New York Times bestselling author Karen Harper alternates between writing contemporary suspense and historical novels. But in FORBIDDEN GROUND, book #2 in her new contemporary trilogy, she has managed to combine her love of the intriguing past with fast-paced, modern-day action. THE BIG THRILL caught up with her between publicity gigs—a speech at the Ohio Librarians Conference and the annual Buckeye Book Fair.
Can you tell us about your new book?
FORBIDDEN GROUND is the middle novel in THE COLD CREEK TRILOGY, set on the edge of Appalachia. Three sisters left their small town for “bigger lives,” but are drawn back—and each faces danger and death—and finds a local man to love. In FORBIDDEN GROUND, Kate Lockwood thinks she’s only in town for her sister’s wedding, but soon becomes embroiled in a mystery: What is in the ancient Adena tomb in the backyard of Grant Mason’s house? Kate, an archeologist is dying to excavate the tomb to see if it contains royal corpses and valuable relics, but Grant insists, “Let the dead stay dead.” Though she’s falling for him, she fears she can’t trust him—but he’s not the only one hiding deadly secrets.
So in the trilogy, Kate takes center stage in the middle book and her sisters in SHATTERED SECRETS and BROKEN BONDS?
That’s right. The three women are very different. Kate’s the bright, educated, well-traveled one. Charlene in BROKEN BONDS is the ‘bleeding heart’ who wants to help the poor children of Appalachia. The youngest, Tess, is the one with the traumatic past who bring the three sisters together in the little town they thought they had fled forever.
But ancient tombs in Appalachian Ohio? What a combination!
That’s what I thought too. After sixty novels published, why hadn’t I thought of using the prehistoric Adena Indian culture before? Their burial mounds are scattered from the U.S. east coat to the Mississippi, but many are in central and southern Ohio near where I went to college and live now.
Also, the Adena culture is mysterious, so that worked well. There is a metro park I often visit which has two unexplored burial mounds, and since others have produced ancient corpses and artifacts—if I had a heroine who was an archeologist and a tomb was forbidden to her… And so it goes.
If the Adena tribe lived before the historic Indian tribes, where did they go? And where did they come from?
That’s also part of a great mystery that works well in the novel to highlight the modern day mystery. It is still debated whether the Adena migrated to what is now the U.S. from Mexico or, one theory—the one my heroine is trying to prove—is that they are related to the European Celts. They also simply disappear as a people, despite being America’s first farmers and builders of towns, rather than being wanderers. This last fact makes them fair game for those who believe brilliant aliens once visited the earth, but I’m not going there in this book.
Can you tell us if Kate’s succeeds in excavating the ancient tomb?
Without giving much of that away, let me say that even before she does, its dead inhabitants haunt her—or else someone is trying to terrify her into believing in ancient curses and visitations by the dead.
Did you decide to make the three sisters ‘the hooks for these books,’ because you have sisters of your own?
I wish I did have a sister, although I have two good-guy brothers. The bond between sisters can be very special but can also be damaged by how the parents treat them. My agent once said, “Every main character should have a secret.” Kate, Char, and Tess each have theirs. They have their differences but when worse comes to worse—as, of course, it does in these novels—they still hang together despite terrible odds and enemies.
RT Book Reviews says in their review of SHATTERED SECRETS, Book 1 in this trilogy, “Characters come to life on the page and nail-biting suspense makes this a book you won’t put down.” Any tips on keeping the suspense going for an entire book?
Of course, suspense and thriller novels need to build to a climax at the end, with a villain hopefully hidden until then. One of my favorite reviews was in a starred one in Booklist that said, “Harper, a master of suspense, keeps readers guessing about crime and love until the very end.” But to your question, there must be twists and turns—mini-shockers—throughout as people’s motives and mistakes are revealed. The reader has to care about the main character, be driven to get answers and be on pins and needles as, they say, “the plot thickens.” To top that off, in writing romantic suspense, the hero had to be involved, but in our modern world, NOT ride in on a white horse to save the heroine. We may still have elements of “The Perils of Pauline,” but now the heroine unties herself or even the hero from the railroad tracks just in time.
Karen Harper is the New York Times and USA TODAY bestselling author of suspense, mystery and historical novels. Published since 1983, she divided her time between Ohio and Florida–both places she has set novels.
To learn more about Karen, please visit her website.