BOOKS by CLINTON McKINZIE.
Did you always know you wanted to be a writer?
Clinton: Yes. I realized that as early as the fifth or sixth grade. I just loved reading so much - getting to live whole other lives through the pages of a book, getting to see exotic places and experience all kinds of strange and different things …. I felt like I had to write and somehow contribute. First I wanted to write animal stories like Jack London and Ernest Thompson Seton; then I wanted to write adventure stories like James Ramsey Ullman, Joseph Conrad, and, well, Jack London. Sometime around middle school, though, I decided I didn't have the discipline or the talent or something. I kind of stopped trying.
But I didn't stop dreaming about it. Stories were always my drug of choice. Whether it was camping with my family in Alaska, surfing with my friends in Mexico, Europe, and Africa, or living in Wyoming and working as a bouncer and ski instructor, I loved hearing, imagining, and sometimes living stories that would be exciting to tell. Even later, when I finished law school and was working as a Deputy DA in Colorado, I would sit in court and think, God, some of this stuff would make for a great book. Finally I got up the courage to give it a try. My intention was to write about the two things that, for me, were the most exciting things on earth: climbing and crime.
How did you weave your own experiences into your protagonist, Antonio Burns?
First, I should say that Antonio is definitely not me, even though I
sometimes write about him in the first person. He's a better climber,
he's braver and more impulsive, and he's a lot more cynical about the
law. But I use things that have happened to me and my friends, sometimes
wildly exaggerating them. The experiences, however - real or vicarious
- are there. Like near disasters on alpine walls, or courtroom scenes
that were either funny or moving, or the stories cops would tell me
or write in their reports.
For example, once I was asked to execute a no-knock warrant with a local SWAT Team. We put a flash-bang through an upstairs window, rammed the door, and piled up the stairs. The suspect inside tried to jump out a closed window. Because he was naked, he got all sliced up when two officers pulled him back through and began trying to handcuff him. Blood was flying as they fought, and, in trying to keep it off my best lawyer's suit, I backed into a wall. Unfortunately, I leaned against the light switch. The sudden darkness made the arrest a lot more exciting for all involved. I didn't hear the end of it for a long time.
Another example is the time my brother and I spent a night hanging in our harnesses on a Colorado mountain at fourteen thousand feet in January, trapped by exhaustion and a sudden storm. We had no food or water - it was all frozen - and no sleeping bags. This was his first time climbing, too. We fought hypothermia all night by telling stories and cuffing each other and swearing we'd never, ever do anything like this again. When the sun finally came up and we began assessing the night's costs - in pain, psychological damage, another friend's frostbitten toes, Wayne said to me something like, "We've got to do this again!" Both those stories are the type I expand and put into the books somewhere. I think they illustrate both the folly and the nobility of the stuff that interests me. The humanity, too.
These books are quite different from the usual thrillers. Was that your intent?
Clinton: Absolutely. Crime novels are so common now, I think anything new has to be very different. And that was definitely my intent. For one thing, I wanted my books to have a lot of adrenaline in them. For me, getting a thrill is one of the best things in life. It focuses you. It makes the world a much more vivid place. Whether it's on the rock, on the street, or in the courtroom. Or even in the pages of a book. Thrillers should be thrilling. But I also wanted to explore what's behind the exciting stuff. All the difficulties raised by bureaucracies, politics, friendships, lovers, and acts of God. Not to mention the philosophical and ethical issues that arise in law enforcement and life from trying to do the right thing. I want my characters to be real, too. To be swayed by all of the above.
The theme of the meaning of justice is consistent through all your books so far. Does this come from your having worked as a Deputy DA?
Clinton: Yes. But I also thought about it long before I went to work as a prosecutor. The law always fascinated me. Before working in the justice system, I assumed it was near-perfect. It sent bad guys to jail and made the victims of their actions whole. If someone committed a crime, they received a punishment consistent with the statutory limits. The reality, of course, is totally different. There are plea bargains, suppressed evidence, and trials that are anything but a search for the truth. There are also politics, economics, media-induced stupidity, and never-ending questions about doing the right thing. Lots of material there.
What is your goal with this series?
Clinton: My primary goal is always to entertain. To tell a good story where the reader will feel like he or she knows the characters and is right alongside them through good times, bad times, and dangerous times. I want the characters to keep evolving, too, which I think definitely happens as the series progresses. Not always evolving for the best. I also want to explore issues of justice, the addiction to adrenaline of both climbers and some cops - "feeding the rat" it's called.
Are you working on any other writing projects?
Clinton: Right now I'm working on what will either be a very long article or a book. It's about a manhunt that took place in the Canadian Arctic over 70 years ago. In the dead of winter, north of the Arctic Circle, this madman shot a Mountie in the wilderness and took off running on snowshoes. Various posses of Mounties chased him on skis, on dogsleds, and with an airplane and radios, but even with all that stuff they couldn't catch him. The chase went on for six weeks, with this guy out-running and out-shooting trained professionals in temperatures averaging 40º below zero and with the sun never peeking above the horizon. It was one of the greatest feats of human endurance ever recorded. Newspapers around the world covered it, calling it the Arctic Circle War. Although the Mounties finally got their man, to this day no one knows who he was or why he shot the first Mountie and ran. In January 2004 and again in 2006, I headed to the Arctic with some climbing partners to retrace the route the madman took over the Richardson Range. We weren't sure what it would lead to, but we did know that it would be really, really cold.
Updated May 2007