The daughter of two pilots, Barr bears the name of the state in which she was born. She grew up at a little mountain airport in Johnsonville, California. After attending college at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo and completing her graduate studies at the University of California at Irvine, she moved to New York City to pursue a career in theater. She stayed there for five years, as a member of the Classic Stage Company, performing in Off-Broadway shows.
From New York, Barr went to Minneapolis, where she tried her hand at more theater work, landed some spots on television commercials, and worked on industrial films, among other things. Her former husband was involved in the Park Service, which inspired her interest in wildlife and conservation, and eventually led to the profession that until recently she shared with her main character: National Park Service Ranger.
When she felt she could afford to, Barr began to work summers at various parks, and spent her winters pursuing a career in writing. She published her first novel, Bittersweet, in 1984, but it was during her tour of duty in Guadalupe Mountains in Texas, that Barr conceived of the Anna Pigeon character and began the series with her critically acclaimed, award-winning debut, Track of the Cat, in 1993. She then followed up with eight more novels set in various National Parks: A Superior Death (1994) set in Mesa Verde National Park in Colorado; Ill Wind (1995) set in Isle Royal National Park in Michigan; Firestorm (1996), which was awarded France’s Prix du Roman d’Adventure and nominated for Anthony Award for Best Novel, set in Lassen Volcanic National Park in California; Endangered Species (1997) set in Georgia’s Cumberland Island National Seashore; Blind Descent (1998) set in Carlsbad Caverns National Park in New Mexico; Liberty Falling (1999) set at Liberty and Ellis Islands in New York City, Deep South (2000), set in the Natchez Trace Parkway in Mississippi, Blood Lure (2001) set in the Waterton National Peace Park in Montana and Canada, Hunting Season (2002) set in the Natchez Trace Parkway.
Q. Last year’s Winter Study was set in the frozen north of Isle Royale in the middle of Lake Superior. For Borderline, you head to southwest Texas in the spring. How and why did you pick this particular national park for this new Anna Pigeon novel?
Oddly enough, I had never been to Big Bend and had wanted to go for many years. I’d worked in Texas at Guadalupe and loved the harsh beauty of northern Texas and wanted to set another adventure in like country.
Q. In preparing for a new novel, what comes first: the choice of park or the mystery to be solved?
The choice of the park. The park informs the mystery.
Q. How much Nevada Barr is in Anna Pigeon?
Anna and I have exchanged spiritual blood over so many years of transfusion. I can’t say anymore.
Q. In Borderline, you probe the issue of immigration and the post-9/11 closing of the Texas/Mexico border. What kind of research did you do and is it still a hot issue in Big Bend National Park?
The issue is still very much at the forefront. My research was done via interviews with rangers on both sides of the issue as well as on the internet.
Q. You seem to have named several characters after real-life people in your acknowledgments. Do those characters and their real-life namesakes have more in common than a name?
The river guide, Carmen, was closely patterned on our real life river guide. The others were simply names I snatched from my world and put into Anna’s.
Q. Is this the first time that heroine Anna Pigeon has been drawn into a mystery while off duty?
No. Once before in NYC she was drawn into a mystery on Ellis Island while visiting her sister.
Q. What do you miss most about life as a park ranger?
Time when your only work is to walk and watch.
Q. What do you miss the least?
Q. Was the transition from active outdoors job to indoor writer difficult for you? What is your writing routine like?
The transition was easy happening as it did over a period of years. My writing routine is erratic. In fact, it’s not a routine; it’s a mixture of compulsion, anxiety and day dreaming.
Q. Do you plan to have Anna Pigeon visit every one of the U.S. National Parks before she retires?
Whew! Counting the historical monuments, that would be over 300 novels…
Q. Where will we see Anna turn up next? Can you tell us what sort of new adventure we can expect to see her take on?
Anna’s next adventure is on the seamy side of New Orleans French Quarter with a fellow ranger who works as a blues singer for the New Orleans Jazz National Historic Park.
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