You guys. Fun news!
Today, March 14, marks the release date of a fantastic new young adult novel, "How to Become a Pirate Hunter." Written by Marty Reeder, high school English teacher extraordinaire and also cousin of yours truly, this book was a delight for me to read and review. Because it's a work of young adult fiction, I asked my two oldest children to read the book after me (which they were chomping at the bit to do anyway) and give their own reviews, and then work with me on some questions to ask the author.
In this article announcing the release (TODAY!!) of this most enjoyable of works of fiction, you'll read:
(1) a review by 12-year-old Carson,
(2) a review by 10-year-old Layla,
(3) a review by *cough*-year-old me (their mom), and
(4) a Q&A session with entertaining person and humorous author Marty Reeder himself. This interview may or may not contain spoiler alerts, and the questions/answers may or may not make more sense when read AFTER you've finished reading Pirate Hunter yourself. So run, don't walk, to your nearest bookstore (currently sold at: Amazon, Cardston Book Shop, The Book Table, Lyon's Den, San Juan Record, Baker and Taylor, Hastings, Ingram) and pick up your own copy of this very fun, worthwhile read.
Without further ado...
Reviews of "How to Become a Pirate Hunter"
Carson’s (age 12) Review:
I really liked the plot of this book. In summary, this book has Eric, a high schooler, who thinks he’s bad at everything and useless. Then, a new girl (Charlotte) comes to school and tells him that his natural born ability is to be a pirate hunter. They go back in time to explore his natural born ability, which places him against dreaded pirate twins. Eric is challenged because he’s never been a pirate hunter before (or even on a boat), but he gains confidence as he struggles and both fails and succeeds.
I had no idea what was going to happen most of the time, which made it an exciting book to read. I like the idea of natural born abilities (my favorite idea was the natural born water buffalo hunter who plays football). I would like it if there was a sequel (even better: if the sequel included the water buffalo hunter), which shows more than anything else how much I enjoyed this book. Read it!
Layla’s (age 10) Review:
I liked how there were unexpected funny parts in the Pirate Hunter, like the pirate who should’ve been a shoe designer. (Wait, spoiler alert.) (Am I too late?) Charlotte was my favorite character, because she’s awesome. She said what she thought and didn’t let anyone push her around. I wish I knew Charlotte in real life, so she could tell me my natural born ability.
Brittney’s (age 37) Review:
I don’t read a lot of young adult fiction in general, but I thoroughly enjoyed the Pirate Hunter. The plot was creative and engaging, and I found myself wondering throughout the book how Eric was going to get himself out of predicaments.
I found Marty’s writing style in this novel particularly delightful, ripe with great descriptions and clever character details. One scene that makes me laugh every time I think of it was when cowardly Captain Pete, in battle, only responded to his duty out of pride and shame when an officer assumed another sobbing-like-a-baby soldier was Pete. (Maybe it's a case where you had to be there... or, at least, you had to read it, to "get it.") So funny. Many of these details were subtle, “casually” thrown in as a gift for the astute reader, which, to me, is one of the best indicators of masterful storytelling.
The concept of natural born abilities is intriguing, and I found myself wishing Charlotte would appear momentarily in my life to give me a hint as to mine. (Although I have a sneaking suspicion mine would be “Burner of Suppers” or something else equally anticlimatic. So, on second thought, thanks but no thanks, Charlotte.) The natural born abilities was a theme carried through to perfection in this story – not too heavy, but just enough to keep the idea fresh and alive. Which is important, because the concept of these abilities plays a critical role in Eric’s transformation and, ultimately, the climax of the whole story.
In short, How to Become a Pirate Hunter was clever, fresh, unique, and engaging. I would love to see more novels written by Marty Reeder. (“Brittney” would make a pretty great heroine name. Just sayin’.)
Q&A with Author Marty Reeder
Question: How did you come up with the idea for this story?
Marty: I was doing construction work between college semesters in California, and I was trying to tear shingles off of a roof in the searing California heat. All the workers around me were flying, shingles dropping like mad all over while I was still struggling for hours with the small patch in front of me. I started thinking that somewhere in the world there was probably someone who was naturally born to be a roofer. That someone, I knew, was not me--nor would I want it to be! But then it made me wonder what kind of natural born ability I would like to have. That led pretty easily to pirate hunting. Needless to say, my pondering did not speed up my shingle removing, and I'm sure I would have been tossed down with the shingles by the other workers if they hadn't finished a long time before me!
Question: Did you have to figure out the story as you wrote it, or did you start with an idea about how it would all come together? Or something else?
Marty: The idea tumbled around in my mind for a few years until I came up with the idea for the antagonist(s)--the Willards! At that point, the story got interesting enough to write, even if I didn't know exactly what was going to happen for everything. I had the first half of the story pretty well figured out before I started writing, and then the rest of the story came together as I wrote. In particular, I had not anticipated any details of the climactic scenes or the closing lines of the story really until I wrote myself into them. Writing them out when I got to them, however, came fairly, well, naturally.
Question: As a writer, what would you choose as your representational mascot?
Marty: This is honestly the hardest question because I feel as if I am making a decision for the rest of my life! Therefore, I reserve the right to change my representational writing mascot at any time in the future if I deem it necessary! Okay, so I'm going to say an albatross. It is a very symbolic bird for sailors, either good or bad. Plus, the albatross spend most of its life in the air, only coming down to land on very rare occasions. I feel that I do the same, living in a world among the clouds and coming down to earth every now and then to see what is happening in real life!
Question: What was the hardest thing about writing about Charlotte, since she's a girl and you're not?
Marty: Great question! I always feel a little nervous writing a female character in a way that is consistent with her gender, but once I started getting into Charlotte's character, I didn't worry about gender ... because she was Charlotte! My only real concern after that was making her too confident. She is a great foil for Eric because he is so self-conscious, but I didn't want her to be so confident that she was no longer a sympathetic, human character. I think (I hope!) she has her moments of wavering and concern while still maintaining her fiery, strong self.
Question: Are any of the characters in Pirate Hunter based on real life? (Please say Jedediah isn't...)
Marty: Most of the characters are a good combination of people in my life--though I can happily say that Jedediah isn't one of them! There are two sailors towards the end, Nathan and Paul, whose names and roles match a couple close friends from high school (you might recognize them!). The driver's ed instructor is a pretty close match for my own (and Eric's capabilities as a automobile driver also matched my own fairly well!). Al Lorenzo is inspired by a super-talented custodian-musician we had in our high school. Vice-Principal Olsen is a conglomeration of some of the bumbling school administrators I had in schools growing up ... absent are all the awesome ones I had, but a goofy one is more fun to write about!
Other characters had names that I gleaned from my favorite athletes at Utah State University while I was a student there (Curtis, Carroll, Wesley). Eric's last name, "Francis," comes from "Sir Francis Drake" one of the greatest pirates (he would say privateer) in history, and the historical figure who first sparked my interest (er ... obsession) in the pirate history. The names of two of the captured pirate ships reflect one of the character's stark change: Metanoia is Greek for a "change of heart," and Constantine points to the conversion of the Roman Emperor Constantine to Christianity.
Question: What are your top two or three fictional works with a teenager as the hero/protagonist?
Marty: This is, perhaps, my favorite question and the one that will require the most constraint on my part so that I don't write about it forever!
- Treasure Island. Yes, I know, it feels like I have to include that considering the type of story that I wrote. But I just reread it and I am amazed by the treasure (!) trove of dynamic characters and excitement. The language is a bit dated now, so it might be more difficult to read for younger kids that might have been the original audience, but when any kid is ready to digest the writing, it is such a fantastic, fulfilling story.
- Summer of the Monkeys. This is the book that first showed me the power of literature ... enough power to make a sixth grader cry (it is by the same author as Where the Red Fern Grows ... which maybe gives an idea of its emotion punch!). It is a boy book, for sure, but my 10-year-old daughter loved it when I read it to her and my 8-year-old son this summer. It has plenty of fun, laughs, and--like I said--a few tears.
- The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle. This is a Newbery Award winner and topically relevant to sailing and piracy. Plus, the main character is a girl named Charlotte! I actually started writing How to Become a Pirate Hunter before I read this, so I guess "Charlotte" was just meant to be a seafaring name! This story is intense and pretty accurate, technically, towards sailing.
- (If I was allowed one more, I'd say The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, but I'm not, so I won't)
Question: Did you hide any secrets in the Pirate Hunter that only a few people will find or notice? (If so, what are they?)
Marty: Yes! Fantastic question. I've hidden a treasure hunt within the story of How to Become a Pirate Hunter. There are three clues: one in the story itself, one in a Bonus Chapter that I've written and will release in May, and a final one in the lyrics of a song composed by Tanner Lex Jones corresponding with one of the chapters. Each clue has a hint associated with it, which I'll release by the end of the summer. Those who are able to discover the answer to all three clues should be able to locate the treasure on a map and identify a specific marker on a form I'll have available. I'm hoping to send a small prize and certificate to all those who find the treasure! And since you asked, here is the hint for clue number one:
Book’s chapters turn to Roman,
Then seek the vital “X,”Within you’ll find the omen,Which “marks” the “spot” one checks.
To get a map, all you have to do is show that you've shared something about the book on social media and I will send it your way!
Question: What did you edit out of this book? (And may we have a copy of said "deleted scenes"?)
Marty: Actually, I didn't edit a whole lot out of the book, even though there were a lot of little details that changed. One big detail is that the publisher changed the original title from Natural Born Pirate Hunter to How to Become a Pirate Hunter. I like the feel of the change in title (even though it's not entirely accurate, since I don't think many people would be able to use the book as a guide for really becoming a pirate hunter ... but I digress!).
I originally had Eric and Charlotte in the world of pirating until the moon returned to its original phase, which would place them there for a month. That's a long time since most of the action in the story takes place within a week of their arrival. At my editor's savvy suggestion, I shortened it to what made more sense as the "reciprocal phase" of the moon ... cutting it down to two weeks instead of four.
Another thing that got cut at some point earlier on was a subplot involving the coxswain of the Rosemary. He originally took part in the plot against Eric once he arrives at Port Raleigh. But things were getting complicated and I didn't want to have another explanation added onto it, so I just took it out entirely. However, I expound on it in the Bonus Chapter and the coxswain gets a chance to act on some of his bitter feelings towards Eric. Look for it in the Bonus Chapter: "Governor Rose's Thorns," which will be released in May.
One of the favorite things that my editor (wisely) suggested that I cut was the closing paragraph of the subordinate pirate, Captain Pete Shivers. I was having fun with this guy's blustery yet cowardly behavior, but it may have started distracting from the story ... so it got trimmed. But! Since you asked, here are the final two paragraphs that close his participation in the whole event (the second one being the deleted one):
Though Pete would much rather be captured by the Port Raleigh garrison than to return to the twins defeated, he could not help but glance back at his ship with regret. The treasure stored away inside of her crossed his mind first. The second thing he thought was that whoever took their ship had brilliantly turned to tide of the battle and cut off their escape in one blow.
The third thing to go through his mind turned out to be somewhat ambiguous. He hoped that his knee wound did not end up too serious because he did not want to lose his leg. Partially because it would inhibit his ability to get around, but mainly because he shuddered at the thought of spending the rest of his life with the unbearable nickname “Pegleg Pete.”
Question: Is there going to be a sequel, or another book involving natural born abilities? Specifically: will there be a literary follow-up on how to be a successful water buffalo hunter?
Marty: You know, for the longest time I did not think there were any more stories to tell in this world (and I've been thinking about this story for a long time). For a little while I dabbled with the idea of Eric commandeering the old U.S. warship the U.S.S. Constitution for a dire situation, but I could not make that anything more than a personal daydream. Still, though, I often came across different careers and abilities as I read about different cultures throughout history, and I couldn't help but imagine some of the occupations through the lens of someone naturally born for them. Then, last year, I stopped trying to make a story fit for Eric and I realized that I had been neglecting the most obvious possibility for a sequel: Charlotte. There is so much not explored about her and her fascinating and unique ability. The more I thought about it, the more I explored possibilities, and the more obvious the sequel became. Long story short (usually an impossibility in my case!): I've now outlined and begun to write the sequel to How to Become a Pirate Hunter, which picks up a month or so after Eric and Charlotte's return.
Thank you, Marty, for this fantastic opportunity to review your book and pick your brain! And for the rest of you readers, I hope you'll pick up your own copy of "How to Become a Pirate Hunter" to enjoy. Read it slowly, savor it, let the fun details sink in. I think you'll really enjoy it.