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Dan Gemeinhart interviews Teri Fink about her new novel, The Clovis Dig

By on April 25, 2021 in Arts with 0 Comments
Teri Fink and Dan Gemeinhart at a book signing in 2019 at A Book for All Seasons in Leavenworth. Teri was signing a copy of her first novel, Invisible by Day.

(Editor’s note: Dan Gemeinhart is the author of five novels for young readers: The Remarkable Journey of Coyote Sunrise, Good Dog, Scar Island, Some Kind of Courage and The Honest Truth, which was a New York Times Editors’ Choice selection. Dan sat down with novelist Teri Fink to talk about her newest novel, The Clovis Dig, which will be released May 1.

Dan Gemeinhart: This is a very local story in the best sense, grounded in the places, history and culture of our Wenatchee Valley. What were some of the challenges and joys of writing such a locally-rooted story?

Teri Fink: They say write about what you know. When I sat down to write The Clovis Dig I knew first-hand about the time, the place, and the dig itself. 

The novel was inspired by the real Richey/Roberts Clovis Cache. In the late 1980s ancient artifacts were uncovered in an East Wenatchee apple orchard. 

As for experiencing the history and culture of the Wenatchee valley, I’ve lived in Wenatchee for most of my life. I grew up literally surrounded by apple orchards — including apple trees in our back yard. I worked in orchards and at Columbia Fruit during my teenage years, and at WSU Tree Fruit Research my first year out of college.  

Dan: Although this is a fiction story, it is based on actual events, places and culture. How much research did you have to do to get the story right, and how much creative liberty did you take with the factual history?

Teri: I took a huge amount of creative liberty. This novel is definitely not meant to be a fictionalized re-telling of what actually happened. It’s pure creative fiction. 

As for researching the book, I toured the Richey/Roberts dig when it was going on. I kept all the news articles that were printed at the time, including Wenatchee World stories and a National Geographic magazine that featured the dig. 

Later, after the first couple of drafts were written, the internet came along, and I was able to research more about the science and archaeology, about other Clovis discoveries in the U.S., and about Native American history in our region. 

Also, just as I was finishing up the novel, the Icicle Creek Center for the Arts came out with a film called The Winter’s Tale. In the film, oral historian Randy Lewis tells the legend of a ferocious dragon named Spexman, and how the dragon is defeated by twin brothers using spears tipped with Clovis points.

Geologist Nick Zentner talks about the geology of our area. He explains that volcanic ash from Glacier Peak, which erupted 13,000 years ago, covered our area — up to a foot deep around Chelan. That ash layer helped date the Clovis cache. 

I included parts of the legend and geology from the film into the novel.

Dan: This is, among other things, a richly cross-cultural story. How did you approach telling the stories of other peoples and cultures? Did you reach out to local Latinx and/or native people to get their perspective?

Teri: I did reach out to people, but living and working in the area for so many years brought me into contact with folks from many walks of life and ethnic backgrounds. 

The Clovis Dig is a cultural merging of characters, in part, because that’s what I experienced growing up and living here. 

When I was a child, many of the migrant workers traveled from the American south, particularly Arkansas and Oklahoma, to pick fruit. Then migrants began arriving from Mexico. 

Also, I worked in education for three decades, most recently as Communications Officer for Wenatchee School District. I interviewed hundreds of students and teachers over the years. Kids told me about coming to Wenatchee from Mexico not knowing a word of English. They also talked about how they integrated into life here. 

The Mariachi program, for example, helped many Hispanic kids maintain their cultural identity while helping them to be a part of the community and go on to college, often the first in their families to do so. 

As for the Native Americans in the novel, I’m a fan of Tony Hillerman mysteries. One of Hillerman’s main characters is Joe Leaphorn, a Navajo policeman. That character inspired my Joe — that’s Joe Running, a WSU archaeologist. 

I’m also a fan of books by Sherman Alexie, who grew up on the Spokane Indian Reservation. I attended a talk by Alexie, and he was incredibly entertaining. His talk and his books taught me about local Native American life. 

Also, I wanted to be culturally sensitive, so I reached out to the archaeology department of the Colville Confederated Tribe. They graciously read my book and offered helpful feedback. 

Dan: This story involves many characters and plot lines woven together… was it difficult to juggle such a complex story in your mind?

Teri: No, because I didn’t really juggle all the stories in my mind. I wrote many drafts of the novel, going back to flesh out the different story lines, in much the same way that mystery writers can go back to earlier chapters and insert a clue or a red herring. 

I should add, some writers create an outline before they write a single page of a novel. They know ahead of time “who done it,” how they did it, and what the ending is going to be. It’s a very efficient way to craft a novel. 

Unfortunately for me, I’m not one of those — yet. I’ve painted myself into a corner many times by writing with no destination in mind, waiting to see where the characters take me. 

I grew to love the cast of characters in this book, and I still think of them often — tough orchardist Claire Courtney, rookie archaeologist Joe Running, sophisticated archaeologist Spencer Grant, orchard manager Carlos Barbosa, Colville tribal attorney Shawna Ross and her savvy grandfather, Sam Moses, a tribal leader. 

I enjoyed writing about them all.

Dan: What originally sparked your interest in writing a story about the Clovis dig? 

Teri: I’ve always been fascinated with archaeological digs — maybe too many Indiana Jones movies. 

I remember reading National Geographic magazine as a kid, fascinated with the photographs of Pompeii, which I finally got to visit in 2012. 

I was librarian at Eastmont High School when the real Clovis investigation was going on. I tagged along with Mike Beck’s social studies class on a tour, and I was instantly hooked. To have an archaeological dig in our own back yard was spectacular. 

Dan: This book is about conflict surrounding our region’s Clovis dig, but we all know that books are usually really “about” something other than what they’re ostensibly “about.” Moby Dick isn’t really a book about whales, for instance.

What would you tell a prospective reader this book is really “about,” on a deeper level?

Teri: There’s a theme of reconciliation with one’s past — if you don’t address the wounds of your past, you continue to bleed. 

And the characters deal with some of the same issues we struggle with today — racism, sexism, and greed, to name a few. 

Then of course there’s deceit, murder, injustice and love.

Dan Gemeinhart is a former librarian who lives in Cashmere with his wife and three daughters. He’s the author of five books for young readers, several of which are set in our region.

Teri Fink is a former librarian and communications officer. She lives at Lake Chelan with her husband Don. The Clovis Dig is her second novel. 

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