Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Guest Post: Laura Pauling on How to Research an Ancient Society for Your Fiction

Today I am thrilled to welcome to the blog Laura Pauling as part of her Ancient Spells & Crazy Kings Blog Tour!  Laura's book, along with her post, are right up my alley.  Laura has managed to combine an intriguing ancient society with a compelling mystery with a couple of great middle-grade characters.  Bianca is a delightfully curious girl with a tremendous amount of drive and determination to find her disappeared grandfather.  She won't let a few ancient (and really scary) Mayans get in her way.  One of Laura's early scenes, where Bianca first witnesses a Mayan ceremony on top of a pyramid temple (don't want to reveal too much) had me reading on the edge of my seat...and then didn't let me go until the end.

I love how Laura makes these ancient people and their society come to life, literally.  I'm sure you (or your kids!) will enjoy it as well.  Please join me in welcoming Laura to the blog and read how she went about researching the Mayans for Ancient Spells and Crazy Kings.  Then make sure you enter her giveaway to win one of her great packages (see bottom of post)!

    Published by Pugalicious Press

When Bianca and Melvin brave the jungle to rescue their grandfather, they stumble upon the ancient Maya city of Etza, where the people haven’t aged in 2,000 years. They must learn to work together as they face loincloth-wearing skeletons from the underworld, a backstabbing princess, and an ancient prophecy that says in three days the city will be destroyed. No problem. They’ll find Zeb and zip right out of there. The fact that a crazy king wants to serve Bianca up to the gods as an appetizer is just a minor technicality. But this ancient evil dude has finally met his match.

How to Research an Ancient Society for Your Fiction

Oy, if only I’d known what it would take to fully understand the Maya civilization. I might have gone a different path. But I have a love of learning, especially topics that seem completely foreign to me, so I jumped in.

Research in layers. I started with a used book I bought on Amazon. I absorbed the culture of ancient Tikal and learned about the lives of kings and war. I developed plot lines that reflected the parts of their culture that fascinated me.

Start writing. I wrote the first draft then went back to fill in the holes. I also learned that the book I’d read was outdated! Yikes. So always check the publication date.

Complete more research. I went back to Amazon and this time I got smart and went through interlibrary loan for most of them. I did purchase a one-thousand-page college text. And yes, I read the whole thing and took notes on index cards, including page numbers for the facts I wrote down.

Rewrite. I rewrote, layering in the new understanding I’d gained of this culture.

Find primary resources. Yeah, this was a bit more difficult. But primary sources on ancient civilization can be found in a couple places. 1. Direct interpretation of original art. From this I learned exactly what they wore and how to describe their clothing, their intricate tattoos, and their fancy headdresses. This source also revealed more about the culture too for the Maya had many murals in their buildings. 2. Translation of a first hand witness. I read a book by a Spanish priest who saw the Maya civilization first hand. 3. Translation of their glyph writing, which I believe has been fully understood. 4. Email questions to college professors. (I didn't do this for fiction, but I would have for nonfiction.)

More research for the finer details. I searched online for first hand accounts from tourists who went where I couldn’t and walked where I couldn’t, namely Tikal National Park. I read their website and looked at pictures. I read about the region, the weather, the plants, the animals, and the jungle. I read blogs about what it felt like to be inside a temple. I perused pictures of the temples taken by many different tourists. I did this until I felt like I’d been there. And then some.

When to stop. I knew I was done when I watched a History channel special on the Maya. And I knew everything. I knew the questions before they asked them. And I knew more than they revealed on the show! Yes, I learned much more than I could ever put in the book but it’s the small details here and there that add authenticity to a story. I enjoyed every aspect of my rocky relationship to How To Survive Ancient Spells and Crazy Kings. But let’s just say I haven’t chosen such a research-intensive project since!

Thanks for letting me take over your blog for the day, Susan!

How To Survive Ancient Spells and Crazy Kings released in November. Pugalicious Press did a fantastic job, and I’m extremely happy with the results. This book would make a fantastic gift for boys or girls who enjoy adventure stories with lots of excitement! You can purchase it on Amazon or Barnes and Noble. You can read the first chapter here. Thankfully, my journey is just beginning and I’m excited to see where it leads. Click here for the list of blog tour stops! Enter to win these prize packages!

Prize Package One (signed paperbacks)

Prize Package Two (signed paperbacks)

Prize Package Three


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