March 24 finds Nevada Barr back at Lemuria Books in Banner Hall signing her latest Anna Pigeon novel, "Hard Truth," at 5 p.m. Then she'll head over to Lemuriabooks.com to read from it at 6 p.m. This 13th book in the murder mystery series—always set in a national park—takes place in Rocky Mountain National Park, replete with natural beauty and wilderness. Park ranger Pigeon sometimes thinks that way too many people want to experience that natural beauty. And where people are, trouble is sure to follow. Barr's legions are fans won't be disappointed as she takes them along on Pigeon's latest trek through the vagaries of the human psyche.
Back when you were a ranger at Guadalupe Mountains National Park, how and why was Anna Pigeon born? Where did her name come from?
She was born out of my id, but she's better, taller, stronger, smarter. Her name came from a woman at a touch and see museum who I still see when I go to Madison, Wis. I didn't spell it with a D like the English do; I spelled it like the bird.
How much of Anna Pigeon is Nevada Barr? What made you decide to become a park ranger at 36?
In the beginning, quite a bit—same job and age. We've been together and evolved. Her thoughts and feelings are born of me, of course. Now we've parted ways. We're still friends but not twins. (laughing) I figured at 36 I might as well start … because you could be 43 and a gynecologist or a jeweler if you start then.
I read this quote about your female relatives—your mother, aunt and grandmother—from a 1995 "National Parks" article: "These women didn't come in at the second act to fluff up the pillows and leave." How much of you and those women channels through Anna Pigeon to your readers?
Aunt Peg, she's deceased now, she is Molly (Anna's sister in the novels, although Barr's real life sister is also named Molly)—she and my sister came together to be Molly in my mind. My mom is the airplane accident investigator in "Endangered Species." Even Daddy has a small part in "Liberty Falling." My generation hit it right although we're a little too early to live to 150. This is a golden age for women. After all, we're not helpless. With a good .357 Magnum, we're as good as any man out there.
As a daughter of pilots, do you find it especially gratifying to be with G. P. Putnam's Sons, given Amelia Earhart's having been married to the founder's grandson, George Putnam?
I didn't know that, but I've always felt a connection to Amelia Earhart through my mother. She's been a pilot since she was 16—she's a small, red-haired woman who people often tell that she reminds them of Earhart, especially when she's near a plane.
How do you go about finding experts to glean information from, like Dan Lenihan, then chief of the National Park Service's Submerged Cultural Resources Unit, the one who helped you with the descriptions of Lake Superior's frigid cold depths in "A Superior Death"?
I go to the park, schmooze, chat, pester people—sleep on their couches and soon enough they tell you stuff. The most interesting one, the ranger I always wanted to be, is Laurel Boyers, head of back country management at Yosemite. She's cool, can do anything. When I was researching for "High Country," she took me into the back country, horse camping.
What's your writing process?
I write longhand in spiral notebooks with gel pens, fine point. Then I send it to a woman who used to be the secretary at my church in Clinton. She types is, pretties it up and it's sent to the publisher.
Of the 13 Anna Pigeon novels, which did you find most satisfying to you personally?
That has to be pieces of books. "Track of the Cat"—favorite ending, "Firestorm"—favorite beginning. My favorite characters are in "Deep South," favorite setting in "Blind Descent." My editor, who is claustrophobic, thought we ought to market "Blind Descent" with a tiny package of Xanax. I actually thought I could write the whole thing underground, thought it'd be cool—couldn't do it, had to come out. It's so human to be afraid of places like that, places where we think things die.
How did you come to begin your book tour at Lemuria in Jackson?
I love Mississippi. I came here after living in the desert and felt like a raisin turning into a grape. Everything works better when you're plump. I always try to start my tour at Lemuria. Sometimes the publisher says no. It's hometown to me, and (Lemuria owner) Johnny (Evans) is terrific. He's the same when you're nobody as he is when you're somebody. He treats authors like authors.