1. How do you know so much about archaeology? (We know you're not an archaeologist.)
Very true. However, I have a Ph.D. in anthropology, and although I specialized in linguistics, I took classes in archaeology. So, I know something about archaeology in Mesoamerica and more generally about how archaeology contributes to our knowledge of earlier cultures. I also spent enough time with archaeologists to know that they absolutely love their work. In that way, I made Pablo a fairly typical archaeologist. When people tell me they're thinking about going into archaeology, I always tell them to go for it.
Having said this, I have almost no first-hand experience with the day-to-day work of excavating. As an author writing about a dig, I probably should have signed onto a dig or at least hung around one. Instead, I did the next best thing. I went to the public library and found children's books on the life of archaeologists. I have found children's authors to be clear, detailed, and concise in their explanations, and that's where I got the majority of my information about excavating. Unfortunately, the books did not discuss how archaeologists carried out their work in 1950s Guatemala, so I had to make some educated guesses.
2. How could you bring yourself to kill your characters? (In other words, how could you be so hard-hearted?)
Let me start by saying that my characters live for me, just as they do for readers. However, writers have an extra layer of separation from their characters. I know that each character is a product of my imagination, and that gives me enough distance to kill off one or two in service to the story.
I will say that at one point in writing Knots, I was going to kill off one of my most likeable characters, and the members of my on-line writing group strongly objected. I was pleased that they had come to care about the character, but it meant that I had to reconsider his demise. In the end, I decided I could make some adjustments to the story and keep the character alive.
3. Why didn't you tell us that Ernesto Guevara was Che Guevara?
I wanted to, but unfortunately, it was the Cubans who nicknamed him Che. As far as I know, when Che Guevara was in Guatemala in 1954, he still used Ernesto, his given name. It would have been fun to let readers know that Ernesto was Che, but I couldn't think of a good way to tell people that without writing some pretty contrived dialogue. I finally decided that readers would come to know Che just as the Guatemalans did, as an idealistic and sometimes irritating young Argentinian, who was still basically a nobody.
4. Was a quipu really found at a Guatemalan dig?
No. That part of the story was fiction. Los Ancianos and the town of Chayaka exist only on a fictional plane, as do their residents. I portrayed the political and social situations of the time as accurately as I could, but Meg, Patricia, Noemi, and their families are products of my imagination (and yours, as an active reader).