Monthly Archives: June 2017

St Augustine Pirate and Treasure Museum Educates, Inspires

I finally achieved a major objective since moving to Florida: I visited the St. Augustine Pirate and Treasure Museum. This is the world’s largest and most comprehensive pirate museum with more than 800 artifacts under one roof. The museum is just a stone’s throw from Castillo de San Marcos, a 17th century Spanish fort overlooking the Matanzas River.

I learned that the entire east coast of Florida was a prime location for piratical activity. The port itself was ransacked and pillaged numerous times.  In fact, the fort was built to help protect St. Augustine from pirate attacks. (I might have to send Isabella and Jean-Michel up the east coast of Florida in a future book in the Pirate of Panther Bay series.)

This Jolly Roger flag in the St. Augustine Pirate and Treasure Museum is one of just three surviving today.

The museum includes a ton of history relating to the Golden Age of pirates, including weapons, life on board pirate ships, pirates in film (including a Pirates of the Caribbean exhibit) and one of just three surviving Jolly Roger flags! Several new interactive exhibits have opened up, such as kiosks that allow visitors to learn about pirate havens, trading routes, and more about their favorite pirates (or pirates they just want to know more about). The museum includes a room that simulates what it would have been like to be below deck when pirates boarded your ship. Another area recreates the experience of loading and firing cannon from the deck of ships either defending themselves or attacking other ships.

This surgeon’s box shows the tools of the trade for trying to help wounded sailors at sea.

The visit helped me navigate several thorny historical facts relevant to the third book in the Pirate of Panther Bay series. Readers will spend some time below the gun deck of Isabella’s ship as Doc attempts to save sailors wounded during battle. One of the exhibits includes a fully decked out surgeon’s box with tools. Of course, in the 1700s, any wound was potentially fatal because the risk of infection was so high. Several period fire arms also helped me think through the limits of using those weapons during sea battles as well.

Francisco Menendez, a free black who helped organize a regiment and worked as a privateer to defend St. Augustine in the 1740s.

One of the most intriguing historical facts I learned surrounded Francisco Menendez. Menendez was a free black, and he helped defend St. Augustine and North Florida from pirates and other invaders (including the British).  In the 1740s, he became a privateer for the Spanish government and recruited other blacks to join him defending St. Augustine.

The role of blacks in colonial history is an underappreciated aspect of piracy in the Caribbean. Former slaves made up as much as a third of pirate crews on some ships. La Florida under Spanish rule was a haven for escaped slaves, which became a source of tension between colonial powers as well as the newly established United States in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. (The fact Isabella is an escaped slave fits well into the historical reality of Caribbean piracy.)

Check out the new interactive exhibits at the museum!

The museum has a lot to see and do since it added experiential exhibits. The museum is also set up for group tours, school visits, and other educational programming. Visitors should expect to spend several hours touring, and don’t neglect the Treasure Shop at the end!

For more information and to check out what has been added recently, listen to this podcast (Episode #60) from Under the Crossbones with Cindy Stavely, the executive director of the museum.

While you are at it, check out the podcast with me (Episode #20), too!

(The official book trailer for the Pirate of Panther Bay is fun, too. The St. Augustine Pirate & Treasure Museum needs a trailer or 1 minute promotional video.)

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Review: Wonder Woman is a smart, well executed action film

My movie review of Wonder Woman is live at the Independent Institute. I really liked the film, and, as I mention in another blog post, I think this might be a break through film for women directors. The film is smart, well executed, and superbly directed by Patty Jenkins.

Perhaps one of the elements I appreciate the most is the multidimensional development of the main character, Diana Prince (Wonder Woman). She doesn’t lose her gender identity as she embraces the superhero role and heroic commitment to saving the human race. Diana Prince is not a character that essentially acts and looks like a man. Kudos to screenwriter Allan Heinberg for scripting a great character and giving her a worthy arc. Jenkins has also done an excellent job blending an international cast and using the story to play off their differences. Their differences become humorous interactions that deepen relationships and understanding.

In my longer review, I write:

Wonder Women contains an excellent story in a well-executed film that grapples with the conflicts between idealism and practicality, innocence and experience, gullibility and wisdom. Jenkins has crafted a film that infuses substance into a smart story. She uses well-crafted storytelling elements, such as defined and complex character arcs, to allow the anti-war social conscience that underlies the film to shine and provide a compelling context for the film.

This is great summer film—a lot of fun with great action sequences and excellent character development.

The complete review can be found here

An article about five not-so-obvious things to love about Wonder Woman can be found here

Stay tuned to this blog because the film is prompting me to think about several other articles on plot development and character development using Wonder Woman as a starting point for the riff.


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Five not so obvious things to love about the movie Wonder Woman

I am not a comic book or superhero fan, preferring more down-to-Earth characters facing situations that are more real world than fantasy. Yet, Wonder Woman is an excellent movie, one of my favorites so far in 2017 (see my movie review here).

For many, the strong female character is a big benefit, and I agree. As a novelist who features strong female characters in all my books, I found Wonder Woman’s emphasis on a strong, multidimensional character gratifying and long overdue. I attribute this to the directorial prowess of Patty Jenkins as well as the charisma and strength of Israeli actress Gal Gadot in the title role.

But Wonder Women distinguishes itself on several other dimensions as well. Here are five not-so-obvious elements to love about the film.

  1. Diana is a woman that kicks butt. And I mean a woman. She is not a woman dressed up as a man, competing with men on their terms. Perhaps the backstory of a race of Amazon women helps, but the writers have written her in as a strong female character. Her worldview is gendered female, albeit amazons are a warrior race. Wonder Woman, however, doesn’t rely on strength to defeat her enemies—a typically male response. Rather, she uses her tools, whether the “Lasso of Truth,” impermeable bracelets, or her shield. This is a refreshing acknowledgement of real differences between men and women, yet the story does not drive home a sense of superiority of one gender over the other. Rather, as a multidimensional woman, Diana brings a different perspective. She also brings a level of compassion to her warrior mission that adds layers and sophistication. (Some may argue that the compassionate element of her personality reflects a gender stereotype. I believe in fact it shows a human dimension that is not unique to either gender but manifests itself in different ways based on Diana’s background as an Amazon.)
  2. Combat choreography. The hand-to-hand combat sequences show a physical and emotional level of skill that is rare among actors and an attention to detail and fluidity unusual for Western filmmakers. As someone who studies martial arts (To-Shin Do ninjutsu), I appreciated the attention given to these details because it adds an authenticity to the actions of the characters and the plot. The interpersonal combat sequences reflect real combat techniques that can plausibly create the physical effects they intend to project (although, as in all action films, they are exaggerated for the camera and enhanced with special effects). Gal Gadot’s two years of military service as a combat trainer in the Israeli army no doubt adds to this authenticity. She know how to throw a punch and kick, the camera does a great job of capturing these maneuvers, and the director has used special effects such as slow motion to emphasize them as an integrated part of the action.
  3. The special effects are scaled. I still remembered being bored as I watched one of the Superman films as New York City (or was it Tokyo…or Chicago…or….?) was being decimated for no apparent reason other than to “wow” audiences with special effects. The effects did not move the story forward in any meaningful way—they were just showing a good guy and a bad guy throwing punches to see who would persevere and be left standing at the end. Jenkins, however, has scaled the effects in Wonder Woman to reflect the place and context of the scene and character. While we see and experience wild explosions and other fantastical elements, they don’t overwhelm the story or the characters.
  4. Seamless blending of an international cast. Gal Gadot is Israeli, Connie Inge-Lise Nielsen (Queen Hippolyta) is Danish, Elena Anaya (Isabella Maru) is Spanish, Chris Pine (Steve Trevor) is American, Robin Wright (General Antiope) is American, and David Thewlis (Ares) is British, and they all have accents. They also come from different cultures with different nuances about how to relate and interact with the different people as groups and individuals. Cultural unfamiliarity can often interfere with creating on-screen chemistry as the acting becomes wooden, formal, and less personal. The interpersonal connection is crucial to create believable relationships. The blend works in Wonder Woman, unlike other films (e.g., most recently Kong: Skull Island and the Great Wall). The director embraced their differences, and didn’t force a familiarity that might have been difficult to orchestrate. The screenplay artfully creates interplay among characters that embraces the differences and uses human to emphasize contrasts in perspective or cultural norms that further the development of the characters and story. (For example, one of many humorous scenes in Wonder Woman involves Diana walking in on Captain Steve Trevor as his is bathing naked.)
  5. A woman directed the big budget, superhero action film. Okay, this is obvious. But the significance of the trust the studios put in Patty Jenkins, and her ability to deliver a high quality superhero action film, should not be underestimated. This is a threshold event, probably more significant that Kathryn Bigelow’s success with war/thriller The Hurt Locker in 2008. Bigelow was the first woman to win an Academy Award for Best Director and the film won for best picture. I would not be surprised if Wonder Woman is nominated for Best Picture and Jenkins is nominated for Best Director. While the film is likely not strong enough to win Best Picture, Jenkins’ directing may well make her a favorite for Best Director.

Unfortunately, Wonder Woman is marred by a few significant plot holes and inconsistencies early on the film. But those will be the subject of another blog post. In the meantime, Wonder Woman is an excellent, engaging, and sophisticated action film that deserves in commercial success as the box office and the acclaim it has received from critics.

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