X Marks the Spot: Here There Be Pirates…


Chris A. JacksonSo, our latest Skull Island eXpeditions book is Watery Graves by Chris A. Jackson, who has more nautical sense than Broadsides Bart and Skarre put together. (Oh, and he’s a hell of a lot more pleasant than either of them.) Chris took a little time out of his schedule to answer a few questions about the book, the writing, and the know-how that clearly defines Chris as a pirate…

1) Let's cut right to the chase: your new book Watery Graves is a fantastic pirate novel about Captain Phinneus Shae and the crew of the Talion as they try to recover a mysterious treasure from a sunken ship. The book really comes to life with the nautical expertise from the author. So, the question is: are you actually a pirate, Chris?

I’ve been asked that more times than you might think, but the honest answer is, no, not even a little bit. I don’t even have pirate music! I am, however, a sailor, and have been around boats most of my life. My father was a fisherman on the Oregon coast, and I fell in love with the sea at an early age. She’s tried to kill me a few times, but I still love her. My wife and I quit our careers in Florida in 2009 to go sailing full time for a while, and since the writing career is now paying our minimal bills, we intend to keep on sailing and writing for the foreseeable future. I think my experience on the water adds some authenticity to my nautical fiction—the heavy weather scenes in Watery Graves, for instance, are right out of a three-day gale I experienced in Alaska—but I’m also a huge fan of the Patrick O’Brian novels, which I’ve tried to emulate with regard to the actual naval combat sequences. As far as real pirates of the nautical variety go, they’re still out there, but thankfully few and far between. We’ve never had the misfortune of meeting any, but we know those who have.

2) The book also features the first submarine scenarios we've seen in the Iron Kingdoms. How did you begin to determine the inner workings of a submarine crew in this setting?

I got the idea for including a submarine from reading the Iron Kingdoms source books. I wanted a new twist for this story and was pleased when the editors agreed to let me go there. There were some kinks to work out with the technology, and we had to make sure we meshed with the existing canon. I did some research into the early submarines of the U.S. Civil War, which were horrifically dangerous and ineffective contraptions. Combining the technology of the Iron Kingdoms with the historical elements seemed to work out nicely to give a still horrifically dangerous but quite effective weapon. There were also two elements of historical accuracy I had fun including: Most submariners had two traits, nerves of steel and small stature to accommodate the cramped confines, and the captain was the only person aboard to carry a firearm so that mutiny or cowardice under fire could be dealt with quickly and effectively. Firing a gun inside a tin can is usually not a good idea, after all.

3) This isn't your first foray into the adventures of Shae ("Blood and Iron"); what makes him an interesting character in your mind?

The difficulty with writing pirates as protagonists is finding redeeming qualities that make them sympathetic to the reader. I mean, they’re basically criminals, right? Shae is a reluctant pirate with a troubled past, who feels personally responsible for putting the officers and crew of Talion into their current situation. His often-contentious and enigmatic relationship with Hawk, his first mate, adds an unusual romantic element to the situation that helps make Shae real. Hawk is Shae’s pragmatic conscience, more often than not, and is the only person aboard who can tell the captain to quit obsessing about everything that’s going wrong and concentrate on making things go right. Since he’s a warcaster, a master naval tactician, and an official badass, as well, the fans seem to like him.

4) Without revealing too many spoilers about Watery Graves, where do you envision taking the story in the next novel?

It’s always a “group think” with the Privateer creatives to come up with plots that fit well with the characters and the setting. There is a lot going on in the Iron Kingdoms, most of which I don’t know about, so we will have to see. I’m not giving anything away, but we’ve put our hero in a tight spot here. Just who the good guys and bad guys are in the second novel might be the big surprise!

5) So, who do you think would be perfect as Shae in a major Hollywood motion picture?

Someone dark and brooding, for sure. Clive Owen would work nicely, I think, or Zack McGowan from the Black Sails series.

6) And if they cast Sailing Master Jackson as part of the crew of the Talion, who would play you? 

Ha! Wow…I don’t think that’s a question I’ve ever been asked before.  Well, if you could take Jack Nicholson and Robert DeNiro and mix them together into a kind of maniacal, short-tempered wise man, I think that would work. Not what you expected, right?

Next post: Tuesday, December 27