Get Your Kicks (and Nostalgia) In the Desert

Nov 1, 2014 | 2014 Articles, Mysteryrat's Maze

by Mark S. Bacon

Details on how to enter to win a copy of Mark’s mystery novel, Death in Nostalgia City, at the end of this post along with a link to purchase the book where a portion goes to help support KRL. Mark attended Fresno State.

Route 66 was constructed in the 1920s. Bobby Troup wrote the song lyrics in the 1940s, and by the 1960s, the Mother Road had taken on mythic proportions, becoming the best-known highway in the country. A TV series took its name and sent two young men on adventures down the road. Rock stars recorded Troup’s song. For me, growing up in Southern California, Route 66 represented the appeal of the open road, the wide open spaces of the West, and the pull of days gone by. So when I looked for a setting for a retro-themed suspense novel, it was natural for me to follow the yellow-striped road.

Myriad sources inspire writers to select the settings for their novels. Here’s a look at how mine wound up in the desert. Death in Nostalgia City takes place in the world’s most elaborate theme park—my invention. Nostalgia City is a re-creation of an entire small town as it would have looked in the early 1970s. Period stores display merchandise such as bell-bottomed slacks, picture-tube TVs and Tang. Neon-tube signs hang from storefronts, old-time rock music is played—as if it were new—on the town’s radio station, and perhaps most importantly, 1960s and early 1970s cars cruise the streets. In fact, visitors can rent period Mustangs, Camaros, Roadrunners and other classic wheels.

The resort also has period hotels, restaurants, ‘70s-themed amusement park rides and much more. Of course the world’s most elaborate theme park is also one of the most expensive. And that, in part, is where the trouble comes in; it’s a suspense story, not a travelogue. This built-from-scratch small town had to be placed somewhere and since so much of this setting is fictional, I wanted my make-believe resort to be in a real, recognizable place. It had to be an area with lots of space and, presumably, low-cost land. I live in Nevada where there’s lots of inexpensive space, but Las Vegas and Reno already offer plenty of thrills and entertainment for adults, so I looked elsewhere. Northern Arizona near one of the remnants of Route 66 looked perfect. Some of the small towns in that area promote their proximity to the Mother Road and, by association, to yesteryear. It seemed a good fit.

The next question was whether or not to identify a specific area or town. Many mystery writers have chosen real settings in many parts of the world, while others have invented their locales. Tony Hillerman located his stories in real places in Northwest New Mexico, for example, while Lilian Jackson Braun’s mystery novels take place in Pickax, located in Moose County, “400 miles north of everywhere.” Both techniques work. I chose a middle ground. I invented a county and a county seat in Northern Arizona where Nostalgia City would be built, but it’s much like actual places. I talk about Flagstaff, the largest town in the area; my characters use its airport to reach other parts of the country. Further, some scenes take place in Phoenix, about a 150-mile drive from Nostalgia City.

I love the desert. The clear air, unlimited horizons and network of living things that adapt in remarkable ways has always attracted me. My wife and I have spent many vacations exploring the Southwest desert from Reno, Nev. to Santa Fe, N.M. We’ve even driven along beat-up stretches of the Mother Road near Kingman, Ariz.


Mark Bacon hiking in Arizona

Northern Arizona has another appealing aspect: its elevation. Phoenix is blistering hot and just 1,000 feet above sea level. But drive a couple of hours north and you cool off in the mountains and high desert. Readers, particularly those from east of the Rockies who are unfamiliar with Arizona’s geography, will learn that the northern portion of the state is closer in elevation to Denver than it is to Death Valley. Northern Arizona towns are in thinner air. Winslow is at 4,850 feet, Prescott, 5,400, and Flagstaff sits at nearly 7,000 feet.

This high-elevation setting does two things. First, it adds a little information and interest for readers from other parts of the country. Second, it surprises–and not in a nice way–some of the more suspicious characters in the book, several from New England.

To enter to win a copy of Death in Nostalgia City, simply email KRL at krlcontests@gmail[dot]com by replacing the [dot] with a period, and with the subject line “Nostalgia,” or comment on this article. A winner will be chosen November 8, 2014. U.S. residents only. If entering via email please include your mailing address, and if via comment please include your email address.

Check out other mystery articles, reviews, book giveaways & short stories, and more Halloween stories all month, in our mystery section.

Click on this link to purchase this book & a portion goes to help support KRL!

Mark Bacon’s articles have appeared in the Washington Post, Kansas City Star, Denver Post, USAir Magazine, Trailer Life, Cleveland Plain Dealer, San Antonio Express-News, The Orange County Register, Working Woman, and other publications. He is a former columnist for BusinessWeek Online and most recently was a regular correspondent for the San Francisco Chronicle where he wrote on travel, outdoors and entertainment. Bacon is a former president of the Orange County Chapter of the International Association of Business Communicators. He and his wife, Anne, and their golden retriever, Willow, live in Reno, Nevada. Learn ore on his website.


  1. When I was 10 my family camped from MI to CA and we did take this route — what a lot of dessert, at night there was those great big huge black spiders just jumping all over the road! An amazing adventure and cool road! Thanks for info!

  2. We have a winner
    Lorie Ham, KRL Publisher


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