I’m honored to be included in The Pilgrimage Chronicles, a collection of 30 essays about pilgrimages worldwide with dramatic cover art by Lorie Karnath. Continue Reading →
Cultural traditions are not always as they seem and their origins are often more complicated than we imagine. So it is with the Acadians and Scots of Nova Scotia, whose unlikely convergence on Cape Breton helped preserve tangled traditions that first traveled to the island with their ancestors many generations earlier. Continue Reading →
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.”
“You look pretty good for a hundred and fifty years old,” I said in jest, assuming he wasn’t serious.
“It wasn’t all that long ago; a few years back,” he answered in a matter-of-fact tone, though he had a faraway look in his eyes as he said it. “For a few hours that day,” he continued, “I became a time traveler.”
The bartender grunted, sounding more annoyed than alarmed, as if he’d heard the line too many times before. He quickly busied himself at the other end of the bar. As the World Series of Poker flickered silently on the TV above us, I sipped my beer and considered my options. Dare I press the matter further?
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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 →
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 →
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 →
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 →
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 →
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 →
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 →