TALL tales may do for kids especially when garnished with history so that history becomes more animating, more alive.

American novelist Chris Eboch, regional adviser of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) in New Mexico, has just done another concoction of fact and fiction in her book, The Well of Sacrifice (Clarion Books, 1999). The book is a historical novel set in ninth-century Guatemala during the height of the Mayan civilization. It is intended for fourth grade pupils (10-12-year-olds) in their study of Mayan history.

“In children’s writing, you have to explain things more since children have lesser comprehension of history,” Eboch said in an interview with the Varsitarian. Eboch has also written historical books for adult junior high students, such as Modern Nations of the World: Turkey, Modern Nations of the World: Yemen, and Life Among the Maya.

The writer visited the Philippines last July 10 to 19 to deliver a lecture, “Putting the Story in History,” for SCBWI’s Philippine chapter, at Orchid Garden Suites in Malate, Manila.

Historical fiction, according to Eboch, is fiction set in a real-time period, with real or imagined characters. American historical fictionists Avi, Karen Cushman, and Dorothy Hoobler are Eboch’s major writing influences.

The Well of Sacrifice is an adventure story based on the historical accounts of the last years of the Mayan civilization in what today is Guatemala. The main character, the Mayan girl Eveningstar Macaw, attempts to protect his brother from the evil clutches of Great Skull Zero, a Mayan high priest. Because of her boldness, she is condemned to be thrown into a well of sacrifice as an offering to the gods. The novel recounts the adventures of Eveningstar as she tries to protect her family and the whole city from Great Skull Zero.

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Eboch’s historical fiction provides American young adults a less tedious way to study Mayan history, minus the confusing dates and names. However, she noted that historical fiction is not an alternative to studying accurate history.

“Historical fiction should not be an excuse to limit historical lectures within a fictional framework,” she said. Historical fiction can be abused and can confuse reality with myths, as in the undiscerning claims of Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code.

Take flights of fancy and research

Writing historical stories should always entail tremendous research, Eboch stressed. In her website www.chriseboch.com, Eboch gives a list of methods of historical research, such as traveling to a historic place to get a first-hand impression of it. She got ideas for her novel by traveling to Belize, Guatemala, Costa Rica, and the ruins of Chichen Itza in Mexico, the most important archaeological site of Mayan culture.

“While visiting the Yucatán in Mexico, I saw a well of sacrifice and imagined how it would be like if a girl got thrown in and survived,” Eboch told the Varsitarian.

Historical research also includes reading history and travel books, visiting museums, and interviewing experts.

But one should not be prejudiced in writing. “Every group in history had bad sides,” Eboch said. “Try to find balance by looking at both the good and the bad in all sides.”

In her novel, Eboch did not only depict rich images of Mayan culture, but also represented its negative side by creating Great Skull Zero, a Mayan high priest who orders the sacrifice of many men, including Eveningstar and her brother, to sustain his power. During the time of the Mayans, high priests acted as rulers who built great temples to show off their power and influence.

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However, research in historical fiction must not stop an author from using his imagination. “In some cases, we just don’t know the truth. Then the author can use the most widely accepted theory, or choose the theory that best suits his story’s needs,” Eboch said.

Exotic appeal

Eboch also discussed with the Varsitarian the status of Philippine historical novels, such as Enrique el Negro, Batang Historyador Series, and Cinco de Noviembre. She noted that American books differ from Filipino books in terms of narration. “American books use a lot more dialogue than their Filipino counterparts,” she said. This difference, according to Eboch, makes it difficult for Filipino books to break into the American literary scene.

But Filipino books are marketable in the American or international market based on their subject matter.

“Some stories are based on a specific incident in Philippine history that wouldn’t be of much interest to outsiders. But others have a more universal theme that could work as either a book or a magazine story,” she said.

Since there are no known Filipino historical fiction published in America, Eboch pointed that editors in the US are interested in manuscripts with a different setting other than homeland. “A strong book with cross-cultural appeal might do well in the United States,” she said.

Impeccable research and legwork, exotic topics, and a fertile imagination to dress bare facts, these are the elements to a nail-biting novelty reading for both kids and adults.


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