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 I also learned that the book I’d read was outdated!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


Refresh the page if you can't see the Rafflecopter form! a Rafflecopter giveaway


Monday, December 3, 2012

Digging Up Inspiration From the Past

Writers -- where do you get your inspiration?

This is not an easy question for most of us to answer because the sources of our inspiration is ever-changing.  From the people we meet, to the places we visit, to the things we read.  Inspiration, like the ancient Muses, lives and breathes around us constantly.

Because of the stories I'm drawn to writing, one of my sources of inspiration is the news section on  Most weekdays, someone on staff there lists snippets from current news items related to archaeology.  These headlines are collected from across the world and through thousands of years of human history, even including early human ancestors.

I've not only gained whole story ideas from reading these discoveries, but more often gained valuable bits of world-building detail to help flesh out stories that I'm already working on.  And these stories don't have to be historical.

For example, someone writing a paranormal romance may be very intrigued to read this article on a recently reported Medieval English skeleton with metal spikes driven through its shoulders, heart, and ankles -- a form of burial not only for suspected vampires but for social deviants.  I could imagine a young, unusual heroine running afoul of her society not only because of her paranormal abilities but because of her non-conformist practices and beliefs.

Or maybe you would be inspired to write a story of a man's quest to find the cave inhabited by a Native American woman which inspired another great story -- The Island of the Blue Dolphins.  Does he have some sort of psychic connection with the woman from another time period?  Would his discovery pave the way for a time-traveling romance? Or perhaps, could he be a descendant?

Or maybe you could envision a contemporary romantic comedy where an eccentric Civil War collector, in cleaning his house, has to call in the bomb squad to remove some of his collection.

I could envision a whole new archaeologist-style adventure series based on the re-opening of an ancient site (Karkemish) on the Turkish-Syrian border, one littered with mines, where Lawrence of Arabia once excavated.

Maybe you'd like to write a medieval drama of a nunnery run afoul of the church due to reports of bearing children and lesbian conduct.  It might be fun to create a Modern Family sort of soap opera with this unusual, historical setting.

What about a story of a youth in ancient Rome who suffered from gigantism, causing him to be at least a foot taller than all his friends.  Was he revered as a Titan-like being?  Or did he endure jeers from his friends?

Or perhaps one could craft a historical murder mystery out of two skeletons -- a 19-year-old woman and an older man -- found at the bottom of a Neolithic well in Israel's Jezreel Valley.  Were they killed together, having been discovered in an illicit romance?  Or could it have been an ancient murder-suicide?

I picked up another cool bit, but can't reveal that one here.  Keeping it for myself. :-)

Writers continuously draw from bits of evidence such as these and then let their minds go wild with questions that build their worlds and their stories.  But having real evidence to back up a story makes it that much more fascinating and the world building more lifelike.

So, writers -- where DO you get your inspiration?  And would any of these tidbits that I find fascinating inspire you as well?