"So how is the final editing coming along, Sally?"
"It's coming along, just more slowly than I ever imagined."
"Why? What are you changing? I thought it was in pretty good shape for the beta read last year. A lot of people really liked it."
"Some of my readers had really good ideas for tightening it up and making it better. A few suggested new scenes that would help advance the plot. So far, I've cut out about 25,000 words and added three new scenes."
"Wow! I can see why you blew past your deadline."
The turning of the sun.
The Hohokam of central Arizona had several ways of marking the sun's movement. The most amazing one that remains is Hole-in-the-Rock in Papago Park, Phoenix.
The sun shines through the hole in the top of the rock formation and into depressions in the ground below during the solstices.
In my "Tales of the Watermasters" series, I imagine the lighting of huge fires, which could be seen from all the largest villages, at the time of the winter solstice. I call this the New Fire ceremony. I'm a few days off in the final editing of "Swallowing the Sun," though: the New Fire ceremony is still about 10 chapters away! It would have been serendipitous to be working on those scenes while the solstice was actually going on. Oh, well.
In the final 24 hours of what was otherwise a lovely trip to Europe, disaster struck. My laptop, flash drive, and notes were stolen at a train station, and I lost more than a week's worth of revisions on Swallowing the Sun. I also discovered that what I thought was being backed up to the cloud apparently wasn't. Painful learning experiences. I'm still determined to complete this first book of my "Tales of the Watermasters" series as soon as possible. It's just so hard to keep going this year.
I bravely committed to release Swallowing the Sun into the wild before 2019. Now I have to figure out how to not only finalize the text but also format it, get a cover design, and publish it with Amazon's new KDP system. Plus I need business cards and other marketing materials and have to increase my visibility on social media. This is the part of the writing process I'm least comfortable with . . . and it's becoming the most important!
My Instagram and Pinterest posts have gotten some attention, this blog has been up and running for a year, and my Facebook fan page has acquired several new followers--some that I don't even know! Then there's Goodreads, which has a feed to the blog and direct access to purchase my published books.
I now have a Twitter account and made my first tweet. I'm setting up a Patreon page and have my first Medium post ready to go. I've decided to wait on Kickstarter until Swallowing the Sun has been out for a few months and The Rainbow Knife (#2 in the "Tales of the Watermasters" series) is ready to publish.
When I write, I see the scenes as a visual image or even a film. This is a rough approximation of the title scene from my upcoming book, Swallowing the Sun. The details are incomplete (there are no openings in the temple, for example).
I have sketched out several scenes but have recently played around with colored pencils, watercolors, and even, for this illustration, a drawing program to colorize a pencil sketch.
Pueblo Grande Museum, Phoenix, Arizona
I can take a virtual tour of Pueblo Grande when I want to remind myself about the Hohokam village that is the setting for volume 2 (and one of the settings for volume 3) in my upcoming Tales of the Watermasters series.
During the fourteenth century AD, when this platform mound was at its greatest, it stood about 12 feet high (up to 21 feet once the structures built on top of it are factored in!) and measured about 170 feet east-west by 320 feet north-south—just a little smaller than an NFL football field. The bases of some of these structures at Pueblo Grande Cultural Park have been stabilized and show the outlines of the rooms, though unfortunately they don't give a sense of the imposing height of the original edifice.
At the foot of the platform mound was a compound surrounded by an adobe-and-rock wall more than 3 feet thick and nearly 9 feet high. What remains even now dwarfs visitors to the site. The walls of the compound were coated with caliche plaster, which would have functioned like whitewash, not only protecting the adobe but also smoothing the wall surface so that it likely shone under the desert sun.
Archaeologists have determined that the platform mound had a long history of ritual use, as indicated by horns from desert bighorn deposited by the Hohokam circa AD 900 and a smaller circular mound built before AD 1175. Several periods of abandonment, restoration, and expansion occurred before the final major construction, which might have coincided with the drought that struck the entire Southwest circa AD 1275.
During the same general period, polychrome ceramics and other new material goods appeared, suggesting either trade with new groups or evidence of large-scale population movements, and the Hohokam began to wall off their food storehouses, family and household areas, and public and ritual zones. They seem to have gone from a people comfortable and confident in their homeland to being suspicious of others but at the same time reliant on outsiders.
What caused these major cultural shifts? Archaeologists, Euro-American explorers, and others amazed by what the Hohokam built and created have speculated about the possible causes of the changes and, indeed, the eventual downfall of this magnificent and long-lived civilization. My own speculations take the form of a series of novels ... fictionalized archaeology or prehistoric fiction, as some call it.
The events and characters found in my Watermasters series may never have existed, but the essential truths of the Watermasters' existence in the Arizona desert surely would have. Who must those people have been? What would their lives have been like? How do their experiences—and their eventual disappearance—relate to our modern culture wars?
To find out, look for Swallowing the Sun, coming out soon in installments as an e-book and later this year in print.
Not everyone died before the age of 30 in cultures like the Hohokam, even though infant mortality was higher than in modern industrial nations, young men tended to die from violence or accidents, and young women faced risks from childbirth. But those who managed to survive their first three decades had a good chance of living to 70 or so. Archaeologist Christine Cave has an insightful explanation of how this could be so, based on her research into what she calls the "invisible elderly."
Those who did survive may have been treasured for their wisdom. In any case, that's how I prefer to think my Watermasters treated their elderly. Older people play important roles in all my books, as repositories of history and myth.
I rely on a lot of archaeological research in writing my books. I'll take something like the following bit of information about the Hohokam:
"[T]he command area group—that is, farmers along a distribution canal who must coordinate and cooperate to irrigate using the same canal . . . was the primary level of organization and one that dealt directly with farmers. It was the task group that worked cooperatively to construct, maintain, and repair the common distribution canal. Ethnographic case studies also suggest that a task group maintained the section of the main canal in its area and, in situations such as repairing a headgate, the group worked as a unit. This was also the level in which water was allocated to individual farmers and required labor contributions were tracked."
[Source: Archaeology Southwest ASW 21(4), "Hohokam Archaeology of the Phoenix Basin."]
Then I imagine how these task groups would actually work with real people, and I let various characters play in my head for a while until scenes and plots start to coalesce.
There were hundreds of miles of these canals in the Phoenix area long before the first Europeans stepped foot in the valley. Many of them were so well engineered that modern canals follow the same course.
A few weeks ago, I had a marvelous experience: a photo shoot with a professional photographer, Kara Hudgens, with the assistance of makeup artist Wendy Warren. My resident IT guru is helping me build a new website. I'm doing everything I need to be a successful author ... except putting the finishing touches on Swallowing the Sun and getting it out to the general public.
A few years ago, I came across research analyzing the 13th century "grave of a young disabled woman afflicted with scoliosis, rickets and tuberculosis" in Tempe, Arizona. To survive to age twenty, the girl had likely needed special treatment while she was alive, and the assemblage of grave goods indicated that she received special treatment after her death as well.
I am always intrigued by distinctive burials. Indeed, one of the three details that inspired me to begin writing fiction about the Hohokam was a burial in which the torsos of two young men were placed, facing in opposite cardinal directions and with arms linked. Archaeologists can speculate about why those two men were buried in such a way: Why only their torsos? Why facing away from each other? Why were they arm-in-arm? Were they brothers, friends, enemies? How did they die? But as a writer of fiction, I can craft a reality in which this unique burial is the climax of a plot, explained by the characterization and narrative elements that lead up to it.
I had my mother teach me to read when I was four, and I've never stopped. Now I can play with words all day long... it's the best job in the world.
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