Fiends and wildlife

Rancher, crime scene investigator and director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service forensic lab in Ashland, Ken Goddard cooks up what could only be called Killer Fiction. It makes you want to ask, "What's a nice guy like you doing in a plot like this?"

MJ: Animals play a significant part in all your books. What do they bring to your fiction?

KG: People (other than the immediate family and friends) tend to be a lot more emotional about the death of an animal than the death of a human. Using animals is a way to weave that emotional response into the stories. Animal predators also have a nice way of fitting into the development of another very human emotion: fear of the unknown.

MJ: You've written that you have to be emotionally involved in a plot for the characters to come alive and that your emotional involvement is based on fear or anger. Why do you think people have an appetite for scary books and movies?

KG: Part of my fascination with law enforcement has to do with what might be called an adrenaline addiction. The adrenaline rush associated with close contact to danger heightens your senses. Among other things, colors and sounds seem more intense. You can experience a similar rush by reading a well-written, scary book.

MJ: Your first book, "Balefire," is based on research you did into terrorism prior to the 1984 Olympic Games when you were with the Huntington Beach PD. You say it's your most frightening book. Is terrorism any less frightening today than it was in 1984?

KG: It still holds true today that a single professional terrorist is capable of defeating a 200-officer police department. Terrorism is never going to go away, but terrorists can be defeated if you can find and expose their operations. Movie rights to "Balefire" just sold to a British film company, so my fears may appear on the big screen some day.

MJ: In "Digger," a predator enters crawl spaces, cuts through flooring and grabs his victims like a trap-door spider. I take it arachnids are not your favorite species.

KG: Recently at the lab we were examining elephant tusks smuggled out of Africa, trying to collect trace evidence (pollen grains, soil, insect parts, etc.) that might point to the country of origin. A tiny red spider hopped out of the cavity of one of the tusks, and I lunged backward like it was a predator looking to rip into something "¦ much to the amusement of our lab staff.

MJ: In "Prey," homicide investigator Henry Lightstone winds up working for a federal wildlife agency. How did you find your niche in Fish and Wildlife?

KG: Henry was recruited by Fish and Wildlife special agents to become a wild card covert operative. Being far less aggressive, fearless and insane than Henry, it took an ad in Police Chief Magazine (the USFWS wanted a forensic scientist to start up a wildlife crime lab) to divert me into wildlife law.

MJ: "In Extremis" is based on the CBS television series "CSI." Are Gil Grissom and company as satisfying to write as your own brainchildren?

KG: No, probably because I was limited in terms of story/character lines and physical damage to Grissom and his fellow CSIs. Grissom is a fascinating character, but I think he needs to suffer more.

MJ: Your "First Evidence" series, set in "Jasper County, Oregon," features aliens who take human form as seductive women. What does this say about your response to the fair sex?

KG: (laughs) "First Evidence" was my first foray into serious romantic involvement amongst my main characters. Why it took extraterrestrial contact for me to add more depth to my characters' love lives is a question best left to my dear, eyeball-rolling wife — or, God forbid, some psychology prof looking for a class project.

MJ: "Final Disposition" is the third book in the "First Evidence" series. Is this the last readers will see of protagonist Colin Cellars?

KG: I think "Final Disposition" is one of the better things I've written (it contains a seriously hot romantic thread!), but Bantam Books doesn't see it that way. I'm sure the argument will continue for a while, but I'm hopeful readers will eventually get to see a lot more of Colin Cellars. Meantime, I'm sure I voice the sentiments of many of my fellow fiction writers when I remind myself to never give up my day job!

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