A couple of decades ago, I courted trouble when my wife, Sue, and I went on a November backpacking trip into the Mummy Mountain Range in Rocky Mountain National Park. Because it was the off-season, I convinced Sue it would be okay to leave our car in the deserted trailhead parking lot without the required parking permit rather than return to the park’s Visitor Center to get one.
After a successful few days of breathtaking views, enjoyment of one another’s company, and the incomparable serenity of the wilderness in winter, we returned to the parking lot just as our old, beater Pontiac was about to be towed by a local wrecker service. I pulled the “penniless twenty-something kid” card on the park ranger in attendance and begged him not to tow our car. He kindly agreed.
As the tow truck pulled away, I hopped in the Pontiac and turned the key, only to find that it wouldn’t start. I ran after the tow truck, flagged it down, and ended up having the car towed into town after all.
That story came back to me when I began writing Mountain Rampage, book two in the National Park Mystery Series from Torrey House Press, released this month. The tow truck reappears in the plot of Rampage, with the wrecker’s fictional, ne’er-do-well driver—in contrast to the friendly, young driver who towed my Pontiac to Estes Park in real life—playing a key role in the book as a suspect.
I’m a firm believer in the adage, “Write what you know.” The wrecker story is one small example of the many reality-based situations peppering the first two books in the National Park Mystery Series—2014’s Canyon Sacrifice, set on the South Rim of the Grand Canyon, and this year’s Mountain Rampage. I plan to do the same with forthcoming books in the series, including Yellowstone Standoff in 2016.
While the real-life inspirations for your writing might be fascinating or hilarious to you, incorporating them into fiction for readers to appreciate is another thing entirely. There may be nothing more egotistical than deciding that what you know and have to share as a writer is worthy of being published and read by others, and fear of being seen as an egotist can and does stymy the pens (or keyboards) of many fine writers. I’ve overcome that fear through my belief in the importance of wilderness. I’ve spent vast amounts of time in the national parks of the West and realize the value of our nation’s last remaining wild places—places we all should experience, perhaps first by reading about them in a page-turner! I’ve found that readers appreciate the mystery and intrigue in Sacrifice and Rampage combined with the true-to-life portrayal of Grand Canyon and Rocky Mountain national parks I’ve worked to depict in the books.
Of course, the protagonist of the National Park Mystery Series, archaeologist Chuck Bender, never would be so foolish as to leave his car parked where it would be in danger of being towed. To me, that’s the pleasure of creating characters far smarter than I am. For all his character flaws—which are many—Chuck is smart and competent, capable of thinking or battling his way out of the tightest of jams. As such, he keeps my ego firmly in check—and, I hope, makes for a fun guy with whom readers can vicariously visit the West’s iconic national parks, confronting nefarious wrecker drivers along the way.
Scott Graham is the author of Canyon Sacrifice, book one in the National Park Mystery Series from Torrey House Press. Graham was raised in the Rocky Mountain town of Durango, Colorado, where echoes of Colorado’s violent gold-mining past featured in Mountain Rampage resonate to this day. He has explored the high mountains of his home state his entire life, including numerous hiking, climbing, and backpacking trips deep into the Rocky Mountain National Park wilderness. Graham has made a living as a newspaper reporter, magazine editor, radio disk jockey, and coal-shoveling fireman on the steam-powered Durango-Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad. He 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. Learn more about Scott Graham at ScottFranklinGraham.com, follow him on Twitter @SGrahamAuthor, and find him on Facebook.
U.S. and Canada residents — For a chance to win a copy of Mountain Rampage and Canyon Sacrifice, leave a comment about your favorite national park—either where you’ve been or where you’d like to visit. The deadline for comments is midnight Mountain Time, Saturday, June 13th. The winner will be announced here on Sunday, June 14th.