The Big Idea: Vance Briceland
Writing careers are funny things — they very often go off in directions you don’t expect. Vance Briceland is a perfect example; on the way to a career of YA fantasy writing, Briceland was unexpectedly sidetracked — in a not-bad-at-all-actually way — and found his writing career moving away from his original goal. How did he find his way back to fantasy, and to his new book The Buccaneer’s Apprentice? Well, there’s a tale for you, and here’s Briceland to tell it.
My career as a writer has been wayward. To say the least.
I entered the publishing business ass-backwards. Years ago I had dreams of writing young adult fantasy. My agent was shopping around a manuscript of mine called The Glass Maker’s Daughter when an editor called and told my agent that while she really liked my adventure tale with a setting based on Renaissance Italy, she was really looking to acquire books with a more contemporary theme. That weren’t fantasy. That might involve, you know, boys and girls kissing ‘n’ stuff.
I knew an opportunity when I saw one. After a few days I shot back a proposal that had nothing to do with the glass makers of my imaginary and magical country of Cassaforte, and a lot to do with the ups and downs of love lives in Manhattan. The editor loved the idea, and it was thus that I began my career writing chick lit, both for teens and adults.
Oh, I had a grand time, don’t get me wrong. I wrote with such exuberance that one reviewer called me “the fresh voice of the modern single woman.” Here’s the point at which I need to point out that while my modernity is debatable, I’m neither single nor a woman. Nope, I’m a very-much-partnered, middle-aged guy who wrote over a dozen chick lit novels in as many female voices. And after several years, what I wanted to do was finally to write a book with a male perspective.
I got my chance after the good folk of the young adult imprint, Flux, bought The Glass Maker’s Daughter and published it last year. Finally I was back to writing fantasy–my favorite genre. Flux also bought the book’s two sequels. My Big Idea was that the first sequel, my fifteenth novel, would have a male protagonist. Finally! And it would be about guy stuff! Guy stuff like . . . pirates!
I’d grown up reading my dad’s Horatio Hornblower books and had loved Treasure Island as a kid, so as a writer, crafting a tale of nautical derring-do seemed like an adventure. Though I threw myself into my research, I also knew right off that I wasn’t going to write a traditional tale of buried doubloons and skullduggery. I’d spent too many novels masquerading as something I was not, to write something so undiluted.
And that’s how The Buccaneer’s Apprentice was born. It’s the tale of a young man pretending to be something he is not. Nick Dattore is an apprentice with a cursed history–all of his wretched masters have died gruesomely. The first good master he’s ever had is the proprietor of what has to be the worst theatrical troupe the country of Cassaforte has ever seen. When pirates overtake the ship upon which the troupe is sailing to its first international engagement, they kill the crew, and kidnap all the actors.
Nick’s forced to move from the wings to the spotlight, utilize all the acting and stagecraft skills he’s picked up over the previous few months, and assume the role of a lifetime: the sneering, cold, and calculated Drake, a notorious privateer. It’s as the Drake that Nic attempts to overtake the same pirates who slaughtered his crew, to rescue the acting troupe and to foil a military armada planning to take Cassaforte hostage.
The Buccaneer’s Apprentice is not a traditional tale of piracy. I’m proud to have Nick as my first male protagonist, because at heart, the novel is about how we discover what we’re capable of when we’re forced to step outside our comfort zones. Nick’s approach to his own precarious position is not too far removed from my own, when my scruffy self was suddenly thrown into a world of shopping, cocktails, and strappy sandals.
We both dug deep, drew upon our own experiences, and proceeded to bluff our way through–and pretty convincingly, I might add!
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