20 April 2014


This week, we're pleased to welcome author Leonide Martin with her latest novel,  THE VISIONARY MAYAN QUEEN: YOHL IK’NAL OF PALENQUE. FREE copies of the novel are available on Amazon; there is no giveaway scheduledHere's the blurb:

Yohl Ik’nal was one of the most powerful women in the Americas, but few have heard of her.  The first woman to become a Maya ruler in her own right, her visionary powers were destined to guide her people through social turmoil and enemy attack as she preserved her dynastic lineage and left her mark on history.  Facing betrayal and revenge, love for her father steeled her will as he trained her for rulership.  Her life was dedicated to her dynasty and people, and she feared no romantic love would ever be hers, but found a surprising and sustaining relationship.  As a seer, she knew times of turmoil were coming and succession to the throne was far from certain.  Could she prepare her headstrong daughter for rulership or help her weak son become a charismatic leader?  Her actions could lead to ruin or bring her city to greatness. 

Centuries later Francesca, part-Mayan archeologist, helps her team at Palenque excavate the royal burial of a crimson skeleton, possibly the first Mayan queen's tomb ever discovered.  She never anticipated how it would impact her life and unravel a web of ancient bonds.

This is an unusual book, because no other historical fiction enters the world of Classic Maya society at Palenque with such dedication to authenticity.  It is extensively researched and true to archeological facts.  The well-known historical Maya characters are brought to life, their personalities fleshed out and their inner motives, emotions and beliefs made plausible.  The story adheres to recorded events during this time period, while expanding on background forces at play and using vivid scenes to depict these.   In the parallel story, taking place in contemporary times, the fascinating progression of archeological discovery at Palenque unfolds, and a complex web of interconnections between past and present is revealed.  Readers who appreciate accurate and richly detailed portrayals of ancient cultures, set in a compelling story, will feel well rewarded by this novel.

**Author Interview with Leonide Martin**

What inspired you to write HF about the ancient Mayas?

This fascination with ancient Mayan civilization actually descended on me later in life as I was nearing retirement from my university professor position.  While on pilgrimage to India I had a mystical experience with a Hindu master that connected me with the Mayas.  My lifelong quest to reach an understanding of how the universe works had taken me to study Vedanta and Hindu philosophy.   Through an inner vision while in India, I encountered an ancient Mayan priestess who gave me insight into Mayan cosmology and worldview, equally profound as Eastern views.  She became a spirit guide who opened amazing vistas of perception, allowing me to envision scenes far beyond the ordinary physical world.

That launched me into intensive research of Mayan culture, from every possible perspective.  I studied the scientific literature including archeology, anthropology, epigraphy, art history and some linguistics.  I also read books of Maya elders and teachers, and attended conferences to gain the indigenous view, which brought me into shamanism, calendars, mysticism, ritual practices and ceremonies.  Several trips to Maya sites in Belize, Guatemala and Mexico proved beyond a doubt that I had deep connections with the Mayas – and that they had “business” with me.

It felt as if I was given a mandate to write about Mayan culture, and bring their hidden wisdom and esoteric knowledge to Westerners through fiction.  Few people are as dedicated as I am, willing to plow thorough complex and scholarly research.  My goal is to integrate scientific information about the Mayas into compelling stories with engaging characters, including actual historical persons as well as fictional.  It’s a work that I’m passionate about.   

What was most surprising about writing this unusual historical fiction?

As a university professor in the health sciences, I’d published many books and articles.  Writing fiction is a completely different matter!  What surprised me most was how difficult it can be to craft a fast-moving plot, develop believable characters with depth, create dialogue that sounds natural and flows smoothly, and follow a story arc that unfolds in ways that keep readers turning pages.  Then I’ve got to keep story, place, events and characters true to ancient Mayan culture and known archeological sites and time-lines.  I always write with my reference books close around me, checking and re-checking facts.  It’s a never-ending learning process, and new research appears frequently.

The other quite surprising thing is how scenes and dialogue come spontaneously to me, sometimes while driving and often in the middle of the night.  That requires getting up and writing notes, otherwise the great ideas dissipate by morning.  Characters may take the story in a direction I didn’t anticipate, they seem to have a life of their own.  When this happens, I usually let them take me where they’re going, for they know their world best.

Where do you get material for your books?

The ancient Mayas left considerable information on carved monuments, painted or carved glyphs on buildings and pottery, and a few codices written on bark paper that have been preserved.  One of the many tragedies that came from the Spanish conquest was destruction of innumerable Maya codices and artifacts in a huge book-burning event in Yucatan, at Mani in 1562.  Spanish friars believed these were works of the devil, and tried to destroy Mayan culture and impose their Catholic brand of religion.  So I have to do a lot of inference and interpretation based on very limited written records.  But after all, isn’t history actually interpretation?

When I visit Maya sites (ruins of ancient cities) a whole library of stones opens up for me.  You hear the expression “know it in your bones,” which for me becomes “learn it from the stones.”  The crystalline mineral structure of limestone blocks used by the Mayas to construct their magnificent cities actually holds information.  I can sit inside a courtyard, or place my hands on sun-warmed stairs of tall pyramids, and tune into the people and events that took place there.  Many inspirations have come to me while merging my awareness with stone structures half-covered by lush tropical jungle.  Of course, I use scientific research to verify and expand the ideas I get from the stones and artifacts.

Another major source of information comes from my studies with Maya elders, shamans and daykeepers.  I lived in Yucatan, Mexico for 5 years in order to apprentice and study with indigenous teachers who maintain many ancient traditions.  I wanted to understand how they see the world, their philosophy and cosmology and spirituality.  My primary teacher was Hunbatz Men, an Itza Maya daykeeper-elder living in Merida, Yucatan.  After apprenticing with him, I became a Maya Solar Initiate and Fire Woman (managing fire ceremonies and incense burners for rituals).  I also studied with priests and priestesses in Guatemala.  I could not have written about Mayan mysticism without these experiences.

Tell us about your process of writing fiction.

Conceptualizing a book begins with images, ideas, reflections.  Sometimes a particular Maya character captures my fancy.  My series about the Mayan queens was initiated by reading a book in Spanish titled La Reina Roja (The Red Queen).  Her skeleton, totally impregnated with red cinnabar as a preservative, was discovered in 1994 in a sarcophagus hidden deep inside a temple in Palenque, Chiapas, MX.  The richness of the burial with jade, ceramics and other grave goods indicated a woman of very high status.  We believe she was the wife of Janaab Pakal, the most famous Maya ruler whose tomb has been compared to King Tut of Egypt.  That spurred me to learn everything I could about this woman, and the other powerful queens in Pakal’s immediate family.  My current work is about these four great queens of Palenque.

Once a story is conceptualized, I create an outline that guides the story arc and characters.  I also make meticulous time-lines to tie the story to actual historic events.  The process of writing is compelling once I become involved in working on a book.  My entire focus is on what I’m creating at my keyboard.  The outer world drops away, the house can fall down around me and daily life evaporates.  This capacity for intense concentration over long hours, shutting everything else out, sometimes annoys my husband.

How long it takes to write a book varies.  I wrote my first Maya novel in about a year, while working nearly fulltime.  My second has taken longer, partly due to moving to Mexico and multiple involvements there.  I started writing the first queen’s story in 2008, but put it aside while immersing myself in Maya apprenticeship and study.  When I got back to serious writing, the first two books in the series were done in less than a year.  Now I have a very ambitious time line for completing the next two queen’s books: about six months.

What fiction books do you have available now?

Most recently published is The Visionary Mayan Queen: Yohl Ik’nal of Palenque (Kindle ebook, Feb. 2014).  Yohl Ik’nal was one of the most powerful women in the Americans, but few have heard of her.  She was the grandmother of Janaab Pakal.  The Maya woman to rule in her own right, she changed the usual paternal succession.  She ruled for 22 years in the mid-sixth century CE, overcoming political opponents and navigating through treachery and betrayal.  Her visionary abilities enabled her to predict enemy attack and save her city from destruction.  Through court intrigues, spectacular ceremonies, frightful rituals, and regional power struggles, she protected her people, brought prosperity, faced personal crises and found love that sustained her.  But she foresaw times of darkness coming to her city.  Succession to the throne was far from certain, and she vowed to maintain her dynasty.  Could she prepare her headstrong daughter for rulership, or help her weak son become a charismatic leader?  Her choices could lead to ruin or bring her city to greatness.

Centuries later Francesca, part-Mayan archeologist, helps her team at Palenque excavate the royal burial of a crimson skeleton, possibly the first Mayan queen’s tomb ever discovered.  She never anticipated how it would impact her life and unravel a web of ancient bonds.

My earlier HF work is Dreaming the Maya Fifth Sun:  A Novel of Maya Wisdom and the 2012 Shift in Consciousness (Infinity Publishing, 2006, Kindle ebook 2012).  The lives of two women, one modern and one an ancient Maya priestess, weave together as the end of the Mayan calendar approaches in 2012.  ER nurse Jana Sinclair’s recurring dream compels her journey to jungle-shrouded Maya ruins where she discovers links with ancient priestess Yalucha, who was mandated to hide her people’s esoteric wisdom from the Spaniards.  Jana’s reluctant husband is swept into strange experiences and opposes Jana’s quest.  Ten centuries earlier, Yalucha’s life unfolds as a healer at Tikal where she faces heartbreak when her beloved, from an enemy city, is captured.  Later in another incarnation at Uxmal, she again encounters him but circumstances thwart their relationship.  As the calendar counts down, Jana answers the call across centuries to re-enact a mystical ritual to birth the new era, contending with dark shamanic forces and her husband’s ultimatum – and activates forces for healing that reach into the past.     

What is your next project?

Currently I’m working on the second Mayan queen Sak K’uk, who was the daughter of Yohl Ik’nal.  This project was conceptualized in a 4-part ebook series, each to be published 3 months after the prior one.  The queens are all in the same family lineage of Janaab Pakal: his grandmother, mother, wife and daughter-in-law.  Titles and approximate publication dates of the remaining 3 books are:

The Controversial Mayan Queen: Sak K’uk of Palenque (May 2014)
The Mayan Red Queen: Tz’aakb’u Ahau of Palenque (August 2014)
The Prophetic Mayan Queen: K’inuuw Mat of Palenque (November 2014)

Once all four ebooks are published, I plan to put them together in a single paperback volume titled Mists of Palenque: Four Great Queens of Lakam Ha.  If all goes well and my stamina holds out, this book should come out in early 2015.

What do you hope your books accomplish?

There are many nonfiction books about the Mayas, especially in the fields of archeology and anthropology, and a significant corps of metaphysical books mostly dealing with 2012 and the end of the Mayan calendar.  But there is very little authentic historical fiction that re-creates their society and brings their people to life.  I’m especially devoted to describing the lives of ancient Mayan women.  Part of my life contract is to bring their magnificent civilization to more people’s attention through works of fiction, which are more accessible than scientific texts.  This is what I hope my books accomplish.

Learn more about the author Leonide Martin at:

Website:        www.mistsofpalenque.com
Blog:               http://leonidemartinblog.wordpress.com
Twitter:         https://twitter.com/lenniem07
                        Twitter handle @lenniem07
Amazon book:  http://amzn.to/1kG8mGy
Goodreads:   https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/2869611.Leonide_Martin