The real pirate of the Bloody Angel

The bell from Black Sam's Whydah

When I began thinking about the next Eddie LaCrosse novel, sometime during the final stages of Dark Jenny, I knew I needed a simple hook for it. The previous books had them: The Sword-Edged Blonde came from the song, “Rhiannon,” Burn Me Deadly came from a mash-up of Kiss Me Deadly and the idea of dragons as nuclear weapons, and Dark Jenny was, of course, inspired by King Arthur. So what, I pondered, would be next?

At first I considered the idea of a DaVinci Code-ish (okay, really, a Foucault’s Pendulum-ish) mystery set in my made-up world. That immediately felt impractical, as it would require creating far more history, backstory and mythology than I felt the series could bear. I did try, though, creating a chain of clues for Eddie to discover, each one leading him to the next, in a globe-trotting adventure. But it quickly grew cumbersome, and untrue to the character’s noirish origins. So I downshifted to a more traditional treasure hunt, this time based on my lifelong interest in the Oak Island Money Pit (more on that in another blog post). That led me to the simple hook I needed: pirates.

But what pirates? Which pirate?

I wanted to base my pirates on real ones. And there were a lot of good ones out there. But I needed one who turned pirate for the right sort of reason, one that would inspire someone to hire Eddie to go after him.

And that led me to Black Sam Bellamy, and his ship, the Whydah, which went down in 1717.

The first-person account of the Whydah's rediscovery.

The Whydah stands as the only pirate ship whose wreck has been positively identified (her bell, with her name on it, was discovered in 1984; see above illustration). But the story of Black Sam is what really got my attention. He turned pirate not from greed or vengeance, but from love: he wanted to amass a fortune, then return to marry his Cape Cod girlfriend. That was the kind of hook on which I could hang an Eddie LaCrosse story.

Now, as with most initial ideas, the story became its own thing in the telling. Black Edward might do some of the same things as his inspiration Black Sam, but his reasons are eventually revealed to be completely different, as is his ultimate fate. But using the real man as the basis for the story continues something I established with my first Eddie novel, namely to find fantasy analogues for elements of real life whenever possible (that’s why, in that first novel, a horse gets a parking ticket).

So Wake of the Bloody Angel, while it moves into a new setting (see this blog post for more information about that) and introduces new characters, also follows the series’ unspoken (and extremely loose) rules. Because the fun of writing them is in giving readers exactly what they expect, but in ways they don’t anticipate. That way it stays fresh for you, and me.

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