Bartender's Tale Background Notes


The author where books happen

Life sometimes puts us through a rehearsal for a role not yet written. I was mostly raised, like Rusty in The Bartender’s Tale, by my father, after my mother’s early death. My dad—Charles Campbell Doig, “Charlie” to all—was a haymaker: a haying contractor, a kind of freelance foreman, who would hire his own crew and put up ranchers’ hay crops. Bars where I was lucky enough to tag along with him were his hiring halls, so from the time I was about as tall as the elbow he judiciously bent in the nine drinking spots of our small Montana town, I saw a lot of character on display, in the ranch hands and sheepherders and saloonkeepers of half a century ago.

Surely it was at life’s prompting, back then, that I developed an abiding interest in that trait, character, and its even more seductive flowering into a plural form, characters. How could I not, when Dad’s rounds took him and the redheaded, sharp-eared kid always at his side from neon oasis to oasis, presided over by those personalities behind the bar. our favorite, Pete McCabe

The way the sentences are sculpted. Next stop, the computer.

in the Stockman, passed along news as generously as he poured. The now nameless sad-faced bartender in the Pioneer murmured, “Hullo, Charlie, hullo, Red,” as we stepped in, pulled a glass of beer for Dad, and said no more until “Take it easy, Charlie, take it easy, Red,” as we left. Then perhaps to the mix of saloon and short-order joint presided over by the well-fed proprietor known only as Ham and Eggs—Ham for short—where other nicknamed denizens such as Mulligan John, Diamond Tony, and Hoppy Hopkins hung out. Small wonder, then, that my novels tend to have a bartender somewhere in the cast of characters.

The gruff but gifted Tom Harry has persistently shown up, skunk stripe in his black pompadour and his towel tirelessly polishing the bar wood, in a supporting role. Now he more than deserves top billing. Life having given me a runthrough at precisely the wondrous early age when hanging around bars could do me no harm, it has seemed only natural to let my imagination ask the magic words “What if?” and give Tom a bright, inquisitive kid to cope with, along with living up to his reputation as the best bartender who ever lived.


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