Friday, December 9, 2011

A Visit with Ann Parker

Ann Parker is a California-based science/corporate writer by day and an historical mystery writer by night. Her award-winning Silver Rush series, featuring saloon-owner Inez Stannert, is set in 1880s Colorado, primarily in the silver-mining boomtown of Leadville. The latest in her series, Mercury's Rise, was released November 1. Publisher’s Weekly says, “Parker smoothly mixes the personal dramas and the detection in an installment that’s an easy jumping-on point for newcomers.” Library Journal adds, “Parker’s depth of knowledge coupled with an all-too-human cast leaves us eager to see what Inez will do next. Encore!”

Ann, how do you conduct your Leadville, Colorado, historical research from San Francisco?

I have a pretty good collection of books and photographs of the area now, after more than a decade of writing about Leadville and its environs. My bookshelves include such items as Leadville: Colorado’s Magic City, by Edward Blair; the humongous 2-volume The History of Leadville and Lake County, Colorado, by Don and Jean Griswold (and I have it on a searchable CD!); and Historic Leadville in Rare Photographs and Drawings by Christian J. Buys. I love looking at old photos… you can pick out such interesting little details with a close examination! I also “walk the streets” when I can manage to get up there, and take a lot of photos and scribble down a lot of notes. I peruse the old newspapers at the online Historic Colorado Newspapers, and am a regular Internet visitor at the Lake County Public Library’s Local History site. And I pester the research librarians at the library regularly by email, when I have questions.

 Tell us about Mercury’s Rise.

When the book opens, it’s the summer of 1880, and Inez Stannert, part-owner of the Silver Queen Saloon in Leadville, is on a stagecoach Manitou, Colorado. Many come to Manitou to “chase the cure” for tuberculosis, but Inez has a different reason for visiting this fast-rising health resort: she is on her way to reunite with her young son, William, and her beloved sister, Harmony. However, the journey turns lethal when East Coast businessman Edward Pace mysteriously dies under the horrified gaze of Inez and Pace’s wife and children.

As Inez digs deeper into the wherefores and whys of his death, she uncovers shady business dealings by those hoping to profit from the coming bonanza in medicinal waters and miracle remedies, medical practitioners who kindle false hopes in the desperate and the dying, and deception that predates the Civil War. Then Inez’s husband, Mark Stannert, reappears after a year-and-a-half unexplained absence. Even as she fights to hold on to her child and the life she has built for herself, Inez comes to realize there is no “cure” for murder....I know that many readers of the Silver Rush series have been curious as to what happened to Mark Stannert, who mysteriously disappeared before the start of the series. Mercury’s Rise answers that question, at least in part!

I know that your 1880s protagonist, Inez Stannert, was named for your grandmother, but was she also the strong woman you portray?

 Granny was definitely strong, in her own way, but not the gun-carrying, whiskey-drinking, card-playing Inez portrayed in my fiction. I believe she must have had a rough childhood--she never talked about her years as a child and a teenager, so I believe that says something in itself. She raised three children during the Depression, when my grandfather couldn't find work (not an uncommon story back then, I'm afraid). What's more, even though she never finished high school, she made sure her children got good educations and entered worthwhile professions; my uncle because a mechanical engineer, my aunt was a legal secretary (back in the day when women didn't generally do that sort of work), and my father became a physician.

Why would someone with a degree in Physics decide to write a series about the Leadville mining town?

My decision to write about Leadville is due to a family history mystery: Granny was raised in Leadville, and never talked about it… even though she loved telling us grandkids stories about her later life in Denver! My Uncle Walt urged me to research Leadville and think about setting a novel there. I took it on as an assignment, and before I knew it, I’d fallen in love with Leadville’s rich history and its current-day incarnation. As to how this ties to the degree in Physics… I’ve always been fascinated by science and technology, and that led me to research topics such as silver mining and assaying in 1880s Colorado (for Silver Lies). From there, it was easy to apply the same research skills to a host of historical subjects for the other Silver Rush books: Colorado railroads, the Reconstruction, women’s rights in terms of divorce and property law, the medical views/research/treatments of tuberculosis, and so on—all in the proper time frame, of course.

 What’s your day job and when do you find time to write an historical series? Do you outline and have a regular writing schedule?

I’m a science and technical writer/editor and write about darn near any topic you want to throw my way, from nanotechnology to solar energy to cosmology or hydrodynamics or the latest, greatest in supercomputer architecture for data-intensive computing. I also do regular “corporate” writing projects: developing employee handbooks, safety manuals, website content, proposal writing … if it has to do with words, I’ll tackle it. I’m self-employed, for the most part, so take on whatever comes my way.

As for finding time to write fiction… yes, it’s difficult. I don’t have a regular writing schedule—work comes first, because it pays the bills. The fiction I write to “feed my soul.” I joke that I’m driven by deadlines and panic, but it’s actually more truth than not. I’m a caffeine addict, who prefers writing late at night when things are quiet around the house. Sometimes, I will take a weekend and go hide in the guest room of good friend and fellow mystery writer Camille Minichino. I can pound out up to 30 to 50 pages on such a weekend, sometimes even more. I don’t write an outline, but I’m required to write a synopsis for each book before starting, and my synopses tend to run about 10 pages long, so if I get stuck, I turn to the synopsis or brainstorm with other mystery writers.

How has the ebook revolution affected your book sales?

I think the jury is still out on that. My publisher, Poisoned Pen Press, has the first three out in various ebook formats, so that’s great. I can’t say I’ve gotten rich off of the sales, but I’m pleased that the books are available in so many ways, including in audio format, for the most recent two: Leaden Skies and Mercury’s Rise.
Who has been your most read historical author and which writer most influenced your own writing?

Since I read so much non-fiction, I’m hard put to name a most-read historical author. I always look forward to books by Martin Cruz Smith, and I very much admire his writing and how he can put me right into any time and place! Right now, the historical fiction book I’m looking forward to reading next is Michelle Black’s Séance in Sepia. I’m also a closet fan of steampunk, and thinking I’d like to try my hand at that genre someday.

Advice for fledgling historical writers?

Write, write, write. Remember to use all the senses in your writing. Have some honest and blunt “beta readers” who will let you know when you’ve let your research take over your book (a definite hazard of being an historical writer!).

Thank you, Ann. It was a pleasure to have you visit us here.

You can visit Ann at her website:
and Mercury's Rise and the other Silver Rush mysteries are available from independent booksellers,, and Barnes and Noble.
Leave a comment on this post to be eligible to win a Silver Rush mystery prize! To see the rest of Ann’s blog tour schedule, check out her News page.