Grace A. Johnson
The Journey of Held Captive
Recently, I had a friend read my debut novel, Held Captive, and tell me what she thought. Long story short, she had a few of what I call eh moments, which was expected because, well, Held Captive is kind of eh. Now, that's not to say it doesn't have some very good points...but I was twelve/thirteen when I wrote it, and all by the seat of my pants, so you can expect a few errors--and I don't mean grammatical ones.
Well, when she mentioned those eh moments, my big head popped and I ended up relating to her a wee bit about the journey of Held Captive, i.e., why those moments of eyebrow-raising "what?"s existed and why I went the route of self-publishing.
So...my point is that I wanted to share this journey with you. This is a story you can't read within the pages of Held Captive, that my mother or sister can't tell you, that I talk about at libraries and schools where I speak, giving a little insight into the first story that truly stole my heart. (FYI, for those who have NOT read Held Captive yet, this will be a very spoiler-ish post.)
I mentioned a few posts ago that, as I was dreaming up the idea for my first ever completed manuscript, "Beyond the Inner Storm," I was also toying with another idea, "The Lady Pirate." What I didn't mention was that "The Lady Pirate" was a far cry from what eventually became Held Captive.
Sometime in 2017, my twelve-year-old mind decided that it would be a great idea to write a book about...you guessed it...pirates! Now, you need to understand that, at this time, my knowledge of piracy was limited to Veggietales and Dora the Explorer. As in, I knew NOTHING. Zilch. Zip. Nada.
Which resulted in my first thought being "I don't want Shakespeare to be alive. I need to find out when he died and pick a year sometime after that."
So this was what my outline ended up looking like. (And this really how it read. Please note that I did not know how to spell. My mathematical skills were also sorely lacking. 😉)
1683 The Lady Pirate
Lady Cathrina|Age: 23|Born: 1660 England| Birth Father: Lord Peter|Birth Mother: Lady Margret|Stolen at birth by pirates|Shiny, caramel brown hair|Blue-green eyes|Beautiful, strong, smart, and competitive
Xavier Bennett|Age: 27|Born: 1654 England|Birth Father: Collin Bennett|Birth Mother: Engal Bennett|Sandy, wavy, blonde hair|Pirate|Handsome and strong|Black eyes|Cathrina's Enemy
Captain Charlie|Dead|Born: 1298 Died 1390 England|Buried treasure|Gold, silver, and diamonds|Xavier and Cathrina after treasure
First Mate Elliot|Age: 29|Born: 1652 Scotland|C's FM
Basically, there was a female pirate of noble birth who was kidnapped by pirates at birth. She and her enemy pirate were after the same treasure. They fall in love and get married. The end.
Obviously, it didn't turn out quite like that, but you can see the similarities. I kept the year, title, names (to a degree) of the characters, and both Elliot and Charlie stuck around (in an alternate form, that is).
Well, I wrote this outline and set it aside, going to work on "Beyond the Inner Storm."
Several months after, however, I revisited the idea, totally changed the plot, and began writing.
Now, I don't know how in the great googly moogly I went from two pirates searching for treasure to a pirate noblewoman kidnapped (for the second time) by a merchant ship captain taking her back to her birth father, but I did. I believe that God gave me the idea. (Although it may have been that I was reading The Lost Heiress at the time...🤔)
Here's what changed: Lady Cathrina became Captain Cathrina Margret "Rina" Winterbourne Blackstone, raised by her "father" Captain Mavrick Blackstone alongside her "brother" Julius. In 1673, her father was murdered by Captain Timothy Wilde (for no apparent reason at the time) and her brother kidnapped. She was then voted in as captain of her father's ship, the Rina. (Which was, of course, named after her.)
With the same appearance of brown hair and turquoise eyes, her personality was amped up. Suffering from PTSD, nightmares, and grief, she was cold, hard, and stern. She gave no mercy and had no conscience. But then she found out that she was not actually the daughter of Mavrick Blackstone, the sister of Julius Blackstone (what a surprise!), when she was captured by Captain Xavier Bennet of the merchant ship Jessica.
Xavier, older brother of twins David and Jonathan and sister Christabel, was the son of Reverend Colin Bennet and his wife Joanna Bennet. He was roguish and rakish, kind and caring, and "too good for his own breeches." He was commissioned by a duke, Richard Winterbourne, to find his long-lost daughter, who was kidnapped by Mavrick at birth.
Charlie was her boatswain and Elliot Browne still her first mate, only with the addition of a peg-leg and a motherless son, Elliot Jr.
Everyone's favorites Crimson, Tomas, and Scarlette Wilde didn't exist, neither did Bryant Foxe or Keaton Clarke. (More on Keat later.)
Rina's mother was never actually mentioned or really thought of (by me, I mean), Mavrick had no reason to have kidnapped her, and she actually had an older brother, John. John, the heir of his father's dukedom, had been exiled after he had fallen in love with a female pirate and had a daughter.
Said daughter, Aurora Williamson, ended up joining in on the fun when I extended the series (which had no title) to include many more books.
After Rina and Xavier married, Xavier's younger sister Christabel--who dreamed of adventure--ran away, boarded a pirate ship, and was eventually saved from imminent danger by a new addition to Rina's crew, Keaton Clarke. Keaton was young (early twenties) and had light brown hair, blue eyes, and a charming personality. Christabel was slight annoying, impudent, otherwise a dear, and had blond hair and green eyes. Of course, they fell in love and got married. (That was the most exciting thing I could come up with back then.)
Julius, who suddenly appeared back in Rina's life after ten years of absence, fell in love with Aurora Williamson, who also suddenly appeared in Rina's life.
Rina and Xavier had a daughter, Mari-Rina, and twin boys--Derek and Colin (see what I kept?). Mari-Rina had a story, in which she was captured by a Raven Foxe--the pirate captain who inspired Bryant Foxe--rescued by her friend Elliot Browne Jr, and later wed to the same Elliot Browne Jr. (You should be able to tell by now that my imagination wasn't as creative as it is now.)
Anyway...the world of "The Lady Pirate" continued to expand into--what was it?--maybe the 1900s, but for certain the mid-1800s, with multiple stories set during the American Revolution.
Man, I hope all this makes sense, being that I myself still can't wrap my mind around it.
Here are a few unedited excerpts from the five original chapters of "The Lady Pirate," which I wrote old-fashion style with a pencil and notebook:
#1: Chapter 1--
The Rina rocked in the rushing water of the Atlantic Ocean, sending gold coins to the ground.
I carefully reached down to grab my fallen loot, then fixed the stack of coins atop the wooden desk in the middle of my cabin. I added my last coin to the stack before realizing several were missing. My first assumption was that they'd fallen on the floor as well, but once I looked to the bare floor, my guess was proven wrong. One of my crew members must've taken the loot, thinking I wouldn't noticed. Ha, if only they knew that I noticed everything that happened on my ship, every fly that rested on the railing, every crumb that fell. I practically had eyes in the back of my head, eyes that could see all.
Already in my mind was Billy. That kid hadn't been on the ship a week, but I soon noticed his puppy eyes at the sight of my loot. If that boy wanted gold, he would have to yank the gold tooth out of my mouth before he got a hold of my coins, or anything for that matter.
The wobbly clomp of wood against the ship's deck told me Elliot, my first mate had found a handful of gold coins under Billy's pillow, and was coming to return them.
The scenario had gone over countless times with different crew members. I didn't have a clue why they thought they would get away with stealing from me. I wasn't any different from any other pirate.
The metal handle on the door jiggled, and Elliot Browne stepped into the room. Elliot was my most trustworthy pirate and like a brother to me. He was extremely intimidating, but after having known him for all my life, I wasn't the least bit afraid of him. He was tall, towering over all my crew members and just did meet my height. His face was covered by a long brown beard, and he wore his equally long hair back in a braid. His deep blue eyes could pierce into one's soul, yet always softened at the sight of me.
"Cap'n, found 'ome coins under lil' Bill's piller. Gave the kid'n earful. Too bad's gonna get chopped off purty soon," Elliot stated, giving me a wicked grin.
I snatched the coins from Elliot's outstretched hand, and mentally counted them, then added them to my collection. "No matter how much I want to, I'll let you do the grand honors," I mumbled, giving Elliot my queue to leave. Though my voice was muffled, I could still make out my perfect English accent. I'd been a pirate all my life, so I had no idea why talking with my mates slang was so abnormal. I shook off my petty worries over my voice, and focused on the task at hand.
Now that I'd finished counting the coins, I grabbed a sack from under my desk. For the past three years, I had done a great job at concealing my jewels I'd stolen. Over time, I'd collected quite a bit of treasure. Multiple rubies and emeralds, numerous amethysts, a couple diamonds, though my personal favorite was the gold chain, from which a sapphire hung at the end. The bright blue that had a smidge of green matched my eyes to perfection. I had just retrieved the necklace the previous day, along with the gold, and a golden antique goblet encrusted with rubies and diamonds. I grabbed the necklace and draped it around my neck.
My mental list of stolen treasures was interrupted by a high-pitched scream. I knew the scream belonged to Billy. The penalty for stealing from the captain had been established by father, Captain Mavrick Blackstone, and I had continued administrating the punishment, at least until I ran out of ears. Laughter from the other pirates mixed in with the sixteen-year-old boy's screeches. It would teach him not to mess with my gold. I was almost tempted to leave my room and watch the spectacle, but I figured it would be best not to. Once the screams and laughter dissipated, I opened my heavy door and exited the cramped space.
One of my pirates, Charlie was on his knees wiping the crimson blood from my deck. "Got ur gold, Cap'n?" Charlie asked, looking up from his cleaning.
My gaze followed to the stubble of his ear, where Father had cut him many years ago. It was my first time witnessing the act of punishment. I didn't even flinch at the sight of Charlie's blood. But now, I couldn't even think of him stealing from me, much less having to punish him.
I smiled, revealing my golden molar. "I did, thanks to Elliot," I told the man. Charlie was a short, stocky man with long black hair and beard, and bright green eyes. Charlie was like an uncle to me; actually, all of my crew were like family to me, with an exception of Billy. I'd picked up the boy at the last ship we'd raided, hoping to gain the child's trust. Now I knew that would take some work.
"Where's the boy?" I questioned sternly.
My eyes scanned my ship, the Rina. It was a vastly large ship, and I took pride in its elegance and size that set it apart from other pirate ship I'd seen over the years, but side from all the technicalities that most captains bothered themselves with, what drew me to the Rina was the beautifully carved mermaid at the front of the ship. Who ever had created the carving ought to take pride in their work.
My attention shifted to a trail of blood that had yet to be cleaned. The blood led into the bunks, and I immediately knew the answered to my question.
Charlie followed my gaze, sensing my thoughts. He shrugged. "Knock ursel out," he said with a wink.
I nodded as I trudged across the deck and down the steps leading into the dark room. my eyes easily adjusted to the dim light of the room. I soon caught sight of Billy, who sat on his cot, his hand cupping what was left of his ear, tears mixing with the blood that trickled down his face. I crouched down in front of the boy, wiping all sternness from my expression. I placed a hand on his shoulder, and once Billy noticed my softness, he relaxed under my hold. He sniffled. "Now, son, you know the penalty of stealing from me, and I advise you not to do it again, not even think about it," I said, erasing the coldness from my voice. Suddenly, I felt sorry for the kid, only a little, mind you.
Billy looked at his blood stained hands, then back at me. "I'm real sorry, Cap'n. Won't happen gin," he said as his big blue eyes filled with tears. He sniffled again.
What had I been thinking letting this little child come on my ship? I thought to myself.
I stood, almost bonking my head on the wooden beam above me, and turned to leave. "Billy, you best toughen up if you want to stay alive," I stated over my shoulder, replacing my softness with my normal cold gaze, and even in the dark, I could see Billy shudder. "My crew is the best in the seven seas, so if you want to stay, you have to prove yourself to them, or next thing you know is they'll be throwing you over board." And if they didn't, I would. I couldn't handle sissies on my ship, no one could.
Anyone remember Billy Sandes, master swordsman, friend of Keaton, smitten with Scarlette Wilde? You do? Well, this is how he started. And Elliot, jovial by nature yet ridden with grief, kind beneath a gruff exterior, hero of Prisoner at Heart? Yeah...he wasn't always the doting father, mourning widower, and reckless young man that he is today. He used to be the perfect picture of a filthy pirate. And Rina was apparently very unconventional, because NO ONE in the history of history--but especially piracy--cut off an ear for thievery. Fingers, hands, heads, yes. Ears? No. (At least, not that I've heard of. Correct me if I'm wrong.) I also had no idea what a rough, lower-class 17th century British accent sounded like. Probably because there is no standard, but the least I could've done was shot for Irish rather that some twisted form of Southern USA. (Just so you know, we don't actually talk like that.)
How about this scene from Chapter 2? Anyone remember the end result in Held Captive?
I knew good and well Charlie's plan would work, but the idea of getting attacked by pirates just to find Lady Cathrina Winterbourne was not the most appealing in my mind. I only hoped Charlie had his crew under control and didn't send them chopping my men's heads off. I'd talked the matter over with my men, so they knew just what to do, but I was beginning to have doubts about the plan. Then an image of Duke Richard came to mind. He'd not seen his daughter for twenty-seven years since his child was but a babe, and the girl had never met her father. The thought of the reunion that would be made possible if I followed through was a joyous one. So, here goes nothing.
My gaze caught sight of the Rina coming towards my ship, the Jessica. The ship was huge, bigger than any other pirate ship I'd ever seen before. My heart stopped beating for a moment. If the ship was that large, just imagine the size of the crew.
I walked into my cabin, knowing it would keep me from seeming as though I was waiting for the pirates to attack, even though I was. I sat in my chair, picked up a quill, and began to write.
At the moment the pirates stepped foot on my ship, my brother Jonathan would enter, warn me of the threat, then go on with his day like nothing would happen. I hoped to grab Lady Cathrina and be done. But one never knew what would occur. I knew from what Charlie had told me that Cathrina was feisty. But, seriously, how feisty could a young girl be? I guessed I'd find that out soon enough.
The door swung open, and Jonathan burst into the room. "It is time, brother," he said, then turned and left.
"Pirates!" a man yelled as I exited my cabin.
The pirates looked just like every other pirate I'd seen before, except for one. This one was tall and slender, with long, wavy sun-bleached brown hair. The person's features were almost perfect and like that of a lady. Cathrina.
My inspection of the girl was ended by a tug on my arm. I looked at the person who grabbed me and saw Charlie. The man pulled me into a corner, then heaved a sigh. "Careful out there, Xavier. Cathrina's not like all the ladies you've met 'fore. She'll come 'round towards the back, that's when you come out. You distract her, then I'll bonk her on the head. You'll take her down under, and I'll get my crew back on the Rina. Just don't let her know I'm part of this," Charlie instructed.
I nodded, though most of what he'd said went in one ear and out the other. I knew my job quite well, no matter how nervous I was, which was a lot.
Charlie walked away, then I mentally counted to one hundred before I trudged out of my hiding spot. I soon caught sight of Cathrina and came up behind her.
Even from behind, she was gorgeous. Her hair hung down her back in soft waves that beckoned for me to run my fingers through the loose brown strands. Her hand rested on the hilt of her sword in an almost threatening fashion. I got the feeling that she wasn't anything like a normal young woman. Probably one of the reasons why Charlie was going to hit her over the head. Though I'd try and nab her so he wouldn't have to.
A black leather strap went around her head, must've been an eye patch, but why would she need one of those?
"So, did the captain let his little lady on my ship?" I teasingly asked.
In a flash, Cathrina turned to face me. She narrowed her eye, the one not covered by the eye patch, and it turned a shimmering gray. She growled, a golden tooth showing, and what I would've called a beautiful young woman seemed like an angry wolf.
I think we all can recognize this as the first scene in Xavier's POV. The basics never changed. Granted, I did add a very interesting description of Rina later on in HC: The toe of tall black boots secured by golden buckles tapped in some sort of rhythm, the motion then drawing my gaze up to the long, slender breeches-clad legs. Swinging by her right leg from its sheath on a loosely worn thick leather belt was a huge cutlass with an ornate gold hilt. Tucked haphazardly into the belt was a tight white shirt that hugged her ladyship’s perfectly curved figure, its low ruffled collar revealing more than was necessary. A waistcoat tailored of a deep crimson velvet was what came next, the long tails of the coat probably covering a dagger and pistol hanging from the other side of the belt.
Clasped around a slender neck was a beautiful golden chain, from which hung three bright emeralds that matched the jewels embedded in the huge golden hoop earrings that swung from her ears. Little wisps of sun-bleached light brown hair tickled her neck there, the remainder of the thick curls tucked hurriedly underneath the black tricorn hat poised atop her head, the brim of the tricorn shadowing her face.
This short scene remained roughly the same in depiction..
#3: Chapter 2--
I almost fell over in laughter at the man behind me's assumption. The captain's little lady. I'd been called many things over my twenty-seven years of life: Sister, Daughter, Rina, Captain, Cathy, Kitty, Cathrina, Auntie, Blackstone, One eye, Goldie, and so on, but never had I been referred to as the captain's little lady.
Before one could blink, I spun around to face the man. My breath caught at what I saw. The man was tall, broad-shouldered, well-muscled, and handsome, heart-wrenching and apparently breath-catching handsome. His wavy dirty blond hair grew down to the base of his neck and curled slightly at the ends. The man's dark eyes scanned over me with not just interest and humor, but also recognition. Did I know him, or he know me?
Finally, I came out of my thoughts. "You're daft," I stated, for if he thought I was the "captain's little lady", then no matter how handsome he was, the man was certainly foolish. The thought brought my boiling anger to the surface.
I quickly drew my sword and held it to his throat, wanting to wipe the smirk from his face and erase the mirth from his gaze. "I am the captain," I told him as he drew his sword as well.
The man brought his weapon to mine and pushed my blade away from his neck.
Before he could take another breath, I did a backflip and landed on the railing behind me. Not even having a moment to gain my balance, I grabbed a rope that hung beside me, swung past the man, then came up behind him and knock his sword from his hand into the water. Countless times had I performed the trick but never had it felt so satisfying. A devilish grin formed on my lips as I jumped from the rope back to my place before the man.
After only a moment of my feet being planted on the ground, the sound of footfalls came from behind me and bid me to turn and see the owner of the sound. And at the moment I did, I came face to face with Charlie.
Then...black. Burning pain. Utter darkness. An aching. A void hole.
I loved this part--Xavier's comment and Rina's reaction--so much (believe it or not, I came up with while using the bathroom one day...the places you find inspiration! 😋) that I kept it in the finished product. With a great deal of tweaking, of course.
Going back, the first, say, seven chapters of HC were plainly based on the first five of "The Lady Pirate," from Rina's attempts to escape the Jessica to the storm in Chapter 6. However, a lot still changed between the first five chapters I ever wrote to the end result of Held Captive. Keep your eye out, because next week, I'll be sharing with you what happened in the span of a year that made those excerpts above into the novel that has become the basis for my other three works, my upcoming release, and many other stories I hold dear to my heart.
Excerpts from Held Captive: Copyright © 2019 Grace Ann Johnson
All rights reserved.
(Originally published July 19, 2020.)