About the book:
In the early 1300's, Chipahua’s family is torn apart. After he rebels against the Aztec tradition of human sacrifice, Chipahua is cursed by a jealous priest. The curse prevents him from bleeding, thus casting a cloud of shame over him since he is unable to participate in blood-letting rites to worship the gods. He escapes his enemies with his 12-year-old son and undertakes an arduous journey from the Gulf of Mexico up the Mississippi River. Guided by strange visions, they finally settle in the thriving community of Migaduha - modern-day Cahokia Mounds, Illinois.
Angela will let nothing stop her from solving the chronicle’s mystery – not Dr. Franklin Oettendorf, her former professor and lover, or Joseph Edgewater, grand master of a secret Native American society. She translates the symbols in the codex and learns a terrible secret that threatens the balance of nature today. Only by joining forces with Joseph does she stand a chance of conquering the horrifying evil. But can she trust him? Despite her growing attraction to Joseph, she senses he’s not telling her everything.
Guest Post:One of the challenges I faced in writing Chronicle of the Mound Builders was deciding how much detail was necessary for each scene, particularly the science-related chapters. I call this the 'Goldilocks Concept.' You can't have too much detail, and you can't have too little – it has to be just right.
I love math and science, so my tendency was to thoroughly research a procedure – say carbon-dating – and then incorporate the techniques into the lab chapters in lots of detail, explaining just how the process works. But what's exciting and fascinating to a scientist might not be so interesting to the average person. Too much technical detail could slow down the story and – dare I say it? – bore the reader. So I then simplified the scientific mumbo-jumbo, using my judgment as to what level of detail would captivate my readers.
The next step was to ask for feedback from my early readers. Results were definitely mixed - "Too much jargon" "I want more details" "Skip the whole chapter" "Love the scientific parts."
I had a similar experience with the romantic scene. I don't feel comfortable writing graphic sex, nor do I feel it's appropriate for this type of book. My sex scene was meant to be soft, romantic, and fairly brief – you get the idea. When my husband read my first draft, he didn't realize that my characters had just made love. I guess I was a little too subtle. So I beefed it up a bit, then got more feedback from some early readers. Again, results were mixed – "That sex scene wasn't necessary" "What sex scene?" "It was very romantic".
Writing is an art, not a science. Getting the level of detail just right – not too much and not too little – is something I'll continue to work on. But of course you can't please everyone!
Interview with Elle Marie:Elle, how long have you been writing, and how did you start?
Living the Thin Life, in 2008. In it, I tell my story of losing weight and keeping it off. I was a bit intimidated by the idea of writing fiction, but after the success of this book (and with a lot of encouragement from my husband, Doug) I decided to try my hand at a novel.
Describe your book in a tweet. (140 characters or less.)
Archaeologist Angela Hunter races against time to decipher an ancient codex before tragedies of the past return to the present. How’s that? Thirteen characters to spare!
Excellent! How did you create the plot for this book?
I’ve always wondered what happened to the ancient civilization at Cahokia Mounds. They disappeared 700 years ago with few traces left behind - one of archaeology’s greatest mysteries. When a Mound Builders village was discovered in my hometown of Chesterfield, Missouri, it gave me the idea to write about what might have actually happened to destroy the prosperous community. Once I came up with the mystery’s solution, I worked backward to develop the plot leading up to the dramatic climax.
How do you get to know your characters?
This may seem silly, but I started by finding pictures of people who looked the way I imagined my main characters would look. Whenever it was appropriate to describe a character’s appearance in the story, I looked at the pictures for inspiration on what struck me about each one. To flesh out their personalities, I included bits and pieces of real people I know. But after a while, they took on their own unique personalities and became real to me.
I’m constantly on the lookout for new names. How do you name your characters?
I created a spreadsheet with sections for women’s names, men’s names, last names, and Indian names. I started listing my favorite names, then went through the daily newspaper and the telephone book to get ideas for additional surnames. As each new character came up, I referred to my list to pick a combination of first and last name, keeping track of the names I had already used. I tried to keep the names different enough so the readers wouldn’t confuse the characters, so I made sure to start names with different letters and use a variety of ethnicities. All that being said, sometimes I just came up with the perfect name as soon as the new person appeared.
If you could be one of your characters, which one would you choose?
Definitely Angela Hunter, my main character. She’s smart, funny, and courageous, but not perfect. I’d love to be more like her.
What are your favorite books or favorite authors?
a) As a child: I devoured Nancy Drew and Hardy Boy mysteries.
b) As a teenager: When I was a teenager, I loved reading romantic classics, such as Jane Eyre, Wuthering Heights, and Tess of the D’Urbervilles.
C) As an adult: Today I enjoy an eclectic mix of mysteries, historical fiction, and fun chick lit books.
Which author would you most like to invite to dinner, and what would you fix me? I mean, him. Or her.
Obviously, you would be my first choice! But I suppose my second choice would be Tina Fey. I just finished reading Bossypants and it was hilarious! Cooking isn’t my best skill, but I think I could whip up an Italian pasta dish and toss a salad. Then provide plenty of wine for a fun night.
Well, if Tina can't make it, just let me know! What are you working on now?
I’m helping to edit an exciting new book from Vicki Lesage, my daughter. She’s lived in France for the past 7 years and is writing about her experiences as an American in Paris. It’s fun for me to be on the editing side vs. the writing side for a different perspective.
Tell her to stop by and tell us about it sometime!
Excerpt:From Chapter 27
Angela heard a loud, familiar voice in the reception area.
“I need to see Dr. Hunter.”
Angela groaned. Franklin must be here to see the jar. She shut down her laptop and put the codex in her desk as she heard Franklin arguing with their receptionist, Stella.
“Dr. Angela Hunter, of course,” he boomed. “Why would I want to see Dr. Peter Hunter?”
“I’m just trying to help, sir,” said Stella, a model-pretty twenty-something. “Maybe you don’t realize there are two Dr. Hunters here.”
Angela quickly opened her door, calling, “It’s all right, Stella. Franklin, I’m in here.”
Franklin stormed over to her. “Have you purposely trained your receptionist to stall visitors?”
Behind Dr. Oettendorf’s back, Stella stuck out her tongue.
Angela stifled a smile.
“Of course not. Please come on in. What can I do for you?”
Slightly appeased, Dr. Oettendorf entered her office and glanced around.
“I was told you found a codex in my jar from the Faust Park burial mound.”
Taken aback, Angela admitted, “That’s true. We opened the jar and found a codex inside.”
“When were you planning to tell me?” he demanded.
“We only discovered it a few days ago,” said Angela, trying not to sound defensive. “Remember, I’m the one Major Benton assigned to do the analysis. It’s my responsibility.”
“I’m responsible for the Faust Park burial mound and that includes the jar as well as anything inside it!”
Angela crossed her arms with a defiant look. “There’s no need to shout. I was planning to show it to you.”
“Well? Where is it?”
Angela reluctantly opened her drawer and pulled out the ancient artifact.
“It’s very delicate. Be careful,” she advised as she handed it over.
Franklin looked at her haughtily. “I know how to handle archaeological artifacts.”
He examined the book from all sides, in awe of its pristine condition. It could provide the basis for a very attention-getting publication. Perhaps it contained information about the powerful talisman! He flipped through the pages as if reading a modern book.
“Actually, it reads from back to front,” corrected Angela.
“Whatever. What do all these symbols mean? Have you determined the iconography system?”
“The pictographs are similar to Aztec symbols. In fact, some are identical to those found in Aztec codices salvaged from the Spanish conquistadors. Others are either symbols from older codices that were destroyed or else invented by the author specifically for this chronicle.”
“Chronicle? Why do you call it that?” asked Franklin, raising an eyebrow.
“It’s telling a story, rather than the more typical Aztec trading accounts or religious mythology. I’m attempting to translate it.”
“Yes, that’s what the Major said. Please give me your translation.”
“But I haven’t gotten very far,” she protested, subconsciously glancing at her laptop. “I haven’t shown it to anyone yet.”
“I assume you’ve been documenting the translated work on your computer,” said Franklin, noting the telling look.
“Yes, of course, but as I said I haven’t made much progress. I’ve been preoccupied with the Chesterfield Valley dig.”
“Although I understand you found time to go gallivanting around the countryside yesterday.”
Angela bit her lip. “Carl mentioned you stopped by. We were only gone a few hours.” As if it’s any of your business!
“Well, give me what you have. I’ll need to analyze it myself to determine its context as part of the Faust Park burial mound.”
Angela held out her hand.
“I’ll give you a copy once I complete the translation. Now may I have the codex back?”
“I insist you give me what you have so far,” Franklin said, his voice rising in irritation at her stubbornness.
“What’s going on in here?” asked Peter, poking his head in the doorway. “Is there a problem?”
“Hi, Dad,” said Angela. “I believe Dr. Oettendorf was just leaving.”
Peter entered the room and took Franklin firmly by the arm, handing the codex back to Angela. “Here, I’ll show you out. Thanks for visiting.”
Franklin turned back as he left Angela’s office, saying, “I’ll be expecting that translation soon.”
Peter returned in a few minutes.
“He’s gone now. Was he bothering you? You’re shaking.”
“I’m just angry,” Angela replied, taking a calming breath. “He’s such a bully!”
“Don’t let him get to you,” urged Peter. “He doesn’t know chalk from cheese.”
“Oh, Dad!” she said, giving him a big hug. “I’m so glad you’re here.”
“Happy to be of service. I’m sure you could have handled him yourself, though. You know, you reminded me of your mother just then. She sure knew how to hold her ground.”
Angela sighed. “You’re right. She wasn’t afraid of anyone. I still miss her a lot.”
“Me too, sweetie.”
He broke free. “Well, time to get back to work.”
A visit to Cahokia Mounds sparked a fascination with the mysterious Mound Builders, about whom so little is known. What was their culture like? How did ordinary people live in the 14th century? What caused the civilization to vanish, seemingly overnight? She put her imagination to work and came up with a story line that put it all together. Extensive research enabled her to create a believable, engrossing world.
By day, she works in the information technology field at a large financial services firm. She is a graduate of the Missouri University of Science & Technology and lives in the St. Louis area with her husband. Chronicle of the Mound Builders is her first novel.
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