Reno: Little City, Big Character Part 1 described how I came to choose Reno as the primary location for the Tinman Series. Once this decision was firmly embedded in my work, I set about looking for key locations within the city to use in the books.
The first locale I was searching for was the main character’s residence. Tinman grew up bopping from one cheap motel to another. As an adult, he roamed the country, hustling pool, only staying in one place for as long as the action lasted. He had no real home and continued living out of motels.
Posse of Thieves opens with him suffering a midlife crisis. The game of pool has crashed, and his life as a high-stakes hustler is over. He has returned to Reno with no idea what to do with the rest of his life. It seemed natural to me he would once again end up in a motel.
Reno suffers no dearth of cheap motels. It is, in fact, perhaps one of the last bastions of the kind of inexpensive lodging establishments that littered the country in the 1950’s and 60’s. Neon signs—with at least a tube or so non-functioning—beckoned travelers in with the promise of the bare minimum. Reno still boasts many. The Castaway Inn, Ace Motor Lodge, Best Bet Motor Lodge, El Dorado Motel, Horse Shoe Motel, Lucky Motel, Keno Motel, Mardi Gras Motel, Swan Inn, Sandman Motel, Rancho 777, Star of Reno Motel, Thunderbird Motel, and, believe it or not, the Ho Hum Motel.
I had nearly settled on the Wonder Lodge, a little dive near the main bus depot, when I roamed farther east on 4th St. and found just what I was looking for.
The Everybody’s Inn Motel had everything going for it. It was from the classic fleabag era of motels. It was depressing, sat off by itself, and better yet, it was defunct, destined to be torn down as soon as someone could rationalize the cost of razing it. I sat outside the decrepit structure and could picture Tinman seeking refuge inside its moldy walls, nursing his battered ego.
I also chose this spot because of its proximity to the ballpark. I’d already decided that Tinman was a baseball fan, so it was nice to know he could walk to games from his home.
The location of the first attempted heist in Posse of Thieves came easily. I was already entrenched in the Historical Society’s research library, learning the history of Reno, when one day I wandered into the museum and discovered Dat So La Lee’s famed basket collection. A small placard mentioned a mysterious theft of the baskets some years earlier, where the thieves were never apprehended, but the baskets had been returned anonymously some twenty years after the theft.
As a writer, it was an ideal situation. An unsolved mystery just waiting for my crew to fill in the gaps. On top of it, the small building in which the Historical Society is housed worked perfectly for the gang’s first caper.
As I began to plot out the heist, I “cased” the building from the outside and noticed the proximity to the world famous Fleischmann Planetarium. It’s striking architecture hatched a new idea, and it became a focal point of the first heist when things start to go awry and Tinman and Peach have to run from the law.
Likewise, the Nevada Museum of Art, served well for the second attempted heist of Dat So La Lee’s baskets. It seemed everywhere I turned in Reno, I found perfect locations and businesses to use in my series. Proof that I had chosen the town wisely.
As I began the second book, Shady Deal, I was looking for a hook to tie the plot together and I found it in an unlikely place. I had been passing an old-time cocktail lounge for many years but had never explored the interior. On a whim, I stopped in at Floyd’s Fireside Lounge for a beer. I wasn’t sure what I was looking for until I saw it.
On one of the walls of the tiny bar was a write-up about the Clampers. I had never heard of the group but apparently one of the owners of the bar was himself a member of the fraternity, and the bar was an official gathering spot for fellow brothers.
Returning home, I immediately began researching the organization, and found to my delight, it was exactly what I needed to tie things together. What better to include in a comedy/caper series than a group whose motto, Credo Quia Absurdum, loosely translates to, “I believe because it is absurd.” It was a perfect fit, and Floyd’s Fireside Chat came along for the ride.
Much of the action in the second book takes place around Lake Tahoe, where I found inspiration at George Whittell’s famous Thunderbird Lodge. Though I did not use the lodge as an actual location, it helped me conjure up a similar type estate where the final heist could take place.
But there was one section of the book where Tinman’s supposed father comes to town and I needed two locations that when placed one after the other would be as divergent as possible, creating the kind of humorous scene I needed.
The first was found downtown under the shadow of a towering hotel. The United Methodist Church. At over 150 years old, it is one of the oldest churches in Reno. Though diminutive in size, it’s beautiful architecture and stunning interior bowled me over. It exudes holiness, sacredness and purity.
So it worked beautifully as a counter to the second location which ended up being the Morris Burner Hotel. Originally a hotel built to house the women who flocked to the city to get the “Reno Cure” during the heyday of quickie divorces, it had since been purchased by a devout “Burner” and turned into the quirkiest of all lodging establishments I have ever seen. Which is saying a lot. Needless to say, I loved it, and the people who managed and lived in the place.
The resulting chapters, juxtaposing the two locations together, ended up being a highlight in the book.
There are dozens of other places in Reno I’ve used in the three first books of the series, but these are few that I thought might entertain. In my next Reno post, I’ll be showing how the city has recently experienced an explosion of color, which has once again transformed it.