Last month, I participated in the first of three parts to Christine Smith’s Know the Novel Link-Up, which focused on giving an overview of the novel I’m currently working on. You can find that post, about my novel Cabin Girl, right here.
This month, the focus is on the writing process and more details within the novel. Now, I wrote the first draft of Cabin Girl three years ago, so even though I’m not currently writing the material for the first time, I’m still in the middle of edits and wanted to give a deeper glance into the story anyway.
With that in mind, I’ll mostly be answering these questions about when I was first writing the rough draft, with some comparisons between my process then and now. I hope you enjoy this second glimpse into Cabin Girl!
Now on to the questions…
How’s the writing going overall?
The process of writing Cabin Girl actually went pretty smoothly. I hit a fair number of snags, but usually some extra time brainstorming and outlining plot points solved the writer’s block. It took longer to write the first draft than I’d anticipated, but the story also turned out to be longer than I expected, so it made sense. The characters mostly directed the story for me.
Not to say there weren’t surprises, complications, or setbacks that came up, but thankfully there was never anything that required a huge step back in the middle of the first draft. It ended up at least somewhat coherent. Not what I’d call good, but the general idea was strong enough that several rewrites and many partial edits have helped, and hopefully turned it into a story that can be considered good.
What’s been the most fun aspect about writing this novel so far?
The characters -but that’s not a surprise. I’m a very character-driven author, and wouldn’t ever write a story (at least not happily) with characters that don’t feel deep or realistic to me. Cabin Girl‘s characters made me very happy with how much depth I discovered. I quickly realized they each had a fascinating story to tell.
Also, just getting to write a ‘pirate’ story is a fun endeavor!
What do you think of your characters at this point? Who’s your favorite to write about?
Something I really liked about Cabin Girl‘s characters was the variety. From the innocent but troubled little sister, to determined but timid Éirinn, to each pirate on the crew, to loyal Murphy (the dog), to the brash and sharp-tongued Captain Gills…I had a lot of fun unburying the secrets beneath each character’s shell.
If you’ve heard me talk about Cabin Girl elsewhere, you’ve probably heard me gush about Captain Gills, and that’s because he’s always been my favorite. This story started after a burst of inspiration featuring him, and everything developed from there. Despite the differences in personality between him and me, he was by far the easiest character to write. His actions and dialogue just flowed, and he came to life very quickly.
Has your novel surprised you in any way?
Yes. The backstories behind Éirinn, Captain Gills, and a certain other key member of the crew surprised me quite a bit. I’d only done vague outlining, but as the story continued, more and more details were revealed that I didn’t expect. Thankfully, all of them fit the characters and made sense, so I really didn’t have to do anything except go with it.
The addition of Murphy, Éirinn’s furry companion, was also unplanned, and came about after my mom suggested giving Éirinn some ally on the ship. Éirinn really did need someone on her side. So in came Murphy to the story, and I haven’t once regretted it. He’s one of the characters I receive the most fond comments about.
Have you come across any problem areas?
Yes, my lack of research. Always do your research before writing historical fiction, folks. I did just enough to figure out that my pirates were going to be Barbary pirates and where Éirinn and her family were going to live, and that was it. So very quickly while writing, I realized that I was falling into all sorts of ‘pirate’ stereotypes rather than actually learning what life was like for a Barbary pirate (and really anyone) back then.
Thankfully, before the rewrite, I set aside an entire month and researched all the little details I could think of. Whether it had to do with the ship, the weapons, the food, their dress, their speech, their common routes, or their terminology. And while definite facts about Barbary pirates in that period are hard to find, and I’m sure I’ve messed up, the story is far stronger and more realistic now.
What’s been your biggest victory with writing this novel at this point?
My biggest victory with Cabin Girl was finishing it! Before that, I’d only finished one other novel, and it was so full of plot holes and errors that I had a hard time even considering the first draft finished. Otherwise, I’d just started too many other novels to count. So yes, Cabin Girl has needed a lot of work, but finishing the entire thing, and having it show promise from the first draft was a huge victory in my writing journey.
If you were transported into your novel and became any one of the characters, which one do you think you’d be? Would you take any different actions than they have?
I’d definitely be Éirinn, the protagonist. We have very similar personalities and I really relate to the way she thinks and the choices she makes. However, I know that she is far more logical and organized than I am, and also more courageous (after the story progresses anyway). Her faith – even in such hardships – is inspiring to me. In all, I think our personalities are a lot alike, but I doubt I’d survive being a cabin girl to Gills and his crew.
Give us the first sentence or paragraph then 2 (or 3!) more favorite snippets!
Alright, well, I’m still working on some narrative voice edits, but here are a couple snippets.
The first sentence:
“You told me you could save him.”
An excerpt from the end of Chapter 2:
“I’ve made my decision.” The Captain’s voice rises. “We’ll not be throwing the wench overboard just yet.”
I exhale, my pulse jittering. Grumbles rise from the pirates, but the Captain’s glare silences them.
“I’ll make it known,” he says, “that the first man to lay a hand on our new cabin girl will find himself without spirit for a month. And so help me, that’s the lightest they’ll get off.”
My breath hitches. Cabin girl?
The Captain meets my gaze, and his mouth twists into a chilling smile. “You heard me right, Ostrich,” he says. “Until we reach Morocco, you’ll be under my charge. You’ll follow my orders and obey my every command—and the moment you refuse will be the same moment I reevaluate my decision to keep you alive.”
God, this isn’t what I meant! I didn’t mean—
“But, Captain,” a pirate says, “what about bad luck?”
The Captain snorts. “I’ll work the wench so hard, she won’t have strength to cause trouble. The Eye won’t be jinxed by a female while I’m captain!” He shoves me around to face the crew, and their cheers and chortles surge. “Men!” His voice booms. “Meet our new cabin girl!”
And another excerpt from chapter 8, to give a glimpse into the troublesome relationship between Éirinn, the cabin girl, and Gills, the captain:
“What is that monstrosity?”
I cease tying a knot in the sail rope and step away from the mast. The breeze catches my hair, blowing the crimson strands around my ears. “My knot.” I hold it up.
The Captain scoffs and twists it around. “That’s nothing more than a tangled mess. A half-dead sea slug could tie better. You expect that to hold up in the wind?”
I grit my teeth, biting back bitter words. “My papa taught me to tie it, and it never failed him.”
“That fool?” The Captain tears the rope from my hands and pulls the knot apart. He thrusts the rope at me again. “Doesn’t seem to have helped him, now does it?”
I meet his gaze, my throat tight and chest burning. Don’t respond. Don’t react. Earn his trust.
Smirking, the Captain raises an eyebrow. “Tread carefully, Cabin Girl. And start again.”
Share an interesting tidbit about the writing process so far! (For example: Have you made any hilarious typos? Derailed from your outline? Killed off a character? Changed projects entirely? Anything you want to share!)
Well, without spoilers, yes, I killed off one character early on that was…not in the original plans, we’ll just say that. I’m not even sure why I did, except that it flowed naturally and seemed like the best thing to happen. And the story is definitely stronger for it. That one event is the section I’ve gotten the most shocked reactions from, and that’s where people usually realize things aren’t going to go as smoothly for Éirinn as she hopes.
As for the outline, I started with just a loose list of things that I thought should happen in each chapter and filled in as I went. The earlier chapters stayed closer to the original outline, but the further into the story I wrote, the more I veered off-track. And I’m glad I did. Each of my personal favorite parts are ones I hadn’t planned for.
Take us on a tour of what a normal writing day for this novel looks like. Where do you write? What time of day? Alone or with others? Is a lot of coffee (or some other drink) consumed? Do you light candles? Play music? Get distracted by social media (*cough, cough*)? Tell all!
Well, I’ve almost never had a normal writing routine. It changes from day to day, project to project, and usually just consists of whatever it takes to get the writing done between the craziness of the rest of life. My current writing ‘routine’ is even less structured than it was back in 2018, but I’m also in a different season of life now.
My typical process while writing Cabin Girl was very casual. I would take my laptop into another room, shut the door for quiet, and then just…write. Usually in the evenings or late night. No music, no special lighting or drinks (other than a closed-lid water bottle, I can’t have drinks near my laptop without fearing spills). And minimal distractions thankfully. Maybe it wasn’t fancy, but it got the job done!
Well, that’s all the questions for now! Thanks for joining me for this fun project, and I hope you enjoyed getting some more rambling insights into Cabin Girl. Have any questions, or did anything stick out to you? Let me know in the comments! I’d love to know your thoughts!
And if you’re a writer finishing up NaNoWriMo this year, I always enjoy hearing about other people’s projects, so feel free to gush about your special novel as much as you’d like in the comments! Or if you’re not doing NaNoWriMo, I’d still like to hear from you!