It is our honor to spotlight GFWW member, Steve Sanders, a lawyer, and a1982 graduate of Baylor University School of Law. He is the author of a book of poetry, Characters: The Buffalo Soldier and Other Poems ; editor of and a contributor to a book of pirate poetry, Raising Black Flags: Original Poetry By and About Pirates ; and editor of and a contributor to an anthology of poetry and short stories, Echoes From Other Worlds. His free time is spent writing, book signing, traveling to book fairs where he sells his books, and handmade jewelry. In addition, he works with the Haltom City Public Library, organizing events to promote authors and the library to the community. He’s also a member of the Fort Worth Poetry Society and the Poetry Society of Texas.
Poetry expresses how we feel about a certain subject through imagery and senses. Your collection of poems is inspired by the life of pirates, when did you begin writing poems about them?
That’s kind of a long story but the best one’s usually are! I have been making and selling jewelry since 1996. In 2003, my wife and I decided to take our jewelry to a Renaissance festival. Well, when you vend at a renfaire you have to go dressed in “garb” so I thought what’s a better business model than a couple of pirates who have come ashore to sell off their plunder? I wanted to rename my business and so I started asking everyone I knew who they thought of when I mentioned “pirates.”
“Pirates of the Caribbean” was just coming out then so they didn’t say “Jack Sparrow!” Instead, they said “Blackbeard.” So, I decided that the name of the new business was going to be “Blackbeard’s Treasure Chest.” When I was writing my wife an email to tell her about the new business, I misspelled it – “BlackBEAD’s Treasure Chest.” It stuck and that’s been the name of the business ever since!
I’ve been writing since I was ten and writing poetry since I was in high school. It’s always been my way of releasing pent up emotion or saying the things I wanted to say but couldn’t. My writing became a secondary career in 2000 when I was asked by a woman at work to write an original piece for that year’s Black History Month celebration. That was the beginning of me taking myself seriously as a writer and becoming determined to someday publish. I did an enormous amount of research and wrote a forty-two stanza poem about a young Caucasian man who meets a retired Buffalo Soldier and the effect this friendship has on the young man’s life. The work was extremely well received and friends suggested I publish the work or even try to write a screenplay from it.
What that piece led to was a rebirth of my relationship with my father’s only surviving relative, my Aunt Sandy and her husband, Rufus. They are very big into cowboy poetry and they encouraged me to write more of the cowboy pieces. I did so, writing several pieces. But they weren’t really true cowboy poetry, they were more historical pieces. About 2006, my wife suggested that if I was going to write in that style, why not write “pirate poetry.” Take the same form, rhyming quatrains, and just change the setting and the characters. The business had taken off and this seemed like a great way to go. Once again, it stuck, and I’ve never looked back!
What attracted you to pirates and their life?
I’ve always loved history, I was a Civil War reenactor for 22 years, and pirates are a huge part of history. From the Cilician pirates who caused so much trouble to the Romans, to the Hanseatic League’s privateers, to the pirates of the Golden Age of Piracy, to John Paul Jones, there is a rich history of real life pirates out there. The real stories make up a bloody history and one full of death and short on plunder and glory.
But, like so much of history, our popular media has glamorized the life in films like “Captain Blood”, “The Black Swan”, “Goonies”, and, most recently, the “Pirate of the Caribbean” films. I think what attracts me most is the idea of being free, to sail the ocean and go where you please, when you please. In the movies, Captain Jack Sparrow says, “Do you know what a ship really is? It’s not a keel and a hull, that’s what a ship needs, not what it is. What a ship really is, what the Pearl is, is freedom.”
All my life I, like most of us, have been a wage-slave, working for someone else and dancing to their piper. I dream of a life where I can be free, traveling where I want to and taking my goods to markets all over, living off what I make from my own labors and my own wits. This is the concept I refer to when I talk about “raising the black flag.” It’s a dream that many of us have and I intend to make that dream come true. I’m doing those things now (paying off all my debt, building a retirement account, building my business and my literary goods) so that, someday, I can be free like Peter Blood to live as I please!
Pirates have been a popular genre in Western fiction and lore for a long time. In 1814, Lord Byron published an epic poem entitled “The Corsair” , the tale of a pirate captain who risks his life to save a slave in a Turkish harem – he sold all 10,000 of the first run of copies in a single day! Treasure Island was first published as a book in 1883, “The Black Pirate” was a hit film in 1926, the original ‘Pirates of the Caribbean’ ride opened at Disneyland in 1967, and plans are afoot for a fourth “Pirates of the Caribbean” movie for summer of 2012. And if I ever sell copies of my book to one half of one percent of all of the people who saw just the first “Pirates of the Caribbean” film, I can start living that life I dream of!
Could you tell us a little about the collection of poems?
Raising Black Flags contains poems from fourteen different poets and artwork from two different artists and it is all pirate-themed. About a third of the works are mine and include some of my “adventure poetry” – poems in the nature of Kipling’s “Gunga Din” where I write rhyming quatrains that tell a tale. One of my favorites is “A Tale From Devil’s Tavern.” It’s a poem about a haunted pirate ship. The ghost of one of their victims returns each year on the anniversary of her death to take one of the pirates off into the night. It has a twist at the end and it’s very popular when I do shows and readings.
The other poets all write in various forms, some rhyming, some in free verse. They write about love and death, mermaids and sirens, and the life of a sailor at sea. Some of the poems are romantic, some humorous, some are sad and some are rousing tales of adventure. We’ve gotten some really good reviews and we’ve sold about 220 copies of the book through my business, Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and other booksellers. Not bad for an independently published book!
When did you realize a collection was developing on this theme?
Actually, this collection was planned this way from the beginning. I wanted to publish a book of pirate poetry to add to the products I was selling from “Blackbead’s.” I had written several but I was afraid it would take me months to put together something that was all pirate-themed. I knew there were other poets out there writing about pirates so I just put out a call, over various avenues on the Internet, and within six months, I had enough poetry to fill a book! We have all worked together well, some of these people I have never spoken to over the phone, all of our communications have been via email! But it doesn’t matter. All of the people are intent on raising their own black flags and we’re out there doing it!
Where do you draw your inspiration from for your poetry collections?
Generally speaking, my inspiration comes from the people I know, the values I wish to inspire, the world around me and the incredible story that is our own history. Sometimes, people give you challenges and you go from there. I used to write original poetry for people – they would give me the subject matter, the tone and what form they wanted to poem in and I would do the rest. “Devil’s Tavern” came from a challenge from a fellow writer to write a pirate ghost story. “Treasured Melody” is a love poem to my wife. “My Honey”, a cowboy poem about a horse, was inspired by one of our cats. Yeah, ask me about that one sometime! If it is a good story or a powerful, emotional image it will usually translate into a good poem.
How did you go about assembling your poems?
I know a lot of poets print their poetry in a chronological order. Others group their poems by style or subject matter. I tend to group my works by subject matter. For Raising Black Flags and Echoes From Other Worlds this was pretty easy. The hard part about those two, since they were anthologies, was to ensure that no one poet was clumped all together. I wanted to spread out the works.
My next book may be a little more difficult. I intend on calling something about voice or voices and it will include poetry and short stories and will include a number of genres. That one will probably be organized by trying to create a flow of the works. Or I may just do it in chronological form. Sometimes, that’s the best way to ensure a varied mix.
When you sit down to write poems or short stories, what is your process?
I’m not one of those writers who have a definite place and time to write. I like to be freer flowing, especially when I’m writing poetry. I almost always write better using a computer – I still write with a pen or pencil from time to time but, strangely enough, that seems to take too much time! I do want a quiet place where I can focus, although sometimes it is coming out so fast and furious that it doesn’t matter where I am or what I’m doing. “My Honey” was written in my head while I was laying down trying to sleep. I was in bed, my mind whirling and spitting out these words, and I finally just got up and wrote the piece down on paper. Other pieces have come to me while I was driving and I would try to remember them till I got where I was going! Other times, I have to work at it. I’m currently playing a plotline for a Steampunk novel and that has been grueling!
You’ve won many awards for your poetry and writing, can you tell us about the contests?
My first big prize was at the 2009 “Books ‘N Authors ‘N All That Jazz” Canis Latran Writing Contest at Weatherford College. I took the Judge’s Choice in the Poetry Division for “The Regimental Ball”, one of my cowboy poems. That was amazing! They make you feel like a rock star out there. There was a free lunch, a monetary prize, and they had the head of the Theater Department read my piece. I took two Editor’s Choice Awards this year, one for a short story, “The Sorcerer’s Headphones”, and one for a pirate poem, “It’s In Me Blood.”
I also had a poem chosen for last year’s San Antonio Poetry Fair’s anthology, “Voices Along the River.” My poem “Dad, You’re My Favorite Cowboy” was selected for publication in “Voices.” That poem was given an Honorable Mention in the 2009 Haltom City Public Library’s Texas Writers Contest and this year, just recently, one of my short stories, a piece entitled “Seventy Minutes” tied for First Prize in the Adult Short Story Division of the 2010 Haltom City Public Library’s contest.
It is amazing how good this sort of recognition can give an author! It is one thing to have family and friends tell you they enjoy your work but when a total stranger gives you an award or buys a copy of your book (especially when they ask you to autograph it) that’s a totally different feeling. The sense of accomplishment is incredible. I heartily recommend entering contests! You just never know when you’re going to win!
What are you currently working on?
As always, I have several projects going at once. I definitely want to get a book out at the end of the year and I am putting that together, gradually. I’m working on editing a friend’s book of poetry and she wants to publish it before the end of the year. I’m rewriting a short story that I recently put down in draft, entitled “Straight to Hell.” I’ve got the Steampunk novel still going and a poem about John Paul Jones’ most famous engagement. Finally, I’m working on a piece entitled “Dark Blue” about life and death and passing from one to the next.
I’m working with two different illustrators to put together books that combine my poetry with artistic images. One of the books would be “The Buffalo Soldier” and the other would be “The Captain’s Coat,” one of my pirate poems. I’m also involved with my brother in a collaboration that would become Blackbead Books’ second CD of music and recorded poetry.
And, of course, I’m doing what every “indy” publisher does all the time – market, market, market! I have a book signing this weekend, another in about a month, and I’m trying to set up one in Granbury. I’m also getting ready for the Granbury Pirate Invasion at the end of August, Middlefaire Renaissance Faire in September and October, the Pirate Days of Texas in October, and the Texas Magical and Medieval Faire in November!
Thank you so much for a wonderful interview and I wish you much success !
You may purchase Steve’s books through this site, Amazon.com or http://stores.lulu.com/blackbead.
Characters: The Buffalo Soldier and Other Poems, ISBN 978-1435713581, Lulu Publishing, 2008); (Raising Black Flags: Original Poetry By and About Pirates , ISBN 978-0615255354, Blackbead Books, 2008); and (Echoes From Other Worlds, ISBN 978-0578045887, Blackbead Books, 2010.
His jewlelry may be purchased at: http://www.funkyfinds.us/theshops/Blackbeads-Treasure-Chest/productsgallery-all.html