Author Mark Stevens’ latest mystery novel set on Western Slope; he visits Edwards Friday
VAIL CO, Colorado
The fate of the Roan Plateau and the controversial energy development taking place on Colorado’s Western Slope are at the heart of “Buried by the Roan,” a mystery by Mark Stevens. Stevens, a former reporter for the Denver Post and Rocky Mountain News, is one of nine Colorado authors visiting The Bookworm of Edwards Friday.
The mystery is the second to focus on a hunting guide named Allison Coil, who is based on a real hunting guide Stevens met on the Flat Tops years ago. In the novel, one of Coil’s clients turns up dead deep in the Flat Tops Wilderness Area. The man, a local ranch owner, apparently died following a drunken, late-night stumble on a sub-zero night, but Coil learns he was in the middle of a bitter feud with his neighbor, an environmental zealot. The trail of questions leads to the battle over natural gas exploration in the nearby Roan Plateau, where the drilling is seen by some locals as a welcome windfall of riches and by others as reckless and dangerous, given the chemicals that energy developers inject deep underground to make the natural gas easier to extract.
Stevens recently learned his book is a nominee for the Colorado Book Award. The Denver resident took some time to answer a few questions for the Vail Daily.
Vail Daily: What was it like to hear you’re a nominee for the Colorado Book Award? What did you do after you heard?
Mark Stevens: I pulled a letter out of the mailbox from Colorado Humanities and knew exactly what it was. Like college application responses (at least in the old days) I knew thicker meant better. Rejection doesn’t take long to say, in other words. This one had more than one sheet of paper in it, which I took to be a good thing. I was right – and floored. I started calling everyone I knew, particularly my Aspen-based publisher, a few of my writer friends who have helped me so much, and my wife. It just means so much, to have the novel recognized at that level.
VD: The fate of The Roan Plateau and the controversy over energy development are at the heart of “Buried by the Roan.” Tell me why those two matters are important to you?
MS: First, I know The Roan Plateau and its neighbor to the east, the Flat Tops Wilderness, are two of the most gorgeous, stunning places in Colorado. That’s saying something. Second, figuring out this delicate co-existence between the wilderness and the energy companies has to be one of the most daunting challenges today in Western Colorado. In the entire state, in fact. The large amounts of water needed to drill, the chemicals involved in the drilling and fracking process, the invasion into the wilderness to get at some of these drilling sites is stunning. I don’t think “Buried by the Roan” necessarily takes sides on the issue – the main goal is to tell a good mystery story with those issues as the backdrop, the flashpoint for the story. Maybe by writing about it is taking sides, the exposure for the issue, but it’s not intended to be preachy. Obviously, there’s plenty of conflict over how Colorado’s environment will be shaped and what it will look like, say, 100 years from now. And where there’s conflict, fiction writers lurk.
VD: Do you have more books planned for this series?
MS: I just finished the first draft of the third book and it should be out in 2013. And recently an idea for a fourth story started taking shape, though I haven’t started thinking too hard about that one. I’ll just say loosely that the next book involves immigration and leave it at that. At least, that will be the central theme. Yes, lots more action on the Flat Tops (readers seem to like spending so much time outdoors and I’m going to try and keep that up) and many scenes are set in Glenwood Springs in book three, too. There’s a new character in the third book who is a newspaper reporter and a major crime in Glenwood Springs this time, too.
VD: Tell me about some of the research you did to write this book. How long did it take to write?
MS: “Buried by the Roan” was a nearly four-year project. My research involves about everything I can think of –lots of library time, web searching, occasionally asking questions on various online forums, and going to key places in person, by car or on horseback. I was also lucky enough to have a friend in Grand Junction whose husband is an officer with the Colorado Division of Wildlife and he was a huge help in assisting me with some of the details with hunters and hunting. He’s been a big help on the third book and looped me in with the officer who handles the Flat Tops, too. I spent a day with him last October on the Grand Mesa as he visited hunting camps and checked licenses, sorted out permit issues and things like that. A very informative day for sure.
VD: Have you attended the local author showcase at the Bookworm before?
MS: This will be my first time at the Bookworm. I can’t wait. I love local booksellers. I visited 42 bookstores around the state supporting “Antler Dust” and over 25 for “Buried by the Roan.” Sadly, some of the stores had closed. Support your local book store. Try to imagine your community without it … not a good picture.