From the Field to the Page

Working on an excavation on San Clemente Island, CA

Working on an excavation on San Clemente Island, CA

If you’ve read the “About Me” in this blog, you’ll know that I have a background in archaeology. I worked on a lot of digs, got my MA in Archaeology from UCLA, and I put four years into the PhD program. My dissertation topic got the green light from my committee and I started doing field research. But instead of moving forward with my dissertation, I dropped out of grad school. It wasn’t a decision I took lightly, but there were a lot of forces pushing me away from that path. To this day, I don’t regret leaving. The academic world is insanely competitive, especially in a field like archaeology.

My academic background came in handy, career-wise, until I left the paid workforce to be a stay-at-home mom. As our family prepared to move from California to Wisconsin for my husband’s job, I boxed up my archaeology textbooks and my Middle Eastern history tomes and thought, “Too bad all this research won’t ever come in handy again.”

Thankfully, I was wrong.

I’ve been writing for a while now, but last fall was the first time I combined my archaeology background with my passion for writing. It’s not that I hadn’t considered it, but I had so many other stories itching to get out.

And I’d never been able to figure out how to set a story on an archaeological dig and make it semi-realistic, rather than an Indiana Jones-style adventure. Not that I’m knocking Indy, because I love those movies, but seriously, I spent eight seasons in the field, and there were no bad guys, car/horse/Jeep chases, Holy Grails, aliens, human sacrifices, religious artifacts, quicksand, giant spiders or deadly snakes.

Nope, never came face-to-face with a snake!

Nope, never came face-to-face with a snake!

This isn’t to say that archaeology is dull – it’s not – but most of the drama in the field comes from relationships. When you stick a dozen people together in a remote location for six weeks, with minimal amenities, you’re bound to get drama!

Petra, Jordan

Petra, Jordan

Once I decided to set a book on an archaeological dig, I had a blast writing it. The end result was Field Rules, my YA contemporary novel set in Cyprus. Now that I’m in the revision stage of Field Rules, I’m eager to lay the groundwork for my next book. This time, I’m hoping to set the story in Jordan, where I excavated in the 1990s, and make use of some of my experiences, including working with the Bedouin and traveling to places like Petra and the Dead Sea.

One of the things I love about the planning process is that I get to do research. Not only am I going to read up on modern-day Jordan, but I’m also planning to do some academic research. Since two of the archaeologists in the book are rivals, I need to know what they study and why they have conflicting ideas/theories. Most of the academic stuff won’t make it into the book, but I need to know it, to understand my characters better. It’s like doing research for grad school, but without any pressure!

So, even though I’m no longer working in the field, I get vicarious joy from doing research for my characters. It just goes to show that you never know when you’ll get to use the subjects you studied in college!

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5 Responses to From the Field to the Page

  1. Oh, I can’t wait to read both books. Let me know when I can.

    • casacullen says:

      Thanks! You’ve already read an earlier version of Field Rules, but the next book has yet to be written. I’ll let you know when it’s done!

  2. Ooh, more archaeology! So if these two are competing academics, does that mean this next book will be an adult story?

    • casacullen says:

      Nope, still YA. The heroine’s mom is an experienced archaeologist who is forced co-direct a dig with her academic rival (who just happens to have a teenage son!).

  3. Gisele says:

    I think it’s awesome that you have such a wonderful background that you can incorporate into your writing. It makes for quite an interesting setting! Oh, also, good luck with the new novel project! 🙂

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