Monday, April 28, 2014

@ The Poisoned Pen with Nevada Barr & Keith McCafferty

When I was finally able to take advantage of the fabulous author events at my favorite bookstore, The Poisoned Pen, Nevada Barr was the very first author I chose to see. That must've been a lulu of an event because this April visit was her first since then. (I swear... I didn't do anything. 'onest!) There was no way, no how, Denis and I were going to miss seeing her this time. Knowing that there'd be a capacity crowd in the bookstore that night, we made sure to get ourselves over there in plenty of time to get prime seats.

An added bonus of the evening is that we would also be meeting Keith McCafferty, author of the Sean Stranahan mysteries set in Montana. I'd heard of his books in passing, and you know me-- I always look forward to learning about new authors!

"There's got to be a better way to..."

L to R: Host Barbara Peters, writer Keith McCafferty

Since Nevada was busily signing books next-door, host and bookstore owner Barbara Peters talked with Keith McCafferty for a while.

Keith McCafferty has been a crime reporter and a writer for magazines like Field and Stream for over thirty-five years. It was when he was writing an article about spending three days in the mountains with nothing but the clothes on his back that he began to say to himself, "There's got to be an easier way to make a living." Three days in a debris hut, and he was snowshoeing his way back to civilization. He'd made his decision: "I'm going to finish that book."

Keith McCafferty
"What I hadn't realized," McCafferty said, "was that an author is always working on three books at once. You're promoting the book that's just been released, you're doing the final edits on the book to be published, and then you're writing the next one."

McCafferty then told us that the titles of his three books (The Royal Wulff Murders, The Gray Ghost Murders, and Dead Man's Fancy) are all the names of fishing lures-- which he just so happens to make for his own use and as gifts for friends.

Host Barbara Peters looked out over the capacity crowd and said, "In case you're wondering why Keith is sharing the spotlight with Nevada Barr tonight, I found out that they have been corresponding for quite some time. Since they'd never met, I thought it was time that they did."

Before Nevada came out to join us, Barbara did ask Keith about the fishing scenes in his books. His protagonist, Sean Stranahan, is a painter, fly fisherman, and private investigator, so he has to do some fishing when he's not catching bad guys.

"I have to walk a fine line with my fishing scenes," admitted Keith. "You have to know just how much to include to keep the fishermen interested without boring the non-fishermen. In the first book my editor told me to add one, and in my third book, he told me to subtract one. I'm hoping to get it just right for book number four!"

"Just shoot me now!"

L to R: Nevada Barr, Keith McCafferty
Right then Nevada Barr made her entrance, smiling and hugging both Barbara and Keith before kicking her shoes off and getting comfortable in her chair. 

McCafferty smiled at Nevada and then looked out at us and said, "You know you've got it made as an author when you're a clue in the New York Times crossword puzzle!" Barr laughed and admitted that she did feel honored at the inclusion.

At one point in her life, Nevada was an actress, and it shows in the way she sits as though she's in a room with good friends and in the way that she feels comfortable in sharing herself with us all. 

"I was sent a book (The Royal Wulff Murders) to read and blurb, and when I asked what it was about, I was told it was about a Montana PI who ties fishing flies. I thought, 'Just shoot me now!' but three hours later I was still reading."  At this point McCafferty gave Barr a gift: a tiny, beautiful fishing fly that he'd made for her. He gives her one every year.

Keith looked at Nevada and said, "I'll have you know that your books are stocked in the Bozeman, Montana, Safeway. My dad bought one thinking it was something like Louis L'Amour. Actually, it was your first book, Track of the Cat. Dad read it and it wound up being burned during a camping trip." (As kindling for the fire. It wasn't burned in disgust.)

Peters asked Barr how the National Park Service had reacted to her books, which are set in various national parks throughout the country. "They've all been very supportive, except for Ill Wind, which is set in Mesa Verde. The man in charge at Mesa Verde thought the book was not supportive of the service and banned the book, bless his heart. They wound up having to ship Ill Wind in by the crate load!"

When an older fan admitted that she didn't remember how Nevada received her unusual first name (it's the state she was born in), Barr smiled and purred, "I love having readers of my own age. Each time I read Barbara Mertz's books, they're such a surprise!"

"It's obvious you did a lot of research..."

Nevada Barr
"The Rope was going to be the last Anna Pigeon book. I'd taken her back to the very beginning. Anna had come full circle, and I thought it was the perfect ending place

"I'd just turned sixty, and I was determined to go into the last quarter of my life drug-free. I stopped taking my mind-altering meds, and boy, was I feeling great! I was writing twenty pages a day! I had a 220-page manuscript about a female gladiator in Rome. What I didn't realize was that I was right in the middle of a manic phase.

"I showed the manuscript to my editor. You know your book is bad when all your editor can say is 'It's obvious you did a lot of research'!"

We learned that Keith and Nevada share the same agent when Keith asked her about the setting for her latest book, Destroyer Angel. "For my story to work," she said, "I needed the least accessible area I could find that had no cell phone reception. I found it in the Iron Country of Minnesota. By the way, don't look it up. There is no Fox River. I make shit up for a living."  (If there's one guarantee at a Nevada Barr author event, it's that you're going to laugh and enjoy yourself immensely.)

Nevada Barr & Keith McCafferty at The Poisoned Pen
Keith then divulged that he taught himself to read so he could learn about snakes. He believes that each mystery is a very similar quest for the truth. After learning about snakes, his mother then bought him the complete Sherlock Holmes stories. It was a huge volume that McCafferty remembers put a big dent in his chest as he would lie in bed and hold it while devouring each page.

"Did you know that 98% of people who suffer a snake bite are drunk white males between the ages of fifteen and twenty-eight?" McCafferty asked us. See? The man really does know about snakes!

The Poisoned Pen was the last stop on Barr's tour. "It's been a great tour, but I'm fur famished," Nevada said. "I have four cats at home, and I've been finding myself petting strangers' cats on the street. It's time for me to go home."

A Happy Meander

The evening then lost any structure it may have had, which was perfectly fine with all of us. Barr and McCafferty kept up a free-flowing conversation filled with laughter that kept us hanging on every single word.

Keith told us that he usually writes every morning in a local coffee shop because when their youngest child left for college, the house was much too quiet a place for him to work.

Nevada told us that she had visited Chitwan National Park in Nepal. The tour bus was jam-packed with people listening to the guide tell them about a man-eating tiger that had recently attacked someone in a nearby village. There were so many people on the bus that Nevada was feeling extremely claustrophobic. When the bus stopped, she took off, walking quickly to get away from all the humanity. "The tour guide was calling after me, 'Come back! Come back! Tiger will eat you! All I could think was, Please, God!" (Sounds as though she likes being stuck in crowds just as much as I do.)

Available Now!
Keith's agent calls him a "muddler-througher"-- "I've got an idea, and that's about it." Nevada raised her hand and said, "I'm a muddler, too!"

She then told us that she thought it was funny that she won "all these Best First Novel awards for what was really my fifth book." Her next tidbit really made us perk our ears. Barr has learned that there are international parks exchange programs, and that has given her an idea for a future Anna Pigeon novel. (I can't wait!)

Nevada is convinced that her sister Molly (yes, just like Anna's sister in the books) and Al Gore invented the internet. Molly, a retired airline pilot, is her web maven and responsible for everything on Barr's website. Molly told her sister, "I quit pretending to read your books at High Country," but Nevada told us that "she loves Destroyer Angel."

I also learned that I'm not the only one who loves the old dog, Wiley, who made his first appearance with Anna and Heath in Hard Truth. With a gleam in her eye, Nevada said, "Wiley is a necessity because-- as you all know-- every witch needs a familiar!" Once again, we all broke into laughter.

Looking over at Keith, Barr asked him, "Sean [McCafferty's main character] doesn't have a confidante in your books. Does he at least have a trout?" Ah yes, we were flying high at this point in the evening!

"Agatha Christie wrote it all," Nevada said. "All the possible mystery stories. All we have to offer are our own idiosyncratic views."

In a moment eerily reminiscent of the evening Cara Black appeared at The Poisoned Pen, Barr told us that "before doing my research, I thought there was 'us' the abled and then the disabled. After I finished my research, I realized that there's only us."

Someone has called Destroyer Angel "Die Hard on the River," and Nevada said that her favorite line in the book is from a person she met while doing research: "They don't teach this shit in therapy!"

Available Now!
A fan asked her why she hasn't written about the Grand Canyon. Barr wants to, and she thinks part of her research should be on an EMS helicopter at the Canyon, but she hasn't "weaseled [her] way into the Grand Canyon National Park hierarchy yet to get those helicopter rides." And just to show you how a mystery writer's mind can work, Nevada has found herself driving through a park, seeing a tree, and thinking, "What a beautiful oak tree! A person could hang from that...."

Another fan admitted that she always visualizes Nevada Barr as Anna Pigeon as she reads the books, and it's certainly not a stretch to do so at all.

Barr doesn't always see the animals she writes about when she's doing her research, although she did see a big black wolf run across the road in front of her car when she was doing research for Destroyer Angel. She was also extremely disappointed that she never saw a grizzly bear when researching Blood Lure in Glacier National Park-- although one did maul three people the day she left the park.

It was just about time for the magic to end, and Nevada Barr left us with a thought on Destroyer Angel: "I wanted everyone to be a hero for a moment; I wanted everyone to be a victim for a moment." She succeeds beautifully.

Just before the signing line began to form, Keith McCafferty told us that "I brought homemade chocolate chip cookies for everyone-- even if you're only here for Nevada!" Granted, the majority of people were there for Nevada, but I know I'm not the only one who's going to be reading a Sean Stranahan mystery after meeting the author.

Denis and I had yet another interesting book-filled conversation on the way home from our favorite bookstore. How lucky we are!


  1. Cathy - As always, what a great evening! I love this look you give us at authors. It's another way to get to know them.

    1. I really enjoy sharing these with all of you, too! :-)

  2. Enjoyed your write up of your visit to the Poison Pen to hear Nevada Barr and Keith McCafferty. It is always interesting to hear information from the author's view point. Also enjoy when the author's personalities show themselves during their presentations.. Look forward to Mondays when you start your blogs after the weekend. Thank you for what you do.

    1. Thank you for reading what I have to say, Lynn. It means more than I can say.

  3. Loved this evening at The Poisoned Pen, and reading about these two hilarious authors. Nevada Barr is a favorite of mine, and I've read all Anna Pigeon mysteries except Destroyer Angel, which is sitting on my nearby stack, ready to be opened.

    What a fascinating woman.

    And, I, too, can't wait to read about these escapades at the fantastic bookstore. And you even got homemade chocolate chip cookies. How nice is that!

    I'm green with envy here at the bookstore, the events, the authors, the cookies. So glad to read about all of this.

    1. I'm glad you enjoy reading about my evenings at The Poisoned Pen, Kathy-- and you have quite a treat ahead of you with Destroyer Angel!


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