So You Want To Write About A PI?August 11, 2019

In my first novel, The Straw That Broke, I introduced Jake Goddard as a PI who had sort of fallen into the job through his work as an historical document researcher in Salt Lake City, Utah. I don’t think it is a spoiler to tell you Jake falls in love with a Wyoming cop by the name of Susan Brand.

In my second eco-thriller, (the sequel to The Straw That Broke) Some Say Fire, Brand has joined Goddard Consultancy as a PI and is just beginning to learn how difficult—as Pam Beason who has worked as a PI so aptly pointed out in her recent post—it can be.

Frankly, I was basically winging it and truly wish I had read Pam Beason’s digital book So You Want to be a PIbefore my first two attempts. I spent a lot of time researching and interviewing cops. Yet I gave the world of the PI short shrift, I fear.

Now, thanks to Pam’s experience and typically well-written digital book I understand much more about the role of the PI.

Here are a few of the things I’ve learned and incorporated into my writing:

  • PIs can feel powerless, especially if they have grown used to the power extended to police officers, as is the case with my character Susan Brand.
  • PIs have to use their brains and wiles much more than their guns. In fact a gun, even though carried legally, can land a PI in a world of trouble.
  • Training for private investigators varies widely from state-to-state and in essence PIs, although they carry a badge, don’t have much more power than an average citizen.
  • In fact, to paraphrase Pam’s book, PIs have no special powers to coerce anyone into doing anything. Lock picks and handcuffs do not come with your investigators license and if you are caught with them you could be arrested.
  • And finally, the best tools in a PIs toolkit are a quick mind with extensive knowledge of technology and information sources, knowledge of the legal system, and people skills.

So based on what I’ve learned, I’ve created a very perceptive and personable investigator/researcher in Jake Goddard who uses his Browning nine-millimeter sparingly and takes names before kicking ass. In Susan Brand I’ve created a more impulsive, often frustrated, partner who might just kick your ass without ever asking your name.

My two PIs complement each other and have a tendency—by the end of my novels at least—to get stuff done.

With thanks, as always, to my FRW partner, Pam Beason.

How My Experience as a PI Affects My WritingAugust 5, 2019

Although I’m now retired from the job, I worked as a private investigator for more than ten years, and that experience definitely impacts how I write my mysteries. Here are a few things I learned from being a PI and a bit about how they affect my writing:

There’s More Than One Side to Any Story – As a matter of fact, there are as many “sides” as there are people involved. Take a bar brawl, for example. Each combatant will have his or her own story, but everyone in the bar will have one, too. And the cops arriving on the scene might have a completely different idea about what is going on, because they’ve been told by the dispatcher, who was told by whomever called 911, what to expect when they arrive. Each person’s life experiences color his or her opinion of who might be at fault; none of us is completely objective. It’s fascinating to interview the different parties and try to separate perception from reality. This helps me concentrate on characterization and point of view in my novels. If you’re a writer, pretend you’re interviewing each character in a scene. You may be amazed at what you discover.

Criminals Are People, Too – Like most upstanding citizens, I’d love to be able to identify a criminal on sight. In a few cases, we can, but that’s often because those individuals are severely mentally ill as well as being criminals. The scary fact is that many criminals are charming individuals whose company we would enjoy until they do something unethical. I’ve interviewed their victims, whose stories inevitably start out like this: “I liked WhatsHisFace right off the bat, and I liked him right up until he robbed me/stole my car/stabbed me with a kitchen knife.” And when I talk to these criminals (usually in jail, thank goodness), I find them charming, too, although they have really screwy logic. One such fellow told me he shouldn’t be charged with illegal possession of a firearm (he was already a felon) because he really, really, really needed his guns to protect himself from the bad guys who wanted to steal the drugs he was selling. And, he added, he’d turned his life over to Jesus (again), so everyone really could trust him now. Really.

Sometimes it’s hard to keep a straight face when talking to these folks. But my point is that criminals can be loyal to their families and friends, love their dogs, be fine musicians or artists or accountants, whatever–they are people. So whenever I create a villain for my book, I try to make him or her as “human” as possible, too, because the result is actually much more frightening than making them seem evil at first glance.

I have sympathy for former criminals who have just gotten out of prison. Most of us don’t want them living next to us or working for us, but how are they supposed to become responsible, productive citizens if nobody will give them a chance? So, in my stories, I have sometimes made parolees the victims of as-yet-unidentified criminals, because who is likely to believe that a parolee is being framed for a crime he or she did not commit?

Law Enforcement Officers Are People, Too – Police/FBI/Border Patrol, etc–all LE personnel are just as individual as you and I. They can be good or bad at their jobs, well educated or not educated at all (requirements vary tremendously across the U.S.), prejudiced against groups of people or political or religious affiliations. So I always try to make my law enforcement characters real, too, by giving them flaws and families and individual belief systems.

The U.S. Legal System Is Unequal – As a matter of fact, it’s so unfair that it was shocking to me when I first became an investigator. Why is it so hard to be a defendant in our system? First of all, if you are ever accused of a crime, no matter how frivolous the accusation, most people will automaticallybelieve you are guilty. Then, the prosecution has a legal team that generally has adequate funding, established offices, modern equipment, and so forth, while the defense team, depending on the situation and locale, could be anyone. I’ve worked with dedicated but exhausted public defenders and investigators who received virtually no pay, had no offices, and had to bring their own pens and paper and electronics to the job. How can that possibly be a fair fight? Now, I’ve heard average citizens say that they’d never need a public defender. Have you looked at the average hourly rate of attorneys recently? It’s $150-$300/hour, and they charge for every minute. Believe me, if we were charged with a felony, mostof us would need a public defender. These people and their investigators are saints. Exhausted, often poverty-stricken saints.

So, when I write a mystery novel, all these elements come into play in developing my characters and building my plots. These concepts are branded into my brain. And now I hope they’ve infiltrated yours, too.

My Harrowing Experience in the Great Outdoors – by Dave ButlerJuly 28, 2019

When you spend time in wild areas as the three of us do, you’re bound to run into trouble once in a while. We thought we’d pick our most memorable bad experience and share. Feel free to share yours in a comment below.

Where and when was your “adventure”?

Banff National Park.

What happened?

My national park warden partner and I had spent days trying to live-trap a problem grizzly bear that had been terrorizing campers and picnickers at a local campground. I watched him on a couple of occasions, and realized that he wasn’t doing it in a “I’m moving towards you to eat you” way, but more in a playful “if I bluff charge you, I know you’ll drop whatever tasty morsels are in your hand” way. But I also knew that things could go sideways in a hurry.

So, we sat on the edge of the campground one night, waiting to set the culvert trap. In the back of the truck was the ripe elk carcass that we’d picked up from the side of the highway a few days earlier. We watched for the bear for at last an hour, but no sign of him. Suddenly, the truck shuddered and rocked, and I looked in the rear-view mirror to see a 700-lb grizzly bear climbing into the bed of our truck to snack on the elk. Talk about things going sideways! It took repeated horn blasts, turning the headlights and brake-lights on and off, and even slowly driving away from the campground, before the bear got the message and jumped out.

What did you learn from this experience?

If you don’t like hitchhikers, don’t drive around in a national park with a ripe elk carcass in the back of your vehicle.

Oh, and bears apparently don’t like the way I drive…

My Harrowing Experience in the Beautiful (and Sometimes Scary as Hell) Outdoors – By Gregory ZeiglerJuly 21, 2019

I had many harrowing experiences as a National Outdoor Leadership participant and course leader. I still get a crick in my neck remembering the summer day and night in the Wind River Range in Western, Wyoming we evacuated a student with a broken leg. She was strapped to an improvised litter and we had to carry her many miles down rocky trials to a trailhead where she was finally met by a school vehicle. Mary made a full recovery but I’m certain she will never forget that ride.

Carrying Mary took all day and caused a sore back, but the crick in the neck was the result of sleeping with a small boulder for a pillow that night. We were not able to make it back to basecamp and were forced to bivouac on the cold ground with nothing but our extra layers and daypacks for warmth.

However, my most harrowing experience in the outdoors was when I was part of a group of high school students led by two instructors. We were kayaking through Cataract Canyon on the Colorado River in the summer of 1963 (prior to the building of Glen Canyon Dam).

We put in on the Green River several miles above the confluence with the Colorado. The first few days were easy flat-water paddles through stunning red rock formations and around lazy meanders in the river. We occasionally ran a riffle but never a rapid. Then we passed the confluence and were in serious water. You might say I immediately felt like I was in over my head.

In the very first rapid, I dumped and got trapped in a hole between my boat and that of a fellow paddler. I was under for what felt like several lifetimes. When I finally popped up gasping for breath I was pretty certain I had almost drowned. My friends caught my kayak downstream. I swam to an eddy, dragged myself out, and sat dejected and scared on the rocky shore.

Walter, the trip leader, walked upstream and sat with me. I told him I was not going on. He gently pointed out the impracticality of such a statement while sitting in the bottom of a sheer-walled canyon in the middle of the desert.

Five days of successfully running rapids later in typical teenage fashion, my confidence had rebounded. To express my joy I started paddling through a riffle backwards. I got sideways on a rock and watched in horror as my boat filled, cracked in half and the bow washed down stream and sank.

I swam, waded and scrambled to that night’s camp. I remember my instructors looking really concerned. We had one day of emergency rations and under the best of circumstances were three days and two nights of hard paddling from the takeout. It was anybody’s guess how long that would take with me struggling along without a boat. The adults obviously had no clue how they were going to get us all out. We had not seen another soul all week.

Then two men floated up in a two-man raft hauling a one-man full of water logged gear. We learned they just gotten out of the Army and had decided to have an adventure together. They had lost one paddle (replaced by a driftwood board), their glasses were covered with mud and they told of various mishaps including several scorpion stings. The instructors negotiated placing me in the bottom of their boat and we shoved off, my friends waving and trying to smile on the shore.

I remember distinctly every time we approached a rapid we would swing around and go through backward because the boat full of soaked gear was so heavy the current caught it and pushed it ahead. We spent two cold wet nights alone grinding sandy food for sustenance. Our group was behind us and my friends later reported finding signs of my passing such as floating oranges and water bottles that had washed out of our little craft.

They expected to find me as a floater at any moment. But as is evidenced by this writing, I survived.

And yes, I learned a valuable lesson from this harrowing experience.

Sometimes in life the only way out is through.*

*I captured this experience as fiction in my first novel, The Straw That Broke.

What was your scariest outdoor experience? Tell us about it in a comment below.

My Most Harrowing Experience in the Great Outdoors – by Pamela BeasonJuly 15, 2019

When you spend time in wild areas as the three of us do, you’re bound to run into trouble once in a while. For our next three posts, we thought we’d pick our most memorable bad experience and share, answering the same three questions. We invite you to share your own memories in the comments below.

Where and when was your “adventure”?

A national forest area in Arkansas, in November, many years ago.

What happened?

I planned to go backpacking on a beautiful crisp autumn weekend with two male friends, but we couldn’t find the trail. We parked at a campground and tried several paths that dwindled to nothing, but the sky was growing dark as we tried the last one. That trail, too, looked more like a game trail than anything a human should explore, and as I climbed over a big log, I just happened to look back over my shoulder. At the base of the log I’d just climbed over was a copperhead snake, so big and red that it looked more like a rainbow boa constrictor. I’m grateful that copperheads are passive snakes, because they are every bit as venomous as a rattler.

Our trio, admitting defeat for the day, detoured around the serpent and returned to the campground, where we set up our tents. As I was gathering firewood, I reached for a stick that turned out to be a snake. I quickly scanned the area. I soon spotted snakes everywhere amid the autumn leaves. God almighty! I’d seen videos on the Nature Channel of snakes denning up for the winter, but we had stumbled into an ongoing snake hibernation festival, and every slithery creature was coming from miles around. I’m sure they weren’t all copperheads and rattlesnakes, but to be honest, I didn’t look too closely. Our only saving grace was that the nights were cold, so the reptiles were slow. We decided to hunker down by our campfire and not wander far. We heard shouts all around from other campers about snakes, and there was a gunshot, too, followed by “I got the rattler!”

To top off the evening, one of my friends choked on his dinner. When he threw down his plate and bolted to his feet, his eyes wild, and it was clear to me that he couldn’t breathe. It was also clear to me that there was no way I could put my short arms around his barrel shape to perform a Heimlich maneuver. For what seemed like eternity but was probably only a second or two, I debated whether to throw him on the ground and jump on his diaphragm, but fortunately at that point, my other companion realized what was happening, leapt to his feet, wrapped his much longer manly arms around the choking man, and saved our friend’s life.

What did you learn from this experience?

Well, I’d like to say, be sure you have someone with you who can perform a Heimlich maneuver on everyone in your group, but that’s probably not always possible. This happened before the internet became so popular, but nowadays, I’d search online for all information I could find about a trail and a campground area. Odds are good that nowadays I’d find information about the snakes and decide that backpacking there at that time of year would not be the wisest choice. Obviously, we all survived that experience, and disasters make better stories than the wonderful trips where everything goes right, don’t they? Although I’ll always try to avoid snakes whenever possible, nothing short of falling off a cliff is ever going to stop me from enjoying nature as much as I can.

Got a scary or just plain awful experience in the Great Outdoors to share? Tell us about it in the Comments below. And stay tuned—next week Gregory Zeigler will reveal his most harrowing adventure.

Home Landscapes (by Dave Butler)July 7, 2019

When I began collaborating with Pamela Beason and Greg Zeigler in Free Range Writers (FRW), they immediately set my mind to thinking about why we first connected at Left Coast Crime.

Partly, I think, it was because western landscapes are such critical parts of our writing. They’re as important to our stories as are people or plots. In the context of those landscapes, one of my favourite writers is Wallace Stegner. He wrote about the geography of the west in ways that have always stuck with me, and in ways that I believe resonate with our collective approach to our books:

“Whatever landscape a child is exposed to early on, that will be the sort of gauze through which he or she will see all the world afterwards.”

“If we don’t know where we are, we don’t know who we are.”

“If there is such a thing as being conditioned by climate and geography, and I think there is, it is the West that has conditioned me. It has the forms and lights and colors that I respond to in nature and in art. If there is a western speech, I speak it; if there is a western character or personality, I am some variant of it; if there is a western culture in the small-c, anthropological sense, I have not escaped it. It has to have shaped me. I may even have contributed to it in minor ways, for culture is a pyramid to One cannot be pessimistic about the West. This is the native home of hope. When it fully learns that cooperation, not rugged individualism, is the quality that most characterizes and preserves it, then it will have achieved itself and outlived its origins. Then it has a chance to create a society to match its scenery.”

Because I grew up in the Okanagan Valley of British Columbia, my home landscapes are the open ponderosa pine / grassland ecosystems there. Now, my home is in those same forests in BC’s East Kootenay, a few mountain ranges to the east. These are both valleys that align north-south, drainages where rivers flow south and west from the mountains toward the Pacific Ocean.

However, like many western writers, I see the US – Canada border as a human, political construct rather than as an ecological boundary. So, my home landscapes are also the same ponderosa pine forests in Montana, Idaho, Washington and Oregon. When I am in those places, I see the same trees and the same understory plant associations, the same mammals and birds, and the same fish – cutthroat trout, bull trout, and even sturgeon in the Columbia River system. I smell the pine needles. Touching the bark of the ponderosas is like running your fingertips over rough pieces of a wooden puzzle. In these places, the sights and sounds and smells are shared. They all feel like home.

Like Stegner, I do believe that these ecosystems, these landscapes, were imprinted in my brain as a young child. I hope that sense of my home landscapes comes through to readers of my Jenny Willson mysteries (Dundurn Press). And when I travel to places such as Namibia (which is where the 3rd novel in the series is set), I think about the people I meet there, and how their home landscapes differ so dramatically from mine. They are the gauze through which we all see the world afterwards.

As writers, we have an incredible opportunity to share our own home landscapes, and through that, better understand who we are. I cherish that opportunity.

The Cow Has Spoken by Gregory ZeiglerJune 30, 2019

One glorious day last April.

This morning around 7 a.m. before firing up my espresso machine I stopped at the window in our living room. It’s my daily ritual while blundering my way to the kitchen to look east down over The Elk Refuge (just north of Jackson, Wyoming)—and the meanders of aptly named Flat Creek—to see what’s moving. That might be geese in flight comically dropping their flaps for an awkward landing near their nests on the cliffs above our house, ravens soaring in pairs, mule deer grazing our wild grasses, or even a merlin that visits us in spring and watches our bird feeders, giving the name a whole new meaning. This morning there was indeed movement, a veritable elk river of movement.

As I looked down on the twenty-five thousand acre meadow preserve, I saw a stream of elk bathed in morning sunlight heading north in single file. The line paused briefly while individuals waited at one point to cross Flat Creek but no single animal ever became impatient and jumped ahead. The animals were strung out for well over a mile. It was the spring migration and it was a magnificent sight.

I remembered hearing somewhere that the annual journey to higher ground, which I was witnessing in real time, was all precipitated by a signal from a single cow. I couldn’t recall where I had learned that fact, perhaps when I served as Executive Director of the Teton Science School here in Jackson in the mid-80s.

My brief Google search to confirm my memory of this amazing information came up empty (more research to come on that subject) but I did learn the journey can range from 30 to 90 miles covering extreme terrain and what takes the bulls a few days can take much longer for cows who often give birth along the way while fending off a variety of predators.

So, whereas I did not find proof of an uber cow whose lone signal launches

a massive movement of thousands of animals, I did find reason to admire the grit of the rank and file of elk cows doing the heavy lifting and calf wrangling while migrating.

In my eco-thriller, The Straw That BrokeI have a scene involving a suspicious climbing accident on the Elk Refuge, however that occurred in a season when the elk herd was busy making a living in the mountains. The flowing sea of elk I witnessed was so striking it will perhaps inspire an early spring scene set on the refuge in a future environmental mystery.

Update: Mathew Kaufman, author of Wild Migrations: Atlas of Wyoming’s Ungulatesclaims

the theory of a signal from a single cow is a “stereotype.” Interesting word choice leaving tons of room for a fiction writer to drive his imagination through. I’m sticking with the stereotype.

Depicted below: a stock photo of a hard working female.

Why I Set Mysteries in Wild Places – by Pamela BeasonJune 23, 2019

My Sam Westin novels are set mostly on public lands, some fictional and some real, in the United States and in the Galapagos Islands of Ecuador. Public lands include national parks, national forests, Bureau of Land Management properties, marine reserves, etc.; all those places that the citizens of a country are supposed to own jointly. Some might consider it a challenge to set a mystery in a place where there are so few services and perhaps, so few suspects. Why I love to set novels in wild places:

Reason #1 – I am an avid hiker, kayaker, and an occasional scuba diver, so I have to do my book research by visiting the trails and islands and wilderness preserves I love.

Reason #2 – I want to share my passion for natural areas and wildlife with all my readers. Nothing makes my heart sing louder than being out in the wild, and I want future generations to have the same opportunities to experience nature.

Reason #3 – My characters can’t solve their problems by summoning help or flipping on the light switch. Even if a hiker can call 9-1-1 on a cell phone, assistance may be hours away. That adds to the suspense.

Reason #4 – I love the surprises of interacting with wildlife. I have startled and been startled by marmots, pikas, toads, frogs, lizards, snakes, deer, elk, ptarmigans, and bears (Ack!), and I have great fun just watching wild animals going about their lives.

In Botswana, I had to wait for an elephant to finish his breakfast before I could walk to mine. In Kenya, a rock hyrax hopped uninvited into my lap (I just stared at it until it hopped off) and I wrestled a Colobus monkey for a spoon (I won). In Roatan, I hung out underwater with a whole flotilla of squid. In Peru, a giant anaconda tracked me across a mud flat (ACK! ACK!). (Note to self: Never accept an invitation from a seemingly friendly guide to get close to a humongous snake.)

This is such a beautiful planet, and we share it with so many amazing creatures. I want to experience all the natural wonders I can.

So I kidnap and kill off a few humans to make that all happen. But only in fiction. So far.

I hope my readers enjoy my fictional adventures as much as I enjoy my real ones. Check out my books on the Books page here or on my website:

Freebie! Because I write multiple series, I often have one or more ebook specials running on Amazon and elsewhere. If you like fast-paced action/adventure with a gutsy teen protagonist (think Hunger Games) and a background mystery, you might want to try Race with Danger, the first of my Run for Your Life trilogy. The ebook is free through July 14 in Kindle, Nook, and Apple versions.

Introducing the Free Range WritersJune 14, 2019

Welcome to the inaugural post of Free Range Writers (FRW), a unique collaboration between writers Greg Zeigler, Pamela Beason, and Dave Butler, all of whom write books set largely in western North America.

In this first post, we introduce ourselves and explain how and why this collaboration was born. We hope you’ll be intrigued by our answers to a set of questions that we pondered together, and through those answers, better understand what has brought us together.

How did you meet each other, and why did you decide to work together?

Greg — If Dave, Pam and I had met on a trail, I could understand the chemistry brought on by an obvious shared interest (the outdoors), but how we “recognized” each other and connected at a conference for hundreds of mystery writers? Well, it’s a mystery. But, I’m sure glad it happened.

Pam— We all met at the Left Coast Crime conference in beautiful Vancouver, BC. I was the volunteer timekeeper for the environmental mystery panel that Dave and Gregory were on, and I was envious because I wanted to be on thatpanel, but was assigned to another on animals in mysteries. I was eager to talk to Gregory and Dave because of the subject matter of their books and our obvious mutual interest in wild places and outdoorsy experiences, and eventually these two guys invited me to be part of this little group that became Free Range Writers.

Dave – Once Greg and I knew that we were on the same panel at Left Coast Crime, we connected by email then made a point of meeting early in the conference. I immediately knew we had much in common, as if we were brothers-from-a-different-mother. Working together, somehow, made obvious sense. When we met Pam after our panel, we knew we’d met another kindred spirit.

Free Range Writers? Why that name, and what does it mean to you?

Greg — I immediately liked “Free Range Writers.” It captures the founding authors’ shared love of travel and nature, as well as one other critical ingredient. Pam, Dave and I are working very hard at our genre and at our consortium, but we are also having fun. Our name adds a bit of whimsy.

Pam – I’m probably attracted to any title that begins with “free” because it smacks of independence. And “range” sounds western-ish, and we’re all westerners, even though we’re from two countries. So the title incorporates the wide-open spaces we like to travel through as well as the incredible places the three of us live. Plus, the URL was not yet taken.

Dave – To me, Free Range Writers means we’re free to roam on at least two levels. On one level, we’re not bound by the conventions of specific literary genres. Our books fall somewhere between mystery, thriller, suspense and eco-fiction. On another level, we travel amongst and write about a wide range of inspiring western landscapes. And like free-range wildlife (or perhaps cattle), we choose from the best the landscapes have to offer, wandering and sampling, staying in one place for a while when the grazing is good, then moving on when the next ridge beckons.

What do you hope that this unique collaboration leads to?

Greg— It has already helped me greatly but if it can “move the needle”—as marketing people are wont to say—for all of our authors in terms of sales and name recognition, then I will be thrilled.

Pam — There are thousands of books launched on Amazon every day, both from traditional publishers and indie authors. How can an author expect to even get noticed? It helps to find authors you share a readership with, and so that’s my hope, that Greg’s and Dave’s readers will become my readers and my readers will become theirs. I am a voracious reader myself and always looking for new authors who write similar stories to the ones I already know and love. I’m also hoping that our collaboration will be a lot of fun, and it already is.

Dave – I can’t add much to what Greg and Pam have already stated, other than to say that I hope we can share with readers our love of the west, inspire and motivate each other to be better writers, and together celebrate our successes.

You’re each living in different places in western North America. Is that an opportunity or a challenge?

Greg — Definitely an opportunity. We are all proven travel aficionados, this gives us an excuse to meet in beautiful places and pretend to be working.

Pam — The distances and different time zones can make it a bit of a challenge to arrange to talk via phone, and of course even more so to meet in person, but it’s fun to work that out. And bringing experiences from different places and different backgrounds is definitely a plus. And even though Gregory said we are pretending to be working, collaborating with colleagues is working (right, IRS?), even if it’s in a beautiful location during happy hour.

Dave – in my mind, it’s an amazing opportunity to share our love of western North America. And if we draw a triangle with Cranbrook, BC, Bellingham, Washington and Jackson Hole Wyoming at the three corners, there are a whole lot of interesting places inside that triangle where we can meet to talk writing.

Tell me where you live, and describe the role those landscapes plays in your writing?

Greg — Jackson Hole, Wyoming. I write in a room with a grand view to the East of the Sleeping Indian Mountain atop the Gros Ventre Range. These mountains inspire my writing and are in fact in my writing (The Straw That Broke).

Pam — I live in Bellingham, Washington, where I can easily kayak in the U.S. San Juans and Canadian Gulf Islands, and hike, snowshoe, and cross-country ski in the U.S. Olympic mountains , the North Cascades, and Coast Range mountains of Canada. I spend a lot of time out in the wild, and I keep track of all the ways to get into trouble “out there.” We mystery writers are sometimes a gruesome bunch. Don’t get us started on all the ways to commit crimes and kill people…

Dave – My home base is Cranbrook, British Columbia. Less than an hour north of the Canada – US border, it sits in the Rocky Mountain Trench. With the Rocky Mountains on one side, and the Purcell Mountains on the other, I live in an open valley carpeted with ponderosa pine forests and dramatic views in every direction. When I write, I like a balance of people, plot and place. However, like it does in Greg and Pam’s stories, place becomes a unique character in my novels.

Tell us about your books? What’s unique about them?

Greg — Perhaps the most unique aspect to my eco-thrillers is the fact that the radical environmentalists offer a perspective that is interesting, indeed even compelling, to the reader. There is lots of gray, just not quite fifty shades.

Pam — It’s difficult to come up with any plot that’s truly unique. I try to keep mine exciting but plausible. I’ve worked in a lot of fields, including sleuthing as a private investigator and managing hi-tech multimedia projects, so all my crazy variety of experience fuses with my love of wild animals and wild places in my Sam Westin mysteries.

Dave – Most mysteries start with a crime and then build a story around it. In my Jenny Willson mysteries, I start with a land use or environmental issue that we face as a society, then build a crime around it. I love to explore how these issues often divide us, with bad guys and good guys on all sides, and none of us quite sure who is who. I hope my novels entertain, but I also hope they encourage readers to think about their own perspectives, and how they might differ from those held by others.

When you need inspiration, what’s your favourite place to find your muse?

Greg — By moving water, preferably near mountains.

Pam — I don’t really need a muse because I always have more ideas than time to write them. I’m often working on two novels at once, so whenever I get stuck on one, I switch over to the other for a while. But when I really get stuck, I go for a solo hike or paddle in my kayak, and that usually jogs my brain out of the rut it has sunk into.

Dave – Like Greg, I usually look to a piece of moving water in the mountains if I’m in need of inspiration. If that water contains cutthroat trout, and if they’re willing to rise to a dry fly, even better.

What’s your favourite drink around a campfire?

Greg – Bourbon.

Pam — Good red wine. And before U.S. proofreaders chime in, yes, the word is spelled “favorite” in the U.S. But we’ll do it the Canadian way this time so Dave feels at home. (Canada has a big stash of extra U letters that they need to use up.)

Dave – In order to use some of those extra Us, I prefer the amber colour and rich flavour of Writers Tears Irish Whiskey. At our next FRW meeting, it will be my honour to share a bottle with Greg and Pam, my new FRW friends and neighbours.


Watch for future posts from Free Range Writers on a “range” of topics of interest to Greg, Pam, and Dave. Check the “About Us” page for more biographical details and contact information.