (small, Rohangel) for the completion of a manuscript.
Next… A full length novella based on the short story All Void, No Stars, recently published in Cough Syrup magazine, located here if you want to buy it: