What can you tell us about At Drake's Command without spoiling the plot for readers?
At Drake's Command tells the tale of Peregrine James, a young cook who signs aboard the Pelican, a galleon commanded by Francis Drake, in 1577. The Pelican is the flagship of a fleet of five vessels bound ostensibly for Alexandria to trade in currants. Soon, however, Perry learns that the real destination of the adventure lies elsewhere, although the exact particulars are secret. As the expedition sails down the coast of Africa toward the Cape Verde Islands, it becomes clear that he has joined a pirate band rather than a peaceful company of merchants. After being kidnapped by Moors, marooned in Barbary, and hung three times from the mainmast spar, it also becomes clear to Perry that it is unwise to be both insignificant and expendable when you are serving so perilous a master as Captain Francis Drake.
What led you to write a book based around Drake's circumnavigation?
In 1999 I was one of the winners of the Writers of the Future Contest, which was created by L. Ron Hubbard, who was a science fiction writer before he founded the religion of Scientology. Each year winners of the contest are invited to Los Angeles for a black-tie awards ceremony and a week-long writing workshop conducted by a professional science fiction writer. The chief judge was Dave Wolverton. Tim Powers, author of On Stranger Tides, was also there.
Hubbard believed in research. Thus one morning we were let loose in the aisles of the LA Library to browse the shelves in search of inspiration. I was mildly interested in pirates and began reading a facsimile edition of The World Encompassed by Sir Francis Drake.
This was not written by Drake himself but published by a nephew thirty years after Drake's death in an effort to keep alive Drake's reputation. While thumbing through the book, I came across an interesting passage:
On an island off the coast of Patagonia, Drake charged one of his crew with treason and mutiny. Forty men were chosen as jurors and a trial was held. The accused, Thomas Doughty, was found guilty. Drake gave Doughty three options:
1. To be returned to England to face punishment
2. To be left behind in Patagonia
3. To be executed
Given these choices, Doughty replied: "Please, do not return me to England since I am a gentleman and do not want to be shamed before my queen. Do not maroon me in Patagonia, either, since I am a good Christian and I do not want to lose my faith among the heathen. No, general, I ask you to exercise the third option."
Drake obliged and cut off Doughty's head. Then he held it up by the hair and said, "Lo, here be the end of traitors."
Upon reading this, I said to myself, "This is utter mendacity." So I embarked on a course of research for the next four years to uncover the real story of what had happened on that bleak island (Drake called it the "Island of Truth and Justice" but the crew had another name for it: "The Island of Blood"). Eventually, I succeeded—at least, to my own satisfaction. My first inclination was to write a non-fiction book about the Doughty affair. I am, however, a fiction writer, so I decided to tell the tale in novel form.
What fascinates you about the Elizabethan period?
The language. This was the time of Shakespeare and Marlow and John Dunne. Linguistically, it was the Wild, Wild West—there wasn't even a dictionary yet. There were no rules and very little precedent, allowing unparalleled flights of literary invention.
How did you undertake your research?
I have read most of the major accounts of Drake's life and the circumnavigation, starting with The World Encompassed, and including Corbett's Drake and the Tudor Navy and Wagner's Voyage Around the World. I own an 8-volume edition of The Principal Navigations, which is an invaluable resource and contains much about Drake. At one point I ordered facsimiles of source material ("Doughty's Oration") from the British Library so that I could examine the original text. Google Earth has also been an amazing tool, allowing me to retrace Drake's route almost day by day.
How important is historical accuracy to your story?
I am meticulous about historical accuracy. My aim in writing At Drake's Command was to embellish history rather than to manufacture it. Most of the characters, with the exception of Perry and a few others, actually sailed with Drake. Wherever possible I use their very words to express the opinions they voiced while they were among the living.
Where did your interest in the sea originate?
I have always loved the sea. In the early 1980s I sailed on the Clearwater on the Hudson River and Long Island Sound. The Clearwater is a replica of the typical sloop that worked the river in the 1800s—about 80' in length and 20' abeam. It was built with funds raised by Pete Seeger and other environmentalists, and sailed the river in order to educate people about the mighty Hudson. I was the relief cook. We had a wood-burning stove and an icebox we had to refill with 300 pounds of ice every five days. Luckily, since the menu was mostly vegetarian, I didn't have to worry about shifting barrels of salt pork and cod to feed the crew. Also, in 2001, I cooked on an offshore delivery of a 50' vessel from Annapolis to Fort Lauderdale. The voyage required eleven days and introduced me to the joys of blue water sailing despite 12-foot seas our first day out of the harbour.
What are your future plans for the series?
Hopefully, At Drake's Command will find an appreciative audience. The second book, Desperate Bankrupts, will pick up the tale in the Cape Verde Islands and continue until the execution of Thomas Doughty in Patagonia. The third volume, Beyond Dreams of Avarice, will take the adventure back to England laden with the greatest pirate treasure of all history.
Is there anything else you would like to share with readers?
You may read the first chapter of At Drake's Command at: http://www.temurlonepress.com/adc_chapter_one.php
At Drake's Command is published by Temurlone Press