“Have you met Mark Twain?” a student asked when I showed a high school English class of mine the photo below. No doubt meeting the great author in person would have been an interesting experience but this photo was taken in Hannibal Missouri more than a hundred years after Mark Twain died in 1910. Although I didn’t meet Mark Twain in person the main character in my upcoming novel Lost on the Prairie does.
The man I’m posing with is actor Richard Garey. I attended his one-man show about Mark Twain. Standing on a stage crammed with Twain memorabilia, Richard did a lively and educational re-creation of one of Mark Twain’s lectures. Mark Twain travelled across the United States entertaining crowds of people in the late 1800s.
In my novel Lost on the Prairie, coming out this spring, my hero Peter meets Mark Twain in an elevator in a hotel in Minneapolis. It is 1907 just three years before the writer’s death. Of course, I have no idea if Mark Twain was in Minneapolis that year. He certainly wasn’t there on an official visit to promote his books, because those visits are all a matter of public record.
But he had been in Minneapolis quite a few times and had always stayed at the West Hotel which is where he meets my book’s hero Peter. So it was possible for me to imagine that he may have made a personal trip to Minneapolis in 1907.
When I attended the Mark Twain drama performance in Hannibal I learned lots of interesting things about the author. He was born and died in years when Halley’s Comet passed by the earth. Due to his wife Olivia’s influence, he became a slavery abolitionist. Twain was a pipe smoker and loved cats. He was a poor financier and lost a great deal of money investing in various inventions. I knew Mark Twain was a pseudonym for Samuel Clemens but I found out Twain used another pseudonym as well Thomas Jefferson Snodgrass.
For the purposes of my novel, I needed to learn about Mark Twain’s family life and it was very tragic. In 1907 when my novel takes place he was struggling with the deaths and illnesses of his wife and three daughters and was dealing with it by drinking too much.
Meeting Mark Twain causes my novel’s character Peter to reflect on how life circumstances can change a person. Peter thinks about how his experience of being lost on the prairie has changed him.