John Riha, Ashland-based author, discusses the historically-rooted inspiration for his latest novel!
Can you tell us about your book?
The Bounty Huntress is an historical novel set in southern Oregon in the early part of the 20th century. It tells the fictionalized story of Iris Greenlee, Oregon’s first female bounty hunter. Iris is a young farm girl from the Applegate Valley whose father—a game warden in Jackson County—is murdered when she is very young. She grows up tough and rough-hewn, and learns many practical survival skills, including hunting deer in the nearby mountains. When she and her small family—her widowed mother and autistic brother—are nearly overwhelmed with setbacks, indignities, and the threat of the loss of the family farm, Iris is determined to make money by using her backwoods knowledge: She’ll hunt wanted criminals for money.
Tell us about yourself.
I’m a longtime media executive from the Midwest with a professional history that includes writing and editing for many national publications. I was the Executive Editor of Better Homes and Gardens and the Editorial Director for Meredith Corporation’s Special Interest Media, a group of more than 120 magazines and seven websites. After raising our two boys in Iowa, my wife and I decided to move back to the West, to Ashland, where we had met in 1984. I now freelance write and edit for national magazines and websites, and I’m slowly turning my career toward writing books, especially historical fiction and humor.
What interested you in this topic?
The part of the story about the murdered game warden is true. I ran across one of those “100 Years Ago Today” articles in the Medford Mail Tribune about the crime, and I became intrigued. I was especially interested in the fact that the murderer was acquitted in a raucous trial, even though there was a reliable eyewitness to the crime. Also of interest was the fact that the warden had two small children at the time of his death—a four-year-old girl and two-year-old boy. Add to that the fact that the accused murderer himself was murdered 16 years later in an unsolved crime. I began to wonder, “What if those kids grew up and took their revenge?” That classic revenge theme was the genesis for the novel. The part about Iris Greenlee becoming a bounty huntress is fiction.
What resources did you use for your research?
The archives available through Historic Oregon Newspapers online were invaluable. In researching the murder, I was able to follow the crime from the shooting all the way through the trial in great detail. Many small observations and nuances noted in the historical articles were a great help in adding color and authenticity to the novel. I was able to corroborate facts in other local newspaper accounts and the Oregonian. Other period articles and even advertisements were extremely valuable in setting the tone and creating language appropriate to the period. I also spent many hours at the Southern Oregon Historical Society Library in Medford, researching details such as the construction and floor plans of the county jail and courthouse in Jacksonville, and viewing historic photos depicting the towns and rural locations of Jackson County.
Where can we purchase/access your book?
The Bounty Huntress is available through Amazon and any book store can order copies. Locally, it’s at Bloomsbury Books in Ashland, rebel heart books in Jacksonville, and Reader’s Guide Books in Salem.
What’s your next project?
Travelling along the coast last year we stopped at the Coast Guard Lifeboat Station in Port Orford. Although it’s decommissioned now, they had an extremely treacherous and dramatic launch point for rescue operations in the 1930s. That definitely got me thinking, so we’ll see if that manifests into another book.