When I published Empty Nights last year I published with an Indi publishing company called MommaShark Press which was founded by Jenai M. Marek. I’ve also worked with Jenai on the Write Up Our Alley YouTube channel which can be found in the tabs above. Jenai has just released her second novel in the Gup the Sailor series, Gup the Sailor and the Devil to Pay, which I read whilst on holiday and I asked her if she wouldn’t mind doing an interview on my website.
The first Gup the Sailer novel, The Dangerous Voyage of Gup the Sailer was published in 2017 and follows the story of Gup attempting to reunite with his family whilst evading the fearsome Captain Keelhaul. Without giving too much away, in the second novel, Gup in charge of his own ship, under his own flag and with his own crew, sets sail to defeat the pirate captain.
Gup’s books are aimed at a younger audience than myself but I’d wished I read them when I was the intended age group. I would describe Devil to Pay as a very playful novel stitched together with threads of darkness. It transports you to the thirteen seas and makes you long to be a pirate/privateer.
I sent Jenai the following questions about her latest book. Her responses are below:
Q: How did the idea of the Gup the Sailer novels start?
A: The idea started when I was pregnant… I never thought of writing a children’s series, but then the drive to write something my child would be inspired by really made me change course on my target audience. My original pirate adventure series concept was going to be a more mature tale of swashbuckling action. But when I became pregnant, I realized that I wanted to write a story for all ages, and one that would inspire a sense of wonder around the mysteries and challenges of a life at sea…
Q: The protagonist Gup is based of your own son Elliott. Is Elliott aware of his fame?
A: He is completely unaware of the concept of fame. He’s only five years old and the idea of being famous is not something he recognizes. He knows very well that he inspired my books, and that his nickname, “Gup” is how I named the title character. His full nickname is “The ThunderGuppy.” But we call him Gup for short. This is referenced in the first novel, when Gup the character tells the orphans of Sacred Home the story of his birth at sea… So, yes, Elliott knows he’s the center of a fictional pirate adventure story, and loves to dress like a pirate and cross swords with me in imaginative pirate play.
Q: Are any other characters, apart from Gup, based off people you know in real life?
A: Actually, yes and no. I chose all the orphan boys names based on all of my friends’ children’s names. That said, the character inspiration stops there. Their personalities and physical traits may match the character descriptions, but in that respect, it’s purely coincidental. For one, the babies were all just born when I began writing the first book. So there wasn’t a lot I could do to writing these boys true to their namesakes. Then again, the character Jez is very slightly inspired by one of my friend’s teen boys. His physical description and personality/intelligence is a little more based on a real person… but his character growth diverges from the real “Jez” and becomes a whole new man in the books.
Q: Talk us through the writing processes of Devil to Pay.
A: My writing process is the same in every book I write. I start with a concept summary. Then I write character bios for all the major characters, which include back stories, ages, physical descriptions, personality traits, idiosyncrasies, desires for their futures, and potential crises that may challenge each character to evolve over time. Then, I write a very elementary plot diagram, and determine how many chapters I suppose will take me from the exposition to the falling action. After that, I begin writing an outline for the entire book, where each chapter is a summary of what will happen. Once I have every chapter summarized, I open a new document, and begin actually writing the book, from chapter one to the final chapter. Any changes I make along the way, I cross reference with my character bios, the plot diagram, and the full book outline to make sure any new ideas and challenges I throw in a long the way do not contradict my original plot. I keep all my notes from the books to make sure that I don’t contradict anything in an earlier book in the series in my latest books.
Q: The main thing I noticed as I read through both books was how authentic the dialogue and ship terminology was. How were you able to obtain these details?
A: I wish I can say because I’ve actually sailed before, but my pirate experience is rooted entirely on my kayaking lifestyle. So it’s not from personal experience sailing that I learned the lingo or the mechanics of a sailing ship. I had to research the anatomy of schooners, sloops, and other masted sailing ships of the golden age of pirates for the correct terminology. And I don’t claim to be an expert on the finer points of pirate ships. That said, I also grew up reading Treasure Island, one of my all-time favorite novels ever written. Robert Louis Stevenson was my first favorite author and inspired my love of pirates with his ability to write Long John Silver’s character. I loved that a vicious, conniving, and mutinous scallywag with a violent history that took his leg still had the goodness of heart to care for a young Jim Hawkins, and even invite him to abandon his country to become a gentleman of fortune. Jim, feeling a bond with the dangerous pirate turned down the chance to live a life of piracy, but still aided in Silver’s escape. When I was a young girl, I always imagined what it would have been like had Jim, a young boy, agree to become a pirate and sail with Silver. That was probably what inspired me to write about young children who lived the pirate lifestyle… because in some strange way, my own childhood dream was to be a child of fortune and swashbuckling adventure.
Q: Gup’s first mate Hettie is a cannibal but she also has a very interesting verbal tick. Can you explain how this came about?
A: My second language is Japanese. And when I lived in Japan and would tell a story, I’d often end my sentences with “ya na” which in Japanese is the equivalent to saying “ya know!” So I thought it would be fun to have Hettie have a catchphrase that she said in her native Canni language. In the first book, The Dangerous Voyage of Gup the Sailor, Hettie spoke mostly in the common tongue, and therefore he translation was “seen it.” Which basically is like ending her sentence with “ya know.” Then when I decided on the Canni words for “seen it,” I had to make it similar to the Japanese “ya na.” So I swapped it for the Canni language, thus “na ya” was born. In fact, most of my Canni language comes from scrambling Japanese. It was a way for me to keep a made up language consistent, and easier for me to write a cohesive yet fictitious language.
Q: Talk me through your illustrations for both front covers and the charts in the first of Gup’s book.
A: I actually designed the charts myself by using photo editing programs to take existing countries, islands, and continent fragments to create the world of Gup the Sailor. For example, the island of Canniboa is actually an inverted and flipped Chile. I may have warped different sections of the land to create the necessary geographical features described by the characters as they sail or travel to fictitious ports and cities… in fact, one of the greatest challenges was to make sure that when describing where my characters were headed, they could be traced on the maps. I would spend hours making sure that if Gup was traveling from Sailors’ Main to the Cock Isles, I made sure to write he was sailing East. Because if he wasn’t, an enthusiastic reader could easily catch discrepancies in the world I created.
Q: What’s the future of the series? How many books do you have planned?
A: I’m currently writing the third book, which follows the character Michelle during her separation from Gup’s crew. After Michelle Cooke and the Barkass Pirates, I’ll finish the series, by writing the fourth novel, which will conclude Gup’s story as a child sailor in a world of pirates.
Q: Can you explain the effect Hurricane Harvey had on your family and your life?
A: Hurricane Harvey completely halted my writing process. And to be honest, I half wonder if I conjured it myself with my writing… in book one, the Siren’s Eye has a power that I intended to unleash in book two… that power was obviously a controlled Hurricane. So, to lose everything in Hurricane Harvey two months after book one had been published, I was both shocked and a little afraid to write about hurricane conditions after actually experiencing the horror of it with my husband and (then) 4 year old son. Harvey set back the second novel’s publication date about nine or ten months, while my family lived homeless for the time it took to rebuild our house after the flood water receded.
Q: Can you tell us more about your next project?
A: After I complete the Gup the Sailor series, I’m planning to write a post-apocalyptic Earth novel that throws the surviving humans into a new world order that could destroy what remains of humanity… but with the conditions of the apocalyptic event, it will leave the world in a state where futuristic piracy is the dissent du l’époque of the rebels working to save the human race from its own hubris.
Q: If you had a ship of your own what would you call it?
A: I have had to think of ship names so often that I haven’t given much thought to what my own ship would be called, if I were so lucky to own such a vessel. I would probably name it The ThunderGuppy, for my son. It has the whimsy, strength, and humor that I would want in a ship name.
You can find out more about Jenai on her official website: https://jenaimarek.com
Her publishing company MommaShark Press can be found here: https://mommasharkpress.com
I hope you enjoy her works.
See ya later, me hearties.