When writing a novel, or short story or play for that matter, it is a given that you must have interesting characters and a plot that will engage the reader. The majority of the books I find most enjoyable have another element—an intriguing setting. With my fascination for archeology (I have an M.A. in the field although I have never been a working archaeologist), Cahokia in southern Illinois was a natural location for my novel, Bones Unearthed.
Cahokia was a very large pre-Columbian city that is almost unknown to modern Americans. It was built by the Mississippian Indians and flourished from about 850 to about 1300 A.D. The Mississippians were mound builders and what they constructed in southern Illinois was truly remarkable. At its height, Cahokia was larger than London at the same time. Estimates of its population range from about 15,000 to as many as 40,000 inhabitants. If the latter figure is correct, there was not a larger city in the area of the United States until the early 19th century.
The structures at Cahokia were built of dirt and wood. The largest structure, Monk’s Mound, was as tall as a 10-story building and covered more area than the Great Pyramid of Giza in Egypt. It was built over a period of a hundred years by individual Indians carrying the dirt up the mound in baskets they carried on their backs.
They had a trading empire that spanned North America from Lake Superior to Florida and covered much of the eastern U.S. The scope of their trading is based on the materials such as shells and copper found in excavations at the site.
Like other early Indian groups, they hunted and fished as well as gathering nuts and other vegetable matter, but what allowed Cahokia to grow as large as it did was widespread corn farming. Cahokia had both small kitchen gardens and large community fields.
Cahokia is a fascinating place, but there are also a number of mysteries. The greatest mystery is what happened to the inhabitants of Cahokia. About 1250 they were near the top of their power and wealth. By the mid-1300s they were essentially gone. It may have been caused by the destruction of their habitat. They were profligate in their use of wood, both from building and as fuel for cooking and heating. The smoke from all their cooking fires must have made the air very bad. The hunting and fishing to supply the needs of their large population may have wiped out the local animal populations. As they became more and more dependent on corn as their food, the health of the people may have declined significantly. No one knows for sure.
So here is a location right in the middle of America that can provide a rich and fascinating under pinning for the novel with its archeological and ancient historical elements. And if a reader’s curiosity is sparked by the background, of this or some other setting in another book, doesn’t that just enrich the whole experience?
My writing life began with nine years as a science writer for an encyclopedia. Although that experience honed my writing skills, it was definitely not fiction. My first foray into fiction was a yet to be published mystery novel called Open House, written in Melbourne, Australia, where I lived with my husband who was on a six-month teaching exchange.
With retirement from a career as a computer consultant, my husband and I settled in Sarasota after a little over two years RVing around the country. With more time to write, I published Bones Unearthed, a mystery novel set in Cahokia World Heritage site in southern Illinois.
Currently I have two novels in the works—a sequel to Bones Unearthed and another murder mystery with a protagonist who is RVing with her husband.
I live in Sarasota with my husband, John. We have three grown children—two girls who live in Austin, Texas, and a son in the Los Angeles area. We have three grandchildren, also in Los Angeles.