I was drawn to The Wild Inside immediately. Yes, the cover sold me. I found the book at first when I did some research on my fellow panelists at Bouchercon 2014 (last November in Long Beach). This was five or six months before the book launched.
When I got my hands on a copy of The Wild Inside earlier this year, I wasn’t disappointed. A full review follows, but you may not need it. I have a hunch that Christine’s answers to the questions will give you plenty of reason to want to read the book.
Question: Where did you get the idea for The Wild Inside?
Christine Carbo: Actually, the idea that I wanted to write a crime fiction came first. I had taken over a ten-year break from writing after getting a divorce. I had made some job changes that made it difficult to find the energy or time for novel writing, so I put it aside and when I came back to it, I was very deliberate about picking something that I was really jazzed about. I decided that I would write what I enjoy reading most: crime-fiction.
Once I decided on that, the second step was for me to try to figure out what the heck to write about in the world of crime. I began to consider setting because so many of the mysteries that I had read were heavily steeped in a strong sense of place: Denise Mina’s Glasgow; Elizabeth George’s mysterious English countryside; Tana French’s Dublin; Dennis Lehane’s Boston, John Connelly’s Los Angeles…the list goes on. At first I thought, I just live in Montana with no sexy, dynamic, bustling cities around me. How was I supposed to write what I knew so that it was credible, but still be interesting? Then it dawned on me that I lived only a half hour from a place that people from all over the nation and the world come to visit. And that place, Glacier National Park, is not only stunning, it’s haunting at times. Plus, the area leading to Glacier is economically depressed and tends to have its share of crime. So, in essence, first came genre, second came setting, and third came plot. Automatically, when I began to think of Glacier, the awe and fear-inspiring grizzly came to mind. I began to wonder what would happen if my main character had issues with bears and the very park he needed to conduct an investigation in. Hence, The Wild Inside is as much about whether the protagonist, Ted, will find some emotional peace as it is about who committed the crime.
Question: How much research did you need to do about grizzly bear behavior before beginning to write?
Christine Carbo: Simply growing up in Northwest Montana and spending a lot of time in its woods and in Glacier has taught me quite a bit about the highly revered animal. But for the book and its intricacies, I had to read more about grizzly behavior and demographics. There is a lot of good information on the web, thanks to biologists who publish their findings and organizations such as NOROC that give access to studies.
Question: And how much research about police investigations? How did you go about it?
Christine Carbo: Some local policemen were kind enough to sit down with me and let me pick their brains. I also consulted with a ranger fully trained in law enforcement. I did take liberties with the book and included a Park Police force in Glacier. In reality, there are only rangers in Glacier who handle law enforcement issues. If there is a homicide, the county in which the crime occurs is called in, and depending on the seriousness of the crime, the feds are also consulted since it’s federal land.Question: Why did you decide to write across-gender and use a male as your protagonist? What was the hardest part about getting inside this guy’s head?
Christine Carbo: I wasn’t as deliberate about that choice as I was about genre and setting. The character simply came to me as a male when I began envisioning the plot. My second book, which comes out in May of 2016, also features a male lead, but I am currently writing my third from both the female and the male perspectives. I didn’t think there was anything particularly hard about being in a male’s head because I wasn’t writing from a gender per se; I was writing from the perspective of a human being who had something tragic occur in the deep woods of Glacier years before. That perspective is what carried the character to a large degree, male or female. It also probably helped that I grew up with only brothers and was a single mom to a boy for years before remarrying.
Question: Are you a plotter or seat-of-the-pants writer? Did you know “who done it” before you started writing?
Christine Carbo: I am a headlights writer. E.L. Doctorow claimed that “Writing is like driving at night in the fog. You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.” I find this an apt metaphor for my process. I am not a highly organized person, and do not produce clean and detailed outlines, but I do like to brainstorm a bit before beginning so that when I forge ahead, I have some idea of which direction I’m heading in. I may be writing only as far as the headlights, but I want to know if I’m heading north, south, east or west. It comforts me to know that I have a small amount of direction or plot established before setting out on the long journey of a novel. For The Wild Inside, I did know who had done it; I just wasn’t exactly sure how I was going to get there.
Question: Without giving too much away, did you ever know anybody who had something happen to him or her like what happened to Ted Systead? Care to share any grizzly bear encounters?
Christine Carbo: Honestly, I’ve only known one person who actually has suffered a bear attack. He survived and has the scars to prove he was clawed. Luckily, the grizzly just wanted to scare him and didn’t go beyond a swipe or two. It’s a very serious and scary thing, but it is extremely rare, although you can’t live where I live and not hear your fair share of stories. All ears perk up whenever someone mentions a grizzly encounter. It’s very important for people to carry capsaicin bear-spray when they are in grizzly country. Not only is it illegal to shoot a grizzly, guns are often ineffective in an encounter since they usually injure the animal, but rarely stop it if it has its adrenalin and momentum going – even if you’ve hit a vital organ. Capsaicin, on the other hand, disables its senses temporarily, which stops it dead in its tracks. The propulsion of the spray is powerful, disperses in a cone shape and is not affected by wind as much as people think.
Question: It seems to me that half the journey of The Wild Inside is what happens to Ted’s interior journey. Agree? Disagree? How did you go about interweaving the two threads?
Christine Carbo: Yes, as I mentioned above, Ted’s interior journey—how he deals with the deeply buried trauma that he’s never fully come to grips with—is a very big part of the story. Part of the suspense for the reader is simply wondering about Ted and how he’ll fare as he progresses with the investigation. Weaving the elements together was a balancing act of pace, plot and internal meanderings on Ted’s part.
Question: What’s next?
Christine Carbo: Mortal Fall, which features a character who was in The Wild Inside, comes out in May. In fact, it can already be pre pre-ordered on Amazon. It amazes me how soon books go up for pre-order! Mortal Fall features Glacier National Park as well, and the calm, methodical Monty, Ted’s assisting Park Police Officer in The Wild Inside, will lead the investigation in the beautiful, lush Glacier Park (written pre-2015 fire season!) during the summer months when it is in full swing. In some ways, readers will feel like it’s a series since Glacier – practically its own character – continues on. Both books, however, can stand alone.
More: Christine Carbo
Ted Systead has a “deep-reaching queasiness.” It’s “nothing new,” but Ted has to come to grips with one of his worst fears—dealing with grizzly bears and thinking about grizzly bears. He’s compelled to confront his issues because of a certain dead guy in Montana’s Glacier National Park. The victim has been tied to a tree. And shot. And chewed up by a griz.
Why does Ted, a special agent for the U.S. Department of the Interior, have issues with grizzlies? Because it was that particular breed of bear that dragged Ted’s father to his death. The bear had yanked him out of the same tent where he was camping, with his father, at the tender age of 14. That “feral, panic-filled night ruined my ability to see the glass as half full.”
The Wild Inside is billed as “a novel of suspense.” It is certainly that. But it is half police procedural murder mystery, set against the rugged Montana backdrop, and half interior journey for a guy who is still sorting through the agonies of the attack, still searching for “emotional freedom.” Systead knows himself well. He’s good at self-analysis and even recognizes that his “critical nature” is helpful in his work.
And when it comes to work, Systead gets down to business. The grizzly in question, from all indications, has ingested the bullet that likely took the victim’s life. The nifty plot point affords Christine Carbo the chance to walk us through lots of interesting detail about grizzly eating habits, hibernation and digestion patterns. It also gives the authorities a chance to track and capture the bear in question—and keep it around in confined quarters to taunt and remind Systead of all those painful memories. Systead, who hasn’t been back to Montana for years, keeps the memories from his cohorts and soldiers on, internalizing his conflicts.
Reading The Wild Inside, you’ll never forget where the cinematic story takes place. The landscape is ever-present. And Carbo, who lives in nearby Whitefish, takes a warts-and-all approach to showing how the locals make a living off the tourism and other industries. The scenery may be beautiful, but the life around Glacier isn’t necessarily hospitable. Or easy.
Systead is methodical. There is a missing weapon. There is a fair amount of forensic evidence to analyze along with witnesses who might be withholding some critical details. The victim was a meth head and that fact leads Systead into a world of drugs and dealing and debt. And gambling. And strained, to the say the least, relationships. Systead must sort through his own bruised history.
To understand what has happened in the crime and come to grips with his own inner chaos, The Wild Inside is a double journey of suspense that leads, in both cases, back to the heart of human nature.