byPaula Gail Benson
Let me begin by saying I am an unabashed, wildly enthusiastic fan of Dana Cameron and her Emma Fielding archeological mystery series. My fandom is of long duration, going back to when the first Emma Fielding novel, Site Unseen, was initially published.
For the purposes of full disclosure, I met Dana Cameron at Malice Domestic when we were standing in line to get Elizabeth Peters’ signature. Dana asked me to take her photo with Peters. When I returned home, I read Dana’s novels, devouring each as it was released and being tremendously sad after the last was published. Although, I’m glad to say Emma has appeared in short story form since the end of the series.
Dana and I stayed in contact, meeting each year at Malice. I recommended her novels to my book club and moderated a panel she appeared on at the South Carolina Book Festival. The year she served as Malice’s Toastmaster, I attended the banquet for the first time and sat at her table with Frankie Bailey, Toni Kelner, and Charlaine Harris, an experience I’ll never forget.
I love Dana’s Fangborn stories and her dark colonial noir with Anna Hoyt, but Emma Fielding remains a favorite. And, it’s not just because Dana used my name for a young karate student character in Ashes and Bones, although I did give copies of that book to everyone I knew for Christmas the year it was published.
This year, Dana has experienced the delight of having her Emma Fielding novels reach new audiences through a movie on the Hallmark Channel, an organization known for consistently producing quality mystery programing.
On social media and Dana’s website, I followed the project’s swift development. In a matter of months, filming began, and Dana had the opportunity to visit the set and meet the actors and production staff, which included such film-making veterans as Douglas Barr (familiar to viewers for playing Howie Munson on The Fall Guy) as the director and Kellie Martin (an actress who has appeared on numerous TV programs, including Life Goes On and ER) as producer.
|Dana Cameron on set with Doug Barr (from Dana Cameron's website)|
I don’t have cable, but a good friend does. We eagerly planned a viewing party and set up with popcorn and phones ready to tweet as the credits rolled.
How thrilling to see Dana’s name, listed not only for having written the novel, but as an executive producer! The tweeting got a little intense.
Now, let’s face the $64,000 question: how did the teleplay compare to the novel? I think it’s reasonable to say they were offspring of the same mother and each deserving of its own love.
Certainly, there were differences. Courtney Thorne-Smith (known for her roles on Melrose Place, Ally McBeal, and According to Jim), who played Emma, was older than the character in the books and a blonde instead of a redhead, but she conveyed with conviction Emma’s tenacity in getting to the bottom of an issue, her fierce love of archeology, and her eagerness to teach her students.
|Dana with Courtney Thorne-Smith (from Dana Cameron's website)|
In the dramatization, Emma got a love interest in the detective investigating the case. I have to say I missed Emma’s husband Brian, who appears in the novels. He’s often in the background, but always provided support and a reliable sounding board.
The movie did maintain Emma’s archeological mentor, her grandfather in the books and father on screen. As in the books, he is deceased before the start of the story, but remains an important motivator as does his research about a colony in Maine speculated to be older than Jamestown. It was a little disconcerting to know from the publicity that the movie was shot on the Canadian west coast, but it did offer some truly beautiful scenery. And, the Maine flag was raised at the building serving as the local police station.
Perhaps the thing I missed most from the novels – yet understood why it was eliminated in the movie – was the “grittiness” of the excavation scenes. I still remember vividly Dana’s description of Emma returning to her lodging from the dig, disrobing, and jumping into the shower to rid herself of the dirt and sweat from the day’s work.
In the movie, all the actors wore stylish jeans, leather jackets, and knelt on pads when working in a pit. The grueling nature of the work was completely missing, but the joy of discovery was clearly conveyed. Perhaps the nicest technique in the movie was showing how Emma visualized the complete artifact after coming across a shard remnant.
Hopefully, the other five books in the series will be made into Hallmark movies. It would be great for renewed interest in Emma to lead to more Dana Cameron archeological novels.
|Dana Cameron sipping tea at the Empress Hotel (from Dana Cameron's website)|