What drew you to mystery writing?
I love reading mysteries, with the work of Tony Hillerman and C.J. Box among my favorites, so it was natural to write mysteries when I switched from non-fiction to fiction. I enjoy the challenge of bringing something new to the mystery structure, where place, character, and story combine to create rich fictional worlds.
What inspired your love for the outdoors?
I moved from heavily polluted inner-city Akron, Ohio, to Durango, Colorado, at age ten. I remember looking around me at the surrounding mountains and forests while waiting outside to enter my elementary school for my first day of classes in Durango and realizing I’d been transported to heaven. I backpacked for the first time that fall, hunted and killed my first deer at age twelve, and have been happily exploring the West’s mountains, canyons, and deserts ever since.
You are obviously familiar with the Grand Canyon—how did you use your personal experience and expertise when writing Canyon Sacrifice?
I was lucky to first visit the Grand Canyon as a child with my family, and I’ve explored the canyon regularly in the years since. Because I’ve spent time at the canyon in many ways—backpacking, camping, day hiking, river rafting—it was easy to immerse myself in that fantastic place during the writing of Sacrifice. It was gratifying to share with readers the real places along the South Rim and in the canyon that I’ve loved for so many years, while creating a number of fictional locales at the canyon as well.
Where do you write?
I write at a new-fangled treadmill desk in my study overlooking Animas Mountain open space park, which stretches behind my house on the edge of Durango, Colorado. While I’m writing, deer, foxes, raccoons—even the occasional bear—wander by outside.
Tell us about your most recent outdoor adventure.
I met up with a group of two dozen friends to raft the Class IV whitewater of the Colorado River through Westwater Canyon on the Colorado-Utah border. A hailstorm greeted us at the put-in, dropping the temperature to 39 degrees. Fortunately, the autumn sun popped out after the storm, and we had a great trip, floating the river past golden cottonwoods and carousing around the campfire.
Does your family enjoy the outdoors as much as you do?
I was fortunate to be raised by outdoors-loving parents who introduced me as a boy to skiing, backpacking, mountaineering, and hunting in the mountains of southwest Colorado. A generation later, my wife Sue and I have enjoyed introducing our two sons to the outdoors as well.
Before our sons were born, Sue and I backpacked, trekked, and mountaineered extensively in the Himalayas, Andes, and American and Canadian Rockies. We introduced our sons to the outdoors as soon as we could, taking them on multi-day river-rafting and backpacking trips as toddlers, putting them on skis at age two, and celebrating their fifth birthdays by overnighting in snow caves we built with them.
Both our boys have taken to the outdoors. They kayak, ski, backpack, hunt, fly fish, mountain bike, trail run, and rock climb. Though they’re independent teenagers now, I’m happy to report they’re still willing to do many of those activities with Sue and me.
You’ve had a variety of occupations over the years, including radio disc jockey and coal-shoveling fireman on the Durango-Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad. In what ways, if any, do you feel that these past occupations affect your writing?
I have a great deal of respect for blue-collar workers because I’ve worked a number of labor-intensive jobs over the years, and I’ve found tremendous physical and mental satisfaction in those jobs. For example, firing the steam locomotive that hauls hundreds of passengers fifty miles into the mountains from Durango to Silverton each day requires stoking the firebox with more than two tons of coal, shovelful by shovelful, in a very specific, demanding way, over the course of three brutal hours, using certain sizes of coal stored in various parts of the tender for certain climbs. And it’s a job where failure is not an option.
Based in part on my own work history, I’ve sought to create an intriguing, outdoors-oriented job for series protagonist Chuck Bender that is both physically and mentally demanding. As an archaeologist, Chuck explores the mysteries of the past—and in the context of the National Park Mystery Series, he confronts the myriad ways those past mysteries intersect with the evils of the present.
What is your biggest national park pet peeve?
Our national parks truly are “America’s best idea.” I’m a champion of the thousands of park staffers and employees who dedicate their professional lives to protecting and preserving our parks for future generations.
My only park pet peeve is that, as a regular visitor to national parks across the West, I’ve seen the damage ongoing federal funding cuts are doing to our national treasures. Our parks deserve—and require—our support as owners and taxpayers.