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.


Mayan December: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Indiebound|Powell’s

Read chapters 1, 2 and 3. Visit the author’s blog. Follow her on Twitter.

7 Comments on “The Big Idea: Brenda Cooper”

  1. That is one gorgeous-looking cover. Your description of the book sounds interesting, so I requested it through my local library. :)

  2. I’m excited for a new novel from you! I really enjoyed Building Harlequin’s Moon. If I may step slightly offtopic, I have an anecdote about Harlequin: I lent my copy to a friend, who took it as enjoyment reading to a conference. On orbital mechanics. I’m not sure he ever finished it, but he never did return it :) Suffice to say you did a good job with the physics!

  3. I’ve put this one on my wishlist–it sounds fascinating, and I’ve enjoyed Brenda’s short fiction.

    I’d like to point out that Brenda’s fascination with the Mayans has led to other wonderful stories as well. For her take on the Mayan mythos with a steampunk bent, look for her story “Speaker for the Mayans” in the recently released In an Iron Cage: The Magic of Steampunk, available in trade paperback and as an ebook from all major online vendors.

  4. Linguistic quibble: “Mayan” is an adjective relating to a language of the indigenous peoples of southeastern Mexico. The adjectival form for non-linguistic uses is “Maya.”

    Just saying, unless that moon is speaking Mayan, which I suppose is possible.

  5. A few responses —

    Pennyfish – hope you like the book!
    David, thanks for the nice words on Building Harlequin’s Moon. There were two of us involved in that, and I suspect Larry is partly to blame for any good physics. :)
    Elektra – thanks for commenting on “Speaker for the Mayans”
    Flanders – you are correct in a classical sense. David Freidel is a Maya scholar who told me the same thing (after the book was copyedited). That said, “Mayan” is in more common use and allows for it. Had I caught it earlier, I might have used Maya.

  6. I was already going to get this book because the author wrote one of my favorite stories from last year, “My Father’s Singularity”, and co-wrote one of my favorite sf novels of the past decade, Building Harlequin’s Moon. (Which I see mentioned above as well, cheers! My dad “borrowed” my copy…) As a father myself these themes of parenting and hope for the future are very interesting and I look forward to this new novel even more.

%d bloggers like this: