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About Pirates of Pensacola:
Pirates of Pensacola tells the tale of Morgan Cooke, a landlubbing accountant whose idea of adventure is throwing darts at the local pub. He has no idea about his piratical heritage until his estranged father Isaac shows up, after spending twenty years in jail, seeking crewmen to help find lost treasure. Morgan is at first reluctant but soon gets into the true adventurous pirate spirit in his genes.
Unlike in Thomson’s later books there are no spies. But there is plenty of his signature energy, pacing and humor. Pirates of Pensacola is a fun modern-day pirate yarn, a tale of fathers and sons looking for hidden treasure, and a vividly portrayed adventure salted with lots of pirate and maritime history and, of course, battles.
About the Author:
Keith Thomson has played semi-professional baseball in France and drawn editorial cartoons for Newsday. Now a resident of Alabama, he writes about intelligence and other matters for The Huffington Post. His novels include the New York Times Best-selling Once a Spy, as well as Twice a Spy and Pirates of Pensacola. For more information visit KeithThomsonBooks.com.
Q & A with Keith Thomson:
Q: You’ve got quite a resume that includes playing semi-professional baseball in France, working as an editorial cartoonist, and writing movie scripts. Why did you decide to write a book?
A: I’d been working as a screenwriter for six years, having sold several scripts, but with just one of them making into production: a horror film—unfortunately, I’d intended it to be a cop comedy. One day I went to LA to get notes on the latest draft of a rewrite I was doing for Paramount. This entailed conference room full of executives telling me what to change, for hours on end. Not the greatest experience, but don’t get me wrong: for what they were paying me, I would have happily cleaned the bathrooms too. After the meeting, while walking to our cars, my agent said to me, “You know, if you wrote a book, no one would change anything.” That night, in my hotel room, I checked out the Stanford Continuing Education website—I was living in Palo Alto at the time—and I saw that there was a novel-writing 101-type class beginning in a week, and signed up. My thesis became Pirates of Pensacola.
Q: What was the inspiration behind Pirates of Pensacola?
A: I grew up in a coastal Connecticut town. As a kid, I used to stare out to see in hope of meeting the notorious real-life pirate William Thompson—an ancestor of mine, I thought. He spelled Thomson the wrong way (with a p) but pirates weren’t known for their literacy. Also he died in 1825. Regardless, if you’re eight, you can stare out to sea and believe there’s a pretty good chance your pirate ancestor’s masts might appear on the horizon, and that he might row ashore and say to you, “Kid, I need you to go on an adventure to get gold.”
Twenty-some years later, this was essentially the premise of my first novel, Pirates of Pensacola: A landlubbing accountant’s life is anything but exciting until his estranged pirate father shows up after twenty-some years in jail and says, “Let’s hit the sea, lad, there’s treasure to be got.” And the adventure is under weigh.
Q: Are there any autobiographical elements in the story?
A: Never. Writing for me is first and foremost a means of escapism.
Q: In Pirates of Pensacola, readers follow Morgan and Isaac Cooke on their search for hidden treasure and discover the fascinating lives and lore of pirates and are transported to Florida and Caribbean islands. What kind of research did you do in order to write a story with so much accurate and vivid history?
A: Not much research, initially. Then, as a result of eating the wrong burrito, I contracted the hepatitis A virus, necessitating six to eight weeks in bed, that I could keep only toast down, and I suffered haunting, recurring dreams of cheeseburgers. But, all in all, I am thankful to have had the disease because it nudged me into doing research. Ships are complicated, and I didn’t know my bow from my poop deck. My story involved an extensive duel between a super-yacht and a clipper sailed by a bunch of actual pirates hiding in plain sight as a troupe of pirate re-enactors. To write the clipper scenes, I needed to know how the craft was rigged and sailed, and I needed to know about most every part of it, because about most every part gets blown sky-high. While in bed, I read about forty maritime books, mostly non-fiction, from Stanford’s singularly extensive maritime library—in several instances, I was the first person to check out the book in half a decade. If I hadn’t had hep A, I don’t know when I could possibly have done all the research. Or that I would have ever done it. Or that the book would have sold.
Q: The story started out as your thesis project at Stanford University and against all odds found its way to bookstores. Do you have any advice for aspiring writers?
A: Get Hepatitis A (see above).
Q: Why are you self-publishing a digital edition of Pirates of Pensacola?
A: This came about by accident. After I signed with Doubleday, St. Martin’s Press reverted the rights to Pirates of Pensacola to me, and I donated the book to Worldreader.org, a charity that gives Kindles and e-books to impoverished children in sub-Saharan Africa. This necessitated the production of a digital version of Pirates of Pensacola, which had been released only as a hardcover. Meanwhile Pirates became a Jimmy Buffett’s Book Club pick, resulting in a surge of demand. Releasing the e-book is a means of providing the supply.
Q: Since Pirates of Pensacola’s original publication you’ve also written two books about spies. One of them, Once A Spy hit the New York Times bestseller list. Do you prefer writing about spies or pirates?
A: Pirates. Pure escapism. As Richard Zacks, my favorite write of pirate nonfiction pirate, puts it, “Who wouldn’t crave the pirate lifestyle? You get to rob, cheat, carouse, brawl, drink, chase wenches, then rob some more, carouse some more…what a life!”
Q: Are there any authors that you would name as influences?
A: Carl Hiaasen, Lee Child, Philip Roth, and Richard Zacks
Q: Is there a prequel, sequel or any new pirate adventure for Morgan and Isaac Cooke on the horizon?
A: That would be fun.
Q: What are you currently working on?
A: Spies, in a novel called 7 Grams of Lead that will be published in early 2014. Seven grams of lead to the head was Stalin’s favorite solution to problems.