As I mentioned in Sam’s introduction, the cabin boy Nathaniel Bowden came about because of a desperate need. A book where the main character is both feral and stuck hiding in the steam engine room of a converted sail ship just isn’t that interesting. I needed a pair of eyes above the boards, and one with some connection to the crew.
The concept for Nat started out simple. He had a purpose to fulfill in the story and little more than that.
I didn’t realize how my own love of the sea would manifest in him, though. He quickly became my alt persona, though with his own twist.
My readers who share this connection with large bodies of water have mentioned how they can feel the wind in Nat’s hair. Every fiber in the ropes he grasps, the crash of the waves, and the exhilaration when he sees to the horizon or feels the gritty splash of salt water on his face is drawn from my fascination with the rhythms and mysteries that make up our seas and oceans.
Growing up, I had the opportunity to both swim in and sail on the Mediterranean Sea. I loved being in buoyant water and ducking beneath the surface to explore hidden caves. At the same time, my imagination populated every dark spot with sharks, the tug of seaweed on my ankles became monsters, and the visual distortions of a snorkeling mask transformed simple sea creatures into monstrosities.
I was never one to take the sea for granted, to believe it a benign surface put there for our enjoyment and transportation. Where most reported past life visions involving wealth, beauty, and renown, for years I had a reoccurring dream of my life as an oarsman on a Phoenician trading ship in the Mediterranean. I knew the sea only through the slap of waves against my oar, the rush along the hull, and sprays of salt water to cool my sweaty brow.
Water, especially salt water, is powerful. It is both friend and foe to the humans who choose to make their living on its surface. Many a sailor trembled through the dark night of a storm, praying to live to see another day, but take those same sailors onto dry land and the prayer becomes a plea for the sway of waves beneath their feet and the slap of the sail.
It’s the same evocative draw that took Nat from his wealthy upbringing to chance the fickle waters. His mother would have preferred seeing him shovel train coal in an alternate Victorian Age where all must labor by official decree. Like me, he’s always felt the pull of the vast ocean, though he was able to follow his dream into danger, beauty, and the grand adventures I had to be satisfied reading about in the pages of fiction or even biography.
Nat gets his name from the first biography I ever read. Forced in fifth grade to read book-length non-fiction, I thought someone had accidentally mislabeled Carry On, Mr. Bowditch as it held all the fascination of a story despite recounting a real person’s life. I lived with Nathaniel Bowditch as he struggled through a cooperage apprenticeship, and onward as he made a life for himself in the sailing, and related, professions, using his mathematical skills to improve navigation at sea as well as working on shore to support those out on the water.
My character has much in common with Mr. Bowditch from their shared love of learning (as long as they saw practical applications for the knowledge) and a knack for tinkering, if not in the same manner Sam would approach a mechanism. More than just these characteristics, though, they shared the need to prove themselves both to those around them and to the sea itself.
Nat’s conflict with Sam springs from the last. Everything in his upbringing demands he protect her. She even reminds him of his little sister. Yet loyalty to the captain and crew demands he turn her in just as loudly. He risks losing all the respect he’s earned, but can he respect himself if he fails Sam?
She might hide in the engine room like the stowaway she is, but her presence is felt long before she’s discovered, and by Nat most of all. There’s a lovely dynamic that sprang into being between the two of them, and The Steamship Chronicles would have been a very different series without Nat to bring that dynamic to life.
Secrets, the first book, is free in eBook at all the major online stores. Check it out and see if you can feel the push and pull of the waves riding beneath this steampunk adventure.