Monday, January 17, 2011

Mary Anna Evans - Digging Into The Past

At first glance, Mary Anna Evans may seem like your typical left-brained math whiz. But this former environmental engineer (whose first published work was entitled A Modeling Study of the NH3-NO-O2 Reaction Under the Operating Conditions of a Fluidized Bed Combustor) has been hailed as “a new Florida voice…one who can bring to life the rich texture…of the state’s coast.” (Tampa Tribune)
Born and raised in Mississippi, Evans describes herself as “a lifelong omnivorous reader.” She excelled in school, earning a bachelor’s degree in physics from Murray State University and a master’s in chemical engineering from the University of Mississippi. Although her academic concentration focused on the sciences, Evans enjoyed her writing assignments and audited writing courses. After engineering school, she moved to Gainesville where she took a position as an environmental consultant. She fell in love with the Florida climate and a lifestyle where “people move slower and interact with more warmth.” 
During her eight years on the job, she never lost the desire to write. “I wrote what life let me write—haiku when I had my children, then short stories.” She wrote her first novel while confined to bed during her third pregnancy. Even though it was never published, it set Evans on the road to becoming a full-time writer.
Shortly after her daughter’s birth, Evans decided to leave engineering and devote herself to writing.  James Michener’s The Source convinced her that she could combine her love of writing and her fascination with history by using artifacts as the framework for stories. This was the genesis for her first published novel, Artifacts. “I started with a place—an old plantation on the north Florida coast. I asked myself, ‘Who would live there? How would she pay for the upkeep? Maybe by finding and selling artifacts.’”  Enter Evans’s main character, Faye Longchamp—a multiracial archaeologist who uses her skills to solve mysteries. “Archeological procedures are similar to physics,” Evans explains, “so my engineering background helped.”  In  Artifacts, Faye digs up a human skull and begins  probing into a 40-year-old murder mystery that puts her in the path of a killer. Artifacts won the 2003 Benjamin Franklin Award and the Florida Historical Society’s Florida Literature Award. It was named an “Adult Mystery with Young Adult Appeal” by VOYA (Voice of Young America).
The success of Artifacts was followed by Relics (2005), Effigies (2007), Findings (2008), and Floodgates (2009). Strangers, published in October 2010, is set in St. Augustine. It takes Faye Longchamp deep into the history of the Sunshine State, back to the first interactions between Europeans and Native Americans. A possibly haunted house, a murdered Hollywood starlet, and the frantic search for a missing young woman make physical and emotional demands that may be too much for the pregnant Faye. Critical praise for Strangers includes this from Publishers Weekly: “Evans explores themes of protection, love and loss in her absorbing sixth Faye Longchamp mystery…Compelling…”
Evans is currently at work on a very different kind of book, Mathematical Literacy in the Middle and Secondary Grades. Co-written with Dr. Faith Wallace, its aim is to give teachers the tools they need to use all types of written material - like poetry, video games, junk mail, music, and yes, books like Evans’s – to teach math. “I was completely flabbergasted to find that my books were being used to teach math, since I don’t consciously put math in them,” Evans says. “Yet I’ve learned that who you are comes out in what you write, so my engineering and physics education sometimes shows its face.” She calls this book “the culmination of many papers, proposals and presentations Dr. Wallace and I have made.” The book is scheduled for release in June, 2011.
When Evans is not writing, she is making music. A self-described “serious amateur classical pianist,” Evans also plays the keyboard, clarinet, violin, and electric bass. She has co-written a song she describes as “a love song for my adopted state.” Land of the Flowers won second place in the “Best New Florida Song” contest. In addition to her musical and literary endeavors, Evans enjoys yoga and spending quality time with her three children and Kitty Boy, her cat.
Evans had planned to set her seventh novel, Plunder, in Key West. Then came the BP oil spill. “I was watching the progress of the slick, thinking that if it came ashore in the Keys, I would need to deal with the devastating results,” she says.  As she watched the destruction spread through the Mississippi River delta, she remembered the time she spent there and realized there was a story in the archaeological remains that were being destroyed by the oil.  “I needed to write about this disaster,” she explains, “so I moved Plunder to the area south of New Orleans that suffered so much.” Look for Plunder to hit bookstore shelves in December, 2011.
Evans’s stories and characters serve another important purpose. She hopes readers will come away from her stories with a sense of the uniqueness of each person. “Faye doesn’t fit into any racial category. She’s a vehicle to point out, without saying so, that nobody really knows who their ancestors are. I want readers to like my characters for who they are, not the categories they fit into. Then maybe they can apply that to real people.”
 An age-old idea that shouldn’t be much of a mystery at all.

For more about Mary Anna Evans, visit her website at

Next: James W. Hall - A Florida Literary Icon