Monday, July 26, 2010

Research for a Children's Book Part One

In my last blog entry, I mentioned that my main passions in life came together to create the ideas behind my latest manuscript, a 40,000 word novel for 10 to 14 year-olds. When I look at the manuscript now, it's obvious to me why I didn't write this story earlier. I needed the passions of the last ten years to combine with an earlier passion from my adolescence.

At this stage, I'm limiting my blog entries to the one passion that was reignited after, well, many years. As I write more about the ideas behind my manuscript, we'll delve into my other passions and the research behind them, too.

The Elusive Spark of an Idea, Followed by Research

Last September, my partner wanted to watch a documentary. I wasn't keen but I'm not one to deny my partner's wishes. So we sat down and watched the documentary. I had no clue, from the title, that I would be reintroduced to the Maya from the Classic Period.

After watching the documentary, I felt my interest in the Maya rekindled. I knew there was an idea lurking somewhere in the deep recesses of my mind but I couldn't, at that point, reach it. One thing was for sure, I wanted to learn about the Maya. This ancient civilization once again fascinated me, as it had done when I was an adolescent.

Naturally I had to research the reignited passion. I had forgotten anything I'd learned in my adolescence and I had no story, no plot, just the inkling of an idea. Before I started writing, I spent a month or so reading about the Maya. I'm still reading about them today.

The Maya of the Classic Period (250 to 900 AD) lived in Mesoamerica (Central America). They built fabulous cities, complete with pyramids, temples, palaces, administrative buildings and apartments. These cities were abandoned around 900 AD for reasons we can only guess at today and were swallowed up by jungle. The cities literally disappeared under lush vegetation, to be rediscovered mainly in the 1800s.

Fernando Tomás from Zaragoza, Spain

Building impressive urban developments, complete with towering pyramids, might not be a challenge today. But the Maya didn't have the tools and machinery of our modern world. Apparently, the Maya didn't have access to metal and therefore had no metal tools. They only used the wheel on children's toys. The wheel wasn't much help in the uneven jungle or mountainous terrain of Central America. Nor did the Maya have large animals, like the horse, to aid in their building work or agriculture.

The Maya economic system was based on trade and agriculture. They were the first civilization to understand that you can't grow crops on the same piece of land indefinitely, without ruining the land. They allowed the jungle to reclaim their farming land so the soil could be replenished by nature and used again for agriculture at a later date.

Of the early civilizations in the area, the Maya made the greatest use of writing and developed a complicated script of hieroglyphs with some phonetic elements that, after four hundred years, isn't completely understood. The Maya are also often attributed as the first civilization to use zero in a numbering system.

The aspect of the Classic Maya that most impresses me is their knowledge of astronomy and mathematics. They calculated the lunar cycle and were able to predict eclipses, sunspot activity and other heavenly events with great precision. They also tracked the orbit of planets, such as Venus. In fact, they recorded the orbit of Venus for eight years. Today, we've been able to validate the accuracy of the Maya. But we have modern scientific equipment!

Along with this amazing grasp of astronomy and mathematics, the Maya formulated a unique calendar system that is more exact than the one we use today.

The Maya had a religious system that is steeped in mythology and based largely on the cosmos. The Maya lived in harmony with the land and the cosmos. They knew that if they took from the land, they had to give back. They revered life and considered all life to be sacred. Hence, they said a prayer prior to killing any animal for food. They revered the cosmos for giving them crops and many festivals were created to give back or honor this source of life-giving sustenance.

The Maya understood that everything in the universe is made up of energy. The same energy is in all of us - people, animals, plants, the environment, planets and even our dead ancestors. We are all connected through this source energy. We are all one!

The Maya believed in the balance of opposites - life and death, day and night. You can't have one without the other. To the Maya, death wasn't the end, it wasn't to be feared. We simply transform and move to another world. The Maya often used the symbol of the skull. But the skull didn't mean death as it often does today. The skull was the epitome of life. You can't have life without the skull.

As you can see, my research paid dividends. My passion for the Maya is also obvious. No wonder the Maya found its way into my latest manuscript. However, most of the above research is for me. My readers don't get to read the majority of the details outlined above, at least not in a fiction manuscript. Research is often for the writer - not the readers. This information fuels my passion and enables me to write from the heart. My readers may not have the same passion. In fact, I doubt very much that they do. Therefore my goal as a writer is to create a great character-driven story and only include background research when necessary to the plot. A story shouldn't be slowed down by research material.

Part two will be coming soon. Until then, take care and enjoy life.

Remember we are all one, connected through the source energy that makes up everything in the cosmos.

Warm regards,
Robyn Opie


Tad said...

Mayans were able to predict eclipses, but sunspot activity? Really? Can you provide a reference?

Robyn Opie said...

Hi Tad,
Incredible, isn't it! The reference is "Super Gods" by Maurice M Cotterell. See Appendix two, section three - Micro Cycles of Sunspot Activity. Apparently the Maya identified an 11.49 year wave form cycle comprised within 187 year sunspot cycles. Gosh, I feel inadequate!
All the best,

Anonymous said...

I would like to exchange links with your site
Is this possible?

Robyn Opie said...

I'm happy to consider an exchange of links. Thanks for your interest.