A century and a half after Mark Twain lived in the area, the Mother Lode is offering plenty of inspiration to author Monika Rose and a growing network of local writers.
Rose has published a poetry collection, helped start a nonprofit publishing company based in San Andreas and is working on a novel. She draws much of her inspiration from small Mother Lode towns and natural settings such as the Tuolumne River.
"When I write on my deck or am outside on my laptop, it's just absolutely quiet," Rose said. "I love the stillness. But it's a different experience every day, just a wealth."
She lives in Mountain Ranch, having first moved to Valley Springs with her husband, Gary, and three children in 1983.
She commutes more than an hour every weekday to her job as an English teacher at Lodi High School. On top of that, she's an adjunct professor at San Joaquin Delta Community College in Stockton.
Every part of Rose's multifaceted life seems drawn together by her love of language, right down to her poetic name. She said she "always knew" she wanted to be a writer.
The daughter of German immigrant parents, she recalls struggling at first with the words in the children's novel "Black Beauty." Soon, though, she was writing poems to go into greeting cards and even posting poems around her Long Beach neighborhood.
Rose first studied theater in college but found it did not suit her personality. She eventually earned bachelor's and master's degrees in English from California State University. One of her more memorable undergraduate classes focused on the sociology of UFOs.
After a few more years of teaching, she plans to retire and focus full-time on "the writing thing."
"River by the Glass," a book that brings together more than 80 of her poems from the past two decades, is printed by GlenHill Publications of Soulsbyville. Rose has embraced multimedia publishing, so it also takes the form of an e-book.
The soft-spoken Rose is not resting on her literary laurels. She is working on a short story collection centered on her childhood in Los Angeles and a book based on her parents' experiences in World War II, filling in the spaces between their memories.
Yet another of her projects is a novel that centers on a composite Sierra Nevada town and community, uniting landmarks from several local towns. She describes it as a humorous mystery novel whose protagonist takes the idea of "neighborhood watch" a little too far.
Rose is not the only one whose creative fires are stoked by Calaveras and Tuolumne counties. The Manzanita Writers Press, the independent press that she founded in 2009, has published works by a few local authors each year.
It also publishes "Manzanita," an anthology of poetry and prose about the Mother Lode and Sierra Nevada, now in a sixth edition called "Wild Edges." The 216-page volume has well over 100 contributors from Northern California, including a recent Columbia College graduate and a teacher at Mountain Oaks School.
Because the Manzanita Writers Press is a nonprofit press, all proceeds from book sales go to their authors, who fund the cost of printing. Community support plays a role, too, with part of "Wild Edges" being funded by a grant from the Calaveras County Arts Council.
The press handles editing, layout and marketing for authors, what Rose calls "the nuts and bolts."
She serves as the Manzanita Writers Press's editor-in-chief, one of a few staff members now looking to expand their ranks. The independent is part of the Calaveras Arts Literary League, along with the local Poets Night and the Gold Rush Writers Conference.
"We have a wide network of writers in our area," Rose said. "We've really made a huge network of friends up and down California."
Luminaries in the Mother Lode literary scene include Antoinette May, the New York Times bestselling author of "Adventures of a Psychic." May and Rose both participate in a critique group called "Writers Unlimited," which brings writers together once a week to offer feedback on each other's work.
The group laid the groundwork for the Manzanita Writers Press and has grown to about 15 people at any given meeting. In addition to being fun, it helps address a fear commonly held by writers.
"They don't like being in front of the public, when your book is held up there and scrutinized and torn apart," Rose said. "That's why our group is so interesting, because it thickens your skin."
Most of the authors in Writers Unlimited are 30 to 60 years old, but the group "loves younger writers," Rose said.
In fact, she hopes her students at Lodi High School learn to love fiction as much as she does. She's worried that upcoming changes to California's curriculum will put fiction on the back burner.
"I don't know what we have for the future," Rose said. "Nobody's writing short stories unless it ties to the (curricular) standards. Our kids need that. They need to be able to create."
One thing's for sure: The local students who do end up beating the odds to write fiction will step into what Rose described as a "literary movement in our region." She foresees the Manzanita Writers Press taking off in coming years.
"It's a really rich community up here, and we're going to publish a lot of people," she said.
Union Democrat photographer Maggie Beck contributed to this article.