Zoe Saadia – ‘A Thing for the Aztecs’

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 :-D

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! :-)

AE: Thank you Zoe. For anyone wanting more information, visit Zoe’s website, ‘Pre-Colombian Americas’ or visit her Facebook page.

Other authors of Aztec novels

Someone just advised me that Graham Hancock is about to lauch a historical fiction book set in at the time of the Spanish conquest of the Aztec empire. It can only be good news for ‘New Fire’ if more famous authors than I take up the Aztec banner. Hopefully they will draw in people who would not otherwise have looked in.

War God

Other novels set in Mexico during the Aztec Empire, in no particular order:

Let’s see if the ‘Eye of Sauron’ (Bernard Cornwell) turns this way! :-)

‘Bad Water’ – Book Two in the Aztec Elements

Here’s a first peek at what the cover of book two might look like!

First impression of cover art for 'Bad Water'

First impression of cover art for ‘Bad Water’

Last week was an important week. Last week, I received the first royalties from both Amazon for the Kindle version of the book (15 sold) and from Grosvenor House Publishing for the paperback sales (22 UK sales and 5 USA). £23.90 and £29.24 respectively. Woo-hoo! It feels great to know that people are reading my work and some are even giving good reviews!

Free, signed copies of ‘New Fire’ go to…

I’m pleased to announce the lucky recipients of a free, signed copy of ‘New Fire’ are:

1) sushil@rapatwar
2) TheWord
3) jcoldridge
4) marquzz295
5) roger_hartshorn
6) slimyedda
7) da
8) Wicks Wickramasinghe
9) wk57
10) Russell

These winners have been chosen at random from those of you who registered with this blog before the 1st of October. I will email each of the winners individually to ask for a postal address so that I can dispatch the book when it’s finally published. As the manuscript is going through the typesetting process right now, this shouldn’t be more than six weeks away.

I received the exciting news on Monday that ‘New Fire’ now has an ISBN number! Here it is: ISBN 978-1-78148-789-1

Extract from the battle with the Chalca

Then Jaguar recognised Two Sign wading towards him through the frenzied action and felt a sudden thrill. Far out on the flank he must have seen the plight of the macehualtin and, knowing that his knights were in control, he’d left them to it, electing instead to help the common warriors. Two Sign was Tlacaelel’s right-hand man but he was also a fighting legend. He had crossed from shore-to-shore and seen the broad expanses of their land. He’d led successful missions from the wilds of Toltec to the borders of Oaxaca and even as far afield as Zapotec. Some even claimed he’d led an army of one hundred of Tenochtitlan’s finest jungle fighters to some distant ruins called Palenque, allegedly in search of gold. Through the ducking, wheeling crowds, Jaguar watched Crocodile’s adoptive father carve his way towards them.

A tall man came at Two Sign, all teeth and spittle, long arms wheeling. The Eagle warrior took the first blow on his fast disintegrating shield and parried the next with his own sword, turning it aside. Quick as a flash the tall man launched a backhanded blow. Two Sign nudged it safely up and over and then had to dance back as the rangy man jabbed at him with his shield. Jaguar saw Two Sign wait. A thrust with the shield, and then another. The Chalca used the length of his arms to keep Two Sign on his back foot. Suddenly the Eagle Knight hooked his shield behind the other as it came at him again. He wrenched the man towards him and calmly inserted his sword into the space between shield and neck. Gangly arms dropped the sword and shield as the stricken warrior clamped his fingers to his jugular in a futile attempt to staunch the wound.

Research, the foundation

The foundation of every good historical fiction novel is research. Your story needs to be woven onto the fabric of history itself. This doesn’t mean you have to teach your readers history by labouring through a list of dates or tediously enumerating every member of a royal lineage. It’s just needs the the smallest details scattered here and there that give the tale some authenticity by painting pictures in the readers head. If you need to name the entire household of a noble family or create an index of key dates, then do it as an appendix, like George R. R. Martin’s ‘Game of Thrones’ to name just one example. That way the reader can decide to soak up the extra information if he/she wants to.

Here’s an extract from my notebook. When I was doing the majority of my research, I kept a ring-bound notebook which contains lots of scribbling that including a couple of maps. Rob Cooper has asked for more maps and so has Mel.

Map extract from research

Page from research notebook including a sketched map

How accurate is this map? Probably not very accurate. It’s build from some descriptions of the temple complex in Tenochtitlan and a few poor sketches I’ve seen and it’s built using some facts but more importantly, it’s useful as a reference to help me stay consistent when I return to a place I’ve described before.

Pushy, pushy, pushy!

This week’s initiative is to have some business cards made out like this…

Images for 'New Fire' Business Cards

Book launch business cards

…and hand them out on the train in the morning and maybe even stand on London Bridge for 10 minutes giving them out! Now that’s what I call ‘forward’.

For anyone who has read scenes one and two, the third and final scene of chapter one will be posted here this weekend.