November 10, 2013

Mary Jean Kelso Shares Her Love of Nevada

What’s a gal like me doing living in a state like this? By that I mean, where I was born compared to Nevada, the two states are virtually opposite in climate and culture.

I was born in Oregon in the Willamette Valley where it rains most of the time. In fact, the natives called it “The Valley of Death” because the weather was so wet.

In 1963, a trip to Nevada showed me the opposite. I couldn’t believe how blue the sky was. The sun actually shined without overcast clouds. I knew right then Nevada was the place for me.

There are people who say the climate is too dry. Those people who need the green trees and grass think the ones that appreciate the brown hills and sagebrush have lost their minds.

All I can say is that it must be in my DNA.

A “change of life baby,” I grew up listening to tales of the early west. My father, Texas born, was especially prone to telling me about Annie Oakley, Will Rogers, Jesse James and his great-grandfather, Gordon C. Jennings, who was killed at the Alamo. As with most of the USA residents, my father never forgot the Alamo.

My great-grandfather was a Texas Ranger. He lived the life of the early West. He led his sons on cattle drives from the time they were small children. Later his daughter and her children traveled the Chisholm Trail with my grandfather.

The West, and especially the cowboy life, is in my blood and my upbringing.

After spending time in Nevada and Texas, I find life in Nevada isn’t too far off from Texas as much as it is from Oregon.

Ten years ago the opportunity arose to make my home in Nevada. I haven’t been disappointed.
Nevada is a rip-roaring western history, rodeo kind of state. Every town that is big enough to be called a town has its own rodeo community. Kids start out young in Pee-Wee Rodeo. All ages through Senior Pro
Rodeo competitors participate. The circuit starts in June and completes with the National Rodeo Competition in Las Vegas in December.

It is nothing to see a cowboy in blue jeans and hat (and shirt, of course. Can’t have you imagining a bare-chested muscle-toned Romance Novel model) waiting outside the rodeo grounds alongside Highway 50 (The Lincoln Highway). His saddle may sit alongside the edge of the asphalt and his load of other trappings, including a bridle, may be slung over his shoulder. He’s waiting to hitch a ride.
Who doesn’t do a double take?

Whether he’s sold his horse or been riding a borrowed one, you know he’s either headed on to the next rodeo or giving up and going home. Broke.

Maybe his luck will be better next season?

The same stick-to-it-iv-ness of the cowboy runs in my blood.
Otherwise, I would not have seen my books published. I could have given up with the first rejection slip or the first recommendation by a publisher that I write nonfiction. I believe that the same stubbornness the cowboy has, that the pioneer women and men had, is what kept me going.

There is a Ken Kesey quote from a character in Sometimes a Great Notion,
“Never give up!”  It is a statement that is made at the beginning of the book and repeated throughout the pages whether verbally or by the character’s actions.

It is something every writer who aspires to be published should heed.

For me, because of that stubbornness, I found success after visiting Virginia City, Nevada. I finally “got it” about history when I saw tangible evidence of it there instead of decayed remains of historic buildings in my home state. The drier climate allowed the structures to remain and people who cared began to take care of them.  

History became an inspiration to me instead of a drudge. The little girl who wore fringed cowgirl skirts, vests and a leather holster with a toy gun in it didn’t give up.

I wrote Mystery in Virginia City and spent 20 years trying to get it published.
“Make it factual and we’ll print it,” was the comment from several publishers.
“No,” was my answer.
“Make it a travelogue and we’ll take it,” another publisher said.
Finally, some true Nevada history buffs offered me a contract.

Since then, Nevada and its historic sites, as well as some of its people, have been subjects of my writing. Sometimes, I admit to factual writing, as a journalist. This led me into writing for local newspapers. Articles and photos with my byline have been printed or re-printed in nearly all of the northern Nevada and international magazines and newspapers.

(Pictures Provided by Author)


  1. We've visited Nevada on seven occasions and driven all over the state including Virginia City and Carson City. My husband would love to move to Nevada, in fact. But our families are in the East. So I don't see that happening. Much look with your novels. I'm certain they are exciting.

  2. Although I'm a green grass and tree person, I do enjoy a good rodeo and the west (Nevada in this case) is the place to go to see a real rodeo. I certainly would choose dry land over all that rain.
    Like most people, I've been to Nevada--Las Vegas and the Hoover Dam, so I haven't seen so much of the country that you spoke if in your commentary. I may have to revisit.
    I really enjoyed reading your post about Nevada.

  3. What a wonderful tour of Nevada. You have painted a great word picture travelogue for those armchair travelers among us, like me.

  4. Hullo Mary Jean, how lucky you are to be able to go back so far with genuine oral history. Generation slips make such interesting family patterns, don't they? Anne Stenhouse

  5. It took me twenty years to publish, too! I love the cowboy way! Gonna make it to the NFR yet!

  6. As a history buff myself, I feel you have focused on many aspects in the State of Nevada often forgotten. It is not all about Vegas. Wonderful piece.

  7. I love the Southwest and want to move to either Nevada or Arizona, but I can't get my husband to leave the East Coast. Our son lives in southern Nevada, in Henderson, and he loves it. We've taken about five trips to Nevada in the last few years. Thanks for the terrific info about Nevada.

  8. Love your post, Mary Jean! I lived in Carson City for over twenty years. When I first moved there it was still a pretty small town and a welcome change from busy southern California. We used to visit Virginia City frequently and, of course, visiting family always made it a stop. Thanks for reminding me. (I love in Arizona now.)
    Marja McGraw

  9. My husband likes the old west, and wants to retire out there. Me, not so much. I'm sure we'll head out there for a visit if we ever get to retire. As long as we can camp there, I'll go.

    Thanks for letting me know what's there to see.

  10. There are beautiful places to see in Nevada, like Lake Tahoe, and there is nothing as beautiful as the wildness of the desert especially when in bloom. I'm your neighbor in the Valley of the Sun in Phx AZ so I too feel the spirit. I once was a little cowgirl with two toy six guns and a cowboy hat, but my horse was a piano bench in Brooklyn, NY. It's not in my known DNA, but maybe a past life? Good luck with your writing.

  11. Sounds like we have a lot in common--I recently moved to AZ from WA, from 300 days of clouds to 300 days of sun! And the West and "cowboy code" is how I grew up in MT.
    Congrats on your stick-to-it-iveness and getting your books published!

  12. Mary Jean, I admire your attitude of stick-to-it-aveness.

  13. I live in the Gold Country of CA. It's quite different from your home, but we have cowboys here, too. I'm glad you found the place where you belong.

  14. Hi MaryJean, good to hear more of your background and writing success.

  15. Thank you everyone for all of your kind comments.
    There are many great State Campgrounds in Nevada for those of you who love to camp. That was how I was able to spend a lot of time here prior to moving. I don't know if they still offer it, but you used to be able to get an annual "pass" to all the campgrounds for a low fee.
    Glad the piece resonated with all of you! Mary Jean

  16. Monica Brinkman said it above: It's not all about Vegas. I admire this author for sticking to her guns about publishing her books. She's very much in tune with herself, where she wants to live and what affects her life. Why not be the same about her books? For her, it paid off. Great blog here.


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