Wednesday, April 4, 2012

YA Review and Interview: Curse of The Jade Amulet by Annie Crawford

About The Book: Can the mysterious jade amulet transport Nic Porter through time to the era of the classic Mayas? This is just one of the questions the twenty-year-old Mayan history major wants to answer in The Curse of the Jade Amulet. And why does the amulet only come alive when Nic, and no one else, touches it? Most importantly, why does his host family at Chichen Itzá, the ancient Mayan ceremonial site where Nic is living and studying, have one of these amulets—when all the others have been found at the bottom of the Sacred Well of Sacrifice along with the remains of the sacrificial victims they were intended for?

For Nic these are more than just intriguing questions. For at least a thousand years, the women of his host family have suffered from an unexplained wasting condition which gradually undermines their health and strength, resulting in early death—and now beautiful Itzel, daughter of his host José and Nic’s true love—is showing symptoms as well. José thinks the fact that they have one of the amulets can only mean one thing, that centuries ago an ancestor intended for sacrifice somehow escaped her fate, angering the vindictive Mayan gods and causing them to place a curse for all time on the female line of the family. Nic doesn’t know what to think, but it’s becoming obvious that the amulet itself wants to use him to fulfill its long-dormant destiny. . .

Thus begins an adventure that takes Nic from present-day Yucatán, Mexico to the era of the ancient Mayas and back on a magical quest to discover the secret of the jade amulet and save the life of the girl he loves.

First Line: The young girl’s eyes were squeezed shut and her slight figure trembled as she knelt on the ledge overhanging the Sacred Cenote, the stone well of sacrifice whose opaque waters had filled her dreams since the High Priest had spoken to her father.

One Fascinating Passage:  “Though I’ve got a long way to go before I can call myself a Mayan scholar, I do happen to know something about how children were brought up. You’ve all seen pictures of ancient Mayas and how their heads were unnaturally elongated at the top?” People nodded. “That was because four or five days after the children were born, their heads were placed between two pieces of wood, one in front and one in back, which were then tied tightly together..." 
     “How cruel!” interjected a middle-aged female tourist.
     “That was their custom, ma’am. I’m sure they loved their children just as much as people do today.” (Nic during one of Itzel's tours. Chapter 7) You can download the chapter here.

What Others Are Saying: "This is a good book that young readers will especially enjoy. It's well-written, culturally resonant, and best of all, there's a good story that keeps you turning the pages! Very well-written, with memorable characters and situations." -Dr. Kurtz

"On this eve of the Mayan prophesy of 2012, this book is extremely timely for anyone with an interest in fictionalization of this amazing culture. It is a well-written and an easy and engaging read for young adult or cross-over audiences." -Reader At Heart

What I Thought: By now you should know that I'm very interested in books that focus on cultural diversity. It's not so unique. We all read to either escape, validate or understand our world. This is a passionate story of love across cultures and time. I especially appreciated the depth with which Crawford seeped her characters in the cultural characteristics of Mexico. She's adept at creating images and settings that are three dimensional and dripping with detail. After reading I found it hard to bring myself back to the everyday because I felt like I had actually traveled to this exotic setting. Crawford has an exceptional ability to bring understanding and respect to her treatment of the cultural rituals and beliefs of a people long since extinct. Bravo!

About The Author: Annie Crawford
Website: Magic And The Muse
Twitter: @annemcrawford

1) Why do you write for children?
I write for children because I loved to read myself so much when I was a child. Each new book was like a new world for me, with new friends to have adventures with and exciting new places to explore. Books like The Borrowers, Charlotte's Web, Stuart Little, and The Chronicles of Narnia were magical to me. So when I write for children now I get to relive that wonderful feeling, and it makes me happy to think of other children--and adults as well--opening my books with that same feeling of anticipation I used to have.

2) Tell us a little bit about yourself and how you became a writer.
Since reading was my favorite thing to do as a child, from as far back as I can remember, I wanted to do something that had to do with books. My grandmother, whom I idolized, was an editor at a famous publishing house (Harcourt Brace) in New York City. When I was a little girl I wanted my adult life to be just like hers. So I always thought I would be an editor, a writer or a librarian (I thought that way I could sit at a desk and read all day and get paid for it!) 

3) What was the inspiration for The Curse of the Jade Amulet?
I lived in Mexico for twenty years, so I had visited Chichen Itzá many times. My first novel, The Ring of Leilani (soon to be published) is set in Yucatán as well. My initial inspiration for the book didn’t come from there, though. In the city where I lived in Mexico there is a huge pyramid, with all sorts of tunnels running through it. I was driving by it one day and thought, “What if I wrote a book about a secret room inside a pyramid, with some sort of magic talisman in it that could send someone back in time?” I knew I would be including something about human sacrifice in the book, but the Aztecs, whom I had originally decided to write about, sacrificed their victims by tearing their hearts out, and I didn’t want something that bloody in a book for kids. So I decided to move the book’s locale to Yucatán, since the Mayan sacrifices were less gruesome.

4) Tell us about your process.
When I write my first draft, I begin with a rough outline. Then, as I write each chapter, I attempt to outline that as well. I don’t necessarily stick to the outlines, though—they’re just there for me to lean on, so I have a general idea of the direction I’m going in. I love the early morning best for writing, because my mind’s freshest then and I find I’m at my most creative. I try to write steadily without correcting or second-guessing myself for several hours. Sort of priming the pump. It usually takes a couple of hours to get into the flow. Then, beginning with the second draft, I will cut, rearrange, add scenes or delete them, try to beef up my characterization, make the different plot lines consistent, etc. 

5) What does a typical writing day look like?
I’m not sure there is such a thing as a “typical writing day” for me. I’m not very disciplined, for one thing, and there always seem to be things that get in the way (such as my day job—I’m a freelance interpreter, so I never know when I’m going to get called to work). My ideal writing day, however, is one where I get up early and begin to write as soon as I can after breakfast. I write until lunchtime, fortifying myself with several cups of black tea with cream (yum!). In the afternoon, I will continue writing if I feel inspired, but if not I’ll work on my blog or devote a couple of hours to marketing. And of course there are always errands to run, laundry to fold and dinners to make! I try to leave all those activities until after I’ve finished writing for the day, though.

6) Where is your favorite place to write?
On the sofa in my living room, where I can stare out the window at the beautiful big red maple across the street from my house.

  7) What made you decide to self-publish? 
For one thing, I’ve been told my characters are too old for a young adult book. A couple of agents even said they didn’t consider it a young adult book at all—it’s more of an adult adventure story (a la Raiders of the Lost Ark).  It’s also not dystopian—or utopian, for that matter. The fact that it’s set in Mexico, and all the characters except the protagonist are Mexican, I think is another factor that makes it “different” from most of the young adult books coming out these days—and “different” is not necessarily good in the eyes of most agents. However, I have great faith in my book, and I know people will like it no matter what genre it’s classified as. I see the world of publishing as an hourglass laid on its side. On one side are the writers, and on the other side is the vast public of potential readers. The tiny part in the middle has until the advent of self-publishing, been controlled by the gatekeepers, agents and traditional publishers. I think that until self-publishing came along, there were many, many deserving books that never got the chance to be read because they couldn’t get through that narrow gateway for one reason or another. Now, with the advent of self-publishing, the gateway has been expanded. 

8) What did or do you find most challenging in creating the story and/or getting it published? What do you wish you would have known?
One of the most challenging parts of writing The Curse of the Jade Amulet was the amount of research I had to do about daily life among the classic Mayas. I have an M.A. in Latin American Studies, so I wasn’t unfamiliar with that historical period when I began the book, but I quickly discovered I needed to research it in much greater detail. Though my book is fiction, I wanted the historical parts of it to be factually accurate. Researching, and then weaving what I had learned into the story, was so daunting that at one point I gave up on the book and began a new one. I didn’t come back to it until a year later!  
As far as publishing it goes, once I had decided to self-publish, it was fairly easy to do. The formatting is a bit laborious, but overall, it’s not difficult. The marketing is what’s daunting!

9) What is the best writing advice you have ever received? 
I’ve heard and read so much excellent advice, especially since I began reading writing blogs, that it’s impossible to narrow it down to just one piece of advice. I guess what I find most helpful, when I get discouraged, is to remind myself never to give up, never to lose faith in my own vocation as a writer, and to enjoy the journey. This doesn’t really address your question, but another thing that I find very encouraging is to look back on my own writing career and realize how much I’ve learned, and how much better a writer I’ve become through practicing my craft

10) Are you working on a new project? Can you tell us about it?
Yes, I have several projects I’m working on at the moment. Number one on the list is a new book set in the Pacific Northwest. I’d say this one (no title yet) will be a crossover novel, meaning that it will appeal to adults and young readers alike. It’s about some children who discover a parallel world. I’ve finished the first draft, which is a great place to be! I’ve also got a half-written sequel to The Ring of Leilani, my first novel, which I’ll be publishing in a few weeks, that I need to finish up. The last project I’m looking forward to finishing is an adult novel, a sort of courtroom drama. I’m about a third of the way into that one.  Oh, I’m also planning to translate my first two novels into Spanish (my day job is working as an interpreter/translator, so that project’s not as far-fetched as it sounds!). I figure that since they’re both set in Mexico, they might be popular among Mexican audiences.

11) What advice would you give others that write for children?
I think there’s so much pressure these days on people who write children’s literature to restrict themselves to certain topics and certain styles of writing. My advice would be, be true to yourself. Don’t be discouraged if what you are drawn to write doesn’t fit into one of the genres that are politically correct at the moment, and don’t try to change your writing just to fit into one of those genres! Remember that there are readers out there who will be fascinated and enthralled by what you write, and now that we writers have the option of self-publishing, we have access to those niche audiences for the first time. 

Thanks so much Annie for taking the time to stop by. We appreciate it. Remember that if you want to read a sample of The Curse of the Jade Amulet head over to Annie's blog, The Magic and The Muse.

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