By George Ebey
Author Ann Parker is back with WHAT GOLD BUYS, the latest in her Silver Rush mystery series.
The time is autumn of 1880. The place is the Rocky Mountains. The opening event, among frost and snow, is the return of Silver Queen Saloon owner Inez Stannert to Leadville, Colorado.
In this silver rush boomtown, those who are hungry for material riches seek their fortunes in precious metals, while others, hungry for spiritual relief, seek to pierce the veil between life and death with the help of fortunetellers, mediums, and occultists. When soothsayer Drina Gizzi is found murdered, strangled with a set of silver and gold corset laces, no one seems to care except the three who find her body—Inez, her lover Reverend Sands, and Drina’s young daughter, Antonia.
The mystery surrounding Drina’s death deepens when her body vanishes without a trace. As Inez and Antonia band together to seek out Drina’s killer, they unearth disturbing evidence of underground resurrectionists, long-held grievances, and unmitigated greed for what gold can and cannot buy. Delving into this dark underworld in search of answers might just buy Inez and Antonia a one-way ticket into unmarked grave.
The Big Thrill recently caught up with Parker to learn more about this epic historical series.
What first drew you to writing historical thrillers?
For me, place and era were the initial attraction. Although my mother and father were from Colorado and I had many relatives there, I had never heard of Leadville, Colorado, until an uncle mentioned that my paternal grandmother had been raised there. My uncle then went on enthusiastically and at some length about this mining town up at 10,000 feet in the Rocky Mountains. Leadville, he said, was home to a silver rush in 1879 that rivaled California’s gold rush in adventure, excitement, and stories, adding, “It was a real hell-raising place.” He finished with “Ann, I know you’ve been thinking of writing a novel. You should research Leadville and set a book there.”
When I began to explore Leadville and its boomtown era, I saw resonances between the present and the past—how in boom times, for instance, normally reasonable folk seem to toss aside common sense and get caught up in the general frenzy to “get rich quick.” In Leadville, fortunes were made and lost, and people murdered in the quest for silver.
There were other things that drew me to this era. The U.S. Civil War had ended just fifteen years previous, and its repercussions continued to be felt by those who lived through it long after Lee surrendered to Grant.
All this and more initially drew me into writing historical thrillers set in this time period and locale.
Tell us about your character, Inez Stannert. What has her journey been like up to this point?
I like to say Inez is a person with a mysterious past, a complicated present, and an uncertain future. Originally from a well-to-do family in the East, she “kicks over the traces” and marries a charming-but-not-exactly-trustworthy-and-loyal card sharp, Mark Stannert, and joins Mark and his partner-in-crime-and-confidence-schemes, Abe Jackson, as they seek wealth and adventure by means both straightforward and underhanded on their meandering westward journey.
When the series opens in late 1879, the three have been settled in Leadville for some time and are equal partners in owning and running the Silver Queen Saloon. The year of 1879 had been a tumultuous and painful one for Inez: her husband Mark had disappeared earlier that spring, Inez had sent their baby son back East in the care of her sister, and Inez was handling the saloon’s affairs along with Abe. As the series progresses, Inez gains confidence and develops a steely spirit.
What elements do you feel are essential for a good suspense story?
At the heart of a suspense story, there needs to be well-defined stakes involved—stakes that are critical to the main character and that matter to the reader. The stakes can be global (the fate of a nation hangs in the balance), regional (the fate of a town, a city, an enclave of individuals hangs in the balance), or very personal (an individual’s certainty of the present, past, or future is suddenly upended). Stakes anywhere along this scale can be the foundation for weaving a suspenseful story that readers will care about, provided the writer has the tools to make that fictional world and the people in it come alive for the reader.
What tricks have you learned as a writer to make your writing time as productive as possible?
I have to smile at this question. I’m a very “slow” writer, given all the rest of life’s responsibilities, but when I do get involved in a writing project, I try to make the time count. Blocking out distractions is important for me (easy to say, not always easy to do). When I sit down to write, I turn off the “internal editor,” don my noise-reduction earphones, turn up the music, and write fast. If I hit a place where I’m not sure about a detail or fact, I note it in brackets [like this] and keep moving. The brackets allow me to easily find those areas I need to return to and fix when I circle back for a quick edit before the next writing session.
Ann Parker earned degrees in Physics and English Literature at the University of California, Berkeley, before falling into a career as a science/corporate writer. During the daylight hours, she scribbles about “bleeding-edge” research for a scientific R&D institution and enterprise business solutions for legal firms. At night, she delves into the past.
Her award-winning Silver Rush historical series, published by Poisoned Pen Press, is set in the 1880s silver boomtown of Leadville, Colorado, and features Silver Queen Saloon owner Inez Stannert–a woman with a mysterious past, a complicated present, and an uncertain future. The series was picked as a “Booksellers Favorite” by the Mountains and Plains Independent Booksellers Association.
Ann’s ancestors include a great-grandfather who was a blacksmith in Leadville, a grandmother who worked at the bindery of Leadville’s Herald Democrat newspaper, a grandfather who was a Colorado School of Mines professor, and another grandfather who worked as a gandy dancer on the Colorado railroads. She is a member of the National Association of Science Writers, International Thriller Writers, Historical Novel Society, Mystery Writers of America, Sisters in Crime, Women Writing the West, and Western Writers of America (and probably a few other organizations that have slipped her mind at the moment). Ann and her family reside in the San Francisco Bay Area, whence they have weathered numerous boom-and-bust cycles.