Monday, January 06, 2014

@ The Poisoned Pen with Mary Anna Evans!

The Saturday before Christmas found me on the road once more; not to do last minute shopping, but to head to Scottsdale and my favorite bookstore, The Poisoned Pen.

It's always a pleasure to meet an author whose books you enjoy. This time, Mary Anna Evans, creator of archaeologist Faye Longchamp, was coming to the bookstore, and my notebook, pens, and camera were ready.

Sometimes you can tell how far away fans live by how early they arrive at The Poisoned Pen, and that Saturday was no exception. I sat with other early birds and caught up with all the latest book gossip before the event was scheduled to begin. I was happy to see the author of the wonderful Alafair Tucker mysteries, Donis Casey, come in, and I was even happier when she sat in the seat next to mine so we could chat a few minutes.

"Long Champ"

Barbara Peters (left) and Mary Anna Evans

As Mary Anna was settling into her seat, host Barbara Peters had a big smile on her face. We learned why when she told us that Mary Anna would have an excuse to show up at the bookstore more often now that her daughter has opened Rachel's Bake Shop in Queen Creek. (When I got home that evening, I looked up the website for her daughter's shop and started drooling when the page loaded.)

The first thing Evans shared with us was the answer to a question that she gets asked frequently: how do you pronounce your character's last name? "It may be a French name, but in the South we pronounce it 'long champ'," Evans confided.

"Were they all snowed in?"

Mary Anna Evans
Within the blink of an eye, the discussion about Evans' latest Faye Longchamp mystery, Rituals, began.

In this eighth book, Joe is home with the children, and Faye has gone to Rosebower, a rural New York town founded by Spiritualists, with her adopted daughter.

Evans has always been interested in Spiritualism, and has visited the Cassadaga Spiritualist Camp in central Florida. When she started doing research, she discovered Seneca Falls, New York. Along with ties to Spiritualism and the temperance movement, the women's rights movement was born there as well as the second great Protestant awakening. "What was going on there? Why did so many important things happen in one small area? Were they all snowed in with plenty of time to brainstorm new ideas?" Evans wondered.

In an area with so many predominantly female residents and ideas, there were men and boys living there as well, and Evans thought there was a story to be told from the point of view of a little boy. With all this motivation to hand over large sums of money, it wouldn't take long for battle lines to be drawn between pro-developers and the religionists.

"I like to put Faye into situations where she's totally out of her element," Evans said. Barbara Peters added, "And this is the first time she's been on her own since Artifacts [the first book in the series]."


Mary Anna Evans
Faye is aging in real time. As Evans said, "I can't do what Sue Grafton's done with Kinsey Milhone." 

The next book will be back at Faye's plantation home, Joyeuse, which is as real to Evans as it is to her fans. 

There is a spiral staircase at Joyeuse that desperately needs restoration, but the problem is that no one knows how they were originally built. And Faye's hunt for original French blocked wallpaper for a room in her house? When Evans found it in an historic home in Florida, she took plenty of photos to help her narrow her own search.

Joyeuse is fictional as well as the island it's on. Evans was asked to draw a map of a place that doesn't exist. "If you take a look at what I drew, you'll see that Joyeuse hangs off the map," Evans said. "That way I'm not pinned down to how large the island is!"

In the book that Evans is working on now, Joe's father shows up at a very inopportune time. At this point, Donis Casey joined in the discussion to agree with Evans in the belief that authors actually create a life when they create a character. The characters' choices affect their lives in the future, in much the same way that our own choices affect ours.

This ninth book-in-progress is more in Joe's voice, and at this stage in her life, "Faye's family is in place. It's not the family she expected to have, but Faye's perfectly okay with it," Evans said. Peters added, "There's also a locked room element, although Mary Anna didn't set out to write one."

After reading the manuscript for Evans' first book (Artifacts), her agent called and said, "I'm going to make you cut it back to twelve points of view!" (The narrative hinged on a diary written by three different people as the diary changed hands.) Evans uses many things-- letters, diaries, oral stories, journals-- to add depth to her stories, and I can attest to the fact that she does a marvelous job.

At this point, a fan asked, "How did you settle on a black woman archaeologist?"

Evans replied, "I wanted the main character to live in an old plantation house that had been built by slaves. Gone With the Wind had already been done, so I thought I would have a woman who was descended from both the slaves who'd built the house and from the plantation owner. The artifacts that she uncovered were her legacy that she had to sell to save her home. My books come about through asking a series of questions which take time to gel."

" on someone else's baby."

Available Now!
The first editorial disagreement Mary Anna Evans had with Barbara Peters was over an atmospheric prologue with talking trees. As Barbara read this prologue she thought, "This is not a book for talking trees!" Evans smiled and told us that she believes that she left those trees in the prologue as a trapdoor because she hadn't settled on the type of book she was to write.

Peters then went on to say that the only other disagreement they've had was over the librarian in Findings:

Barbara Peters: "You have to kill this person!"

Mary Anna Evans: "You've said that twice since then!"

Donis Casey: "Barbara has had me unkill people!"

Barbara told us, "A perfect crime is always an anonymous crime. Writers have to create the almost perfect crime." 

Evans looked at us and said, "An editor's job is to keep you from going out in public with your pants down.

Peters smiled and replied, "It's a huge responsibility to conduct surgery on someone else's baby. Jon Talton ended one of his books with a diatribe about Phoenix, and he insisted that the page stay even when I told him that it was a better book without it. I then asked a variety of reviewers to read both versions of the book. 100% of them said to dump the last page."

It was such a fun afternoon, made even more special by the editorial insights Evans, Casey and Peters shared with us. I couldn't think of a better way to spend the Saturday afternoon before Christmas!


  1. Cathy - I'm glad, as always, that you took your readers along to the PP. I like these posts. And you've reminded me that I ought to try this series.

    1. You really should, Margot-- it's a good'un!


Thank you for taking the time to make a comment. I really appreciate it!