Ann Parker is a science writer by day and an historical mystery writer by night.
Her critically-acclaimed Silver Rush mystery series is set in the silver boomtown of Leadville, Colorado, in the early 1880s. Ann, her husband, and their two children reside in the San Francisco Bay Area, whence she has observed numerous high tech boom-and-bust cycles. Website: http://www.annparker.net.
Welcome to Novel Journey, how long did it take you to get published?
Thanks for inviting me, I’m glad to be here! The short answer to your question: It took me about 2-1/2 years to write my first novel, SILVER LIES, and another 2-1/2 or so to find a publisher.
Do you think an author is born or made?
Whoa, that's an interesting one. A twist on the nature or nurture debate. I think it can happen either way, if by "author" you mean more generally "writer." There are people who seem to be natural storytellers—some turn to the written word to express their stories, while others turn to one of the other arts: acting, painting, songwriting/music, etc. And there are other folks—I know a few—who just decided that, for whatever reasons, they wanted to be writers. These folks read, analyzed, and studied the form, then practiced, practiced, practiced, and eventually did, indeed, become writers.
What is the first book you remember reading?
A book of Mother Goose nursery rhymes. Strangely enough, one of the things I remember about the book—besides sounding out the words and getting stuck on things like "tuffet"—was examining the page numbers and counting the pages using the numbers. I still have that book, and looking at the pictures and the poems is very evocative of my early childhood.
What common qualities do you find in the personalities of published authors?
A love of words and reading, extending to a love of puns and word play. Beyond that—very little. Some published authors are very outgoing and love being "center stage." Others hide from the spotlight, as much as they can (it’s tough to do that these days).
How do you know if you have a seemingly “stupid” book premise that is doomed to fail versus one that will fly high?
Since I draw my premises from actual historical events—I think of it as writing in the shadows of history—I usually mull over an idea for a bit and see if I can spin it out mentally. Sometimes, it doesn't move very far, so I abandon that line of thought and move on to something else. Also, I belong to a couple of critique groups, and they will tell me if my starting premise stinks!
What is the theme of your latest book?
The interplay of power and politics at levels high and low. Interestingly enough, it's not much different in the 1880s compared to today!
At what point did you stop juggling suggestions and critiques and trust yourself (as a writer)?
I still juggle suggestions and critiques and check them against my writerly instincts. How heavily I weight the suggestions depends where I am in the writing process and who is doing the suggesting. The way I view it, the first draft, I write for myself. Subsequent drafts are for the reader (including my editor!), so I listen carefully to suggestions made once the first draft is as complete as I can make it.
Are takeaway messages (in your book) important to you?
To some extent. Although, I feel I’ve done my job successfully if readers say they have been "transported" to the time and place represented in my fiction. If there is any overarching message in the series, it could perhaps be that the past and the present are not all that different … people then were, in many respects, the same as people today, driven by the same emotions to good and/or evil.
When do you know you’ve got the finished product and it's your best effort?
When my editor says "Good. You’re done." Otherwise, I noodle forever.
Any anecdotes about the research or writing of your books?
For the second and third books in my series—IRON TIES and LEADEN SKIES, respectively—I spin tales that, in large or small part, feature disgruntled Civil War vets in Colorado, plotting against former president/Union general Ulysses S. Grant. It seemed plausible to me that, with the War only 15 years in the past, hard feelings would linger and some might be tempted to take matters into their own hands once they knew that Grant was coming to town. It wasn’t until much later that—much to my gratified surprise—I stumbled across a 1904 article in an obscure periodical detailing how such a plot was foiled in Irwin, Colorado, during Grant’s tour through Colorado in 1880. It was a very interesting story in itself, and I was … well, “happy” would be the word … to see that my theories and suppositions actually had some basis in reality!
Another quick “note,” if you will, about my research and so on. I always add an “Author’s Note” at the end of my books that explains what’s real, what’s not, what interesting bits of history led me to write that particular mystery, neat resources I uncovered in my research, etc. Unfortunately, for the newest book, LEADEN SKIES, the “Author’s Note” is mysteriously missing … there are six blank pages in the back of the book where the note should be. Those interested in reading the missing note can download it from my website at: http://www.annparker.net/book.htm . Look for the cover of LEADEN SKIES on the page: there’s a link to the “Author’s Note” below it.
How would you pitch this book to your intended audience?
Okay, I’m not much of a pitcher. So, I think I’ll cheat a bit by taking a piece from the Booklist review by Barbara Bibel and tweaking it a bit:
“Gray skies, bad weather and intrigue are threatening Leadville: It is summer 1880, and former President Ulysses S. Grant has arrived in town, looking into possible investments in Leadville’s silver mines. Meanwhile, Silver Queen Saloon co-owner Inez Stannert is dealing with the problem of her missing husband while trying to maintain ownership of the saloon. She makes a backroom deal with the local madam, Frisco Flo, hoping to gain some money of her own. When the body of one of Flo’s girls turns up, mud starts flying, accompanied in equal measure by political intrigue.”
To sum it up: Politics, power, property, and prostitution tangle in Leadville, with deadly results.