Wednesday, 25 July 2012

An Interview with Zoe Saadia

Zoe Saadia is an Israeli author with a passion for history.  Her Pre-Aztec era stories have captured a time in history that many overlook, yet her writing has really brought the period to life.  I interviewed Zoe after reading her book "At Road's End", and you can read my review here.

  1. How did you become interested in the pre-Aztec period of history? 
When I decided to pursue the writing career, close to ten years ago, after spending years researching pre-Columbian North America, I knew what parts of the world history I’m going to feature in my books. The misinterpreted centuries of pre-contact North America haunted me for decades and I was excited to be able to do something about it.

I didn’t spare a side-glance to Mesoamerica back then. I thought that, compared to the neglected North, the Central and South Americas were represented well. After all, when you say the word “Aztec” people, at least, recognize this word and think of something grand pyramids, even if sprinkled with generous amount of blood. To my estimation the Aztecs didn’t need me.

So, my goal was to represent North America, to change people’s perception on the various Native American nations, to make the average reader discover this continent prior to its famous discovery.
I wanted to write a novel per culture, one by one covering the most prominent of the historical events and cultures, and this way to let people know that this continent was anything but what they were taught by popular books for teens and Westerns.

At first it all went according to the plan. My first novel dealt with the Mississippians vs Iroquois, but then, while writing my second novel that dealt with the Anasazi and the Southwest, fully intending to move back to the north and the Iroquois with my third book, I suddenly found myself drawn into the boiling-at-these-same-times Mesoamerica by the forced I was literary unable to resist. The side character of the Mesoamerican warrior that was supposed to reflect on the Anasazi’s fall, pushed himself into the centre of the book in this forceful, arrogant way of the elite warriors, becoming the main character.

From that point on, I was lost in Mesoamerica, immersed in the frenzied writing of the next three books covering the times before the Aztecs came to the power in the middle of the 14th century.  Apparently, Mesoamerican pre-contact history was not represented in historical fiction as well as I thought. There are plenty of great books dealing with the invasion of Cortes, some from the local point of view, well-researched and well-written. Yet, none seems to deal with the earlier centuries of this place, which was so full of interesting politics and amazing martial and engineering feats, that might make Medieval Europe of the same period to look almost peaceful and tranquil.    

  1. What made you want to become a writer?
Well, I used to make up stories since I remember myself, writing them down when I learned how to write J
But the decision to pursue the real writing career came only ten years ago, when I knew what I wanted to write about J

  1. How do you research your stories?  What sources do you find useful?

Oh, this is a difficult question.  First of all, I’m not picky and I use every source I can lay my hands on.
When I lived in USA I had an access to their wonderful libraries, city libraries and some of the universities like Berkley. Luckily I had also an opportunity to spend days on end in those libraries for a couple of years.

These days, back in Israel (my home country), I’m forced to conduct my research via internet only. It makes the task harder, the need to filter every source thoroughly and carefully slowing the research down considerably. On the other hand, I’m very lucky to live in this digital era, when almost every good textbook can be found in a digital format. I was able to lay my hands on quite a few Aztec codexes and recorded Spanish sources of the earlier colonial times. Also, thanks to that same internet, I’m able to communicate with amazingly helpful people from the relevant areas.

  1. How do you find your characters?  Are you someone who draws them as a blank canvas or do you base them on real people?

I learned not to base my characters on the real people. Due to many considerations, real people don’t make good story characters, as one want to stick to the historical traits of a person and so can’t throw them into all sorts of situations that is required to make a good book full of action.  So I make my characters up, then place them alongside the real historical persons, in the real historical events (not always though. Sometimes, when the history period is not well-documented, I have to make up some events too). 

However, now, that I’m working on my next series, “The Rise of the Aztecs”, I’m dealing with so well-documented history, I can’t get away from ‘messing’ with some of the real-life characters.  

  1. You’ve written further stories in the series, how many and how do they compliment “At Roads End”?

Oh, yes. “At Road’s End” is the first book in the “Pre-Aztec Series”, which is followed by three more books. Those sequels, set in Mesoamerica this time, are sitting a little apart, geographically and otherwise. They are written from multiple points of view and generally more complicated, dealing with a much better recorded history.  The mutual trait to all four books though, aside from some of the characters, is that all those books are full of action. I’m very careful not to scare people away by too much history J

  1. Fun Question – Which three people from history would you like to invite to a dinner party?
I love that question!

Well, of course I have to give my due to the forgotten heroes, so the first person to be invited and seated at the place of honour would be Gaius Julius Caesar (I spend years reading everything I could find about this man and his martial exploits, appreciating his deeds greatly).

Second, I would invite the Great Peacemaker of the Iroquois, a brilliant mind, indirectly responsible for more than a few clauses of the American constitution (it’s a recorded fact that Benjamin Franklin had studied the Iroquois constitution and probably had taken a few examples out of it).

And, as to not leave two brilliant politicians, the Roman and the Iroquoian, to discuss the differences in their government systems alone, I would bring the third guest, another talented warrior and politician - how could I not? - Tlacaelel, the architect of the famous Aztec Empire. He had never made it to be an Emperor, but most say that as a great general and the main counsellor of three emperors in a row, he was the man to make the Great Aztec Empire work.

And so the Great Roman general and politician, well versed in the Roman sort of democracy, the Great Iroquoian politician, the founder of the most prominent democracy of his time (13th-16th centuries) and the Great Aztec general and politician, with no hint of democracy whatsoever, would be forced to sample my poor cooking. Oh, I would enjoy hosting that dinner J    

  1. Fun Question – Which event in history would you like to be a fly on the wall at?
Only one? I would pick so many, it would turn me into a fly for good J

I would adore checking what really happened when Caesar crossed the Rubicon, what really made him to do this.  Also I would love to see how Tenochtitlan (the Aztec capital) looked like when its first Emperor tried to make something out of it against the neighbouring Empire’s oppression. Or how it looked like at the pick of its glory, before the Spanish conquistadors had arrived. 

And this is not even beginning to make the list of the events I would love to witness as a fly on the wall J

Thank you so much, Stuart! I had a wonderful time answering your questions. It was a great fun J     

1 comment:

  1. Hi, new follower from GoodReads. I enjoyed this interview! I would love a follow back at