» An Interview with Donna Thorland (Author of the Rebel Pirate)

An Interview with Donna Thorland (Author of the Rebel Pirate)

*This interview first appeared on the Dashing Duchesses*

Donna-Thorland-PMA Duchess does not gush, but if this one did, it would surely be over Donna Thorland’s newest historical fiction novel, THE REBEL PIRATE. I previously interviewed Donna for her debut novel, The Turncoat, and I’ve been eagerly awaiting her next book for over a year. Once it made its way into my grasping, gloved hands, I found myself tearing through it.

Which means I will probably need to read it again, this time chewing between swallows.

Donna: Thank you! The gushing is mutual. Summer is for Lovers was my favorite romance of 2013. (To which Jennifer promptly blushes)

9780451415400_large_The_Rebel_Pirate1775, Boston Harbor. James Sparhawk, Master and Commander in the British Navy, knows trouble when he sees it. The ship he’s boarded is carrying ammunition and gold…into a country on the knife’s edge of war. Sparhawk’s duty is clear: confiscate the cargo, impound the vessel and seize the crew. But when one of the ship’s boys turns out to be a lovely girl, with a loaded pistol and dead-shot aim, Sparhawk finds himself held hostage aboard a Rebel privateer.

Sarah Ward never set out to break the law. Before Boston became a powder keg, she was poised to escape the stigma of being a notorious pirate’s daughter by wedding Micah Wild, one of Salem’s most successful merchants. Then a Patriot mob destroyed her fortune and Wild played her false by marrying her best friend and smuggling a chest of Rebel gold aboard her family’s ship.

Now branded a pirate herself, Sarah will do what she must to secure her family’s safety and her own future. Even if that means taking part in the cat and mouse game unfolding in Boston Harbor, the desperate naval fight between British and Rebel forces for the materiel of war—and pitting herself against James Sparhawk, the one man she cannot resist.


Q1: Donna, I am not exaggerating when I say I could not read this book fast enough. The flavor of The Rebel Pirate has strong echoes of your first book, primarily in your gritty attention to historical detail, and the fact that it features an indomitable heroine. But in reading it, I also felt it was remarkably different. In the Turncoat, the heroine, Kate Grey, starts off as a dowdy Quaker pacifist and ends up a lavishly dressed Rebel spy, volunteering out of loyalty to her country. In contrast, in The Rebel Pirate, Sarah Ward undergoes almost the opposite transformation: she starts off as a fashionable, jilted lover, betrayed and impoverished by her former fiancé, and transforms into a reluctant rebel only out of loyalty to her family. Did you set out to write these characters so similarly, but with such polarizing motivations?

Donna: Yes! I did set out to write two very different journeys for my heroines. I hope readers enjoy them both. One of the most relatable characteristics a heroine can have is common sense, so that was my gift to Kate and Sarah. My job as an author, though, is to make life hell for my characters, to throw every obstacle that I can in their way, so that bequest of common sense was about the last nice thing I did for them.

Of course, common sense in a rural Quaker and common sense in a pirate’s daughter mean two different things. Kate Grey knew how to manage a small farm and because she lived in a close-knit rural community, she understood people in a Miss-Marple-small-village kind of way. That was what made her—once she got a glamorous makeover—a good spy. Sarah, though, is from a thriving seaport and has an old sea dog for a father, so common sense for her means packing a pistol in her sewing bag.

With Sarah’s journey I had a bit of a head start, because I’d spent seven years managing the historic houses at the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, America’s most successful pirate—cough, privateer—port. I knew the lives of the wives and daughters of these sea rogues intimately, and I wanted to plot a course that would take one of them from the comfort of her parlor with its Chinese porcelain and French wallpaper and damask sofas to the shifting deck of a twenty-four gun privateer.


Q2: Family is everything to Sarah Ward, especially the protective instincts she feels for her younger brother and her ailing father. Why did you choose to make family love and loyalty as much a central theme in this book as romantic love?

Donna: Familial love is part of the romance of the colonial American seaport. When you spend time in 18th century New England houses—I’ve managed a few and live in one now—you discover that they were often multi-generational households, with grandparents jostling elbows with newlyweds.

And your grandfather was as likely to have sailed with Calico Jack and Anne Bonny as to have traded for tea in India or pepper in Jakarta.

Most importantly to the romantic love front and center in The Rebel Pirate, though, family is what James Sparhawk never had. It’s one of the ways that Sarah Ward completes him.


Q3: Readers of romance should approach this book with eager caution: there is a strong love story to uncover, but the book itself is better classified as romantic fiction. Donna, both of your books have featured love triangles (and in the case of The Rebel Pirate, possibly more of a love rectangle). I do believe it is possible for a woman to feel attraction for one man, even as she falls in love with another. Why is this approach every bit as valid as classic romance?

Donna: I’m aspiring to write a love trapezoid next!

Just kidding. I think a well-executed love triangle can strengthen the happily-ever-after. It can give us the certainty we want to feel when we put the book down that this couple will be together in twenty years. When the heroine has other suitors, she has the opportunity to explore other futures for herself, so that when she picks the hero, she’s making a definitive choice. Or, as this 18th century posy ring says: ‘Many are the stars I see but in my eye no star like thee’


Q4: You have described yourself as writing “swash-bucklers”. What makes a good swash-buckler, both in movies and literature?

Donna: There are soooo many delicious swashbuckling ingredients to choose from that I’ll try to limit myself to a short list.

1) A hero who has been cheated of his birthright and must reclaim it. Think Robin of Locksley.

2) A hero imprisoned unjustly. Think The Count of Monte Cristo or Captain Blood.

3) Swordplay. Lots of it. Bonus points if anyone swings from a chandelier, or from the rigging to board an enemy ship.

4) Beautiful, clever, dangerous women. Think Milady DeWinter in The Three Musketeers.

5) Oh, and, yes, a Revolution is always a terrific backdrop. Think Scaramouche or The Scarlet Pimpernel.


Q5: Let’s talk movie trailers. (For those of you who don’t know, I initially discovered Donna as a result of her lush, sweeping, cinematic trailer for The Turncoat.) WHEN IN THE DEUCES WILL THE TRAILER BE OUT FOR THE REBEL PIRATE??? Please, please, please tell me you filmed it on a ship in Salem’s harbor, and that you have a friend in your pocket to play the part of James Sparhawk (and who is every bit as dreamy as the hero you feature in your first trailer.) And how come you didn’t ask me to be in it? Because you know, I have a horse and a corset. Surely the rest can be improvised.

Donna: Hang onto the horse and the corset for the next book, because we’re planning something special for MISTRESS FIREBRAND…In the meantime, however, for THE REBEL PIRATE we made a series of Vine videos for sharing on Twitter. Please RT these and spread the word.

This book is librarian-endorsed and pirate-approved.




Readers who want more can find Donna at www.donnathorland.com, follow her on Twitter @donnathorland, and Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/donna.thorland.


When she’s not gushing, Jennifer McQuiston writes Different. Historical. Romance. and appreciates all the pirates (and yummy heroes) she can get.