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SunLit Interviews

Could two authors in scientific fields make the switch to writing fiction? And could they do it together?

Those were the questions facing longtime couple Carl and Jane Bock as they retired from academia and turned their attention to mysteries

Co-authors Carl and Jane Bock.

Carl and Jane Bock are retired professors of biology from the University of Colorado at Boulder.

Carl received his Ph.D. in zoology from the University of California at Berkeley, while Jane holds three degrees in botany, a B.A. from Duke, an M.A. from the University of Indiana, and a Ph.D. from Berkeley. Carl is an ornithologist and conservation biologist. Jane is a plant ecologist and an internationally recognized expert in the use of plant evidence in criminal investigations.

Now largely retired from academic life, the Bocks have turned their creative efforts toward fiction writing, and are co-authors of two ongoing mystery series, the Arizona Borderlands Mysteries, and the Florida Swamp Guide Mysteries.

The following is an interview with Carl and Jane Bock.

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?

We have spent much of our professional lives writing non-fiction books and articles related to our ecological research, often working as co-authors. At the same time we have always been fans of the mystery genre in fiction. Could we together successfully make the transition from non-fiction to fiction? Could we bring alive the physical settings for our stories, along with distinctive and believable characters, as our favorite mystery-writers have done? And last, but far from least, could we write fiction as a team, something that has been done relatively rarely?

“The Swamp Guide” by Carl and Jane Bock.

We have had relatively little personal experience in urban settings. Two of the most interesting places we have lived and worked are the grasslands of southeastern Arizona, near the border with Mexico, and the semitropical lands and waters of the Florida Keys, Florida Bay, and The Everglades. Could we successfully depict these places and representative characters in mystery fiction?

Who are your favorite authors and/or characters?

For Carl: Tony Hillerman, Craig Johnson, James Lee Burke, Randy Wayne White, John McDonald and Rex Stout. For Jane: Ian Rankin, Daniel Silva, Craig Johnson, Charles Todd, Mary Balogh and Cami Checketts.

Read more interviews and excerpts in SunLit.

Why did you choose this excerpt to feature in SunLit?

The first three chapters of “The Swamp Guide” introduce the setting, most of the main characters, and hints about the mystery at the heart of the story. We hope this will capture the interest of potential readers of the whole book.  

What was the most fun or rewarding part of working on this book?

Getting to know the natural environment of the Florida Keys, Florida Bay, and The Everglades, along with the people who live and work there. Coming up with realistic red herrings. Familiarity with a group of real characters helped us create what we hope are realistic and interesting fictional ones, although (we are quick to note) none of the characters in “The Swamp Guide”is intended to represent any particular real person.  And, as always, working together as a long-time couple on a mutual project.

What was the most difficult section to write in this book? Why?

It’s not so much a section as a way of writing. A time-tested maxim of good fiction is that the authors should “show” the readers what is happening, rather than “telling” them, because this will draw them into the story. As retired college professors, we have been telling people things for decades. Can we make the switch?

In “The Swamp Guide,” we felt this problem acutely in describing the complementary roles of different law enforcement agencies in the region, in describing the marital strife between the protagonist and his wife, and in the action scenes at the end of the book.

What was one interesting fact you learned while researching this book?

The biological diversity of Florida Bay and the Everglades are driven by the steady input of clean freshwater from mainland Florida. Recent declines in native plants and animals are attributable to disruption of that flow due to human activities such as agriculture and suburban sprawl. Untangling the complex interactions between various law enforcement agencies in the Keys, and learning which of various sorts of illegal activities are not as strictly enforced as others.

What project are you working on next?

We are writing two ongoing mystery series, one set in the borderland country of southeastern Arizona, the other in the Florida Keys and The Everglades. Both are places where we have gotten to know the land and its people well enough to feel comfortable setting fictional works in them. Our next book will be part of the Arizona Borderlands series, but there will be another Florida Keys book soon.

Buy “The Swamp Guide” from BookBar

Excerpt from “The Swamp Guide” by Carl and Jane Bock