Poetic Archaeology A.1 — And A Beta Request

jogger in the park

curious dog paws moist earth

found bone — let’s play fetch

And so begins a new adventure for Meghan, our poetic archaeologist. Thanks to Carrie Rubin of The Write Transition for suggesting the idea behind this project. And I apologize for neglecting Poetic Archaeology these last few weeks. But life intervenes, as it should. That being said, onward with the archaeology. *waits while those uninterested in the topic leave the room*

Archaeologists, especially those in universities, get interesting visitors. A farmer finds a stone in a field and wonders if it’s a Native American artifact (sometimes yes, sometimes no). Once in a while, things take a more unusual turn. A local law enforcement office asks for help identifying bones.

Not every community has a trained CSI unit available to help them. And not all CSI units have archaeological training. While it’s easy to recognize a human body when the flesh or obvious skeletal parts (like a skull) are present, identification is far more difficult when only smaller or broken bits of bone are found. In such cases, the police might talk with the archaeologist at a nearby university. Sometimes the police can consult with someone who specializes in forensic archaeology. But more often, a “normal” archaeologist gets the call.

Someone like Meghan. She works in a small Mid-Atlantic university, specializing in historical archaeology. She’s far enough away from Washington, DC, and its Maryland and Virginia suburbs to be close to smaller communities. They’re the least likely to have easy access to full-time forensic specialists.

Meghan has a visitor, a detective from a nearby community.  (No, it’s not Jack Trainer of Death Out of Time.) As our opening poem suggests, a jogger had quite the surprise when his dog ran back to him with a bone.

If that bone resembled any of these in the above photo, Meghan’s response would please the detective—he wouldn’t be overworked with another case. Hmm, he needs a name. Let’s see. How about Tom Sandberg. And Meghan should have a last name—Bode. Thank you Scrivener name generator.

Meghan would recognize these as cattle bones. Since she’s a historical archaeologist, she might ask Detective Sandberg where the bone was found. Maybe there’s a nearby site she could investigate. Then again, she may be too busy with other projects to give it much thought.

But the found bone looks more like this.

Meghan knows what this is.

In graduate school, Meghan took courses in human skeletal analysis. And she’s excavated burials before. She knows what Sandberg has handed her.

“It’s human,” she tells him. “The right humerus.  That’s your upper arm bone.”

Sandberg slumps in his chair and rubs his face. “Tell me it’s old. Really old. Like a thousand years old.”

“I can’t do that,” Meghan says.

I hope you’ll enjoy this new twist on Poetic Archaeology.

A Beta Request

I’m looking for an experienced science fiction beta reader to tackle the current draft of Death Out of Time. I’ve gotten great feedback from 4amWriter, and I agree with her that Draft 3 also needs a go-through by someone with a sci-fi/time travel background. I can reciprocate by reading your current WIP or another project in the future, whichever works best for you. If you’re interested, please contact me at jmmcd2009 (at) gmail (dot) com.

55 thoughts on “Poetic Archaeology A.1 — And A Beta Request

    • Thanks, Anne. 🙂 Meghan won’t have quite the adventure that Madeleine and Jack do, but this is a change of pace for her. And more realistic, too. Although, I’d love to meet a time traveler if I could. 🙂 We’ll see where this bone leads her and Detective Sandberg….


  1. Great post, and intriguing story! I like the background about university archaeologists; something you don’t often see in modern stories, with the plethora of CSI shows.


    • Thanks, Mayumi. 🙂 In real life, few of us have “sexy” jobs like you see on television and in movies. (Although there are some exceptions.) A day like my fictional Meghan is having would be well out of the ordinary for most of us.

      And the post scheduling did work this time. 🙂 Maybe the switch to Firefox helped. Anytime I try to do any blog “maintenance” with IE 9, things look wonky and don’t always work. No problems with Firefox, though.


    • Thanks, Kourtney. 🙂 This is not a mini-version of Death Out of Time, but heck, there are so many story possibilities with archaeologists and unexpected finds. I’m hoping this will be a fun way to learn about more aspects of the field. 🙂


  2. I loved this post, since I love reading forensic thrillers or watching television shows and movies on the subject (and thanks for the mention!) Of course, in the books, there’s always a fancy forensic archaeologist to consult, whereas in real life, I figured it was more like you discussed. I’m sure finding a bone gives everyone a little adrenalin rush though. 🙂

    I liked your Haiku, and I was also happy to learn Scrivener has a name-generating tool. I love Scrivener, but even though I went through the tutorial a few months back, I’m sure there are so many features I’m not even using. Must get better about that. Do you use the Mac or PC version?


    • I have to give credit where it’s due, and you were the one to suggest Meghan could find some bones. 🙂 That sparked the idea behind this series of Poetic Archaeology posts. Who knows? I might get the idea for yet another novel with an archaeologist as protag!

      I’m using the PC version of Scrivener. The name generator can be found in Tools> Writing Tools on the drop-down menu. You’ll see Name Generator at the very bottom of the menu. You can enter specific criteria like English male first names and Polish last names. It generates some wild combinations, but it’s handy if you’re stuck on a name for someone. (Plus, it’s fun to play with.)

      There are so many features we don’t need as novelists, but it would be interesting to learn more about them. But there’s so little time as it is. But I should instead focus in the WIPs and the blog, including a more true-to-life forensic case, perhaps?….


      • You write a book that includes some forensic archaeology, and I’m there. Of course, I’ll be there for any book you write!

        Thanks for the Scrivener info. I found the name generator. I need to explore the software more, but as you said, there’s only so much time and it should be spent on the WIP. 🙂


  3. Love it! What a great idea. You and Carrie are so smart. 🙂 This is actually kind of interesting timing. This weekend when the family and I were out on a walk we stumbled across two jaw bones. Of course I kept them because I love freaky stuff like that. My husband was grossed out. The kids want to take them to school for show and share, lol.

    Hey, I should post a picture of them to see if you can tell me what animal the bones are from.

    Hmm, first the coincidence of Saturday’s posts, now bone discovery. Although yours is fictional and mine was real–but still! What would the Lehen have to say about that? 😉

    I hope you have good luck finding a sci-fi beta reader. I’ll keep my eyes/ears open, also.


    • Thanks, Kate. 🙂 Gotta keep the new ideas flowing, right? I don’t want my muse walking away because I’m not paying enough attention to her and her character friends. 😉

      By all means, post or send the photos. If I can’t ID them, my husband almost certainly could. He has a lot of experience in archaeological faunal analysis. Of course, if they look human, I’ll suggest you contact your local law enforcement! 😀

      We indeed seem to be on the same cosmic wavelength. And I’m sure the Lehen have an explanation—although it might be a bit meta-philosophical and hard for us to understand. But I’d happily listen if any of them would like to drop in and discuss their ideas. 😉

      I’ve had a couple of beta reader offers, and I’m certainly open to more. Even if everyone doesn’t read this round, there are later versions that will need fresh eyes, too. I’d love it if Draft 4 could be the last one needing major revisions. Focusing on the fine-tuning after that would be wonderful. But if more work’s needed first, I’ll do it!


    • Thanks, Margarita! I hope the mystery will make an entertaining way to learn a bit about archaeology. Meghan’s not used to detectives dropping into her lab. 🙂


      • My husband has always been a “serious” student – of everything; I pick stuff out of the air. I read books aloud for us, and I can hardly wait to read him this one! It looks like it’ll suit both our tastes to a “TEE” heehee! xoxoM


  4. I am working on my project which is tied a bit to archaeology, though my not being well-versed in the subject, as you are, has been challenging. So that aspect is taking a back seat so far, but that seems okay. I love what you are doing here 🙂


    • Thanks, Winsomebella. 🙂 Given how well-written and engaging your posts are, I know your project will be a wonderful read. I’m looking forward to the day when you share it with the world. 🙂


    • I hope you’ll continue to enjoy it. 🙂 I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to write a full-length mystery, but I do enjoy them so much. So I thought I’d mix it up with some archaeology lessons and hopefully entertain readers at the same time. We’ll see what happens!


  5. J, your book sounds very good — I want to know MORE. Do you read Patricia Cornwell? Loved your haiku. Regarding Scrivener — does it really help? I’ve not used it and keeping track of chapters and changes is maddening sometimes.


    • I haven’t read any of her books, although I’ve heard good reviews. It’s sometimes embarrassing to say how few books I actually read these days. I try to devote more time to my writing, but I know I should step back more often and do more reading. It really does help the writing!

      I really love Scrivener. And the big reason is because the program makes it so easy to keep track of your WIP, especially as it gets longer and longer. I used to write in a single Word file. Scrolling through a few hundred pages to find something is a pain in the behind. Find/replace works—if you remember the exact phrase! Other people work in separate files, either by chapter or scene. Then it’s hard to remember which file you want.

      But Scrivener lets you create separate files for scenes (or chapters if you prefer), but keeps them easily available in a folder. There’s a sidebar called The Binder that shows all the associated files (including any character or place sketches you’ve created). Just click on the desired file, and it opens. There are so many other helpful features, too. For example, if you’re worried about changing a scene and then changing your mind, you can take a “snapshot” of the original before you make changes. Then both are available to you. (And they’re easy to organize, too.)

      The program has a free 30-day trial period, and I’d recommend downloading it and giving it a try. And it’s a real 30 days, not calendar days. So if you opened it once a week, you could try it over 30 weeks. Like any program there’s a bit of a learning curve, but it’s really not bad. 🙂


  6. No bones about it – this beginning is intriguing!
    We have a lot of animal bones – some from cattle ( the vertebrae are little sculptures!) some found in the woods. I know bones freak people out (I used to draw them and utilize them in sculptures – but found best not to display them when trying to sell a house). Bones are just so beautiful – and such an engineering feat.
    Ready for more of this story! ( could be another juvenile book in the making here….kids love this stuff)


    • Oh, yes, bones in the house. 🙂 In graduate school my husband-to-be would bring back various carcasses he’d found while in the field. Sometimes they didn’t go straight to the faunal lab on campus! Or the car would acquire a funky smell on the trip home. And some bones ended up as “art work,” too. Nothing creative, mind you. Just as found.

      I’m not completely sure where this story will lead, but I hope you’ll enjoy the trip. Yes, I’m pantsing Poetic Archaeology. In some ways, it would be easier if I could be organized about it. But the Muse likes her freedom. 🙂


  7. I think this is a good introduction to the story, and a good bit of background on forensic archaeology. Good one, it works really well. I shall look forward to the next part – plus a Scrivener mention is always worth a few points 🙂


    • I know archaeology isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, but I hope the mystery for Meghan will make it more interesting for them. And I can’t imagine trying to go back to Word for writing. 🙂


  8. Excellent! My sister is an archaeologist and spends most of her time digging up old coins and bowls. I must ask her if she’s ever found a bone 🙂

    I love this story 😀


    • Thanks, Dianne. 🙂 Once my husband found a silver Spanish “piece of eight,” and there have been a few coins with the various Kings George. Broken pottery bits and Native American stone-tool manufacturing debris are most common for us. Sometimes, we do get more interesting artifacts that tell some interesting stories. 🙂


    • Ha! You’ll just have to keep reading to see where that bone leads. I hope I’ve hooked a few readers with this second series on Poetic Archaeology. 🙂

      This draft (no. 3) of the WIP is just under 72,000 words. I’m aiming for no more than 85,000-90,000 when done and would be happier with 80,000-85,000. So it’s a lengthy chunk, and I’m looking for full-on critiques.

      So while I know you are a killer beta (I mean that in a good way!) and your expertise would be awesome, I think you should be concentrating on some of your forthcoming publications and WIPs just now. 🙂 (And there are no explosions. Well, there’s reference to a past one, but we don’t see any. 😉 )

      Hope the kids didn’t get into too much trouble!


      • I just love Archaology. Even without the human bone, I find this stuff fascinating.

        Yeah… you’re right. Two sets of edits to do for two different publishers. Finish third manuscript within two weeks, and get through beta-ing my big novel. Probably enough on my plate. 🙂 Good luck.


  9. Cool post! I wanted to be an archeologist before I decided I wanted to be a doctor (I’ve changed my mind since then.) I’d wanna be your beta but a) I’m not… ahem… very experienced and b) I doubt you’d want the opinion of a teenager 😀 BUT I’m sure your work is grrrrreat!


    • Ha, thanks, Ravena! It still needs work, but I’m hopeful the story will be print-worthy. 🙂 And I’ll finally be answering your tag questions in tomorrow’s post. (Saturday morning my time, so late morning/early afternoon for you.)

      And don’t underestimate the value of your opinion, no matter your age. First, I hope this book would appeal to a wide age group. And second, someone your age would be a great beta reader for YA authors—you are the target audience! So don’t be shy about offering to read a manuscript. 🙂


  10. Hey, who isn’t interested in archaeology? Must be something wrong with them…
    Can’t wait for the next bit.

    Beta? I’d love to see it, but I’d love even more to see it when it’s finished. I’m still learning how to critique, anyway. Plus I get about as much as I can handle from my critique group… I hope you get a really good volunteer.


    • Believe it or not, some people just don’t “dig” archaeology. 😉 These posts generate fewer likes and comments than some of my others, but the people who do comment seem to be really interested. 🙂 And since archaeology is a significant part of my life and my novels(!), I’ll keep doing related posts as far as I can see. 🙂

      I have gained two new readers, so I’m hoping to get a good feel for the revisions that are needed after this draft. I would love for the next round to be the last of the major revisions. But if not, I’ll keep at it until I get it right.


  11. Hey, JM. The fellow I’ve got on my latest page (Rick Mallery) asked me today if anyone wanted some reading done. I can’t guarantee that he has a sci-fi/time travel background, but it may be worth a try to ask him 🙂


    • Hi, Dianne. Thanks for the info. I’ve garnered a few readers already, so I think I’m in good shape for this draft. But I’ll be asking for “fresh eyes” when Draft 4 is done. (Oh how I hope that’s the last one with major revisions. 😀 )


      • It’s painful! My latest novel is currently with two editors and I know when I get it back I’m going to have a lot of work to do 😦 My problem is that I get the novels back, make changes and this is where some mistakes creep in (while I’m making the changes) and I don’t like to then have to send it back again because this can go on forever!
        The cover is also giving me a big headache. The one I really like and my friends like is not the one the editor likes – I get tired just thinking about it!


        • No stage of the process gets easier, does it? There’s all the time and effort and tearing of hair at the first writing stage. Then there are edits and revisions and more edits and more revisions…. And then there’s getting it ready for publication… Then there’s marketing….

          Can someone remind me why I wanted to start writing? 😉 Oh yeah—I love it. 🙂


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