Please join us in welcoming Mark Stevens, award-winning author of the Allison Coil Mysteries–the most recent of which is The Melancholy Howl. Mark serves as president of the Rocky Mountain chapter of Mystery Writers of America and hosts “The Rocky Mountain Writer” podcast.
Kick butt, you say?
The woman who inspired Allison Coil kicked one thing for sure—stereotypes.
At the time I met her (way back when) on the Flat Tops Wilderness in western Colorado on a blue-sky summer day, the mention of the role of ‘hunting guide’ would not have coughed up a striking, smart female who would start telling tales of gnarly horseback rides—on moonless nights through deep snow—that seemed the stuff of, well, fiction.
But there she was.
I had read plenty of crime fiction featuring cops, private eyes, insurance investigators, sheriffs, used car salesmen, but hunting guides? Female hunting guides? Yes, Anna Pigeon. But Nevada Barr’s protag is a park ranger. I love Anna, and Nevada Barr is underrated, but a hunting guide is a whole different schtick.
A hunting guide does not equal law enforcement
At the time I met this compelling woman (hey, don’t worry, my wife was right there and she liked her, too) I had written a couple of urban mysteries. You know, concrete canyons and mean streets. I had not written about the Colorado mountains or wilderness or the great outdoors but I certainly knew the rugged setting and remote locations offered plenty of opportunities for trouble.
Trouble? Turns out there was no shortage of issues to tap, but on what authority could Allison Coil kick a little of that proverbial butt?
Allison needed to feel defensive about her turf, I figured. She needed to feel as if she was the self-anointed, self-appointed sheriff of the Flat Tops Wilderness. I’ve been up in those woods. They call it wilderness for a reason. Yes, plenty of trails but also plenty of places to get utterly lost. If you’re alone, or at least the only one who knows right from wrong before the uniformed authorities arrive, you are going to have to take charge.
So I decided …
I didn’t decide anything.
This all happened organically; I didn’t decide anything at the time. I knew she needed a solid backstory. I wanted Allison to be an outsider, so we could all see the Flat Tops with deep appreciation, through her eyes. (A native might take the area for granted, I figured.)
So Allison became the survivor of a commercial airplane crash, a crash in which many others died. Sent to the Flat Tops to heal and get away from the big city and all the chaos, she learned to ride horses and learned about the wilderness and, in the process, developed a distinct defensiveness about her new home. Having been healed by nature, she wants nobody scarring her expansive home.
She also decided she never wanted to go back to the big city.
So, reason to protect.
And a sense of right and wrong.
Plenty of bad guys up in the woods—many motivated and driven by issues (and other bad guys) down in the biggest towns nearby, specifically Glenwood Springs and Meeker.
And did I mention hunters?
Hunters have weapons. And they might think they have the upper hand.
Until they encounter a young woman—a female hunting guide—who is willing to kick a little butt.
Mark Stevens grew up in Massachusetts. He was raised by two librarians. By law, he was required to grow up loving books. And writing. He writes the Allison Coil Mystery Series—Antler Dust, Buried by the Roan, Trapline, Lake of Fire and The Melancholy Howl. Trapline won the Colorado Book Award and The Colorado Authors League Award in 2016. Buried by the Roan and Lake of Fire were finalists for the same award. Kirkus Reviews called Lake of Fire “irresistible” and The Melancholy Howl “smart and indelible.” Mark was the 2016 Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers’ Writer of the Year.