Readers who love the 19th century “Wild West” will relish learning that San Diego was once dubbed “Scam Diego.” Novelist, journalist and photojournalist, Joe Yogerst, born and bred in Pacific Beach, juxtaposes historical truth with action fiction in a thrilling read, “Nemesis: A Novel of Old California.”
According to Yogerst, “The attraction wasn’t gold or silver, but cheap land, the promise of an oceanfront paradise and the too-good-to-be-true deals offered by local real estate merchants. In the wake of bona fide settlers came the hucksters, con artists, and snake oil vendors – so many flimflam men (and women) that those duped called the town ‘Scam Diego.’”
Touting an era when the American flag hosted 38 stars, “Nemesis,” “as is the case with much historical fiction,” blends true life characters with those who “took shape in my imagination.”
The crimes for which “Nemesis” seeks revenge were inspired by events that occurred in Southern California including the “racism-driven hanging of 18-Chinese men and boys in Los Angeles in 1871 (largest mass lynching in American history); the Moosa Canyon Massacre of 1888 near present-day Escondido; and the Fire of 1872 that destroyed much of Old Town’s commercial district.”
The Beach & Bay Press caught up with the self-described “nerd,” to find out more about the page-turner.
BBP: Describe your early years in Pacific Beach.
Yogerst: I was born in the old Scripps Hospital in downtown La Jolla – the building that now contains the San Diego Museum of Contemporary Art – and spent my first 18 years in Pacific Beach. My brother Larry was the hardcore surfer; I was the nerdy little kid exploring the Bird Rock tide pools, hunting for fossils in Tourmaline canyon, going to movies every Saturday morning (and later Friday night) at the old Roxy Theatre, and getting zapped by a stingray in Mission Bay.
BBP: There’s a lot of history in the book. Are you a history buff?
Yogerst: My parents had organized outings to explore San Diego County. So, the locations in “Nemesis” are places I spent a lot of time – Balboa Park, the Embarcadero, Cabrillo National Monument, Point Loma, Old Town, Horton Plaza, etc. I had a large memory bank of San Diego’s geographical points. After that, I read books about the Wild West era in San Diego and the amazing Journal of San Diego History, and old copies of the San Diego Union at the History Center in Balboa Park.
BBP: Favorite characters?
Yogerst: Hey, I like them. I'm especially fond of Cradoc because I see him (rather than journalist Nick Pinder) as the closest to being like me; although, Nick carries my attitudes, traits and foibles.
BBP: What do you hope to impress upon people with “Nemesis?”
Yogerst: To show San Diego’s rich and varied history, especially the city's colorful Wild West period between 1850 and 1890. Deadwood and Dodge may have had the repute as the West's most badass towns, but San Diego wasn't far behind. And the heady blend of cowboys and sailors literally gave it an extra punch.
BBP: Describe “Nemesis,” the character.
Yogerst: I've always liked stories about anti-heroes and anonymous vigilantes like Robin Hood, the main character in “V for Vendetta,” and Southern California’s Zorro. I think many of us are attracted to characters that step outside the lines to remedy injustice because we see what’s going on in the real world. We want to believe that people work behind the scenes to fight evil.
BBP: Did you enjoy writing “Nemesis?”
Yogerst: For sure. But it's not easy being a writer, spending hundreds of hours of sitting by yourself and living inside your own head instead of mixing with coworkers or other human beings. It takes discipline to keep creating when everything is derived from your own brain. “Nemesis” was a 10-year, labor of love that took place around my other journalist work. But I was head-over-heels with the story, its characters, and of course, old time San Diego.
BBP: Is there Nemesis II?
Yogerst: There are discussions about writing a series based on the lead characters.
Yogerst has written articles on travel, business, culture and sports that have appeared in the Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, San Francisco Examiner, International Herald Tribune (Paris), Conde Nast Traveler, CNN Travel, USA Today, BBC Travel, Time, Newsweek, Travel & Leisure, and 32 National Geographic Books.