Scott Graham He is the author of the National Park Mystery series, which features archaeologist Chuck Bender and Chuck’s wife, Paramedic Janelle Ortega. The seventh book in the Canyonlands Carnage series is a finalist for the 2022 Colorado Book Award in the Puzzle category. Graham has also authored five non-fiction books, including National Outdoor Book Award winner “Extreme Kids.”
He worked as a reporter, magazine editor, radio disc jockey, city councilman, and firefighter shoveling coal on the Durango-Silverton Narrow Gauge steam-powered railway. He is an outdoorsy lover who enjoys backpacking, river rafting, skiing and mountain climbing. He lives with his wife, an emergency physician, in Durango, Colorado.
Tell us about the backstory of this book. What inspired you to write it? Where did the story/topic originate from?
As a seasoned river runner, I’ve long believed that the remote setting of a white water rafting trip would be a great “closed room” puzzle. I launched Canyonlands Carnage, the seventh book in my Mysterious National Parks series with Torrey House Press, with this concept in mind when news of the Colorado River’s dwindling waters started making national headlines.
At Canyonlands Carnage, two groups of people—water policymakers who seek to protect the Colorado River from overuse, and water executives who control the river’s water rights—trek together through the slopes of the Cataract Valley in the heart of Canyonlands National Park.
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Policy makers and entrepreneurs are tasked with discussing the campfire each evening about the use and protection of the Colorado River. However, when questionable—and fatal—accidents pile up during the voyage, the members of the two groups instead find themselves looking warily through each other’s campfire, realizing that if the accidents aren’t really accidental, then, in the depths of the uninhabited Canyon, who is The one responsible has to be one.
Put this snippet in context. How does it fit into the book as a whole? Why did you choose it?
The excerpt included here is from Chapter Two of The Canyonlands Massacre, when one of the first “accidents” occurs. Having a paddle in the midst of a rapid boil is a truly life-threatening event, and the very real dangers described in the excerpt – the lagging wave, the leaning oar, the falling water – foretell the mortal danger that will come as the expedition ventures deep into the valley.
Tell us about creating this book. What influences and/or experiences did you report on the project before you actually sat down to write?
Canyonlands Carnage aims, first and foremost, to take readers on an enjoyable rafting trip across the Colorado River through Cataract Canyon, a place few readers will ever experience. I am happy to share with the reader my personal knowledge of Cataract Canyon, white water rafting with all the excitement and potential spills.
At the same time, I share with readers the history of Utah’s stunningly beautiful Canyonlands, from the area’s early inhabitants, through John Wesley Powell’s expedition down the Green and Colorado Rivers in 1869, to the severe demands placed on the waters of the Colorado River. river today.
As a lifelong resident of the Four Corners and Colorado Plateau, I am pleased to offer readers a sobering look at the enormous backyard I have enjoyed exploring for decades.
Once you started writing, did the story take you in any unexpected directions?
I learned, and shared readers, that when John Wesley Powell was appointed the first president of the US Geological Survey after his years as expedition leader had ended, he quickly became frustrated with predatory claims about the limited waters of the desert rivers of the Southwest. Which came with the early colonization of the West.
Powell predicted the challenges of climate change we face today in the desert southwest, writing, “Years of drought and famine come … and the climate does not change with dance, libation, or prayer.”
It has been predicted for more than a century that overuse of the southwest’s rivers will plague the region in the future. “You are piling up a legacy of conflict and litigation over water rights, because there is not enough water to supply the land,” he said in a speech following his resignation in protest of his position as head of the US Geological Survey.
His prophecy appears in headlines on banners, and in courtrooms, today.
What else did you learn through your research on “Canyonlands Carnage” that you shared with readers?
I have learned that of all the stories of the germination of US national parks, Canyonlands National Park stands alone as the most unusual, and I tell the unique and little-known story of the park’s creation in the “Canyonlands Massacre”.
Thanks to the creation of Canyonlands National Park, the value as a protected landscape of Utah’s gorgeous Canyon Country is now recognized nationally and internationally, and this awareness has been instrumental in discussions regarding conservation for other parts of Canyon Country, such as the creation in 2016, the Bears Monument was built Ayers National Memorial on 1.3 million acres, which abuts Canyonlands National Park to the south.
Walk us through your writing process: Where and how do you write?
I am a morning writer. When I finish my first, very rough drafts of the puzzles, I write at least 1,500 words before I leave my computer each day. When rewriting—a process I love more than any other aspect of the writing and editing process—I find that I have to force myself to stop working after hours in front of the computer, when I reach a state of non-performance.
What makes your puzzles stand out?
The multicultural aspect of My National Park Secrets makes it extraordinary. My puzzles include archaeologist Chuck Bender, his wife, paramedic Janelle Ortega, and his two daughters Carmelita and Rosie. Through the series’ arc, Chuck, who is long single, learns through a lot of mistakes what it takes to be a good husband to Janelle and a father to early girls.
Janelle, Carmelita, and Rosie play increasingly important roles, along with Chuck, solving puzzles in each book. In Canyonlands Carnage, Janelle and the girls set out overland to warn Chuck of the danger they learn he faces on the expedition, leading them to take part in life-threatening events deep in the canyon that lead to the solution of the mystery.
What’s next for Chuck and family?
I recently sent the manuscript “Saguaro’s Punishment,” due for release in March 2023, to my editor at Torrey House Press. Showcasing the ancient petroglyphs of southern Arizona, “Saguaro Sanction” explores the frontier issues affecting the health and well-being of the Sonoran Desert and Saguaro National Park outside of Tucson through Janelle’s relationships with her extended family in Juarez, Mexico.