Life & Works
As well as being a novelist for Viking/Penguin Books, Keith McCafferty is the Survival and Outdoor Skills Editor of Field & Stream. He has written articles for publications as diverse as Fly Fisherman Magazine, Mother Earth News, Gray’s Sporting Journal, The Strand, and the Chicago Tribune, and on subjects ranging from mosquitoes to wolves to mercenaries and exorcism. Based in Montana and working on assignment around the globe–he spent a month in India trekking the Himalayas, fishing for golden mahseer and studying tigers–Keith has won numerous awards, including the Robert Traver Award for angling literature. He has twice been a finalist for a National Magazine Award.
Growing up in the Appalachian hills of southeastern Ohio, Keith preferred the back door to the front, the tangle of the woods to the concrete of the playground. Snakes were his first fascination, his formative years spent turning over rocks to see what coiled underneath. When his grandmother Inez stayed at the house at the edge of the hollow, she would stuff towels underneath her bedroom door to deter the snakes from slithering in. Trout eventually called him west, where he now pursues his passions for fishing, hiking and herpetology with his wife, Gail Schontzler, a fourth generation newspaper journalist, who remains not so wild about the snake part (the Valentine gift of a baby northern pacific rattlesnake, when Keith and Gail were fellow reporters on the Bakersfield Californian, did not go well). Keith has a son, Tom, a writer/artist/chef, who lives in Seattle and who designed this web page. Keith’s daughter, Jessie, is a drug and alcohol counselor for the University of Montana. His other children include various stray animals that know who to tap for a soft touch. Keith is a wild bird rescue person, as well. A few summers ago, he hacked back into the wild four baby Brewer’s blackbirds that had become separated from their parents when their nest tree was uprooted from a tree farm and driven more than one hundred miles before being replanted.
Keith holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Zoology from Duke University and a Master’s in Journalism from the University of Michigan. Besides writing, past work includes cleaning rat cages in college (which made a surprisingly successful venue for after dinner dates, provided the coed was sufficiently adventuresome and olfactory impaired), hard labor in steel mills (playing poker in abandoned railroad cars on the banks of the Ohio River while the boss looked the other way), restoring trout habitat on the AuSable River for Michigan’s Department of Natural Resources, and an apprenticeship as a driller for the Washington Highways Department. He also worked as a night-side crime reporter for the Bakersfield Californian, where he met his future wife, the award-winning journalist, Gail Schontzler. In addition to writing more than a thousand magazines articles (several are linked here), his non-fiction work includes the L.L. Bean Family Camping Handbook and the L.L. Bean Hiking and Backpacking Handbook, which his son illustrated.
The Royal Wulff Murders was Keith’s first novel. It received a coveted red star review from Publisher’s Weekly, in addition to recommendations from best-selling authors C.J. Box, Craig Johnson and Henry Winkler, aka Arthur Fonzarelli, aka the Fonz! The novel, a finalist for the High Plains Book Award, was also a Book of the Month Club and Mystery Guild selecti0n. The idea for the novel germinated during a long night in the wilderness while working for Field & Stream. His assignment was to survive a winter night without fire or adequate clothing, and it was during the interminable hours he spent shivering on the snowy breast of a mountain, wrapped in a scrap of tarp, that it dawned on him that there had to be an easier way to make a living.
Keith’s other books have been equally well received as the first. In fact two, “Meurtres sur la Madison” (Murders on the Madison) and “Les Morts de Bear Creek” (Deaths at Bear Creek), have been published in France, in French. Très cool!
If his critical successes translate into substantial sales, perhaps future novels will be written from La Closerie des Lilas or Deux Magots, on terraces haunted by Hemingway and Fitzgerald. Until that happens, he will continue to write from Montana coffee houses, covered foot bridges, park benches and, in trout season, from the passenger seat of his derelict Ford Explorer, nosed up to the bank of a stream, with fly rod very close at hand.
Keith lives with his wife, cat, and, as a wild bird rescue volunteer, various feathered friends, in southwest Montana.
Keith has been honored with the numerous awards in his career, including:
The Western Writers of America Spur Award for Best Western Contemporary Novel for Crazy Mountain Kiss
The Will Rogers Silver Medallion Award for Best Novel for Buffalo Jump Blues
The Will Rogers Gold Medallion Award for Best Novel for Cold Hearted River
He was also a finalist for the High Plains Book Award and winner of the Will Roger’s Silver Medallion award for best novel for A Death In Eden
Keith has also won the Robert Traver Award for Best Angling Literature and is a two-time National Magazine Awards finalist, a three-time High Plains Book Awards finalist and a finalist for the Nero Award for Best Mystery Novel.
Two of his novels have been recommended by O, The Oprah Magazine, including “Buffalo Jump Blues,” which was chosen as one of the best summer reads of 2016.
His books have received starred reviews from Kirkus, Booklist and Publisher’s Weekly.
Keith’s novels are now being translated into French by Janique Jouin-de Laurens and published in France under the imprint Éditions Gallmeister.