The Big Idea: Brenda Cooper
With a title like Mayan December, you would rightfully guess that something about Brenda Cooper’s new novel involves the fabled Mayan calendar and touches on the hoopla which surrounds its termination at the end of 2012. But Cooper’s book isn’t about that — rather, it uses it as a device to explore something else entirely, something that existed long before December 2012, and will (believe it) exist long after. What is it? Cooper’s here with the details.
You’d think the end of the Mayan calendar in December, 2012, would be a big idea all by itself. Well, it is. It’s so big it has acted like a strange attractor. There are countless books about it already and more scheduled to come out. It may be the most storied specific future date. Most often, it’s portrayed as either apocalypse or new age wonder. But I wanted to use Mayan December to explore something else. In our everyday world, we have forgotten how to sense awe in the unknown that surrounds us, even today. Mayan December gave me the chance to rediscover that sense.
My life is both greater and less than I imagined when I was a child. I’ve realized dreams, but they’ve taken time and effort and focus. That takes work—a day job preceded and followed by writing and marketing, with important hours for family sandwiched in. I’ve lost the time I used to have to be entranced by the magic of life: to stare at Queen Anne’s Lace and be amazed at the tiny flowers that create the larger one, to watch sunset clouds through the whole change from day to night, to sit in one place in the forest until the animals forget I’m there.
I suspect I’m not the only one. I wrote this book partly for those of us who have forgotten how to let everything but the moment go.
In Mayan December, I’ve given Alice Cameron a tight hard focus and a strong belief in her avocation as a scientist. Alice has no room in her life for magic, and no reason to believe in it. She’s so busy she can hardly enjoy an afternoon on the beach. But her eleven-year-old daughter, Nixie, isn’t yet so constrained by life that she has given up her sense of the numinous. And in December 2012, Nixie comes face to face with things that Alice has almost no hope of understanding.
This set-up let me play with both what it feels like to be a child confronted with the wonder of the universe, and the typical American adult inability to even see it.
I usually write science fiction, so it was a stretch for me to try and capture the feeling of magic. Writing the book reminded me to stop and appreciate a star, a feather, a friendship. To remember when I felt a bit more connected to nature and synchronicity. This was not—at all—easy. It’s as if I’ve grown old and calcified and separated from the little girl that might have been like Nixie.
This is the first book I’ve written that is mostly a fantasy, but it’s grounded in history. I worked hard for it; I did more research for Mayan December than I have for any of my science fiction books or stories. The Maya culture is still not fully understood; there is mystery there. I read more, talked to more people. I’ve been to the Yucatan twice, which inspired the book. I had to know enough to imagine a hard, stunning past, to describe beauty in a culture where human sacrifice is part of life. And of course, being me, there is a touch of science fiction.
I truly hope Mayan December gives readers a taste of magic, a bit of old Maya, and some hope for our future as well.