Short version: Sarah Andrews is a geologist who writes mystery novels about a geologist.
Long version: Sarah Andrews was born twenty minutes to midnight in the middle of a thunder storm and has muddled through darkness punctuated by flashes of brilliance ever since.
She spent her early childhood in Connecticut, where her parents were prep school teachers, and enjoyed two months each summer in rural Maine on timberlands homesteaded by her paternal ancestors in the 1780’s.
Sarah’s father, Richard Lloyd Andrews, taught Art and painted in oils. He was a graduate of Black Mountain College, where he studied with Josef Albers. After a hitch in the Army Air Corps during World War II, he studied with Hans Hoffman at the Art Students’ League. He was also a master storyteller, and at his knee, Sarah learned the art of the oft-repeated anecdote.
Richard’s mother, Dorothy Warren Andrews, was also an accomplished artist, who studied with Howard Pyle at the Brandywine School.
Sarah’s mother, Mary Fisher Andrews, taught English and Comparative Religions. She graduated Phi Beta Kappa from Vassar College, where her mother, Mary Fisher Langmuir, taught Psychology, and, when Sarah (her youngest of three children) entered preschool, she earned a joint degree from Union Theological Seminary and Columbia University in Old Testament Studies, studying with Rheinhold Neibur.
Mary’s father, Stephen Joseph Herben, Jr., taught Chaucer and other Early and Middle English topics at Bryn Mawr College.
Sarah’s early activities included sailing, ice-boating, sketching, and New York City “gallery crawls” with her father, and visits to Columbia University and Union Theological Seminary with her mother. The contrasts between indoors and ourdoors, urban, suburban, and rural, public and private, and loving and harsh were critical formative influences.
Most people thought that Sarah would follow her father into a career in art, but as a fifth-generation woman college graduate, she perceived no barriers to what she might do with her life. As her mother used to say, “You’ll probably marry and have children, but you will have a career.”
Sarah’s interest in Geology was seeded during those summers in Maine, where granite protruded as smoothed shields and faces through the rubble left behind by passing glaciers. Grandmother Andrews, who lived in the family farm four months each year, collected cobbles that had been rounded into spheres, and enjoyed setting them in interesting arrangements along the beach at the cabin she built on a small lake nearby.
Sarah’s father and Uncle Jack took her on hunts for the fabled Maine pegmatites, Dad in search of micas big enough to use as window glazing in his model railroads, and Uncle Jack just “rock hounding.” And Sarah enjoyed a wonderful fifth grade teacher (Miss Lucas) who led similar explorations around the Connecticut landscape.
School trips also took Sarah to Yale’s Peabody Museum and the American Museum of Natural History, where she saw rocks, minerals, and fossils galore.
All of the above seemed normal to Sarah: life is for learning, and everybody around you is a teacher. She is grateful for the riches of these early opportunities. She had much to learn about the themes and variations in human and natural history, but she had an active mind, plenty of nervous energy, and an apatite for adventure, so off she went into a life of exploration and learning.
In 1969, the year of Armstong’s and Aldrin’s moon walk, Sarah left the East Coast to attend college in Colorado, where she developed an abiding love for the tall skies and open heart of the West. She graduated from Colorado College (where she studied with John Lewis, William A. Fischer, and Richard M. Pearl) with a B.A. in Geology and headed up to Denver to work for the U.S. Geological Survey.
There she had the great fortune being taken under the mentoring wing of fabled mega-geologist Edwin D. McKee, who had started his career as Chief Naturalist at Grand Canyon National Park in 1929.
Eddie McKee took the lump of proto-geologist that was Sarah and formed her into a dedicated professional using love, kindness, and a wealth of humor and storytelling.
Under his tutelage, she developed expertise in eolian sedimentology. Eddie taught her how to do research and write up results. He taught her to write clearly and concisely, and with a dictionary open beside her. He taught her how to give public speeches. He opened professional doors for Sarah, helped her build her ever-growing professional network, taught her professional comportment and gratitude, and, most importantly, he
Sarah next earned an M.S. from Colorado State University, studying with the immensely talented Frank Ethridge. Frank added an important layer of pragmatism to Sarah’s repertoire, teaching her to apply her USGS research to the practical issues of earth resources exploration and management. Frank believed in matching students to jobs and helping them further their careers. Sarah did her Master’s research in uranium ore deposition in alluvial fans.
M.S. in hand, Sarah became one of Frank’s “famous former students,” and headed out into the oil patch and her first encounter with corporate America and its fabled glass ceiling. She worked first for Amoco Production Company and then ANGUS Petroleum Corporation, both in Colorado, where she applied her knowledge of terrigenous clastic sedimentology to enhanced recovery of hydrocarbons (got oil out of rocks formed by wind and rivers).
During her years working in the Rockies, Sarah repeatedly found her way into Wyoming, first as a traveler and later as a geologist for both the USGS and Amoco.
She then moved to California with the man she would marry—fellow geologist Damon Brown—and began to write the Em Hansen mysteries. As she refined the first books (Tensleep and A Fall in Denver, set in the oil business) she worked as an environmental geologist, gaining the experience to write Mother Nature.
While directing site contamination characterization at a Superfund site (Castle Air Force Base), Sarah finally achieved her most important job…at last becoming a mother at age 42. Tensleep was published seven weeks after son Duncan was born.
Delighting in motherhood, Sarah simplified her task list somewhat, quitting office-bound work so that she could stay home and immerse herself in raising this delightful and fascinating child. After six months, sleep deprivation gave way to storytelling deprivation, and Sarah began to write Mother Nature and did the final edits on A Fall in Denver.
As Only Flesh and Bones (in part inspired by complaints voiced by fellow superannuated mothers pushing strollers, and otherwise again set in the oil business) entered the editorial pipeline, Sarah began once again to attend professional geological conventions. This was at the urging of J. David Love, another geologist with Scottish surname and lineage (there is an uncannily long list of same who have influenced Sarah’s career, but perhaps Scots are the quintessence of the kind of “prove-it-to-me” irascibility that makes a good geologist great), who kindly performed technical review on the early books in the series.
At the conventions, Sarah’s geological colleagues began to approach her with material from their various specialties. First and foremost was M. Lee Allison (yet another Scot) who suggested the setting for Bone Hunter, which visits the world of paleontology. Beginning with that book, Sarah formed the series into a vehicle for educational
Concurrent with writing Bone Hunter, Sarah began to lecture part time in the Geology Department at Sonoma State University, and returned to the lecture circuit for public events and geological symposia.
She currently lives in northern California and invests her free time on community pursuits and flying, skiing, and sailing with her husband and son. Both Sarah and Damon are licensed pilots, and they enjoy flying about the West in their 1965 Beechcraft Baron. The near future will return Sarah to international travel, adding Antarctica to an inquiry that has already taken her to five of the world’s seven continents.