Arts & Entertainment

Veteran travel writer publishes first novel - a murder-mystery set in San Diego's Wild West days

Book cover
The cover of "Nemesis." Courtesy

Joe Yogerst has visited or lived in about 130 countries over the past 30-plus years in his capacity as a travel writer, editor, photographer and author. But when it came to the setting of his first novel, he chose San Diego, where he was born and raised and still lives.

"Nemesis," a murder-mystery about a lawman and a journalist who compete to solve a series of high-profile killings, is set in San Diego in the 1880s, when the town was in the midst of a real estate boom but also the home of outlaws, gamblers, sailors and brawlers.

"I liked that period in San Diego history, because it was when San Diego was a Wild West town," said Yogerst, a Carmel Valley resident.

"Nemesis" was published Oct. 30 by Blank Slate Press, and can be found online and at local book stores. The official San Diego launch of the book will be held on Saturday, Nov. 24 from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. at Mysterious Galaxy book store, 5943 Balboa Avenue. Yogerst, 62, will be on hand to sign copies of his book, and talk about his new novel, as well as other novels that have inspired him.

The idea for "Nemesis" had been floating around in his head since the late 1980s, said Yogerst, when he became ill after eating noodles at a roadside stall in Borneo. He holed up in a remote jungle lodge while his traveling companion climbed Mt. Kinabalu. His friend gave him a book to read, "Black Dahlia" by James Ellroy. When his friend came back, Yogerst told him, "I want to write a book like that."

The book went through several iterations over the years. First, it was set in Hong Kong, and later in San Francisco. But his decision to set the book in 1880s San Diego crystalized his vision of the tale he wanted to tell. He began writing in about 2005 and completed his first version in 2015. Over the next three years he landed an agent and then a publisher, and edited the book into its present form.

"It's hard to describe the feeling of finally holding (the book) in your hands, because it's been such a long haul. It's not like holding a child, but as a writer it's pretty close," Yogerst said. "It really whets my appetite for wanting to do more, but I don't know if I want to take 10 years again to write a second one."

Yogerst has had to fit his fiction writing around his travel writing schedule, which has included working on 34 books for National Geographic over the years, along with articles for many different publications, including the Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, San Francisco Examiner, International Herald Tribune (Paris), Conde Nast Traveler, CNN Travel, USA Today, BBC Travel, TIME, Newsweek and Travel & Leisure. His last National Geographic book ("50 States, 5,000 Ideas") was a best seller in the U.S. (#2) and Canada (#1).

Along with promoting his novel, Yogerst is working on a new project, a series of videos about parks in North America for National Geographic and its partner, The Teaching Company. Two San Diego County Parks -- Balboa and Anza-Borrego -- will be featured in the series. Yogerst will write and host 24 half-hour episodes for the series, his first venture in front of the camera.

Taping will take place next spring, with the series available to video subscribers in the fall of 2019.

Yogerst said he is comfortable speaking in public and on the radio, but he is still getting used to talking on camera. "It's a daunting prospect, I have to say,. It's not Shakespeare, but still...," Yogerst said.

Since his current projects feature destinations in the United States and Canada, Yogerst has been doing less international travel -- although he did recently visit Costa Verde, an island nation off the coast of West Africa, and an area of Brazil called the Pantanal, which boasts abundant wildlife.

And in spite of the many places he has visited around the world, Yogerst still has a bucket list of destinations he'd like to see, including Russia and Tibet.

For now, though, his ranging is confined to North America, such as a recent road trip through the Adirondacks in New York state, to conduct research for a new National Geographic travel book and his upcoming video series. One advantage of domestic travel? His wife, Julia, also a writer, is able to accompany him more often.

For more information, visit joeyogerst.com.

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