Vol. 13. No. 3
Winter 2003

Author Lawrence Coates intertwines comedy and calamity in bringing history to life.


“The National Intention cleared Cape Henry and sailed for California with a crew of glory-hungry warriors, would-be merchants, homesick children, lovelorn men, all under the command of the restless and questioning Commodore Jones.”
The Master of Monterey

So begins the journey to war by the ragtag crew of the sailing ship National Intention, on which Commodore Thomas ap Catesby Jones, a man whose “chaste” woman betrayed him in favor of his more successful brother, sails to gain glory and bring peace to the people of Mexican California.

Author Lawrence Coates PhD’97 based his novel on an actual occurrence in California’s history— the bizarre mistake made by the crew of an American naval ship, commanded by Thomas ap Catesby Jones, when they conquered the capital of Mexican California, only to find that the were, in fact, at peace. When the commodore discovered the unfortunate error and its impact on his place in history, he had no choice but to give the capital—Monterey—back to Mexico.

Coates depicts the longings of the crew, however humorous, as characteristic of man’s view of the future—his dreams of escaping to a better place, fleeing the past, becoming a new person—and the overriding conflict between history and reality.

In developing the characters of the crewmembers, Coates reveals with subtle humor the deficiencies of each man. Commodore Jones, for example, dreams of fame as a conquering hero who will bring freedom and democracy to the Californians and dedicate his achievement to his lost love. Hannibal Memory, the commodore’s steward and a former slave, determines to remember the details of his capture and the death of his own love while languishing in the cages below deck on the slave ship. Jimmy Bush is coaxed aboard ship by the promise of finding his parents, who “forgot” to take him as they headed toward the western commodore, regaling with exaggerated imagination the stories told him by other crewmembers. He regularly records history before it happens, always depicting Jones as the hero.

Having served in the United States Coast Guard for four years and the Merchant Marines for another four, Coates knows the sea and shipboard terminology, which contributes to the veracity of the story. Writing comic fiction in any setting is “difficult,” he says, “perhaps more difficult than writing ‘serious’ fiction.” He learned some of the basics by studying a number of successful serio-comic writers ranging from Cervantes to Joseph Heller.

Coates grew up in El Cerrito, Calif., and vacationed in Monterey many times in his youth. He got the idea for the book when he came across the story of Jones’ mistaken conquest in a general history of California. “I was doing research for The Blossom Festival [his first novel] at the time,” Coates says, “and I was reading broadly in the history of the West. It struck me as a perfect comic set piece—the opera bouffe of western expansionism. And even though Jones was a real historical figure, I wanted to make him a quixotic soul, a comic Ahab, a person who believes the world will yield to the desires of his imagination.”

Coates, a graduate of the U’s creative writing program, says, “The Ph.D. program was absolutely essential to the writing of The Master of Monterey. I was able to follow my interests in the American West as well as my literary and creative interests.” Coates taught creative writing and composition at Southern Utah University in Cedar City and is currently director of the creative writing program at Bowling Green State University in Ohio (2003; University of Nevada Press, Reno, Nev. 89557-0076; paper; $20.00).


A collage of images and words, transcending boundaries.

When photographer Anita Schiller and poet Susan Noyes
Anderson BA’73
combined their talents to create a new coffeetable book, they did so with a specific goal in mind. They wanted to convey to their readers the concept “that every member of the human race belongs to one family, united in ways that transcend boundaries, bloodlines, and even biases.” His Children embraces this concept and evokes a full range of human emotions—from laughter to reflection to sorrow.

Schiller, a native of northern California, knew by the age of
19 that she wanted to produce a book on photography. After a successful 20-year career in the high-tech industry, she pursued her love of photography. His Children is composed of photos she took in the United States, Europe, and South America over a period of more than 30 years.

Anderson did postgraduate work in marriage, family, and child counseling and has worked in individual and family therapy. She has published widely—books, articles, poems, and stories—and is a regular columnist for Deseretbook.com. She and her husband live in California and are the parents of four grown children (Vantage Point Press, Saratoga, Calif. 95070; paper; $21.95).

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