Saturday, December 11, 2010

The Greatest Adventure of All

by Mary Anna Evans, guest blogger

When my first book, Artifacts, came out, I was flummoxed by my response to hearing that people were actually reading it. Friends would say, “I’m halfway through it right now,” and I’d gulp, realizing that I no longer had control over the story. It was in print, immutable, and they were going to like it or not like it. There was absolutely nothing I could do about it.

I guess I’d been completely focused on getting finished with the writing of it, then on finding a publisher willing to take a risk on it. I’d pictured the moment when I held it in my hands, but I’d never thought about what it would be like when lots of people I didn’t know were taking a tour of my imaginary world. Even scarier…some of those people would be reviewers.

Reviewers have generally been kind to my work, and for that I’m eternally grateful. I’ve become particularly aware of the art of reviewing since the October release of my sixth book, Strangers, because I’ve found myself, time and again, thinking, “This person really understood what I was trying to do.”  Because any writer will tell you that there are times when you’re not sure that the reviewer read the same book you wrote—even when the review is good.

This time, though, I actually felt like those reviewers were explaining my work to me, which is passing strange. When I read this in Publishers Weekly— "Evans explores themes of protection, love, and loss in her absorbing sixth Faye Longchamp mystery,”—I thought, “Hey! That is what I was trying to do. I didn’t realize!” (Well, first I offered up a prayer of thanks for the good review, then I thought that.)

Faye is eight months pregnant for the entire duration of Strangers and the reviewer nailed the situation by focusing on the themes of protection, love, and loss, particularly the fear of loss. I’m not sure I’ve ever read a book from the point-of-view of a protagonist on the verge of giving birth, and it was a fascinating exercise to write it. Since I’m serious about getting my facts right, I spent twenty-four months of my life pregnant, starting a quarter-century ago. (Okay, maybe I wasn’t really thinking about this book in 1985, but my own personal experience really did help move the plot along.)

What I learned during the writing of Strangers is that an eight-months-pregnant woman is truly the elephant in the room. (Or at least she feels like an elephant…) She cannot hide. All eyes are on her, even if she’s just lumbering to the bathroom. Again.

There’s no way for her to avoid the concern of everyone in that room. People urge her to sit down. They rush off to get her a glass of water. They stare at her as if she might have the baby, then and there. And, of course, she’s tired and sore and physically miserable.

It’s not hard to imagine the physical discomfort and self-consciousness and emotional fragility of being in that position, is it? Now layer fear on top of that, fear for the safety of a missing young woman. Layer over it the poignant regret of an archaeologist who unearths a shrine made of baby’s toys, buried for eighty years. Add a layer of sadness for a long-murdered woman who never got justice. And top of all that, pile a load of terror for a kidnapped best friend and her tiny daughter.

This is the frightening place where Faye lives for the entirety of Strangers. Is it any surprise that her scientist’s mind is shaken to the point that she is haunted by the ghosts of the unhappy people who have lived in the gloomy mansion where she’s working? Is it any wonder that the policeman who needs her help keeps asking himself whether he really wants to risk the safety of a pregnant woman? Is it any reason that Faye’s husband Joe is nearly out of his mind with worry?

I’ve chosen to age my characters in real time and to give them lives that grow and change. Faye is not the 34-year-old loner she was in Artifacts. She’s acquired an education. She’s had boyfriends who didn’t stick around. She’s married the love of her life.  She’s had death-defying adventures. She’s started a business. And now she’s about to be a 40-year-old mother. I think I’ve enjoyed writing the story of Faye’s life as much as I’ve enjoyed crafting the mystery at the heart of each book. So where is that life going now?

That’s an easy question to answer. Faye’s about to become a mother. And those of us who have been there know that this may be the greatest adventure of all.

Mary Anna Evans has degrees in physics and engineering, but her heart is in the past. Her series character, Faye Longchamp, lives the exciting life of an archaeologist, and Mary Anna envies her a little. Her award-winning series includes Artifacts, Relics, Effigies, Findings, Floodgates and, new in October 2010, Strangers. They are available in print, audio, and ebook editions.  Wounded Earth, available as an ebook, is a suspense novel featuring environmental scientist Larabeth McLeod. For more information on Mary Anna’s work, go to www.maryannaevans.com.

5 comments:

Lesa said...

Mary Anna,

Thank you for talking about the elephant in the room, and Faye's feelings during the course of Strangers. Beautiful book. So, it was easier to talk about Artifacts at your first Lee County Reading Festival, before it was actually out?

Sandra Parshall said...

Welcome back to PDD, Mary Anna. Your comments about learning something from reviews ring true with me -- I've had the same experience of reading a review that crystallizes my concept of my own writing. Faye's next adventure sounds fascinating.

Elizabeth Zelvin said...

Wonderful post, Mary Anna, and it certainly made me want to read the book. I think there are quite a few pregnant protagonists in mystery fiction, though the only one that pops into my mind right now is Lee Martin's Fort Worth cop, Deb Ralston. Deborah Crombie's Gemma James was pregnant in one book, though I believe she lost the baby. And in the movies, there's the heavily pregnant detective (police chief?) in the Coen Brothers' Fargo, for which Frances Dormand won an Oscar.

Coco said...

Mary Anna,

I thought Artifacts was fantastic and each of your books gets even better. I haven't read STRANGERS yet, but I certainly will. This blog post revealed to me how much you care for Faye and your readers and how important it is to you to dig deeply into your characters to bring their very souls to the surface. Best wishes to you on this book and many more to come, I hope!

Patty said...

Loved your post. I'm working my way through the series and have Findings on my table waiting for me to get to it. Can't wait to get caught up with Faye and Joe.