I’m visiting with historical novelist Ann Parker today, who exhibits a fascinating blend of science and art in her writing. She’ll be fielding comments today as I’m off the grid for a short while. Thanks for sharing your interesting life, Ann!
Where are you from?
I’m Northern California born-and-bred. Despite a
strong desire to move to Colorado, I managed to move
only one set of hills east from my hometown. Many
decades later, and I’m still here!
Tell us a little about yourself, like your education,
family life, etc:
I come from a family of artists, musicians, and scientists. Both of my parents played piano exceedingly well. My father longed to be a concert pianist early in his life, but his mother made sure he became a physician instead. Of my siblings, one is a musician, the other became an astronomer, and the third was an artist. My husband was a scientist (ground-water chemist). Now that he’s retired, he can pursue his passion full-throttle: ice- and rock-climbing. We have two children: one working on a PhD in astronomy, the other an artist/designer. The kids are grown and gone, but my husband and I and my cat (the “Diva Miss Mia,” queen of all she sees) are still here, rumbling around in our suburban home in the outer reaches of the San Francisco Bay Area.
As for me, I earned degrees in Physics and English Literature from the University of California, Berkeley, before becoming a technical writer/editor (many decades ago, now). I started my career as a technical editor/writer and eventually moving into the field of science writing… I’ve “worked with words” all of my adult life. These days, I write about cutting-edge science and technology during the day and write my Silver Rush historical mysteries at night.
One of the really nifty things that happened this past year is that I was inducted into the Colorado Authors’ Hall of Fame. Although I reside in California, my initial writing inspiration came from Colorado, and I still consider it the “home of my heart.”
Do you have a blog/website? If so what is it?
Question: When and why did you begin writing?
Well, if we go back, waaaaay baaaaack, I wrote my first book that included a beginning, a middle, and end in middle school (which was then called junior high) and high school. It was a bit of a genre-mashup of a Western/adventure/mystery/spy story with a strong female protagonist. As to why, I was, even then, a long-time fan of TV and movie westerns, but even at a very early age (probably around ten years old or so), I realized something: The guys were having all the fun! They were the ones having the adventures, fighting the bad guys, and riding horses at a breakneck pace down steep mountain paths… The women mostly stood around, posing in fancy/revealing clothes. Even to my young mind, this was patently unfair. So, I set out to change that dynamic with my first attempt at fiction.
I guess I didn’t quite work it out of my system, because many decades later, when I decided to write an historical mystery, I chose for my protagonist a strong-minded woman who, in addition to solving mysteries, would have adventures, fight the bad guys (and gals), and ride her horse at breakneck pace down steep mountain paths.
Question: What inspired you to write your first book?
If we skate over my very early mashup and focus on Silver Lies, the first book in my Silver Rush series, I’d have to say my initial inspiration came from my family’s history. My parents were both raised in Colorado, so we visited there often when I was young. It wasn’t until I was well into my forties, however, that I learned from my Uncle Walt that Granny (my paternal grandmother) had been raised in Leadville. I’d never heard of the town, but once my uncle told me about its history, including the huge silver rush in the late 1870s, I was hooked.
As an homage to my grandmother, I gave my protagonist Granny’s maiden name: Inez Stannert. Of course, I checked with all the remaining family members first, just to be sure they thought it would be okay. (I should add that, like my fictional Inez, dear Granny had a will of iron. Unlike my fictional Inez, Granny was a VERY proper woman.)
Colorado continued to be my inspiration for the first five books of the series. These form what I think of as the “Colorado cycle”: Silver Lies, Iron Ties, Leaden Skies, Mercury’s Rise, and What Gold Buys. After that, San Francisco cycle begins with A Dying Note and Mortal Music.
Question: How did you come up with the title of your most recent book?
Mortal Music was one of those titles that came late in the game. I wanted the title to have a musical theme, like the previous San-Francisco-based book, A Dying Note. And, if possible, I wanted one that wasn’t replicated by other authors (Deadly Music and Deadly Overture, for instance, have been used multiple times).
So while I was musing (Deadly Muse?) I started looking up music-related quotes for inspiration. I perked up when I saw this one from George Eliot: “It is always fatal to have music or poetry interrupted.” Hmmm. Fatal Music? Nope, already taken. Then I thought: Mortal Music! I checked Google and amazon: no books with that title. There is a Mortal Music recording studio, which seems to focus on heavy/thrash/death metal, but that’s far enough removed from the world of mystery novels/crime fiction that I figured there wouldn’t be any confusion. Mortal Music was the perfect title for my story, so I grabbed it.
Question: If you were not a writer what else would you like to have done?
My original ambition was to go into the field of astronomy, or astrophysics, or atmospheric physics. I still get wistful pangs about those lost aspirations sometimes… and this is many decades later! However, as a science writer, I get to do the next best thing, and talk to astronomers, astrophysicists, climate scientists and experts in other fascinating areas of science. I should also add that being a science writer taught me how to research quickly and efficiently and how to present what I’ve learned (but not all of it!) in ways that will interest readers and encourage them to read on. I put both skills to use in writing historical fiction.
Question: What are your current projects?
In the day job, I’m finishing up a short article regarding recent climate change research. In the fiction part of my life, I’m delving into Book #8, so we shall see how that goes. Here’s a hint as to how it opens: You’ve heard the saying “The walls have ears?” Well, much to Inez’s shock, a wall in an old San Francisco house turns out to be hiding a lot more than mere auditory appendages…
To buy Mortal Music, click here: Mortal Music on Amazon
Ann is the author of the award-winning Silver Rush historical mystery series. The series, set in the 1880s U.S. West, features Colorado saloon-owner Inez Stannert— a woman with a mysterious past, a complicated present, and an uncertain future. When Inez leaves Colorado and moves west to San Francisco, California, she re-invents herself as the manager of a music-store and a 19th-century “angel investor” for women-owned small businesses. The latest book, MORTAL MUSIC, finds Inez dealing with dastardly doings in San Francisco’s opera world. Ann’s books have won numerous awards, including the Bruce Alexander Memorial Award for Best Historical Mystery, the WILLA Literary Award, the Colorado Book Award, and the Colorado Independent Publishers Association’s EVVY Award. The series was picked as a “Booksellers Favorite” by the Mountains and Plains Independent Booksellers Association.
Ann is an inductee to the Colorado Authors’ Hall of Fame, and is a member of the National Association of Science Writers, the Mystery Writers of America, Sisters in Crime, International Thriller Writers, Historical Novel Society, Women Writing the West, and Western Writers of America. Ann and her family reside in the San Francisco Bay Area, whence they have weathered numerous boom-and-bust cycles.