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June 12, 2021

New historical novel explores Watsonville’s Croatian history

Author researches Pajaro Valley’s apple industry

Author Barbara King was holding an event at Kelly’s Books for her novel “The California Immigrant” when inspiration for her next project, “The Apple King,” struck.

A woman approached her and recommended that King read a book called “Blossoms Into Gold,” which follows the history of Croatian people in the Pajaro Valley. King, who has Croatian ancestry herself, was intrigued. 

“I saw a story forming right before me,” King said. “I saw all these connections that I didn’t know, all these histories.”

One part of the book even connected to King herself: Her two great-great-uncles were patriarchs of the Croatian community and the local apple industry, and were the ones who eventually brought her grandmother over.

“I knew immediately, there’s a bigger story here that needs to be told,” she said, “about Croatians’ role in the apple industry, how they helped put Watsonville on the map.”

The historical novel follows a man named Nikola Markovich, who immigrated from Croatia to America to find success in the booming Pajaro Valley apple business. 

Nikola’s life changes years later, when he hears word of his homeland’s fight for independence in World War I—especially when a Slavic diplomat arrives with information that makes him second guess his loyalties.

In addition to “Blossoms Into Gold,” King also used “The Slav Community of Watsonville, California” in her research. The text includes articles from various newspapers, including the Pajaronian, between 1881 and 1920.

“Historical fiction takes a lot more research,” King said. “You’re always checking, ‘Would they have used that word back then? Was that technology available?’ All these little things you have to think about. It’s rewarding, though—you learn so much.”

“The Apple King” is King’s second novel after “The California Immigrant.” The latter did well, earning praise as a Kirkus Indie Read of 2019 and being chosen for the Indie Author Project’s curated collection on Overdrive, a library lending problem.

King now lives in Connecticut, but remains connected to her hometown as often as she can. Before the pandemic, she would often fly West to visit friends and family and do research and hold book signings. 

King says she hopes her new book will be enlightening to all readers, but especially those in the Croatian community in Watsonville. 

“I hope it will give them more pride in their ancestry,” she said. “Learning about the obstacles their families had to overcome, what they were able to do.”

“The Apple King” will be available soon at Kelly’s Books and other small independent bookstores, as well as on Amazon and an e-edition on Kindle. It may also be available at local libraries.

Johanna Miller
Reporter Johanna Miller grew up in Watsonville, attending local public schools and Cabrillo College before transferring to Pacific University Oregon to study Literature. She covers arts and culture, business and agriculture.

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