Kill Your Darlings (Pirate Queens Book Tour)

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Welcome to the Pirate Queens Blog Tour!

To celebrate Women’s History Month and the release of Pirate Queens by Leigh Lewis and illustrated by Sara Gómez Woolley on January 11th, 5 sites will be featuring exclusive guest posts from Leigh and Sara plus 5 chances to win a Pirate Queens prize pack!

Kill Your Darlings
by Leigh Lewis and Sara Gómez Woolley

Leigh: As every writer knows, the key to successful writing is rewriting. Oftentimes, complete concepts are left out of the finished product, which they should be for the betterment of the final work. Though William Faulkner is commonly given credit for this idea, it was Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch who stated, “If you require a practical rule of me, I will present you with this: ‘Whenever you feel an impulse to perpetuate a piece of exceptionally fine writing, obey it—whole-heartedly—and delete it before sending your manuscript to press. Murder your darlings.’” Since then, a paraphrased, “Kill Your Darlings” has become mainstream advice for authors looking to improve their work.

At some point in the early days of the acquisition of Pirate Queens: Dauntless Women Who Dared to Rule the High Seas, my editor at National Geographic and I were deciding which six pirates should be featured in the book.  Rachel Wall was a strong contender, one whom I found fascinating mainly because of her ruthless and unique approach to piracy (more on that in a minute). In the book, I tell each pirate’s story in a different verse form, and it made perfect sense to me to have Rachel’s poem be an ode to her schooner, told as if Rachel herself were reciting it, almost like the love letter of a woman devastated by deceit. I reveled in the idea of The Essex, Rachel’s ship, being almost human, at least in Rachel’s eyes. However,in the end, it became clear that, for the good of Pirate Queens, I needed to Kill My Darling. So, here’s a sneak peek at a 7th pirate’s poem which nearly graced the pages of Pirate Queens, but in the end, was sent to the gallows.


Rachel Wall was an American pirate who sailed on a ship called The Essex with her husband, George. Her trick was to maroon The Essex after storms near the Isles of Shoals, off the coast of New Hampshire, making it look as if she were shipwrecked. Rachel would stand at the helm, alone, a damsel in distress, and flag down people on passing ships to help her. Once they did, her crew would appear from below deck and kill the helpers, stealing their loot and sinking their ship. Wall’s pirating came to an abrupt end when George Wall and the rest of the crew were washed overboard in a storm, while Rachel survived. She gave up piracy, but not her life of crime, and was later was convicted of stealing a bonnet. For this, and not for all of the terrible acts she committed at sea, Rachel Wall became the last woman ever to be hanged in Massachusetts.


(as told by American pirate Rachel Wall)



We tripped our way along the harbor

Finding no footing

No future

Shoes and souls worn

Hopes sinking with each tide



Shelter? Sanctuary?






Oh, Essex!

Our Plymouth schooner


You heard our cries

And materialized

Surely a mirage

A towering temptress

Rising through

the mist and yet


While the other ships rocked and bucked

You stood stock-still

Royal and regal

Your mane waving in the wind


You opened your arms


A respite for us weary wanderers

And whispered, “Come”

We wiped away the sweat

And the desperation, dripping off us in waves


Stepped on board,

Already yours




You revealed the script slowly

Taking pains to position the cast


You were the first to dress down

Reduce yourself to storm-torn

Our dresses tattered,

Yours and mine.

You cowered so I could rise

Set the stage for me to shine


We sailed you straight into

The Isles of Shoals

The crew, backstage

Some waiting in the wings


I perched at the rail

Raised the distress flag

Pleading for a savior


The rats scurried on board and took the bait

We stole their treasure

scuttled their boat

And buried the truth

Along with those four men

In a watery grave






What a show it was

Until you

Magnificent Essex


Were ready for your close-up


You insisted

The storm had passed

But you knew


We crashed through the eye and

It was only there

I saw you clearly for the first time.


Your battered bust burst through the waves

Demanding the spotlight


Your teeth

Rotten from

Tearing chunks out of the sea

Now greedily gulping it down


Your body,

Beaten and bruised

Destined to be discarded



Rising Crashing Ripping Thrashing

Over and over and over


You flung those men, my man, the treasure

Everything that meant anything

Into the abyss

And spit me out on your splintered spine





Utter devastation.


Oh, Essex.

Sara: Illustrators have to kill their darlings too.  We come up with many different Ideas to solve the same problem.  Sometimes we fall in love with our sketches along the way!  They might be great ideas but just not be the right fit, for whatever reason, for the project.

The Pirate Queens cover is a great example.  I loved so many of my sketch babies for this one, but ultimately only ONE design could be chosen.  We narrowed it down to the one that seemed like the right one for the project, but we did ultimately decide to use another favorite on the title page as well.  I wasn’t the ONLY one on our team who fell in love with our darlings!



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“For readers who want more herstory in history.”

“…an ethnically inclusive selection of real-life women who commanded ships, wielded cutlasses, and struck fear into the hearts of others.”
–Publishers Weekly

This wow-worthy book proves that women have been making their mark in all aspects of history―even the high seas!

Meet Ching Shih, a Chinese pirate who presided over a fleet of 80,000 men (by contrast, Blackbeard had some 300). Get the scoop on Anne Bonny who famously ran away from an arranged marriage to don trousers and brandish a pistol in the Bahamas. And there are more!

Each pirate profile includes a dramatic original poem presented against a backdrop of gorgeous full-color art by award-winning illustrator Sara Gómez Woolley. Each profile is followed by fascinating information about the real life and times of these daring (and dangerous!) women.

Vetted by the world’s leading pirate experts and historians, this book is a cool and edgy gift. It’s also perfect for any curious kid who dreams of adventure and for parents who are eager to show their tweens and teens that history is more diverse, daring, and surprising than what is typically found in textbooks.

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Leigh Lewis is a children’s writer and poet who has been “playing pirates” since she could walk.  She does her best work in loud cafes, on long journeys, or in bed, late at night while everyone else sleeps. By way of her adventures on the high seas, she calls many places home, including Turkey, Greece, England, and Russia, as well as towns across the United States.  She eventually navigated her way back to her hometown of Columbus, Ohio.  Leigh spends her time there dreaming up stories for kids of all ages, buoyed by an amazing crew– her husband, their three indomitable daughters, and a four-inch turtle named Shellbert.

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Sara Gómez Woolley is an award-winning Latina illustrator, graphic novelist, and educator living and working in Brooklyn, NY.  Her children’s book Charlotte and the Quiet Place received a Foreword Reviews INDIES Book of the Year Gold Medal and an IPPY Award Silver Medal, and has been featured in Creative Quarterly: Journal of Art and Design.



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