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Dig This Book!

TIME For Kids spoke with archaeologist turned author Jordan Jacobs about his new mystery series

November 16, 2012

A new book series follows 12-year-old Samantha as she travels to different locations and explores the secrets each one holds.

Do you like action, adventure and mystery? Then check out author Jordan Jacob’s new book Samantha Sutton and the Labyrinth of Lies. It’s the first book in a new series that follows 12-year-old Samantha as she travels to different locations and explores the secrets each one holds.

In the story, Samantha’s archaeologist uncle invites her to Peru for an excavation during the summer. She hopes to have the time of her life. The only problem is her annoying older brother Evan. He comes along and watches her every move. Just when she thinks summer will be a flop, a mystery begins to unfold at the 3,000-year-old site. She learns about a mysterious monster that haunts the ruins of Chavin de Huantar!

The author of this series is an archaeologist who has traveled to over 50 different countries, and excavated hundreds of human skeletons all over the world. He once spent two hours traveling down a dangerous jungle river to reach a remote Mayan site! Jacobs based this book on his first excavation at the Sierra Nevada mountain range in California and also on a trip to Peru. A few events in the book even happened to him, like when a large (and angry) dog chases Samantha’s brother into a woman’s clothing store!

If you’re looking for a suspenseful story, then pick up this book and follow Samantha through hidden tunnels and haunted ruins. While the main character is a girl, the book itself isn’t girly. Boys will enjoy the book too since Samantha is a character who isn’t afraid to get her hands dirty!

TFK Kid Reporter Amelia Compton sat down with Jacobs in Los Angeles, California. The author revealed his inspiration for the book, what it was like to write from a young girl’s perspective and much more!

TFK:

What inspired you to write this book?

JACOBS:

I loved archaeology when I was a kid. I used to go to the library and read all about it. I’d watch any movie or TV documentary that had anything to do with archaeology. So I wanted to write a book that I would have liked when I was a kid. Also, the site is right out of an adventure movie. It was just begging to have a story set there. And the fact that the site has all these narrow little tunnels that an adult wouldn't be able to squeeze into made it perfect for Samantha to explore.

TFK:

How did you use your experience as an archaeologist to write this book?

JACOBS:

Everything that Samantha finds is based very specifically on the time that I spent at that site. But it's also based on how I was introduced to archaeology. While writing the book I remembered the order that I learned certain things about how archaeologists do their work. I wanted to present this work in a way where people who didn't know anything about archaeology could follow along in a natural way.

TFK:

You went on an excavation in the Sierra Nevada Mountains when you were 13. What was that experience like for you?

JACOBS:

That was a really interesting experience. I was in this class in junior high where you could study whatever interested you. I grew up in Davis, California, where there's a big university with a good archaeology program. People at Davis told me about an excavation in the Sierras. I went with my parents and I learned the very basics of how to dig. You're not digging for treasure, but for basic sorts of things. We found something called debitage. You've probably seen arrowheads and things like that? Debitage is little chips of things, like the stuff that gets chipped away when you make an arrowhead. That told us the site was once a major center for the production of tools. We couldn't find the tools themselves because people had taken them off to other places.

TFK:

Is your book mainly based on your experiences as an archaeologist?

JACOBS:

Nearly everything that happens to Samantha, her brother or other members of the team are things that happened to me there. Do you remember when Adam gets stuck in the middle of nowhere and he hitchhikes into town? That was something that happened to me. Evan gets chased by a dog and has to go into a woman's clothing store and hide behind a counter. That happened to me. So, yeah, all that stuff came right out of my experience.

Jordan Jacobs

Jordan Jacobs

TFK:

How would you describe Samantha?

JACOBS:

Samantha is very serious. She's also smart, capable and responsible. When she finds something she's interested in, she wants to know all about it. That’s based on how I was as a kid.

TFK:

Why did you pick a girl as your main character?

JACOBS:

The character that I had in mind for Samantha is based on a lot of girls and women I know, specifically my wife.  I like this idea of a strong, responsible girl and her not-so-responsible uncle. I just liked how that felt. Also, there should be more books with girls as the main characters!

TFK:

Was it difficult to write from a young girl's point-of-view?

JACOBS:

It was kind of difficult. I grew up with two older sisters. That definitely came into play. I also have three nieces. So I definitely borrowed from my own experience with girls who are Samantha's age.

TFK:

Did you draw the illustrations in the notebook? Why did you include them?

JACOBS:

I didn't draw them. I drew drafts and then an illustrator drew them. But there are a couple reasons I included them. One is that archaeologists take notes. When they find something, they have to record all the information about it. Otherwise, the information will be gone. The notebook is also a part of the mystery. Readers can find clues in it. Plus, the notebook is mysterious itself. What is this notebook? Why is it damaged and who's piecing it together?

TFK:

What do you enjoy most about being an archaeologist and an author?

JACOBS:

There are a lot of similarities between being an archaeologist and being an author. Both tell stories. Archaeologists, however, will never know if they’re right.  They’re never going to be able to travel back in time and say, “Yes, I was right. That is what that object is for or that's what these people believed.” You're always trying to tell a story based on the facts that you have. I like that challenge. There’s this feeling that you get when you hold something and you know you're the first person to have held it for many hundreds of years. You think about the last person who held it, or who used it, and how important it was to them. You get this sense that we're all the same, even people who lived hundreds and hundreds of years ago.

TFK:

Can you tell me about the next book in this series?

JACOBS:

We're keeping the story’s setting a secret. But at the very end of Labyrinth of Lies, we include the title of the next book in the series: Samantha Sutton and the Winter of the Warrior Queen. Can you guess what it's about?

TFK:

Is it set in the Arctic? It seems the place will be cold because the title includes winter.

JACOBS:

Interesting. It's definitely a cold place, but the clue is the Warrior Queen. It's about a specific historical figure called the Warrior Queen. One of the themes of the story is: Can you really find evidence of one single person at an archaeological site? Many archaeologists say that's not really what we do. But occasionally there will be such strong evidence linking a site to a specific historical character that you can make that conclusion.


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