My career as an author had an unpromising start. Asked to write an essay in third grade, I handed in a story called “Bloody Murder” and used red ink for the title. Clever, right? Well, my teacher didn’t think so and gave it an F. Not all was lost, however. I learned my first lesson about irony: she used a red pen too.

I spent my college summers working the salmon fishery in Alaska. At the end of the season, I explored the backcountry before returning to school. It whetted my appetite for outdoor adventure. After earning my degree in journalism from the University of Oregon, I became a freelance travel writer for newspapers and magazines. Assignments took me from the Amazon to Zanzibar, from sailing around the Galapagos to river rafting in Sumatra.

As much as I enjoyed adventuring, what captivated me more were the stories behind the stories—the natural history of the exotic places I visited, the plight of the wildlife that lived there, the threats posed by environmental degradation, and the people dedicating their lives to right wrongs and make a difference. Those became the focus of my writing. I covered the illegal orangutan trade in Indonesia, the fight to save gray whales threatened by a proposed salt factory in Mexico, the loss of rainforests from slash and burn practices, and the race to protect endangered species from extinction. Feature articles in magazines led to writing and editing books on wildlife and wild places around the globe. My publishers included Smithsonian Books, Time-Life, and Animal Planet.

It’s no mystery that I eventually turned to fiction. Storytelling is baked into my DNA. My grandfather penned romantic comedies and serial mysteries for Saturday Evening Post back when weekly print magazines were as eagerly devoured as binge-worthy TV series streaming today. Paramount hired him to turn his tales into screenplays and he worked alongside Billy Wilder and Raymond Chandler. My mom—no slouch of a storyteller herself—told me about the time she woke up one morning to find Philip Marlowe’s creator doing his own version of the big sleep on the sofa after a night of drinking gin and playing poker with her dad. He was still nattily dressed, right down to his trademark white gloves.

I began writing short stories that were published in literary journals. I picked up awards along the way, including the Arts & Letters Prize for Fiction. Two short story collections later, I moved on to novels. Chiseled on a tablet somewhere is the maxim “Write about what you know.” I reached back to my reporting on the environment and outdoor adventure days. Wildlife, weather, and landscape all play integral roles in the arcs of my novels. This is especially true for my Nick Drake mystery series that features a US Fish and Wildlife ranger working in the High Lonesome of Eastern Oregon.

I’m of the mind that “whydunnits” can be as entertaining and thrilling as “whodunnits.” Characters are the main drivers of my stories. Revealing their deeds, traits, loves, and hates over the course of a novel builds suspense and drives action. When it comes to my series, I make sure the recurring characters keep growing from book to book. Their journeys make for a richer, deeper read while each installment provides readers with more than the exhilaration of a chase; they give them something new to learn about human behavior and the natural world.