Can you sell books on Facebook? Can I?

I received a lot of excellent advice about marketing my books a year ago (thank you Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America) but much of it boiled down to this. Concentrate on Amazon and Facebook ads and stop trying to do everything everywhere else.

I liked the simplicity of it. I bought the recommended books on how to use ads on each platform, rolled up my sleeves and got started.

Amazon has been a rocky journey so far, but I am selling books and making progress. Part of my problem is Amazon changed the types of ads available to authors about the time I dove in, so Amazon’s tools for picking my target audience were greatly diminished.

In contrast, Facebook offers the promise of being able to select potential ad readers with a LASER like precision. Oh boy.

For my first novel, I sought out mature women who liked science fiction and fantasy, were interested in telepathy and (I’d been told this was very important) liked or owned a kindle. Wahoo. This group was going to LOVE my spec fiction e-novel about Lola, a forty-something telepath. I mean, how many of those are out there?

It took no time at all for me to have 4823 such women view my ad 10,527 times and click on my link 275 times. It took no time at all for me to spend  $48.98 to make this happen and to sell, you guessed it, not a single book.

Maybe it was a fluke. My second novel is about a young gay male who can alter his appearance. I sought out gay men who liked fantasy novels and had kindles. Before I knew it, 3,472 of them clicked my ad 201 times and bought zero books. I spent $36.64. I was starting to see a pattern.

My working theory was that when people saw my ads on their kindle, or while they were shopping for books on Amazon, they at least were thinking about books. Or buying things. In either case it wasn’t such a large leap to consider buying my book. On the other hand, people scurrying around on Facebook aren’t shopping or thinking about reading. It’s much more of mental detour to make a purchase.

I thought my third novel, though, was different. Twists of Time deals specifically with the damage white nationalism can do, not only to the minorities it targets, but also to the community as a whole. Furthermore, the book has a lot to say about the Dream Act. It addresses why such legislation is needed (though the life of a fictional character), and it provides a lot of historical context most readers are likely to be unaware of.

Perfect for Facebook, right?

I designed my first ad to include a reference to white nationalism. Then I sought out science fiction and fantasy fans who liked time travel stories, had a kindle, and — here was the good part — had expressed an interest in the Dream Act. This was going to be so easy.

Within minutes I had a horrified teacher somewhere forwarding my ad onto her friends claiming I was promoting white nationalism is schools. What?

I changed my ad to make it non-political, and tried again with the same audience.

Within minutes I had some troller claiming he could make time pass more slowly anytime he talked to a democrat.

Alright. Enough of this shit.

To be honest, I did make a few more tweaks and try a few more things, on this book as well as  the first two and the fourth one. My options seems to be (1) pay for a lot of clicks with no results or (2) getting the sort of attention I truly don’t want. Here’s the final tallies.

No, I’m not proud of spending $186.14 for advertising that didn’t produce a single sale, but I guess it does show I don’t give up easily.

If anyone out there is selling books on Facebook, I’d love to hear about it.

Maybe once I get better at designing ads for Amazon, I’ll come back to Facebook and give it another try. Then again, maybe not.

 

Warm-up Exercise: Your Life in One Page

I don’t write poetry often, and there’s a good reason. It’s not my gift. But I’m tackling my 165,000 word sixth novel with the goal of slimming it down to a less prosy 125,000. I really want to do this. I decided a warm up exercise was in order.

I’ll never know quite how I got the idea of writing a one page poem that managed to encapsulate my life story, but it’s where I landed. Two hours later, I had this. Turns out it takes a LONG time to say things in a few words.

I’m not considering switching careers and becoming a poet, but I am pleased with the result, for me. Plus, my big project is down to 147,000 already and its getting easier all the time.

Happy When

I’ll be so happy when I get out of my parents house and can do whatever I want. I’ll stay out late. Not have to tell anyone where I am.

I’ll be happy once I’m out of college. These papers and tests are killing me. A few more months. I’ll have a job and money to do whatever I want. Then I’ll be happy.

I’ll be happy once I meet someone. You know. The one. He’ll hold me and love me. We’ll have fun together. How can you be happy alone?

I’ll be happy once this project at work is done. Once I get a raise. Once my boss leaves town. I’ll be happy if I just get a window office. How can you be happy without sunshine?

I’ll be happy once the baby comes. I want my body back. I’ll be happy once he talks. Is out of diapers. How can anyone be happy changing twelve diapers a day.

I’ll be happy if this second pregnancy goes well. If this third one does. Once my husband gets that vasectomy. Once he buys me flowers again.

I’ll be happy when these kids are done with sports. Every Saturday. I just want to sleep in. Read a book. I love them but, do other mom’s find time to enjoy themselves? How?

I’ll be happy once the house is built. Our dream home. Everything has cost so much.  I’ll be happy once we get back on track financially. Once it’s spring. Once it’s summer. Once we go on vacation. Once we get home.

I’ll be happy if dad recovers. If mom lives through this. If my son gets into that college. If my daughter gets that job. If the package I ordered comes in time. If it doesn’t rain. If it does.

I sit on my porch and remember my career. Think of my children; busy lives far away. My husband, inside watching TV. Too much of it these days, but he’s here. Still loves me.

What now, I ask? What will make me happy? If one of the kids calls? If the garden grows? If he gets up off the couch and kisses me? If the sun shines?

A little voice inside speaks. Silly girl. You are happy. You have been all along.

 

Review: The Ancient Tripod of Peace

Why am I reviewing a young adult mystery here? Well, it’s about an ancient artifact and modern-day code breakers. How could I not want to read this??

This is my second recent review here and I hope to do more. See the end of this post for details about my review policy.

 

My Review Summary: This is a fun read that will keep you turning pages and have you googling Shakespeare and ancient Greek history. As a YA novel, I give it a solid 4.0/5. My full review appears later in this post.

About this book: Teens Lexi and Gil face relic-thieving secret societies. Plagued by loneliness in her Lake Erie Islands community, vegan Lexi hopes to make like-minded friends in high school. But her dad’s job is jeopardized when relics are stolen from his museum, changing her priorities. And she finds her new teachers’ eerie dislike of her troubling.

His dad in jail, cipher enthusiast and bacon-loving Gil hopes freshman year will provide a clean slate. Soon, he discovers secret codes within a Shakespearean play while paired with Lexi, pulling him into an ancient mystery.

 

With the official museum burglary investigation stalled, the mismatched teen sleuths join forces to try and crack the case. Lexi’s inquiries and Gil’s codes capture their teachers’ attention. But these teachers have the stolen Tripod of Peace, a powerful relic sought by rival secret societies. Caught in these societies’ crossfire as thieves wield an instrument of astounding power, Gil and Lexi are in danger.

 

About the author: Kalen Cap is a writer living in Ohio and regularly commutes back and forth between Columbus and Port Clinton residences. Set among the Lake Erie Islands, “The Ancient Tripod of Peace” is his second novel, first of the Teen Thief-Catcher series. His first novel, “Tangled Ties to a Manatee,” was published in 2012.

Learn more about this author at his website, on Amazon, and on his Facebook page TeenThiefCatchers.

Giveaway:  Kalen Cap be awarding a $40 Amazon or Barnes & Noble Gift Certificate to a randomly drawn winner via rafflecopter during the tour. Learn more and register to win.

My full review: (See my summary at the start of this post.)

More than anything, this books seems like Dan Brown (The DaVinci Code, Angels and Demons) for young adults. It’s full of ancient secrets hidden in plain sight and the reader is left wondering how much is true and how much has been made up to serve the plot. It’s a fun kind of confusion, and it kept me eagerly reading until the end.

What I liked best:

  1. The book is filled with complicated characters, both teen-age and adult. It centers on teenagers who are realistically drawn, as they deal with their own issues and those created by the adults in their lives.
  2. The author presents a lot of mystical and new age ideas, and yet structures the plot in way to leave the reader free to believe in as little or as much of them as the reader chooses. It’s a tough balancing act, but by the end it works.
  3. The overall plot is interesting and the dangers feel real. It’s not a story which tries to trick the reader with gotcha-type surprises, but rather one that builds in complexity and then reaches a satisfying resolution.

What I liked least:

  1. I felt the chapter titles gave away too much of what was about to happen.
  2. The decoded message and other parts of the mystery occasionally become too complex to follow.
  3. There were enough characters, referred to by first and last names, that I had to start a list so I could remember who was who.
  4. A few issues were resolved too easily or things came together a little too well, even for a novel in this genre.

In spite of these minor issues, I enjoyed this book and would recommend it to those of all ages who like tales of hidden codes, ancient relics and resurfaced mysteries from the past.

Purchase this book at Amazon

The excerpt I liked best:

Lexi hadn’t met any vegan guys her age, only girls. “Want to join me and Anita later?”

“Sure. I’ll try it out,” Trevor agreed.

“We only have a day to find our code for this topic,” Gil said. “Let’s focus on the project. I don’t want to start out locked in with something weak.”

The three read the project description again. Lexi felt clueless. She asked the others how to begin.

Gil said the topic related well to his social science fair project the year before on secret codes in writing.

Lexi rolled her eyes. From the way Gil told it, the project was designed for him. Full of yourself maybe?

Trevor said he spent part of a summer in Greece the year before when his father ran workshops there. There, he’d learned about ancient Greek history. Lexi didn’t mind as much when Trevor made it sound like his experiences aligned with the project. Unlike Gil’s, Trevor’s voice soothed her.

Trevor and Gil both stared at her expectantly. She blushed, first believing they were checking her out. But she soon realized they wanted to hear her special connection to the project topic.

“My grandmother usually teaches history here, too. She gave the opening talk at assembly. Oh, and my granddad’s an actor. He used to be a professional and acted in lots of Shakespeare. They can give me pointers,” Lexi said. My grandparents? That’s my “in” on the project? I’m such a loser. She was determined to not be the weakest link in the group.

This review is part of a book review tour sponsored by Goddess Fish Promotions.

Read more reviews at:

May 14: Notes From a Romantic’s Heart
May 14: Andi’s Young Adult Books
May 21: Lauren is Reading
May 28: Kimmi Love
May 28: Just Books
June 4: Bookaholic

If you drop by each of these and comment, you will greatly increase your chances of winning the $40 gift certificate.

If you are interested in a review from me:

I am interested reading science fiction of all sorts, particularly anything involving the nature of time. My protagonist in z2 is a history-loving, time-warping high school physics teacher, so I am predisposed to stories that feature physics or have an historical element as well.

I am not interested in reviewing pure romance novels, stories which promote any particular religion, children’s books, or horror of any type. Please do not ask me to review erotica, BDSM or books about vampires or zombies.

If you would like to be considered for a review contact me at Alex (dot) Zeitman (at) gmail (dot) com.

Final Note:  I received a free pdf of this book, which would never be enough to entice me to write a better review for anyone.

Remember My Name

Do you want to be famous? Why?

The idea of strangers knowing who I am and caring about what I do holds no appeal for me, but of course individual tastes do vary. If you crave your ten minutes of fame, or ten years of it, I wish you well.

There is one thing I do want from you, though, although I suppose it makes no more sense than fame. I want you, or a few people in general, to remember my name. Wait, my name isn’t important. Just remember what I said. Remember something I wrote.

I’m tearing apart the reasons I’ve spent years writing novels, as a way to find a path forward for me, the books I’ve written and my future writing. So far I’ve acknowledged that I write for the sheer joy of it and for the massive amount of things I’ve learned. I write for therapy and play money. I write for praise.

Today, I face the fact that one of the reasons I write is to leave something behind.

“Oh, so you want to be immortal?” you ask. No. I’ve studied too much astrophysics to think anything in this universe will last forever, and enough history to know that few humans leave a noticeable footprint more than a few generations into the future.

The key word to me is noticeable.

Somewhere in my heart, I think if you leave something of value behind, it will affect others who will do the same and so on. Yes, I’m enough of a realist to expect the effect to diminish with time, and to recognize our life expectancy as a species probably isn’t all that long, anyway.

So? It’s not an influence that lasts forever I’m after. However, the idea of leaving a little of me here for awhile is something I’m driven to do. Like I said, individual tastes do vary.

“Why don’t you just have children?” you may ask. Excellent question. I did that and they’re wonderful. If all goes well, I will leave them behind. Whether any of them will go on to produce children of their own remains to be seen, but I don’t think my desire to leave something of myself on this planet should be a driving factor in our relationship. They’ve got their own paths to follow, and that may or may not include passing my fine genetic material along.

Years ago I read a book of short stories called Callahan’s Crosstime Saloon by Spider Robinson. Each tale takes place in an eccentric bar, and involves a mildly sci-fi premise. To the best of my recollection only one character who wanders in is female, which is maybe why her story stuck with me. She’d lived for centuries, long enough to see every one of her descendants perish until finally she had none. The knowing made her sad. Like I said, the story stuck with me.

“Well, you could get out there and do some good works and leave your mark on this world that way,” you could suggest, and a fine suggestion it would be. I think we should all do that, and I’m trying to do my part. But, it’s not the same thing.

We are each driven by what we are. I want to write something that outlives me. Maybe I’ve done it already and maybe it is yet to happen. Either way I’ll probably never know. Based on Callahan’s Crosstime Saloon, I see how not knowing can be a better thing.

Whatever the situation is, though, it sounds like I better keep writing.

But first, I’m going to take a minute and enjoy this great video.

 

(Read more about why I write at The Number One Reason I Write Books, My Eye-opening Second Reason for WritingI write because it’s cheaper than therapy, Nothing cool about modest ambitions and I love to be loved.)

 

My Eye-opening Second Reason for Writing

Over the past few years I’ve learned what it would take to climb a mountain in the Himalayas. I’ve studied supply lists for crossing the Pacific as a single sailor. I’ve wrapped my arms around high-frequency trading, come to understand the damage caused by oil exploration in the Niger Delta, and learned the history of U.S. immigration laws. It has been one hell of an adult education program.

My degree, if you will, is the six novels I’ve authored. I’ve discovered that the information living in my brain because of them is one of the seven reasons I write books.

Couldn’t you go research all these things and more, and not bother with the writing part, you might ask? It would be a fine question. Of course I could, but I probably wouldn’t. I’m curious about so many things, but my ability to get myself to sit down and learn about them instead of goofing off is pretty limited. Unless I’m doing it for one of my books. Then I will spend hours on it.

I’ve recently returned to participating in writers’ group, and that has started this reflecting on why I write. At a recent meeting, one writer was trying to describe the subject matter of Philip Roth’s books. “Anything he got a wild hair up his ass about,” she said.  I had to laugh, not only because it was apt, but because she had described one of the chief joys of writing.

You get to pick something you care about, anything that interests you, and then go learn enough to begin to weave a story. You don’t know where your imagination or your research will take you, but between the two of them you can bet it will be somewhere fascinating.

I haven’t only learned from research. The very act of producing books has forced me to to become more acquainted with software, graphics, and photo licensing. I’ve had to brush up my grammar. Do you know when to use “a while” and when to use “awhile”?  I do, now.

Writing has also forced me to stay more current with idioms and kept me more politically correct. No one says “on the QT” anymore, but “on the DL” is still used. Really? It is better to call a mentally challenged child cognitively impaired? Okay. Glad I know.

My ad hoc education program hasn’t been restricted to me, either. Others have been kind enough to seek out information for me in their own fields, leaving friends and relatives familiar with Mayan numbers and civil war battles. (Yes, my husband really did attend a re-enactment to help me with a book.)

Much of my education has come from the intriguing people I’ve been exposed to because of my writing. There is a lady in Denmark who shared her vacation photos from Iceland with me, to make d4 more realistic. Four wonderful women from India helped me with information and cultural sensitivity as I wrote c3. One went a step further, working with me to create a Sanskrit word needed for the story. I had taken a stab at it, using internet translation, and she laughed at my result. She took the problem to her father, a scholar who speaks Sanskrit, and “Jvalalaya, the Abode of Light” was born.

As I work to overcome the inertia and start a new series of books, the thrill of learning draws me forward. I have a giant “to read” pile already, much of it on artificial intelligence, which will play a large role in the world I am building. Anticipation of creating this world has me headed off in two very different directions this summer, attending two fabulous yet odd events I would have passed on without the added impetus of “this will really help me with the next novel.”

Yes, sometimes writing gets me up out of my chair to take in the world.

Of course, this still doesn’t explain what drives me to keep on with all the other time-consuming pieces of putting together a book. For that, I’m going to need to take a hard look at the other five reasons I spend most of my free time creating novels.

(Read more about why I write at The Number One Reason I Write Books, Nothing cool about modest ambitions  and I write because it’s cheaper than therapy.)

Review: Duke du Jour

This is my first review here in a while. I hope to do more of this, so see the end of this post for details about my review policy. Why review this book here? It’s a time travel romance, and on this blog I love all things related to the nature of time.

Review Summary: This is a rich and complicated book, fun on so many levels. It is packed with historical intrigue, a surprising amount of humor, and a romance that manages not to be predictable thanks to the time travel factor. I give it a 4.2/5. Details are below.

About this book: This is a reverse Kate and Leopold story, a light-hearted time travel romance where a bewildered modern-day duke ends up in Regency England and meets the girl of his dreams. Jared Langley, present-day Duke of Reston, tumbles into an abandoned fountain on his ducal estate and travels back in time to the year 1816. There, Reston servants and local villagers think him a dead ringer for his namesake and rakehell ancestor–the seventh Duke of Reston, gone missing at the Battle of Waterloo. Unfortunately, Seven got mixed up with French spies out to assassinate the Duke of Wellington, and an unwary Jared ends up in their crosshairs.

Lady Ariana Hart has loved Jared Langley, the seventh Duke of Reston, since she was twelve years old, until the night the rogue broke her heart. Given up for dead, her rakish neighbor makes a miraculous return from Waterloo–only Jared shows up a changed man and reignites all the feelings Ariana had long ago buried.

Jared is in a race against time. He must waylay the suspicions of his quirky servants and neighbors, get to Wellington before the French spies do, fix his fountain–before Seven shows up–so Jared has a way home, and definitely not fall in love with the irresistible Lady Ariana.

About the author: Petie McCarty spent a large part of her career working at Walt Disney World — “The Most Magical Place on Earth” — where she enjoyed working in the land of fairy tales by day and creating her own romantic fairy tales by night, including her new series, The Cinderella Romances. She eventually said good-bye to her “day” job to write her stories full-time. These days Petie spends her time writing sequels to her regency time-travel series, Lords in Time, and her cozy-mystery-with-elements-of-romantic-suspense series, the Mystery Angel Romances. Petie shares her home on the Cumberland Plateau in Tennessee with her horticulturist husband, a spoiled-rotten English Springer spaniel addicted to pimento-stuffed green olives, and a noisy Nanday conure named Sassy who made a cameo appearance in Angel to the Rescue.  Visit Petie’s web site online at http://www.petiemccarty.com or her Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/petie.mccarty.

Giveaway:  Petie McCarty will be awarding an ebook copy of Betting on Cinderella by Petie McCarty (US and International) to three randomly drawn winners via rafflecopter during the tour. Learn more and register to win.

My full review: There was so much I liked about this book.

What I liked best:

  1. It’s filled with details that bring 1816 alive, from doctors with leeches to crowded inns for travelers. The author doesn’t write a love story that happens to take place in 1816, she takes you there. While I didn’t check her facts about the war between France and England, given the amount of information woven into this story, I’m willing to bet it was well researched.
  2. The book is full of corny little jokes, from the ongoing surely/Shirley shtick to the aptly named Mr. Dickman. I like a book that can laugh at itself, and get you to laugh too.
  3. It has a plot worthy of a Russian novel. Seriously, there is war, betrayal, long lost relatives, both loyal and scheming servants, and, of course, a dog. Did I mention gunfights, kidnapping, and romance? Yes, it has those too.  There is even a little brooding now and then. This is complex novel, and the plot will keep you reading.
  4. It has something of a social conscience. The main character develops into a better person, and you can’t help but cheer for this guy as he develops a sense of responsibility, and learns to appreciate friendship, all while lusting after his leading lady.

What I liked least:

  1. While the historical piece of this is strong, and the narrative is well done, the time travel part is weak.  The magic fountain that facilitates the time travel is not explained at all, by either magic or science. The author handles the inevitable “can I go back and change history?” question in her own way, but by the end of the book it doesn’t appear she has given the logical or philosophical quandaries involved in her solution a lot of thought. No spoilers here, I’ll just say that as a science fiction reader, I wasn’t satisfied.
  2. The main romantic interest is gorgeous, of course, and also smart and spirited. You can’t help but like her. None-the-less,  she and the other young women in the novel are cheated a little, I think. Unlike the Duke, our virginal leading Lady Ari doesn’t get the chance to grow into a better person, only to learn to forgive and trust our hero. That is pretty much her entire story arc, making the book about him, not her. The other women in the story (except for the old cook and the aunt) are lusty and sexually experienced, presented in this novel as an unattractive thing. They are also evil and conniving. Guess I would have liked to have seen a little female friendship, too, and at least a nod to healthy female sexuality.

In spite of those flaws, I enjoyed this book a lot and would recommend it to lovers of history or romance novels. If you happen to like both, I think you won’t be able to put this book down.

Purchase this book at Amazon

The excerpt I liked best:

Jared quietly closed the door and snicked the feeble lock into place.
“That wouldn’t keep a child out,” he muttered.
“Are you worried Dexter can get past the lock?” Ari asked, her cheeks flushing bright pink.
“Now, you are going to accuse me of ungentlemanly behavior, too?”
Even the dim candlelight could not hide the guilt in her eyes. “I am sorry. I shouldn’t have said that.”
“You’re right. I have given you no reason to think—”
She raised skeptical brows.
“Well, except for those few kisses.” He cleared his throat. “You liked them, too. You cannot deny it.”
Her lips twitched as she fought back the smile that angered him for some reason, and he felt like an errant schoolboy and probably looked like one with his brows indignantly bunched.
“No, I cannot deny it.”
Instead of feeling smug at being right, her words sent his blood racing to places off-limits—at least for now.
“But that doesn’t mean—”
He held up a hand. “Please, no more swipes at my character. I’ve had all I can take this evening.”
She snapped her lips together, then grinned.
“Best take your boots off to be comfortable.” She opened her mouth to object again, and he added, “Since you are unlikely to remove anything else with the two of us locked in here.”
The opportunity to tease him in his misery must have overwhelmed her. “Well, actually I could, but I won’t.”
He groaned. “Do not leave me with that particular movie running in my head and my two-hour first watch to face.”
“Movie? What do you mean? What is a—”
“Did I say movie? I meant movement,” he said before she could finish. He scrubbed a palm over his face. His head had begun to ache.
“Are you all right?”
“Fine,” he bit out. “Just leave—”
“Leave you alone? Fine.” She went over and sat on the bed.
“What I was going to say was just leave your boots by the bed. Close by in case we need to leave in a hurry.”
“That is a lie, but it was sweet of you to be concerned about my feelings. The old Jared wouldn’t have given a baker’s tart about them. Or any other kind.” She giggled at her own humor.
“What’s so funny?”
“Oh nothing. Just that we seem to have made a mull of things, I suppose.”
“I do not see anything funny about it,” he grumbled.
“You wouldn’t, but I cannot get these boots off without help. They belong to Aidan, our stable boy, and the fit is a bit too tight.”
“Yes, of course.”
Jared came over and knelt next to the bed, then took her booted foot in his hand. He swore he could feel the warmth of her leg right through the leather, but that was impossible. Tell that to the blood raging through his veins and heading south, like the River Kennet at flood stage.

This review is part of a book review tour sponsored by Goddess Fish Promotions.

Read more reviews at:

Emily Carrington
Long and Short Reviews
Two Ends of the Pen
Am Kinda Busy Reading
A Chick Who Reads
Harlie’s Books
Let me tell you a story
Kit ‘N Kabookle

If you are interested in a review from me:

One of my resolutions is to review more books here. I am interested reading science fiction of all sorts, and am particularly interested in anything involving the nature of time. My protagonist in z2 is a history-loving, time-warping high school physics teacher, so I am predisposed to stories that feature physics or have an historical element as well.

I am not interested in reviewing non-fiction, pure romance novels, stories which promote any particular religion, children’s books, or horror of any type. Please do not ask me to review BDSM erotica or books about vampires or zombies.

If you would like to be considered for a review contact me at Alex (dot) Zeitman (at) gmail (dot) com.

Individual Author Links:
http://www.petiemccarty.com
https://www.facebook.com/petie.mccarty
https://twitter.com/authorpetie
https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/6094579.Petie_McCarty
http://www.amazon.com/author/petiemccarty
https://www.linkedin.com/in/stephanie-mccarty-30851412

Final Note:  I received a free pdf of this book, which would never be enough to entice me to write a better review for anyone.

History at its most exciting

Sometimes you have to go to one place to learn something fascinating about another.

When I was in school, I didn’t enjoy history. It took me years to figure out that some stories of the past are intriguing, even if those tales never seemed to be covered in my history classes. Ancient civilizations, distant lands and forgotten peoples all amazed me with surprises, while everything in school seemed no more than a predictable, boring parade of Western Civilization’s wars, conquests and discoveries.

Later, I would learn that my own culture is also filled with such tales, as marginalized peoples and quiet heroes of all types faced small human dramas that seldom made my history books but, in my opinion, should have. Decades after my last history final, I came to understand that history is these thousands of fascinating stories woven together in the way that got us to where we are now.

IMG_5531My love of poorly understood tales from the past would lead to a fascination with the many advanced cultures in my hemisphere that were demolished by Europeans in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. That lead to a burning desire to visit Machu Picchu, and a few weeks ago I finally got to do so. The whole trip was amazing, and I’ll be posting more about it soon. But this isn’t about that.

While I was in Peru, I got asked what I knew about the massive Maya discovery being made in the Petén region of Guatemala. What??

“Oh yes,” I was told. “It is so big and amazing that soon people will want to visit it instead of Machu Picchu.”

Really? How could I have missed that.

Well, it turns out it never made much of a splash in the U.S. press. Then, I was traveling without my laptop, and trying to use no data on my phone, so my usual sources of news were gone. Instead, I was glancing at newspapers in Spanish as I walked, scanning frantically for pictures of Trump and/or nuclear clouds, in hope of seeing neither. I hadn’t looked for much else.

Once I got back, the story about the great discovery in Guatemala was easy to confirm.

“Using a revolutionary technology known as LiDAR (short for “Light Detection And Ranging”), scholars digitally removed the tree canopy from aerial images of the now-unpopulated landscape, revealing the ruins of a sprawling pre-Columbian civilization that was far more complex and interconnected than most Maya specialists had supposed,” National Geographic  informed me.

The famous Maya site of Tikal is just a fraction of an immense hidden metropolis Credit: Wild Blue Media/Channel 4

“A vast network of lost Maya cities discovered deep in the jungles of northern Guatemala could rewrite the history of the ancient civilisation, experts say. Researchers found more than 60,000 previously unknown structures including pyramids, royal tombs, palaces, roadways and defensive fortifications hidden deep beneath the dense rainforest canopy. Pioneering lidar (Light Detection and Ranging) laser scanning technology was used to map 800 square miles from the air, revealing a “treasure map” of the Maya ruins,”  The Telegraph informed me all the way from the UK.

Most enticing of all  was this report from the London Times.

“The ancient Maya had no metal tools, no wheels, no cattle and no pack animals. They lived in a swamp-ridden and storm-battered region of central America where the landscape seemed resistant to the presence of humans.

Yet, boy, could they build. An aerial survey using lasers to penetrate the vegetation of the Guatemalan jungle has revealed more than 60,000 structures, including pyramids, canals, fortifications and causeways stretching from city to city.

Historians say that the finds point to a society of city states like the world of classical Greece, but with a population of between 8 and 13 million people living in a rainforest the size of Italy.”

Wow.

Back in 2012, I did a deep dive into the Petén region of Guatemala as it was in the late 1600’s, as I created an imaginary Maya woman to design the clever puzzle that my modern day treasure hunters would discover and attempt to understand. As Nimah took shape in my mind, she developed her own clear voice, and soon her two sons did as well. I spent a happy year in their company.

This is how the resulting book, z2, begins:

When the time came, she knew it, just like her father promised her she would. She saw the signs as her rulers became friendly with the strangers, and she listened with fear as they became ever less cautious. Nimah watched with her own horrified eyes as the singers and priests of the others were finally allowed to walk brazenly into her city and she cried as her neighbors welcomed the invaders.

Of course, the strangers’ warmth disappeared quickly when they did not get their way. When Nimah’s king would not convert to the new religion like they had so clearly expected, the strangers responded to the fine hospitality of the Itza by sending soldiers to convert them by force. The Itza fought back valiantly.

“The day on which you must act will not be long after that,” her father had cautioned. So in the months since that attack, Nimah had been actively preparing herself and her two sons for today. At twenty-six, Nimah thought of herself as responsible and mature, one who took her obligations seriously. She had learned well her people’s history and religion, and because her people kept fine records, there was much to know.

She knew that she was part of the Kan Ek, the ancient race whose rulers were descended from the Gods. She knew that once, more generations ago than there were days in a moon cycle, her people had been far more organized. The lands were bigger then, with many more families, and there had been many cities and giant gatherings where customs were shared. There had been much more wealth and, some had said, much more greatness. But Nimah thought not. She had also learned that lives had been more stringently controlled back then and that there had sometimes been cruel penalties for those who failed or wandered astray.

Many people of that time appeared to have believed that the greatness of the Maya would go on forever. Nimah knew, she had studied their texts. But, over hundreds of years, the carefully recorded famines and droughts and wars had brought an endless string of hard times to the seemingly invincible people. Nimah had studied how, over time, her people had been forced to huddle closer together for strength and how the resulting battles for food and water had shrunk her world. Finally, her own people’s realm encompassed only the area around Tayasal itself, the beautiful town built on the remains of the great old city of Noh Peten.

Now her people, those of the majestic Lake Peten Itza, were free to develop their own rules and more flexible ways. Nimah personally thought that they had evolved, that they were now an older race, one filled with more enlightenment and compassion. So Nimah was glad that she had been born when she was, not at the time when her kings ruled over the most amount of land, but at the time when her people themselves had never been better.

Nimah, of course, is fiction, but she left traces of herself in my brain and heart, as most of my characters do. I’m happy to discover that her world was larger, richer and more complicated than I knew, and I look forward to hearing of the many true tales to be discovered near her home. To me, this is history at its most exciting.

It is more than a little ironic that I had to go all the way to Peru to learn about it.

(For more on my trip to Peru see What you don’t know …. has the power to amaze you and woman traveling alone.)