I'm pleased to welcome Mary Anna Evans to Cozy Up With Kathy today. Mary Anna's latest novel, THE PHYSICISTS' DAUGHTER, will be released June 7, 2022.
Kathy: THE PHYSICISTS' DAUGHTER is set in New Orleans. Why did you choose this location for your novel?
MAE: THE PHYSICISTS' DAUGHTER is based on the true story of a secret project carried out by the American government at a New Orleans factory in the final months of WWII. I grew up near New Orleans and I've written two books set there--WOUNDED EARTH and FLOODGATES--so building a novel around this real-life story was a natural fit for me.
Kathy: Justine Byrne works in a factory during World War II. My great aunt was a "Rosie-the-Riveter" for a time. Has WWII always held an interest for you?
MAE: I think that WWII holds a strong interest for many of us. It's still within living memory, although that window is rapidly closing. Hitler's atrocities make him a clearcut enemy, and we don't often have that clarity in these complex times. The dropping of the atomic bomb ended the world that humanity had always lived in, beginning a new world that we still don't really know how to navigate. Because of all these things, the time period around WWII generates endless story possibilities.
Kathy: What first drew you to historical fiction?
MAE: I'm fascinated with the past. It's a place that we can only visit through documents and records and photographs and, of course, through fiction.
Kathy: Do you write in any other genres?
MAE: THE PHYSICISTS' DAUGHTER is a suspense novel, which is a form of crime fiction that differs a bit from the mystery fiction of my previous work. There are thirteen books in my Faye Longchamp archaeological mystery series and, though I think my readers will enjoy strong capable Justine in the same way that they've enjoyed strong, capable Faye, I think they'll see differences that enable Justine to shine in her own way. My standalone novel, WOUNDED EARTH, is probably more similar to THE PHYSICISTS' DAUGHTER, as I'd categorize it as suspense, too I also write short stories in a number of genres, including a recent alternative history story published in THE FAKING OF THE PRESIDENT. I write essays and book-length nonfiction, including the upcoming BLOOMSBURY HANDBOOK TO AGATHA CHRISTIE, which I co-edited with JC Bernthal. I've dabbled in science fiction and fantasy stories, as well. When it comes to genre, you can never be sure of what I'll do next!
Kathy: Tell us about your book.
MAE: I pitched the book as Rosie-the-Riveter-meets-Bletchley-Park. It features factory worker Justine Byrne, the daughter of two physicists who taught her enough physics to let her recognize that her boss is lying to her. She and her coworkers are not building what they think they're building. She can also see that somebody is trying to sabotage their work. Justine must use her unusual-for-a-woman-in-1944 knowledge to save everyone around her from someone who doesn't care if they live or die.
Kathy: Do you have a favorite character? If so, who and why?
MAE: Well, it would have to be Justine. She's smart. She's loving. She's loyal. Yeah, she's a little socially awkward. And yeah, she's got no experience in the ways of the world. But she's got heart.
Kathy: Did you have a specific inspiration for your book?
MAE: In real life, the workers in the Carbon Division at Higgins Industries, many of them women, participated without their knowledge in a secret project that was critical to the Allies' plans for winning WWII. I imagined what might have happened if one of them had figured out the secret, and that insight gave me Justine Byrne, the daughter of physicists. And it gave me this book.
Kathy: What made you decide to publish your work?
MAE: I write for readers. I like to imagine how they'll react to the exciting scenes and the emotional scenes. Writing fiction for others to read is a form of communication that's important to me.
Kathy: If you could have a dinner party and invite 4 authors, living or dead, in any genre, who would you invite?
MAE: Wow, that's a hard one. Well, I've done a good bit of writing about the work of Agatha Christie, so I would certainly want to invite her. Mary Shelley created a book that we're still reading after two centuries, and I'd love to talk to her about that. (And about Percy Shelley and Lord Byron and about her mother Mary Wollstonecraft!) Jane Austen, too, wrote books that have stood the test of time, so I would invite her. And, like so many women, LITTLE WOMEN was a book that marked me for life, so I would invite Louisa May Alcott.
Kathy: What are you currently reading?
MAE: I just finished FOR THOSE WHO ARE LOST, a lovely historical novel by Julia Bryan Thomas.
Kathy: Will you share any of your hobbies or interests with us?
MAE: I love to play the piano and cook. I spend a lot of time on the phone talking to faraway loved ones. And my husband and I enjoy board games, movies, and TV.
Kathy: Name 4 items you always have in your fridge or pantry.
MAE: Hershey's syrup. Vanilla ice cream. Coffee. And Coca-Cola.
Kathy: Do you have plans for future books either in your current series or a new series?
MAE: Yes! I'm almost finished with the sequel to THE PHYSICISTS' DAUGHTER. It's called THE TRAITOR BESIDE HER. It takes Justine to Washington, DC, where she welds together ships and goes undercover among America's codebreakers, searching for a spy who is stealing their decoded messages.
Kathy: What's your favorite thing about being an author?
MAE: I love hearing from people who have enjoyed my work. It makes my day to know that the liked it well enough to reach out to me.
The Physicists' Daughter: A Novel by Mary Anna Evans
About The Physicists' Daughter
Poisoned Pen Press (June 7, 2022)
Paperback: 352 pages
The Nazis are no match for the physicists' daughter.
New Orleans, 1944
Sabotage. That's the word on factory worker Justine Byrne's mind as she is repeatedly called to weld machine parts that keep failing with no clear cause. Could someone inside the secretive Carbon Division be deliberately undermining the factory's war efforts? Raised by her late parents to think logically, she also can't help wondering just what the oddly shaped carbon gadgets she assembles day after day have to do with the boats the factory builds...
When a crane inexplicably crashes to the factory floor, leaving a woman dead, Justine can no longer ignore her nagging fear that German spies are at work within the building, trying to put the factory and its workers out of commission. Unable to trust anyone—not the charming men vying for her attention, not her unpleasant boss, and not even the women who work beside her—Justine draws on the legacy of her unconventional upbringing to keep her division running and protect her coworkers, her country, and herself from a war that is suddenly very close to home.
About Mary Anna Evans
Mary Anna Evans is the author of The Physicists' Daughter, the first in her series of WWII-era historical suspense novels featuring Rosie-the-Riveter-turned-codebreaker Justine Byrne. Her thirteen Faye Longchamp archaeological mysteries have received recognition including the Benjamin Franklin Award, a Will Rogers Medallion Award Gold Medal, the Oklahoma Book Award, and three Florida Book Awards bronze medals. She is an associate professor at the University of Oklahoma, where she teaches fiction and nonfiction writing, including mystery and suspense writing. Her work has appeared in publications including Plots with Guns, The Atlantic, Florida Heat Wave, Dallas Morning News, and The Louisville Review. Her scholarship on crime fiction, which centers on Agatha Christie's evolving approach over her long career to the ways women experienced justice in the twentieth century, has appeared in the Bloomsbury Handbook to Agatha Christie (coming September 22, 2022), which she co-edited, and in Clues: A Journal of Detection. She holds an MFA in creative writing from Rutgers-Camden, and she is a licensed Professional Engineer. She is at work on the second Justine Byrne novel, The Physicists’ Enigma.