Author Talk: March 16, 2017
Mary Anna Evans is the author of the award-winning Faye Longchamp archaeological mysteries. Her most recent addition to the series, BURIALS, follows Faye and her husband, Joe, to Sylacauga where she will investigate the death of Dr. Sophia Townsend, also an archaeologist. In this interview, Evans discusses the archaeological and historical background of the series, her decision to set this latest installment in Oklahoma on the tribal lands of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation, and Faye’s morality.
Question: Since the publication of ARTIFACTS, the first novel in your series about Faye Longchamp, an archaeologist who is also a sleuth, your work has drawn the attention of mystery fans who enjoy a historical theme to go with murder most foul. Which Faye novel elicited the most responses from your readers?
Mary Anna Evans: I frequently get emails from people who want to know if a particular person or place that I've included in a historical backstory is real. If I had to say which book got the most questions about the backstory, I'd have to say it was STRANGERS. In particular, people want to know if Father Domingo Sanz de la Fuente really lived. The answer is no. There really was a priest who crossed the Atlantic with the group who founded Saint Augustine, and I read translated excerpts from his journal as part of my research. Then I created Father Domingo and put him by the side of the real priest because I don't like to muck about with the lives of real people. I'm very attached to Father Domingo. I wish he were real, too.
Q: No less a figure than Tony Hillerman expressed admiration for one of your early novels. Do you feel this series now employs that same framework of crime set against an anthropological background that distinguished Hillerman's body of work?
MAE: I do. At least I try to carry that flame. I admire the ancient cultures of the Americas very much, and I am always happy when a story gives me a chance to highlight their achievements and the things they have to teach the rest of us.
Q: Looking at the current landscape in mystery fiction, is there an author whose work you particularly admire? And which author from the past would you say has influenced you as a writer the most?
MAE: I love the work of James Lee Burke --- the lyrical language, the warmth of his portrayal of his characters, and the palpable reality of his settings.
It might be a cliché, but I would be a liar if I said I wasn't inspired by the work of Agatha Christie.
Q: Why did you choose an Oklahoma setting for the series and BURIALS?
MAE: I began setting up this book in 2002 when I started writing ARTIFACTS. I established that Joe was a Creek from Oklahoma who had walked away from his home and his father when he was 18. In ISOLATION, I began telling the story of his reconciliation with his father. While writing it, I was hired to teach at the University of Oklahoma and moved here. When it came time to start BURIALS, it was as if I had lived my whole life and written my whole series to be here in this place at this point in time to write this book. And so I brought Joe home to face his father and to face his mother's death. It was a joy to have everything fall together like that.
Q: Why did you choose to set the book on tribal lands of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation?
MAE: Joe is Creek, or, in the traditional language of his people, he is Muscogee, so the story needed to happen here. I have truly enjoyed driving through the tribal lands of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation, talking with people along the way and bothering their law enforcement people with my questions about how this story needed to work.
Q: Faye makes some morally ambiguous decisions in BURIALS that she regrets. Tell me about the thought processes that take her to this dark place.
MAE: Faye loves people with her full heart. She wants to take care of them, and she wants to shield them from pain. In BURIALS, she is forced to face the fact that nobody can protect people all the time, especially when they’re troubles of their own doing. I think this is a lesson many people don't learn until mid-life, and some don't learn it at all. Faye may make that mistake again, but next time she will recognize it.