Monday, May 30, 2016

Chasing Anna

"I believe in love and I live my life accordingly
But I choose to let the mystery be."

I had an uncharitable thought the other day as I looked at another artist's beads.

"I hate her," I thought.

Of course I don't hate her. I don't even know her. Her beads are pretty, elaborate florals, and they always sell, for respectable prices. I'm jelly.

Then I actually clicked on 4 of her listings, and none had bids at the halfway point. I make a lot of assumptions, based on past performance.

Which, as we've had drummed into us if we've ever made any sort of financial investment, is not indicative of future results.

Except that it often is. It may not be a guarantee of future results, but I'd say past performance is a pretty reliable indicator of future results.

There are exceptions to every rule. The rule of thumb for my bead sales is that they don't always sell. But sometimes they do.

Recently I did something that I've never done before. I went to a book signing. The author is Nevada Barr, who writes a mystery series set in the National Parks, featuring law enfocement ranger Anna Pigeon.


I didscoverd Barr a few years ago, flipping through a National Parks Magazine. There was an article about Winter Study, the 14th Anna Pigeon novel, published in 2008. I ordered the book and the rest is history, or her story if you will. After reading Winter Study, set on Isle Royale National Park in Michigan, I backed up to the first book in the series, Track of the Cat, set in Guadalupe Mountains National Park in Texas.

From there I followed Anna all over the country, back to Isle Royale in the summer, Mesa Verde, Lassen Volcanic, Cumberland Island, and Lechugilla cave at Carlsbad Caverns, one of my favorites. From there we went to my hometown, New York City, the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island, then the Natchez Trace in Mississippi, from there to Glacier, then back to the Natchez Trace (long enough for Anna to fall in love and get married).

After that it was off to the Dry Tortugas, Yosemite and Rocky Mountain, which brought me up to date and back to Isle Royale in the wintertime (I reread Winter Study before moving forward). Borderline (Big Bend) had come out in 2009 and Burn (set mostly in New Orleans) in 2010. After that I had to wait until 2012 for The Rope, a prequel (Glen Canyon), and 2014, Destroyer Angel (The Iron Range).

Boar Island, set in Acadia, was released on May 17 and Barr's book tour brought her to Murder by the Book in Houston on May 20. I had preordered the book on Amazon and it actually arrived on the release date. I considered plowing through it before the book signing but decided I'd rather wait and savor it. The books tend to be page turners anyway but feeling pressure to turn pages isn't the same thing.

We arrived a few minutes early, which meant about 50 people got there ahead of us. The seating area was packed but I went up front, thinking about sitting on the floor, and a little girl offered me her seat in the first row. There was one empty seat in the row behind me, so Neil wedged himself in there. I was clueless about how these things are done, so I didn't know that I was supposed to buy the book from the store and get a number for the signing queue.

Barr came out right on time and immediately made eye contact with me and returned my grin. Maybe she noticed my Yellowstone National Park t-shirt. In addition to the Anna Pigeon series, I've read her other books, Bittersweet (which she described as a "gothic lesbian western" - haha), Seeking Enlightenment, Hat by Hat, a memoir, and 13 1/2, a "stand-alone thriller set in New Orleans" which is where Barr hangs her hats these days.

Because I'd read her memoir, I might have known a little more about Nevada Barr than the average Anna Pigeon fan. I know that she had her struggles, with relationships, with depression, with faith. I know about what she calls her "decade-long winter of my discontent." I know about her depression, I know about her recovery, I know about her finding love later in life, and her happy second marriage. I know that in certain respects she is a kindred spirit.

Of course, Pigeon is based on Barr, who was a real-life National Park ranger at Guadalupe Mountain, Isle Royale, Mesa Verde and the Natchez Trace Parkway, before she retired from rangering to write full time. From Barr's website.
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.
Barr started out talking about how she came to write the Pigeon series, which included a bit of her history as first an actress, then as a law enforcement park ranger. She said one thing that especially resonated with me. Writing facilities writing, thinking about writing facilitates anxiety. I've personally found it to be a truth that if you just start writing, even if you don't know where you are going with it, you eventually get somewhere.

After talking for a bit, Barr took questions, most along the lines of the ones answered in her website FAQs. One question I loved was about why Anna married Paul. I was in love, Barr said, and I wanted Anna to be in love too. She also asked if anyone in the audience was a writer. I admit that I raised my hand.

Time ran out and that is when I found out about the number system for the autographs. I would have been OK without having my book signed - it was Barr I'd come to see and hear. But the bookstore staff was nice and, since this was my first time at a book signing, gave me a number, 37. I was the last person in line, which was fine. I didn't know that I could have brought up to four books to be signed. I probably could have brought the series, since I own it, and I was the last one to have a book signed. My copies are secondhand, like-new or very-good copies, all hardbound, one without a dust jacket, one (accidental) large print. I was fine with having just the new book signed - the first one I'd ever bought new.

The people lined up behind me are making a second pass to have more books signed.

When it was my turn, Nevada asked me what I wrote. I said, a blog, and I'm working on a memoir. I thanked her for coming. I didn't give any advance thought to what I would say to her, but on the way to the event, Neil said, don't say, I've read every one of your books and I love your work. I asked, why not. He said, that's what everyone says, she will have heard it a million times.

If there'd been time, I think what I'd really like to have said was that, I like to reread the corresponding book each time I visit a park she's written about, that I visited Mesa Verde because I got interested in it after reading the story set there, and that some of the other parks she has written about are on my list. I'd love to visit Dry Tortugas and Acadia is way up on my list, with Isle Royale making the list as well. And I might have asked her if she'd consider a story set in Yellowstone, because that is my favorite park so far.

Photos by Neil.

Boar Island is the 19th Anna Pigeon novel and I hope there will at least be one more. Chaco Canyon came up as a possible location. Nevada seem intrigued about a possible ghost story angle. The funny thing is, our imminent travel plans were about to take us practically right past it, en route from Santa Fe to Canyon de Chelly. We would have to make a side trip.


Everybody's wondering what and where they they all came from
Everybody's worried about where they're gonna go when the whole thing's done
Nobody knows for certain so it's all the same to me
I think I'll just let the mystery be

Some say when you're gone you're gone forever
And some say you're gonna come back
Some say you rest in the arms of the Saviour
If in sinful ways you lack
Some say that they're coming back in a garden
Bunch of carrots or little sweet peas
I think I'll just let the mystery be

Some say they're going to a place called Glory
And I ain't saying it ain't a fact
But I've heard that I'm on the road to Purgatory
And I don't like the sound of that
I believe in love and I live my life accordingly
But I choose to let the mystery be

Everybody's wondering what and where they they all came from
Everybody's worried about where they're gonna go when the whole thing's done
Nobody knows for certain so it's all the same to me
I think I'll just let the mystery be


(Iris DeMent)

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