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.
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