What You Never Knew About Mexico (And Fiona Ingram’s Latest Book!)

Temple of the crystal timekeeper ingramspark cover (1)I’m just going to put this out there first thing: I love fiction where I get a good story wrapped in history-come-alive or science-up-close or geography-made-interesting or…really, just about anything where I learn a lot and can show off later. (Yep, I’m the person who drops comments at gatherings like, “Well, actually, the Mayans were…”) So obviously, I’m a fan of Fiona Ingram‘s middle grade series’ The Chronicles of the Stone.  These books are just packed with fascinating facts interwoven into fun adventures.

Her latest book is all about the Mayans and Aztecs and Mexico and you know what? I think I’ll let Fiona take it from here:

Before I embarked on my children’s books series The Chronicles of the Stone, I had a list of favorite topics, historical subjects I enjoyed reading about or wanted to learn more about. Once I started the adventure series, this was the perfect opportunity to both indulge my list of favorites and create exciting adventures. I knew that somehow, some way my heroes would be swept into the ancient world of the Maya and the Aztecs. I learned so much about Mexico and its history that I hope you’ll read The Temple of the Crystal Timekeeper and learn as much as I did about this amazing country and its history. In the meantime, here are 10 interesting facts you possibly did not know about Mexico, whose official name is the United Mexican States.

  1. The Olmec people, Mexico’s first complex society, emerged in the southeastern part of the country around 1200 BC. They were later followed by the Maya, the Toltec, and the Aztec peoples. Mexico’s ancient societies built great cities and huge pyramids, created remarkable works of art, and even studied the stars and planets to determine when to plant crops and hold ceremonies.
  2. The Maya civilization began around 2000 BC and was noted for its hieroglyphic script—the only known fully developed writing system of the pre-Columbian Americas—as well as for its art, architecture, mathematics, calendar, and astronomical system.
  3. FionaIngram.jpg (1)Despite the colonial invasion by the Spanish, the Maya people did not disappear. The largest group of modern Maya is found in the Yucatán region of Mexico. They speak both “Yucatec Maya” and Spanish and are generally integrated into Mexican culture. The Maya have continued to hold on to their unique way of life.
  4. The Aztec civilization was also highly developed socially, intellectually, and artistically and lasted from 1300 until 1521. Invaders led by the Spanish conquistador Hernán Cortés overthrew the Aztecs by force and captured their capital, Tenochtitlan, in 1521, ending Mesoamerica’s last great native civilization.
  5. The world’s oldest team sport originated in Mexico! This ancient sport, the Mesoamerican ball game, has been around for over 3,500 years and could possibly claim the title of the world’s oldest and first team sport.
  6. Who invented chocolate? The history of chocolate begins in Mesoamerica. Fermented beverages made from chocolate date back to 1900 BC. The Aztecs believed that cacao seeds were the gift of Quetzalcoatl, the god of wisdom, and the seeds once had so much value that they were used as a form of currency.
  7. Size wise, Mexico is the 11th most populated country in the world with around 127 million people. Mexico is the 14th largest country by land area. There are 31 states in Mexico as well as the capital city (Mexico City).
  8. The northern part of Mexico is a desert. Like southern Arizona, this part of Mexico has saguaro cactus, scorpions and rattlesnakes. Water is scarce here. Southern Mexico is a tropical rainforest. Most people live in the middle of the country.
  9. The Mexican flag has 3 vertical stripes on it―green, red, and white. The green stands for hope, the white for purity, and the red for the blood of the Mexican people.
  10. Mexico is known for its flora and fauna and is one of the seventeen mega-diverse countries in the world. It is also considered to be second in the world of ecosystems. Mexico houses about thirty-four unaltered ecosystems and a number of parks and monuments. It also has seventeen sanctuaries and twenty-six areas for protected flora and fauna.

Yep, I learned all that and lots more reading Fiona’s book. Come back on September 4th when I review The Temple of the Crystal Timekeeper. And just maybe, you’ll find out what knowledgeable Mayan gems I’ve been showing off at gatherings!

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College Confessions

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Present Day confession: I take books to the beach and never get around to reading ’em.

Here’s true confession number one: I was that college student that other college students despised. The one who ruined the curve for everybody else.

Yeah, I’d look around with the rest of the Bio class, grumbling under my breath about that jerk of a student who didn’t miss a single question on the mid-term, knowing that I was that jerk. One has to keep that sort of thing on the down low but here’s confession number two: I had a natural aptitude for memorization. Which unfortunately didn’t help me much when it came to the business classes I had to take.

Sadly, I didn’t know that my super power wouldn’t be much use. I waltzed into a 300 level business course of about 30 guys, thinking no worries. I had mad memory skills, plus I knew a couple of these guys (translation: had dated ’em or were dating ’em) and honestly, I wondered if they’d ever figure out how to run a washing machine much less pass a business class.

So we had to write up these cases. Well, writing was my jam! And we had to apply some kind of business principles to each case. A sort of What Would You Do in the business world. I listened to the lectures, I read the book, I wrote a scathingly brilliant paper.

So you can imagine my surprise when I saw a C on that paper. And across the aisle, on Jake’s (recall that I “knew” this guy) paper, was an A. And worse, Jake had maybe four sentences on his paper. Thus began my mission to show that professor what was what (or more specifically that I was an “A” student, thank you very much). Except (true confession number three) that try as I might, I could not get any better than a B+ on any case. While Jake sat over there, raking in the As with his pithy paragraphs of a case he wrote on the way to class.

Jake, the business major, just understood business, he said.

Maybe he did. Maybe Jake’s running a conglomerate now. Probably just buys new shirts when he needs something clean.

All this to say that I have rather negative feelings about business or anything business-related. But when I saw Stephen R. Covey’s book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, I thought business be damned (because I could just tell this was some sort of business book without even opening it. It just had that smell about it) because the subtitle read: Powerful Lessons in Personal Change.

Okay, then. I started reading it. And if you want to know how it inspired my latest WOW! post at the Muffin, take a look at “On Writing: From Dependence to Interdependence.” I’d give it at least a B+.

Picture-Book-A-Palooza

I’ve got some very busy writer friends! They’ve been writing and getting published and having book signings and I’ve been…hmmmm.

I wish I had something scathingly brilliant or outrageously adventurous here as a reason for not writing as much as I’d like to write, and not getting myself published (and therefore, not having book signings). But I think we all know what happens to me in the summer. And oh! I am planning Juniorette’s wedding that’s coming up next month, so there’s a good excuse.

Okay, I’m not really planning the wedding; Juniorette’s done most of the work. But I’ve had to think about wedding stuff  a lot and I think that counts for something. Anyway, the point today is picture books and all my friends who have books on the shelves in bookstores and libraries (or books you can order):

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Lisa Lowe Stauffer’s Two By Two is a board book adventure about a couple of mischievous monkeys on Noah’s Ark. And oh my goodness, I love the wordplay in this book and I know your little mischievous ones will, too! Lisa’s been busy with book signings, and she’ll be in my neck of the woods in October for a workshop!

 

 

indexTina M. Cho is celebrating a book birthday with her picture book, Rice From Heaven. I could say more about this book (and Tina) but she says it so much better here, at Tina’s Tidbits. Please go give it a read and then give her book a read, too! I can’t wait to get back to my hometown library and get this one. (Yep, Tina, your book is in the Gwinnett County Library system!) It really is a small world, after all!

 

And then there’s Heather L. Montgomery, whose two books are coming out in October, I think. But they’re available now: Bugs Don’t Hug AND Something Rotten, A Fresh Look At Roadkill. And every time I read these titles, I’m conflicted. I feel a little like “Come on, Heather! Ick!” but I also feel a little like “Oooh! I can’t wait to read about stinky roadkill and bugs!”

Yep, Heather knows how to make anything compelling! And I’m not the only one who thinks so–Heather is super busy right now on school visits and book expos and I don’t know what all. (But you can find out when you visit her website. You might even be able to get her for your school because seriously, Heather Montgomery can rock a school visit!)

Didn’t I tell you I had some busy friends? And I have some more friends who have been busy writing novels so stay tuned! Meanwhile, I’ve got a porch swing and salty breeze waiting for me to get busy with a wee bit of a nap because I’ve worked kinda hard on this blog post. Plus, I thought up something that Juniorette needs to do, wedding-wise. (She’ll thank me later, I’m sure.)

 

 

 

 

 

I Saw A School Bus in my Neighborhood Today

back-bus-education-159658It’s August 1st, y’all.

AUGUST FIRST.

I don’t even have kids in school anymore and still, I’m seriously annoyed at this rush back-to-school. And yes, I know, the kids got out on May 22nd in my neighborhood so it’s really the same amount of time for summer break as they’ve always had. But when I see a school bus on my street on AUGUST FIRST, it just doesn’t feel right. I mean, when did we all decide to give August the summer vacation shaft? It just sticks in my craw.

And speaking of things that stick in my craw, I have a post over at the Muffin today on Stick-in-My-Craw Character Flaws.

I’ve come up with three annoying character missteps, if you will, but I’m sure there are plenty more which I neglected to mention. These flaws are just the ones that cause various extreme reactions from me. Like screaming out loud at the publisher (Come on, Harper Collins, how did you ever spend money on this book?) or throwing the book (That’s the final straw *tosses book across the room* I refuse to read another word— *remembers that it’s a library book and goes to find tossed book*).

Or maybe I pound my head into the desk because I’ve found in my very own manuscript one of the character flaws I despise (and just listed in a post over at The Muffin). So I’m getting to work on revisions for August, just as soon as A. my head stops hurting and B. Libs quits barking at buses in my neighborhood.

 

 

 

 

Books, Glorious (and Not So Glorious) Books

pexels-photo-264635Chances are pretty good that if you’re a writer, you’re also a reader. Books are glorious! But chances are also good that you’ve read a not-so-glorious book, one that left you scratching your head. As in “how did an agent, then an editor, THEN a whole acquisitions team at a major publishing house think this was good enough to publish?”

Yeah, you know what I’m talking about. I just finished a middle grade novel like this, and yes, I did finish it. I kept reading even though the protagonist was whiny and unlikable. I kept reading even though the plot was something I’d seen a hundred times before. I kept reading even though the other characters were mostly undeveloped and/or stereotypical. I kept reading to the whiny, predictable end.

There was a time when I would let a book like this get the better of me. I’d stew and sulk and possibly–I’m not saying I did this, I’m just saying maybe–throw the book across the room. But not any more. Now, I read those books from start to finish. Because I want to know the why. What did an agent, an editor, and a whole acquisitions team see that I’m not seeing? Why did a book get published?

And while I’m pondering, why are kids reading this book? Because this particular book had a ton of reviews–great reviews! (Except for one which funnily, listed just about everything that had annoyed me.)

Publishing is a subjective business in some ways, but more importantly, it’s a money-making business. So if a publisher sees dollar signs, it’s a book they’ll acquire, in spite of cardboard characters, tired plots, or a boring protagonist. My mission, when I’m reading so-so books, is to see why it sold.

And here’s what I’ve found again and again: concept trumps everything. There are some subjects ( plots) that middle schoolers are always going to read. And there are emotional concepts that are highly relatable to the middle schooler. If I can find that relatable concept in a tried-and-true yet fresh plot, I’m halfway to the shelf.

You can be, too, in whatever you write. But first, you gotta read a lot of books.

(P.S. You might want to check out the Great American Read for more glorious but also head-scratching books. I mean, Fifty Shades of Grey? Seriously? On the other hand, look how much money that book has made…so yeah. I rest my case. Feel free to share your strong opinions.)