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FAQs

About Anna Pigeon series:

How Anna got her name: When I lived in Minneapolis there was, across the river, in St. Paul, a fine children’s ‘touch and see’ museum. The woman running it was tall and beautiful and moved like a ghost. She had a square, strong face and shining brown hair to her waist. I was besotted. Her name was Anna Pidgeon. Years later, when I began the series, I thought of her and, would you believe it, misspelled her name.  An homage born of ignorance.

Is the character, Anna Pigeon, based on anyone? She is based on me -- except she is taller and stronger and smarter and braver.  We've evolved in different ways over the years, so now she is less like me.  While Anna Pigeon battled alcohol dependence and slowly became more of a work-oriented loner, I've grown more whimsical, more lackadaisical, lazier, happier.  I've rejoined humanity, and Anna had no intention of getting near it, though that, too, is changing now that she's married Paul.

What is a 'WOG' (From Winter Study):  WOG is for WOlf Dog.  I used wolf dog so long I had the characters start calling it a wog.

About "13 1/2"

Were you flexing your writing muscles and seeking a new challenge, or has this devious plot been simmering in the back of your brain for a long time?   This book has been a long time in the writing.  The plot has been simmering in the back of my mind for nearly twenty years but was unsuited to any sort of adventure Anna might be involved in.  

Your books depict an almost cinematic sense of place. Was there a special reason you picked post-Katrina New Orleans as a setting for 13 1/2?  Living in New Orleans through Katrina I couldn't but feel the craziness, devastation, depression, and, mostly the determination to survive that permeated the city.  It so wonderfully echoed the themes of the characters in the book that it was an obvious choice.

I’m always fascinated by the writer’s process. Especially intriguing are the unsigned journal entries between chapters, a plot device that pulls the reader along, yet tantalizes because of their macabre subject matter. Did you decide to use these notes from the beginning, or were they something that came to you as the story progressed?    They came to me as the book unfolded.  In doing the research for the book I read first person accounts of multiple murders from the 1800s to today.  As I did my homework, it struck me that this was a perfect tie-in to the work one of the leading characters in the book did.

Is any of 13½ based on true events?   I think 'based on' would be wrong, rather shall we say 'inspired by'.  When I lived in Minneapolis many years ago there was a horrifying multiple murder in Rochester.  The why of it was such a sad mystery I never did get it out of my mind.  

What kind of research did you do to bring authenticity to the juvenile detention center where Butcher Boy was incarcerated?  The detention center is completely a fiction.  I wanted a place that was, like my characters and the book, straddling the past and the future, a place with modern leanings and sins of the past soaked into the walls. 
 
You really get into the mind of the Butcher Boy. Did you do some specific research on the criminally insane?
  I read so much about criminally insane murderers that, should Homeland Security ever check my on-line wanderings I will undoubtedly be dubbed a Person of Interest.   

In the Anna Pigeon series, your protagonist is a National Parks Ranger. One supposes that Anna’s personal traits reflect some aspects of your own experience, since you are a career park officer yourself. In 13½ you have created an entire new cast with some doozies of personality quirks. Without giving up any spoilers, not a single one resembles your main characters from the Pigeon series. If the above assumption is accurate, that Anna is in some respects a reflection of you, is there a character in 13½ who might come close to your own experience?  This was an aspect of the book that was most challenging and most satisfying.  Anna is, indeed, me in many respects (just younger, prettier, funnier, braver and smarter).  No one carries my emotional belief system in 13 1/2.  Each is created anew.  

There are many characters in 13½ who play significant roles in the development of the main characters of Polly, Dylan, Richard, Marshall and Danny. Without giving too much away, is there another character you think plays the most significant role in the lives of your protagonists?  Polly's daughters play a huge part.  Not in the moving of the plot but in the symbolic sense of redemption and innocence to be protected or lost. 

What made you decide on writing an intense, mind twisting drama?  When I lived in Minneapolis many moons ago, there was a horrific murder in Rochester.  A boy, nice boy, killed his entire family.  Over the years I became fascinated, not with the murders so much, but with how those who survive such a calamity go on with their lives. 

How did you come up with the title?  The title was a gift from a Psychiatrist friend of mine who worked with juvenile offenders.  He mentioned that they often got the tattoo 13 1/2: twelve jurors, one judge, half a chance. 
 
Did writing this book give you nightmares?  Not nightmares but, too often, a deep and abiding sadness.  

Other Questions:

Is Nevada your real name or a name you just write under? I was born in Nevada and my parents decided it was going to be my name whether I was a girl or a boy.  'Barr' is my maiden name, and the one I'm known by professionally.

How does plotting your novels work? All I know when I start is who dies, where they die, how they die and usually I know who did it. But sometimes I'm wrong, and in the middle I realize, he didn't do it. My gosh, it was this other guy!

Do you outline your books before writing them?  I tried once, years ago, to outline it all like a grown-up and write a synopsis for every chapter, and it read like the English assignment from hell.  Every bit of spontaneity got sucked right out.

Is there a message in your fictional writing? I don’t write with a message in mind because I think the message should come out of the character and the story naturally.  But I hope I encourage women at 45 who have just finished a career teaching and who have always wanted to go into the parks to just “do it.”  I didn’t go in the Park Service until I was 36 years old.  I want to encourage women to do what they want, what they love.  And, I want to encourage people to take care of parks.  People who love the parks will take care of the parks because they mean so much to us.  I am hoping people who have never gone to a park will read my books and will now vote for park measures.  I hope they’ll think “Oh yeah, I read about that and it sounds like a cool place.

Was it hard to get published?  I wrote one full-length book and it didn’t get published, so I wrote another book just to prove to myself that I could do it.  And by some miracle, that second book did get published.  It sold about 12 copies—I’m sure my mother bought them all!  I didn’t sell another book for ten years, even though I wrote four more that are still stored out in my garage.  I looked at them a little while ago—they’re not that good. 

Have any of your books been considered for movies or television? They would make a great TV series, ala “Bones” and “Women’s Murder Club.”  The Anna Pigeon series has been optioned for many years running but nothing has ever panned out.  I don't know if I'm sorry or not.  You know they would cast Pamela Sue Anderson as Anna.   

How many years did you work as a National Parks Ranger, and how long did you “moonlight” as an author before you gave up your day job?   I was a seasonal park ranger for six years and a permanent for two.  I wrote the whole time.  It's a compulsion.   

Having seen you interviewed on Ken Burns' “National Parks”  series, I'm interested to know how you find time to write, considering the amount of time your work with the parks demands?  Since writing is my work, I find that everything else, EVERYTHING else -- Parks, weeding the garden, cleaning the bath -- feels like goofing off and, as you know, there is always time for goofing off. 

Your books are often written in the minds of the characters as much as in the settings? I just find it riveting why people do things. That's one of the things that makes life so interesting.
 

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