Interview with Margaret on The Drowning Man
Where did you get the idea to write about stolen petroglyphs?
I have to admit, art theft has always fascinated me. It is such a bold crime that takes criminals with a certain amount of intelligence and a lot of sang- froid. It's a subject I've wanted to write about, and I'd been following news reports on the growing number of thefts of Indian artifacts on Indian and public lands and the sinister world of the illegal artifacts market. Among the items coveted by thieves are petroglyphs. Several years ago I had the opportunity to visit some of Wyoming's truly spectacular petroglyphs, and the kernel of an idea started to grow. It just grew and grew until it became the novel.
I'm going to ask the question that everyone will be asking: Where are these spectacular petroglyphs?
I fictionalized the location in the novel, in order to protect the petroglyphs. Some of the petroglyphs are located on Indian lands that are accessible only to tribal members. I was fortunate to have a friend take me to them. Others are on BLM land and can be seen by anyone. The trick is this: They are difficult to find. And as I say in the book, the petroglyphs decide when and to whom they will show themselves. You can literally be standing next to one and not recognize it. That's on purpose.
Would you explain that?
The petroglyphs are carvings in rock, some as old as a thousand or two thousand years, according to the archeologists. The Arapahos and other tribes believe the carvings are images of the spirits, done by the spirits themselves, and that the spirits dwell inside the rock. I've heard Arapahos say that sometimes you can even hear the spirits banging at rocks as they carve their images. It's logical, then, that if the spirits actually dwell inside the rocks, they're not going to let people see them if they don't want to.
But they let you see them?
They did, and I am grateful. But I want to tell you about the first time I climbed a mountain to see a petroglyph. A friend had taken my husband and me to the site. Since he was unable to climb, he gave us the directions and sent us on our way. We climbed and climbed. We didn't see any sign of petroglyphs, yet our friend had assured us that there was a truly spectacular glyph on the mountainside. Naturally, I felt very sad and disappointed, but my husband was saying, "Come on, let's go down. This is pointless." Before I turned around, I closed my eyes and I said, "If you are here, please show yourself, because I can't find you." I want to tell you that when I opened my eyes, I was looking uphill at an unbelievably beautiful petroglyph. I took off running up the mountainside. My husband thought I had lost my mind, but he ran after me. We got very close to the glyph. It was a magical moment.
Why would anyone want to steal something so ancient and sacred?
Well, why would they? It is a federal crime to steal or deface any artifacts on public lands. I did a lot of research on the illegal artifacts market and found that the buyers are people looking for trophy art, or "wall power," the kind of art none of their friends yet has. These are people who already own all of the usual paintings and sculptures, the Picassos and Renoirs, and are looking to impress their friends. Sad. Sad. Sad. People like this drive the illegal market and are responsible for sending out the looters and despoilers of what is really our national heritage.
The Drowning Man is the twelfth novel in your series...
Isn't it incredible? What an adventure it has been.
Do you have a favorite?
The book that I'm writing is always my favorite. So The Drowning Man was definitely my favorite during the year in which I wrote it. I'm now writing another novel, so I guess I have to say...
That it is your favorite. What is the title?
Girl with Braided Hair. Look for it in September 2007!