Speculative Travel Fiction: Mystery at Jackass Gulch

Angels Hotel, Angels Camp, CA [Public domain] Courtesy Library of Congress

He’d been silent, the other man at the bar, gazing into his glass of whiskey before growing animated at the mention of Mark Twain. “I met Twain one time, you know, out near Jackass Hill.” Continue Reading →

Inside the Tower: Robinson Jeffers’ Tor House

Photo of Robinson Jeffers, 1937 By Carl Van Vechten [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

“A chill rippled across my skin as I realized that we were standing in that very room and the bed before me was the subject of the poem — the death-bed in ‘The Bed by the Window.’ Robinson Jeffers had written the poem as a young man shortly after building the house. Many years later, he had indeed died in the room, thereby fulfilling its destiny.” Continue Reading →

Uncovering 1866 Greenwood — Mendocino County Frontier Town

Survey of Greenwood: Greenwood and Clift's Ridge

The random discovery of an 1866 survey map allows a historical novelist to better reconstruct the frontier town of Greenwood (Elk, CA) along the Mendocino Coast. Continue Reading →

Native Americans of the Redwood Coast

Image of painting Ma-tu, Pomo Medicine Man by Grace Hudson

When lumber mills first began sprouting up along the 19th century Mendocino coast, Native Americans were still a constant presence. Many indigenous place names were adopted by settlers and remain with us to this day. Others have faded into obscurity. We know, for instance, that the area now known as Mendocino village was originally called Bool-Dam or Buldam by subgroups of the Northern Pomo. Bool-Dam meant “big holes” and referred to the blowholes on the Mendocino headlands. Early maps created after California statehood refer to Big River as Bool-Dam River. Continue Reading →

Lorenzo White: Linchpin of the American Dream?

Portrait of Lorenzo White from THE SAN FRANCISCO CALL, July 4, 1896.

At the peak of Lorenzo White’s success his holdings stretched from Oakland to Fort Bragg. He owned stores, ranches, sawmills, hotels, ferries, saloons, restaurants, real estate, a fleet of ships, and several logging railroads. He commanded the attention of powerful politicians statewide and held sway over four California counties. White’s ambition at times seemed limitless and was the driving force in amassing a considerable fortune. So what can we conclude about L. E. White from this jumbled legacy he’s left us? Was he a mean spirited, ruthless villain and thief or a generous benefactor, a savvy businessman, a civic leader, and an all around stand up guy? Continue Reading →

Lumber Schooners of the Redwood Coast

Sketch of Lumber Schooner [Public domain]

In the mid-nineteenth century, the sawmills and lumber towns of Mendocino County were isolated from the more settled places that lined San Francisco Bay. The lack of roads, the ungainly North Coast mountains, and the abundant rivers and streams made overland travel difficult and dangerous. Lumber schooners provided the only viable conduit between frontier towns and the civilized world. It was a ship, in fact, that triggered the lumber boom along the redwood coast. Continue Reading →

Invented History: Slipping Story Into the Cracks

Picture of crack at Ballona Creek, Los Angeles, CA

One of the biggest challenges in writing historical fiction is managing the facts. Sometimes those facts are inconveniently arranged. Other times, there is a paucity of information. The former requires careful structuring of the story. The latter, however, presents a perfect opportunity for the historical novelist to exercise a little freedom in shaping the story. To illustrate this point, we’ll look at two real people who appear in my story, how I used reliable facts, and how I invented history for the gaps or stitched seemingly unrelated facts together. Continue Reading →

Baseball in Gold Rush California

Drawing of the New York Knickerbockers baseball team during a practice session by Homer Davenport [Public domain]

An author asks himself, “What if a transplanted Easterner taught loggers in 1850s California how to play baseball? Would that be an anachronism?” As it turns out, no. Thanks to Alexander Cartwright, the game of base-ball, a refined form of the older game town ball, spread across the American prairie to California and beyond during the great California Gold Rush. Continue Reading →

Evolution of a First Novel: Finding the Story

Digging Peasant by Vincent Van Gogh, 1885

The idea for a historical novel set in 19th century Mendocino County first came to me in the small town of Albion, California. I was spending a weekend in an old converted water tower and reading about William Richardson’s first lumber mill in Albion. Three years later, after extensive research that has led me as far afield as Saint Louis, Nicaragua, Baltimore, New Orleans, and Hong Kong, I am halfway through the second draft of the story. In that time, my eyes have been opened repeatedly to the breadth of the saga I’m attempting to write. Continue Reading →

American Scriveners of the Sea: Dana and Melville

Richard Henry Dana, 1842 [Public domain]

August 1 is a banner day for great American sea novels as we celebrate the birthdays of Richard Henry Dana, Jr. and Herman Melville. Both men provided important source information for the nautical aspects of The Relentless Harvest. Melville for his bold American, turn-of-the-century voice and Dana for his remarkable day-to-day accounts of a sailor’s life aboard ship. Both men also raised important questions about the powerless and disenfranchised are echoed in The Relentless Harvest. Continue Reading →