Instead of traveling out of the US for this blog, I'm taking you to Red Mountain, CA in the Mojave Desert, the location that inspired my latest release, a time travel novella entitled A Time For Melody. Writers find inspiration in some of the strangest places.
In the late 1970s, probably before some of you were born, my husband and our two boys used to race motorcycles in the California Mojave Desert. Well, the boys and I raced; my husband and daughter watched. Being a city girl, I’d never spent time in the desert, but when we joined the Viewfinders, one of the racing clubs which participated in the AMA District 37 Desert Races, we spent nearly every weekend in one part of the desert or another.
What does desert motorcycle racing have to do with writing?
It’s complicated. Probably very little for most people. But motorcycle racing introduced me to the desert, and the desert inspired this story, so I make the connection. To my surprise, I enjoyed the remoteness and quiet of the desert and its subtle beauty, in spite of the heat in the summer. Of course, it wasn’t so peaceful when camping with a large group of motorcycle racers (many of them young men in their late teens and early twenties), but you could always go off by yourself when they got too rowdy. And the group could be a lot of fun, too.
Desert motorcycle racing was amazing. Such excitement to see a hundred racers standing abreast in a long line and waiting for the smoke bomb to go off in the distant hills. As soon as the smoke rose, showing where the riders were supposed to go, the starting gun would be fired. The riders ran to their bikes, kicked them started and, with a roar, took off all at once, everyone aiming for the smoke and the pass in the distance where the trail narrowed to a width where only one or two bikes could get through at a time.
I raced my first desert race (50 miles) on a Suzuki 175 when I was forty (and I didn’t finish last, either—close, but not last—and I did finish). Not everyone did. Thirty plus years later, I still have my first Finisher’s Pin, and I’m still proud of it.
In those day, and still today, one of the race venues was out at Charlie’s Place, near Trona. To get there, you take Highway 395 just past Red Mountain, turn on Trona Road and drive fourteen miles. And out in the middle of the desert, close to nothing, is Charlie’s place. A little bar and store.
When camping near Charlie’s Place, we would often ride into Red Mountain (the nearest town, if you want to call it that) to buy supplies (primarily beer) at the general store. There were, perhaps thirty residents still living in what was a deserted mining town. There wasn’t much there except the general store, a gas station (if I remember correctly), the Silver Dollar Cafe, and six tiny streets of old shacks, ruins of the abandoned mines, and huge piles of tailings along the sides of Highway 395.
Red Mountain, originally named Osdick after one of the original miners, provided the setting for the fictional town of Red Gulch in my recently released time travel novella. It was inevitable that I would use this setting for a novel someday.
I love the desert—it has an ethereal not-of-this-earth quality about it—and this lonesome location fascinated me. It seemed like a place passed over by time and civilization. At the time we rode in this area, I hadn’t started writing fiction. Still, the location struck me as a perfect setting for a science fiction story. The thought kicked around in my subconscious for years before I wrote A Time For Melody, but when the idea formed, the location was already an integral aspect of the novella. Some ideas and places stick with you. I believe the desert may have been part of my inspiration to write fiction.
Some Red Mountain history
The background for the novella is based on fact…at least about the geographical area. The characters are fictional. Well, duh! Gold was discovered in this area of the Mojave Desert in 1895 by C.A.Burcham, F.M.Mooers and John Singleton. By 1896, the area had a population of 1,500 people (and probably countless jackrabbits).
“Camp Rand” (later called “Yellow Aster Mine”) was an active mining district and by January, 1900, the population of the two adjacent communities of Randsburg and Osdick (Red Mountain) had expanded to 3,500 residents. In 1900, three million dollars in gold was taken from the mine. Eleven years later, the take was six million dollars. Things were booming and the communities of Red Mountain and Randsburg continued to grow and prosper.
In 1915, David Bowman made a new gold discovery, but WWI took many people away from the mines and about the same time, there was a serious flu epidemic. The community began to decline. In 1918, silver was discovered in Red Mountain, stimulating another boom. During the 1930s, Red Mountain prospered. An active liquor area during prohibition, the community sported several well-known brothels. In 1942, all gold mining was stopped in the US by the government, and after that the town nearly died and never revived.
In 1984, after we stopped racing with District 37, gold mining was reestablished in the Red Mountain area. According to R. Vallerand, the Rand Mine was still digging up gold as late as 1998. I have no idea if the mines are still operational, but the town itself is reviving as a Ghost Town and now has a population of 130.
She appeared out of nowhere, blown into Red Gulch, a decaying mining town, on the crest of a desert breeze like the ever-present tumbleweeds that filled the empty streets in the blink of an eye. Except everyone knew where tumbleweeds came from.
Brandon O’Donnell never figured out where Melody came from, but she captured his heart with her flaming red hair, hypnotic light-grey eyes, and intense but distant way of speaking. As though, Brandon had thought for years, she knew a lot more than she let on.
Now, Brandon is about to find out how much more that really is.
“Well, Melody—that’s a nice name—are you from around these parts?” Everything about her seemed to scream otherwise, but it seemed the polite thing to say…and he did want to know.
She tossed her hair and ran the tip of her tongue across her full lower lip. “From down the highway a piece.”
Her speech, for some reason, sounded a little stilted, almost as though she wanted to mask an accent. At the same time, the low and sweet tone resonated like a song, far away and full of promise. Its pleasant sound lingered in his head and sent an unsettling swell of desire along his nerves.
He raised an eyebrow and lifted his chin toward the window facing the road, questioning her response without meaning to.
“There isn't much down the highway for a long way.” Beyond the broken down buildings of Red Gulch, the two-lane highway stretched in both directions—hot, lonely and unpopulated—for more than seventy miles, unless you counted Ridgecrest. But from the looks of her stylish clothes, he doubted she could be from there. “Did you come very far?”
She tilted her head to the side, letting a lustrous strand of red hair fall across the front of her blouse, open low enough to catch a glimpse of tantalizing cleavage. “Yes, in a way, but not really.”
Not much of an answer. But he had no intention of giving up so easily. “Where you headed for?”
She shrugged. “Red Gulch.”
His chin dropped in surprise, and she laughed. The sound of music tinkling in the distance.
“No one comes to Red Gulch,” he protested, wondering if she’d been hitchhiking and her ride dumped her out there. “At least, not on purpose.”
Her soft luscious lips curled into a smile. “I did. What’s that thing?” She pointed to the end of the table that butted against the wall where the napkin holder, salt-and-pepper shakers, and menu reposed.
He frowned, unsure what she referred to. “What thing?”
“This.” She tapped on the clear plastic Jukebox extension with chrome trim. “It looks like some kind of jar made from a crude carbon nanotube structure that…” Her voice trailed off, and her face paled. “I mean…”
Perplexed, Brandon frowned at her. What was she talking about? Red Gulch might be behind the times, but surely these hadn’t disappeared completely in the more civilized parts of the state. “It’s part of the jukebox.”
She chewed at her lower lip and stared at him like a deer caught in the headlights of a car. “The what?”
“The jukebox. You, know. It plays old-fashioned records.” When her puzzled gaze didn’t waver, he motioned toward the old Wurliter across the room, then tapped the coin slot. “You put your coins in here, select the music you want by pushing this, and it plays over there, through the speakers.” He dropped his hand to the table.
Melody gave her body a little shake. Coiling a red curl around one finger, she leaned forward and placed her free hand over his.
“I love music. Do you?”
His fingers curved around her soft, uncalloused flesh. “Sure do. I even play a pretty mean StingRay.”
She wrinkled her nose, obviously in the dark but not wanting to ask.
He grinned at her, thinking she must lead a very sheltered life, which made him wonder, even more, what she was doing in Red Gulch. “That’s a kind of bass guitar.”
“Oh.” She warmed him with a bright smile. “Are you a musician?”
He laughed an honest hearty laugh. “Nope. I only play at home for my own pleasure.”
“I’ll bet you’re good at it. I’d love to hear you play. Do you live very far from here?”
Turning her small hand, he caressed the inside of her wrist with his thumb, his fingers feathering over her smooth skin. “Hmm, about ten miles. Out in the desert.”
“Can we go there?” She delivered the surprising question in a soft, yet matter of fact manner, as though it was a perfectly natural question to ask a man she'd only met a few minutes before.
Brandon’s heart skipped a beat as anticipation swelled. “Hmm, do your parents know you’re in Red Gulch?”
“My parents?” Her frown gave him the impression she didn’t quite understand the concept. “We don’t…hmm…I’m not in contact with my parents. But they know I’m in Red Gulch.”
A tremor of discomfort slid through him. “How old are you, Melody?”
She sat back and tried to slide her hand away, but he held it firmly in his grip. Little lines of tension feathered from the corners of her mesmerizing eyes.
After a moment, her face smoothed and her luscious-looking lips curled into a smile. She squeezed his fingers as though reassuring him.
“Almost twenty-one. I’ve been living on my own for years, but right now I don’t have any place to stay. I was hoping I could go with you.”