Wednesday, June 20, 2012

5 Colorful (Modern) Characters from Nevada

by Caroline Lawrence

Every author of historical fiction needs some mentors, advisors and allies. Elsewhere, I have been thinking about colorful characters of the Wild West but today I would like to introduce you five colorful characters of the Modern "Mild West" who have made my Western Mysteries a joy to research.

Above: Me and my sister Jennifer the driver (AKA 'Hawkeye') in 2008 about to go on a road trip to scout out a good location for a series of children’s historical novels set in California or Nevada. 

No. 1 - StinkE AKA StinkE
StinkE and me in 2008
In November of 2008, when I first arrived in Virginia City on a location scouting expedition with my younger sister Jennifer (AKA ‘Hawkeye’), the first person we saw was this guy. ‘Stop the car!’ I cried. Jennifer stopped the car and I got out and ran over to him. (I should explain that even in Nevada people do not usually dress like this. Especially on a week day.) ‘You look great!’ I gushed. ‘Who are you?’ ‘My name is StinkE with an E,’ he replied in an authentic drawl. Later on I discovered that he always dressed like this. Unless he undresses that is. I have since seen him in just his long-johns, thankfully with the back flap firmly in place. StinkE and Mrs. StinkE (yes, there is a Mrs StinkE!) are stars of Virginia City’s annual ‘outhouse’ race. He is usually the favorite. He has had lots of practice. I saw StinkE again in May 2012 and he introduced me to his donkey (see bottom of this post). ‘They never told me his mother was pregnant when they gave her to me,’ complained StinkE, ‘but on the fourth of July she gave birth to this one. So I named him Independence.’ When I gave StinkE a complimentary copy of my book, The Case of the Deadly Desperados, he shook my hand. I can now verify the fact that he has real, bona fide ingrained dirt!
(above: StinkE with a E and Caroline in November 2008)

No. 2 - McAvoy Layne AKA Mark Twain AKA 'Lazarus'
McAvoy Layne in Genoa, Nevada
Why was I considering Virginia City as the setting for a series of historical western books for kids? Several reasons, but the deciding factor was that Sam Clemens lived here before he became Mark Twain. Two years ago I was back in Virginia City with my sister Hawkeye. This time my husband Richard (AKA ‘Goes the Wrong Way’) was along for the ride. On our way home to California, we happened across the Genoa Cowboy Festival. As we drove through the oldest town in Nevada, all done up cowboy style, I saw this guy walking along the road. ‘Stop the car!’ I cried. (I shout that a lot.) Jennifer AKA ‘Hawkeye’ stopped the car and I leapt out and accosted Mr. ‘Mark Twain’. He graciously allowed me to get a snap of us together. I have since got to know McAvoy Layne. He is a clever, generous scholar and one of the best Mark Twain impersonators around. He is unofficial leader of a group of Nevada Historians who call themselves the ‘Never Sweats’. Here is how he signed off a recent email:
Your Eminent Beer Archon and Keeper of the Kalendar, e. Pluribus Lazarus, member in good standing of Our Lady of Perpetual Astonishment, Boss Poet of the Comstock, Capt. of the Clemens Cove
Volleyball, Drinking & Fighting Club, Emperor of the Hogwash Guild, Chief Liar by Seniority, and Friend of the Maid of Orleans

No. 3 - Guy Rocha AKA 'Rex Veritas'
Guy Rocha in Carson City
In Carson City, Guy Rocha is a celebrity. He once gave me an impromptu tour and everywhere we went people called out ‘Yo! Guy! How's it going?’ Recently bestowed with the hugely impressive title Distinguished Nevadan, he is a retired Nevada State Archivist, wrestling coach and 'Never Sweat'. I first met Guy on the internet via his Mythbusting series. Some people would call him a party-pooper. I call him a genius. Here is an excerpt from a Twainish tribute that McAvoy Layne (colorful character No. 2) composed for him:
He is the High Priest of Punsters, who can make lesser punsters go back down the hole they came out of to lick their wounds.
Persuasive? Rex can persuade a fish to come out and take a walk with him, and he will tell you a truth for a dollar, when he could get a dollar and a half for telling you a lie. Humor? Slip a little whiskey in his Red Bull, and Rex can make a cast iron dog laugh. Confidence? Rex Veritas carries with him the calm confidence of a Christian holding four aces. We all know Rex is the best historian in the Silver State, where facts are not essential, and whenever Rex uses a big word its meaning is usually a secret between himself and his maker. His face deserves to be framed in sagebrush, we firmly agree, and hung on the wall in the Rotunda in Washington, next to Mark Twain...
I couldn’t have put it better. In fact, I couldn't have put it anywhere near that genius. 
(above: Guy Rocha shows me a marker for historic Chinatown)

No. 4 - Carolyn Eichin AKA Proprietress of the B St House B&B
article by Carolyn Eichin
Every hero has a mentor, the wise person who sends them on the quest, gives them advice and often an object of great significance called a ‘talisman’. My mentor is Carolyn Eichin, proprietress of the B Street House B&B in Virginia City. Back in November of 2008, when my sister and I phoned to ask if they had a room, she said they were planning to go back to their winter quarters the day after but that they would delay their return to stay open one more day. This turned out to be not just a kindness, but serendipity in the highest. Not only is Carolyn a Nevada historian, but she is probably the best cook west of the Rockies. Her four-course breakfasts are legendary and will keep you going till suppertime. She has also become one of my most faithful proofreaders. Best of all, she gave me a 'talisman': the Diaries of Alf Doten. Like Mark Twain he was a failed prospector who became a journalist. Doten wrote about every aspect of daily life, from things as mundane as the cost of meals and laundry to exciting accounts of shoot-outs, mine disasters and suicides. 
(above: Pauline Markham from an article by Carolyn Eichin) 

No. 5 - Bob Stewart AKA The 'Unreliable'
Illustration by Kelly Davis
Another ‘Never Sweat’ is Bob Stewart, ex-newspaper-reporter, political aide and bureau of land management sage. Now a resident of Carson City, I first came across him when Carolyn Eichin (colorful character No. 4) told me about a lecture he was giving at the hotel in Silver City. Although his 'Never Sweat' nickname is the 'Unreliable' he is in fact hugely reliable. He is another one of my valued proofreaders. With a journalist’s attention to detail and accuracy, he is a font of information for Carson City and its environs. Although Bob is an expert in many areas, his current obsession is proving that a small unnamed cove on the Nevada side of Lake Tahoe is the place where Mark Twain once camped for a few days until he famously started a forest fire. The only problem is a California author also claims to have found the site and his cove is on the California side of Tahoe. So the two are feuding. Yes! Twain scholars clash over the site of a campsite! David Antonucci is Bob Stewart’s arch-nemesis! On Thursday, June 21 2012, they had a duello in South Lake Tahoe. Not pistols at dawn, but powerpoint at dusk. The debate took place on the grounds of the Gatekeeper's House Museum in Tahoe City.
(above: Bob Stewart on the left and David Antonucci on the right)

It has been a profound pleasure to have made such colorful friends over the course of researching my western mystery series. I guess it is just as well that, unlike them, I am sensible and sober. 
StinkE, StinkE's dog, StinkE's donkey and Caroline Lawrence

Caroline Lawrence's first Virginia City mystery, The Case of the Deadly Desperados, is out now.