It’s my pleasure to introduce you to Zoe Saadia in this article. Not only is Goodreads providing me with ideas for books to read, it’s also helping me to make new friends across the globe. Zoe is one such friend and she’s important to me because she’s another author who is in love with Aztec history and culture. Zoe has written at least ten novels set in Mexico before the Spanish invasion. Zoe’s books are rich with cultural references and demonstrate the tremendous amount of research she has done in this area.
AE: Hi Zoe, thanks for agreeing to do an interview. First of all, please would you explain how you chose the Aztecs as your cause? I know this is usually the first question people ask me.
Zoe: Hi Phil, first of all thank you for greeting me to your wonderfully informative site. It’s a real honour. As for your question, I didn’t not choose any of the Mesoamerican cultures to research and write about. They sort of chose me. My speciality is pre-Columbian North America. I researched this continent and the most prominent of its cultures for over ten years, intending to represent them in historical fiction to the best of my ability. I never as much as glanced over the Mexican border. To my opinion the fact that most people are generally familiar with the word “Aztecs” was enough to indicate that pre-contact Mesoamerica was better off than the absolutely neglected or dreadfully misrepresented and misinterpreted North American people.
So, no Aztecs entered my mind until two years ago, when I was working on “At Road’s End”, a novel that dealt with the decline of the Anasazi. Little did I know! Apparently to get that close to the Mexican border spelt danger. Unaware of the threat, I let a secondary character into the story, to reflect on the fall of the Anasazi better, to give a foreigners’ point of view. A Tepanec warrior escorting a group of traders (the Aztecs were far from being a powerful nation back in those days compared to the powerful Tepanecs). He entered the story to spice it up a little. Well, I didn’t know that the forceful Mesoamericans are not made for the second leads. The necessary research on those same Tepanecs left me fascinated beyond reason. The story turned to be about this warrior, with the Anasazi people taking the second leads, instead.And the rest is history. [AE: Nice pun Zoe! :-)] The book turned out to be the first in the Mesoamerican Saga, consisted by now of 9 full-length novels. I just couldn’t stop! From the glorious Tepanecs all the way to their fall and rise of the well-known to us Aztecs.
Apparently, I was wrong. This history and these people were misrepresented in our modern literature as badly as pre-contact North America was.
AE: It’s obvious from the way you write about the Aztecs, the Tepanecs, Tlaxcalan’s that you have a deep affection for them all. Do you have a favourite amongst these states or tribes?
Zoe: Oh yes, I’m hopelessly in love with those cultures. :-)My favourites? I used to admire the Acolhua people with their beautiful capital (Texcoco) and their most prominent emperor, lawmaker, engineer, poet and statement Nezahualcoyotl. But as the series progressed, the Mexica-Aztecs had won my affection, so today the Acolhua and the Aztecs are sharing the first place
AE: And what about the bloodthirstiness of it all. Doesn’t that affect your ability to relate to them?Zoe: No, not at all! First of all, the bloodthirstiness was greatly exaggerated by the later-day Spanish newcomers. The human sacrifice was an old custom and it did not involve screaming commoners and sobbing virgins being dragged up the pyramids. The sacrifice was a solemn ceremony and to offer unwilling victims would do nothing but offend the gods. In the old days, before Tenochtitlan turned into a great city and maybe did stir to some extravagance of the mentioned above, only the captured warriors were sacrificed and those offerings ascended the steps of the pyramids most willingly, having refused to do anything else even if offered.
As the warriors were a class in itself, raised and educated very strictly in special schools called (calmecac or telpochcalli) for years, the rules of a honourable conduct were clear to them. They were to face the death bravely. If captured alive, the warrior has only one way to redeem his honor. He has to be sacrificed. The offense of a more “merciful” solution would have been unbearable to such man. No one wanted his name to be spat upon and his soul wandering the horrors on the Mictlan, the Underworld. Only warriors were eligible for the eastern-sky paradise, and only those who died bravely, killed on the battlefield or sacrificed to the glory of gods, were allowed to enter. So this way the process of human sacrifice included both sides collaborating and willing.
To me, it makes a perfect sense. Having dealt with the general history for decades I do believe there was no more bloodthirstiness in Mesoamerica than in any other warlike culture. Medieval Europe presents us with more than enough evidence to plead my case.
AE: Although there are a few writers working in this setting, if you look at the bookshelves in the shops, it’s obviously not as popular as Tudor England or the Roman times. Would you like to see a few more historical fiction writers moving in on this field?
Zoe: Oh yes, absolutely! I hope these cultures, times and places will catch the wave and will became as ‘fashionable’ as the done-to-death Romans, Tudors or Regency aristocratic dance floors. Having read “Five Dances with Death” by Austin Briggs and now enjoying “New Fire”, I can firmly say that I most sincerely wish to see more books of this quality.
AE: Have you made any attempt to get agents or traditional publishing houses interested in your work and would you share your thoughts on self-published versus traditional?
Zoe: Not with my Aztecs books, but I did try to go the traditional way for a few years, before the publishing world got into its current earth-quaking stage.Umm, 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. Speaking of Romans and Tudors! 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 decision. Independent publishing is more demanding, leaving the author to deal with all the aspects of this business, but it is much more rewarding, too. After two years, and quite a few mistakes made along the way ;-), I built a satisfactory name for myself, a respectable site to promote this history and my works, and a nice fan base to receive a lot of feedback through Goodreads and Amazon.
More importantly, I have a good theme to help me along, with a good editor, proofreader and a cover artist cooperating wonderfully, so I can write away and let my books out with no delays. In the traditional publishing industry they 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!