Message From The Author
DIANA PALMER DIGS DEEP
A passion for anthropology fuels
her latest suspense blockbuster
By Lauren Spielberg
Such like a fine wine, New York Times bestselling author Diana Palmer proves that one only gets better with age. Despite a diagnosis of rheumatoid arthritis and high blood pressure two years ago, the reigning queen of romance is keeping busy traveling, working in her garden and, of course, writing her beloved books.
In Before Sunrise (HQN), the sequel to 1996's After Midnight, she places Phoebe Keller and Jeremiah Cortez in the spotlight, after readers wrote in, clamoring to know what happened to this written-in-the-stars couple. Palmer reconnects the pair in Knoxville, Tennessee, at Phoebe's college graduation. The attraction still resonates between the
future anthropologist and the jaded Comanche law
official, who's 13 years her senior. But when
a family crisis arises and Cortez must abandon Phoebe without warning, the relationship is again severed.
Three years later, Phoebe, now working outside her chosen field, is immersed in an intricate mystery when a Neanderthal skeleton is
excavated on a Native American reservation and a local professor winds up murdered. Cortez is sent in to investigateand to win back the woman he loves most.
Q: You do a superb job of immersing the reader in the lives of
Native Americans, anthropologists and
crime-scene investigations. What inspired
you to combine all three into a novel?
A: I grew up following my grandfather, a sharecropper, behind the mule and the plow, looking for projectile points (arrowheads and spear points). I still have all of them. Rocks and artifacts are my great lovewell, those and forensics. I was fortunate enough to give a workshop at a writers conference at the University of Georgia the year before last. Some experts in forensic anthropology and crime detection were also giving workshops, so I got a crash course in homicide investigation, including slides of actual victims. I learned a lot. Before Sunrise includes a crime scene worked in 1997 rural North Carolina, before DNA was perfected to the state it is now and long before CSI was on TV. I worked from facts on the state of crime-scene technology in 1997, not the more modern technology we have in 2005.
Q: Driving the suspense element of Before Sunrise is the unlikely discovery of Neanderthal remains in North Carolina. Given that you minored in anthropology in college and already possessed considerable knowledge of the subject, how did you go about translating that into such riveting drama?
A: One of the most controversial arguments in modern anthropology is the true date of the first settlement on the
continent by Native American tribes. You can start a fight by naming a date. We can actually verify carbon dating of 12,000-year-old sites, but often this date is challenged by supposedly earlier settlements. My book has an anthropologist stating for
a fact that he has found Neanderthal remainsthink roughly 200,000 years ago, down to perhaps 30,000 years agoin North Carolina. This cannot be possible, my heroine thinks, so there must be a more logical explanation for it. But the anthropologist is killed before she can ask him for details. Then the search for a murderer is on. The FBI has an Indian Country Crime Unit, which was established in 1997nice timing, because my book is set in 1997and is especially geared to assisting with investigations on reservations or in Indian country. Only the first murder is on a fictional reservation in North Carolina. The other is in a small mountain town where my heroine is curator of a small Native American museum.
Q: Have you gotten your hands dirty working in the field? If so, is it something you pursue now?
A: Yes, I have gone on digsmany of themand I just asked a former college professor if he had any coming up in the summer that I could volunteer for. Sadly, he doesn't. On one of our digs, we unearthed a fire pit in a Mississippian village on the Chattahoochee River and found pottery, projectile points and even part of a stone pipe. The pot, almost intact, contained charred acorns. We were ecstaticand also very dirty. By then the excavation was about six feet wide by four feet deep.
Q: Your love of Native American culture is more than evident in Before Sunrise. Given how eclectic your own life history is, was
there anything else that played into the
A: Yes. It's a collection of facts I absorbed over 16 years as a newspaper reporter. I never covered a murder like the one [in Before Sunrise], although I did spend a lot of time talking to veteran policemen, forensic experts and coroners when I was a journalist. I took notes, which I still have. I watch factual shows on homicide investigation as well, so that I can be
fairly certain of my scenes.
Q: What can you tell us about some of your upcoming projects?
A: I'm working on three books simultaneously and having the time of my life creatively. There is my 2006 [as-yet-untitled] HQN hardcover, which features a character who was in my earlier novels Once in Paris and Paper RoseColby Lane. He's an ex-covert specialist, working as assistant head of
security for an oil corporation. In this book, nobody is what he/she seems, and Colby's worst enemy is 6 years old, wears dresses, hates his guts and just might be his daughter.
As long as my mind still works, I can overcome anything physically debilitating. The only real limits are in the mind. You can do most of what you think you can do. You just have to stay focused and optimistic. If you sit down and give up, well, there's no future in that!
Excerpt from BEFORE SUNRISE
Phoebe hesitated for a minute before she opened her middle drawer and took out a small prayer wheel dangling a feathernot an eagle feather, or she'd have been in trouble. It was an odd little gift. Cortez had mailed it to her the week after her graduation. It was one of only two letters she ever had from him. It contained this prayer wheel, wrapped in rawhide, with the feather attached and
a blade of sweetgrass woven into the center.
Next to it was another letter, very thin, with her name and address scrawled in the same hand that had addressed the letter with the prayer wheel. She touched
it as if it were a poisonous snake, even after three years. Gritting her teeth, she made herself take out the small newspaper clipping it containednothing else had been in the envelopeand look at it. It reminded her not to get sentimental about Cortez.
She read nothing except the small headline: "Jeremiah Cortez Weds Mary Baker." There was no photo of the happy couple, just their names and date of the wedding. Phoebe never forgot that. It was three weeks to the day from her graduation from college.
She tucked the clipping back into the envelope, pushing back the anguish of the day she'd received it She would never understand why Cortez had given her hope of a shared future and then sent her nothing more than a cold clipping about his marriage. No note, no apology, no explanation. Nothing.
The phone rang while Phoebe was trying to force
herself to answer her e-mail. She picked it up absently. "Chenocetah Cherokee Museum," she announced pleasantly.
"Is this Miss Keller?" a man's voice asked.
"Yes," she replied, ignoring her computer screen. The man sounded disturbed. "What can I do for you?"
There was a hesitation. "You can arrange to have a site dated by organic material, can't you? Don't you have a small foundation budget to help with that sort of thing?"
"Well, yes, although we can date by tree ring age "
"I mean skeletal remains," he added. "I have a skull
I have a whole skeleton, in fact. There's a great deal of
patination, and in situ in a cave with Paleo-Indian lithic
specimens .The skull has an enlarged brain case and
wide nasal cavities, the dentition is indicative of well,
the skull is possibly Neanderthal in origin."
She actually gasped. She clutched the phone so hard that her knuckles went white.
"I know you're waryI don't blame you." He paused. "I'm a doctor of anthropology visiting the area. I know what I'm talking about. This is no hoax. But they're covering it up," he added in a rushed whisper. "He said that if this gets out, they'll kill him, they'll kill me!"
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