Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Sharing Links: 12/23/2015

So I just realized I haven't shared anything in a while, so I've decided to share some great articles I've been reading and a couple of intriguing websites. Plus some videos on people who see colors and sounds with words and music!


Online Etymology Dictionary- This website won't have every word, but if you've wanted to know the history behind a lot of words, take a look here!

Medium- I've heard this is a blogging website and a lot of people post articles and blogs here. So check it out if you're looking for more to read.

Due to haven't shared anything for a while, I'm sharing my favorite recent articles from some websites I subscribe to.

Quartz- This Free Encyclopedia has Achieved what Wikipedia has Only Dreamed Of

Paul Ford- What is Code?

Lenny Article

Fast Company Articles

National Geographic

I was recently really fascinated by these videos on Synesthesia, so I thought to share. Plus, in the last video, the girl plays the violin.

Synesthesia: The Science Behind Seeing Sounds & Tasting Color

Hearing Colors: What It's Like To Have Synesthesia

What's It Like To Hear Colors? - A VR 360° Synesthesia Experience

Monday, December 21, 2015

Movie Review: Star Wars VII: The Force Awakens

So I recently went and saw the new Star Wars movie almost on accident (basically the thing we wanted to do didn't work out so we saw this instead) and it was a fantastic choice.

Overall, up front, the movie was awesome. I'm going to try my hardest not to give away any spoilers so this post might be really vague.

I think one of the movie's greatest strengths was its use of humor. I never thought of it before, but all past six movies were lacking in humor and this movie was not shy about it. I also loved the little digs occasionally at itself and the way the actors reacted to some things. It gave the movie a slightly more lighthearted side that I think is more reflective of 2015 then the other movies. I think its a smart choice to help draw in new Star Wars fans and to help them relate better to the characters.

One of the other great things I loved about this movie was the awesome scene footage. There were moments during the movie that were quite really, breathtaking, and at other times were simply just moving to see. They really played with the mood of the scenes and I thought did a great job with the special effects and editing.

The new characters were awesome in their own right. The main girl, Rey, was my absolute favorite. She was a hero and I thought really brought the movie together. A lot of people were calling Finn the new "Luke", but I think its more Rey then it is him. I personally loved Rey more then I did Finn, I thought her character was stronger and she did a fantastic job for this being her first, big time role.

 Finn's character was also strong and at times, the most real and funny character in the movie. Looking back on it now, I think almost that his character just wasn't as strong. Some of his motives seemed a big overdone or unexplained. And although he was more of a reluctant hero, he seemed to be more of a sidekick to Rey.

Now there are some parts about the movie that disappointed me. While I enjoyed the moments where it echoed the earlier movies and the homages paid to it, and also how Leia and Han Solo came back for another go, I thought that at times the movie seemed to recycle too much of the old movies and its tropes. At times it was too much like the old movies and certain parts of history for comfort and I thought I would have enjoyed seeing more new ideas brought to stage.

That being said, I loved the way we saw Han Solo and Leia's relationship in this movie and how we saw what happened years after the last Star Wars movie where we left them. I also thought there was an interesting dynamic with them and the new "Evil Dark Overlord" but in a way, it wasn't anything new or surprising.

In fact, it was slightly unexplained to me and I felt his character could have been explored more. I enjoyed his character and thought he was a definite strong antagonist, but he was also a slight disappointment. Something about him bugged me. If anything, I am super curious about his mentor that was introduced in this movie.

Then there were the points in the plot that were seemingly unexplained and I was left more confused then enlightened. And while there are parts of our characters that are still a mystery, they have lots of room to explore those. But I also felt there were those missed opportunities to explain things that they might have not realized were unclear or they cut them out due to time.

Overall, this was a great movie and I definitely would recommend it. Even if you're tired of Star Wars (like I am of Harry Potter), I would go see this movie for the fantastic shots and the humor and Rey and Finn because I'm definitely rooting for them.


Wednesday, November 11, 2015

How to make a fantasy landscape map (by hand).

So I've created a this post to help you draw your own fantasy map by hand for your story or role playing needs. You can do this in any step you want and make it as simple or complex as you desire. I've shown a picture tutorial and then below an outline of step to follow in any order if you want. I've also left in resources at the end for more help.

I might do a couple other mapping tutorials to show you how to draw cities and how to draw a map on the computer. But for now, this is a nice way for the beginner to start.

  • Pencil
  • Pen
  • Blank paper
  • Tracing paper
  • Pen
  • Pencil sharper
  • Color pencils (optional)
Before you start drawing, it helps to do some research into geography. For example, which way rivers flow, where you commonly find plains, tundra, deserts, etc. Of course, if you're making a fantasy map, you can do whatever you want, but otherwise, it helps to do a little research. 

You'll also want to know where people normally live (for example, by rivers and forests) and how that area and its climate affects their culture (maybe if they live in the desert, they ride camels instead of horses or if they live near a lot of rivers, they might have a lot of different water gods). Or maybe looking into where people strategically place forts and borders. 

And finally, if you have already written your story or whatever, go through and make a list of places they've traveled to and from, the scenery and landscapes, and anything else you want to include in your maps. 

 Step 1: Start by drawing out a really simple outline. I always start off with pencil first and then later trace my drawing over on another sheet with pen. A lot of fantasy map making is based on intuition so just draw whatever feels right. Make some sketches if you're unsure of what you want your map to look like before you start drawing.

Step 2: I find its easier to start by filling in with mountains and lakes first because those are usually big, important parts of land masses as they can be natural borders to countries and affect the way people interact with each other and get around. For this tutorial, I've done some basic, common shapes for my land masses, but if you want study some cartography and other fantasy maps to see how to draw more detailed maps. There's no right or wrong way to draw them, as long as you know what they stand for. You can also draw as many or as little as you want to, I've seen some people draw a few trees to make a forest and other people draw a lot.

Step 3: Next I find its easier to go with rivers since rivers tend to flow from mountains or from lakes and drain towards the ocean. And a lot of cities are based near rivers (or at least, that's where I tend to put mine for easy water transportation and drinking water).

Step 4: After that I like to add in my forests and other areas of vegetation. I usually leave my plains, meadows, deserts, etc, blank and write in the names of it instead so I know what it is.

Step 5: Add in names of major land areas. Since the country I'm working on here is based off of China and shape-shifting dragons, I tried to research some names that would work. For example, Dragonstone Meadows and Hongsu (apparently meaning "great plains").

Step 6: Think of where you want to place your towns, cities, forts, temples, etc. I used a basic black circle to represent my towns and cities and then a star to represent the capital. Some people actually draw in miniature towns or just a building of sorts to represent it.

Step 7: Label your cities and towns and forts and other landmarks or places. I already started in the previous picture, but I finished naming them here.

Step 8: Add in your coastal lines and other watermarks. I like to just trace my continent  and use wavy lines in my lakes to represent those (I chose not to do it here though on this map). Some people I've see instead use lines radiating out from the continent to represent shore lines. You can also draw in a ship here or sea creatures if you so desire.

Step 9: Add a key to make sure people browsing your map knows what is what. You can always add in compass roses here if you so desire. For mine, I just used a simple N and an arrow to give viewers an idea. You can make your compasses as detailed or simple as you want.

Step 10: If you want, you can now trace over your map with pen and then take a piece of tracing paper or really thin sheets of paper and trace it over. That way you'll have a nice, clean version if you're done. Or if you don't want to trace it over again, now you can scan it into the computer. Once you've decided on what you want to do, you can color it in if you want. I usually don't color in mine, but you can.
(My map with a thin sheet of paper over on top to trace it over with later)

How to draw a fiction map- outline
The following steps are all optional and might involve more research and studying than what you really want to do. There's no right way to create your map, so feel free to pick and choose what works for you and your story.
  1. Research
    1. Learn about Geography
    2. Learn about the environment
    3. Learn about the Climate
    4. Learn about Cartography
    5. Study Real Maps
    6. Study Fictional Maps
  2. The Basics
    1. Know your story and world
    2. Decide what kind of map (Continent, country, or focus point)
    3. Imagine a how you want your map to look like
    4. Draw a basic shape or outline
    5. Add major features (Straits, deltas, harbors, gulfs, beaches, capes, peniasulas, etc)
  3. Geographical Details
    1. Decide Symbols (What you're going to use for forests, mountains, etc)
    2. Decide your climate
    3. Decide what kind of features will be in your map (aka, what does the story need?)
    4. Draw mountains, forests, swamps, etc.
    5. Add lakes and rivers
  4. Countries, borders, cities, and places
    1. Learn about your people
    2. Learn how borders are formed and why they are put where they are
    3. Add borders
    4. Learn why and where cities are built
    5. Add capitals, cities, towns, etc
    6. Add landmarks and important places
    7. Add roads, bridges, etc.
  5. Finishing Touches 
    1. Add coastal lines and outlines
    2. Add a key, compass, and a scale 
    3. Add latitude and longitude lines
    4. Add names
    5. Add name of the cartographer and the date the map was produced (in accordance with your book) (Optional)
    6. Trace over with pen and tracing paper for a nice clean version. 
    7. Color (Optional) 
    8. Digitize (either via Photoshop or some other editing tool) (Optional)
How Borders are Formed (Read the comments for the answer) 
My Cartography Pinterest Board
Follow Sareh's board Cartography on Pinterest.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Historical Facts-Lady Saigo

So I'll probably be blogging a lot about really cool historical Japanese women because while they're probably well known back in Japan, I doubt a lot of Westerns know about them. Japan seems to have a ton of really cool women so I decided I'll take the time to highlight some.

I found out about Lady Saigo a couple months ago when doing research for my books, but I recently did more research on her and her granddaughter, Tokugawa Masako, for a project for a graphic design class.

We had to create fake universities and institutes and I decided to base mine in Japan and South Korea. I named my university after Lady Saigo and my fashion institute off of Tokugawa Masako. It was a really fun project. I based my logos off of the Saigo and Tokugawa family crests and created fake scholarships based off of their interests. Anyways...


At the end of sixteenth century Japan, a warlord by the name of Tokugawa Ieyasu (Ieyasu being his first name), was able to unite Japan and started a dynasty of shoguns (the military head of Imperial Japan). This era is known as the Edo or Tokugawa Period, lasting for over 200 years until the late 1800s when the old system of government was overthrown and the Meiji Restoration restored power to the Imperial Household.
Tokugawa Ieyasu
Like most strong men, there is always a strong woman to back them. And for Tokugawa Ieyasu, that woman was Lady Saigo. She was born Tozuka Masako but was also known by the nickname, Oai, meaning "love".

In historical sources, she is known as "Saigo-no-Tsubone", which is more of an offical title than it is a name (it was common in those times and in the Heian period to refer to a woman by her husband or father's ranking or the place where she was from). When she was an adult, she was adopted into the Saigo clan and allowed to use their surname. According to Wikipedia:
"Later, when she was named first consort of Tokugawa Ieyasu, the title "tsubone" (pronounced [tsu͍bone]) was appended to the surname. The title was one of several titular suffixes conferred on high ranking women (others include -kata and -dono). The bestowal of a title depended on social class and the relationship with her samurai lord, such as whether she was a legitimate wife or a concubine, and whether or not she had had children by him.[2][3] The word tsubone indicates the living quarters reserved for ladies of a court,[4] and it became the title for those who had been granted private quarters, such as high-ranking concubines with children.[2] This title, tsubone, was in use for concubines from the Heian Period until the Meiji Period (from the eighth century to the early twentieth century),[4][5] and is commonly translated to the English title "Lady""
 She was born in 1552 at Niskikawa Castle where she lived with her two siblings. In 1554 her father died at the battle of Enshu-Omori, and two years later her mother remarried Hattori Masanao. Her mother had four children from this marriage but only two lived into adulthood.
Niskikawa Castle, Japan
It is unclear if Oai married when she reached adulthood since her husband's name is not mentioned and there were no children. But in 1567, she did marry Saigo Yoshikatsu, her cousin, who already had two children from his previous late wife. Oai had two children by Yoshikatsu- a son, Saigo Katsutada and a daughter, Tokuhime. But in 1571, Yoshikatsu was killed at the Battle of Takehiro and soon after, Oai was adopted by her uncle, Saigo Kiyokazu, the head of the Saigo clan. Despite this, she lived with her mother and her stepfather.

Oai was 17 or 18 when she met Tokugawa Ieyasu for the first time while he was visiting the Saigo family and she served him tea. She apparently caught his attention then, but because she was still married nothing happened. But after her husband's death, friendship and genuine affection developed. Around this time though, he was officially married to Lady Tsukiyama who was known to be jealous, had tempestuous moods, and eccentric habits. Her personality made if difficult for Ieyasu to live with her. The marriage had been arranged by her uncle of the Imagawa clan.

Around the time of the Battle of Mikatagahara in 1573, Ieyasu started to confide in Oai and sought her advice and it is believed that during this time that they started a romantic relationship. She is thought to have advised him on the Battle of Nagashino which was a major turning point in his career and in the history of Japan.

In 1578, Oai moved to Hamamatsu Castle where she was in charge of the kitchen. Here she became very popular with some warriors from her native home country who admired her for her beauty and thought of her as an exemplary example of the women from Mikawa. Despite this, she could be outspoken or sarcastic. But the court of Tokugawa Ieyasu, was filled with prospective concubines who each wanted to bear a child to the samurai warlord.
Keep of Hamamatsu Castle
During this time period, it was a common way for an ambitious young woman to elevate her status, ensure a comfortable life, and make sure that her family was successful. Women like these usually used their physical attributes, sexual prowess, and sometimes aphrodisiacs. But unlike them, Oai already had Ieyasu's attention.

Because of this, she probably became a target of resentment and hostility from the other women.

Oai became described as the "most beloved" of Ieyasu's women and he valued her for her intelligence, sound advice, and enjoyed her company, calm demeanor, and their common background from the Mikawa province. Then on May 2nd, 1579, she gave birth to his third son, Tokugawa Hidetada, who would become the second shogun. Oai's place at his court was more secure after this and she became his first consort, and was known respectfully now as Lady Saigo.

But within the same year, Ieyasu's ally, Oda Nobunaga, became aware that Lady Tsukiyama was conspiring against him with the Takeda clan. And even though he didn't have much evidence, Ieyasu had her executed and ordered her son to commit ritual suicide, known as seppuku. Now Lady Saigo's position was secure and her son, Hidetada, became his heir. Oai had Ieyasu's fourth son, her second, on October 18, 1580. He was called Matsudaira Tadayoshi after he was *adopted by the head of the Matsudaira clan.

It was common during this time for families to send their children to other samurai homes as a means of establishing good relations with those warlords and in hopes that they would receive a good education. And it was not uncommon for someone to be adopted into another family, even late in life, to help advance their position even if their family was still living.
Reconstructed Sunpu Castle
In 1586, Oai was at Ieyasu's side when he triumphantly entered the newly rebuilt Sunpu Castle. This
was symbolic of his victories and was a visible and symbolic gesture to Oai that meant Ieyasu could credit her for her assistance and publicly show how highly he thought of her.
Location of Sunpu Castle
Lady Saigo is also well known for her charity. She too suffered from myopia and so she often donated money, clothing, food, and other necessities to blind women and organizations. She eventually founded an co-operation school with living quarters near the temple she worshiped at, that assisted visually impaired women by teaching them how to play the samisen (a traditional three stringed instrument) and helped them find employment. These women became known as goze and were like traveling minstrels in Japan.

They became a part of a guild-like organization with apprentices. They played pieces from an approved list and operated under a strict code of rules on behavior and permissible business transactions intended to maintain an upstanding reputation. Upon her death, she wrote a letter pleading for the continued maintenance of the organization.

Lady Saigo died at a young age though at 37 on July 1, 1589. Although the cause of her death was never discovered, there was suspected foul play but no culprits were ever found. There were rumors that she had been poisoned by a maid loyal still to Lady Tsukiyama who wanted revenge. When she died, her remains were interred at Ryusen-ji. the temple that she had founded her school at and worshiped frequently at.
Lady Saigo

After her death, the Emperor Go-Mizunoo gave her the name Minamoto Masako, posthumously adopting her into the Minamoto clan, the extended branch of the Imperial line. Later after being inducted into the Lower First Rank of the Imperial Court, her status was later upgraded to the Senior First Rank. This is the highest award then or now that the Emperor can give to subjects outside the Imperial family who have had significant and positive impact on the history of Japan.

Lady Saigo became the ancestor for seven Tokugawa shoguns and was also connected to the Imperial line. In 1620, Hidetada's daughter, Masako (1607-1678) married Emperor Go-Mizunoo. As empress consort, she also had considerable influence on court, helping to maintain the court, supporting the arts, collecting antiques, was skilled in calligraphy and poetry, and she influenced the next three monarchs.

Masako's daughter and the Emperors Go-Komyo and Go-Sai, who were sons of Emperor Go-Mizunoo by different concubines. Masako's daughter was the great-granddaughter of Lady Saigo, known as Princess Okiko before she came into the throne in 1629 as Empress Meisho. She reigned for fifteen years and was the seventh of only eight empresses regnant in Japan's history.

Wikipedia (Picture credits go to Wikipedia except for the maps which I took screen shots from Google Maps).
Sengokuology (Tumblr)
Japan : History of Japan's Ancient and Modern Empire (Full Documentary)
Tokugawa Japan : the social and economic antecedents of modern Japan edited by Chie Nakane and Shinzabur Oishi ; translation edited by Conrad Totman.
Volume Two: Sources of Japanese Tradition: 1600 to 2000 Compiled by WM Theodore de Bary, Carol Gluck, and Arthur E. Tiedemann

Monday, November 9, 2015

Historical Facts- Kristina, King of Sweden

The book from which I first heard about her
Today, I'm going to give you some facts about a "king" of Sweden. Her name was Kristina and yes, her father had her named king and had her trained as a prince. Modern researchers refer to her now as a Queen but I like to think that King is still appropriate for her case. 

The following blog post was adapted from a research paper I wrote back in high school. So I apologize for the length. 
Kristina was born in Stockholm, on December 8th, 1626, to Maria Eleonora and Gustavus II Adolf. 
Before she was born, her parents had already had two daughters who both died and so when her mother announced her pregnancy, there was a lot of excited because people hoped she would have a boy. The fervor and excitement around the speculation probably contributed to the nurses thinking she was at first a boy. 

Another reason could have been that she was born with the fetal membrane wrapped around her. Other sources state that she was born completely covered in hair- called a caul. 

The attendants were afraid to tell her father, King Gustavus, who was waiting in his study for the announcement to be made. So his sister, Princess Katarina, took the girl into his study and told him the news herself. The king was delighted with his new daughter- even though he had wished for a boy. But he made the announcement that the girl was to be named Kristina- after his mother- and trained as a prince. Weeks later, the king summoned the Riksdag- a ruling assembly of five hundred men- and declared Kristina the future king of Sweden.

On November 12th, 1632, Kristina’s beloved father died in the battle of Lutzen. On the night of Kristina’s sixth birthday, the news of King Gustavus’s death reached Stockholm. Early in February 1633, Kristina was presented to the Riskdag and pronounced King of Sweden.

In the spring of 1633, Kristina received news that she was to meet her grieving mother and her father’s embalmed body in the castle of Nykoping. When her mother arrived Kristina was informed that she would live at the castle with her mother- even though Gustavus had made it clear he had wanted Kristina to be raised by Katarina. 

 Shortly afterward, Maria ordered the walls and windows of the royal apartments to be draped in black and denied her sister-in-law entrance to the castle ( banishing Katarina, her husband Johann, and their children to the castle in Stegeborg, two days south of Nykoping) , keeping the young Kristina close to her in her mourning chambers. 

Christina’s mother, upon her husband’s death had suddenly become obsessively devoted to
Kristina apparently as a 16 year old. 
her daughter. Sources allege that in her grief Maria kept the king’s heart in a gold box in her chambers. For eighteen months, Kristina’s mother refused to allow Gustavus’s body to the buried. It is said that Maria would spend hours having conversations with Gustavus’s corpse. Finally after more than a year, she relented Kristina’s father’s body to be buried in Riddarholm Church. 

After two more unhappy years for Kristina, Gustavus’ chancellor, Alex Oxenstierna, became alarmed at the obsessive way Maria was treating her child. The chancellor banished Kristina’s mother to Gripshil Castle and invited Katarina and her family to stay, providing the young girl-king Kristina with a stable family life for the first time since her father’s death.

As for Kristina’s education, her father Gustavus had drawn up plans for her education before he had died. Kristina was to be trained as a prince. Axel Baner was assigned to Kristina as her governor who taught her the art of horsemanship, sword-work, and all other aspects of battle and sport (her equestrian talents were noteworthy and she engaged in both fencing and shooting) . Gustav Horn was her subgovernor who taught her languages ( Kristina had a talented tongue; foreign dignitaries often said she spoke their language better than themselves) . Johannes Matthiae was Kristina’s principal tutor.

 Finally Axel Oxenstierna instructed her in the art of governing, and matters of foreign and domestic affairs. Being raised as a boy, Kristina had little patience or time for things that most girls her age did- although she was deeply interested in the arts; theater and ballet were among the things that she enjoyed. A French ballet troop was employed by her court as well as Italian and French orchestras. She adored plays, which were a favorite pastime of her court, and she, herself, was said to be an amateur actress. It is reported that Kristina spent twelve hours a day in study.

At the age of fourteen, Kristina was admitted to council meetings. But by her sixteenth birthday she had proved herself to the Riksdag and to the people of Sweden, that there was a large demand her for to be crowned. But Kristina recognized the burden and declined saying “I am not ready.” 

Sébastien BourdonChristina of Sweden, 1653.
Ride on Kristina, ride on.
But by the time of her eighteenth year the demand for her to be crowned was so large that it was impossible for her to decline. So on December 8th, 1644, Kristina took the oath as king and began her rule- although she refused to marry which would always cause quite the scandal. Kristina is said to have more suitors than even Elizabeth I of England.

During her reign, Kristina was a driving force in ending The Thirty Year’s War. “She took in the reins of state herself and carried out a foreign policy of her own.” She had decided that Sweden had had enough of glory and must look to the enrichment and prosperity that came through peace. In 1648, Kristina exercised her royal power and ended the Thirty Year’s War by the Peace of Westphalia. 

 At this time, she was twenty-two and by just her own personal influence, she had ended one of the greatest struggles in history. But by ending the war, she did not weaken her country. In fact, Denmark gave Sweden rich provinces and Germany was compelled to grant Sweden the membership in the German diet. There came to be a time of improvement in the areas of commerce, economics in government, agriculture, and the opening of mines. She took an active part in politics and surrounded herself with intelligent people. Under her leadership, in 1645, the first Swedish newspaper was created.

Sometime soon after her official coronation, Kristina took an intense interest in Catholicism. Born a Lutheran, she was interested in the Catholic doctrine of free will. Eventually, she converted to Catholicism in secret, but the quiet conversion was a great stress on her.

In 1651, she announced that she had the intention of abducting in favor of her cousin, Karl Gustav. The matter swayed this way and that for three years but finally the Riksdag accepted the
inevitable reluctantly. The tricky question of Kristina’s financial position had to be settled for the first time in her life, and for the first time she made effort to live within her means. Finally in 1654, the abdication ceremony took place in Uppsala Castle with Christina in her crown and her coronation mantle over a white dress. 

Her royal regalia of sword and key, orb and scepter
 were set on a table but no one would come forward to remove her crown. After a pause she took it off herself. Two chamberlains removed her mantle and she descended from her throne. She proceeded to make an elaborate speech thanking God who had made her king and all who had served her, reducing many in the audience to tears. After that she urged Karl to seat himself on the vacant throne, which he courteously declined, and the two left the hall together. Karl was crowned king later that night in the cathedral. Her abdication at the young age of twenty-seven stunned everyone.

Next day she went to Stockholm and from there, wearing men’s clothes and set out on the path to Rome where she would annoy the Pope. Kristina after leaving Sweden journeyed to Denmark under the name of Count Pohna and dressed as a man. She continued to Brussels where on December 24, 1654, she was baptized in a private ceremony into the catholic faith- an illegal religion in Sweden at that time. In December later that month, she is received by Pope Alexander VII in Rome.

After her abdication, Kristina tried gain the right to rule Poland- but failed- , collect paintings and write her autobiography. In 1656, Kristina held an academy in France to discuss the problems concerning the nature of love. In 1657, Kristina attempted to seize Naples to become Queen. But while staying in Fontainebleau, she learned that her servant betrayed her plans to the Pope. She had her servant killed in her presence after given the last rights of absolution to him. The rest of the European world was horrified.

Portrait by Jacob Ferdinand Voet
Kristina died in Rome on April 19th, 1689, at the age of fifty-three, after a short illness. In brief, her life was pleasant. She was much admired for her tact in politics, her words were listened to in every court in Europe, and she made beautiful collections, and was regarded to be a privileged person who actions took no one amiss. She had requested a simple funeral, but the Pope Innocent XII arranged an elaborate ceremony. She was buried in St. Peter’s.

Kristina was never beautiful, yet she a most interesting child, with an expressive face, large eyes, an aquiline nose, and the blond hair of her people. A quiet child, people noted that she was very mature and wise beyond her years. She was apt to be overbearing, even as a little girl. Kristina had long been considered “mannish” because of her intellect and love of studying, and her manner reinforced that impression. 

As tough as a plank, she loved riding and hunting, swore like a trooper, enjoyed dirty jokes, and despised all things feminine. She wore sword and armor in the presence of the soldiers, and she often dressed entirely in men’s clothes. She would take long, lonely gallops through the forest brooding over problems of state and feeling no fatigue or fear. 

The end of my research paper (I copied this from a draft). After this I would like to add some more notable items that I did not mention in my research paper due to length of the paper for the class and other reasons. 

Kristina is noted for never marrying much like Elizabeth I of England. And although Christina hated the idea of marrying, she became secretly engaged to her first cousin, Charles, before he left to serve in the army in 1642. But later when she decided to abdicate, she chose not to marry and instead made Charles her heir. Beyond that she never again became engaged although she held several intimate friendships. 

Notably, her closest female friend was a woman named Ebba Sparre whom she called "Belle" and with whom she spent most of her free time. Even when she left Sweden, Kristina continued to write passionate letters to her although emotional letters were common at the time and Kristina wrote in the same style to people who she never met. 

She was well accepted in Rome and was the object of much attention and gossip. She became involved with a Cardinal by the name of Decio Azzolino. The pope disapproved of his visits to her and despite this, they became lifelong, close friends. She was also known for being very tolerant of the beliefs of others. 

Although historical accounts regularly include accounts of her physical features, mannerisms, and dress, some historians believe that these may have been over-represented in history. And according to Wikipedia, "as a result of conflicting and unreliable accounts, the way in which she is described is still a matter of debate." 

She is described as having a bent back, a deformed chest, and irregular shoulders of differing heights. She was said to have the appearance and mannerisms of a man which was shocking to many people at the time although it was not unheard of. She didn't always wear clothes typical of a man though, she was also known for wearing low-cut dresses. 

Another one of her controversies that has been much debated, especially among modern scholars, is the question of her sexuality. Modern biographies tend to consider her a lesbian as her passions with women were noted in her lifetime. But she also seemed to have a variety of other relationships, including non-sexual and bisexual.  

Kristina even wrote in her autobiography, addressing rumors, saying that she wasn't male or hermaphrodite. Scholars have noted her relationship to Azzolino and that sometimes it seemed as if she was uncomfortable with sex. 

Portrait of Christina; painted
in 1661 by 
Abraham Wuchters.
Other scholars believe that she could have been intersex though studies of her remains have explained that she had a "typical female" structure and that people during her life noted normal female body functions. But it is also noted that even a examination of her skeleton may not prove if she wasn't intersex. 

Other scholars believe that she could have had polycystic ovary syndrome, which can cause women to grow beards and hair elsewhere that commonly is just on men (which could explain why someone described her as having a little beard). Others believe she could have had Asperger's Syndrome or Disorder of Sex Development. 

In any case and no matter what you come to think of her, King Kristina was certainly an interesting person and I think we can take away some lessons from her life. She didn't let people tell her what was right or how to live her life, she lived it in according to her conscious. And I think that's something to be admired. 

Eckles, Carrie. “Biography: Christina, queen of Sweden.” Helium inc., 2002-2010. Website. 5 May 2010
Rapp, Linda. “Christina of Sweden.” Glbtq, Inc. Chicago, IL, November 24, 2009. Website. 6 May 2010.
Åkerman, Susanna. "Kristina Wasa, Queen of Sweden." www. Boston: Kluwer Academic Publishers, 1991. Website. 5 May 2010.
Orr, Lydon. “Queen Christina of Sweden.” Ncr, October 2003. Website. 8 May 2010
Cavendish, Richard. “Abdication of Queen Christina of Sweden: June 6th, 1654.” History Today 54.6 (2004): p54. Infotrac: Student Edition. Article. 7 May 2010.
Meyer, Carolyn. Kristina: the Girl King. NY: Scholastic Inc, 2003. Book.

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Book Review: Death in the City of Light by David King

Death in the City of Light is the gripping, true story of a brutal serial killer who unleashed his own reign of terror in Nazi-Occupied Paris. As decapitated heads and dismembered body parts surfaced in the Seine, Commissaire Georges-Victor Massu, head of the Brigade Criminelle, was tasked with tracking down the elusive murderer in a twilight world of Gestapo, gangsters, resistance fighters, pimps, prostitutes, spies, and other shadowy figures of the Parisian underworld.   
The main suspect was Dr. Marcel Petiot, a handsome, charming physician with remarkable charisma.  He was the “People’s Doctor,” known for his many acts of kindness and generosity, not least in providing free medical care for the poor.  Petiot, however, would soon be charged with twenty-seven murders, though authorities suspected the total was considerably higher, perhaps even as many as 150.
Who was being slaughtered, and why?  Was Petiot a sexual sadist, as the press suggested, killing for thrills?  Was he allied with the Gestapo, or, on the contrary, the French Resistance?  Or did he work for no one other than himself?  Trying to solve the many mysteries of the case, Massu would unravel a plot of unspeakable deviousness.  
When Petiot was finally arrested, the French police hoped for answers. 
But the trial soon became a circus.  Attempting to try all twenty-seven cases at once, the prosecution stumbled in its marathon cross-examinations, and Petiot, enjoying the spotlight, responded with astonishing ease.  His attorney, René Floriot, a rising star in the world of criminal defense, also effectively, if aggressively, countered the charges.  Soon, despite a team of prosecuting attorneys, dozens of witnesses, and over one ton of evidence, Petiot’s brilliance and wit threatened to win the day.
Drawing extensively on many new sources, including the massive, classified French police file on Dr. Petiot, Death in the City of Light is a brilliant evocation of Nazi-Occupied Paris and a harrowing exploration of murder, betrayal, and evil of staggering proportions.
Going back to my nonfiction streak, I recently read this fascinating and horrifying book. My OpenDrive hometown library system happens to have a LOT of nonfiction history books centered around WWII. I have no idea why, maybe that's what a lot of people request, but I'm okay with it. WWI and WWII is fascinating.

The book centers around the aftermath of a serial killer in Occupied France in the 1940s. The book was pretty easy to follow, written in a somewhat chronicologcial order. It starts off with the discovery, moves to the killer's background, and the background of his known victims, the hunt to find the serial killer, his arrest, and his trial.

I read a lot of reviews that said that the first part of the book was hard to get through but I would disagree. The whole book was fascinating in a detailed, horrifying way.If you're not keen on reading detailed descriptions of how people died or are found dead in brutal ways, I might pass on parts of this book. The author holds no punches, although a part of me wonders if it was really necessary or there for shock value? In any case, it made it all that more gruesome and terrible and more realistic in a way if you're writing about a serial killer.

I really enjoyed King's writing style in this book. It was very well written and you can can tell he did his research and displayed all the facts there for you to decide. And although I enjoyed him going into parts that didn't have much to do with the main focus of the book- like talking about French artists- it made the setting of the book all that much more real and helped shed some light on what Paris was like then if you didn't know much about Occupied France.

What struck me about that was that most stories I read about Occupied France focus on the millions of Jews taken from their homes, but I feel you don't hear all that much what like was like for the people who stayed behind in Nazi-controlled France. So I thought it was a different angle taken and I enjoyed that about this book.

I would say that King did a good job at bringing the characters to life. I think it could have easily have turned into a boring statement of facts. But especially in the trial, we saw Petiot really come alive. His wit and character came out and it was easy to understand why people reacted to him the way he did.

I also thought that Massu was easily brought to life although I was disappointed when he seemed to disappear from the narrative half way through and didn't have that much importance afterwards. Although I do understand because of the way history worked out, but it was still disappointing because I thought we had spent so much getting to know Massu, that I was sure he would be the one to help solve the case.

This must have been a fascinating story to research and I wonder how you would even begin to research such a thing. It seemed all so large and there were details in there that I think would have to have been inserted in by the author to help tie it all together.

One of the points that struck me was Petiot's insistence that he was a member of the resistance and how people in that day and age could take something like murder- even if done in the name of a cause- seemed to just go along with it. I guess it would have been hard to trust people and there would have been stories and cases that would have been hard to verify.

This story made me think about the books like Code Name Verity that center around WWII resistance agents and other spies fighting for the Allies. I think its a fascinating topic to explore, especially because I think if anything, there were spies and intelligence agents that did exactly what people like to think of in the movies, like the CIA.

Overall, I think King did a very good job and it was a fascinating and exciting story to read although on a horrible topic. I'm glad that I got to read it and see another side of WWII and see how twisted people could take advantage of the chaos and use it to their advantage.

Goodreads Page
Author's Goodreads page

Friday, October 30, 2015

Book Review: The Kingdom of Little Wounds by Susann Cokal

(From Goodreads) A young seamstress and a royal nursemaid find themselves at the center of an epic power struggle in this stunning young-adult debut.
On the eve of Princess Sophia’s wedding, the Scandinavian city of Skyggehavn prepares to fete the occasion with a sumptuous display of riches: brocade and satin and jewels, feasts of sugar fruit and sweet spiced wine. Yet beneath the veneer of celebration, a shiver of darkness creeps through the palace halls. A mysterious illness plagues the royal family, threatening the lives of the throne’s heirs, and a courtier’s wolfish hunger for the king’s favors sets a devious plot in motion.
Here in the palace at Skyggehavn, things are seldom as they seem — and when a single errant prick of a needle sets off a series of events that will alter the course of history, the fates of seamstress Ava Bingen and mute nursemaid Midi Sorte become irrevocably intertwined with that of mad Queen Isabel. As they navigate a tangled web of palace intrigue, power-lust, and deception, Ava and Midi must carve out their own survival any way they can.

I'm going to be upfront about this book. This book was hard to get through. I consider myself a pretty mature reader, despite that I don't really read a lot of adult fiction, but this book was tough. Especially for a book marketed towards young adults. I would recommend this for adult readers or for more mature readers.

This book hit hard because it doesn't shy away from horrible content or from describing it. It pulls no punches and brings the reader through a roller coaster of emotional turmoil. If you ever wanted to live in the time of kings and queens and knights, this book will make you reconsider all those beloved fantasies. I would definitely say this book is not for the faint of heart or easily squeamish or those uncomfortable by things.

Cokal definitely did not pull away from describing subjects traditionally taboo in YA like sex, homosexuality, rape, assault, and all sorts of things. While parts of me wondered if she went into so much detail for slight reasons of shock value, I also have to say that it made the book much more realistic and valuable to the reader. This book will make you uncomfortable in every way, want to go shower, and then come back for more. It will also make you think about hard things and question ideas.

If there was any book I could see people wanting to ban, this book would make the list. But for those with the maturity level, I think this is a valuable book to read or at least take a hard look at because it tackles such hard themes in a way that is neither preachy, condemning, or approving. I write so much in this post about it because I am in a way impressed and equally still disturbed a month after reading this.

Yep, it took me a month to be able to feel like I could decently write about this book.

The book is written in alternating points of view focusing on Ava Beign and Midi Sorte, but also includes other points of views from different characters. The changes are slightly confusing as there is no patterns to the switching, but nevertheless, works beautifully for the story.

For our main characters, I was never sure how I really felt about them. Ava and Midi were certainly not your typical YA characters. They were definitely not mary sues nor were they your now stereotypical "Strong Heroine". This was another point that I was impressed with because her characters were simply so real and well rounded.

I liked Ava more than I did Midi, but at times, it was the opposite. I struggled with these characters because while I understood the choices they made, I also didn't agree with them and at times, I found myself disappointed in them because I felt they were digging themselves into deep holes that they didn't have to be in.

As for Ava, I found myself slightly confused with her relationship to one of the king's men. It seemed slightly just like a plot point to make her interact more with Midi or to create tension between them. It seemed more superficial to me then a lot of the other relationships characters had in the book. Although that might also have been the point, that a lot of relationships in the court were superficial in order to increase their standing or to survive at court.

One of the reasons I say that I liked Ava more was that she was simply more likable than Midi, although that isn't a bad thing. Midi had a harsher personality than Ava but it was understandable due to her past and her understanding of the world.

As for the other characters, I'm not sure what to comment on them. The main "villain" of the story was certainly a despicable man and I hated him with every fiber in my being, I put villain there because I wouldn't really describe him as that. An antagonist for sure, but he didn't fulfill the typical villain archetype for me. He was simply so despicable to me, that I can't even describe him as a villain. But perhaps even something beyond that. And the other characters, although beautifully written, were sadly manipulated puppets. Fascinating though, but sad, and realistic.
In the way that some of the characters were puppets, I felt that some characters were very well developed, our mains, and our secondary and third characters seemed almost too stiff at times. I wish there had been a level of growth applied to some of them more than there had been. Granted, that would have made the book even longer than it already is, but I would have enjoyed seeing a little bit more development to some of those characters.  
The plot was very detailed and well thought out and I felt no stone was left uncovered. I also thought the ending was satisfying but in a way, it seemed a little bit of a let down. Only in the fact that everything was so detailed and then there's a summary and I felt it seemed almost out of place. In a way, I wish that Cokal hadn't ended it with a summary of events after the book, but it was also fitting to see what all happened afterwards.  

The writing of the book was beautiful as I've tried to say before. I was captivated by her style and found myself at times pausing to reread a line or a paragraph because it was well done. I like Cokal took some time getting everything perfect and it worked out wonderfully.

There were a lot of details in this book. Its a big book in itself- one of the reasons I picked it out at my school library- but all the details is one of the reasons. The storyline itself is complicated and provoking, but the details added a new level of wonder and fascination to the story. I believed that it must of taken her years to research everything because nothing seemed to be left out and even the science-y, medical parts were described in a way that I could understand without it getting boring.  
Overall, I would have to say this book is a book I would recommend to anyone looking for a thought-provoking YA with more mature content. I believe there is a central theme of power in this book and the way the abuse of it is handled in this story is breathtaking. Her characters at times seem powerless, but grow to gain their own power in sorts and eventually make a sort of stand for themselves. It was a very realistic book and I loved and hated it for that reason.
I was very impressed with this book overall and it was a struggle to get through it. At times I found myself having to put it down and go do something else for a while because it was too much at times. The way some of these subjects were written was brutal, but definitely realistic and thinking about my own writing, I don't think I even have the guts to write about some of these subjects like the way Cokal did. It makes me almost wish that more authors, especially YA authors, would take a shot at tackling some of these subjects like Cokal does more often. 

Author Goodreads Page

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Announcements and Updates! Including an Author Website!

Hey Ya'll!

Just making an announcement that I'm making an author website for a class and I'll be adding a link to the top of the blog when I'm done. It'll be on Wordpress and I'll be posting official book updates there and special content!

Nanowrimo is coming up! If you sign up, I'm on there as Sareh Q. Add me!

My friend Jelsa published her first book, Picture Imperfect, through Swoon Reads! You can check it out on her blog, on Goodreads, or buy it on Amazon (which you totally should!! Its not even that expensive, so go for it!).

I've been on this writing site, Inkitt, for a while now. I have the first two chapters of Sword of Clouds up on it. But if you're looking for a new writing site, I recommend it! Its simple and easy to use. Plus there's a copy and paste lock and all the writing is vetted by editors before being allowed to post so most of it is pretty good!

Several of my friends and people they know started this really great blog, The Book Creators, and you should totally check out their twitter too!

Also, recently, HarperCollin's other writer's website (you might remember Inkpop) Authonomy is closed. Also, another writer's website that was on my radar, Valorpen (or Hexbound has it was first called) is also closed. My sympathy to those affected by the closings.

That's mostly about it for now so stay tuned for more excitement as always!


Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Let's be a little more creative: World Mythology

With the success of Rick Riordan's Percy Jackson's Olympian Greek gods series looming over our heads, and the fact that Greek and Roman mythology is by far the best well known mythology in the western world, its easy to say, "lets write a book around this."

Which is great and all, don't get me wrong. But a part of me has been thinking lately about how there is so much more how there that hasn't been explored and written about. Yes, Greek and Roman mythologies are fascinating (I also have to give a nod to Egyptian mythology, the other, slightly less than, well known tales), but at the same time, aren't they a bit...over done?

Granted, I've been the rise of more books exploring other cultures like Eon by Allison Goodman, The Dragon King Chronicles by Ellen Oh, Stormdancer by Jay Kristoff, Empire of Shadows by Miriam Forster, The Dark Caravan Cycle by Heather Demetrios, and a slew of other novels lately. And while that's great, I encourage authors to consider reading these stories and writing their own featuring characters from other, less represented cultures and mythologies.

I ranted about this on my Tumblr blog the other day, but I'll try and keep this from turning into a rant.

Reasons to Why We like Greek, Roman, and Egyptian mythologies

Picture URL (Picture from Pinterest)
I believe my mom has this book actually
  • The West has a lot more information on these mythologies. We have a lot more information on Greek, Roman, and Egyptian mythologies than other mythologies, especially here in the West, because "ancient" culture is often defined by Greek, Persian, Egyptian, and Roman cultures. A part of this reason is because the Roman pantheon often adopted other beliefs into their own and kept good records about this. After the Romans fell and other cultures rose to power, it was the Ottomans with their scholars who kept good records and studied old Greek culture and then after them, the Renaissance turned European minds to old Greek and Roman culture. And through a long period of time, people kept coming back to these cultures. I believe that other cultures in the West are lesser known also thanks to European Imperialism and trying to convert natives of other places to "European civilization" and stamp out native beliefs or mix them with Christianity.
  • Its familiar to us from school. If you remember anything from your world history classes, philosophy, and maybe a literature class, Greek and Roman mythologies and culture is often taught. In history classes, you were probably introduced to Greek and Roman mythology and culture and history. In literature classes, you probably studied the Iliad, Odyssey, and Shakespeare's Cleopatra and Mark Anthony play. In philosophy classes, the old Greek philosophers like Socrates and Plato were taught. Many of us are probably familiar with the famous Egyptian queens like Nefertiti and Hatshepsut, and the stories about Egypt from Christian Bible stories. Therefore, most of the West has probably been introduced more to these thoughts than other cultures. (I think the only introduction to African belief I was taught was primarily Muslim and Christian beliefs and then the stories about Anasazi the Spider). 
  • Its influenced our culture and architecture and art. Look at the American capital buildings. They're often based on Greek and Roman architecture. Lots of older, famous statues and art were based on Greek and Roman mythologies and styles. There has been lots of movies based off of Helen of Troy and there's also the Electra and Oedipus complexes proposed by the psychologist, Freud, based off of Greek mythologies. Even many of our plants in the solar system have names from Roman and Greek mythology such as Jupiter, Mars, and Venus. And even today we still borrow inspiration from them. 

Reasons to Use Other Mythologies

  • Other cultures are rich in their mythologies and diverse and imaginative. Japanese mythology has some of the weirdest, most random, and most interesting sets of mythological creatures I have seen. Aztec and Mayan mythologies are also varied and fascinating (although at times similar due to the place and time). Hinduism is a great example of the varied beliefs that falls under it and even Buddhism has a lot of greatly, fascinating beliefs. Native American beliefs are varied and fascinating like other traditional African beliefs (not counting Muslim or Christian beliefs here for this point). 
  • A lot of mythologies share similar beliefs. You're probably already familiar with some other mythologies than you realize. This is also a form of study called comparative mythology. 
    • Nearly all world cultures have a story of a flood myth where a man and his relatives most often are the only survivors (this is where I have to say that there HAD to have been a world flood if almost every culture has a similar myth. That or all the cultures had to have had a similar origin point and it occurred before they all split off). 
    • If you've been watching the Marvel superhero movies lately, you're probably familiar already with the Norse rainbow bridge connecting the realms of heaven and earth called Bifrost. It was guarded by a deity called Heimdall. You're probably less familiar though with the same concept in Japanese mythology that also has its own guardian. 
      A Japanese woodblock print of a woman 
      and kitsune fox spirits
    • Another similarity is the Greek myth of a man named Sisyphus who continually rolls a stone up a hill only to have it fall back down and he has to restart. Well the Indian mythology has a similar story with a character called Naranath, as does Wu Gang who continues cuts down a self healing tree, and the Aztecs also have a similar myth. 
    • World trees are all a feature of German/Norse, Hindu, Mongolian, and Slavic mythologies. 
    • Aztecs had a version of vampires called Civatateo who were noblewomen who died in childbirth with white skin who also stalked people at night and had a thing for blood much like the vampires of Western traditions. 
    • Like the Celtic and Irish beliefs of little people, many other cultures had beliefs of little people living in hills, mountains, forests, and other places. Such as the Ainu from Japan.
    • It is noted, although there are strange similarities between mythologies worlds apart, many cultures share similar beliefs due to proximity (for example, the fox spirits of Eastern Asia like the kitsune from Japan, the kumiho from Korea, and the huli jing from China) and the Romans who eventually shared their own beliefs with Greek and Egyptians. Similar beliefs are spread through religions coming to new areas (like Buddhism in Asia) or by conquest by more powerful countries. 
    • Also noted Here I haven't compared Celtic, African, or Native American beliefs as much because although I have studied them, I can't say off the top of my head any beliefs that pop into my head for this section. But if I think of them, I will add them. Be aware that this is only a sampling of freaky similarities between cultures that to our knowledge didn't have contact with each other. 
  • Using other world mythologies can help diversify your writing and introduce you and your readers to other cultures you might not be that familiar with. You don't have to be an expert or a member of another culture or mythology to study it. And not only by studying it will you increase your knowledge, but it will inspire and spark your imagination. Spending even a few minutes on sites like Encyclopedia Mythica will teach you a great deal or looking up other mythologies on Wikipedia is a great starting point as well. I like to stress this point because other mythologies are so rich and fascinating and rarely in the West do they get talked about. Barely even do we ever see authors make use of Native American, Aztec, Mayan, or Inca mythologies. And have you EVER seen a novel that really used traditional African mythologies in it? Besides Egyptian, I can't recall ever seeing a novel use or reference their mythologies. And Africa has so much diverse beliefs in it! 
Research and Respectfulness
Like any story or idea that requires research, I must make sure to stress the importance of doing your research thoroughly and well thoughtfully. Make sure to look up other sources than Wikipedia and to check out different kinds of mediums like videos, photography, art, podcasts, and books. Is your source credible, can the information be found elsewhere, is this even what you're looking for? These are just some questions to ask when evaluating sources. Obviously, when talking about world mythologies we can't all really be reading original sources and material and in some cases, its impossible. 

My dog studying
This is not how you study
A point I'd like to make is to also be aware that if you can, ask someone from that culture or someone who's studied it (for example, a professor, most professors are happy to answer questions even if you're not their student). If you're talking to someone from that culture or looking up what people from that culture think, make sure to think about or ask if the way you want to use your research in your story is being done in a respectful and sensitive manner. 

But what about fantasy and science fiction? Well there's several questions and answers here for that. First of all, if you have a great nugget of research but you're not sure if its credible or not, it's probably okay to use it (just make sure you double check in case you missed something earlier). 

Another thing to remember is that it is your story and you can write it however you want. You can reinvent twists on old mythologies or even combine them, that's up to you. Or even create your own, based off of world mythologies. 
A Black swallowtail butterfly
The Aztecs believed that the dead
rode on the backs of butterflies

Our Oriental Heritage by Will Durant (The story of Civilization)
Highly recommend for classic history reads


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