By George Ebey
In the shadow of the Mormon church, a nineteenth-century conspiracy is about to be shattered by a twenty-first–century forensic artist. In 1857, a wagon train in Utah was assaulted by a group of militant Mormons calling themselves the Avenging Angels. One hundred and forty people were murdered, including unarmed men, women, and children.
When renowned forensic artist Gwen Marcey is recruited to reconstruct the faces of recently unearthed victims at Mountain Meadows, she isn’t expecting more than an interesting gig and a break from her own hectic life. But when Gwen stumbles on the ritualized murder of a young college student, her work on the massacre takes on a terrifying new aspect, and her research quickly becomes a race against modern-day fundamentalist terror.
We recently caught up with debut author Carrie Stuart Parks to learn more about A CRY FROM THE DUST and to find out what she has in store for us next.
First, how does it feel to be so close to the release of your debut novel?
I’m excited beyond belief. It’s hard to go through the day-to-day chores and work when all I want to do is hover over the computer.
Your story touches on the field of forensic art. Could you tell us a little about this field as well as your background in it?
I’ve been a forensic artist since 1981, so it was natural to “write what I know.” I’m also married to a forensic artist, Rick, who worked as a Visual Information Specialist for the FBI in Washington, D.C. Together we work on cases and travel across the nation teaching forensic art to law enforcement professionals. The stories I’ll be telling in this series are loosely based on our cases and the work we’ve done in the field.
Your story also deals with a conspiracy that stretches back into the nineteenth century. What aspects of this time and place led you to use it as an element in your story?
As a visitor to the Little Bighorn battlefield, I saw some reconstructed skulls done by my instructor, Betty Pat Gatliff. I got to thinking: what if a forensic artist reconstructed the skulls of some of the murdered pioneers from the Mountain Meadows massacre? And what if this launched a series of events stretching back to that time? The Mountain Meadows massacre was a real event. In 1857, a wagon train crossed southern Utah where they were attacked by a group of Mormons called Avenging Angels, Brigham Young’s secret police. Over 120 unarmed men, women, and children were slaughtered. I thought the whole idea was a novel waiting to happen. I had the background to write the forensic part: I’ve reconstructed skulls and unknown remains, worked on crime scenes, detected deception through verbal and physical clues, and drawn composites. And I’ve studied the LDS Church.
I found some awesome elements that I could weave into the story. For example, the day of the massacre was September 11. The first 9/11. The largest domestic terrorist attack on U.S. soil until the Oklahoma City attack. I don’t want to ruin the story, so we’ll let the reader find out the rest.
What’s on the horizon for you next?
I just turned in book 2 of the series with the working title of LONE WOLF. Forensic artist Gwen Marcey finds herself hip-deep in murder when her dog retrieves a skull from the dumpsite of a serial killer. There’s also the small matter of the Phineas Priesthood, a member of the Christian Identity movement, who believes he’s God’s executioner and has a grudge to settle. For this book I drew upon my work on the Yates serial killing cases, the Aryan Nations compound and case in Hayden, Idaho, as well as the Phineas Priesthood cell in Spokane from the mid 1990s.
What do you want folks to take away from reading your books?
A gripping and satisfying story with a strong protagonist, life problems they can relate to (acting out kids, divorce, cancer), and a message of hope.
Carrie Stuart Parks is an award-winning fine artist and internationally known forensic artist. Along with her husband, Rick, she travels across the US and Canada teaching courses in forensic art to law enforcement as well as civilian participants. Carrie began to write fiction while battling breast cancer and was mentored by New York Times best-selling author Frank Peretti. Now in remission, she continues to encourage other women struggling with cancer.
To learn more about Carrie, please visit her website.