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Friday, February 10, 2012

My interview with Author Zoe Saadia on her books 'At Road's End' and 'The Cahokian'

I'm interviewing Author Zoe Saadia today, about her book ‘At Road’s End’. 


M:Hi Zoe, nice to have you here for my net interview.

Z: Hi Michael, thank you for taking your time to interview me. I’m delighted to be here.

M:Tell me about your writing. 

Z:Well, I'm the author of novels 'The Cahokian' and 'At Road's End'.  Both novels deal with pre-Columbian North and Central Americas, a topic greatly overlooked by historical fiction, as far as I can judge.
The history of the Ancient Americas has been extremely misinterpreted. As a firm believer in the written word, I hope to rectify this matter by many more novels to come.

M: What started your interest in writing in this genre?
Historical fiction has fascinated me since I was a young girl. I used to devour this type of literature any time I could lay my hands on such a book. I’ve always been fascinated with Native American’s various nations, since I can remember.  So when I was able to combine my love for history and my love for writing, I knew what the main bulk of my books will be about.  Sadly, this theme remained strangely neglected when, a few years ago, I started focusing on my writing career. It's horribly wrong that nothing was written on one of the largest continent’s history prior to its discovery. But at least it’s worked well for me.

I think history is a fascinating subject, but not the way it's taught at school. I think the best way to teach people history is to offer them the most captivating moments of it, presented interestingly and alive.

M: Zoe, I couldn’t agree more. I think perhaps there are readers out there who veer away from historical fiction, simply because they think that the entire book is a history book. But that couldn't be further from the truth. Historical fiction books often have deep characters and meaningful story lines, as I found when I read this book. Have you been to the Americas and able to see anything that contributed to this particular book?

Z: Well, I've traveled the Southwest, mostly Arizona and New Mexico, but it was a while back, way before I thought of writing a novel about the Ancient Cliffs Dwellers (Anasazi). I was completely taken by the mysterious Mesa cliffs and the enormous and vast desert as far as the eye can see. I hope I managed to re-create some of this in ‘At Road's End’. The main character of this novel is of an outsider himself, coming from his distant pre-Aztecs lands, so I guess I could relate to him.  Not that we had anything else in common.  Me - a fascinated tourist, awed and gaping around; him - an arrogant Jaguar Warrior glancing at his new surroundings with an open contempt.

M: What prompted you to write this particular book? Was there a 'moment' that the plot came to you, or did you think on it for a while?  Or you had a dream, perhaps?

Z: No plot is ever obvious to me. I can imagine the general gist of the story I want to develop, but it always evolves as I go. The only thing I knew was that I wanted to write about Anasazi, being one of the most prominent cultures in ancient Americas, along with the Mississippians and the Great League of the Iroquois. The last two I covered in my first book, 'The Cahokian', so it was Anasazi's turn.

My goal is to present as many pre-contact North America's cultures as I can. People tend to think there was nothing worth notice on this continent before the Europeans came. Well, this impression is so horribly wrong, I can’t even begin to explain how (the peaceful or the bloodthirsty nature-loving nomad and all that, ugh). This continent had flourished with so many different agricultural cultures one can lose his/hers count. Empires, confederacies, farmer's communities, royalist, democrats - you name it and pre-Columbian Americas has it. 

M: It fascinates me to think about how different cultures must have viewed one another back in those times. I found your interpretations of those cultures explained in such an interesting way in At ‘Road's End’. It seemed entirely realistic and factual enough to draw me completely into the storyline, but your book was really about the characters. I found your character's names interesting as well. How did you select them?

Z: Oh, that was easy, once I figured a way to create a poll of names. One of the problems with such distant history is the names, of course. I used to envy those who wrote contemporary fiction for their ability to pick any name from people around them.

When I wrote on the Iroquois I couldn't even use the few names I was able to find. The names are the Clan's properties, so I couldn't just pick one.
Then it dawned upon me. Our names are usually just words, even if in another language (look at all our popular names here in US - so many of them are of Greeks or Romans origins, or they come from the Bible, and those are usually just a word or a combination of words in an ancient language).
So what I do now is make a list of as many words as I can found in the language or languages of the people I'm writing about, then just a pick the mostly nicely sounding words. For example, the name of the main pre-Aztec character in ‘At Road’s End’ came from the my list of Nahua words (Aztecs' and pre-Aztec’s group of languages), while the name of the Anasazi girl was just a word in the language of Hopi Pueblo’s people. Tecpatl means - a flint knife in Nahuatl, and Sakuna is a Hopi word for squirrel. 

M: That's brilliant. Their names are so unique. Tecpatl' is my favorite character in the book.  And I see his name as quite fitting.  I’d like to find out about what's happened since you began writing. Is there an experience you’ve had since publishing your books that sticks in your head? A specific event, person or conversation that you’ll never forget?

Z: Actually Tecpatl was more attached to his obsidian sword than to his flint knife. I wish I could find a Nahua word for that one.
As for the writing vs publishing, it took quite a while to progress from one to the other.  I wrote my first novel more than seven years ago. Since then it was the struggle to get it published, but I’ve learned and grown as a writer in the process. My first novel (about the Great Peacemaker of the Iroquois) taught me quite a few things before it was tucked deeply and hopelessly into the back drawer. I learned how to write and not to over-write, how to avoid too much description; I also learned not to mess with the prominent historical figures but rather to create fictional characters to set into historical setting.
Then it was 'The Cahokian'. I expected the publishers to fall all over each other in an attempt to grab it. Well, they didn't. The novel was good, but they didn't like the setting. Those who liked it, indicated they wished I wrote something similar in Victorian England. They said Europe sells better. They were prepared to settle for Tudors, maximum Stuarts periods, but not Ancient Americas.  That one was not sure to sell. 

At that point, I knew I'd go Indie and to hell with my yearning for the printed book. And the rest is history (the pun is intended). I’m published through Amazon and Smashwords and so far I don’t regret this decision. To build a reputation and a readership takes time and a tremendous effort, but it's also a fun. I’ve met so many wonderful authors along the way, and encountered so many wonderful books. This Indie world is amazing, and also I think it's the future of the publishing industry. 

M: Who is your greatest inspiration? Where have you found your greatest support? Do you have a mentor of sorts?

Z: Oh, I definitely have a few idols.
I mostly admire James Clavell. I can't count the times I re-read most of his novels, mainly the five of his Asian Saga. 'The Cahokian' was partly inspired by Clavell's 'Shogun'. I wanted to create a similar situation of a strong, fairly open-minded man, thrown into a completely different culture. Clavell's 'Shogun' showed me Japan with no previous interest on my part; it made me learn without intending to do so.  I wanted to catch people off guard in exactly the same way. 

Colleen McCullough is another great writer I want to emulate. She made me discover ancient Rome. We all know about the Roman Empire with their famous orgies and Caesar collapsing on the Senate's steps. McCullough made me understand Romans were much more than that; no bronze statues and big words, but very real, quite interesting people not very different from us.
Those are my idols in historical fiction field. I want to reach people the way they did. My subject deserves that.

Of course, also I draw a lot of support from the people around me, mainly my husband, my parents, even my kids  They are amazing, so supportive, so patient, so encouraging. I don't think it would have been possible to go on writing, struggling all those years without such a support. Writing is a very solitary business. A person spends days on end, working like crazy through strange hours, living in this completely other world s/he can't share before it's created and polished to its best. With no support of the closest people it would be a nightmare. 

M: I'm so glad you brought this point up. I think people are just starting to really hear about what it’s like to be writing and trying to publish. Thankfully, authors can now publish themselves and eBooks are a great venue.
In your eBook At Road's End, both of the main characters really pulled me into their lives. I found them to be strong and unique, in both their personalities and perspectives. Are there any similarities between you and your female character, Sakuna?

Z: Michael, you have no idea how delighted I was to hear that you liked this story! 

I love strong female characters who are not spoiled and can stand for themselves. As one reviewer has pointed out, Sakuna was no Cinderella.  But I'm afraid she is nothing like me.  I like her personality and I would gladly be friends with her, but while she is an introvert dreamy girl, I'm an outrageously outgoing chatterbox. I'm not sure she could stand me as a friend, given a chance. 

The writers are often thought to be introverts, but oddly enough I know quite a few who aren’t.  Aside from their writing schedules, most spend a lot of time outside with their friends. 

M: So sticking with a similar question about you, how do your life’s experiences carry over into your writing?

Z: I don't think much of my life experience is carried into my books. While people are always people, with their regular everyday desires and needs, the time periods I'm writing about are still too far removed to have anything in common with our lives.  Or maybe my life was not that extra-ordinary… nothing that would warrant a worthwhile fiction novel.
And I love it that way.  Who wants drama it his/hers life? J

M: I agree. That's why I like to read.  Alright, Zoe, what message would you like to share with your readers?

Z: My message? Well, I'm risking to sound obsessive (which of course I am).  I want our modern society to discover North America and the people who'd populated it, before the famous contact with the other continents was made. It's a large chunk of history that has been horribly overlooked. Ancient Americas had a strong history. It did not sit with its hands folded, waiting to be discovered.  That would be my message.

M:  Since I have Native American ancestors on both sides of my family tree, I can certainly agree with that.  Zoe, can you share with me any links to your website, blog, video, twitter, or any others ways you connect with your fans, so they can find and follow you?

Z: I would be delighted to.
On the more things pre-Columbian and some or other writings issues, I'd invite the readers to visit my blog

And Smashwords provides a very generous chunk of the book of a free sample reading

M: Thank you so much for sharing your time, your books, and your knowledge with me here today, Zoe. I'd love to interview you again for your next book. Are you up for it?

Z: Michael, thank you so much. I would be thrilled to interact again. I enjoyed this interview very much.  

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