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THE SHORES OF TRIPOLI: Lieutenant Putnam and the Barbary Pirates

THE SHORES OF TRIPOLI: Lieutenant Putnam and the Barbary Pirates

Late in 2012 my agent Jim Hornfischer was tending his trot line of editors in New York, and was conversing with the legendary Nita Taublib of G. P. Putnam’s Sons, one of the most distinguished old-line publishers in the business. She imparted that Putnam was considering an early American, tall ship sailing navy series of adventure novels, but they were holding back because they were unsure whether the U.S. Navy was actually doing anything between the War of 1812 and the Civil War. Still, she said, American literature has never had its Horatio Hornblower or Lucky Jack Aubrey, and they sensed a pent-up market.

I shortly received an email from Hornfischer saying, “Call me, opportunity knocks.” I was in the doldrums, I had recently completed two books on private commission, plus a ghost-writing job, and I had been forced into state employment to get health insurance, as there was not Obamacare yet. He explained the situation, and asked whether I could think up a proposal to submit.

Opportunity does not knock very often, so I grabbed him by the belt and yanked him inside. Forty-eight hours later, I sent off an outline for eight interlocking novels that followed the adventures of a juvenile midshipman in the Barbary War, through the War of 1812, perhaps chasing pirates in the Caribbean in 1818, with the missionaries in Hawaii in the 1820s, in the Texas Revolution in 1836, and so on to the Civil War, when he would be a white-haired old commodore. Jim Ho sent this to Nita, who said, “Really? Send me his books.”

burning ship

Then the high anxiety set in. My two previous historical novels tended to be a bit artsy-fartsy. Nita, I knew, had edited Danielle Steele and Dean Koontz. Nothing artsy-fartsy about them. As Nita was reading my early efforts, I had to fly to Buffalo and lecture on Jack London at SUNY Fredonia, where I was checking my email every hour. I had been living with no safety net; such a contract could be the difference between the A-List, and the woods.

That was when I learned that Nita had also edited the divine Pat Conroy, and she did understand the novel as art. She liked my books, and gave me leave to submit a formal proposal, with chapters and outline. Long story short (or, shorter), over the next year, Nita left the company, and the project was picked up by Putnam’s executive editor, Christine Pepe, who as luck would have it, is maybe the best goddam editor I’ve ever had.

I was given freedom to explore the times and the cultures, whether Connecticut or Libya, to fully develop a couple of strong female characters, who are a rarity in the genre, to create a story driven more by characters than sailing jargon (although both Nita and Chris swore they had never been driven to atlas and dictionary so often). And now the first installment is going to launch onto the market, on November 1, 2016. We could not be more atingle with what will happen now.

"With THE SHORES OF TRIPOLI, James L. Haley has taken the naval adventure genre to places it has not gone before, filled with strong, believable characters who nearly jump of the page, deeply researched details of life both here and abroad, from rural Litchfield, Connecticut to the ruins of Cyrene at Durna, and a powerful, sweeping view of one of the seminal events in the early history of our country. For the first time, we have an American hero to cheer in young Bliven Putnam, and we witness this country's incredible history through his eyes. THE SHORES OF TRIPOLI is both a historical novel of impeccable detail, as well as a rollicking good time."


To learn more about the Barbary pirate war, the real people and places and ships behind the story, follow the frequent posts on my Author Page on


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