Thursday, April 16, 2015

Chris Eboch on Learning from the Maya

The author at Coba
After college, I spent a summer traveling through Mexico and Central America. I loved visiting the Mayan sites and learning about their history. The experience inspired my first novel, The Well of Sacrifice, a Middle Grade adventure/drama set in ninth-century Mayan times.

Some people ask why the Maya "disappeared." They didn't; they're still an active culture throughout Mesoamerica. But they did abandon the large cities they built centuries ago, going back to living in small villages and on farms.

Many people think the Maya civilization collapsed because they damaged the environment. Too many people lived in the cities, and the farmers couldn’t grow enough food. The soil got worse because it never had a chance to rest between planting. They used wood for building, cooking, and burning limestone to make plaster to coat their temples. Much of the jungles were cut down, so people could no longer find fruit and animals. And so they abandoned many of their great cities, long before the Spanish invaded.

One thing that intrigues me about history is how some of the lessons of the past resonate today. In The Well of Sacrifice, I explored some of the reasons the Mayan civilization collapsed. But I also showed how one person could have caused change.

Eveningstar and the other characters are totally fictional, but many other things in the book are real. I never studied the Maya in school. I have college degrees in Photography and Professional Writing and Publishing. But once you know how to research, you can write about anything.

I studied history and archeology books to learn about the daily life of the Maya – what they ate and wore, their gods, their buildings, and the land around them. I was also living in New York City when I wrote the book, and I visited the amazing American Museum of Natural History to view their Mayan artifacts.

Previous posts on this blog have discussed the value of historical fiction. I'll admit, my main motive for reading and writing historical fiction is because I enjoy it. But we also can and should learn from the past. Historical fiction is a fun way to do that.

Visit my website for downloadable lesson plans to use with the Well of Sacrifice, plus lists of some historical fiction I enjoy and links to historical fiction databases.

Few books for young people have been written about the Maya, but here are some novels that cover Latin American culture from different eras. If you know of others, please add them to the comments.

Latin America Middle Grade Historical Fiction

  • The Well of Sacrifice, by Chris Eboch – ninth-century Mayan drama
  • Heart of a Jaguar, by Marc Talbert – Mayan (includes graphic violent scenes)
  • King's Fifth, by Scott O'Dell – 1541, New Spain (Mexico)
  • The Captive, by Scott O'Dell – Spanish expedition to the New World, with two sequels, The Feathered Serpent and The Amethyst Ring – early Central American civilizations.
  • The Incas : A Novel, The Luck of Huemac: A Novel About the Aztecs, and Tikal, by Daniel Peters – massive epics based on the pre-Colombian civilizations of Central and South America.
  • Pedro's Journal: A voyage with Christopher Columbus Aug. 3, 1492 – Feb.14, 1493, by P. Conrad
  • My Name Is Not Angelica, by Scott O'Dell – 1733 Virgin Islands slavery
  • El Guero: A True Adventure Story, by Elizabeth Borton de Trevino –nineteen-century Mexico
  • Secret of the Andes, by Ann Nolan Clark – an Incan boy in the mountains of Peru, early twentieth century
  • Grab Hands and Run, by Frances Temple – Flight from El Salvador in 1980s

Chris Eboch writes fiction and nonfiction for all ages, with several novels for ages nine and up. The Eyes of Pharaoh is an action-packed mystery set in ancient Egypt. The Genie’s Gift is an Arabian Nights-inspired fantasy adventure. In The Well of Sacrifice, a Mayan girl in ninth-century Guatemala rebels against the High Priest who sacrifices anyone challenging his power. Learn more at or her Amazon page, or sign up for her newsletter.

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