Joan Druett

Author Interview with Joan Druett

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Joan Druett
From an interview with TALL SHIPS BOOKS

1. How did you select writing as a vocation?

I have always wanted to write. My mother lived next door to a grade school teacher, and between them they taught me to read and write, so that I wrote my first "book" at the age of four. It is eleven pages long, illustrated, and has no spelling mistakes. (It has been downhill ever since.)

2. What initially drew you to the sea and nautical nonfiction as subject matter for your books?

Again, the sea is part of my childhood — and my husband, Ron, is a successful maritime artist. However the ultimate stimulus was a grave on the tropical island of Rarotonga, in the Cook group. I fell into a hole where a big tree had been uprooted in a hurricane, and at the bottom I found a tall headstone dedicated to the young wife of a whaling master, who had died in January 1850. I was driven by curiosity about her strange life-style choice, and over the next 20 years became the "expert" on seafaring wives of captains under sail, whalers
in particular.

3. After a successful career writing nonfiction, what motivated you to write a nautical mystery series?

My agent and good friend, Laura Langlie, has always been keen to get me writing fiction. When she suggested a mystery series, I was dubious at first, but then Wiki Coffin came to life, and the unexpected happened — she and I both fell madly in love with him!

4. What can you tell us about Wiki Coffin, without spoiling the plot for our readers?

Born of a casual alliance between a Salem shipmaster and a Maori beauty, he was
raised in the Bay of Islands until the age of twelve, when his father remembered his existence and came back with the proposition of going with him to New England to get acquainted with his American folks. What Captain Coffin did not tell young Wiki was that his legal, childless wife did not know of his existence—so the arrival in Salem was quite a dramatic one. After three years Captain Coffin headed off to the Pacific again, leaving him at home as company for his wife. Naturally, she got rid of him as fast as possible, first to a missionary college in New Hampshire, and then off to sea on her brother's Nantucket whaleship. And so Wiki's adventures commenced.

5. Every writer has his/her approach to writing a novel. How do you gather material for each story?

The actual story of the U.S. Exploring Expedition is a very rich lode. As I read the memoirs, letters, and journals, little twists in the truth are often all that is needed. For instance, in A Watery Grave, a man is almost strangled when his neck is caught in a buntline while they are taking in sail. This really happened—all I had to do was adapt it for the plot. It was more of a challenge than it sounds, because it was rather hard to define precisely what had happened from brief seamanlike descriptions of the near-tragedy, but that made it even more fun.

6. At what point in the process do you begin writing?

As I research, I make lots of notes on memo-sized scraps of paper. These get shuffled around until I have a good idea of where, how, and when the murder happened, and who did it. Then I set up all the red herrings. Once I have a decent-sized pack of notes made, I start by describing the setting, and then move onto dialogue, reintroducing the characters, and quickly get into the action. The scraps of paper work well, because you can shuffle them as the plot develops.

7. Do you have a specific place where you are most comfortable writing?

I have a computer set up right next to the kitchen counter, which works very well for me. It is amazing how easy it is to finish a sentence when the potatoes are starting to boil over! I notice that my characters drink a lot of coffee, and that I mention meals a lot, probably a logical result of my location. Also, I love to cook. In this second mystery, I had fun introducing a new character, a ship's cook who is Acadian but has to adapt his recipes for shipboard supplies. When the book is finished I'll put the recipes on my website.

Ka pai!

Mysteries by Author:

Other Books by Author:

  • Abigail
  • A Promise of Gold
  • Petticoat Whalers
  • She Was a Sister Sailor
  • Hen Frigates
  • She Captains
  • Rough Medicine

For lots more information, please visit Joan Druett at