Monday, August 16, 2010

Nevada Barr @ The Poisoned Pen

It's been a long time since I've had a real excuse for my avoidance of author signings. Time was, my alarm would go off at 4 AM so I could wake up and get ready for work. That meant an early bedtime. No longer, but some habits seem to die hard. When I saw The Poisoned Pen's August line-up of authors, I knew I had a habit I had to break.

I think I was very lucky that the first author I got to see in the flesh was Nevada Barr. She knows how to entertain a crowd-- and there was a crowd at The Poisoned Pen. Each of us had at least one copy of her latest Anna Pigeon mystery, Burn.

"We're sorry, but..."

When the slender woman dressed in tie-dye and lace came to the front and began to speak, I kept thinking, "I know that voice." It turns out that I'm not the only one who does. During her acting days, Nevada Barr did some voice-overs, one of them for AT&T: "We're sorry, but the number you have dialed is no longer in service...." If you've heard that, you've heard Nevada Barr speak.

"I have to bring Anna into this!"

In speaking of her latest book, Burn, Nevada told us that she had been painting in Pirates Alley off St. Louis Cathedral Square in New Orleans when she heard the most beautiful voice. Following the sound, she found herself in the New Orleans Jazz National Historical Park. As she stood and listened to the park ranger singing gospel, all she could think was, "I have to bring Anna into this!"

Speeding Tickets

Throughout Barr's talk, she was accompanied by Barbara Peters, the mastermind behind The Poisoned Pen and Poisoned Pen Press. Due to Barr's dedication in 13½, I knew they were friends, but I didn't realize that the friendship extended to Barr always beginning a book tour at The Poisoned Pen.

Peters asked Barr when she stopped working for the National Park Service and began to write full time. Barr replied, "In 1996. I had stopped someone on the Natchez Trace Parkway and was issuing a speeding ticket. I handed the man the ticket. He looked at it and said, 'You signed this. Can I keep it?' I knew it was time for me to quit the Park Service."

"Anna's stopped aging like the rest of us..."

One thing that seemed to concern Barbara Peters was main character Anna Pigeon's age. Barr admitted that during the span of the last three books, only seven months have elapsed. Then the author told us about the next Anna Pigeon book, and a big smile lit up my face.

The next Anna Pigeon book to be published will be a prequel that takes place in 1995 right after Anna's first husband has been killed, and it will take place at the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area (Lake Powell).

Peters suddenly looked worried and looked out at all of us. "Do you mind prequels?" she asked. None of us seemed bothered a bit, probably because Anna was going to be in our neck of the woods... finally. Peters relaxed. "Oh good-- then Anna never has to get older!" Peters obviously doesn't like the idea of a geriatric park ranger.

How much time do you spend at each national park?

This is probably one of those questions that Barr could answer in her sleep, but I don't think any of her fans will ever tire of the answer. The answer is simple: it depends on the park.

Naturally, she's worked in some of the parks featured in her books. In fact she admitted that researching the parks was "best when done on your tax dollar." She's spent two weeks at a park, could see what a beautiful place it was, but there was just "no story." In other parks, she could be there a matter of five to six days and be filled with story ideas. (She was at Lake Powell for four days, and knew she had a winner.)

"It looks like a cat."

It hasn't all been smooth sailing for Nevada Barr, but she has the laugh lines to prove that she's a survivor, and one with grace.

She brought her mother, who fell victim to Alzheimer's, to her home and made her comfortable. Her mother, a confirmed cat lover, kept saying, "I want a cat. I want a cat." Cat owner Barr did everything she could possibly think of to get at least one of her four cats on her mother's bed. The cats hissed. They scratched. They ran away and hid.

At her wit's end, Barr happened to think of the scrawny stray that had been meowing around the property. The stray welcomed the opportunity to come in the house, and laid quite happily on the bed within her mother's reach. For the last few days of her life, Nevada Barr's mother held that cat's tail.

Some of the lady's last words were, "It looks like a cat." Barr knows exactly what her mother was talking about: Heaven.

For an hour, Nevada Barr held us in the palm of her hand. She made us smile. She made us laugh. And she made us weep. She is a storyteller, and you can count on one true thing-- I'll be in line waiting to get my hands on her next story.

Will I go to more author signings? Yes! Will you ever see me in one of the photos taken at an author signing? I doubt anyone will be able to pry my camera out of my grip. Just ask Denis. I've got a very good grip! (By the way, Denis was with me and enjoyed himself just as much as I did.)

What about you? Do you attend author signings? What have been some of your favorite ones? This newbie would like to know!


  1. Sounds like a wonderful event and you conveyed it well. I felt as though I was sitting there with you and Denis :)

    I have been to a couple of author signings and have enjoyed them. Unfortunately they have been very well attended (upwards of 1,000) and so the author really only has a few minutes to share before the signing begins.

  2. Oh wow, oh wow, oh wow. How fabulous. And look how easygoing and down to earth she looks. Lucky you!!!

    This was a fabulous writeup, Cathy.

  3. I love author events and go to them as often as I can. It sounds like Nevada is a great speaker! I think my favorite events have been Beth Hoffman and Mary Alice Monroe. Great wrap-up.

  4. So far I've only been to local author events but I still hope. I'm so jealous of you hearing Nevada Barr speak. She looks so comfy sitting there and just like I would expect. I'm such a fan I'm afraid I would gush. :D

  5. This sounds like a wonderful experience!

    I would love to go to signings by some of my favourite authors, but I live in such a remote place (and my health does not allow me to travel far ´just´ for one event). So blogging is my chance to ´meet´ them.

  6. I would love to go to an author signing. I don't know why I haven't. I need to start paying attention.

    Nevada Barr sounds like a lovely person from what you've described of her. The pictures helped. It was nice to see the store owner there with her shoe off. It must have been a wonderful hour.

    You've inspired me to look for author signings as well as this new book.

  7. Molly-- I couldn't attend an author signing that large. I have a serious "thing" about crowds!

    Beth-- The way she was dressed, the way she sat in her chair, the way she talked... she was "just folks". I'm glad you liked the write-up.

    Kathy-- Thanks, although Denis was a bit surprised when I whipped out a notebook and pen and began keeping notes! LOL

    Barbara-- I didn't care if my book was signed or not, so when everyone started crowding to the back of the bookstore for the signing, I started getting the heebie jeebies and had to get out of there. No chance for me to gush!

    Dorte-- I've been able to meet several authors through blogging. I'm glad this "medium" exists. I don't live in a remote area by any stretch of the imagination, but I can't stand being in crowds, which is another reason why I have tended to stay away from these things.

    Margot-- The store owner was the one in silk. Nevada was the one with bare feet. :) It was a wonderful hour, and it's something I hope you'll be able to experience.

  8. Cathy, you are the one who got me interested in Barr, with your reviews. I found some Anna books in our local library and very much enjoyed them. Now I even get to attend her book launch via your blog - thank you!!!

  9. Sounds like this is one author even I don't want to miss if she comes to my town.

    I love going to the YA author events. I love seeing the room filled with kids who are so interested in reading they beg until the parents allow them to come meet the authors. Usually I find that the authors themselves are pretty funny and can keep my interest.

  10. Cathy, I loved this post. Said I wasn't going to comment on my vacation, but I'm going to break the rule. (Having a great time, by the way - coming home Thursday).

    I've attended two author events at the Poisoned Pen. One was for Donis Casey (great Oklahoma historical mysteries by the way) and one was for Louise Penny. Really enjoyed both. We'll be back to Scottsdale I'm sure in the future. May plan a trip around the author events because the hubby doesn't care about when to play golf, just wants to play. Maybe we can meet up at an event at PP. That's how Lesa Holstine and I did it.

    If I could just convince you and Lesa to cover all the author talks there and then write blog posts. LOL

  11. I've never really been to an author signing like that. I saw Gloria Steinem speak at the Boston Public Library once in front of a gazillion people and then I waited in line to get her book signed which my friend had just bought for me.

    I have watched more intimate author events on CSPAN or some such cable network - such as Rick Bragg entertaining a small group that made me laugh and cry.

    I remember meeting Richard Scarry when I was a little girl. That was probably my favorite moment ever ;0)

    So I thank you for this virtual tour of your first author signing event. Sounded wonderful and I hope you get to experience many more just like it.

  12. ok, what did you do with her shoes?

    I have never been to a signing, but not for want of wanting.

  13. Susan-- You're very welcome. I'm glad you enjoyed it!

    Kris-- The kids would make those signings for me. How wonderful!

    Kay-- I'm so glad you're having a wonderful time on vacation! Donis and Louise are two more authors that I would love to see. Lesa and I almost met at Nevada's signing, but Lesa decided to go the next evening instead. One of these days, we'll all meet up.

    Molly-- I love Richard Scarry's books!

    Caite-- I didn't do a thing with them. They were a pair of blue flip-flops, and they were on the floor in front of her chair. ;)


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