Interview with an Author: Zoe Saadia

Today I have a great pleasure to welcome on my blog Zoe Saadia, an independent author who’s written, among other things, an incredible series about the Empire of  Aztecs. She was kind enough to accept my invitation and answer questions concerning her books and career – thank you very much! 

  • You write historical fiction based on the history of Pre-Columbian Americas – what is so special about that period and those places?

Oh wow, where to start?

First of all, thank you so much for welcoming me here on your wonderful site. It’s a real honor as I’m an avid reader of your reviews and articles, finding great books and movies here, along with extremely witty and often hilarious insights.

Secondly, well, pre-Columbian Americas are quite a terra incognita where the most of the people are concerned. Yes, we all heard about some Aztecs cutting people’s hearts out, or some Incas doing the same. But that’s about it. Most people, either in America or around the world, if asked, would say that yes, there were some Indians roaming around, waiting to be discovered, most probably. Not much more than that.

But of course it was not so. Pre-contact Americas were bursting with life for centuries prior to their contact with other continents. Highly agricultural and often ambitiously political, those lands present us with fascinating history. Large cities, small villages, empires, confederacies, democracies and monarchies, large scale wars or large scale peace agreements – you name it, and Americas has it.

Admittedly, most of it can be found in various textbooks, but not in historical fiction. So I decided to try and change that. People are not interested in dry history, rightfully so, therefore I’m trying to reach the wide audience in this way, writing action-adventure stories spread throughout Americas prior to the 15th century. To entertain, but to educate too. Just a little :).

  • What’s the history to fiction ratio in your books? Do you think historical accuracy is important?

Oh yes, very much so! In my opinion, historical accuracy is very important, as much as the cultural one. Historical fiction should be as accurate as possible, sticking to, at least, the most basic of the events and occurrences. And most certainly to the cultural aspects of the nations involved.

Not that it’s easy to research pre-contact Americas. The accounts that reach us are hideously biased, written mainly by the conquerors of these lands. Naturally, there was a serious effort to undermine anything of importance that had happened prior to the in/famous discovery.

For example, in pre-contact Mexico there were plenty of books (codices) that were destroyed most thoroughly, burned over the first century of the conquest. So we have to do with the conquistadors’ accounts, instead. A highly doubtful source! They had their motives to present the “Aztecs” as badly as possible, the savage culture in a need of salvation.

For some reason our textbooks do not doubt these sources, although a simple common sense would suggest to be careful while drawing our conclusions from this sort of accounts. Five centuries of blatant propaganda did a splendid job. Even the archeologists seem to be influenced by it, seeing in every found skeleton human sacrifice and cannibalism, drawing often hasty, unjustified conclusions.

Today, with the widening pool of independent historians and ethnologists, we see an increased attempt to recreate some of this long forgotten history in a more unbiased manner. I found many of these people’s articles and papers of a great help.

Back to the original question, I try to balance the amount of history and fiction in my books. To place fictional characters in real historical surroundings and events help to maintain the flow of a good story without sacrificing historical accuracy.

  • What’s been your biggest research challenge while writing about the native tribes and nations of the North and the South America?

Well, the deeper you go back in history, the more difficult it gets. In my Pre-Aztec Series I recreate the local power that was there prior to the Aztec Empire, as we know it. The Aztecs and their allies are relatively well documented, drawing much interest of their later-day conquerors. Biased or not, we have plenty of old sources to learn about their daily life as much as about the key events of their history.

However, their predecessors are barely documented at all. To place serious of stories in the previous local power’s capital was a challenging job. I admit to borrowing much from the later-day Aztecs, having no other choice. Thus, I have more books set in the Aztec capital, instead.

North America presents another challenge. Much less documented, less archeologically preserved, it confined me to only most prominent of its peoples or the most prominent of their events. Five Nations of the Iroquois and the way their famous confederacy was created was a pleasure to recreate, with the legend about it told and retold too many times, giving wonderfully diverse sources to work with. But now that I would like to dive into more of their fascinating history, I find it more difficult, with no other events documented or retold as thoroughly.

  • Your beautiful Internet site (do visit it people – completely worth it!)  is full of interesting essays concerning Pre-Columbian Americas. Do you write them as a part of your marketing strategy, as a hobby or are they the residue of the research done for your novels?

Well yes, maintaining a website is partly a marketing strategy, but, in my case, it’s mainly an attempt to lure people into learning history that is not taught in school. Dry history can be a turn-off, while reader-friendly articles might certainly interest people, make them want to learn more. I think everyone can benefit from discovering true Americas. After all, there is no harm in meeting different cultures. By writing those articles I have an opportunity to present the non-fictional reflection on the history I present in a fictional way. I think it’s important to show the less fictionalized side of the events.

Oh and thank you so much for your kind words. I was extremely delighted to learn that you enjoyed browsing my site. From the visual aspect it is not my achievement at all. I’m incredibly lucky to have a talented web designer right here at home, free of charge. My husband created this site and he maintains it on almost a daily basis, monitoring, polishing, inventing more and more features (even relevant games). I can’t stress my appreciation of it. From the beautiful outlay, to the friendly way the articles are presented, to the obsidian knife as a cursor, it is all of his doing.

  • In The Rise of the Aztecs series you managed to write quite a few great battle and/or duel scenes of hand-to-hand combat, praised in reviews even by former soldiers. Do you have any experience in martial arts or is it just your vivid, gory imagination? ;p

No, regretfully not. I’m a true history buff. I wish I could boast an experience with wielding an obsidian sword, or at least, doing some boxing or karate.

But being an avid reader of history and historical fiction, I came to the conclusion that battle scenes have to be presented as ingloriously gory as they probably were in the reality, along with the heroic antics of the warriors and their glorious achievements. There is no point in trying to make it all pretty, like a romantic movie 😉

So yes, lets the gory imagination break free 😀

  • I admit that one of my favourite scenes from The Rise of the Aztecs books features two female heroines: Iztac Ayotl, an Acolhua princess and the First Wife of the Aztec emperor, and Dehe, a wife, a mother, a commoner and her rival in love. Those two intrepid, intelligent and stubborn women all of a sudden find out that they must cooperate in order to save their beloved man, Kuini. Was it difficult to create such heroines? Have you modeled them on people you’ve personally known/met?

Oh, I’m so glad you enjoyed the various encounters of these two. I admit that they are my favorite female characters, as well.

No, I can’t say I modeled them after someone I knew. Both unruly women sort of pushed themselves into the series. Especially Dehe, whom I originally introduced into one of the earlier books in the series to be just a side character, to alleviate the boredom of the forced vacation in the Highlands the main characters, Coyotl and Kuini, had to take.

Well, I should have known better. Some characters just won’t be satisfied with a small role, and before you know it, they are leading the story into all sort of unexpected directions. I loved the way Dehe has evolved, but even if I didn’t like it, there was no stopping of this lady.

On the other hand, I have to admit that the history being not much more than an account of people’s lives, with the people being always people, either in ancient Rome, medieval England, Aztec Tenochtitlan or modern-day New York City, I did base some other characters on the people I know. I didn’t do it knowingly. Rather, I was pointed out later on that, for example, the young troublemaker Atolli from the Pre-Aztec Series, suspiciously resembles my almost teenager son, physically and mentally, and from any other aspect. I didn’t mean to “steal” his personality for my books, but on reflection I have to admit that yes, I seem to be guilty of doing this.

  • You are an independent author, self-publishing your novels – what are, from your point of view, advantages and disadvantages of such a career?

Oh, it was a painfully achieved decision. In the beginning I did try to go the traditional way, before the publishing world got into its current, earth-quaking stage.

It didn’t work. I was told that I’m writing well, and that should I change my subject to a better known history, they would be prepared to accept my manuscripts. They wanted Romans and Tudors, a well known, explored ground.

Needless to say, this response left, literary, screaming with rage. They didn’t want to take their chances with my pre-Columbian Americas.

Luckily, the Indie publishing world was already opening, with more and more articles published about its possibilities. So, two years ago, I took the plunge, and frankly, I never regretted taking this particular path.

Independent publishing is more demanding, leaving the author to deal with all the aspects of this business, But it is much more rewarding, too. It allows the author work with more freedom, to be accountable to no one, to write however fast s/he wishes to, without taking into account long queues at the editors. When you have a good team – editor, proofreader and a cover artist, usually – you write away and let your books out with no delays. In the traditional publishing industry my books would have been piling up, waiting to be attended stage by stage. Independently, I can let them out as fast as I can write them, provided I, and the people I’m working with, are prepared to work hard. Which we most certainly are :).

  • Tell us about your favourite books or/and authors you love. What is your favourite  genre?

Historical fiction is the genre I read almost solely. Surprising, isn’t it? lol 😀

With my all-time-favorites, the authors I praise to the skies and treasure every book of theirs, being James Clavell with his Asian Saga (Shogun and such), and Colleen McCullough with her Masters of Rome novels. I reread those so many times one would lose count and I’m still rereading them upon an occasion. I certainly want to achieve what these two achieved.

Thank you for your wonderfully insightful questions. I enjoyed answering them so very much!

The pleasure was mine – thank you for your time and trouble! 

Books by Zoe Saadia, reviewed by me so far:

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3 Responses to Interview with an Author: Zoe Saadia

  1. blodeuedd says:

    I do love when it’s historically accurate, though as I do not know much about this age I could not say much about it. And oh I was actually on your site the other day and read an interesting essay about women

  2. Ohhhhhhh.. Zoe, you need to find someone to teach you how to knap a stone knife! We were lucky enough to be able to buy a really cool one at Chichen Itza. I was afraid they wouldn’t let us bring it back.. but, they did! PHEW!

  3. Pingback: Mexico: Aztec archaeological discoveries in city center | Dear Kitty. Some blog

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