Complementing my daily blog interviews, today’s Author Spotlight, the one hundred and eighty-fourth, is of mystery / thriller writer N. S. Wikarski.
Nancy Wikarski is a fugitive from academia. After earning her Ph.D. from the University of Chicago, she became a computer consultant and then turned to mystery and historical fiction writing. She is a member of Mystery Writers of America, the Society Of Midland Authors, and has served as vice president of Sisters In Crime – Twin Cities and on the programming board of the Chicago chapter. Her short stories have appeared in Futures Magazine and DIME Anthology, while her book reviews have been featured in Murder: Past Tense and Deadly Pleasures.
She has written the Gilded Age Chicago History Mysteries set in 1890s Chicago. Titles include The Fall Of White City (2002) and Shrouded In Thought (2005). The series has received People’s Choice Award nominations for Best First Novel and Best Historical as well as a Lovey Award for Best Traditional Amateur Sleuth.
She is currently writing the seven book Arkana Archaeology Thriller Mysteries. Titles include The Granite Key (2011), The Mountain Mother Cipher (2011), and The Dragon’s Wing Enigma (2012). The fourth volume in the series, The Riddle Of The Diamond Dove, is scheduled for publication in December of 2013. Ms. Wikarski’s work on the Arkana books has prompted Kindle Nation to describe her as one of its favorite authors.
And now from the author herself:
Hello. My pen name is N. S. Wikarski and I’m currently writing a seven book archaeological thriller series. What, you might well ask, is an archaeo-thriller? In my case, it doesn’t involve a revivified mummy chasing people in pith helmets through underground tombs. The type of archaeology I like to write about has to do with the lost history of the human race. If I manage to throw in an interesting mystery along with the archaeology lesson, so much the better.
I suppose my interest in writing the Arkana series began with a nagging question that I couldn’t answer. It has always puzzled me that societies overvalue men and undervalue women. Why is 52% of the world’s population treated as a minority? I started to wonder if male dominance is actually our biological destiny or if we might once have behaved differently. In my personal quest for answers, I stumbled across archaeological evidence proving that human civilization was not originally male-dominated or violent. This was true of every race on every continent.
That revelation intrigued me. I couldn’t help but wonder what happened to change us and why. At this point in our cultural development, I think we need to find a less exploitative model for our behavior. The distant past shows us that model. My series is a fictional attempt to introduce our lost past to a mainstream audience. It tries to answer the question of how we got to be this way and why it might be a good idea to retrace our steps.
Once I committed myself to the task of telling this particular story, it took about a year of scribbling in notebooks until I got the plot and the characters sorted out for the entire series. During that time I was also reading everything I could find about the matristic civilizations of the ancient world. Matrism was the social order which pre-dated patriarchy. I initially had to learn about the lost cultures of old Europe and after that my research expanded to encompass all the other continents except Antarctica.
Then came the tricky part—putting the fiction and the facts together. The characters, the Arkana secret society, and the Nephilim religious cult are all products of my imagination. The archaeological sites, the cultures they explore, and the concepts they discuss are all quite real. I not only needed to understand the archaeological data, I needed to assimilate it into my fictional world. Since a straight history lesson is rarely a ripping good yarn (most people would consider it a ripping good yawn), I gave my characters the job of disclosing the facts while weaving the history seamlessly into their story arcs.
As you might guess, orchestrating a story like this over the course of seven books and six continents takes some advance planning. It’s not the sort of project that lends itself easily to free association. Fortunately, I am an outliner and a planner by nature. Before I even wrote the first word of book one, I developed a general outline of the entire series. After that I sketched out a more detailed outline for each book. At the point when I’m ready to write each new volume, I create a chapter outline with specific plot points. Only after all that gets done do I begin to write.
So what makes my books unique other than the mind-numbing complexity of planning them? I think it’s the subject matter. I’ve taken some obscure archaeological theories and made them accessible to a mainstream audience by using a fictional plot. Apart from the history lesson, the books contain elements of suspense, oddball humor, tragedy and mystery which save them from being dull. I don’t think the factual material I’m covering has ever been treated in quite this way before.
All my efforts to entertain my readers stem from my own dislike of being preachy or didactic. That said, there is a message buried underneath the prose. The archaeological record indicates that women were the driving force behind the creation of what we call human civilization. It can have a devastating effect on the female psyche to receive the cultural message that you’re nothing more than an afterthought—that all the great discoveries and inventions since the beginning of time were made by the opposite sex. Hopefully, the forgotten history in my books will do something to contradict that damaging assumption.
Speaking of assumptions, I think that my main goal as a writer is to challenge people’s assumptions about the way things are. We’re all victims of cultural hypnosis in the sense that we believe the received wisdom of those who came before us. It’s like playing that old game of Telephone in which the message becomes more distorted by every person who whispers it to the next player. I like to question the whispers of the past and make my readers question them too. If my books accomplish that much, I’ll consider that I’ve done a good day’s work. As I’m now in the midst of writing volume four in the series, make that several hundred good days’ work.
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