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SunLit Interviews

Cindy Burkart Maynard’s visits to the archeological sites of ancient Puebloans sparked a novel idea

The author of "Soyala: Daughter of the Desert" produced a work of historical fiction that adds to the speculation about abandonment of a Four Corners civilization

Cindy Burkart Maynard

Cindy Burkart Maynard has extensive experience teaching and writing about history and the natural world. She is the co-author of two previous nonfiction works about the Colorado Plateau and the desert southwest. “Soyala: Daughter of the Desert” is the author’s most recent historical fiction. 

In this novel she weaves a compelling, dramatic story based on the pre-history of the desert Southwest. 

Her first historical novel, “Anastasia’s Book of Days,” is set in what is now Southwest Germany in the 17th century. Based on the purported diaries of Anastasia Burkart, the author’s great-great grandmother, the story reflects the momentous changes sweeping across her beloved Black Forest homeland. 

The following is an interview with Cindy Burkart Maynard.

UNDERWRITTEN BY

Each week, The Colorado Sun and Colorado Humanities & Center For The Book feature an excerpt from a Colorado book and an interview with the author. Explore the SunLit archives at coloradosun.com/sunlit.


What inspired you to write this book?

For many years my husband and I have visited Mesa Verde, Salmon Ruin and many other sites abandoned by the ancestral Puebloans. These are the remains of the Puebloan culture that existed in the Four Corners area hundreds of years before the European incursion.

Archeologists speculate that perhaps as many as 200,000 people abandoned the area during that era. I could not help wondering what it would have been like to live in the American Southwest during the time of this great migration at the end of the 13th century. This question was the impetus for this book. 

Place this excerpt in context. How does it fit into the book as a whole and why did you select it?

The excerpt attached here is the final chapter of the book. The names of the characters are mostly adapted from Zuni names, and will be unfamiliar to most readers.

Beset by hunger, a band of ancient proto-puebloan people
is forced to abandon its homeland to seek an unknown future. Based on
archaeological records, it re-imagines the great migration of the
ancestors of today’s Puebloan Indians out of the Four Corners area
during the most mysterious event in the prehistory of the desert
Southwest.

This prehistorical novel focuses on the universal human
experiences shared by all people – love, death, family, and endurance.
An epic historical drama that plays out in the land of sage, sun, and
sandstone.

“Soyala: Daughter of the Desert” by Cindy Burkart Maynard

Tell us about creating this book: any research and travel you might have done, any other influences on which you drew?

My husband and I had been spending a lot of time in the Four Corners area for many years. Both of us felt a kinship with it. One one of our visits to Salmon Ruin I discovered three volumes written by Cynthia Irwin Williams who spent 27 years researching Salmon Ruin. She described the physical culture of Salmon Pueblo in great detail. For almost two years I consulted dozens of other books written by experts in the archeology and cultural context of the Southwest. Using that research I set pen to paper to answer the question: “What would it have been like in Salmon Ruin during the time of the great migration.”

 I’d like to emphasize this book is fiction. No one actually knows what happened. And archeologists argue among themselves over explanations.

What were the biggest challenges you faced, or surprises you encountered in completing this book?

The biggest challenge was ferreting the human story from the archeological literature. Archeological works are often focused on the details and minutia. Sorting through the factual information to find the universally relatable story of real people was both difficult and thrilling.

Walk us through your writing process: Where and when do you write? What time of day? Do you listen to music, need quiet? 

I love history and I love doing the research. My favorite genre is historical fiction that does not emphasize romance, action/adventure tropes, or implausible plots. I like to speculate about how historical events would have played out in the lives of ordinary people. I usually need to spend up to a year researching. I create a timeline of actual historic events happening during the time period of the story. Then I layer my story line into that timeline. 

I usually sit down to work on a book mid to late afternoon. I turn off all interruptions as much as possible, and place my nose firmly on the grind stone for two to four hours. I don’t have goals for how many pages or words to write – only the amount of time I dedicate to the cause. Some days the writing flows, other days it does not. I try to focus my attention on the path, not the destination. I write as though I am the only one who will ever read it.

TODAY’S UNDERWRITER

What’s your next project?

I just finished a manuscript and am currently looking for a publisher. 

In 2017, I walked the Camino de Santiago, a 500-mile pilgrimage route across northern Spain. In 1250 AD about 200,000 pilgrims walked the Camino. I wondered what it would have been like to walk among them.

In 1250 AD, in an obscure corner of northeastern Spain at the foot of the Pyrenees, ancient Basque traditions collided with the onslaught of Christianity. 

Amika, a young Basque girl on the brink of adulthood and her mother, a healer, awake in the night to the howls of an angry mob approaching their hut. Torches fly and their hut goes up in flames. 

The rabid throng drags her mother away to be burned at the stake as a witch. Amika flees in terror into the forest. A Wise Woman of the ancient tradition rescues her and initiates Amika into the Old Ways. 

Soon they, too, are hunted down and jailed, doomed to suffer the same fate as Amika’s mother. A sympathetic priest frees Amika, but as the price of her freedom he sends her on a quest to walk the Camino de Santiago, the ancient pilgrimage route across northern Spain. Along the way Amika encounters danger, hardship, and fear before she meets the man and child with whom she will share her future.

Buy “Soyala: Daughter of the Desert” through BookBar.
Read an excerpt from the book.

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