Shawna Barnett has a new LGBTQ+ pirate fantasy book out (ff bi/ace): Windfall. And there’s a giveaway!
Captain Liana Foley knows a thing or two about fights. She fights the King’s Navy. She fights to balance power in oppressive Vioria. She fights for respect as a female, bisexual, pirate captain. But she’s losing her biggest fight: to escape her secret past as a lost Princess.
With a mysterious letter and a stranger threatening to expose her, Liana is blackmailed into attending a royal ball and protecting her counterpart, sheltered Princess Rhian. The pretenses are suspicious enough, but Liana takes the risk in hopes to finally unveil the magic plot that killed her parents and forced her into hiding.
When Liana encounters Rhian’s own lightning-wielding powers, the ball erupts in violence. The sheltered princess falls into the care of Liana—and her band of pirates. On the run, the only safe haven for the Windfall crew to hide is the most-dangerous place of all: under the thumb of Liana’s narcissistic, abusive brother-in-law.
In order to protect her crew, her family, and naïve Rhian, Liana must demand sacrifices from herself and the people she loves. Her choices will make powerful enemies; good thing Liana Foley knows a thing or two about fighting those.
Shawna is giving away a $20 Barnes & Noble gift card with this tour:
To Go on the Account
6th of Lengnath, 1715
The Capital of Caerwyn
A shadow crept around a stone archway, unseen by a passing pair of guards on patrol. The woman who cast it pulled down her hood and peered about. Her thick, unkempt black hair fell over her shoulders. A long cloak covered her curves, but she had flung it back to rest a hand on her hip, revealing a sword in its sheath. Her fingers, ruddy and coarse with use, pinched her bottom lip. She strained her ears to hear over the soft slaps of water in the harbor, the creaking of the ships’ hulls as they swayed, and the occasional caw of laughter from the nearby row of pubs.
Just as she began to wring her hands under the cloak, another duo approached. They weren’t dressed in soldiers’ uniforms, but sailors’ garb. She took a step forward and allowed her silhouette to be revealed. “There you are. What took you so long?”
“I’m sorry, Captain,” her quartermaster, Ameen Almasi, said, stopping at her side and turning on his heel to face his companion. “Our young friend was… distracted.”
The youth in question tucked his chin and smiled guiltily at his captain.
“Damn it, Squiddy,” she scolded. “Learn to keep up.”
Her expression softened to amusement as he scowled. His real name was Sava, but she’d settled on calling him “Squiddy.” Not much would be able to change her mind.
Ameen chuckled, deep and quiet. Sava looked much like a young Ameen—slight, lanky, and youthfully energetic. Ameen towered over him. He held his posture, straight and sure, lean with muscle gained by nautical labor. The boy still had some way to go before he would be able to carry himself so confidently. Tonight, he would have a chance to prove himself. She beckoned them to follow her.
The Capital of Caerwyn rose before them in layers, on a crest overlooking the sea. The docks formed its base, spanning out south, east, and west like the fingers of an outstretched hand. The rest of the city stacked upon the palm; rows upon rows of buildings, each one smaller than the width of the one below it. The Royal Palace stood at the zenith of this view, like a crooked mountain range, sporting banners of blue and silver. The ocean-side of the palace stretched out like the hand’s thumb, wide and thick.
“Liana,” Ameen breathed her name rather than her title. His voice plucked her from the high towers of the palace and steadily anchored her back to the alley behind the harbormaster’s office.
She looked about the alley to make sure they hadn’t been noticed creeping about. “This is it?” Sava’s voice cracked.
“Yes. Do you remember what you have to do?”
He nodded. Even in the dark, she could see him shake. Placing a firm hold on his arm, she looked into his face. His eyebrow twitched.
Liana breathed in deeply, nodding to invite him to mimic her. “You can do this.”
“I’m ready,” he said as he twisted a lockpick between his fingers.
The building had suffered some damage since the last storm season and was under renovation, therefore it had an outer shell of scaffolding that looked sturdy enough to climb. Ameen knelt to give Sava a lift, and he was off, scaling the walls as easily as strolling the streets. They watched as he reached the third story, settled himself on a beam, and picked open the window. He scrambled through it and disappeared.
Liana saw Ameen lift his hand to his chest, where a Circle of the Divine hung on a chain under his linen shirt.
“He’ll be alright,” she assured him.
His eyes grazed over her face, then downward. “You weren’t supposed to bring that.”
She followed his line of sight to the cutlass at her side. “It’s for protection, if we’re caught.”
“If we are caught, we agreed you would distract them while Sava and I get away. Soldiers won’t harm an unarmed Caerwyn woman.” He looked straight back at her expectantly with an extended hand, wagging his fingers. After a meaningful silence, she begrudgingly loosened her belt. He was right, after all. It was the reason she was wearing her Mass dress.
“Insubordination is what I call that, Almasi,” she spat. Her tone could cut as deeply as the blade she handed over. But Ameen knew her well enough not to be offended. He grinned, obviously pleased with himself. His amber eyes lit up as he caught her looking for a moment too long. Liana began to pace, her shoulder purposefully knocking against his side as a final jab. She didn’t need to look back to know he was still smiling.
The lighthearted energy between them evaporated as they heard a whistling call in the distance—a warning. Sava’s head emerged from the window. Liana waved for him to come down. In return, he made an exaggerated shrugging gesture and went back in.
“That stupid little—” She rushed to the base of the scaffold and gathered her skirts. “Lift me up, I’m going to get him.”
“You’re in a dress.”
“And whose brilliant idea was that?!”
Deep voices and the light of a lantern cut through the darkness. Despite the cool breeze, she began to sweat. She could hear the patrolmen at the front of the building now. They must have taken a shorter route than usual.
An object landed at Liana’s feet with a flutter and thud. She snatched up the book and flipped it open. The ledger was unreadable in the pale moonlight, but she knew it was exactly what they had come for. “Blimey, Squiddy! You’ve done it.”
“Who’s back there?” came a gruff voice from the front, cutting their victory short. The sound of the ledger’s landing had alerted the patrol.
Liana whirled around and shoved the ledger into Ameen’s hands. She unfastened her cloak and threw that at him as well. “Wait for him but go as quickly as you can.”
He tucked it under his arm with her sword. “Be careful, Captain.”
As she lifted her skirts and sprinted off, Sava was already halfway to the ground.
But, by the Divine, this dress!
She hadn’t gone to Mass in years and had outgrown the gown. Ameen had insisted on this particular one—the rest she owned were plain, albeit comfortable. She’d been a fool to think she could have climbed after Sava. Between the binding bodice around her torso and carrying the weight of the layers of the skirt, she was out of breath within seconds. Still, it made her distress all the more convincing as she collided into the chest of the soldier before her.
The man grunted in surprise and took a step back to steady himself. She clung to his dark blue long-skirted coat. His jaw unhinged.
“It’s a woman!” his friend declared.
“Thank the Divine you’re here!” she gasped out. “Th-these men had me cornered and robbed me!”
She gave a doe-eyed shrug, feigning helplessness. The soldier settled his hands on her shoulders. It made her feel uncomfortably small. The other one, a fair young man, threw himself in the direction she had come.
“It’s alright, ye’re safe now,” the soldier who stayed with her said, beginning to stroke her upper back. He had a slight Northern accent, and his features were darker than the other soldier. She arched away.
The fair soldier returned at a slower pace this time. “Whoever attacked you, miss, they’ve gone now. Likely pirates who’ve come to port for the season.”
“Thank you.” She spoke as demurely as her pride would allow. “I’ll be on my way, now.”
“Shall we escort you home—?”
“No!” She realized too late she had interrupted him. “No… Thank you.”
When I was in college, I was briefly in a sorority. One of the new pledges picked my name in a gift exchange event. She had heard me briefly mention that I enjoyed drawing and making art but had stopped since I was so busy with schoolwork. She gave me a paint set and paper and wrote in the card that I should pick it up again.
While my art hobby never really regained traction, I did sit down the following week with those paints. Two days later, I sat in front of my own rendition of a woman sitting in a pub with her legs crossed and a smirk on her face. I knew she had a story.
That was nine years ago.
Since then, I’ve written short stories about Captain Liana Foley that will never see the light of day. I wrote a fully drafted novel about her that I completely lost on a USB drive.
Four years ago, I hit a difficult time in my life. I struggled with my career, struggled with being a new mom. I wondered where it was all going—my own trajectory. Where had my creativity gone? That was when I committed to writing a new novel. The one that would get published.
My first completed draft of Windfall sat in a stack on my work desk in April of 2018. I had even more questions about where to go from there. But I pressed on. I gathered beta readers and critique partners. I hacked away at the edits, wrote a new ending. I broke up the original love triangle and created a new one. It proved to be messy work.
Writing a book series is hard. Making people believe in it is even harder. If I had any advice to new writers, hoping to make it in the publishing world, it would be to accept the evolution. Characters and stories, just like people, are fluid. They hold different meanings to different readers, and at any given moment, they can mean something different to the writer, too. They open up, they discover, and they change.
I’ve carried Liana with me, naively thinking that she was the sort of woman who I aspired to be. But really, she is me. She has evolved in more ways that can ever be shown on paper, just like I have. The longer she was in my life, the more she morphed into the person I truly am deep down.
Captain Foley is guarded and fierce against her enemies. She is empathetic and protective of her loved ones. She’s a leader. She’s a queer woman who wants to be loved for exactly who she is.
I can’t give her all the credit for my journey of self-discovery. But she certainly helped. At the very least she came along for the ride.
I like to imagine my own evolution as a scene of me sitting with those paints again, all those years ago. I’ve got a rainbow of colors all over my hands and my clothes, waiting to be wiped away. The paint water in the glass jar swirls in a tempest of gray and brown, waiting to be discarded. But I’m too busy looking at something so beautiful and so completely my own.
Yes, messy work, indeed. But incredibly worth it.
Shawna Barnett is a mother, life-long advocate and author of swashbuckling tales. After receiving a BA in Politics from UC Santa Cruz, Shawna worked in victim advocacy and behavioral health. Born in San Diego, California, her experiences have taken her all over the United States. After settling in Tennessee with her daughter, Shawna seeks to speak out through writing and contribute to a world where everyone is safe and respectfully represented.
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