Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Ask the Author: Anna Lee Waldo

This month, ZOVA has the honor of releasing the historical epic Watch the Face of the Sky, by Anna Lee Waldo. Best known for her bestselling novel Sacajawea, Ms. Waldo has been studying and writing on obscure but deeply influential historical figures for decades. In her upcoming novel, she explores the little known legendary Welsh prince Madoc, who supposedly reached the shores of America with his crew of Welsh sailors three hundred years before Columbus. 

In the next few days, we will be posting some comments from Anna Lee herself, answering a few of our own questions about her writing and this remarkable novel in particular.

What inspired you to write a series about the legendary Madoc?

When I was little, my father told me stories that always had history somewhere in them. Until I was in high school, I thought Paul Bunyan was a real lumberjack; and about the same time I realized my father's Madoc stories had no real endings, except that he sailed away in Viking-built ships. I was fairly certain that Sacajawea was real, because I'd heard Blackfoot and Crow grandmothers tell stories about her. I believed their stories must be real because these grandmothers were my friends and they knew about Captain Lewis and Captain Clark. In school, I studied about the captains' expedition in American and Montana history. None of my teachers knew about Madoc and said he was a figment of my father's imagination. My father was well-known for being a history lover, and if asked would tell a story about most any well-known historical figure.

After finishing my book titled Sacajawea, I began to look into Welsh history to find more about Madoc, the son of Owain Gwynedd. There was not much written about him. Maybe he made two or three trips to an 'unproved land.' Maybe he found his way back to Wales and somehow gained more ships and brought Welsh women and children to the men he'd left in the unproved land. Hardly any librarian or historian I talked with had ever heard of him, coming to this country in the 12th century, 300 years before Columbus. So, I believed it was up to me to find out about this unknown, daring, courageous man and let other people know about him as well.

What kind of research did you have to do to write this novel?

I used local libraries for books and museums with artifacts to look at and touch to tell me what an early Viking one-sail ship was like. I found out what Welsh wattle and daub houses and their furnishings were like. I learned about the Celts and people who followed an old druidic religion and believed in the brotherhood of man. According to druidism, each person, no matter the gender, had special qualities and was more adept at certain lines of work than others. They also believed that every person had opportunities for good deeds. I learned about Welsh twelfth century gardens for flowers and for food, what animals were hunted for food and clothing, the gear that was used for both, and the games people played. Then I began to lean about Welsh and English history in the 12th century. I wrote letters to noted historians, geographers, and astronomers with questions.

I learned a little more about the man called Madoc when my husband, Bill, and I went to Wales. School children there knew about the Welsh hero, Madoc. I learned that people around Mobile Bay, Alabama, also knew about him. Bill and I went there to talk with those people. Then, because one man suggested that Madoc's ships were blown off-course by a terrible storm and ended up with the Incas, I began to check out the possibility of Madoc's ships landing on the Western side of South America, in Peru, where the Incas, or maybe the Mayans, were. Peru seemed almost impossible. Later, I found from a Navy man, a meteorologist and an oceanographer, that in a storm, the ships would have been much more likely to have landed on the northern top of the Yucatan Peninsula, where the Mayans really were. From there, directly across the gulf, is Mobile Bay and the mouth of the Mississippi River, the 'Big Muddy.' Bill and I went to Yucatan and found out about the Mayans. I began to read about archeological digs around Chichen Itza and how these early people lived, kept records, and followed the movement of Sun, Moon, and Stars, such as Venus. I visited Teotihuacan, once a city of ten thousand people, and read all I could about their ancient way of life, in order to use some of it in my story about Madoc.

The inclusion of the Mayan calendar and the foreshadowing of 2012 is very timely. What compelled you to include it in the story?

By the 12th century, the Mayan priests had books and books with facts about the movement of stars. They knew that the stars seen in a summer sky are different than those seen in an autumn, winter, or spring sky, and that Venus is both a morning star and an evening star. They knew that the earth moved around as a cone on a tilted axis. Its movements are similar to the movement of a spinning top, rotating very rapidly about its axis while the axis itself revolves slowly about the vertical. This slow change in direction of the axis of a spinning object, whether it is the earth or a gyroscope, is called the precession of the axis. The precession of the earth's axis is produced by the gravity of the sun and moon, which tug at the equatorial bulge of the earth. Under the influence of these forces, the axis of rotation revolves in a cone, completing a circle once every 26,000 years.

At present, the axis is pointed toward the North Star; 5000 years ago, it pointed in the direction of the star we call Thuban, in the Constellation Draco, and 12,000 years from now, it will point in the direction of Vega, which will be the replacement for the North Star. Ancient Mayan Sky Watchers knew this and predicted that in 2012 AD, the earth will have completed its fifth precession - and the sun, moon, and earth will be in perfect alignment with the dark place in the Milky Way. It will not be in this same alignment for another 26,000 years.

I found it so interesting that the ancient Mayan Sky Watchers knew about a precession - although I doubt they named the action - and ended their calendars on December 21, 2012, that I had to make a story about it. I felt the same way about the Mayan crystal skull.

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