Nostalgia City Mysteries

By Mark S. Bacon

Category Archives: book publishers

How this classic car became stranded in the desert

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The Pontiac on the cover of my new book, Desert Kill Switch, is a bona fide classic.  A high-powered muscle car from the early 1970s, the Firebird is immaculately restored and lovingly maintained. How I found it is as much a mystery as the ones my amateur detectives solve in the novel.

Authors aren’t always involved in the creation of their book covers.  For my first nonfiction book I got a chance to see the cover before printing because I flew to New York to see my publisher.  On the next  book,  I saw the cover when it came out.  My present publisher, Black Opal Books, is relatively small and my editor there was open to my ideas, indeed to my work to create the cover.  I’ve done photography professionally so I planned to take the cover photo myself, then turn it over to the cover’s designer.

Finding this beautiful 1972 Pontiac Firebird Trans Am was slightly more difficult than finding the inhospitable desert scene for the cover of Desert Kill Switch.

Before I’d finished writing the book, I knew a vintage car belonged on the cover.  And a bleak desert landscape.

Vintage muscle cars, including a Pontiac Firebird Trans Am, figure prominently in the plot.  The setting of all the Nostalgia City mysteries (book #3 coming soon, I’m working on #4) is an Arizona retro theme park that recreates a 1970s small town, complete with everything from the period from music and hairstyles to stores and automobiles.  In Desert Kill Switch, protagonist Kate Sorensen supervises an exhibit booth at a vintage car and rock and roll festival in Reno, Nevada, to attract nostalgia aficionados to the Arizona park.

So with the Arizona and Nevada deserts as the locales and classic cars as the outstanding set pieces, imagining the cover photo was not difficult.  Finding a showroom-condition cruiser—and a willing owner—was a greater challenge.

I live in Reno where an actual summer retro festival, Hot August Nights, is held annually, attracting more than 6,000 classic cars from all over the U.S. and several foreign countries.  Part of my inspiration for creating Nostalgia City came from this event, Reno’s largest.

The problem was, I didn’t get around to actually deciding on a cover photo until months after the festival had ended and the beautiful wheels had rolled back to their various home towns. I might have had my pick of vintage Mustangs, T-birds, Camaros, Barracudas and other terrors of the boulevard.

Instead, I started looking locally by checking out the websites of vintage car clubs in the area.  I saw a few promising models, but I either couldn’t get in touch with the owners or they were not interested.

No sign of civilization anywhere in this shot of the Nevada Great Basin Desert. But it’s really just 30 miles north of Reno.

While I searched for a car, I also explored the area around Reno for an appropriate setting.  I wanted a photo that showed nothing but desert and hills.  No buildings, no power lines, no billboards or signs of any type.  Northern Nevada is mostly open space.  In fact, the whole state is open space, so you’d think it would not be difficult to find a suitably desolate spot.  Of course I could use Photoshop to remove utility poles or other signs of civilization, but if an image is cleaner to begin with, fewer artificial enhancements are necessary.

Reno is bordered on the west by the soaring mountains of the Sierra Nevada so that left three directions to explore, and ultimately I found my spot about 30 miles north of town.  Now I needed the car.

A Firebird Trans Am on a San Francisco car club website caught my attention.  It was similar to a car that disappears early in the book and creates the story’s first mystery.  Coincidentally, this beautiful 1972 Trans Am was owned by James Mandas of Reno.  I emailed him and he agreed to have his car pose for a photo.  This was in September.

 We had an unusually rainy winter that year and for weeks the desert area I found for the photo was wet with standing water.  Not quite the dry, barren look I sought.   We scheduled and rescheduled the photo shoot over about two months.  I was thankful for Mandas’ patience.

Ultimately a dry, sunny November morning dawned.  Mandas hauled a covered trailer containing his handsome vintage Pontiac out to the desert and I spent two hours shooting the car from a variety of angles and elevations.

I had my cover photo.

The car’s raised hood and open door signal trouble.  The driver is missing.  The mystery begins.

‘Desert Kill Switch’ by the numbers

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2,000,000
The estimated number of kill switches (and GPS trackers) presently active in cars financed in the US

85,686
Number of words in the book

774
Number of cups of Lapsang Souchong tea I drank while writing

450
Number of miles from Las Vegas to Reno

367
Number of days it took me to write it  (That’s elapsed days. Some few days I didn’t work. I was riding my bike, driving to Canada, etc. )

330
Number of pages

79
Number of times my dog interrupted me asking for attention or a walk

74.5
Height, in inches, of my protagonist Kate Sorensen

71
Number of Chapters

45
Age of the Pontiac Firebird Trans Am on the cover

24
Number of characters  This number is approximate.  Some characters are so minor they are not counted and some are dead.

17
Percent of the book I wrote while sitting in an Adirondack chair in my back garden

8
Number of times I use the f-word.  This is not excessive for a crime novel this long with lots of nasty characters.  But I cut it down in my next book. (See an upcoming post on the use of profanity in mystery novels.)

7
Number of years my publisher, Black Opal Books, has been in business

5
Per cent of the book I wrote in my pajamas

3
Number of times I use the f-word in my next book

2
Number of times someone slugs protagonist Lyle

1
Number of pictures   It’s just a mug shot of me at the end.  This is not a picture book.

1
Number of times I use the word “awesome”  (It was in dialog.)

I don’t know everything

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The books I write, both nonfiction and fiction, start with ideas and branch out into chapters.  The background information in those chapters doesn’t all come from me.  No surprise.  Even with fiction—perhaps especially with fiction—I want to include accurate information, authentic details.  And many of those details are products of research: reading online and printed material and talking to experts.

Once I have collected facts and written a manuscript, I still need help. Writing is a solitary occupation, but making a manuscript as good as it can be  certainly is not. I need comments, suggestions, reactions and detailed editing.

I don’t know everything, but I know how to find people who know more than I do.  In Desert Kill Switch I thank the people who helped me create my book.  I’d like to thank them here, too.

Acknowledgements for Desert Kill Switch

My thanks to the professional team at Black Opal Books including Lauri, Faith, L.P., Arwen, and Jack for their hard work to make the book a reality.

Automobiles—classic cars in particular—are a big part of the story. I could not have included all the details about cars without the help of experts including veteran mechanic and classic car owner Bill Fogel and Tim Cox, a classic car owner and CEO of Quiet Ride Solutions.  Any automotive errors here are mine, not theirs.  Thanks to Jason Soto and Dustin Dodd for their generous help with my law enforcement questions.  And old friend Sue Longson gave me some pointers on auto lending.  Again, errors are all mine, not theirs.

Thanks again to Christel Hall for her careful editing.

My special appreciation goes to James Mandas for lending his beautiful 1972 Pontiac Firebird Trans Am to pose for the cover of this book and for his patience in arranging a photo shoot much delayed by weather.

Helpful ideas and support came from writer friends Jane Gorby, Linda Townsdin, Craig Holland, David Pincus and Gene Michals.  Many thanks to advance readers and to critique group members: Harriet Snyder, Christina Batjer, Betty Knapp, Carolee Hanks, Carol Watson, Anne Johnson, Marge Parnas, Deb Cork, Brian Cave, Nicole Frens, Rene Averett, and Lucas Ledbetter.

Finally, thanks to my wife, Anne, for her love and support.

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