Tell us about yourself and how many books you have written.
I’ve been writing almost all my life, starting with short stories in adolescence. During my professional career I wrote many articles and textbooks in health care. After retiring from the University of California, I started writing fiction, which is a completely different experience. Fascination with ancient Maya civilization led to writing four historical fiction books set in the Maya Classic Period. My books bring ancient Maya culture and civilization to life in stories about both real historical Mayas and fictional characters. For historical accuracy, I researched Maya archeology, anthropology, epigraphy and history from the scientific perspective. For indigenous viewpoints, I studied with Maya teachers including Aum Rak Sapper, Guatemalan Priestess-Daykeeper and Hunbatz Men, Itza Maya Elder-Daykeeper. I’ve traveled extensively in Maya regions, visiting sites in Mexico, Belize and Guatemala. I lived in Mérida, Yucatán, Mexico for five years to apprentice with Hunbatz Men, becoming a Solar Initiate and Maya Fire Woman in the Itza Maya tradition. The ancient Mayas created the most highly advanced civilization in the Western hemisphere, and my work is dedicated to their wisdom, spirituality, scientific and cultural accomplishments through compelling historical novels.
I now live in Oregon with my husband and our two beautiful white Angora-mix cats. My hobbies include gardening, preserving food, walking in nature, cooking and wine-tasting. The last is greatly augmented by living in the north Willamette Valley, Oregon’s famous wine growing region whose Pinot Noir rivals the finest French burgundy. I’m an avid reader and write reviews for most books that I read on Amazon and Goodreads.
I’ve received Writers Digest awards for short fiction (2008) and Book 1 in the Mists of Palenque Series (2014). The Mayan Red Queen is a nominee for the 2016 Day Poynter Global Ebook Awards.
What is the name of your latest book and what inspired it?
The Mayan Red Queen: Tz’aakb’u Ahau of Palenque is my latest book, published in August 2015. It is the third in a 4-book series about women rulers or wives of rulers in the dynasty of Janaab Pakal of Palenque. When living in Mexico, I found a book in Spanish called “La Reina Roja” about the discovery of a royal woman’s tomb, the second richest yet found, in a pyramid adjacent to Pakal’s own towering Pyramid of the Inscriptions. Pakal’s opulent burial in a sarcophagus deep inside this pyramid has been compared to that of Egypt’s King Tut. I studied this “Red Queen,” a name given her by archaeologists because her skeleton was permeated with red cinnabar, used as a preservative. Initially archaeologists could not identify which royal woman was interred, since the crypt and sarcophagus did not contain any hieroglyphs. After 10 years of study, the most likely candidate was identified as Pakal’s wife, Tz’aakb’u Ahau. I wanted to imagine her life and times, and tell her story set in the highly advanced civilization of the Maya Classic Period. It was a bit daunting, because there is so much research about Palenque at that time. I think this book captures the high court culture, intrigue, architectural and scientific accomplishments of the Mayas, and tells an engaging story about the characters, many real historic figures, others fictional.
Do you have any unusual writing habits?
All writers have typical styles of writing, that don’t seem unusual to us. Because my stories are based on historical events and persons, I do a lot of research before starting to write. I develop a timeline that follows what is known about the cities, persons and regions during the period of my story. From these cryptically recorded events, I try to imagine the motives, feelings, goals and experiences of the people involved. Usually I start at the beginning of the timeline and write sequentially. Sometimes I write a critical scene out of sequence, when grabbed by an inspiration, often in the middle of the night. Then I get up and write it down, or else it tends to evaporate. My writing style includes editing as I go along, though I realize many writers advise against this. When a chapter is finished, I go through and re-edit for refinement and errors. Of course, I use a professional editor for the final drafts.
What authors, or books have influenced you?
The authors who have most influenced me are Marion Zimmer-Bradley, Mary Renault, Margaret Mitchell, E.M. Forster, Anita Diamant, Colleen McCullough, Samuel Shellabarger and Rafael Sabatini. I also appreciate the contemporary writing of L.M. Ironside, Michelle Moran, Cheryl Fluty, Sherry Jones and Adriana Trigiani.
What are you working on now?
I’m in the early phases of the fourth Mayan Queens books, the last in this series. It is about K’inuuw Mat, the wife of Pakal’s fourth son who came from another city. She bore a son who became ruler after Pakal’s two older sons died without heirs. In my story, she is a follower of Mayan Goddess of Healing Ix Chel, and hopes to remain on the Goddess’ island Cuzamil to serve, but fate has something else in store for her. With the gift of prophecy, she is mandated to help preserve the Mayas wisdom and knowledge as she foresees the coming collapse of their high culture.
What is your best method or website when it comes to promoting your books?
I use my own website, blog, Facebook, Goodreads, and a number of sites such as Awesome Gang, Indietribe, Best Indie Books, Authors Database, Book Reader Magazine, My Book Place and Pretty-Hot.com. When I’m ready for a big promotion, I use BookBub.
Do you have any advice for new authors?
Write about your passion, the things that get you excited and inspired. Write because the stories are inside you and need to be expressed. Write because it gives you joy and a sense of purpose and accomplishment. If you don’t have this kind of impetus driving you, it’s really hard to keep up the sustained effort needed to complete full-length fiction. Listen to what others say, learn the craft of writing, but ultimately follow your own inner guidance.
What is the best advice you have ever heard?
Write for yourself. Write because it’s in your nature, it’s something you have to give to the world. Of course, you want others to read and enjoy your books. But don’t be discouraged by criticism and bad reviews. Take what is useful to improve your skills, but realize the world is full of people with differing opinions and tastes. Find your niche or tribe.
What are you reading now?
Echoes of Avalon by Adam Copeland. This is historical fiction with fantasy elements, as a knight returning from crusades, pursued by an apparition, seeks solace in helping a secret academy on Avalon. Amid mystical happenings the knight must defend the academy, confront his apparition, and deal with thwarted love. I’m fascinated by the Avalon mythology, and am enjoying this post-Arthurian spin.
What’s next for you as a writer?
My present goal is to complete the 4-book Mayan Queen series, by writing the last book. I’m also working on getting this series in print format, it’s now all ebook. After that, quien sabe? There is another book of Mayan HF that I’ve long conceptualized, about the declining days of Maya civilization in Chichen Itza. Should I live so long and my energy hold out, I’d like to get that one done.
What is your favorite book of all time?
The Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer-Bradley.