Interviewed by Sandra Parshall
Beverly Connor is the author of the Lindsay Chamberlain archaeology mysteries from Cumberland House and the Diane Fallon forensic anthropology series from NAL Obsidian. An archaeologist by training, Beverly has worked in South Carolina and Georgia, doing fieldwork and analyzing artifacts. Her latest book, Dead Hunt, is fifth in the Diane Fallon series and was published in early February.
Q. Tell us a little about your new book, Dead Hunt.
A. Diane has put a black widow killer, Clymene O’Riley, in prison for life. So she is surprised when Clymene wants Diane to visit her in prison. Diane is further surprised to discover what Clymene wants from Diane—to make sure one of her guards isn’t killed by someone like herself. Diane agrees and suddenly finds herself the prime suspect in a bloody murder. She also finds herself in the path of an angry killer who wants her dead. Not even her haven at the RiverTrail Museum of Natural History is safe as a scandal over possession of stolen Egyptian artifacts threatens the museum and the job she loves. Dead Hunt was a lot of fun to write. It pits Diane against a clever killer.
Q. Did a real person provide the inspiration for Clymene O’Riley?
A. No. Real people don’t often provide inspiration for any of my characters. One of the things I enjoy about writing is making up characters and their back stories.
Q. What is the difference between Lindsay Chamberlain’s work and Diane Fallon's? How do the two characters differ in personality, temperament, interests?
A. Lindsay Chamberlain is foremost an archaeologist. Although she is also a forensic anthropologist, that was never her full time career. Currently she is a professor at the University of Georgia. Lindsay is younger than Diane, more optimistic, I think, and more of an academician. Lindsay has lived a relatively sheltered life. Her father is a professor of Shakespeare and her mother raises Arabian horses. Consequently, Lindsay loves horses and is an expert horsewoman. Lindsay is kind, but does not suffer academic fools. She is a terror in faculty meetings and at conferences. Her investigative style is derived from her archaeology mind set. She’s accustomed to looking at incomplete data and figuring out what happened, whether it is an archaeological dig or a crime scene.
Diane Fallon was a full time forensic anthropologist working in the field of human rights investigation. She abruptly stopped and made a career change when her adopted daughter and several friends were massacred by a man she and her team were investigating. This has made Diane not quite the optimistic person that Lindsay is. Diane took a job as director of a museum of natural history—something completely different from dealing with mass murderers. A former lover convinced Diane to get back into forensic anthropology to help him discover who killed his friends (One Grave Too Many). That inspired her to put in a forensic anthropology lab as well as a crime scene unit attached to the museum. Diane’s method of solving crimes is more about analyzing evidence and interviewing suspects. Diane loves caves and is an expert caver and rock climber. (Lindsay hates caves ever since she was trapped in one.) Diane tries to bring out the best in the people around her.
Lindsay Chamberlain novels tend to be more academic mysteries and usually take place on an archaeological dig somewhere in the southeastern United States. Diane Fallon novels tend to be more crime scene mysteries that take place in the general area of north Georgia and are a little harder edged. Both are a lot of fun to write.
Q. Did you always plan to write, or was this an interest that developed after you began working as an archaeologist?
A. Writing was an interest that developed over time. I always made up stories in my head, but never really thought of becoming a writer until later in life. Which worked out well for me—it was after working as an archaeologist that I had more interesting things to write about.
Q. Are you writing full-time now, or do you still work as an archaeologist? Do you think the skills required in that work equipped you to write mysteries?
A. I write full time now. I always liked to read mysteries and one thing I noticed was that archeologists are really very much like detectives. Both detectives and archaeologists do the same thing. They uncover the true story of a site or a crime scene working from biased and incomplete data—they only have what is left behind to construct what happened.
Q. What kind of reactions to your books have you had from other archaeologists?
A. I have received very kind reactions from archaeologists from all over. That was very gratifying to me. When the very first Lindsay Chamberlain mystery came out (A Rumor of Bones) one archaeologist wrote that it was like every site he had ever worked on. I always try to make the archaeology accurate as well as the forensics.
Q. Has it been difficult to come up with plausible storylines that involve an archaeologist or anthropologist in present-day murder cases? Do you consciously place any limits on your imagination when you’re plotting a book, and do you ever discard a story idea or plot twist because you don't believe it would be realistic for your character?
A. So far I’ve been lucky in coming up with plausible storylines and haven’t had to discard anything yet. The archaeology is as accurate as I can make it. If I change anything, like a date, for plot purposes, I put it in an author’s note. I’m also as accurate as I can be with the forensics, too. Other than that, I don’t place any limits on my imagination. Skeleton Crew’s plot (one of the Lindsay mysteries) was close to going over the top and it was one of the most fun to write. Sometimes I’m tempted to do something in “fantastic archaeology” with Lindsay, but so far have resisted the temptation. Lindsay wouldn’t like it.
Q. Do you still have to do research for your novels, or do you write about what you already know?
A. Each book takes about six months of research. For the Lindsay Chamberlain books I soon realized that she couldn’t be on a Mississippian archaeological dig (Native American sites in the southeastern United States from about A.D. 800 to 1500 A.D. — the kind of digs I worked on) for all the books. So, I branched out to historical sites as well as underwater archaeology. For Skeleton Crew Lindsay was excavating a Spanish galleon off the coast of Georgia inside a cofferdam. She did some underwater archaeology. I have never done anything like that. I had to research every aspect of that book and it was my favorite. Because I was an archaeologist and not a forensic anthropologist (though I did work with burials), nor was I a crime scene specialist, I also have to do a lot of research for the Diane Fallon novels.
Q. What aspect of writing craft has been most difficult for you to master? What aspect do you enjoy the most?
A. I think the most difficult is writing dialog. I don’t have a good ear for dialog and am always trying to improve. The most fun is the plotting and the research. I love just making up stories.
Q. What led you to publishing the Lindsay Chamberlain series with Cumberland House, a relatively small regional publisher? Can you contrast the small publisher/big publisher experiences for us - the pros and cons of each? Do you think small publishers are a good way for writers to get started in today’s difficult market?
A. Cumberland House offered me a very nice contract. That’s why I went with them for the Lindsay series. The big difference between a small publisher and a big one is the ability of the large publisher to get my books into a larger market—more bookstores. Big publishers simply have a wider distribution system and print more books. The average print run for a small publisher is five to seven thousand copies. Keeping in mind that there are perhaps 10,000 bookstores in the U.S. alone, you can see that the small publisher’s print run cannot compare with the impact of thirty, fifty, or a hundred thousand copies printed by a large publisher.
With the small publisher I had a larger chunk of the in-house publicity budget than I do with the bigger house.
Are small presses a good way for writers to get started? They can be. Often small presses specialize, and if you have something that fits their niche it is a good way to go. You can develop a good regional readership in a small house that can expand to a national and worldwide readership. But small houses can be just as difficult to get published in as large houses. One of the main things to look for with any small or mid-size house is the distribution system—can they get your books in the stores?
Q. What’s next for you after Dead Hunt? Can you give us a hint of what you’re working on now?
A. In the next Diane Fallon mystery she has lost the crime lab. With new elections and a change in mayors, Diane was replaced as director of the crime lab. She still has her job at the museum and her own osteology lab, and she is enjoying the free time she now has. Unfortunately, the newly elected mayor is murdered and she is again drawn into solving crimes—there goes her free time. I’m also working on the sixth Lindsay Chamberlain, Kill Site. Lindsay is working on a PaleoIndian dig and discovers that she had a double who disappeared years ago and people in the small town near the site aren’t sure that Lindsay isn’t really the missing woman. This of course makes her life much more complicated, especially with the trouble she is having on the dig.
Q. In parting, what advice do you have for aspiring writers?
A. Keep writing. And if getting published is one of your goals, never give up trying, ever. You, of course, have to write a good story. Read as many books on writing and publishing as you can. Go to a writers conference to meet people in the industry and have your manuscript read. Listen to good advice. Keep going and don’t give up. In the end, the race often goes to the writer who perseveres.
Visit the author's web site at www.beverlyconnor.com