A transplant to Michigan’s Upper Peninsula at the age of 9, Nancy Barr grew up in the tiny town of Rapid River nestled at the top of Little Bay de Noc. She earned an associate’s degree with honors from Bay College, and a bachelor’s degree in business administration from Lake Superior State University, a master’s degree in rhetoric and technical communication from Michigan Technological University (MTU). Her favorite memories as a young child are of weekly trips to the neighborhood library with her late mother to spend hours poring over books of all kinds. An award-winning newspaper reporter and editor for ten years, she teaches technical communication at MTU, where she is also a PhD candidate in rhetoric, theory, and culture. An animal aficionado, she lives on the Keweenaw Peninsula with three demanding, but lovable, cats. When not writing, Nancy enjoys hiking and photographing the natural beauty that abounds in the Upper Peninsula. Her novels include Page One: Hit and Run (July 2006), Page One: Vanished (May 2007), and Page One: Whiteout (November 2009), all from Arbutus Press, and available in e-book and trade paperback format.
Sassy, gutsy reporter Robin Hamilton investigates a murder in Escanaba, Michigan, a small-town where things are not always as they seem. As Robin covers the scoop of a hit and run accident for the local newspaper, a killer watches her every move. Tension builds as Robin discovers the killer’s motives and becomes a target herself.
While vacationing in picturesque Copper Harbor, Michigan, newspaper reporter finds a dusty old scrapbook in a used bookstore that opens a Pandora’s box of horrors as she delves into the disappearances of several teenage girls across the Upper Peninsula over a thirty-year period.
After her fiancé Mitch, a suburban Chicago cop, is gunned down on duty, Robin escapes back to the peace and quiet of her hometown in Upper Michigan, but finds that neither distance nor a job with the local paper can erase the memories, nightmares, and questions of who killed Mitch. The hunt for Mitch’s killer sends Robin into a world of guns, drugs, and money laundering that shatters her illusions about small-town folks.
What it means to be an ‘honest’ writer
By Nancy Barr
Author of the Page One mystery series set in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula
Lately I find myself in awe of people who have the freedom and courage to speak their mind, regardless of the repercussions. I recently read Roxanne Gay’s fabulous collection of essays titled Bad Feminist and marveled at the way she used of humor and plain English to dispel a multitude of myths about what it means to be a feminist and a woman who does not fit into neat categories. Her work has got me thinking about what it means to be a writer, one who is honest with herself and her work.
I began writing the first Page One mystery novel in 2000 with just one thing in mind – tell the story of Robin Hamilton, a young woman about my age who also did not fit into neat categories. At the time, there were few mystery novelists focusing on Generation X women and their concerns, especially in rural areas, experiencing lifestyles and making choices far removed from the Sex and the City myth portrayed routinely on screen.
Robin is not beautiful, wealthy, or particularly brilliant. Like her namesake, the herald of spring in Michigan, the character is physically fragile – petite, blonde, more likely to fall on her ass than kick it with a well-placed roundhouse. But she is also strong, building a career as a newspaper journalist at a time when journalism was losing its Woodward-and-Bernstein golden halo of civic duty, unafraid to peel back the layers of obfuscation that are the natural product of concentrated wealth, power, and cronyism.
Most importantly, through Robin I explored the grieving process, something I have experienced too many times and seen abused as a cinematic trope. If I had one objective for the Page One books, wherever the series led me, it was for Robin to be real, to cry, to fear, to drink to excess to hide that fear, to doubt, and finally, to rise from the ashes of her past trauma and again fly fully-formed into the future.
It turned out that it took three books for me to tell Robin’s story, three books that feature the small historic mining and logging towns, lakefront resorts, and thick forests of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, my home now for more than three decades.
On the surface, the U.P. may seem like a strange place to launch a murder mystery series. It’s not exactly a hotbed of crime and its residents, not particularly diverse in terms of race (predominately white, with several thriving Native American tribes), tend to be on the lower end of the economic scale. However, it is the beloved home base for multitudes of educated Yoopers (the nickname given to U.P. natives) who physically left to earn a living, but spiritually remain tied to the region. Robin speaks to everyone who has ever needed to hit the reset button on their life, to go back home before she can move forward again.
The U.P., a heavily forested area nestled among three Great Lakes, provides the peaceful setting needed for rejuvenation and an honest appraisal of one’s self. Yoopers do not suffer artifice lightly. You rarely see faces altered by Botox. Instead, crinkles at the corner of the eye settle on nearly every face by the age of 25 thanks to years of smiling, sometimes through tears, as we make the best of unpredictable weather and economic malaise, while thanking the heavens for our pristine environment and tight-knit communities.
After reading the Page One trilogy, I hope you feel what it’s like to be a Yooper on a beautiful fall day or during a blizzard, what it’s like to grieve for loved ones in waves that are sometimes crashing and sometimes lapping, and what it’s like to find a path forward through the darkness.
Here’s a link to where I call home now and the focus of my work in progress: http://matadornetwork.com/trips/15-ways-upper-peninsula/