Scott Graham is the author of the National Park Mystery Series, featuring archaeologist Chuck Bender. The series includes Canyon Sacrifice, set in Grand Canyon National Park; Mountain Rampage, set in Rocky Mountain National Park; and Yellowstone Standoff, set in Yellowstone National Park. I love outdoor mysteries, and this series ranks among my favorites. It’s my pleasure to host a short chat with Scott Graham on my blog today.
What great settings you’ve chosen for your mysteries, and doing research in a national park must be a treat. How did you come up with the concept for the National Park Mystery series?
Scott: As self-professed national park groupies, my parents piled my three siblings and me into our Ford Galaxy 500 station wagon and set off to explore a new batch of Western parks each summer. A generation later, my wife and I enjoyed raising our sons the same way in the West.
When I made the switch from nonfiction to writing mysteries, it made sense to set my series in places I knew and loved—the United States’ best idea, our national parks.
And yes, visiting various parks to conduct “research” (using the term very loosely) for my mysteries is a real treat, and has proven a great way for my wife and me to rediscover, as empty-nesters, the magic of our national parks all over again.
Your recent release, Yellowstone Standoff, is a terrific mixture of science, landscapes, and mayhem that absolutely captivated my attention. What drew you to the particular aspects of Yellowstone National Park featured in Standoff?
Scott: I focus on what I find to be a particularly fascinating aspect of each national park I write about, one I hope my readers will find fascinating as well. For Canyon Sacrifice, book one in my series, that aspect was the early settlement by ancient Indian tribes in some of the deepest and most remote parts of the Grand Canyon. For Mountain Rampage, book two in the series, two aspects of Rocky Mountain National Park captivated me so much I wanted to write about them both—the history of hard-rock mining in and near the park, and current problems with poaching in Rocky Mountain National Park and other national parks.
I knew from the start that Yellowstone National Park’s top-of-the-food-chain predators, grizzly bears and gray wolves, would play lead roles in Yellowstone Standoff. Setting the murder-mystery aspect of Standoff among a group of young scientists working out of a group camp deep in the Yellowstone wilderness was based on my love of Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None—a group of people separated from society with an unknown murderer on the loose among them.
The various areas of science that drive the plot of Yellowstone Standoff are based on fact but include plenty of fictionalization as well. I will say, however, that the seemingly outlandish bit of science that drives the climax and resolution of the plot is based directly on work being conducted today in a number of laboratories around the world.
You’re described as an amateur archaeologist. How did this avocation influence the development of your archaeologist character, Chuck Bender?
Scott: I was raised in Durango, Colorado, among the ancient ruins of the Ancestral Puebloans, also known as the Anasazi Indians, who disappeared from the area a thousand years ago. I’m one of many Durangoans who enjoy archaeological-site exploration in the Four Corners region as an intellectually fulfilling avocation, one my parents shared with me, and my wife and I shared with our sons.
Having selected national parks as the setting for my mystery series, I needed a vocation that would take my protagonist, via work contracts, from one national park to another. I also wanted a vocation for my protagonist that readers would find interesting, and one that would place my protagonist outdoors, where my mysteries play out. Making a professional archaeologist of Chuck Bender fulfilled all those needs and enabled me to research and write about the world of archaeology in the western United States, a source of endless fascination to me and, I hope, to my readers.
I was intrigued by the archaeological find that brings Chuck Bender to Yellowstone. Was this find inspired by fact or pure fiction?
Scott: The find Chuck is contracted to study in Yellowstone Standoff is based entirely on fact.
In researching Standoff, I spoke with a number of young scientists working in Yellowstone National Park. One of the young scientists with whom I spoke studied exactly the sort of find described in Standoff—ancient, woven reed baskets that have melted out of a glacier in Yellowstone as a result of the park’s glaciers receding with the onset of climate change.
I did change the location of the find in Standoff, moving it close enough to Yellowstone Lake to be accessible to Chuck and his family.
What other projects are you working on?
Scott: I’m writing Yosemite Fall, book four in the National Park Mystery Series for Torrey House Press. It is scheduled for release in June 2017. As might be surmised from the title, Yosemite Fall features plenty of climbing (and falling) action in Yosemite Valley, as well as those crazy wingsuit fliers who jump off the cliffs and glide down into the valley.
What is your biggest national park pet peeve?
Scott: 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.
SCOTT GRAHAM is the author of seven books, including Canyon Sacrifice and Mountain Rampage, books one and two in the National Park Mystery Series from Torrey House Press, and Extreme Kids, winner of the National Outdoor Book Award. Like most visitors to America’s first national park, Graham was awestruck by Yellowstone as a child. His fascination with the park has continued in the years since, with numerous visits to Yellowstone’s geyser- and wildlife-filled front country and its incomparable wilderness. Graham is an avid outdoorsman and amateur archaeologist who enjoys mountaineering, skiing, hunting, rock climbing, and whitewater rafting with his wife, who is an emergency physician, and their two sons. He lives in Durango, Colorado.