Above painting: Louis Jean Francois - Mars and Venus an Allegory of Peace
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Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Dead Men Tell No Tales

It’s no secret Hollywood romanticizes and takes creative license when making movies. This is best witnessed in action or sci-fi movies but can be seen in everything from romantic comedies to horror to dramatic biopics. It’s all about evoking audience response—laughter, tears, heartbreak, wanting, fear, ire—and it’s entertainment. Of course, pirate movies are no different.

As an author of pirate romance and someone who has researched in depth the pirate life, I can’t help but be critical when a television series or movie is based on pirate lore or has Caribbean pirate elements. Unless way off base, I don’t usually let fallacies get in the way of enjoying the feature. But when they get it right, the experience is more fulfilling.

Take the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise for example. It is fantastical and chock full of mythical creatures and nautical lore—the Kraken, fish people, Davy Jones, giant goddesses, man-eating sirens, Fountain of Youth, ghost sharks and skeletal undead pirates, to name a few. The plights of Captain Jack Sparrow and gang are always epic and the odds insurmountable. Each movie is an adventure with well-rounded endings. As a moviegoer, I am always blown away.

To be fair, I am a bit biased. I love the franchise, love Johnny Depp, sleep with a pillowcase of Will Turner, listen to the soundtracks while writing my own pirate tales, and even own an autographed copy of The Art of Pirates of the Caribbean—a collection of working drawings and conceptual art for the first three movies. I have waited with baited breath for the next movie Dead Men Tell No Tales to hit the silver screen. And I wasn’t disappointed. I laughed, cried, and thoroughly enjoyed being whisked away for more than 2 hours in a world that had captured my heart more than 13 years ago.

But how accurate is POTC? Some aspects are close, other aren’t. Okay, so that was an ambiguous answer. In part because it would depend on how much hair-splitting is involved. Think weapons, clothing, politics, tactics, superstitions, terminology and (most) settings*. The details are there, but they may not necessarily be right for the time period.

Pirate flavoring was added, and loads of it comes from what we already believe about pirates from Robert Louis Stevenson’s embellished adventure novel Treasure Island. In reality, there was no walking the plank or burying treasure. Eye-patches were not used to cover disfigurements, but rather to keep one eye adjusted to the darkness. Pirate codes were not universal; the articles varied from ship to ship. And there was no parlay nor swinging by ropes from ship to ship.

What about those ships? The visual depictions of the variety of vessels are amazing and for the most part true. I say for the most part because I personally have not noticed anything erroneous. The makers even got the sails right. Unlike many seafaring movies which showcase vessels with tight square sails, POTC ships are closer to the truth with their billowing sails capturing the wind and fluttering to keep it. However, what is not quite right is the speed of the ships and size of ship to crew ratio. The Black Pearl, a ship that could even outrun the legendary Flying Dutchman, was a galleon. That size ship is too large to sail fast and maneuver with ease, assuming it isn’t resurrected by Davy Jones as the Black Pearl was. Add to that, it would require a sizeable crew numbering in the hundreds to man her, more depending also on how many guns she carried. Same holds true for the other ships in the films.

Are Jack, Barbossa, Gibbs, and the rest true representations of pirates themselves? Not really. These are fictional characters with fictional quests. But some of their actions, motivations, goals, and methods were spot on. While sailors on both sides of the law often lacked education, pirates acted democratically, weighing risks, costs, and benefits, which determined which targets to pursue and what tactics were used. And though they might’ve been drunks, womanizers, and all-around rabble-rousers, they weren’t as bumbling as depicted in the movies. Sure makes for a great time, though, doesn’t it?

Like with most movies (and fiction in general), suspension of disbelief is a given to enhance the enjoyment. The runaway water wheel ending with the three-way swordfight in Dead Man’s Chest is definitely one of my favorites scenes. Some of those outlandish scenes in  POTC even seemed plausible though they weren’t, like using a rowboat as a makeshift submarine or a dagger upon a sail to slow a fall. Others aren’t so far-fetched. The green flash seen when “a soul comes back to this world from the dead” is a real occurrence. Not the soul coming back. The green flash. It is an “optical phenomena” that occurs just has the sun sets or rises upon the horizon. And there is more science behind several scenes in Dead Men Tell No Tales, one being the bootleg turn young Jack makes to escape Captain Salazar. See the bootleg turn at 0:27 in the trailer below. For more science at play, you'll just have to go see the movie.

Fact or fiction, Dead Men Tell No Tales is swashbuckling fun. Two thumbs up from this pirate wench.



(*Port Royal situated on a cliff in Curse of the Black Pearl was for the sake of cinema. Port Royal was actually built on a sandspit.)


About the Author                                                
Jennifer is the award-winning author of the Romancing the Pirate series. Visit her at www.jbrayweber.com or join her mailing list for sneak peeks, excerpts, and giveaways.



Tuesday, June 6, 2017

New Release Spotlight: THE ALICE NETWORK by Kate Quinn


Craving stories about brave women of the past? Read about the unsung women who risked their lives as spies during World War I: The Alice Network is finally available for readers wherever books are sold! In an enthralling new historical novel from national bestselling author Kate Quinn, two women—a female spy recruited to the real-life Alice Network in France during World War I and an unconventional American socialite searching for her cousin in 1947—are brought together in a mesmerizing story of courage and redemption.

 About The Book 


1947. In the chaotic aftermath of World War II, American college girl Charlie St. Clair is pregnant, unmarried, and on the verge of being thrown out of her very proper family. She's also nursing a desperate hope that her beloved cousin Rose, who disappeared in Nazi-occupied France during the war, might still be alive. So when Charlie's parents banish her to Europe to have her "little problem" taken care of, Charlie breaks free and heads to London, determined to find out what happened to the cousin she loves like a sister.

1915. A year into the Great War, Eve Gardiner burns to join the fight against the Germans and unexpectedly gets her chance when she's recruited to work as a spy. Sent into enemy-occupied France, she's trained by the mesmerizing Lili, the "Queen of Spies", who manages a vast network of secret agents right under the enemy's nose.

Thirty years later, haunted by the betrayal that ultimately tore apart the Alice Network, Eve spends her days drunk and secluded in her crumbling London house. Until a young American barges in uttering a name Eve hasn't heard in decades, and launches them both on a mission to find the truth...no matter where it leads.

BUY THE ALICE NETWORK


Advance Praise For "The Alice Network"

“Amazing historical fiction... a must read!” (Historical Novel Society, Editor’s Choice) 

 “Lovingly crafted and brimming with details, readers are sure to be held in Quinn’s grip watching as the characters evolve. Powerful reading you can’t put down!” (RT Book Reviews (top pick)) 

 “The Alice Network... perfectly balances a propulsive plot, faultlessly observed period detail, and a cast of characters so vividly drawn that I half expected to blink and see them standing in front of me. This is historical fiction at its best--thrilling, affecting, revelatory.” (Jennifer Robson, international bestselling author of Moonlight Over Paris) 

 “Both funny and heartbreaking, this epic journey of two courageous women is an unforgettable tale of little-known wartime glory and sacrifice. Quinn knocks it out of the park with this spectacular book!” (Stephanie Dray, author of America's First Daughter)



About The Author

Kate Quinn is a native of southern California. She attended Boston University, where she earned a Bachelor's and Master's degree in Classical Voice. A lifelong history buff, she has written four novels in the Empress of Rome Saga, and two books in the Italian Renaissance, before turning to the 20th century with "The Alice Network." All have been translated into multiple languages. Kate and her husband now live in Maryland with two black dogs named Caesar and Calpurnia, and her interests include opera, action movies, cooking, and the Boston Red Sox.

Friday, June 2, 2017

Séances, Spirits & Mediums - Victorians & Spiritualism



A Victorian Seance - 1872
A Victorian seance - 1872
Mediums and spirits and séances… oh, my! The image of proper Victorians gathered for séances to reach out to another realm has always intrigued me. Many Victorians were drawn to the notion that the living could communicate with those who’d passed beyond to another realm. Prominent Victorians such as Mary Todd Lincoln, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, and Queen Victoria herself displayed a willingness to believe that spirits could send messages to those they’d left behind with the help of mediums who acted as intermediaries between the living and the dead. Séances were conducted in studios and parlors, all in the hope of establishing contact with the dead.

During the nineteenth century, high child mortality rates and relatively short life expectancies made grief a prominent part of Victorian life. The Victorians employed elaborate mourning rituals, including black mourning dress, post-mortem photography, and the wearing of memento mori—jewelry that incorporated hair from the deceased. With grief such a part of life, it isn’t surprising to me that some Victorians sought contact with loved ones they’d lost. Sadly, in some cases, unscrupulous frauds exploited the despair of those mourning the dead.

When A Lady Dares coverWhile some mediums may have genuinely believed in their abilities to reach out to the deceased, others were charlatans who played on the grief of the bereaved for monetary gain. A phony medium might also exert undue influence over someone in the throes of grief. This prospect intrigued me. What if a medium had exerted influence upon someone in a position of power—someone like the Queen? And what if those who knew too much had to be silenced?

What would happen if an undercover agent came too close to the conspiracy?

These questions provided inspiration for When A Lady Dares, the latest in my Victorian historical romance series, Her Majesty’s Most Secret Service. In When A Lady Dares, covert agent Sophie Atherton goes undercover as an assistant to a phony medium, a man who’s involved in more than simply extorting money from his clients. Swept into a treacherous scheme, she must unite with a notorious rogue with his own score to settle in order to survive the sinister plot.

While researching the story, I came upon a wealth of fascinating information about Victorians and their interest in communicating with spirits. Did you know:

The Fox Sisters 
The Fox Sisters
  ~ The Spiritualist movement began in America. In 1848, sisters Leah, Kate and Margaret Fox claimed to  communicate with a spirit in their home using knocks on wood. Over the years, the sisters established themselves as mediums, including conducting public demonstrations and séances.

  ~ Forty years later (1888), Margaret Fox published a confession in the New York World that the rappings supposedly used by the dead to communicate during their séances had been produced by the sisters themselves using their fingers and feet.

  ~ Fake mediums employed tricks such as spirit photography, table rapping, and levitating objects with concealed wires. Mediums often claimed to have a relationship with a spirit guide in their communication with the spirit world.

  ~ Mediums frequently used accomplices to achieve the illusion of contact with the dead.

~ Queen Victoria was said to have had an interest in spiritualism, participating in séances before her husband’s death, and later, communicating with Prince Albert through séances.

~ It is said that a teenager, Robert James Lees, conveyed a message from Prince Albert to Queen Victoria and later conducted seances for the Queen at Windsor Castle.

~ Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, creator of Sherlock Holmes, was a proponent of spiritualism. In 1924, he published The History of Spiritualism, one of more than a dozen books he wrote on the subject.


To learn more about this topic:


All historical photographs are in the public domain.

About The Author:

Award-winning author Tara Kingston writes historical romance laced with intrigue, danger, and adventures of the heart. A Southern belle-out-of-water in a quaint Pennsylvania town, she lives her own love story with her real-life hero in a cozy Victorian. The mother of two sons, Tara's a former librarian whose love of books is evident in her popping-at-the-seams bookcases. It goes without saying that Tara's husband is thankful for the invention of digital books, thereby eliminating the need for yet another set of shelves. When she's not writing, reading, or burning dinner, Tara enjoys cycling, hiking, and cheering on her favorite football team. 


Author and History Undressed Contributor Kathleen Bittner Roth and I have partnered on a newsletter. If you'd like to subscribe, here's the link:  Tara & Kathleen's Historical Romance Newsletter   






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