Marc Severson, a retired archaeologist, discusses his historical novel, Bits of Sky, along with his influences and inspirations.
My book is a novel of prehistoric Arizona set in a mountainous region near the modern city of Globe, AZ. The action takes place at several sites where I worked, excavating the ruins as a young archaeologist. We were excavating these locations because they were going to be impacted and or destroyed by the re-development of copper mining in the valley. The unique natures of the sites and the presence of copper mining contributed greatly to my impetus in the telling of the story.
Within the valley encompassing these locations is a prehistoric turquoise mine. Turquoise is a byproduct of copper ore. This mine provided the nucleus of the idea for my title, Bits of Sky. Turquoise was sacred and extremely valuable to the people of prehistoric Arizona — it was their most precious gemstone.
I have been married to the same amazingly patient woman for forty-four years. We have four daughters and currently, seven grandchildren.
I am a retired archaeologist and career educator. When I entered college in 1968 it was my intention to one day be a writer, but I didn’t want to study writing, feeling it was more of an art than a skill that could be taught. I studied archaeology and later went back to become certified as an elementary school teacher. If this seems odd it was that I discovered fieldwork in archaeology was an uneven career at best and my wife and I wanted to start a family. I have always enjoyed working with children so education was a natural fit. It might be worth mentioning here that I have also worked part-time as a professional storyteller for the last thirty years — much of telling children’s stories. I have been featured as a performer at various venues such as Tucson Meet Yourself and The Tucson Festival of Books. I believe my experience in storytelling greatly supports my writing.
It was when I was getting close to retirement that I began to refocus on my writing again. It started slowly, with two blogs published in a local online newspaper: The Tucson Citizen. One of my posts highlighted issues in education and appeared weekly and the other was focused on archaeology and was of a more occasional nature. The value of these blogs in helping me develop as a writer cannot be ignored — they forced me into a regimen of daily writing or at least planning for writing.
Eventually I turned my interest in writing back to fiction. By then I was only teaching half-time, I had fully retired from archaeology, and thus I had increased opportunities to write. My wife was involved several hours a day in caring for her mother, I was alone at home for that time. I turned on classical music, refused to answer the phone, and I wrote. I have since completely retired and now focus my energies — at least those not devoted to grandchildren — on my writing alone.
Do you have any particular literary influences? What inspired you to write your book?
My literary influences are extremely varied. My favorite authors at present are Eliot Pattison and Erik Larson, I read everything they write. The source of inspiration for my Chaos series of novels were the disparate combination of H. P. Lovecraft and Tony Hillerman. That is because, using my experience with historical archaeology, I am combining the in-depth knowledge of the southwest and the Native American influence seen in Hillerman’s work with the horror/fantasy world of Lovecraft.
As a voracious and eclectic reader, I am addicted to nearly everything written, but cite especially historical writers of both fiction like Caleb Carr and non-fiction such as Doris Kearns Goodwin. I adore the poetry of Emily Dickinson and the short fiction of Ambrose Bierce and the stories of Charles M. Russell. I credit George R. R. Martin for teaching me much of what I know about writing through his Dreamscape books and I read and re-read Elmore Leonard, especially his early Western work.
The inspiration for Bits of Sky was the place itself. Being plopped down in a rugged valley, miles from the nearest civilization, for two weeks or more at a time, breeds opportunities for observation and reflection. Those thoughts had stayed with me all these years. The time spent there left in me, a desire to craft a story around the places where we worked and the discoveries we made.
What is the one message you would like to convey to your readers?
Trust yourself. You know best what you want to say. Say it!
Are you working on a sequel to your book?
Currently I am working on a sequel to Bits of Sky called The Spotted Cat. I am also working on the fifth book in my self-published “Chaos Series” novels, The Fires of Chaos and several children’s books in advance of my first illustrated storybook, Woodrat and Coyote being published later this year.
Are there any events, marketing ideas, or promotions planned for your book?
I know we have submitted the books for review several places including the Los Angeles Times Holiday edition. I am tentatively scheduled to appear at the Tempe Book Fair in November to feature Woodrat and Coyote but I will, of course, also promote Bits of Sky and my Chaos books.
What was your favorite part of your publishing experience, overall and with iUniverse?
I greatly enjoyed working with my consultant in the initial stages of figuring out what exactly I was going to do. Her support and willingness to persevere through my insecurities and uncertainties were key to my deciding to publish with iUniverse.
Finally, what advice would you give to aspiring authors?
Don’t give up! Write something everyday, even if it is just random notes, a blog article, a Facebook post, or a series of blatantly self-promoting Tweets, write every day! Set a goal for a reasonable number of words and then meet that goal!
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