On Friday, Elizabeth and I walked through golden morning to the Alpine County Sheriff’s Office to present Dragon’s Ark to Christine Branscombe, deputy, support services coordinator, and beta reader. She expressed her delight, but then confessed to being a Twilight fan. I raised a warning finger, cast an amused scowl: This is not a Twilight novel. But I bet she’ll be scared to her toes when she closes that last page and I hope that Tom Linder will be pleased by my brief look at search and rescue.
We breakfasted at the J. Marklee Toll Station café, one of those Funky Joints with Good Food (metal patio furniture with a side of excellent omelet). There, we were joined by Pete, an English transplant in his mid-60s.
Pete was in the middle of a summer-long bike ride from Canada to Mexico. He planned to make it Bridgeport, 70 miles to the south, that day. This involves, among other travails, a 3,000-foot climb over 4 miles up through Monitor Pass, before the road drains down to the eastern desert. We offered prayers and luck. We wondered about him throughout the day.
We next stopped by Alpine County Health Services near the village of Woodfords to present a copy to Dr. Richard Harvey, Alpine County health officer, and his staff. With their help, Dr. Dave Sutton became a more credible character. But the real-life doctor was, sad to say, away in Berkeley, mere miles from our house. The receptionist enthusiastically received the copy on his behalf and wanted to know when it was going to become a Hollywood movie. This question I could only embarrassingly laugh off.
From there, we rode on down Diamond Springs Road, a lonesome, two-lane roll through cattle ranches and scrub desert, my favorite kind of road, to nowhere in particular, just enchanting country, open sky, and Nature’s surprises, both grand and sly, everywhere. Still, as we rolled along, it saddened me to think how much of its fine detail I’d missed capturing in Dragon’s Ark.
When we reached the large Woodfords Community headquarters of the Washoe Tribe (known here as “Hung-a-Lel-Ti”), we found echoes and near-emptiness. Except for a voice urgently murmuring behind a tightly closed door, no one was about. Certainly not Beverly Caldera and Hector Caldera, who graciously admitted a grimy researcher to the Washoe Community Library on another Friday years ago and allowed him to fumble among their books and files in search of details on Washoe history and culture for the small but important role they play in Dragon’s Ark. I shyly left a copy, my business card, and a clumsily scrawled note on Beverly’s desk, like a friendly passing ghost.
I hadn’t told anyone we were coming. I’m sure it wasn’t me. Honest.
After we stole across the Nevada border to visit an antique store in Gardnerville, we returned along Diamond Springs Road again, toward the mountains.
Back in Markleeville, we took the little road up from Grover Hot Springs Road (as you will in the novel) to a pretty hilltop where sits the Alpine County Museum, my first stop on my original research trip. Here, thanks to its then-curator Ellen Martin, I first learned that the real Alpine County would not fit within the story blooming wildly in the flowerpot of my mind.
And so my imagination swung its wrecking ball. With that god-like confidence that all creative liars since Homer have known—why else do we write stories?—I knocked the museum down and constructed a new one . . . except, notably, for the old jail next door, with its grim interior, part cast-iron jail cell, part blacksmith shop, a perfect setting for a monstrous encounter with moonlight’s cold blade.
"This is no jail. It's a torture chamber"-- Dr. David Sutton
Since we arrived, Elizabeth and I had picked up sidelong gossip about the small-village politics of Markleeville, a story known everywhere, in Dragon’s Ark, too. From these bitter tidbits, we saw how things can change, even in the slow rhythms of an alpine village.
For one, Ms. Martin was long gone, having abruptly departed for another museum job. In her place sat a soft-spoken Quaker woman, dressed for her faith and whose name I regrettably failed to capture. This time, I was reluctant to donate my book. I felt obliged to firmly warn her that Dragon’s Ark was not a Christian Pacifist novel by ten country kilometers, but she gently and generously reassured me that her husband might like it.
O-kay, we think as we politely stroll out the door, eyes wide over a fixed grin, my befuddled mind screaming with imaginary headline:
“Local Man Divorces Quaker Spouse, Leads Decadent Violent Life After Reading Burchfield Horror Tale.”
Friday’s “book tour” ended at the Alpine County Library, another site both of narrative and research. The book was gratefully accepted by Rita the librarian and will find its way onto the lending shelves.
With day almost done, we headed up to my favorite spot in Alpine County: Monitor Pass. Relieved not to find Pete the Brit Bicyclist sprawled by the side of the lonely road, we wandered for a while. On our first drive up here, many years ago, it was toward dark and we encountered a louring purple snowstorm and sensed eternity everywhere, in the gaps behind the curtain of spinning snowflakes.
I was not able to work this spot into the novel. But Eternity is still here.
After a delicious dinner at the Stonefly in Markleeville, we found a rowdy acoustic country trio, complete with violinist, playing at the Cutthroat Tavern, perfect ending to a Friday--especially when the lead singer announced they’d do a tune by “the greatest country band that ever was” before launching into “Don’t Pass Me By.”
Saturday morning, we stopped by Sorenson’s, the final stop. Like elsewhere, the owners were absent. After lunch, I wandered among the cabins, took a few snaps from scenes that will be recognizable when you read Dragon’s Ark (like I know you’re going to).
From there, it was home.
"At trail's end, Jeff found a gazebo."
I did no readings. Most everyone to whom I hoped to present copies was somewhere else. But to me, my shoestring “book tour” was a success anyway. I had returned to the beloved mountains of Alpine County.
What more could I have wanted?
Copyright 2011 by Thomas Burchfield
Photos by author, copyright 2011 by Thomas Burchfield
Thomas Burchfield's contemporary Dracula novel Dragon's Ark is available right NOW, published by Ambler House Publishing. It can be ordered in both paperback and e-book editions through your local independent bookstore, through Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Powell's Books, Smashwords, and Scrib'd. His original comic screenplay Whackers is now available in a Kindle editon, also from Ambler House. Other material can also be read at The Red Room website for writers. And if you're still not tired of him, he can also be friended on Facebook, tweeted at on Twitter and e-mailed at tbdeluxe [at] sbcglobal [dot] net.