Tag Archives: Surgeon’s Mate

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.
















Writing the next book

Writing the first book is hard.  Writing the next book can be equally hard, and harder still to publish.  Unless of course you’re under contract to write a second book, and even then, it can be the devil to write.

Witness a few of the many one-book-wonders of the the modern world.  They stand alone. Their authors never wrote, or at least never published another novel their entire life.  Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird, Jay McInery’s Bright Lights Big City, Margaret Mitchell’s Gone with the Wind.  And then there was Emily Bronte, who never wrote another novel because she died a year after publishing Wuthering Heights.  And Silvia Plath, who committed suicide shortly after The Bell Jar was released.  OK, Emily and Silvia have death as an excuse, but what about the rest of us?  Why is it so hard to write and publish the second book?

True, some people only have one book in them.  That’s it, they’re done, they’ve got nothing after that.  But I suspect that’s not the case for most of us.  Me, I write because I’m compelled to;  for me, it’s a form of expression, an adventure, a compulsion, an addiction, a way of life.

Most  books billed as “first books” by the publisher are not the author’s first book.  Most people don’t just decide to write a book, do it, then get it published. It generally takes years of writing, many aborted attempts, half-finished manuscripts and several completed ones before we learn the nuts and bolts of writing a full length novel or non-fiction book . My first published novel, Star-Crossed, was sixth full-length book I had ever written, counting two non-fiction guidebooks published by Pruett, a small press based in Colorado.  One of my earlier novels, With a Little Luck, won the grand prize at the Maui Writers Conference in 1996, but had no luck at all finding a publisher.  Same for my fictionalized memoir, Night Shift.  I wrote my first novel in my twenties.  I don’t remember the working title, it was never published and probably didn’t deserve to be. But it was an important step in my writing journey.

I like to think that any one of my unpublished manuscripts could still be polished and published, if I could just revitalize my relationship with the story.  If only I had a Max Perkins type editor or agent to encourage and nurture me, to take me to lunch and buy me martinis while we discuss character motivation and theme.  Max Perkins is dead, they’re all dead, those wonderful mentoring editors who believed in their favorite writers.  These days agents don’t represent YOU the writer, they represent a particular manuscript, leaving them free to drop you (and you to drop them) afterward, if they don’t fall in love with your next book.  Former editors forget you in a heartbeat if your first book sinks to mid-list or goes out of print.  Twenty-first century writers have to find their own way, editors don’t have the time to groom us.  Yet we can groom one another.  We have to.

So how do you write the next book?  If your last book was a best seller, you might already have a two book deal, so good for you, go write it.  But if book number two isn’t an instant best seller you’re going to be right down in the muck with the rest of us.  Because the publishing world IS that fickle.  My advice is don’t try to write the book you think your agent or editor wants.  Don’t try to write the book you think the readers want.  Write the book you want to write; write the book only you can write.  It will be just as hard as the last book you wrote, only in different ways. Each book, like each kid born of a woman, comes with its own set of problems. Write to become a better writer, not to be a best-seller.  At least, that’s my philosophy.

After I had signed the contract with Knopf/Random House to publish Star-Crossed (NOT my first novel, but my first PUBLISHED novel) I had to wait almost two years until it was published.  So of course I started right in, writing the sequel.  Unfortunately, Knopf didn’t want a sequel.  Neither did my agent, because she wouldn’t be able to sell it to another house if Random House didn’t want it.  I wrote it anyway.  I wrote it because I wanted to.  And eventually Tom Grunder, a small publisher in Tucson, offered me a contract.  He published Surgeon’s Mate; book two of the Patricia MacPherson Nautical Adventure Series.  And after Star-Crossed went out of print with Knopf, I obtained a reversion of rights and Tom offered me a contract for Barbados Bound, the slightly modified version of Star-Crossed.  Tom died before Barbados Bound was published, but his company Fireship Press, now  headed by Michael James, published Book One of the Patricia MacPherson Nautical Adventure Series in 2012.  I’m currently working on book three of the series, and its taking quite awhile.  I put it aside for a time and worked on two other novels before coming back to it.  I’m breaking new territory in this third book, am experimenting with different points of view and subject matter, it’s quite enlightening for me and the background research has been so much fun.  I suppose I’ll eventually finish it, maybe even later this year, but I’m learning a lot and enjoying the process.

For me, the biggest problem at this stage is finding reliable peer review and further instruction.  I belong to a writers group that meets regularly to read aloud and critique our work ensemble.  I  attend writers conferences to learn from other writers, to make new connections, and to be inspired.  I have also been a presenter at conferences but that doesn’t mean I’m done learning how to write.  Although the big draw at writers conferences these days seem to be editor consultations and agent pitch sessions, I recommend you spend more time at the workshops that teach craft, and more time writing.

My advice for writing the next book is the same as writing the first book:

Get it done. The process is messy and never linear.  Trust yourself to tell the story. Write the book an hour a day, a page a day, or whatever works for you.  Don’t discuss your story and don’t share your first draft because first drafts suck.  Resist the temptation to edit until you have a complete first draft.  Having given that advice, I’m breaking it myself now, in writing the third book in my historical novel series.  Do whatever works and if you lose your momentum, try a different approach.  There are no rules for writing a book, only guidelines.

Revise and revise and revise.  Don’t try to publish your next book too soon.  When you think it’s finished and ready to go, put it away for awhile and take a break.  Or jump right into writing the next book.  Your finished manuscript will profit from fresh eyes.  Have someone whose opinion you trust read it and give you feedback before you send it to an agent or go rogue and publish it yourself.

Don’t worry about whether the book is “marketable” or not, just make it the best damn story it can be.  But don’t edit the life out of it either.  I’m not talking about grammar and spelling, I’m talking about substantive edits to the story line and word choice.  Don’t let your trusted friend, your “beta reader” or your editor-for-hire change the way you write.

Connect with other serious writers.  Attend workshops, take classes.  Read authors whose work you admire.  Join a writers group or form your own.  Just because you’ve written and published a book doesn’t mean you’re at the top of your game.  No one is ever an expert at writing but with experimentation and feedback we just might get a little better.  Write your next book, and then write the one after that.  It’s the writing that counts.

If you’re planning to write a series, consult historical novelist Barbara Kyle’s guest post published March 3 on my Sea of Words. Barbara Kyle is the author of the acclaimed Tudor-era Thornleigh Saga novels. Over 425,000 copies of her books have been sold in seven countries. Barbara has taught writers at the University of Toronto School of Continuing Studies and is known for her dynamic workshops for many writers organizations and writers conferences. Before becoming an author Barbara enjoyed a twenty-year acting career in television, film, and stage productions in Canada and the U.S. Visit www.barbarakyle.com where you can watch an excerpt from her popular series of online video workshops “Writing Fiction That Sells.”

If you decide to write a sequel, or a series, like I did, after your first book has already been published, you are in for a challenge!  Yet it can be done.  Surgeon’s Mate is proof of that.  It’s an adventure, it’s an ongoing discovery; don’t be daunted.











Who wouldn’t sell a petticoat and go to sea?

A sailor takes her ease artwork by Eye Be Oderlesseye.   mimifoxmorton.blogspot.com

A sailor takes her ease
artwork by Eye Be Oderlesseye.

Women in breeches — I got caught up in the masquerade back in 1999, while serving as a voyage crewmember aboard the HM Bark Endeavour, a replica of James Cook’s 18th century ship, which was circumnavigating that year.  On my three-week passage from Vancouver to Kealakekua, Hawaii I worked alongside 53 officers and men (one of whom I was married to) to sail, steer, and maintain the ship.  Eight of us were female.  On this passage of a lifetime, I became intrigued with the idea of a woman dressing like a sailor and doing a man’s job aboard a ship – because that’s exactly what I was doing!  I figured if a middle-aged woman could do the work, surely a much younger gal would have no problem.


In spite of the persistent, old husbands’ tale that women are bad luck at sea, women have long been going to sea, luck be damned.  But for a period of several hundred years some of them had to resort to disguise.

And for some, it ended badly.  From the St. James Gazette, supplement to the Manchester Courier on July 5, 1890 we hear this snippet of a story:

The case of the poor little sea apprentice “Hans Brandt” who the other day fell into the hold of the barque Ida of Pensacola, at West Hartlpool and was killed, adds one more name to the long list of women who, for one reason or another, have put aside the garments of their sex and have donned the habits and imitated the ways of men.  Not until “Hans Brandt’s” body was being prepared for burial was it discovered that the Ida’s apprentice was a girl…  (britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk)

From the Renaissance through the Victorian age there are many acounts of women in disguise working aboard ship as sailors, servants, skilled craftsmen, marines –and even a few officers, such as Anne Chamberlyne, twenty-three year old daughter of a lawyer, who served aboard the Grifffin Fireship, commanded by her brother Clifford, during the Battle of Beachy Head in 1690.  Most of these femmes fared better than poor Hans Brandt who fell into the hold.  Some went on to write their memoirs.  Some became immortalized in folk songs.  And some, like Anne Chamberlyne, had memorials errected in their honor.

The first books I came across that were entirely devoted to women at sea were Joan Druett’s Hen Frigates, and She Captains; Heroines and Hellions of the Sea.  I soon discovered many other works, but Joan’s books introduced me to the world of women on ships.  Another of her books on the subject is Petticoat Whalers; Whaling Wives at Sea, 1820-1920. Over the years I’ve collected many more sources.  Historians Lesley and Roy Adkins, authors of several British Naval history books, have been very helpful in sharing their own research with me.

Just as I was writing this post, Andrew Beltz, one of the crew aboard “All Things Nautical” Facebook group gave me a hot tip about Louise/Louis Giradin, a French woman who masqueraded as a steward on La Recherche, which set out 1791 under the command of Bruny d”Entrecasteaux, in search of the missing La Perouse.

“She had appeared at Brest disguised as a man, with a letter of introduction to Mme Le Fournier d’Yauville. She persuaded her brother Jean-Michel Huon de Kermadec, then second in command to d’Entrecasteaux, to recommend her as a steward on the Recherche. It appears that d’Entrecasteaux knew her secret, and gave his approval…  She had a small but separate cabin…  During the voyage, Girardin maintained a male identity, despite widespread suspicion. She even fought a duel with a crew member who questioned her gender… “  from — Journeys of Enlightenment  

While Louise Girardin is honored with a plaque in Tasmania,  few scholars have given serious attention to the many women soldiers and sailors of the pre-modern era.  Not many fiction writers have given life to their stories, either.  Crossdressing women on ships seem to be regarded by many historical novelists as unwanted intruders into the male domain of wooden ships.   Why can’t the damned dames just stay home, card wool, and mind the starving brats?  OK, maybe there were a few of these broads in breeches (obviously lesbians) — but NOT on my ship, dammit!  Julian Stockwin includes a crossdressing stowaway named Pookie in one of his Kydd adventures, but for the most part, they are shunned.51EKdjKF1vL__SL500_AA280_

But crossdressers were once objects of admiration.  Beginning in the Elizabethan era and continuing through the 19th century, stories and songs about young women gone to war on land or sea, were popular among the working classes of Great Britain and North America.  According to Dianne Dugaw, these folk songs were as well-known in their time as Blowin’ in the Wind was, in the 1960’s.  The female soldier or sailor was an enduring motif – a character who displayed both male courage and female fidelity.  In most of these ballads (Dugaw cites hundreds of them) the theme is that of a virtuous woman gone to war in search of the man she loves.  This heroine captured the imagination of the public for hundreds of years but died out in the twentieth century, as women’s rights became more of an issue — and perhaps more of a threat.

“But how did they get away with it?”

I can only throw out some educated guesses based on my own experience and what others have to say on the matter.

As Joan Druett, Suzanne Stark, and other nautical historians have pointed out, there were many young boys serving aboard these ships.   A female in breeches might easily pass as a teenaged boy.  We’ve all seen such epicene youngsters in that awkwardly beautiful stage of development; people who could be either male or female, we can’t be certain.

Before the twentieth century the navies didn’t require thorough physical exams.  The only time seamen were required to strip was if they were about to be flogged.  The navies needed capable men — especially when a war was on, which was much of the time in the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries.   If someone presented themself as a man and was dressed like a man, and gave a man’s name – why, he would be welcomed aboard, no questions asked.  Who cared if he had a smooth cheek and a soft voice?  Ample breasts are easily flattened.  Loose breeches rather than tight ones would hide what wasn’t there.  My fictional crossdresser Patricia/Patrick MacPherson is by nature flat-chested with boyish hips and a complexion ruined by freckles.  It’s only her voice she has to work on.  After a time it becomes second nature.

Having lived and worked aboard the Endeavour Replica, I can tell you that seamen are kept busy most of the time and people aren’t lurking around corners waiting for you to flash your undergarments or to see what’s hidden inside them.  Eighteenth-century ships were ill-lit and extremely dark belowdecks, even during the daytime.  People didn’t bathe often; they seldom changed their clothes.   Women likely held their bladders until after dark before relieving themselves in the heads, or the “seats of ease.”  People in crowded places, such as ships, tend to respect one another’s privacy.  As sodomy was punishable by death, men likely tended to keep their eyes and hands to themselves, once they sailed away from the prostitutes who came to the ship by the boatloads when the ships were at anchor.  Then again, the warrants could take their wives to sea with them –the ship was their home –so 18th century ships were not the exclusive male clubs some novelists make them out to be.   There were women on many ships and maybe some of these warrant’s wives recognized and helped their sisters in disguise.

What of menstrual periods, some ask me.  If you’re a squeamish male, you might want to skip the rest of this paragraph.  Well, what of it?  I mean, can you walk into a crowded room today and pick out the women who are menstruating?  I doubt it.  There were rags — and there was oakum, the fibers of worn-out ropes picked apart and collected to reuse as caulking.  Pretty scratchy, but it might work in a pinch.  Beause many of the seamen suffered from constipation and bleeding hemmorhoids, blood-stained breeches would not draw much notice – and the stains could be covered up with tar, plentiful on a ship.   Then again, amennorhea may have been the rule.  The Mayo Clinic lists stress, low bodyweight and excessive exercise as conditions which can cause the cessation of menstruation.  Due to the hard work and limited diet, women posing as men might have skipped menses or have had very light flows, easily contained.  OK squeamish males, you can start reading again. 

Maybe some of these masquerading women had sponsors –  men or  women aboard who knew their secret and helped them get by.  Maybe they were friends or lovers on land.  Maybe the sponsor felt compassion for them.  Maybe they admired them.   Then again, maybe some of these women were coerced into giving sexual favors in return for guarding their real identity.

In The Discovery of Jeanne Baret (Crown Publishers; 2010) Glynis Ridley suggests that the the crossdressing Jeanne who went on Bougainville’s expedition as the botanist Commercon’s assistant, was gang-raped by some of the crew on the island of New Ireland, and subsequently became pregnant, delivering the baby on Mauritius, where she remained for seven years before completing her circumnavigation.  Ridley’s interpretations of the accounts of Bougainville and his officers, is a dark and chilling one.  I don’t always agree with the conclusions she comes to, but the case she presents is plausible.  Although in Ridley’s interpretation it wasn’t the sailors who gang-raped Baret, but the other servants and possibly, the ship surgeon.

So why did they do it? The paycheck was of course, the big draw.  Always in arrears, the pay was likely more than a femme sole could make selling fish — or selling her favors.  The roof over her head, leaky though it might be, was a nice perk.  As were the three square meals of weevily ship buscuit , mouldy cheese and salt beef.  A ration of grog and a hammock to sleep in?  And aboard a naval ship, the chance of prize money, which was divided among the crew!   Are you kidding me?  Who wouldn’t sell a ragged petticoat and go to sea?


But some females were coerced into the role of cabin boy by their masters.  Mary Anne Talbot, for instance.   Talbot’s master was militia captain Essex Bowen, who assigned her with boy’s clothing, the name of John Taylor, and brought her along to the West Indies as his personal servant.  We can only imagine the many tasks she was required to perform for him…  Another reported case is that of thirteen-year-old Rebecca Ann Johnson whose father dressed her as a boy and apprenticed her to a collier ship where she served four years.

But surely a few girls went to sea primarily for the adventure, as I did aboard Endeavour.

How many?  We’ll never know.  How did they get away with it?  We can only surmise.  What I can tell you for certain is that a woman can do a man’s job aboard a sailing ship.   I did it, and I earned the respect of my male watchmates, whose knees trembled as much as mine  the first time we climbed up the ratlines, up and over the futtock shrouds, on up to the cross trees and out on the foot rope to make and furl sail.  When no sail changes were required, we were put to work doing ship maintenance, which was never-ending.  And when, after four hours on watch we went below, we strung up our hammocks and collapsed from fatigue.

In summary, some crossdressers had inside help — someone who knew their secret and helped them — or forced them — to maintain their ruse.  But I believe a few enterprising females acted independently,  deftly pulling the wool over their shipmates’ eyes.  I base this on a phenomenon I call “male pattern blindness” or “androgenic visual deficit.”  Many ordinary objects are totally invisible to men who have this genetic trait, which has reached epidemic proportions in the twenty-first century.  Maybe you know someone with this handicap?  Someone who goes to the refrigerator for a bottle of beer but literally can’t see it lurking behind a jar of mayonaise, and calls to his wife, asking for help?



Having lived and worked with men, both at sea and on land (and having found countless bottles of invisible beer in the refrigerator) I think I know how a women could get away with it.  Dress like a man  (or a mayonaise jar) and pull your weight.  Do your duty, don’t cause trouble, and chances are good your watchmates won’t see past your seaman’s slops and your sunburned, tar-smudged face.   Apparently it worked for Hans Brandt — but watch out for open hatches.

In future blogs I’ll share more of my personal experiences as an ordinary seaman  aboard HM Bark Endeavour — and I’ll discuss individual crossdressing seamen in more detail.


By a Yankee Moon, a novel about a crossdressing sailor and book three of the Patricia MacPherson Nautical Adventure Series, will be available in 2014.  Barbados Bound and Surgeon’s Mate, the first two books in the series, are published by Fireship Press.

For more nautical posts please visit the rest of the fleet on this week’s blog hop, organized by Helen Hollick, author of  Sea Witch Voyages, a pirate-based fantasy, and other historical fiction.  A rising tide raises all ships!

J.M. Aucoin

Helen Hollick

Doug Boren

Linda Collison

Margaret Muir

Julian Stockwin

Anna Belfrage

Andy Millen

V.E. Ulett

T.S. Rhodes

Mark Patton

Katherine Bone

Alaric Bond

Ginger Myrick

Judith Starkson

Seymour Hamilton

Rick Spilman

James L. Nelson

S.J. Turney

Prue Batten

Antoine Vanner

Joan Druett

Edward James

Nighthawk News





Tooth trauma

As a novelist and a time traveler of sorts, I am enamored with the past.  But as P.J. O’Rourke said, “When you think of the good old days think one word:  Dentistry.”

When I was a child  Dr. Lory, our family dentist, drilled out all my cavities (and I had many) without using any Novocain.  No nitrous oxide, no anesthetic whatever.  Not that it wasn’t invented, mind you.  But for some reason he didn’t believe children felt pain, or maybe he was a sadist.  Whatever the reason, having my teeth drilled without any numbing at such a tender age traumatized me.  To this day the whine of the dentist’s electric drill nearly sends me through the roof – even if I’ve been shot up with enough local anesthetic to knock down a horse.   I haven’t been to Dr. Lory in decades, the old bastard is probably dead by now.

This past Wednesday I went Dr. Haushildt to have a crown molded for tooth number three, which has been cracked for some time.   This involved grinding the tooth down on all sides first, then making a mold.  The operative word here is “grinding” which obviously means a “grinder” will be used.    Hauschildt of course numbed me up before he started – it’s standard practice — but I wish I had been fully anesthetized, or at least given a wee dram of valium or propofol  (which is not standard practice!)

The mere sound of the grinder terrified me, that piercing electric whine.  It sounds just like the drill.   My gum felt numb but I couldn’t be sure the numbness was deep and complete.  I kept expecting him to touch a nerve and send me through the roof.   And can’t they do something about the noise?  My entire skull was vibrating, it sounded like a team of carpenters was working inside my head.  Thank God my dentist was quick.  Next came the mold, biting down into the gluey substance and then the fitting of the temporary cap with some sort of marine adhesive, 5200?  Something that sticks even when wet.  I go back in a couple of weeks to have the permanent cap installed, which should be no problem, as long as he doesn’t have to grind.

How far we’ve come since the 18th century!  Back then surgeons did double duty as dentists; they could bleed you, dose you, amputate your shattered limb or pull your aching tooth with a toolkit containing a tourniquet, scalpel, a bone saw and a toothkey.  There were no electric drills or grinders, no permanent fillings, no antibiotics, no anesthetics. OK, they did have rum.  And they used clove oil and cinnamon oil to ease toothaches, which were very common.  Most people’s teeth fell out or were pulled out over the years.

Clove and cinnamon oil are quite effective, for spices.  You can get these aromatic oils in the health food store.  They’re good to have in the first aid kit in case you get a toothache on a weekend or holiday, or if you’re setting out to sea or going backpacking in the wilderness. A drop of clove or cinnamon oil on a cotton ball applied to the gum stings a bit then becomes tingly and somewhat numb. As does your tongue, unless you can keep it out of the way.  It’s not quite as deadening as a good shot of 2% xylocaine with epinephrine — but it does have antimicrobial properties and freshens your breath nicely. It will do in a pinch and you don’t need a dentist to administer it.

A few years ago when Bob and I were living in Hawaii, my remaining wisdom tooth was giving me grief and I decided to have it removed.  Even in Paradise a tooth extraction is not much fun.  For some reason the dentist could not get me numb with an inferior alveolar block. A little rum on the gum might have helped, but nobody uses that anymore.  After a shot of something else (xyocaine or marcaine?) failed to do the trick (yes, I can feel that!)  I told her just to pull the damn thing and be quick about it.  She attached the pliers to my tooth and began to pull with all her might.  I was wishing then for a big brute of a dentist, a bodybuilder, Arnold Schwarzenegger in his prime — not this little old woman wearing a muumuu and an orchid blossom in her hair.

“Am I hurting you?”  she asked, peering at me with concern over her mask.

As her hand and pliers were still in my mouth all I could do was nod and say “Just get it over with!  Pull the damn thing!”  Which came out “La la blah wa blah la wa!”  But I think she got the idea.

Another grunting yank and half the tooth came out.  It took a few more tugs to get the rest of it, and then I went home and consoled myself with a Vicodin.  Which I really didn’t need because the worst of it was over, but I took it anyway.  It didn’t do much for me, I should’ve had the rum.

I thought back on this experience when writing the tooth pulling scene in my second historical novel, Surgeon’s Mate (Fireship Press; 2011).  Here’s a brief excerpt:

I retrieved my surgical kit, inspecting it to make certain all the instruments were there.  The toothkey, I noticed, showed a speck of corrosion though I had just polished it a few days ago.

It must come out easily, without undue pain.  Preferably in one piece.  It wouldn’t be good if I had to go digging with the scalpel and tenaculum.  Our freedom depended on a successful extraction.

“Some spirits, sir?  To dull the nerves?”

He shook his head.  “That’s been seen to.  I’ve enough of Guyon’s brandy on board to numb a mule, yet it hasn’t helped a bit.  You may proceed, sir.”

I rolled up my sleeves and his guards moved in for a closer look.

The lugger’s medicine chest held little of value.  I found some oil of cinnamon and soaked a cotton pledget with it.  This would not only cleanse the gum but would shrink the swelling and dull the sensation.  It also sweetened the fould stench coming from the oozing pus.  While the cinnamon did its work, I prepared a tincture of hyssop to follow the extraction, to sooth the empty socket and reduce any bleeding.  The men watched with morbid curiosity.  Next, I readied my instruments, picking each one up and holding it to the light for inspection, more for dramatic effect than anything else.  A thick roll of gauze doused with a few drops of cinnamon oil to keep his mouth from clamping down, should he reflexively try to bite me.  Now I was ready… 




Book cover redesign

What a difference a cover makes!

This mock-up cover for Surgeon’s Mate was created for me by Albert Roberts, who studied advertising design at Savannah College of Art and Design.  I met Albert on Facebook, where I’ve met all sorts of talented, interesting people who know something about  the complex process of writing, producing, and marketing a book.

Albert belongs to a group of history interpreters portraying the crew of the HMS Acasta, a British fifth rate frigate launched in 1797.  He is Dr. Roberts,  Acasta’s surgeon.

The purpose of the HMS ACASTA and the ROYAL TARS of OLD ENGLAND is to accurately portray a crew of His Majesty’s Royal Navy circa 1800-1810 for the educational benefit of the public and for the mutual research and enjoyment of the individual members.  (This, from the website HMS Acasta; being a log of the travels of the Royal tars of old England.)  Reenactors and naval history buffs, the crew gives demonstrations and also plays realistic games dressed in period clothing with period equipment.  It sounds like a lot of fun and a great way to explore history — much like writing a novel or acting in a play.  It is a form of learning, teaching, entertainment, and performance art.  A way of experiencing the past, first hand.
What I like about this cover is the color, the drama, intensity of the artwork.  The typeface looks professional and I like the little details he has added to the layout.   Overall I think it is high quality and professional in appearance.  What do you think?   How much influence does a book’s cover have on the prospective reader?


The original painting, an oil on canvas, is called The Battle of Trafalgar by William Clarkson Stanfield, aka Clarkson Frederick Stanfield (1793-1867)