J.M. (Jerry) Mitchell had a long career with the National Park Service, retiring as chief of the agency’s Biological Resource Management Division, after having worked in Yosemite, Grand Canyon and Zion National Parks, Washington, D.C. and Fort Collins, Colorado
. He and his wife, Cassy, split their time between Littleton and their ranch on Colorado’s Western Slope.
The following is an interview with J.M. Mitchell.
Each week, The Colorado Sun and Colorado Humanities & Center For The Book feature an excerpt from a Colorado book and an interview with the author. Explore the SunLit archives at coloradosun.com/sunlit
What inspired you to write this book?
A love of what I did over a career. Who gets to wake up—every morning—and immerse themselves in nature? In the midst of places as spectacular as Yosemite Valley, or Grand Canyon, or Zion Canyon? Well, I did. And, I can’t count the times someone told me they envied such a life, as a biologist or a ranger in one of those magical places. Because of that, I try to write my stories in such a way as to give the reader a chance to slip into the shoes of a ranger. But, reader beware … the job is not without risk, and it’s not the bears you should fear. The job requires competence, and it’s not without conflict.
Who are your favorite authors and/or characters?
I grew up on Tony Hillerman and his Joe Leaphorn and Jim Chee, the southwest settings, and the Navajo and Hopi cultures; Trevanian’s Jonathan Hemlock and Nicholai Hel, for how they became who they were; and Ian Fleming’s Bond, for the action and intrigue. Sometime later I became interested in John Grisham and how he told a story and pulled the reader into the head of his characters. In the last few years? Steig Larson and his protagonist, Lizbeth Salander, and Daniel Silva and his Gabriel Allon.
Why did you choose this excerpt to feature in SunLit?
It’s chapter one, an easy choice, and it explains the title. “Killing Godiva’s Horse” starts in Kenya. Why Kenya? Because of this experience: A few years ago I attended a session at the Kennedy School of Government. One day I took a walk with a fellow from an African nation. He told me that a major difference between his nation and mine is that we (the USA) have rule of law. Several things have happened since then to remind me of that man’s words, but I’ve also come to realize that rule of law may be a bit more fragile here than he may have thought.
What was the most fun or rewarding part of working on this book?
I suppose it was writing the river rafting scenes, borrowing from memories of Grand Canyon and the Colorado River, and the community of river guides, and their unique culture. They’re people who’ve been pulled away from other things, into a life that won’t ever really let go of them.
What was the most difficult section to write in this book? Why?
The lead up to the climax was difficult because the emotions (protagonist) Jack Chastain experienced are real, emotions I’ve experienced many, many times. Being conflicted, angry, uncertain, fearful. Worried that your capabilities will fail the test. But, as much as that section was difficult for me emotionally, when I was writing it, the words flew off my fingers.
What was one interesting fact you learned while researching this book?
As I’ve mentioned, “Killing Godiva’s Horse” takes the reader to Kenya. I’ve had colleagues from Africa, but I had to learn more about the differences in their job from ours than I expected. There was much I didn’t know about the demand for rhino horn and elephant ivory, and the fight African rangers must have to preserve their heritage as well as survive.
What project are you working on next?
The next installment of the Jack Chastain story, working title, “Liecraft.”