But at some point in the hopefully not-too-distant future, I have an old project to get back to. It's one that I wrote the opening paragraphs to sometime in the distant mists of the past (er… the mid-90s, maybe? the early-00s?). I came across it looking for something else about a year ago, and it made me laugh. In a good way. And then I set it aside again to work on other things.
The main character is an archaeology PhD student named Grace Cowell (Gray for short), and I intended it to be a mystery novel, set in southern Alberta where I did my field school (which wasn't that long ago at the time I started thinking about this book, but is rather a very long time ago now). I had some fun notions about the plot, but no experience writing a mystery.
I still have no experience writing mystery novels, but I do have a lot more experience reading them. But I think I may also add some adventure novel elements -- maybe not to this book, but I have some ideas for the next one in the series. Because, naturally, all my short story ideas turn into novels, and my novel ideas turn into series. Sigh.
Anyway, here's the opening for Reading the Bones, an archaeological mystery-adventure, which I might get started on before the year is out. Or not.
“Consulting the oracle?”
Grace Cowell looked up to see the jolly, bearded face of her thesis supervisor grinning at her. Professor Ray James straightened his stocky frame from where he’d been leaning against the doorway, and stepped into the room.
Gray looked back down at the array of bones on the black-topped table. “Apparently, I’ll have an exciting adventure this summer, and meet a short, dark and handsome stranger,” she said.
“Short, dark and handsome?”
Gray held up one of the bones as an exhibit. “Absolutely,” she said, schooling her voice to mock-oracular seriousness. “The healed fracture in this ursid phalanx is unmistakably indicative of short stature.”
The professor laughed and took the slender bone. It looked very much like a human finger bone, unless one knew what to look for. “So many big words,” he said, “from such a small object.”
“I keep hoping that if I make the summer sound grand and important, it will be. Or at least that it won’t be dull.”
Ray grunted. “These are the bones from Devon Island?” he asked.
Gray nodded and absently spread the jumble out more on the table. “Yup,” she said. “And instead of heading to the frozen north, the land of the midnight sun, etcetera, etcetera, to dig up more material for my dissertation, I’ll be going to hot, sticky southern Alberta to supervise bored field school students digging up cow bones and rusty nails.”
“And bits of broken glass,” Ray said. “Don’t forget the bits of broken glass.”
“Thanks so much for the reminder,” Gray said, resting her chin on her hand and her elbow on the table. She sighed. “Bits of broken glass. I hate historic archaeology.”
“If you want,” Ray said, handing her the bear bone. “I can tell Simon to find someone else to assist with the field school.” He tried unsuccessfully to hide a smile behind his beard.
“No,” said Gray. “I said I’d do it. I have to do something this summer, and historic archaeology is better than no archaeology. Besides, this field school gig pays.”
“You’ll have fun,” Ray said. “Not all students are bored. Or boring.”
Gray made a doubtful noise.
“And even if you don’t meet a short, dark and handsome stranger, at least you won’t have to live in a tent and worry about being eaten by a polar bear.”
“I suppose,” said Gray. “Though I don’t relish driving down to the ranch every day.”
“You’ll be able to bathe more than once a week. In a real bathtub.”
“There is that.” Gray sighed and began to pack the bones she’d been examining back in their box. She might not get back to her dissertation work until the summer was over. “There is that.”