The Pirate Who Just Won’t Leave
Every author has one in the closet: the throwaway character who just won’t go away, the one-scene wonder who tries to hijack the story and refuses to be relegated to a walk-on role. When the stubborn minor character is a historical figure and one is writing fantasy set in the modern world, things can get interesting fast.
New Orleans and some of her legendary citizens played a starring role in Royal Street from rough draft onward—the book title comes not only from NOLA’s famous Rue Royale, but also pays homage to the city’s royalty. Louis Armstrong, Huey Long, Marie Laveau, and Tennessee Williams are all larger-than-life Louisianans who epitomize the enduring spirit and character of the state’s larger-than-life city after the devastation of Hurricane Katrina. Each made his or her appearance in the book, served a purpose, and moved offstage with grace and good humor.
Then there’s arguably New Orleans’ most famous citizen, the early 19th-century French pirate Jean Lafitte, who double-crossed the British Royal Navy and threw in his lot with Andrew Jackson to win the Battle of New Orleans in 1815 in exchange for presidential pardons for past crimes.
Jean Lafitte appeared in one scene of the first draft, in the book’s opening, playing the role of a Jack Sparrowish piratical parody. And then he demanded more.
In self-defense, I read a biography to learn about this stubborn man, thinking to expand his one scene a little and pacify him. Then I made an author’s biggest mistake—or the most fortuitous mystery of authorhood, depending on how you look at it: I fell in love with a character. He seduced me as surely as he tries to seduce my lead character. Who is a wizard. In modern New Orleans.
You see the problem here.
Jean Lafitte, I was to quickly learn, is the type of historical figure who needs no augmentation. His past was shrouded in mystery before he appeared on the scene as a young man of 24 in New Orleans, his final demise left to speculation sometime around his fortieth birthday. He was smart, handsome by all accounts, held as many as a thousand pirates, gypsies, and ruffians under an iron rule, and was quite morally ambiguous. Jean Lafitte liked to win.
Now, six biographies later, I have given in, and Le Capitaine has won another victory. Jean Lafitte has shaped the direction of the Sentinels of New Orleans series, carving a “technically undead” niche for himself and his fellow celebrity New Orleanians of the past in an urban fantasy that might otherwise have taken a different path.
So, what do you do when a minor character has delusions of stardom?
My recommendation: give in, and run with it. And in case you really go overboard: eBay has some great Jean Lafitte action figures for sale.
Related link: Stories set in the world of Royal Street can be found at my website.
From the Tor/Forge April newsletter. Sign up to receive our newsletter via email.
More from our April newsletter:
- Historical Language Can Be Electrifying by Mary Robinette Kowal
- Finding Religion by Brian Francis Slattery
- The Advance Team Excerpt by Will Pfeifer, art by Germán Torres
- Immobility: The Fake Book That Became Real by Brian Evenson
- John Scalzi Collection Sweepstakes
- An Editor’s Dirty Little Secret
- On a Bus to New York
- Sister, Healer, Soldier, Spy
- Tor/Forge Blog is Moving to a New Domain
- The Week in Review
- Not at New York Comic-Con Sweepstakes
- Starred Review: Ask Not by Max Allan Collins
- New Releases: 10/8/2013
- Goodreads Sweepstakes: Watcher of the Dark by Joseph Nasisse
- Tor Books Announces Programming for New York Comic-Con 2013
- "The state took Aphra away from Innsmouth." Read "The Litany of Earth," a Lovecraftian tale by @R_Emrys:… twitter.com/i/web/status/8… 3 hours ago
- Meet a deadly voidwitch on the run in this excerpt from @cjwhite's #KillingGravity: bit.ly/2ow3yPQ (via… twitter.com/i/web/status/8… 5 hours ago
- Bone Universe author @fran_wilde on messing with your perspective: bit.ly/2owpLx8 (via @fantasycafe) https://t.co/KrVDaIRRbA 7 hours ago
- Don’t know where to start with the work of @doctorow? @tordotcom has you covered: bit.ly/2oEP3Vz https://t.co/BHQ5cqx1jE 11 hours ago
- .@BrianStaveley's #Skullsworn provides an irresistible entry point to a stunning epic. Read @BNSciFi's review:… twitter.com/i/web/status/8… 14 hours ago
- An error has occurred; the feed is probably down. Try again later.