Author Archives: lindacollison

About lindacollison

Linda Collison is the author of the acclaimed historical novel STAR-CROSSED (Knopf; 2006) which led to the sequel, Surgeon's Mate; book two of the Patricia MacPherson Nautical Adventure Series (Fireship Press). She is also a writer of magazine articles, essays, literary fiction and poetry. With her husband Bob Russell she co-authored two guidebooks: Rocky Mountain Wineries; a guide to the wayside vineyards, and Colorado Kids; a statewide family outdoor adventure guide (Pruett Publishing). . Linda has received awards from Honolulu Magazine and Southwest Writers Workshop. In 1996 she was awarded the Grand Prize from the Maui Writers Conference for her fiction. Star-Crossed, her first novel, published by Knopf, was chosen by the New York Public Library to be among the BOOKS FOR THE TEEN AGE -- 2007. Star-Crossed was the inspiration for Surgeon’s Mate; book two of the Patricia MacPherson Nautical Adventure Series.


Women on board

Transgenders serving on ships is nothing new.

I’ve long been interested in women on ships in the Age of Sail — particularly women posing as men, passing as men, doing what was considered men’s work. This interest arose when I signed aboard HM Bark Endeavour, a sailing replica of Captain James Cook’s historic ship, and lived the life of an 18th century seaman for three weeks. This life included heaving, hauling, standing watch, taking my trick at the helm, and going aloft, out on the yard arm to make and furl sail. It included stringing my hammock from the deckhead, snug alongside the other recruits, and taking my turn in the galley. (Although my husband was aboard as crew too, we never once slept together — nor did we even sleep next to each other!) What I learned was that although the work is hard and requires some training, it doesn’t require a Y chromosome.

I’m not by definition transgender. Nor is my fictional character — though in her mid-18th century world she has found it more convenient to be male than female. Actually, she’s found it expedient to be male.  The term transgender first appears in 1974, according to Miriam Webster’s online dictionary, so the concept, as such, doesn’t exist in my series. But the problems are similar: Individuals not allowed to serve in the military because of their apparent sex.

As I’m writing my way through Patricia’s story in the Patricia MacPherson Nautical Adventures, I’ve learned a lot about life in the 18th century from a female perspective  — a young white female of British heritage. Much depended upon parentage and social standing.  Much depended on luck. And of course much depended on their sex.

Hannah Snell, Royal Marine. Born 1723, died 1792. Buried with the old soldiers at Chelsea Hospital, which was her wish.

The Age of Sail was an Age of War. The emerging nations of Europe waged battles — entire wars — at sea. The need for sailors, marines, and craftsmen continued for several centuries, offering a few hardy and daring females an opportunity to escape social and economic confines, to find adventure – or maybe they were just looking for three meals a day and a hammock to sleep in. For a destitute young woman, life aboard a ship was safer than life on the streets.

What we know about these desperate imposters comes mostly from naval records, broadsheets, and the romanticized biographies and fictionalized memoirs written by or about these cross-dressing or transgender figures. One of the most well known and well documented 18th century female soldier/sailor was Hannah Snell who served first as a soldier in General Guise’s regiment, then as a Royal Marine in Frasier’s Regiment under the name of James Grey. She saw action and was wounded several times in India  “Here is a Woman, and an English Woman, who, notwithstanding the many Dangers and Vicissitudes she underwent for near the Space of five Years, during her Travels, was never found out to be of the feminine Gender.” — from The Female Soldier; the Life and Surprising Adventures of Hannah Snell. (Project Gutenberg) Hannah herself couldn’t write but she sold her story to a London publisher Robert Walker. After she left the service she performed military drills on stage in costume and sang military songs and The Gentleman’s Magazine reported her story for its readers’ enjoyment.  Hannah Snell’s story is unusual in that the Royal Hospital recognized her military service and granted her a pension.

Stories like Hannah Snell’s have inspired my historical novels. I’m not out to prove that cross-dressing or transgender women existed — we know they did — but to explore why they chose that path and how they might have carried it off. Although Hannah Snell’s memoir (published anonymously but likely penned by her publisher) claims finding her estranged husband was her inciting reason, I suspect that was a literary convenience for the publisher, and one the readers might readily accept. The chance of her finding her errant seaman husband was slim — but the chance of her earning a living was guaranteed. Not to mention respect, opportunity, adventure — and a pension.

There may not have been great numbers of cross-dressing women on board ships in the Age of Sail. But there were some. They existed. They carried it off. At least, for a while.
















Rhode Island on the horizon

Shipping News: Rhode Island Rendezvous, Book Three of the Patricia MacPherson Nautical Adventures, scheduled to arrive in port September 1, 2017.

Newport Rhode Island: 1765

The Seven Years War is over but unrest in the American colonies is just heating up…

 Maintaining her disguise as a young man, Patricia is finding success as Patrick MacPherson. Formerly a surgeon’s mate in His Majesty’s Navy, Patrick has lately been employed aboard the colonial merchant schooner Andromeda, smuggling foreign molasses into Rhode Island. Late October, amidst riots against the newly imposed Stamp Act, she leaves Newport bound for the West Indies on her first run as Andromeda’s master. In Havana a chance meeting with a former enemy presents unexpected opportunities while an encounter with a British frigate and an old lover threatens her liberty – and her life.

What began as Star-Crossed, published by Alfred A. Knopf in 2006 as a Young Adult historical novel, has become the Patricia MacPherson series — adult historical fiction. Not that there is graphic sex and gratuitous violence in the adult editions, but because I always intended it for adult readers, which includes many mature teens.

For me, chronicling Patricia’s story has been a way to rediscover history through the eyes of an orphaned teenager, born of a rich English planter in Barbados, who matures as she is forced to make her own way in the world. Writing in first person as I have done is a very immediate and personal experience, almost like reliving a past life.  So intense is the immersion, and challenging because of its limitations, I’ve added a prologue to Rhode Island Rendezvous; a prologue written in close third person from Patricia’s former lover’s perspective.

Writing a book is indeed a journey.  A fourth book and final book in the series is planned and the voyage is soon to begin…

The inspiration for the fictional vessel Andromeda comes from the historic Schooner Lewis R. French, pictured here, and used with their generous permission. While not from colonial times, the Maine-built schooner was launched in 1871 and is very traditional in her design. According to her website, “she freighted bricks, lumber, firewood, granite, fish, lime, canning supplies, Christmas trees, and now people.” Bob and I were among those people, having had the pleasure of cruising aboard the French some years ago. Highly recommended, if you get the chance!

Today she is still powered by sail alone (no engine) — with occasional assistance from a motorized dinghy.  To learn more, visit the schooner’s website











Let’s make a book trailer!

I don’t know if video book trailers sell more books; I rather doubt it.  The real value of making a book trailer is for the writer herself. The process forces the writer to condense her novel to an intriguing, concise visual synopsis, sixty seconds or less. The purpose of a book trailer isn’t to summarize the plot or to introduce characters, it’s simply to stimulate interest in the story through images and visual effects. Music helps convey the tone and maybe the setting.

Making your own book trailer can be a good exercise if you’re suffering from writers block; it’ll help you rediscover what it is that drives your story.

For screenwriters, making a short book trailer is an exercise in storyboarding and building shot lists.

A book trailer might even be an art form in itself.

Most importantly, making a book trailer is fun!

You can make your own trailer using apps and programs such as iMovie, Vine, Movie FX Director, YouTube Editor, Windows Live Movie Maker, Animoto and many others.  I made this trailer for Water Ghosts using Animoto. I made one for Looking for Redfeather with Windows Live Movie Maker.  I’m very much a novice, I’m still learning the ropes and experimenting.

No matter which program you use, make sure you’ve got a lot of good images to choose from — whether your own or stock photos. Keep the text minimal. As David Mamet said, “The job of the film director is to tell the story through the juxtaposition of uninflected images — because that is the essential nature of the medium.” (David Mamet On Directing Film). Don’t ponder too long over that, just jump right in and make a book trailer. You’ll learn what works as you go.









More Barbados Bound give-aways

Barbados Bound Amazon E-book Sweepstakes

Congratulations to those who won trade paperback copies of Barbados Bound in our recent Amazon give-away; may you enjoy the voyage. Now we’re offering ten e-book editions of Barbados Bound to be given away in a new Amazon sweepstakes. Enter for a chance to win by clicking on this link.  

Good luck!  And thank you for the thoughtful reviews.

“I came aboard with the prostitutes the night before the ship set sail. It was a rash scheme, but I was a brash girl with nothing to my name but a promise. Half of Europe as at war, but the grappling between kings held little interest for me. Though the conflicts were far flung across the globe, my troubles were of a much more personal nature. My fear was not that England might lose her place in the world, but that I might lose mine…”  Barbados Bound copyright 2010 by Linda Collison.


Rhode Island Rendezvous, the third book in the series, will be available this September from Old Salt Press.

Here’s a brief excerpt:

     Placing the freshly groomed peruke on my stubbled head, I looked in the mirror hanging above the dresser of my rented room, adjusting the wig slightly. Acceptable. Yes, except for the ears – rather too small and pink – I passed muster. The only feminine feature about me was my delicate ears – and perhaps my pillowed lips, though they were often sunburned and wind-chapped. I regarded the young man staring back at me from the looking glass. Patrick MacPherson, a rising young merchant seaman dressed to go to a wedding feast where he will rub shoulders with Newport’s best. Good day to you, sir! In this colony anybody could be a gentleman, if he had the means to dress the part. Here, the lowest born man could rise above his station through cunning, hard work, and the right connections. Oh, and luck, I should add. Luck always plays a role. Thus far my luck had been most unpredictable.

     The wig had been made from my very own hair, shorn from my head and at last tamed into submission by the peruke maker’s hand. Two smooth ginger-colored rolls just above my ears and a compliant queue held at the nape by a blue satin ribbon. A shaved head was so much easier, especially at sea, when all I needed was a snug Monmouth cap to keep the wind out of my ears. A shaved head was free of tangles, free of lice. My hair, perfectly groomed, kept in a box, ready for going ashore. No need for powder, no one in Newport bothered with powder anymore. Men were flaunting natural colors – black, brown, and auburn too – though none were as vibrantly colored as mine, the flaming red-gold of a Guy Fawkes bonfire.

     I should have been born male, I thought with chagrin, regarding my reflection. I cut a fine figure in my pressed linen shirt, lace stock, and brocade waistcoat that completely hid my breasts, the size of two quail eggs. My long legs were shown off to their best advantage sheathed in the finest of silk stockings, the tightest of breeches buttoned just below the knee. I had the hind end of a young boy and, as for that part of my anatomy that was decidedly lacking, an old pair of stockings knotted into a ball and stitched inside the crotch of the breeches added the necessary slight bulge.

     Trinity’s bells pealed the hour. The biggest wedding feast Newport had known in months was about to begin. I slipped into my coat, fastened the pewter buttons, adjusted my cravat, and placed the tri-corn on top of my wig. One last look at the young man in the glass, then down the stairs I bounded, a greeting to the innkeeper’s wife, and out onto Thames Street, busy as always this Saturday, with ox carts and carriages drawn by fine Narraganset-bred horses. No carriage for me, but the walk was a short one and I welcomed the opportunity to stretch my legs and catch a glimpse of Andromeda, tossing on the harbor chop and pulling at her dock lines like a restless filly.

     The schooner Andromeda was more often my home than the drafty rented room above the Osprey Inn; I loved her as my own. That morning I assessed her exterior quickly, with a practiced and loving eye. Her reddish brown sails were neatly furled on the booms, her rigging had been freshly tarred, and although her faded hull was in need of a fresh coat of paint, it could wait until spring. Paint was dear. I inspected the dock lines for signs of chaffing, making certain she was well before turning toward Spring Street, shoving my hands, red and cracked, deep into my coat pockets to warm them. The sun was bright but the late October air was raw, smelling of tidewater and wood smoke from hundreds of chimneys.

     My own wedding day, I couldn’t even recall what the weather had been, foul or fair, but I remembered well my mood was gloomy and resigned. Ah, but Aeneas had been a good old man, a firm but kind husband for the brief time I was his wife. And I might have married again, to the man whose memory remained a burning ember, but no. The one man who had known me well, the man who had accepted my ruse but had loved the woman inside, that man was gone from my life. The sorrow over losing him, I still felt it; he was my first love, though I never could have lived as a warrant’s wife, kept like a cat in dark, close quarters belowdecks on the very ship I once served as surgeon’s mate. It wouldn’t have worked, not for me. Not after who I had been and what I had done… 

— from Rhode Island Rendezvous; Book Three of the Patricia MacPherson Nautical Adventure Series, copyright 2017 by Linda Collison





Enter for a chance to win Barbados Bound

With Rhode Island Rendezvous, Book Three of the Patricia MacPherson Nautical Adventure Series, on the horizon we’re offering five copies of book one — Barbados Bound — as a give-away through Amazon. To enter the sweepstakes click on the link at the end of the post. We’ll also be giving away some Kindle copies soon.

I came aboard with the prostitutes the night before the ship set sail…

Portsmouth, England, 1760. Patricia Kelley, the illegitimate daughter of a wealthy Barbadian sugarcane planter, falls from her imagined place in the world when her absent father unexpectedly dies, leaving her no means of support.  Raised in a Wiltshire boarding school far from the plantation where she was born, the sixteen-year-old orphan stows away on a ship bound for Barbados in a brash attempt to claim an unlikely inheritance.  Aboard the merchantman Canopus, under contract with the British Navy to deliver gunpowder to the West Indian forts, young Patricia finds herself pulled between two worlds — and two identities — as she charts her own course for survival in the war-torn eighteenth century. 

 Barbados Bound was first published as Star-Crossed in 2006 by Alfred A. Knopf, and chosen by the New York Public Library to be among the Books for the Teen Age – 2007.  The story is basically the same but the author has made minor changes to the manuscript, in some cases replacing words and phrases edited out from Knopf’s Young Adult version.  


It all started with a ship. On April 14, 1999, I saw in the newspaper a startlingly anachronistic photograph of a three-masted wooden ship under sail. It looked like it had just sailed out of the eighteenth century. Below it, an intriguing advertisement:

Help wanted: Deckhands to man floating museum…a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to sail as crew on Endeavour, the replica of Capt. James Cook’s ship that will visit Hawaii in November. Crewmembers sleep in hammocks slung together on the lower deck.  They must be prepared to go aloft and work the sails at any time of day in any weather, not suffer from chronic seasickness or fear of heights, and be physically fit.  Sailing experience is not essential…

Six months later Bob and I were at the dock in Vancouver, signing ship’s articles.

We spent three weeks aboard the Endeavour, as part of the foremast watch, crossing the Northern Pacific Ocean. We learned the names and functions of the hundreds of lines, sails and spars that power the ship; we learned to climb aloft on the ratlines, stepping out on the foot ropes under the yards to make and furl sail. We took turns steering the ship and were responsible for cleaning and maintaining her in eighteenth-century fashion. We slept in hammocks we strung from the deckhead every evening.

The voyage crew, as we green-but-willing sailors were called, bonded quickly, for we were all in it together and we all felt the same swing of emotions — anxiety, fear, fatigue, exhaustion, sea-sickness, hunger, occasionally resentment – but most of all, exhilaration and awe. For me, those weeks on the Endeavour were nothing short of a time machine.

When Bob and I disembarked in Kona, Hawaii, I carried with me the seeds for a novel. It would not be about Captain Cook or his extraordinary voyages, but it would begin in the mid-eighteenth century aboard a ship much like the one I had sailed on.

It would take me more than five years to research and write the story born aboard Endeavour. In 2006 Alfred A. Knopf published it under the title Star-Crossed, as a stand-alone, young adult historical novel which the New York Public Library chose it to be among the Books for the Teen Age – 2007. I had not written the story for teen readers per se, but I had written about a teenager, from her narrow and still immature perspective. Star-Crossed became Barbados Bound, the first book in a series about a young woman coming of age in the 18th century who tries to find her place in the world, disguised as a man.

Click on the link for a chance to win a trade paperback copy of Barbados Bound; Book One of the Patricia MacPherson Nautical Adventure Series. Open to readers in the United States who have an active Amazon account.