Everyone has moments from their past that stand out as clear today as the day they happened. For me, one of those moments occurred on a Saturday morning when I was 13 years old. I was at our local library, stalking the non-fiction stacks, plucking books off shelves, doing quick scans, then putting them back. Nothing really grabbed my interest. Then one book with a yellow spine caught my eye. It was a thick National Geographic publication with dozens of photographs and articles about the Institute’s expeditions.
I flipped through the book and landed on an article describing a mountain-top discovery in Chile. In the high Andes, a centuries-old tomb containing a mummy had been found. Photographs showed the interior and the haunting image of a young boy sitting inside, frozen in death, one arm across the other, his head resting on his knees, his eyes closed as if asleep.
I sat on the floor by the stacks and read, lost in the story of the boy-mummy and the tragic circumstances of his death. The article mentioned that the boy was about 8 years old , not much younger than I was, and that he’d been alive when placed in the tomb. I read to the end, fascinated, but at the same time horrified.
An hour later, I surfaced from the fog, suddenly aware of my surroundings. It was a magical feeling, as if I’ve been transported through a portal that linked past to present.
That experience sparked an life-long interest in archaelogy, but it did more, too. Whenever I write, I write to the transported young person that I was. Whether I am conscious of it or not, I write for the me of long ago, a reader so entranced by a story that time slips by unnoticed. I try to recreate that feeling by crafting compelling yet readily understood material, and by blending facts with explanations that keep the momentum moving.
The story of the boy affected me in another way, too. I wanted to write about it, and I have – twice. Once as The Boy in the Mountain for Mysteries of Time, and then some 20 years later I rewrote the story for The Case of the Mountain Mummies in Case Files: 40 Murders and Mysteries Solved by Science.
In the span of time between the two writings, over 35 mummies of children have been found in remote tombs on Andean peaks. They are evidence of an ancient Inca practice called capacocha where young children were ceremonially sacrificed on mountain tops to appease the gods.
For another post in this Raising Readers series, check out How Superman Taught Me Story Structure