Grace A. Johnson
The Journey of Held Captive--Part 2
So, last Sunday I shared the original version of my debut novel, Held Captive, the world it resided in, and a few of the ways that first draft (that was barely five chapters) of "The Lady Pirate" became Held Captive.
Today, I want to give you an in-depth look into my writing process--and how/why I came back to Held Captive--a few of the little things I learned along the way, and (time permitting; it takes me forever to write these things, so there will probably be a part three) my publishing journey, and the aftermath.
I'm just realizing now that I probably should have done this during my one-year anniversary back in late March. Oh, well.
We left off with Chapter 3 of "The Lady Pirate" and the iteration of its worst moment. Which were many for it to be so short.
When I think about going into Held Captive, I really see myself pantsing it (an author's term for jumping right in with little to no plotting or planning), but the cut-and-dry basics had already been decided about a year before. Timothy Wilde having killed Captain Blackstone--check. Rina having a younger brother named Julius--check. Rina being a nightmare-plagued noblewoman--check.
But that was it.
It was these things that changed drastically when I finally returned.
And why/when did I return, you ask? Why had I left to begin with?
Well, the last shall be first--I left because I was growing tediously bored and because "Beyond the Inner Storm" had captured my attention. I finished that manuscript and, sometime during the penning of the last several chapters, started working on both a revisiting of another story idea (which I had begun writing alongside "The Lady Pirate") and a sequel, titled "A Dream Fulfilled."
By the time I had finished "Beyond the Inner Storm," I was halfway done with "A Dream Fulfilled," had given up on the other story, and--for some odd reason or the other--was revisiting "The Lady Pirate."
Something--I'd say it was the Holy Spirit--possessed me to open up a new document and start writing. I had the cut-and-dry basics I'd had around nine-to-twelve months before, but something was different.
This was my opening sentence: "The ship was slowly coming into view, and anticipation seemed to take over me."(And, yes, I just wrote that from memory.)
As I wrote, I researched. I dropped the idea of gold and diamonds and found out that most pirates valued canvas, rope, food, rum, and medicine above anything else. I introduced all the characters in a cinematic sequence, gave them last names and backstories all at once, threw in Keaton for good measure too. I kept the whole idea of mysterious and anonymity surrounding Rina--from her appearance to her name to her gender--which still tricks readers into thinking that's she a regular male pirate captain. I gave Billy more character and an extra ear, making him a character I intend to keep for many more years and books to come. I had a friend sending me tidbits of information on pirates and writing, while I sent them the first nine chapters to review.
I wrote the one chapter and moved on.
About a week later, I returned. Rina was beckoning me, the only first-person POV I had ever had morphing into a voice all her own. I wrote another chapter.
I hit a couple snags. I cut out a few paragraphs. I wrote on a whim. After a while, I just wrote. I stopped researching, hopping from project to project, and wrote. I'd type in a question or two in my search engine every now and then, but nothing as extensive as what I do now. (Which still isn't very extensive, so that's not saying much. 😉)
I ended up cutting out the whole idea of Rina learning to read--she has dyslexia, a condition that wasn't discovered until centuries later--and threw in Captain Bryant Foxe of the Raven, a version of another character--both of whom were/are set to make more appearances.
It wasn't until Chapter 9 that I stopped to think about things a wee bit.
Xavier gained a past then. I gave him a history as a merchant ship captain whose crew had mutinied, stole his ship, and left him in Charles Town, where he got drunk and beat a man to death. (It's not as bad as it sounds, I assure you.)
That--I believe it was that; a great deal of this simply happened--prompted me to give him an even deeper past.
His father and mother, Reverend and Mrs. Collin Bennet, went from a staid but kind preacher and a sweet but boring housewife and mother of 3 boys to an ex-pirate captain and a runaway noblewoman. I gave them a story, Capturing Her Heart, which I do plan on writing someday. (Bit of trivia here, it will mark the beginning of my Arlington Family series, which features Kit and Chloe's Christmas novella, The Gift of Her Heart: An Arlington Family Novella.)
Of course, Xavier's still only 3-D. In the coming books, his character grows deeper and deeper, something I'm enjoying (to a degree; that man's more difficult than I'd originally realized) writing in my upcoming release, Bound and Determined.
It wasn't until I made it halfway through HC that I reared back and went, "Wait! What?" You know the epic plot twist that every story--at least the good ones--hinges upon? The one that's there before the characters, the setting, the opening and closing lines. The one that every reader knows is coming but never sees until boom!, there it is?
Yeah...it was a "boom" moment for me too. I had just realized that I had absolutely no reason for Maverick (yes, his name went from Mavrick to Maverick. I learned how to spell, believe it or not) to have kidnapped Rina.
(PS: Her name changed too. Cathrina Margret Winterbourne became Catherina Ana Dorcas Rosette Winterbourne Blackstone. I didn't find out until maybe a year after that multiple middle names didn't come into style until about a century later. 😥)
I can thank my genius baby sister for giving me the idea for his motives. Technically, she just sat there whilst I searched through my extensive database of "plot twists from books and movies I've read and seen before" until I came up with the right one.
The Vengeful/Evil Uncle.
Yep. It even has a name...probably because it's been done so many times before. *shrugs* It worked fine for me, popularity aside.
Suddenly, everything fell into place. Rina was Maverick's niece, her father was his brother. The man she claimed as her sire had stolen her when she was only a few months old in hopes of exacting revenge upon the family that had withheld everything from him--the family that called him illegitimate. Which makes Julius her first cousin, which totally works out. I still don't know why I never thought of it before. 🤔🤨
So, by Chapter 13, everything was settled and the story began to really unfold. I gave Xavier's brothers--twins David and Jonathon--some backstory of their own and started dreaming up ideas for future books. (One of which was Elliot's, called Prisoner at Heart, which had no plot or any character other than him until something possessed me to give Timothy Wilde three kids and name them Crimson, Scarlette, and Tomas. Believe it or not, once I decided on Crimson Wilde sharing a book--and a life--with Elliot Fulton Sr, the entire plot of Prisoner at Heart fell into my lap. It's Bound and Determined that has taken me four tries to get right...but that's a story for another day. 😉)
By the time I finished HC in December of 2018, I was starting on PAH and had lined up my college-aged cousin to edit it.
She made the second person to have ever read the entire story--that other person being me. I had a friend read about half and another read 'til Chapter 9. She made quick work of editing, while I researched publication...which we'll discuss next week.
Held Captive was a learning experience for me, in so many ways. I'm glad I published it--don't know what I would have done if I hadn't--but, to be honest, I didn't really reach that "oh, yeah, this is good" moment until I really started writing Prisoner at Heart. By then, I had established some ground rules on grammar and punctuation, watched the Pirate of the Caribbean (which, despite its outrageous and unrealistic everything, is a must for any aspiring pirate novelists), and come a point of awareness of my writing, my plot, and my characters. (Although that's not to say it's perfect...just better. 😊)
I'll close with an excerpt...one of my favorites...from Held Captive:
" I was beginning—albeit slightly—to wonder if perhaps there was more to land than dryness. There was something about the solidity of land that countered the tossing of the ocean’s waves, that seemed to describe the consistency and reliability of the feel of something hard beneath one’s feet. One knew that nothing could toss them like a storm or shake their foundation when their feet were planted solely on the earth. And should tempest or quake come, one could always rely on land to remain steadfast, to always support.
Perhaps that was what love was like. A solid rock that would not wash away with the next wave nor drown in a storm. It could not fade over time and leave one stranded. It was not unpredictable, where one was left to wonder where they would be if a wave crashed over them and pulled them into the blue depths of the ocean. It forever remained, through trial and tragedy and storm and danger. And nothing and no one could ever take it away.
This concept was completely new to me, countering everything I had ever known. I had lived my entire life on a foundation of water and tossing waves that had no rule or way. And I was beginning to see the error in such. But it was a painful realization, diminishing every belief I had once held—or rather, hadn’t held.
The waves had always represented fate for me, always taking me places I did or did not wish to go, moving upon their own accord. And I was at the helm, trying to redirect my ship and pull against fate’s current. But now I realized that I could never escape the current, struggle though I might.
Land had no waves to drag me to and fro. It was still, although filled with so many hills and valleys that one would always be left to wonder where they were going. But land didn’t move so quickly or drag one away. It allowed one to wander through its caves and mountains and forests and plains. And no matter where one wandered, land would always be there.
Don’t get me wrong, I still loved my ocean. I would always love the challenge and the exhilaration of the waves. But I was finding that I loved the land as well. What I loved most of all, though, was not the land itself, but its fidelity.
Xavier would compare the land to his God, I knew, and His faithfulness and steadfast love. He would say how no matter what, God was always there. God had no mountains and valleys or storms and quakes. He could not erode or wash away. Eventually land would do that, I knew. But while I roamed the earth for my short life, I could rely on land to remain as it was.
I could rely on God for all eternity. He never changed. He was the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow. And His faith never faltered, His trust never faded, and His love never failed.
But what I was unsure of was whether I believed in such amazing love and faith. If I believed that Someone so great could actually forgive someone so wretched. Xavier would tell me He would, if only I let Him. Yet how I would reply to that, I knew not either."
Excerpts from Held Captive: Copyright © 2019 Grace Ann Johnson
All rights reserved.
(Originally published July 26th, 2020.)