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January 27, 2022

Novel exploring Watsonville’s Croatian history wins award

Author also releases new book, ‘Where Flowers Grow’

WATSONVILLE—“The Apple King,” a novel inspired by Watsonville’s Croatian community and its historic role in the region’s apple industry, recently won the Connecticut Author Project Award and will be featured in an issue of the national Library Journal publication.

Author Barbara Anne King was born and raised in Watsonville as a third-generation Croatian-American. Her great-great uncles were pioneers in the city’s apple industry, which was once the Pajaro Valley’s most abundant crop. 

King had been hosting an event at Kelly’s Books when a reader inspired her to look deeper into the city’s Croatian history—including that of her own family. “The Apple King” follows a Croatian immigrant who finds success in Watsonville’s apple industry, but whose loyalties are tested during his home country’s fight for independence in World War II.

“I had a deep connection to this book,” King said. “It’s not exactly about me, but the Croatians in Watsonville as a whole. Certain relatives and friends really helped me bring the story to life.”

King now lives in Connecticut, but has kept in contact with her hometown, especially when researching for her trio of novels inspired by Pajaro Valley history. It began with “The California Immigrant,” published in 2019, which tells the story of a young Yugoslavian immigrant who moves to Watsonville and finds himself at a crossroads when his Japanese friend is facing internment after the bombing of Pearl Harbor.

The Connecticut Author Project Award is sponsored by the Indie Author Project, a nationwide community of authors, librarians, curators and readers. A winner from each participating state receives a $500 cash award and will be featured in a two-page spread in the Library Journal’s Best of Books.

“I am especially proud to be a recipient of this Indie Author Project award because [they] partner with libraries,” King said, “and libraries have the power to transform the world.”

A state win also means that King can be considered for Indie Author of the Year, which includes more prize money and ongoing support.

“Just to have eyes on my book is amazing,” King said. “Even if I don’t win another award, who knows what else will happen? It’ll be interesting to see what comes of this. My hope is that a lot of librarians will see my book and order it for their library.”

As a self-published author, King says the award feels validating.

“Self-publishing hasn’t always been respected,” she said. “But it’s more popular now. It’s becoming more acceptable.”

King’s newest novel, “Where Flowers Grow,” is the result of her very first manuscript, predating the other two books. The story takes place over several decades, following a man named Richard Bankston who becomes involved in the Pajaro Valley’s cut flower business. After his family falls into crisis due to his wife’s alcoholism, he is then faced with labor shortages, natural disasters and an ever-changing industry. The 1989 Loma Prieta Earthquake plays a “significant” part in the story, King added.

“People can have plans, you can have all the education in the world … but things can still go wrong,” King said. “You can’t always control what happens–but you can control your response to it.”

King said that starting her writing career later in life was, in many ways, a blessing.

“I don’t know if I would’ve ever written these books if I’d started earlier,” she said. “These books came out of me because of my age, because I wasn’t committed to something else. They are the three most important stories I wanted to write.”

For information on King visit her Goodreads page.

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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