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By Andy Straka

NY Times bestselling-author Ann Maxwell (writing here as Elizabeth Lowell) has published 70 novels with over thirty million copies in print. Since July of 1992, she has had more than thirty novels on the NEW YORK TIMES list, as well as other national and international best seller lists. Her most recent romantic suspense as Elizabeth Lowell is BEAUTIFUL SACRIFICE.

What makes BEAUTIFUL SACRIFICE so special?

According to Maya legend, December 21, 2012, will mark the end of the world as we know it. Is it myth . . . or will their prediction become reality?

Archaeologist Lina Taylor has devoted her life to studying ancient Mayan artifacts, splitting her time between digs in the Yucatan and the classroom teaching college students. But the professor’s structured, studious life is about to spin out of control. Some extremely valuable and important Mayan artifacts have gone missing. Is it fanatics determined to create chaos and usher in annihilation?

Helping out a friend, former Immigration and Customs Enforcement officer Hunter Johnson is determined to recover the missing pieces and he needs Lina’s help. A man used to calling the shots and working alone, he isn’t comfortable letting anyone get close, especially a beautiful and brainy woman like Lina. His gift for reading people tells him there’s a lot going on below that professional exterior, and he’s more than a little curious to probe her depths. Burying herself in her work, Lina’s had little experience handling men, especially one as fascinating and exasperating as the secretive, headstrong Hunter. A devoted archaeologist, she has the skill to excavate those protective layers all the way to his core.

But finding the missing pieces is only the beginning of a mystery that will plunge these unlikely partners into adventure, romance, and danger more thrilling, sensual, and deadly than either of them knows . . .

The author sat down with THE BIG THRILL to delve deeper into the story behind BEAUTIFUL SACRIFICE.

BEAUTIFUL SACRIFICE revolves around Mayan history and Lina Taylor is a fascinating character. What sparked the creation of the novel?

Like all writers, I was born with the kind of mind that keeps asking “what if?” All of my books begin that way. If the answer is interesting enough to me as a writer, then the seed of a novel is born. As I’ve always been fascinated by New World archaeology, I’ve had it in the back of my mind as a possible setting for a long time. When I kept stumbling over Maya 2012 articles, I thought, “Now is the time.”

Setting in mind, I searched for characters. I wanted a lead character who embodied the tensions of the Spanish/Maya past and present with the personality of a 21st Century woman. I also wanted an archaeologist, because that job combines appreciation/understanding of the past with the demands of the modern world. With these basics in mind, I began imagining what kind of childhood experiences would lead to a modern female archaeologist, and how those experiences would help drive her character and therefore the plot.

Voila! Lina Taylor was “born.” It wasn’t that easy, of course, but then, no birth ever is. 😉

You’ve said in the past you begin your novels with a setting before developing characters and plot. Have you always been interested in the Mayans? What kind of research went into BEAUTIFUL SACRIFICE?

The Inca, Maya, and Anasazi, ancient Chinese, and ancient Celts have always intrigued me. We tend to be Euro-Centric in our education, so the Celts were kind of covered in my education. Note I said “kind of.” My curiosity lead to a lot of reading, simply for the sheer pleasure of discovery. The Anasazi were the core of THE SECRET SISTER, the Chinese of TELL ME NO LIES, the Celts of RUNNING SCARED, so it was finally turn for the Maya. The year 2012 gave me the perfect excuse. Along the research path I discovered that few experts agree on anything Maya, except that the people, art, artifacts, etc. are referred to as “Maya.” The word “Mayan” is reserved exclusively to describe the language itself. (Who knew?) That stricture aside, there was plenty of room for imagination.

Research partly consisted of picking my daughter’s brain–she is a fluent Spanish speaker and has traveled extensively. She is the one who has actually walked the Maya ruins. I wanted to go there myself, with her, but a family emergency intervened. Life is what it is, so spent a lot of time with archaeological texts, drew on my own knowledge of the U.S./Mexico border, read popular culture and Net essays, watched documentaries, and generally tried not to curse fate too much. Everyone in the family pitched in. I couldn’t have done it without them, which is why I dedicated the book to Matt and Heather.

You’ve published over seventy novels. Where would you rank BEAUTIFUL SACRIFICE in relation to your previous work?

I think of BEAUTIFUL SACRIFICE as my latest novel. Sounds like a flip answer, but it is the truth. My focus is always on the next book, not the one I’ve finished.

Your characters seem to jump to life. How are you able to seamlessly interweave romance and suspense?

Thank you! I wish I could say I had a recipe–a bit of this, a dash of that, a lot of something else–but I don’t. It’s simply the way I conceive of a book. Characters, plot, and setting drive one other. I can’t take characters from book A and plop them down into book B. Life would be a lot easier if I could. Instead, I have to reinvent the wheel each time.

In your outstanding essay Popular Fiction: Why We Read It, Why We Write It, you stated: “Contrary to what the critics tell us, popular fiction is not a swamp of barely literate escapism; popular fiction is composed of ancient myths newly reborn, telling and retelling a simple truth: ordinary people can do extraordinary things.” How does Lina Taylor’s story in BEAUTIFUL SACRIFICE demonstrate this idea?

Lina is a modern American woman who finds herself caught in a mythic past that has become a nightmare present. How she meets and ultimately defeats the nightmare is called survival, which is pretty damn extraordinary under any circumstances. My job as an author is to help “ordinary” people understand that the human spirit is capable of extraordinary things. Love is one of them. Sheer survival is another.

With millions of copies of your books in print, you’ve achieved a degree of success most writers only dream about. What continues to inspire you?

My imagination and curiosity are demanding and relentless taskmasters. Stories are the way I satisfy the beasts.

Until the next time…


Elizabeth Lowell has many romantic suspense novels that were on nationwide bestseller lists, including The New York Times. Most recent are DEATH ECHO, BLUE SMOKE AND MURDER, INNOCENT AS SIN and THE WRONG HOSTAGE. She has more than thirty million books in print.

To learn more about Elizabeth, please visit her website.

Andy Straka
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