When writing historical fiction, painstaking research alone won't cut it.

John Coe Robbins of Fort Worth discovered this while crafting his debut novel, Maya Lord, which explores the lives of two extraordinary men during the Spanish conquest of Mexico in the 16th century.

Robbins' main characters, Gonzalo Guerrero and Jeronimo Aguilar, were shipwreck survivors of the first know Spanish landing on the Yucatan Peninsula in 1511.

They were taken captive by the Maya, lived as slaves for a time and then played key roles on opposite sides of the bloody conflict when Spanish Conquistadors swept through the New World.

Robbins found out everything there was to know about Guerrero an Aguilar. But he ultimately had to rely on his imagination to tell the rest of the story.

"If you were to 'Google' these two men, you can find two or three pages of interesting facts that are known about them. That's pretty much it," Robbins says.

"We know they were captured, we know they went in different directions, and then they pop up periodically in the historical narrative.

"There's enough to write a pretty good article about them. But it would be a very thin book."

Given that Maya Lord ($17.95, Whiskey Creek Press) is a robust 325 pages, it's clear that Robbins wasn't shy about filling in the blanks."

The result is a work that moves like an epic adventure story, yet simultaneously and subtly asks a deep question: How much does our culture determine who we are?

"I did a lot of vacationing in Yucatan, and I was always interested in the history," Robbins says. "I stayed in Akumal, where there's a statue of Gonzalo Guerrero, who earned nis freedom and became a Maya warrior and is considered in Mexico to the the father of the Mestizo people.

"Then I woke up one night from a dream about being a warrior and I thought, 'Wouldn't it be interesting to examine the life of somebody like that, somebody who underwent this radical cultural shift and actually went native?"

Aguilar, meanwhile was a priest who became a translator and adviser to the brutal Conquistador Hernan Cortes. "it's fascinating how these two men's lives took such different paths," Robbins says.