Learning to respect the dead

Wolf Catcher will be released by Touchpoint Press on February 2, 2022.

I’m not a religious person, so I have, in the past, missed signs around me that had spiritual implications. For example, when I was researching my novel Wolf Catcher—which will be released by TouchPoint Press on February 2, 2022–I didn’t understand how offensive some of my choices were in that regard.

Originally, I was hired to write a magazine article about the man they call The Magician. His fabulous, nine-hundred-year-old tomb had been uncovered by archeologists in 1939, beneath a pueblo on a lonely hillside about ten miles from Flagstaff, Arizona. Back in those days, no one thought anything of exhuming indigenous burial grounds, which now seems absurd. Logically speaking, there’s not much difference between rifling through the belongings of ancient mummies and digging up one’s modern-day grandmother. (Imagine collecting the jewelry from grandma’s body and selling her precious possessions on eBay.)  And yet, that’s what been happening world-wide over the last several centuries.

I remember the fanfare when the King Tut exhibit traveled across the US in 1979. I never considered that putting his funerary objects on display might have been disrespectful.

As a kid, I grew up going to the Museum of Natural History in New York, where burial offerings from around the world were often on exhibit. The practice seemed quite common and acceptable. But, while trying to determine who The Magician might have been, I discovered just how offensive it is to put human remains and funerary objects on display. My first hint was a letter my editor at the magazine received when I stupidly requested a DNA test on The Magician. My reasoning seemed sound. The Magician was described by those who found him as different from the people who buried him in several ways. He was particularly tall for his time and did not resemble the Native Americans who populated the region. He was said to have Caucasian facial features, so my first thought was how did a man who may have had some European ancestry make it to what would become the American Southwest almost one-thousand years ago.

My request for scientific analysis was met with a hard no from the Hopi tribal authorities. The Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act of 1990 stipulates that all remains and funerary objects must be treated with respect and dignity and that the destruction of any portion of a body—even something as seemingly insignificant as a tiny fleck of tooth for a DNA sample—is unacceptable and illegal.

At that point, I was so focused on getting my story done, that I didn’t really understand what the big deal was. Then, when I arrived to interview an archeologist I’d worked with previously, I was shocked when he didn’t appear. It would be another archeologist who would gently explain the problem. Archeologists, I learned, are bound by their relationships with Native American Tribes. If they want to dig on tribal or even public land, they must get permission. If they don’t follow the rules, they will be shut out, which would hurt their reputations as scientists and limit their ability to study. My investigation posed a threat to the man’s career, a risk he wasn’t willing to take.

This ancient pottery shard perhaps depicts a turtle or a man. It’s the one piece I kept, because it was harvested from a site that was being prepared for houses and I’d been given permission to take it.

While researching the story, I picked up a number of pottery shards. My logic was simple. I was on public land, so clearly I had committed no crime. But again, I was wrong. Those beautiful pieces of ancient fired clay, many so bright and vibrant they looked like they’d been painted yesterday, should never have been taken from their resting places, because once you’ve removed an artifact from its setting, you’ve destroyed its sense of time and place—it’s historical significance—something you can never get back.

After finishing Wolf Catcher, I found myself staring at those thousand-year-old bits of pottery and couldn’t pretend I hadn’t done something wrong. I spoke about my feelings with a friend who was a nondenominational pastor. She quickly responded that I should put the pieces back where I found them.

So, she and I traveled to Ridge Ruin where I gently returned the shards to the hillside. We stood on the rocky ground under which the pueblo lay hidden, having long ago been backfilled to protect it from looters. I stared at the spot where The Magician had been buried with such reverence all those years ago. My friend asked me to apologize for my mistake, which I did.

As I said earlier, I’m not a religious person, and yet, as we left that windswept hillside that held the remains of Ridge Ruin in its belly, I felt better. And I promised myself I would not make the same mistakes ever again.

The past and present collide when a tenacious reporter seeks information on an eleventh century magician…and uncovers more than she bargained for.

WOLF CATCHER

Anne Montgomery

Historical Fiction/Suspense

TouchPoint Press

February 2, 2022

In 1939, archeologists uncovered a tomb at the Northern Arizona site called Ridge Ruin. The man, bedecked in fine turquoise jewelry and intricate bead work, was surrounded by wooden swords with handles carved into animal hooves and human hands. The Hopi workers stepped back from the grave, knowing what the Moochiwimi sticks meant. This man, buried nine hundred years earlier, was a magician.

Former television journalist Kate Butler hangs on to her investigative reporting career by writing freelance magazine articles. Her research on The Magician shows he bore some European facial characteristics and physical qualities that made him different from the people who buried him. Her quest to discover The Magician’s origin carries her back to a time when the high desert world was shattered by the birth of a volcano and into the present-day dangers of archeological looting where black market sales of antiquities can lead to murder.

REVIEW COPIES OF WOLF CATCHER AVAILABLE UPON REQUEST

Contact: Chelsea Pieper, Publicity Manager, Media Liaison

Review/interview requests: media@touchpointpress.com

Pre-orders available here.

How a sports reporter ended up writing about history

The fabulous, Palaeolithic cave paintings in Lascaux, France inspired my love of ancient history when I was a child.

I know exactly when my interest in ancient history was sparked. I recall a TV show that showcased fabulous 17,000-year-old cave paintings of animals in France, a program that inspired me to grab a hammer and chisel and head out into my Northern New Jersey garage. I was maybe 12, and can you really blame me for wanting to see what ancient people might have left inside the walls of my home? With visions of drawings and arrow points and pottery dancing in my head, I wailed away at that wall. That is until my mother arrived, her pointy-toed high heels clacking on the driveway. She gazed at me through black, cat eye glasses. It wasn’t until that moment that I sensed I might be doing something wrong. I dropped my tools and ran. The rest of the weekend I had to stand and watch my father as he repaired the damaged wall, muttering under his breath the whole time.

The Mesoamerican ballgame was a cross between basketball and ice hockey.

I have been fascinated by what happened long ago for over 50 years. How human lives have changed in myriad ways, but are the same in many others. It should come as no surprise then that I started writing about history. I was hired by Arizona Highways Magazine to research a story on Mesoamerican ballcourts. As I’d spent most of my professional life at that point as a TV sports anchor and reporter, asking me to write about an ancient ballgame made some sense. Turns out there are over 200 ballcourts in Arizona alone, a testament to the popularity of the contest, which looked a bit like basketball with participants padded rather similarly to modern-day ice hockey players.

It was while researching that story that I accidentally discovered the man they call The Magician. I remember the day I arrived at the lonely, high-desert site about ten miles from Flagstaff, Arizona. Cold raindrops started to fall on the scattered junipers, their piney scent mixed with that of dampened earth. The ground was a rocky mixture of small chunks of red basalt and black cinder left from the eruption of the Sunset Crater Volcano almost nine-hundred years earlier. Beautiful pottery fragments with intricate black-and-white designs littered the hillside. I was interviewing an archeologist from the Museum of Northern Arizona about the ballcourts when he pointed up the slope.

“That’s where they found The Magician,” he said, as if I might know who he was talking about.

It was while reseraching a story on ancient Mesoamerican ballcourts–this one at the Wupatki National Monument–that I learned about the man they call The Magician.

After some research, I wondered about the man and his fantastic grave that was discovered in 1939 and filled with over 600 exquisite funerary objects: arrow points and pots, mineral specimens and shells from the far-off Pacific Ocean. Fine turquoise jewelry, beaded items, paint pigments, baskets, and mosaics. Then, there were the wooden swords with handles carved into animal hooves and human hands, the objects that identified him as a sword swallower and a magician.

My novel, Wolf Catcher, which will be published by TouchPoint Press on February 2, 2022, tells two stories. One follows Kate Butler, a former TV reporter who’s no longer pretty enough to be on the front end of a camera. She’s turned to print reporting, but can’t get anyone to talk about the The Magician. Still, Kate, who has given up any dreams of a personal life to concentrate on her work, is determined to finish the job.

Kaya lives at the Village on the Ridge in the late 11th century, shortly after the waking of the Volcano God, whose eruption changed the lives of the people in the high desert. Some, like those on the Ridge, were blessed, while others were left to wander the landscape homeless and hungry. Kaya is a healer who, like Kate, has given up a personal life for her vocation. She is tasked with tending an odd-looking injured man who the People call Wolf Catcher. The massive white wolf that appears with him is both fascinating and frightening. Some believe the arrival of the two is a harbinger.

Wolf Catcher tells the modern-day story of a reporter’s quest to determine whether Europeans somehow arrived in the New World thousands of years earlier than previously believed, the problems associated with archeological looting and the black market sales of antiquities, and delves into personal choices and relationships, proving human beings have not changed all that much over the centuries.

The past and present collide when a tenacious reporter seeks information on an eleventh century magician…and uncovers more than she bargained for.

WOLF CATCHER

Anne Montgomery

Historical Fiction/Suspense

TouchPoint Press

February 2, 2022

In 1939, archeologists uncovered a tomb at the Northern Arizona site called Ridge Ruin. The man, bedecked in fine turquoise jewelry and intricate bead work, was surrounded by wooden swords with handles carved into animal hooves and human hands. The Hopi workers stepped back from the grave, knowing what the Moochiwimi sticks meant. This man, buried nine hundred years earlier, was a magician.

Former television journalist Kate Butler hangs on to her investigative reporting career by writing freelance magazine articles. Her research on The Magician shows he bore some European facial characteristics and physical qualities that made him different from the people who buried him. Her quest to discover The Magician’s origin carries her back to a time when the high desert world was shattered by the birth of a volcano and into the present-day dangers of archeological looting where black market sales of antiquities can lead to murder.

REVIEW COPIES OF WOLF CATCHER AVAILABLE UPON REQUEST

Contact: Chelsea Pieper, Publicity Manager, Media Liaison

Review/interview requests: media@touchpointpress.com

Get your copy where you buy books.

Revisiting a most extraordinary New Year’s Eve

Every year for decades I have wondered whether the coming New Yera’s Eve celebration could top the one I experienced in 1976. So far, nothing’s come close. So, in honor of that long ago evening, I will share the story again.

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Vianden Castle is one of scores in Luxembourg, but it would be a castle in nearby France that would be the setting for an unforgettable New Year’s Eve.

Forty-six years ago, I faced a young man I had just met.

“Come with me,” he said.

I had arrived in Luxembourg, that wee country squeezed by Germany, France and Belgium, just two days earlier, the beginning of a six-month stint abroad at my university’s branch campus. I had been placed with Kurt and Margareta Schroeder: Swedes, two of the loveliest people I have ever met. Lennart was their son.

“She’s an old friend,” he explained about the woman who owned the castle. “Every New Year’s Eve we go there and celebrate.”

I did not, at that point, sense there was something he wasn’t telling me. Sweet Margareta, who would, over the course of my stay, squeeze me orange juice and provide fresh-baked bread and honey each morning, assured me that the short drive into France would be fun and that her blond, blue-eyed boy with the mass of unruly curls would take good care of me.

“Sure, I’ll go. What should I wear?”

“It’s a drafty, dirty old castle,” Lennart said. “Just wear jeans.”

Later, we drove past open fields and woodlands where trees stood naked and lacy, having long ago shed their leaves. Pewter clouds pressed from above. The chill made me glad to be wrapped in a turtleneck, heavy sweater, and ski jacket. My straight-legged Levi’s topped rugged hiking boots. As the countryside raced by, I wondered what a “dirty, old castle” might look like. I’d spent my life in New Jersey, a place pretty much devoid of castles of any kind.

Lennart turned onto a narrow road, like the rest, a quaint blend of forest and rolling pastures.

“This is part of the estate,” he said. “She inherited two thousand acres from her grandfather.”

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A six-foot, white marble sculpture depicting this famous scene of Washington crossing the Delaware incongruously rested halfway up the castle’s front stairs.

When he pulled onto the circular drive, I stared at the massive, two-story stone structure that was maybe four-hundred years old. As we mounted a wide, white stairway, I considered the odd placement of a sculpture that appeared to be George Washington and his men on their fabled crossing of the Delaware. The piece rested halfway up the staircase. I would soon learn that the statue’s haphazard placement was a remnant of the castle’s World War II occupation by Nazi officers who were caught amidst their attempts to steal artwork. The sculpture was left on the stairs as soldiers fled an attack by local French citizens and there it remained.

“The castle has sixty-four rooms,” Lennart said. “But we only use a few of them. It costs too much to keep the heat on.”

Marie greeted us in French and with two kisses, one on each check for Lennart. She eyed me quizzically. I couldn’t help but notice her modelesque frame squeezed into impossibly tight jeans. A scarlet, long-sleeved shirt similarly hugged her curves, revealing a hint of cleavage, and perfectly matching red lipstick highlighted her lips. Raven hair hung loose down her back. High, black heels clacked with each step.

My hiking boots suddenly felt heavy. My cuffed Levi’s a bit too rustic.

Marie chattered on with Lennart in French, one of five languages he conversed in fluently. “She doesn’t speak English,” he whispered.

My French was pathetic. I could read menus and road signs and order wine, if I had to. But I didn’t need to understand the language to see there was something between them.

Marie led us into a dining room where a long table was set with linens and crystal. A chandelier sparkled above, throwing shadowed light on 16th century paintings. Over the course of the evening, eight other Parisians would join us, not one of whom spoke English.

Multiple bottles of wine and champagne were uncorked. When we were all seated, a silver tray appeared from the kitchen bearing a massive fish. I wondered if poisson was the traditional New Year’s Eve repast, as I requested another serving. I didn’t notice I was the only one asking for seconds.

I was surprised when the next platter appeared. And even more so when subsequent others arrived. I knew, without being told, that to decline an offering would be rude. As I needed a pause before the next course circled the table, I was greatly appreciative when we ran out of wine and Lennart explained that we would have to trek to the cellar for more. One dark-haired, animated man–who I was told was a popular French comedian–led us through the castle’s murky halls and stairways. He started singing Gregorian chants, which seemed both fitting and a bit sacrilegious when we arrived at the family chapel, replete with alter and pews and cross. More than a bit tipsy, we joined him, our voices echoing off ancient stone walls.

We wound our way through the dark halls of the castle until we reached a wine cellar, where some bottles were over 100 years old.

We retrieved myriad dusty bottles of wine, some over 100 years old. As you might expect, much of the rest of the evening is a bit of a blur. But sometime later, I woke in a bedroom shrouded in shadow. I could hear the ticking of a grandfather clock and loud stomping. Boots hitting the floor over and over. But my wine-addled brain and warm covers precluded me from investigating.

The next morning, I asked Lennart if I could see the clock. He translated my request. Marie, tilted her head.

“The clock was removed from that room many years ago,” Lennart said.

I wondered if the Nazis were to blame, but I didn’t ask.

“And the stomping?” I waited while Lennart spoke with Marie.

“That is the German soldier,” he translated. “He was caught in the courtyard when the Nazis were fleeing. He was killed there. Later, Marie’s grandfather took the man’s skull and placed it in his library. The soldier has been marching around the castle at night ever since.”

I stared at Marie. Her shrug told me a stomping Nazi ghost was no big deal in an old French castle.

On the drive back to Luxembourg, Lennart would confess that he and Marie had dated for years. This was the first New Year’s Eve celebration they weren’t a couple. He knew she was seeing someone and didn’t want to go to the castle alone. He did not disuuade the others when they inquired if we were dating.

Over four-and-a-half decades of New Year’s Eve celebrations have passed since my trip into the French countryside, an evening filled with subterfuge, fabulous food, old wine, a stomping ghost, and an invisble grandfather clock.

I’m pretty sure nothing will ever top that.

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The past and present collide when a tenacious reporter seeks information on an eleventh century magician…and uncovers more than she bargained for.

WOLF CATCHER

Anne Montgomery

Historical Fiction/Suspense

TouchPoint Press

February 2, 2022

In 1939, archeologists uncovered a tomb at the Northern Arizona site called Ridge Ruin. The man, bedecked in fine turquoise jewelry and intricate bead work, was surrounded by wooden swords with handles carved into animal hooves and human hands. The Hopi workers stepped back from the grave, knowing what the Moochiwimi sticks meant. This man, buried nine hundred years earlier, was a magician.

Former television journalist Kate Butler hangs on to her investigative reporting career by writing freelance magazine articles. Her research on The Magician shows he bore some European facial characteristics and physical qualities that made him different from the people who buried him. Her quest to discover The Magician’s origin carries her back to a time when the high desert world was shattered by the birth of a volcano and into the present-day dangers of archeological looting where black market sales of antiquities can lead to murder.

REVIEW COPIES OF WOLF CATCHER AVAILABLE UPON REQUEST

Contact: Chelsea Pieper, Publicity Manager, Media Liaison

Review/interview requests: media@touchpointpress.com

Pre-orders available here.