Monday, December 30, 2013

Fire with Fire, Words with Words

It's been a while since I've written a blog post, so I decided I'm going to talk a little bit about the research for my Pitch Wars entry, Confession, a YA Historical set in Seville circa 1807.  First, let's play a game to see how you fit into the time period.  Please answer the following questions:

1.  Are you anything other than Catholic?
2.  Do you use swear words?
3.  Do you get dressed up on Saturdays?
4.  Have you ever read anything by Kant or Voltaire?
5.  Do you wish you could attend Hogwarts?
6.  Do you occasionally read your horoscope?

If you answered "Yes" to any of the above, chances are you would have had a date with the Spanish Inquisition!  (Just like the main characters in Confession, so congratulations!)

When we think of the Inquisition, we often think of it as a medieval Holocaust--an organized extermination of Jews.  In a way, the two were similar, although the Inquisition was significantly less systematic.  It also operated on a much smaller scale, although it lasted over three centuries and spanned continents.

Some Background

The Moorish occupation of Spain left its
mark in art, food, and language.  Although
built by a Christian king, the Alcázar of
Seville is largely in the Islamic architectural
It started with the Moorish occupation of the Iberian Peninsula.  From 711 to 1492, the Moors had partial (or total, depending on the year) control of Spain.  Many look on this period as a golden age, for there existed widespread religious tolerance.

Then, in 1469, Ferdinand of Aragon married Isabella of Castile, joining the two most powerful kingdoms into a unified nation.

Ferdinand and Isabella have a lot on their resume.  In America, they're mostly remembered for being the generous souls who financed Christopher Columbus when nobody else would.  They also expelled the last of the Moors, established the Inquisition, and basically invented Spain as we know it (that is, as one country, rather than several small kingdoms).

With the Moors gone from the Peninsula, Jews, Muslims, and other non-Catholics were required to convert.  To ensure that they did not continue their practices in secret, Ferdinand and Isabella introduced the Inquisition, which served as a means of reinforcing political unity, as well as religious orthodoxy.

In order to appear before the Inquisition, one had to be denounced.  Some crimes, to name a few:  practicing Judaism or Islam, bigamy, sodomy, astrology, witchcraft, swearing, dabbling in prohibited books, using reason or philosophy to question God, any ill-will toward the Catholic Church, and a whole host of others.

The infamous rack in a museum in Córdoba.
Fascinating, but gruesome museum.  There were
definitely questionable stains on some of the
Punishment depended on the type and severity of the crime.  For example, adultery and sodomy tended to incur such tortures as the choke pear.  Of course, torture was not a punishment.  It was a means to get the accused to confess, and while many argued that confessions garnered from torture were not valid, the Church contended that if one was truly innocent, then God would give her the strength to get through the pain.

The Inquisition did not use torture as much as we commonly believe.  Usually, the accused was required to sign a confession, perhaps undergo some public humiliation, and that was that.  No ropes, no knives, no hot-irons--and definitely no burnings-at-the-stake.  Of over 100,000 accused by the Inquisition, only about 5,000 were executed over the course of 350 years.  Sure, it's a large number, but it's minuscule compared to the executions that took place in Spain during the Civil War, many of which were for the same trivial crimes that the Inquisition targeted centuries earlier.

Why does the Inquisition interest me?

Aside from the fact that I would have been toasty-roasty, I'm fascinated by the role language played.  The Inquisition relied upon word-of-mouth.  If your neighbor said that she saw you dumping water after a death in the household, the Inquisition would have summoned you on the suspicion that you were a Jew.  Everything depended on rumors, gossip, and scandal--on words.

With their language, people had immense power over each other.  Say Juan and José are business competitors.  Juan could "accidentally" let slip that José doesn't eat pork; whether it's true or not, he just turned the Inquisition into his personal weapon.  Even if José doesn't face the flames, the Inquisition still stripped him of his property, so that's adios, competition.  Sometimes, things got even more personal.  If a woman refused a marriage proposal, for instance, her suitor could easily denounce her as a witch.  It happened.

Then there's the confession.  Innocence, freedom--it all hinged on the confession.  Your life could depend on what you said or didn't say to the inquisitors.  Words, words, WORDS.

Hence, the title of Confession and the reason why the main characters are con-artists by profession.  As liars, it's their job to wield language like a weapon.  When they go against the Inquisition, they don't fight fire with fire, but words with words.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Warrior Bio (Pitch Wars)

First of all, thanks to Brenda Drake, the generous mentors, and everyone who helped organize this year's Pitch Wars!  It's such a great opportunity.

I'm absolutely THRILLED to join Team S.P., headed by the fantastic S.P. McConnell.  With fellow warriors Jessica Albon and Lauren Spellier, we are going to kick some serious butt.

Now onto my Warrior Bio.  I'm pretty sure I was supposed to put this up awhile ago, but I'm a little behind.  Sorry!  So without further delay, here are some facts about me:

1.  George Washington is my home-slice.  That is, I live in Williamsburg, VA.  You know, Colonial Williamsburg.  Which means I can't stop at Wawa without running into General Washington, or Thomas Jefferson, or Patrick Henry, or Benedict Arnold, etc.  I tell time by cannon fire.  I hear fifes in my sleep.  And when I go for a run, I have to make sure I don't get crushed by a carriage -- or accidentally step in horse poo.

Just a casual day in the 'burg.
2.  Liars, Thieves, and Rebels.  Maybe this stems from the fact that I witness the American Revolution on the daily, but I love to read and write about liars, thieves, rebels, and outlaws, in their many forms.  Which is why my Pitch Wars entry, CONFESSION, follows a con-artist working to outwit The Man (in this case, the Spanish Inquisition), who falls for a revolutionary à la Enjolras and the Friends of the ABC.

I'm a Les Miz junkie.
3.  Do you hear the people sing?  I can't carry a tune to save my life, though I often try.  Aside from selected showtunes, I'll often attempt to sing songs by Lady Gaga, Shakira, David Bisbal, and Florence + the Machine.  Also, anything Disney.

When I found out the Pitch Wars results, I danced.  Just like this.

4.  Did you say Disney?  I think Tangled is the greatest movie ever.  Period.  Though I'm also partial to Hercules, Pocahontas, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, and Treasure Planet.

While Disney is great, I'm also a huge fan of Titanic, Pan's Labyrinth, Stardust,
Ever After, Anastasia, Star Trek, Pirates of the Caribbean,
and The Dark Knight Trilogy.
5.  Treasure Planet…Is based on Treasure Island, by Robert Louis Stevenson.  Yup, it's probably my favorite book.  And Dr. Livesey might possibly be my favorite character of all time.  Is that weird?  He's such a bad-ass.  He's also insanely underrated.  Some other favorite books?  Airborn, by Kenneth Oppel.  Gone with the Wind, by Margaret Mitchell.  Water for Elephants, by Sara Gruen.  The Thief Lord, by Cornelia Funke.  And anything by Gabriel García Márquez.

This book is about pirates.  Did I mention I like liars and thieves?
6.  Hablo español.  I don't know if I'm fluent, but I'm pretty darn close.  I lived in Seville, Spain, for five months.  While that's the longest I've ever been in one foreign country, I've traveled quite a bit--and suffer from serious wanderlust.  I'm heading to Honduras in March!

Seville, Spain.  CONFESSION is set right here.  Most of the action takes place just a breath away from the Catedral in this picture.
That's me!  I'll hopefully be blogging more often than I have been.  I'm really bad at the Internet, so we'll see if I keep that vow.

Good luck to everyone doing Pitch Wars!

Friday, November 8, 2013

Get Inspired in Seville

"Toda mi Andalucía, con sus días de oro y sus noches luminosas y transparentes, se levantó como una visión de fuego del fondo de mi alma."
- Gustavo Adolfo Bécquer

Seville viewed from the top of Las Setas.  The Giralda towers over the city.
The romantic author Bécquer was spot on when he compared Seville, Spain, his hometown, to fire:  it's colorful, passionate, constantly throbbing with music and dance, the heavy air shimmering over the Guadalquiver, as the Giralda stands witness to it all, a sentry, a guardian, a conduit to God and Heaven.

Whether you're strolling through Barrio de Santa Cruz, with its whitewashed houses and winding streets, or hanging in the outskirts of Polígono Sur, a laboratory for flamenco, you're bound to find inspiration in this ancient city.

Get Inspired

First and foremost, get lost.  Tuck away your map and dive headfirst into the labyrinth that defines Santa Cruz, the oldest part in Seville.  Soon you'll find yourself drifting away from the touristy streets that sprout away from the Catedral.  Farther away, you'll find quiet neighborhoods that are no less beautiful.

A courtyard in the Álcazar, an ancient palace.
Take advantage of the history.  Founded by the Romans, inhabited by the Visigoths, conquered by the Moors, reconquered by the Catholic Monarchs, Seville is chock-full of fascinating history.  The Cathedral supposedly houses Christopher Columbus's tomb.  The Archive of the Indies has thousands of records relating to the Americas.  And don't leave without seeing the Álcazar, a beautiful sprawling palace with breathtaking gardens.

Have fun.  Though not a metropolis like Barcelona or Madrid, Seville has its fair share of bars and clubs, where you can meet very interesting people:  Spaniards, Americans, Brits, Germans, you name it.

Celebrate with the locals.  By that, I mean participate in Semana Santa and Feria, both in the spring.  They're mind-blowing in their scale; the entire city emerges, making for two exciting weeks.

Watch flamenco, and if you're up for it, attend a bullfight.  Both of these involve duende, a term which doesn't translate well into English.  Basically, it's a passion, a calling, an uncontrollable feeling that forces you to do something.  To dance.  To fight bulls.  To write.

During Feria, people flock to the giant fairgrounds dressed in traditional
flamenco garb.  They dance, drink, go on carnival rides, and have fun!

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Blog Hop: Where would I go with BUTTERMAN (TIME) TRAVEL, INC

Welcome to Butterman Travel, Incorporated

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Anxious to attend a special event from the past? Or for a glimpse of what the future holds?

You’ve come to the right place. We’re a fully accredited operation, offering an array of services; including, but not limited to: customized travel plans, professionally piloted operations, and personal trip guides. *Terms and conditions do apply

Conference us directly from our Website. Our frontline reservation specialist, Bianca Butterman, will handle all your inquiries in a professional and efficient manner, offering a tentative itinerary and free fare quote, so you can make the most of your time trip.

We look forward to serving you at Butterman Travel, Inc., where time is always in your hands.

To celebrate the cover reveal of PK Hrezo's book, BUTTERMAN (TIME) TRAVEL, INC., I'm participating in her bloghop.  Question:  If I could walk into Butterman (Time) Travel, Inc., where and when would I go?

Rio de Janeiro, 1808.  Here's why:

When the French army under Napoleon marched into Lisbon, the entire Portuguese Royal Court fled to Brazil.  Thus, the Braganças became the first royals to step foot in their colony.

TImes were tough.  During their journey, the members of court had to shave their heads in order to combat lice.  With an influx of 10,000 + people, housing was short.  Some had to put up in an old abandoned jail.  Imagine:  a royal family in exile living in a jail in the tropics.

But they learned to cope.  In fact, when it finally came time to return to Portugal over a decade later, the young Prince Pedro opted to stay in Brazil.  His father, Dom João VI, agreed.  In this way, Brazil gained its independence.

Though the court's exile in Brazil was not necessarily a happy time, it was interesting.  I'd have loved to talk with native Brazilians:  how did they feel about the entire royal court sailing up to their shores?  And the courtiers?  What did they make of life in the tropics?

Also, talk about adventure.

Remember to check out PK Hrezo's new book on 11 - 12 - 13.  You can find her on her blog and Twitter.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

On the Run

The name's Jak Szabo.  I write.  I'm on the run.  Take that as you will.

Other than that, there isn't much you need to know about me.  I'm prone to reckless abandon.  I like to dig –– in dirt, in archives, in books and backgrounds.  Hablo español.  E um pouco de português.  Coffee, please, infused with mint.  Cheap pens bundled in plastic bags.  Lined notebooks.  Sunsets in smog-covered cities.  Heat mirages.  Faded photographs that conjure up memories that belong to someone else.

I'm mostly truthful, except when I remember that I'm a compulsive liar.  Then I'm not so truthful.