My house in Phoenix sat at the edge of a mountain preserve. From the decks around the house, you could see the mountain rising and the many cacti soldiering up its slopes. On any given weekend morning, friends would show up for an impromptu hike, and it was on one of those very first hikes when I discovered the ancient tribe of my neighborhood. On one trail after another, we stumbled upon the artwork of the Hohokam, prehistoric North American Indians who lived from approximately 200 ad to 1400; their petroglyphs, or rock art, were etched into the sides of boulders and caves and have been etched into my mind ever since. The symbols the petroglyphs depict have never been definitively interpreted. Some people think they know what the symbols mean, but no one knows for sure. Great inspiration for a mystery. But I did not start writing Desert Remains immediately.
When alone, I would go to the mountain to meditate. When with friends, I’d hike the trails to test my endurance, to let off steam, to commiserate about work. I was a television reporter back in those days already a bit jaded by the often hideous nature of humanity. That’s what happens when, to satisfy the insatiable American appetite for death and destruction—the more violent, the better—you alternate between stories of murder, rape, child molestation, and carnage on the highways. The mountain was great solace. I loved living in this small cradle of antiquity, knowing that literally out my door were the remains of another civilization. The word “Hohokam” is said to mean “those who have vanished” in the Pima language. I know. It still gives me chills. Even more inspiration for a mystery.
The seeds had been planted.
It would be many years later, however, before I would write Desert Remains. I wouldn’t start writing the book, in fact, until I left Phoenix to accept a job back on the east coast to be closer to family. I never truly wanted to leave the desert, and I hung on to that property for several years. Hanging on meant the ghosts of the Hohokam never left me, and those ghosts implored me to start writing, using their artwork as prompts. Their petroglyphs would stir a monster’s ritual and, at the same time, puzzle Alex Mills and Gus Parker. So if you love the book, thank the ghosts. If you hate it, blame the ghosts.
Or my spouse.
Because it all started one lazy weekend morning when we couldn’t get out of bed. I leaned over and said, “Hon, I have this idea for a book. Can I run it by you?”