On Historical Fiction & Guilty Pleasures

First off, I should say that I am a proud historian. I may also be a proud English teacher, a proud archaeologist, a proud editor, and a proud writer, but I am also a historian. Other than maybe “writer,” being a historian was the first professional label that I got, and one that I am still very fond of.

Of course, there are problems with being a historian. The main one, I think, is that it kind of warps how you see things. Not only are you supposed to look for cause and effect, you are supposed to analyze things.

And at some point, you find yourself knowing way too much about a certain topic.

For example, my thesis looked at the railroad during the 19th century and a little bit forward (1800-1920, though the actual dates I was looking at in-depth were 1880-1930). Now, when I watch anything about the railroad or America during that time period, I know how things actually went.

Basically, I find myself nitpicking and being annoyed about the historical inaccuracies.

Which is a problem in historical fiction, since it is, in fact, fiction. When you’re writing, you have to take certain liberties with your setting and world(personally, I write in alternative timelines or in fantasy, just because of that. Someday, I will write a Western, and it will be gloriously accurate and boring as beige). These changes are put in place to make the story stronger, and this can be done very well, appealing to even the most nitpicky of historians, or very badly.

There are some historical fiction authors and films that I love. Lauren Willig is a historian who has done mountains of research for each book and manages to capture the spirit of the people and the setting. She’s like Michael Crichton, only for history (and with some scandalous moments). To me, that is quite high praise, fyi.

Other great historical things I love include “Hell On Wheels,” which looks at the building of the transcontinental railroad. HBO also has some fairly wonderful (though violent and graphic) shows that are accurate (ish).

So there are the positive historical fiction works. However, as you may have guessed from the title, there are some historical fiction pieces that I like, in spite of myself. I think of these as guilty pleasure films or books. They’re not historically accurate and I know I should hate them on some level, but I just can’t help but love them.

Here are, in no particular order, six of my Historical Fiction Guilty Pleasures.

MY HISTORICAL FICTION GUILTY PLEASURES

1. I want to point out that I have a soft spot for Westerns, so they are all included in this list in one place. This is because some are accurate, some are not, and even though I have an in-depth knowledge of that particular time period, I have decided that Westerns are okay, regardless. I love most of them, television or movie, new or old, accurate or not, this is one genre of film or show that I’m almost always interested in watching. Westerns can be cheesy, but they are also, in my opinion, fantastic (though there are some that make me roll my eyes at times).

2.”Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter”-This one is obvious, mostly because it makes no real attempt to be historically accurate. Right there in the title, it tells you everything that need to know about the movie. Abraham Lincoln becomes a vampire hunter. Also, I have to say it, slavery was not the main cause of the American Civil War. This film plays hard and loose with history, lifting the characters, costumes, and settings from history, but I’m 99.99% sure that “historical accuracy” was not something that crossed the mind of anyone involved in the making of this film. It’s ridiculous, cheesy, and quite wonderful.

3. The History Channel’s mini-series, “The Sons of Liberty”-This one should really offend me. It was produced by the History Channel, and that gives it a certain air of respectability that other productions on this list might not have. It gets the basic timeline correct, and Boston was the powderkeg that started the American Revolution, but Sam Adams was not as attractive as Ben Barnes. Sorry, man. There are quite a few historical details that got mucked up. The team justifies their changes to history in the “Making Of” special, but still, these changes are kind of a big deal. Really, this mini-series should be really annoying-Sam Adams is a ninja? What?-but it’s really just cotton candy for the brain. Just, if you study the American Revolution, be prepared to be annoyed.

4. The Books of Lori Wick-Specifically, I want to mention her “Kensington Chronicles” series and her “The Californians” series. Lori Wick’s biggest problem seems to be that she writes these gorgeous settings and costumes that are historically accurate, but then drops modern characters into the novels. Basically, you have these locations that prove that she did her research, but the characters. Oh, the characters. In “The Kensington Chronicles,” set in Victorian England, the characters act and talk in ways that is much more modern than Victorians. It kind of drives me nuts at times. All of her books are still delightful and the characters are still engaging, but they are not historically accurate, putting them on this list.

5. “A Knight’s Tale”-Look, I know. This one really shouldn’t even count, since it seems to be pretty self-aware. But, as a Medievalist (I wear many historical hats), I’m aware of the flaws here. I have heard enough people tell me how awful this movie is. Actually, there were quite a few liberties taken with the story, and most of the costumes were also not accurate. That’s why it’s on this list, really, because it falls into the trap of using historical settings and then not quite following through on the whole accuracy thing. There are things that, in any other movie, would cause me to hate it. In this movie, it doesn’t work like that. I love it anyway, I just remember that it’s not supposed to be taken seriously.

6. The Books of Gilbert Morris-Specifically, I’m talking about his “House of Winslow” series, forty books that follow a family from their arrival to America on the Mayflower to the end of World War Two. Like Ms. Wick, Morris seems to be more interested in the settings. Although he sometimes manages it, this series has a tendency to feel like modern characters have been put into different historical contexts and left to deal with things in the past. Some of his characters act like people in that time would, but most of them don’t and it can be very frustrating at times. It’s Christian fiction that is clearly more interested in the setting than in being historically accurate.

And there you have it, my Top Six Historical Fiction Guilty Pleasures. These are mostly things that are set in the eras that I like most, so now I’m curious, do you have a historical fiction guilty pleasure?

Things I’m Currently Obsessed With

So, as a fun and hip blogger, I wanted to share with you the top ten new (to me) things that I am currently obsessed with (not the usual things, extra things).

Again, these things are relatively new to me, so take that with a grain of salt. These are not necessarily new things (I may not actually be that hip).

10. Coloring books. I have always loved coloring, so this recent trend of more complex pictures has been great to me!

9. The Gilmore Guys Podcast. I know, I’m listening to two guys talk about the show Gilmore Girls, and probably going way more depth than probably needs to be spent on even that wonderful show, but oh my gosh. These guys are hilarious, the show is fun, and there are worse things to play while walking to school.

8. My car. I have a Prius, and it is fantastic. It runs like a dream and gets great gas mileage.

7. Quite a few books, but that’s a whole other post (if it’s not up already, it will be soon!)

6. Pearls. I recently rediscovered the pearls that I got from my grandmother and great-grandmother (two separate strings!) and remembered just how classy and ladylike my pearls made me feel.

5. Hunchback of Notre Dame, the new musical. Oh. My. Gosh. It has all the magic of the Disney movie (let’s be real here, that movie has a fantastic score), while adding in some of the darker elements of the amazing novel by Victor Hugo. It’s well worth a listen.

4. The Book of Ruth. In my Bible Study, we recently finished the Book of Ruth, but for a short book, there’s so much to dig into! I haven’t quite moved past it (like, I bought a couple commentaries. That’s how interested I got. Now, I bought them for three dollars a piece, but still).

3. Con Man. Staring Alan Tudyk, it follows this actor who played a pilot in a tragically canceled Sci-Fi series that only lasted one season, but has hardcore fans. It’s just delightful, and Nathan Fillion is also involved. It calls to mind the amazingness of Firefly, and though there is some bad language (PSA), it’s pretty funny.

2.The “Cize” workout with Shaun T. It’s hiphopping your way to fitness, which sounds like exactly the thing I could hurt myself doing. I’m sure I look hilarious, but it’s a ton of fun and I’m loving it!

1. Hamilton the Musical. I can’t begin to explain how much I love this, but I’ll try. I’m a historian who loves musical theater, so Hamilton, which takes the two and puts them together in a fun and foot-tapping way, was destined to become one of my favorite things. Just, if you haven’t listened to Hamilton yet, do it. Just jump on that bandwagon.

Bonus: I am also obsessed with this particular VlogBrothers post, where Hank rants about books. Go to this link: <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eBPAJERpn6Q&gt; and have a wonderful time listening to this rant.

 

Did I Ever Tell You About The Time I Almost Died? (and other great conversation openers that are totally/mostly exaggerated)

AKA, The Longest Blog Title EVER. It occurred to me the other day that there were some stories that I didn’t blog from my time on the boat, or from general life, for various reasons.

Some of these are stories that are just hard to explain through words; others, were too nerve-wracking and I didn’t want to worry my parents until I was home (I played it down, you know, like, I almost fell off of the boat today. But I’m okay! How was your day? That type of thing).

So I thought I would share 20 of my favorite stories and/or revelations about my time on the boat, in short form, with you today. For the full story, complete with voice inflection and hand gestures, ask me in person and I’ll be happy to entertain you 🙂

1). I almost fell off of the boat one time.

2). Crap! It happened again! Only from the deck, and a wave was involved.

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Photo: Author’s Collection

3). Ugh, it smells like fish. I guess that could be because of the fishing boats.

4). Why are sea lions so annoying?

5). Crab pots everywhere!

6). One time, I was supposed to get off the boat for a sail off, and I just fell asleep on my bunk.

7). I loved the mizzen on Chiefy. It was my favorite sail to furl, and I got fairly good at it (at least, I was told to teach someone else how to do it, so I had to be at least proficient).

8). I worked on a historic tallship, and would go to museums on my days off. And Starbucks’ and bookstores.

9). I brought 7 books on the boat, and came back with more.

10). I only got seasick on the boat after my uncle died, and anytime I ate fresh fruit before a transit.

11). Sailing reminded me of the power and majesty of God. He can calm the sea, which could easily kill me, and He still loves me.

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Crossing the Columbia Bar Photo: Author’s Collection

12). The garbage pile at the Army Corp Dock in the Bay reminded me that sometimes I really hate people.

13). No books with large sharks or monsters for me; I only read books about catastrophes occurring on land while at sea, thank you very much.

14). What is this Doctor Who show you people watch?

15). Well, thank goodness we’re near the Coast Guard Station.

16). No, I am not going to let you 5th graders walk the plank.

17). Oh my gosh, someone was almost squashed!

18). Tango, it happened again; different person, same spot.

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Main Mast Photo:Author’s Collection

19). We just pulled ourselves to the dock. Because upper body strength and engine trouble.

20). Well, hello, bottom of the Golden Gate Bridge.

Bonus: No, the Korean War did not happen in 1776.

 

Just For Fun…

In one of my classes, we had to write a genre parody. I chose to parody the listicle genre, and am sharing it here for your reading pleasure 🙂

Disclaimer: All photos and memes are the property of their owners (and quite fantastic).

“Five Things You Should Do If You Have a Boat and a Storm Is Coming”

Most ships, at some point or another, encounter a storm of some kind. Some storms, like hurricanes, can be dangerous and sometimes the ships do not make it through them, like the tallship Bounty or the cargo ship El Faro. Luckily, humans have years of sailing experience that, while they cannot entirely guarantee your safety, can go a long way to helping keep you and the rest of the crew safer. From the smaller squall to the hurricane, here are five things to consider if you’re sailing and suspect a storm:

Photo: TheMetaPicture.com

#1 Can a Football Be Used as a Flotation Device?
Not all harbors are created equal. Some harbors will just funnel the storm in and bang all the ships inside it together. The main advantage here is that the crew is not on board. A former sea captain told “Popular Mechanics” that you really want to find a port that has natural protection from the storm’s wind, thus preventing additional damage to the vessel.

 

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“The Two Natural Reactions to Seeing a Dinosaur” Photo: Huffington Post Parent

 

#2 Can boats catch on fire?

If there’s not enough weight to your vessel, it is more inclined to roll about. Additional weight, or ballast, provides a bit more balance. Also, all cargo should be firmly latched or tied down (sea-stowed) to prevent sliding of everything. Have you ever been hit by a sliding bench? It hurts.

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Photo: Asian American Comparative Collection

#3 Is it possible for large marine life to swallow my ship whole?

While it is always possible to be in a storm at sea, and all ships from the historic style tallships to the modern cargo ships are made to weather some storms, larger storms like hurricanes are not to be trifled with. Although it can seem like a safer bet to be on the open sea than in a port, the recent sinking of the tallship Bounty proves that the safety window is smaller than one thinks. Especially in heavier, more intense storms.

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Photo: Author’s Collection

#4 Will my data plan cover me if I’m at sea?

If you are on deck and there’s rough weather, don’t take any chances. Wear your climbing harness and make sure you are attached to the boat. This way, you have a less likely chance of falling overboard. Also, if you’re about to go on deck, make sure to announce it so that your crewmates know, and let them know when you’re returning below (and always proceed with caution).

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Photo: iwastesomuchtime.com

#5 My boat is leaking, should I stop cooking dinner and see what’s up?

Your captain and first mate are Coast Guard certified and they and the rest of the officers have probably done this before, at least in some level of storm. In an expected storm, they have considered all the possibilities before setting sail or making the calls they have made, and in unexpected storms, they still consider all possibilities. You may be scared, but panic only spreads and mutiny can still be punished by death if you’re far enough out at sea, as a former captain of mine liked to tell us before a transit. No matter what the storm, everyone on board has a job to do. Stay calm, and do it.

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Photo: Author’s Collection

Every ship will go through a storm at least once, and there are measures that we can take to make our time at sea that much safer. Just remember, always announce when you’re on deck, and try not to fall on top of your friends.

 

Informational Sources

http://www.popularmechanics.com/adventure/outdoors/tips/a10688/how-ships-survive-a-hurricane-at-sea-16862613/

http://www.forbes.com/sites/gcaptain/2012/10/29/how-do-large-ships-deal-with-massive-hurricanes/#400df93e5f9b

http://www.travelinsurancereview.net/hurricane-travel-resource-center/cruise-safety/

http://www.cnn.com/2014/06/12/us/hms-bounty-tall-ship-sinking-investigation/

http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2014/02/10/reckless-decision-to-sail/5371675/

http://www.discoverboating.com/resources/article.aspx?id=465

http://www.docksidereports.com/rough_water_seamanship_3.htm

http://www.boatsafe.com/nauticalknowhow/heavy.htm

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Trauma at the Hands of a Book

I had grand plans for my first post to be something serious, but then I found this that I had written and never posted, so I thought, eh. The best laid plans. So, here it is. This is one of the things that you can expect from me (with some serious things in there occasionally).

I know it sounds cliché, but I enjoy thinking about books that influenced or impacted me as a kid. When I wrote the original post, I had been talking with my sister and her roommate about the Hobbit Movies (which I may talk about here later), which morphed into a discussion of the most traumatic childhood reading deaths.

So here, for your enjoyment, are the top fifteen traumatic book moments from my childhood at the hands of brilliant authors. Seriously, read these books. Obviously, here be spoilers.

Of course, these are cut off at the end of my childhood, so series like The Hunger Games, The Lunar Chronicles, and A Song of Ice and Fire are out (though all are highly recommended).

(Spoilers for the Anne of Green Gables Series, Little Women, The Redwall Series, Jurassic Park, The Hobbit, Bridge to Terebithia,  Harry Potter, Old Yeller, Where the Red Fern Grows, and  Meet Addy: An American Girl).

15. Old Yeller in Old Yeller. I put this here because I never read the book-the movie was too sad and I wasn’t going to walk myself right into THAT sob-fest. I’ve heard it’s a great book, but that several boxes of tissues are required.

14. The fact that Jo and Laurie don’t get together in Little Women by Louisa May Alcott. Less traumatic, more disappointing; I kept hoping that they would figure it out. I can understand it, talking to other people I see the reasons that they didn’t get together, but I did want him to figure out that he couldn’t change her (and that he didn’t really want to).

13. Joy’s death in Anne’s House of Dreams by LM Montgomery. Joy was the first child of Anne and Gilbert, and she died soon after her birth. She only had a few pages, but those few pages conveyed grief and did make a mark on my young self.

12. Beth March’s death in Little Women by Louisa May Alcott. When I reread Little Women, I skip this section. Beth March was never my favorite, I always liked Meg best (though Jo was cool too), but I remember being very upset. Why do people keep killing off main characters?!

11. Mrs. Bankvole and Friar Hugo from Mattimeo by Brian Jacques. Before George RR Martin started killing off innocent characters, there was Brian Jacques. These two were causalities of Slagar the Cruel’s revenge plot and his kidnapping of all the children of Redwall Abbey. One of my favorite books, these deaths brought a reality to this fictional world and made me fear for the other characters.

10. Rose from Martin the Warrior by Brian Jacques. Seriously, Mr. Jacques? She dies a hero, but still, it was awful that she did die. I remember hating this book, and I think that was part of the reason.

9. Where the Red Fern Grows. Just…the whole book. The second book I ever cried at. That ending. Still cry.

8. John Hammond in Jurassic Park by Michael Crighton. Poor idiot, just trying to let kids see dinosaurs only to be eaten by compys. If I had thought this book would have a happy ending for anyone (even the survivors were traumatized!), this proved me wrong. The creator killed by his creation (very Frankenstieny of you, Mr. Crighton).

7. Veil in The Outcast of Redwall by Brian Jacques. The basic idea of this book is that a ferret is raised by a mousemaid in Redwall Abbey (the former being generally evil in the Redwall Universe) and he struggles to overcome his father’s legacy of evil and the evil he fears inside of him. His father ferret is also engaging in war with Sunflash the Mace, the coolest Badger Lord ever written. In the end, Veil embraces the Dark Side and runs away to join his father. His adopted mother goes after him, with some amazingly written consequences.

6. Matthew Cuthbert’s death in Anne of Green Gables by LM Montgomery. This is high up here because Matthew Cuthbert was an amazing character and his death was really sad. It was also one of the first times a major character was killed off; I loved the balance he added to the Green Gables family. LM Montgomery never replaced him, but she gave Anne and Marilla other characters to love, and Matthew’s legacy lived on, at least to readers.

5. I was a big fan of the American Girls books growing up, but the first book about Addy is one the most punch-packing thing I have ever read. It was written for a younger audience (eight or so), but man. First, Addy missed some little green worms while clearing the tobacco plants and is forced to eat them. Then, her father and brother were sold further South. There may have been a whipping involved too. Then Addy and her mother escape North, but they have to leave their baby behind.

I was so furious that this kind of thing happened to people, that I followed up with some reading on the Trail of Tears and Japanese Internment during WWII. (It took me a year or so to be proud to be an American again; I finally realized that great countries can do terrible, awful things, but we can’t let them define us, just make sure they never happen again). This book set the stage for the rest of the Addy series, and made her the bravest girl I had ever read about.

4. Methusialeah’s death in Redwall by Brian Jacques. I know that any death I put after my childhood realization of the horrors of slavery is going to look silly, especially when this one is a mouse, but this one really got me. Actually, all the deaths in this book were pretty awful. Gossun the shrew’s death helped cement my fear of snakes and I felt bad for Stella the Vixen, even if she was treacherous.

3. Sirius Black’s death in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix by JK Rowling. I have to not include books six or seven in here, because I was 18 and 20 when they came out (otherwise, several more deaths would be included here). But man! This death, I felt so bad for the guy. And Harry loses another father figure.

While Cedric Digory and Frank the Muggle from Goblet of Fire were shocking, Rowling spent three books getting us to like Sirius and imagining him as a Marauder. He was the first in a long line of major good guys that we had grown to love to bite the dust, and that makes his death all the more traumatic.

2.  Thorin and Fili and Kili’s deaths in The Hobbit by JRR Tolkien This is one of the first books that I remember reading on my own, so this one certainly packed a punch. I remember feeling that these three characters were safe (why would Tolkien kill the king and BOTH his heirs?) But no. Thorin was killed saving the others, and Fili and Kili killed trying to save him. Thanks a lot JRR. Thanks a lot.

1. Leslie’s death in Bridge to Tereabithia by Katherine Paterson. I feel like anyone who says they didn’t cry at this was lying. I had never cried at a book before, but I just bawled.