A swashbuckler set in the West Indies of the early 19th Century, THE WITCH FROM THE SEA is a love story, a coming-of-age adventure and an eccentric comedy of manners about a woman who runs with the pirates to free herself from the conventional "rules" of gender, race and class.

Tory Lightfoot, an orphan of mixed white and Mohawk blood, flees the stifling gentility of 1823 Boston for the freedom of the open sea. But the merchant ship on which she stows away is boarded by pirates off the coast of Cuba, and Tory is forced to join the pirate crew to save her life. Making herself useful as both log-keeper and spy, she begins to earn a measure of the independence she craves. But fate, fever and the relentless U. S. Navy West Indian Squadron close in, and Tory must risk her hard-won freedom to save the man she loves.
"I highly recommend this book to any lover of historical fiction."
— The Historical Novel Society Review
"The Witch From The Sea is that rare creation, an historical romance with guts as well as glamour. Wild-spirited Tory is an irresistible character."
— Nautical historian Joan Druett (She-Captains; Hen Frigates)
"I am in love with this book. A+."
Reading Rocks / YA Fiction Review

Wednesday, April 25, 2012


If you read (or write) historical fiction, check out the Historical Fiction Survey recently conducted over at  Mary Tod's A Writer of History blog.

Setting out last month to discover evolving tastes and trends among the historical fiction readership, she culled information from 805 respondents—readers and writers, female and male, foreign and domestic. And she's been busy compiling her findings ever since.

From general questions about favorite genres and historical periods, reading habits, and selling points ("strong female character" and "significant historical figure" trump military stories and capital-R Romance),  Tod has been branching out into specific topics like "Reasons not to read historical ficton," "Historical fiction would be better if..." and, "Stories that sell" (historical and otherwise).

Back in 2000, when I was laboring to midwife The Witch From the Sea into existence, I conducted my own highly unscientific Historical Fiction Survey via the pages of the pirate fanzine No Quarter Given. Then (unlike now) historical fiction was considered a hard sell in the publishing world, and I wanted to know if anybody was still reading it, and why. (Read more)

Wednesday, April 18, 2012


The stories my mother told about her ancestors were not recorded in words. They were carved in pictures into the smooth, wear-polished surface of an old basswood cradleboard. I don't remember riding in it on my Mama's back when I was little, but I do remember how it fascinated me, as I was growing up.

It was narrow at the bottom and rounded at the top, with one plain side to keep a baby snug against her mother's back, criss-crossed with colorful beaded straps. But the carved back side, facing out to the world, was alive with the work of a dozen patient hands.

The carved head of an eagle kept watch in the rounded top of the board. Mama said he stood for the power of the spirit world and respect for the unknown. Etched into the narrow base of the board was a simple, cross-hatched partridge feather that Mama said was a symbol of the Mohawk Nation.

Above this were the clan symbols, two delicate little turtles, each with a tiny head, tail, and four feet, radiating out from its round shell in all directions, like little twin suns.

"Your ancestor married a woman from the Turtle Clan," Mama told me. "And every daughter of every daughter all through time will also be of the Turtle Clan. When his wife bore their first child, your ancestor carved this cradleboard for her."

Planted between the two turtles, the sinuous trunk of of the Tree of Life snaked up the back of the board. Little branches jutted out from both sides of the trunk at uneven intervals; each one bore either a seed pod, for a son, or a delicately wrought flower, for a daughter. Each branch had been carved by a different father's hand as the cradleboard was passed down from mothers to daughters through the generations.

Long after I grew too big to ride in it, I loved to study the cradleboard. Mama said it would be mine some day. I loved to touch the tiny, magical carvings, so worn away with time, that had been shaped by so many loving hands.

"Listen to the wood," Mama would tell me, drawing my small fingertips gently over the smooth, intricate carvings. "Your ancestors will sing to you."

Saturday, April 14, 2012


The adventures of Tory Lightfoot continue beyond the events in The Witch From the Sea.

The second book in the series, Runaways: A Tale of Jonkanoo, finds Tory in the Caribbean Islands of St. Kitts, Nevis, and Antigua during the volatile final years of slavery, trying to escape her notorious past in a troupe of humble buskers, tumbling on street corners. But as tensions mount between the slaves, the free people of color, and the authorities, Tory realizes the greatest jeopardy to her precious freedom may be the color of her skin.

From rollicking holiday slave parades to the grand elegance of "the season" at the luxurious Bath Hotel, Runaways is both love story and a suspense thriller told with a dash of Dickensian humor.

As a big thank-you to loyal readers of The Witch, a special, illustrated serial version of Runaways is available online right now!

(Sorry, it's not on the Kindle, but any device with an Internet connection should do the trick.) Please drop in and let me know what you think. It's free!

What's "Jonkanoo?" An annual holiday parade performed by slaves in the West Indian sugar islands in the 19th Century. For a few days, slaves were allowed to pretend they were free, going about masked and disguised, poking fun at their masters—until the rules of proper "civilized" behavior were clamped down again for another year.

Enjoy the adventure!

(Harlequin Pendu, frontispiece to Runaways: A Tale of Jonkanoo. Image © Lisa Jensen, 2012.)

(Jonkanoo, Jamaica, 1838. Belisario 08, as shown on www.slaveryimages.org, sponsored by the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities and the University of Virginia Library)

Monday, April 2, 2012


From Tory's Log ~

Papa read us wonderful stories out of books almost every evening, after the work of the farm was done for the day. Mama worked at her mending, but my brothers and I sat spellbound.

Papa read about the adventures of King Arthur and the dream of Camelot. He read from the books of Mr. Smollett (a Scot, Papa pointed out), whose heroes were forever being whisked away on sailing ships or journeying through the Highlands.

The stories of Shakespeare were more difficult, with their strange, dreamlike language, but Papa invented a different voice for every character. He made us laugh at the man with the donkey's head let loose among the fairies, and we shivered when King Macbeth (another Scot) met the witches in the wood.

When I was old enough, Papa let me join the lessons he gave the boys at home in the busy harvesting season when the farm could not spare them for the village school. I'm afraid I was something of a disappointment in sums and grammar. But when I discovered reading, it was like learning to fly; Papa could not make up lessons fast enough to suit me. Now I knew magic, and no mortal power could keep me earthbound!

Mama told magical stories too, about the Old Ones, or Turtle, who carried all the world on his back, or Sky Woman, who gave birth to Creator, who made all the creatures of the earth. Even now, even here, so far away in time and place, I can hear the soft rhythms of my mother's voice, telling her stories in exactly the same words, so they sounded like a song.

That was all so long ago, but she is singing still in my heart.