How I Got the Idea for Buried Heart

November 17 2009

I fell in love with ruins years ago, during a visit to my aunt and uncle in Mexico City. They took my husband and me to see Teotihuacan, an amazing ruin located just outside of the city. We climbed the Temple of the Sun, not an easy feat in that altitude, and I stood gazing out at the extensive ruins of a mysterious and once-powerful city. I was hooked. I had to see more ruins--Egyptian, Greek, Roman, Aztec--as many as I could manage in one lifetime. 
 
Much later I read about nineteenth century adventurers who “discovered” deserted Mayan ruins buried by the rain forest. I imagined an exotic setting thick with vegetation and humidity. I pictured strange, pre-historic blooms extending their strangling branches toward a glimmer of the sun, smothering other plants along their curling, sinuous path, and dissolving the remains of a lost civilization.
 
I convinced my husband to sign us up for a trip to Mayan sites in Honduras, Guatemala, Belize and Mexico. (In January, he’d go for anything that gets us out of Milwaukee!) One afternoon in Honduras, after we had trekked around the expansive archeological site of Copan, we stood admiring the famous stairway. 
 
Our archeologist/guide explained that the Maya recorded their scientific and historic data by drawing hieroglyphs on paper they made from tree bark, folded like an accordion to form a book, a codex. 
 
In the Sixteenth Century, the archeologist went on to say, the Conquistadores arrived in the New World, and did what they were sent to do. The Inquisition rode with them, in the form of Bishops with orders to burn all works of the devil. The codices containing the history and scientific discoveries of the Maya were destroyed.   
 
Luckily, a few of the codices survived, because they had been carried back to Europe by the Spanish as souvenirs. Those books lay forgotten in the collections of European aristocracy until 20th c archeologists discovered them anew.
 
The idea that a codex from pre-Columbian times had survived the fires of the Inquisition hijacked my brain. I imagined that a modern-day Mexican-American professor of archeology, Luis (notoriously attractive, of course), had inherited a map that might lead him to one of those ancient documents.  I pictured bad guys attempting to steal his map and nearly killing him. I saw a feisty, uptight and independent woman, Lauren, meeting the archeologist and becoming entangled by passion and intrigue.  
 
Right from the first scene the story is one of contrasts and conflicts, plans and plots, passion and love. It opens on a dark, slushy winter evening in Milwaukee, and continues in steamy Mayan ruins deep in the rain forest.  I hope my readers will fall in love with the Mayan ruins too, as well as my characters--the good guys, that is.