|Beverly Connor: the Archaeologist as Detective|
While analyzing and reading bones in a sterile laboratory, or brushing centuries of dust off artifacts at a dig, archaeologist Beverly Connor dreamed of the romance and fantasy of her profession. Connor wanted to venture into the other worlds, the other times her work uncovered. In 1995, Connor took the first step to make those dreams reality by writing "A Rumor of Bones," the first Lindsay Chamberlain mystery.
Lindsay Chamberlain, nicknamed "the Angel of Death" by her colleagues, uses her knowledge of the past and its relics to make difference in the present and future. Connor believes archaeology and detection intersect on this point. Both disciplines examine the remains of an event and use it to construct the whole story -- a story which changes the way we view the world.
Crescent Blues: Who is Lindsay Chamberlain and what makes her special?
Beverly Connor: Lindsay isn't based on anyone in particular. She's kind of what I think an independent woman archaeologist ought to be like: competent, self-confident, self-possessed, brave, loyal, resourceful, logical, scientific and a little bit arrogant. I think what makes her special is the way she uses her brain to solve mysteries (and other problems). She's a thinker, an analyzer. One of the most common comments I get about her is that people like to "watch her think."
Crescent Blues: Could you tell our readers a little bit about Lindsay's next adventure? Will it feature another unique site like the cofferdam in Skeleton Crew?
Beverly Connor: [The book] starts out with what for Lindsay would be her worst nightmare come true -- she has lost her memory and with it her past. For the first few chapters, she has only her analytical ability on which to rely. The condition is temporary, and she tries to push the event in the back of her mind as she visits a 19th century historical site on the edge of the Great Smoky Mountain National Park. As it turns out, that dig has a number of problems of its own that Lindsay (naturally) has to contend with.
I try to make each book a little different. Sometimes I go back in the past, as with Questionable Remains and Skeleton Crew. Sometimes she's on a dig and sometimes not (Dressed To Die). [In the next book], although still employed by the University of Georgia (UGA), [Lindsay] is working on a site being excavated by a private company that does contract archaeology. I hope the site turns out to have unique features that the reader will enjoy. [Smiles.]
Crescent Blues: Will this book be the climax of the series, or does Lindsay have more adventures in store?
Crescent Blues: Do the Lindsay Chamberlain mysteries reflect specific experiences you had as an archaeologist, or do they just draw on your area of expertise? Could you share some of your most memorable moments as an archaeologist?
Beverly Connor: I no longer do active archaeological work as a profession. I left field work to pursue a doctorate in Instructional Design (finished all but the dissertation). I no longer go on digs, but Lindsay's experiences are similar to some I had, only I rearrange and fictionalize them, and make them more exciting. I never encountered murder on any of the sites I worked.
It was all memorable to me. There is nothing like looking at evidence of the past. One of the most memorable things for me was not on a dig, but in my first archaeology course as an undergraduate. The professor brought in small fired clay bulls from Catal Huyuk (6000 BC range). The bulls still had fingerprints from whomever fashioned the bull. That fascinated me.
Crescent Blues: What kind of person becomes an archaeologist, and how does one know that's the career for them? Are your books accurate depictions of the work and lifestyle?
Beverly Connor: A person who is curious and values history. A person who enjoys working outdoors or indoors alone, analyzing artifacts. A person who is fascinated with clues left by people from the past. I think my descriptions of the lifestyle are very accurate. They are obviously my experiences, and I've had archaeologists tell me that my descriptions are very similar to every site they have ever worked on.
Crescent Blues: What made you decide to use your expertise and experiences in archaeology to write mystery novels?
Beverly Connor: They go so well together. The archaeologist and the detective do the same thing. They both examine all that's left of an event and construct the whole story. Besides, I love archaeology and mysteries.
Crescent Blues: When you began chronicling Lindsay's adventures you were working at the University of Georgia. How did your colleagues at the University of Georgia view your mystery writing? Do you feel it helped or hurt your standing as an assistant professor? What kind of reactions have you had from other archaeologists?
Beverly Connor: I always worked in the field or in the lab, first as a graduate assistant, and later as a practicing archaeologist. However, I received a lot of support from the people I used to work with as well as from other archaeologists who have read my books. (I've also gotten some good mail from other types of academics -- it seems Dressed To Die hit close to home with a lot of people in academia no matter what field they were in.)
An interesting side note -- I'm not the only fiction writer to come from the University of Georgia's Anthropology department. Greg Keyes also graduated from there and is a quite successful fantasy writer.
Crescent Blues: Since leaving the staff of the University of Georgia have you been involved in any archaeology projects, or helped local law enforcement with forensic anthropology or bone identification?
Beverly Connor: I've never worked with law enforcement. I come from a purely archaeological background. I've worked with both human and animal bone in that context. I also worked a while for a private company which did contract archaeology. I do have professional contacts among forensic and crime scene investigators as well as a wide range of related professions whom I use for my writing.
Crescent Blues: You've said your expertise, like Lindsay's, is in bone identification. Can you elaborate on that? Is it a skill that is difficult to learn -- and would you be willing to share some of the trade secrets?
Beverly Connor: I've worked analyzing both animal and human skeletal remains in an archaeological context.
With animals the procedure is to identify what animal a bone comes from, from there derive the minimum number of individuals at the site. The idea is to discover the relationship of human populations with the animal populations in their environment. For example, when the human inhabitants hunted, how they hunted, what they hunted, and how much protein they derived from hunting.
With human skeletal remains, you want to know something about the population demographics of the site, what kind of nutrition did the population have, what diseases were present in the population, what killed the individuals -- disease, warfare, old age? You also study the burial goods. Sometimes, what an individual was buried with tells the archaeologist what a particular individual may have been in life -- rich, poor, in a position of authority, etc.
Nowadays, the analysis of Native American burials is severely restricted. Current Native Americans, quite understandably, don't want their ancestors dug up. By the way, my first expertise was in lithic (stone) material.
Crescent Blues: What other similarities do you feel you share with Lindsay?
Beverly Connor: I'm really not very much like Lindsay. She is very brave, not at all shy, she's tall, and she's sticking with archaeology, not abandoning it to become a mystery writer.
Crescent Blues: Was A Rumor of Bones, the first book of this series, your first novel? Had you published other fiction before that? What about academic writing -- are there any journal articles or dissertations your fans might want to ferret out?
Beverly Connor: A Rumor of Bones is the first book in the series. It was not my first novel. I have written several novels that never found a home with a publisher. That's what writing is like. The race goes to the persistent a lot of the time.
I do have professional writing in both of my academic careers (archaeology and instructional design). Most of the archaeological writing was in the form of site reports. I did see one of my early site reports on sale at an Internet bookstore not long ago. I thought that was a hoot.
Crescent Blues: What have you learned about writing novels since Rumor of Bones? How has that affected the later novels?
Beverly Connor: I hope I am becoming a better writer. I have learned more. I do more studying and learning about writing now than I ever did before I was published.
Crescent Blues: Anything you would do differently if you could start this series over or start your writing career again?
Beverly Connor: No. I can't think of anything.
Crescent Blues: Will we see more of Lindsay's entertaining brother, Sinjin? Sinjin is such an unusual name, how did he acquire it?
Beverly Connor: I think so. I liked Sinjin and so do a lot of readers. (He shows up briefly in the book I'm currently writing). I always liked the name. That's why Lindsay's brother has it.
Sinjin is the pronunciation of St. John. It's a more common name in Britain. Normally, you write it "St. John," and people know to pronounce it "Sinjin." Since it is not that common a name in the U.S., I decided to spell it Sinjin. I also wanted some of his relatives to pronounce it Saint John, so I had to use the different spellings to convey that.
Crescent Blues: And what about Derek, Lindsay's handsome dance partner/long-time friend and fellow archaeologist? Is he out of the running for love interest? You've said this has been a difficult storyline for you to write. Would you mind sharing with our readers the reasons you find it difficult?