Countdown to "Site Unseen: An Emma Fielding Mystery:" How I came to write SITE UNSEEN

I didn’t have plans to write fiction. I got the idea as a kid (I don’t know where) that writers had to have adventures, like running with the bulls or getting into fights, and that did not sound like fun—I was happier in a library! So by the age of ten, I decided to become an archaeologist. It had everything I loved: historical research, languages, science, travel, and intellectual puzzles. It was really a great fit, and I loved every minute of it. In fact, I still refer to myself as “a recovering archaeologist,” because once you’ve worked in that field, you never really look at the world the same way again.

 The cast of "Site Unseen: An Emma Fielding Mystery" on site!  Check out the premiere on June 4, on  Hallmark Movies & Mysteries !

The cast of "Site Unseen: An Emma Fielding Mystery" on site!  Check out the premiere on June 4, on Hallmark Movies & Mysteries!

And then…

Many years later, a looter with a metal detector appeared on a site where I was working with a colleague. We protested; he pulled a pistol on us. My boss was closest; I’d been using the transit. There’s not a lot to hide behind, with a transit. It’s basically a small telescope on top of a tripod, used for surveying. Not a lot of cover.

My choices were: run (and maybe he shoots us) or wait (and maybe he shoots us). I decided to memorize what I could about him, his friend, and his truck, and if things started happening, I’d run into the woods to find a ranger.

Eventually the guy left, but at the time, it was really scary. We reported the incident and I thought that was that. The rest of the season, though, I dug pretty fast. I wanted to have a nice deep hole to hide in, if he came back.

Months later, I told a friend about this, along with some other “interesting” things that had happened to me and my colleagues in the course of doing fieldwork: the cement mixer that went off the road and landed on the site where we’d been digging.  The time another friend was shot at, for digging too close to a still in the woods. You know, work stuff.

She said, "you need to write this down!"  Boom! I knew I had to do it. I had a pot-hunter with a gun, and an archaeologist. I’d read mysteries all my life (still do!), and so a mystery novel made sense.  I started to write what would eventually become Site Unseen. It’s not such a stretch, though, to go from historical archaeology to fiction. Archaeologists make up stories—based on evidence—about people in the past.

That makes it sound very easy, but it actually took a number of years, and maybe twelve drafts of the novel (once I’d finished a first draft). I went to a writing class, and then to a writing group, where we’d critique each other’s work. From there, I attended Bread Loaf Writers' Conference, where, in addition to getting amazing critical feedback, I found my first agent. She sold Site Unseen, and then the next five Emma books.

Next:  The similarities between archaeologists and detectives