As a writer myself, I am aware of the fact that I am ostensibly drawn towards authors, and in recent years, Hallmark has increasingly adapted a wide variety of books into very successful movie franchises. In the case of Dana Cameron, her Emma Fielding mystery series is the newest mystery film heading to the Hallmark Movies & Mysteries Network this upcoming weekend (June 4th). I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to ask Dana a few questions about this series, and she in turn imparted a few choice details about her writing and archaeological experience.
RH: What was your attraction to archaeology? What kind of training did you have in the field?
DC: As a kid, I got hooked on the notion of a job that would let me do research, travel, read, study languages and history, and use science. Archaeology fit the bill perfectly, and I’m lucky that I really loved it, once I started studying in earnest. My undergraduate degree is in archaeology, and my advanced degrees are in American Civilization, with a focus on historical archaeology. I also spent a year abroad as an undergraduate, studying archaeology in London.
As a woman in archaeology, did you ever experience gender bias? If so, how did you handle that?
Lots of times. It hurt (and worse, affected how people saw me as a professional) when someone looked past me (and the rest of the all-woman crew) for “the guys who’ll do the heavy lifting,” or dismissed me, thinking I probably wouldn’t bother with a career because I got married, or assumed my husband was the project archaeologist (on another mostly female crew). I’ve had students who thought being a woman archaeologist was “cute.” I did what I could to convince the doubters that I was the right person for the job. Sometimes it meant confrontation, but mostly, it meant persistence and doing great work. One victory: that student told another (male) instructor at the end of the field season that he had to rethink his ideas about women!
On the other hand, I’m hopeful that things have changed since I was a student, but I know it’s a slow road of progress. One of the proudest moments of my writing career was talking to a woman at a bookstore event. She had wanted to be an archaeologist, but when she was younger, women were most often not allowed to work in the field. I suggested she could find volunteering opportunities in archaeology, and later she wrote to me, telling me she had finally had her chance to volunteer on a project!
What was the inspiration behind your first Emma Fielding Mystery Site Unseen? What kind of research did you do for this book? And why did you decide to make this a mystery as opposed to a romance, historical/contemporary fiction, etc?
These two questions are really part of the same one, for me. I had always been interested in writing, and archaeology requires studying how people behave—which is at the heart of writing. And historical archaeology—my specialty, which focuses on cultures with written documents—gives you an inside look at private life through diaries, wills, legal papers, letters, and the like. So my chosen career was excellent training for writing, and not just in preparing scholarly papers and reports!
I made the jump to writing fiction when a pot-hunter came to a site where I was working. When my colleague protested that he couldn’t use a metal detector and dig on state property, he pulled a gun on us. When, months later, I told a friend about this event, she said I had to write it down, and boom! I knew I had to try writing fiction. I’d always read and loved mysteries, and I already had a bad guy with a gun, so that made sense. As for research, I really started to sweat that, until I remembered I was drawing from my own experiences and had about twenty years of research and experience already under my belt!
When were you first approached to option the book for a movie? How long was the process? I understand the entire book series has been optioned?
My agent, Josh Getzler, was first asked about the availability of the books by Muse Entertainment late last summer. By November, we announced that we’d agreed to an option for all six books in the series, and by February or so, I received word that the project was in development, most likely for Hallmark. By April, I was visiting the sets! It moved unusually quickly.
Were you able to visit the set during filming? Any plans to make cameo appearances as some of the other authors do in Hallmark movies?
I got to visit the sets for two days. I loved watching the cast and crew at work—it was one of the coolest things I’ve ever done! There are no plans for me to make a cameo appearance, but I’d love to do that if they make another movie.
I had the opportunity to preview the film, but I have not read the book. I appreciate seeing a strong, older woman as the lead. How is Courtney Thorne-Smith like the Emma character you created in the books and how is she different?
When I wrote Site Unseen, I wrote Emma Fielding based on my experiences, so she was a red-headed, youngish (thirty-ish) academic looking for her “forever” job of a tenured professor. In the script, I think Emma is described as “40s, beautiful, brainy,” so these are fairly superficial differences!
What I love about the choice of Courtney Thorne-Smith for Emma is that she conveys Emma’s thoughtfulness and her passion for archaeology, science, and justice so well. In addition to being smart and a genuinely lovely person, I think Courtney really gets what drives Emma as a character.
What is your advice to lovers of your book series as they watch the film? Sometimes lovers of the book struggle to enjoy the film adaptations.
There are big differences between the book and the movie. For me, from what I’ve seen from the filming, the movie is focusing on what’s important to me: Emma’s passion and curiosity, and the way that archaeology is so similar to detective work.
Any other books you have coming out soon that you can mention?
I’ve finished a noir historical novel based on the Anna Hoyt character I developed in short stories, and I have some short stories forthcoming, but nothing I can reveal yet!
What is your advice to authors who dream of having their books optioned for film/TV?
Well, this all came about so long after I thought the Emma Fielding books had a chance of being optioned, I’m not sure I have any advice to give! I tell aspiring authors to work hard at your craft, get involved with your writing and reading communities, and be a decent person in your social media interactions. That’s the best advice I can offer.
You’ve visited many different places because of archaeology. If you were able to go on a dream archaeological dig, where would you go and why?
Oh, wow! Egypt is still on my bucket list, but I studied the Romans in Britain while I was in London, but never got to work on an excavation. Working on a nifty little Romano-British site, preferably along the coast, would be a real treat!
Thanks for having me, Ruth!
To be honest, I truly don’t know what impresses me most about Dana. I’ve screened the film, so that in of itself is an amazing tribute to her works and her characters, even though I have not yet read any of her books. However, I think what I appreciate the most is that she writes with a fresh perspective. You know how people always say you should write about what you know? Well, Dana has done just that. She experienced something personally, and off she went to use that as inspiration for a murder mystery series. She has invested the time in research coupled with real-life occurrences, and I believe those elements bring something a little different to her stories. While I know there are a myriad of phenomenal authors out there, I appreciate the history she infuses into her writings, and I simply adore this protagonist she has created in Emma Fielding. While I have not read the series, I find myself incredibly intrigued after screening the film and getting Dana’s point of view that I may just have to sit down and read the entire series this summer. Or at least, one book in the series.
Regardless, please consider tuning in on Sunday, June 4th to Hallmark Movies & Mysteries for the premiere of Site Unseen An Emma Fielding Mystery. In my humble opinion, this series is immensely unique and altogether engaging that it is bound to be a hit almost from the instant the first frame appears on our television screens. There is never a dull moment, I must say. Additionally, please consider following Dana at the links below and perchance even looking up her books. She is an accomplished, gifted woman who is quite willing to share her stories and interact with the fans of her work, so let’s do our best to welcome her into the Hallmark family and hope for an extensive partnership with her in the years to come!