Monday, November 11, 2013

Mary Anna Evans

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 Evans envies her a little.

Longchamp's growing list of adventures include Artifacts, Relics, Effigies, Findings, Floodgates, Strangers, Plunder and, new this month, Rituals.

Last week I asked Evans about what she was reading. Her reply:
When I was asked to write this piece, my first thought was to distinguish the books I read for work from the books I read for pleasure. Then I realized that there is no distinction between the two. I’m a writer. My work is my pleasure.

As my newest book, Rituals, makes its way into the world this week, my thoughts turn to the books I read while I was writing it, but this just drives home the notion that my work isn’t work at all. To craft a story about psychics who may or may not be the real thing, I needed to know what kinds of miracles honest psychics believe they can wreak and I needed to know how someone dishonest might fake those miracles. This brought me to Flim-Flam! Psychics, ESP, Unicorns, and Other Delusions by James Randi and Isaac Asimov, and reading it was unadulterated fun. If you want to know how Victorian Spiritualists made tables fly and horns sound, come to me and I shall tell you.

To portray characters who deeply believe in Spiritualism, I needed to know more about their faith, so I visited Cassadaga, a tiny Florida town where anyone at all can attend a Spiritualist church service, and anyone able to pay the necessary fee can receive a private reading from a practicing psychic. This brought me to a fascinating book on how a religious movement rooted in 1800s New York could have taken root so deeply in the Sunshine State: Cassadaga: The South's Oldest Spiritualist Community by John J. Guthrie Jr., Phillip Charles Lucas, and Gary Monroe.

And because Rituals takes place in another small town, one that isn’t far from Seneca Falls, the site of the convention where women made themselves heard with conviction in 1848, I read those women’s Declaration of Sentiments. There is a bit of time travel in reading historical documents. Putting myself in the high-topped shoes of ladies who wanted the most basic of rights for themselves and their daughters was an eye-opening experience. I recommend it. And as you read it, give yourself some personal historical scale. For example, when my grandmothers were born, women did not have the right to vote, and I’m not that old. There are women alive today who were born before 1920. If you hold that thought as you read the Declaration of Sentiments, you may get a sense of the rollicking passage of time.

My books about archaeologist Faye Longchamp are a way I reach out and share that sense of time passing with my readers. Faye and I, together, like to look at the present and the past as a way of making sense of our baffling world. Faye knew her grandmother, and her grandmother knew her own great-grandmother, who had been a slave. I remember watching human beings walk on the moon for the first time. And my grandmothers remembered the day when they realized that they were going to be able to vote in the country of their birth.

Time moves on, and books help us mark its passing.
Visit Mary Anna Evans' website and blog.

The Page 69 Test: Floodgates.

The Page 69 Test: Strangers.

My Book, The Movie: Strangers.

The Page 69 Test: Plunder.

--Marshal Zeringue