Author Lindsay Hatton no longer lives in Monterey, but her hometown inspired her new book. In her debut novel, Monterey Bay, she re-imagines the founding and the founder of the Monterey Bay Aquarium.
Editing history, she creates Margot Fiske, who, as a teenager, ends up working in Ed Ricketts Lab on Cannery Row alongside Ricketts and John Steinbeck.
Rick Kleffel (RK): Lindsay, this book is set in Steinbeck's Cannery Row, Steinbeck and Ed Ricketts are both characters, that is a bridge quite far for a first writer to cross, what made you want to cross that bridge?
Lindsay Hatton (LH): Oh, I love bridges. I think any writing about the Monterey Bay Area has to include those guys in some way. They started out as being very minor parts of the novel, and the more I started writing about them, the more fascinating they became.
RK: You also found some really interesting women characters in the background of Monterey. Talk about the women characters who fed into creating Margot Fiske.
LH: Absolutely. There are a lot of wonderful historical figures that influenced who Margot became. One of those is Julia Platt, she was the mayor of Pacific Grove in 1931, and was just unstoppable when it came to her personal vision of how the Bay should be. Through some legislation, she devised what would later be known as the Monterey Bay Marine Sanctuary. She was also a strong advocate for public beaches; when they tried to make the beach around Lover's Point a private beach, she did everything in her power to stop that. It was a very Margot-like character in my mind.
And also I had Carol Steinbeck, John Steinbeck's first wife. Like Margot, she was an artist, who specialized in kind of bizarre nude portraits, and was Steinbeck's most important reader and editor, and a very extra-ordinarily strong-willed woman. Steinbeck once said of her, actually in the dedication to The Grapes of Wrath, is "To Carol, who willed this book into existence." She was a tough cookie, a great intellect in her own right, and again, very much like Margot in terms of her demeanor and expectations for her work and herself.
RK: You worked at the Monterey Bay Aquarium for many summers, when did you work, what age were you and how did that feed into your desire to write a novel about the founding of the Monterey Bay Aquarium?
LH: Umm, I started work there when I was fifteen, as a high school intern and then I liked it so much that during the ensuing summers and a little bit in college, during January, J-term, I came back, to do other sorts of things, anything from entertaining the visitors, to cleaning the tanks to preparing the food. Yeah, being behind those tanks on Cannery Row was so inspiring, and for the longest time I didn't quite know what I wanted to do with that. When I decided to write a novel about it, it seemed like the best possible result.
RK: The landscape of Monterey hovers over this book, it shapes this book, it shaped the Aquarium, but the way you shaped the Aquarium is not the way it was really shaped. That's a big change to make in a historical novel. Why did you decide to go with a bit of alternate history, as it were, for that part of the novel?
LH: It always seemed to me that there was an alternate founding legend. From what I know of Julie Packard, the real-life founder of the Aquarium, she is a kind, reasonable person, which is no fun to write about. So much more fun to write about a loose cannon who founds the Aquarium, inspired by heartbreak and revenge. But, yeah, it's such an inspiratinal place for me, such a beautiful place, in so many ways, such an odd place, and for me it was such a wonderful creative and intellectual challenge to create my own mythology surrounding it.
Lindsay Hatton’s new book is Monterey Bay. Find Rick's long-form interview and a book review at NarrativeSpecies.com.
Friday, August 5th
6:00 PM - 7:00 PM
Carmel Art Association
Dolores between 5th & 6th, Carmel