Behind the Book: Artifact

The story behind my debut novel

Artifact : Jaya Jones Treasure Hunt Mystery #1, published by Henery Press.

Artifact: Jaya Jones Treasure Hunt Mystery #1, published by Henery Press.

The idea behind the Jaya Jones Treasure Hunt Mystery Series is that in each book, history professor Jaya Jones solves a present-day mystery linked to a historical treasure from India’s colonial history. The books begin in San Francisco before Jaya heads to a different foreign destination in each book—beginning with Scotland.

In Artifact, Jaya travels from San Francisco to the British Library in London to a Pictish archaeological dig in the Highlands of Scotland, piecing together the secrets of a lost Indian treasure hidden in a Scottish legend from the days of the British Raj.

It’s a good thing that I adore research, because I had to do a lot of it to get the historical details right! Though Artifact is a work of fiction, the backdrop of the British East India Company that Jaya investigates is true, as is the history of the Picts in Scotland that scholars have pieced together. If you like to let your imagination run wild like I do, you can imagine that the historical portion of the story and the treasure really could have existed.

I’m a Californian, but I’ve been traveling to Scotland since I was 10 years old, and to India since I was 12. Add that to the academic sabbaticals and conferences my cultural anthropologist parents took me to when I was even younger, and my fate was sealed. When I began writing a book, I knew it would involve travel and cross-cultural connections.

Me at age 10 on my first trip to Scotland.

Me at age 10 on my first trip to Scotland.

On one of my trips to India with my dad. He’s from south India, and the photos above were taken in Kerala and Cochin.

On one of my trips to India with my dad. He’s from south India, and the photos above were taken in Kerala and Cochin.

I also knew any book I wrote would be a mystery. Definitely a mystery.

My bookshelf devoted to Elizabeth Peters novels. (And that’s the Lewis Chessmen there on the shelf. These are ones I made out of plaster and painted as a fun project when I was a kid. See, I told you I couldn’t escape my fate.)

My bookshelf devoted to Elizabeth Peters novels. (And that’s the Lewis Chessmen there on the shelf. These are ones I made out of plaster and painted as a fun project when I was a kid. See, I told you I couldn’t escape my fate.)

Elizabeth Peters, Aaron Elkins, and John Dickson Carr are the authors who had the biggest influence on me. Especially Elizabeth Peters. I loved her Amelia Peabody and Jacqueline Kirby mysteries, but it was American art history professor Vicky Bliss who was my favorite. Vicky traveled to foreign lands on mysterious, romantic adventures that were fun, filled with memorable characters and fascinating settings, and on top of that were incredibly clever mysteries. That’s the style of novel I wanted to write.

This book is my comfort food reading! I can’t count how many times I’ve read it.

This book is my comfort food reading! I can’t count how many times I’ve read it.

Two of the Scottish ghost story collections I read as a kid. They helped shape the spooky overtones and folklore I wrote into  Artifact .

Two of the Scottish ghost story collections I read as a kid. They helped shape the spooky overtones and folklore I wrote into Artifact.

I finished a draft of Artifact after discovering National Novel Writing Month, and was so excited to have finished a full draft that I submitted it to the Malice Domestic Grants program. Much to my surprise, I won that year’s grant! Their grants are for promising unpublished writers, to foster the next generation of traditional mystery writers.

I used the grant to travel back to Britain to finish researching the book. I got a readers pass to the British Library in London and returned to the Scottish Highlands. There’s a long list of restricted items you can’t take into a reading room, because of all of the old, original documents. No cameras, no pens. This is a pencil sketch I made to remember the details.

My sketch of the a reading room at the British Library.

My sketch of the a reading room at the British Library.

Dunnottar Castle, near the archaeological dig in  Artifact .

Dunnottar Castle, near the archaeological dig in Artifact.

I finished writing the book, and you can read more about my publishing journey here and here.

The original cover of  Artifact .

The original cover of Artifact.

Six years and seven books later, I’m coming full circle, working on another novel set partly in Scotland! I’m not sure yet what will come of it, but I’m having a lot of fun being back in Scotland.

At the Writers’ Museum in Edinburgh, Scotland, on a summer 2018 writing retreat.

At the Writers’ Museum in Edinburgh, Scotland, on a summer 2018 writing retreat.