Dec '11/Jan '12

Women in Mining

Hot off the press

By H. Ednie

Miner shines bright light on the industry with a new book series

“With Joe having set the cadence, I counted down the rest of the way, and at precisely one second past zero, the ground rumbled, dust puffed, and rock crumbled as if Mother Earth had simply made a polite cough.

The sequential timing of the explosives was executed perfectly to minimize the ground vibration. The sky was cloudless and windless, which minimized any air blast. The dust settled quickly on top of the heap of limestone – perfectly blasted rock sized at twenty-four inches or less. The excitement I felt swelled into pride as I saw Ronnie rise to his feet with a grin.”

~ Liv Bergen, In the Belly of Jonah

“I love my day job,” says Sandra Brannan, author of the sizzling new Liv Bergen mystery/thriller series. When not at the computer crafting an elaborate plot for her next book, Brannan can be found at Pete Lien and Sons, a family-owned limestone, iron ore and gypsum producer with operations in South Dakota, Wyoming and Colorado, where she is the vice-president of corporate development.

Growing up, Brannan spent her summers working at the quarries, during which time her love of the industry grew.  “As a teen, all I could think was what other job lets me wear jeans and boots to work, play in the rocks all day with big equipment, hike in the woods looking for limestone, and allow me to enjoy God’s playground each day.”

With a specific career path in mind, she earned an industrial engineering degree and an MBA. Then, like the protagonist in her books, she gained five years of experience at the plant where Boeing’s 747 and 767 models are produced, before her official start at Pete Lien and Sons as a shovel operator at the iron ore quarry. From there, she worked her way up through a string of roles in operations, then was mine manager at a number of sites before reaching her current position.

Changing the industry’s image, one book at a time

All those years, Brannan was unaware she was gaining inspiration for her career as a writer. Through her passion for writing and background in mining, she is helping change the negative image that plagues the industry. “At first, I stayed away from mining, but they say ‘write what you know,’” she says. “I thought people would be repelled by a mining protagonist, but the opposite has been true. Following the release of my second book, which is set around a ready mix plant rather than a mine, most of the reader comments I received were requests that I get back to mining with the next book. I’ve been happily surprised by how much enjoyment people get out of the mining content.”

The Liv Bergen series will include nine books in all, two of which have already been released: In the Belly of Jonah (September 2010) and Lot’s Return to Sodom (June 2011). The books’ savvy main character runs a limestone quarry and becomes involved in crime solving, which she discovers she possesses a knack for. From the blood-stained front cover through the pages that follow, the series is not for the faint of heart, but the mine manager’s strong character, the illustrative settings and clever storylines make them a highly enjoyable read. In fact, In the belly of Jonah has been so popular that it necessitated a second print run within a month of its release.

Although not a common pastime for a mining professional, Brannan thoroughly enjoys shaping the stories around, and sharing her vision of, the modern mining industry with her readers. “There’s so few of us left in the basic industries – ranchers, farmers and miners – but we are responsible for creating new wealth,” she says. “Everyone else does something with it. I’m proud to be at the start of that chain and I’m glad my books help raise people’s opinions about mining to the standards we’re at. They need to know what we’re about. Without us, the economy would screech to a halt.”

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