The California Channel Islands And The Seeds of a New Idea

One of my favorite books as child was The Island of Blue Dolphins by Scott O’Dell. A Newberry Award winner published in 1960, it’s the story of Karana, a Chumash Indian girl who is left alone on San Nicholas Island off the coast of California.  When a Russian ship arrives for the purpose of hunting sea otters, a fight breaks out between the Russian fishermen and the native island dwellers. Karana is the lone survivor on both sides.

San Nicholas is one of the eight channel island off the coast of California. Some of the islands are desolate and deserted, home to only birds and seals. A few of them are used by the military, and others form the Channel Islands National Park. Only Catalina Island, located 22 miles off the coast of Los Angeles is populated.

These islands strike me as a perfect setting for a historical romance, in part because of Margaret Holden Eaton and her autobiography, Diary of a Sea Captain’s Wife.  A Canadian woman, she relocated to Santa Barbara around the turn of the century.  There she met a sea captain and married him in 1903.  They moved to Santa Cruz Island, the biggest of the eight islands, where they ran a small hunting and fishing business.  The island was inhabited with wild boars, otters and all sorts of sea life. The Eatons and Santa Cruz Island somehow caught the eye of 1920s Hollywood. A few movies were filmed there, and Margaret’s book shows pictures of actors John Barrymore and William Boyd in his pre Hopalong Cassidy days.

What an interesting setting these islands would be for a book . . . It’s one of the places I can feel in my bones.  I’ve never been to either Santa Cruz Island or San Nicholas Island, but I once had the pleasure of camping on Anacapa Island.  Standing on what’s literally a slab of eroding land twelve miles off the coast, seeing the city lights so far away and hearing only the lap of waves–not noisy cars–is an experience I treasure to this day.

Then there’s Catalina Island . . . Catalina is a populated tourist spot and has a history all its own.  My own best memory is taking a boat to the island for a family weekend.  Halfway there we were suddenly surrounded by an acre of dolphins. At least a hundred of them were jumping in perfect arcs right in front of us. I’ll never forget that scene . . . I wish I had a picture of it, but we weren’t quick enough (or skilled enough) with the camera to get a shot that did the moment justice. I’m planning to use this scene in the book I’m working on right now, a contemporary romance for Bethany House.

California’s in my blood.  How about you?  Where are you from and what are you favorite bits of local history? I’d love to hear about your home towns and places that are special to you!

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12 thoughts on “The California Channel Islands And The Seeds of a New Idea”

  1. It sounds like an incredible place to visit. I have never been to that side of the country, but would love to visit one day. I guess if I were to pick someplace in Texas that I love and has a lot of history, I would have to go with Galveston. It’s too much for me to write, so here’s a link if anyone is interested.

  2. Island of the Blue Dolphins was the book that started my love of reading. I lived in SoCal, I was a Chumash Indian Maiden, I had been to the mission mentioned at the end of the book… Since then I’ve read most of Scott O’Dell’s books and used them to get my kids hooked on reading, too.

    I went to church camp at the isthmus of Catalina Island a couple of years. Not a luxury camp by any stretch of the imagination. I was there when Charles and Diana were married and we watched it in the mess hall – the only “room” with any electricity – in what seemed like the middle of the night.

    So all that is to say, YES! I think you should definitely write a book with that backdrop. 🙂

  3. Fascinating research with the sea captain and his wife. I grew up in the Santa Barabara area and never heard that tale. I can remember going to the beaches there and being able to see the Channel Islands off in the distance, but I never visited any of them. I’m excited to learn more of their history. Great book fodder, Vicki!

  4. Never been to the Channel Islands, Vicki, but I loved Island of the Blue Dolphins. I’m guessing million of young girls have wanted to be like Karana on that island. What a great role model she was.

  5. I grew up very close to the Channel Islands! We loved them! I loved Island of the Blue Dolphins as a child too. One of my favorite books still today. I was thrilled when one of my daughters started reading it in elementary school and kept reading it over and over. She still has it and she’s a college senior! I just reread it a couple years ago! Thanks for reminding me about it again!

  6. Hey Jenster! My father-in-law used to do a lot of sailing. Catalina was a favorite destination, including Isthmus and Emerald Bay. Really enjoyed those days!

  7. Hi Karen! I picked up the book at a museum in Santa Barbara, along with another local history anthology. There’s something exotic about islands, even ones fairly close to the mainland.

  8. My hometime is currently using “Where fiction meets history” as the theme for their tourist brochure. The history is being about halfway between Saratoga and Lake George on the Hudson River an area very important in the
    French and Indian War of the 1750’s and the Revolutionary War. The literature is James Fennimore Cooper’s “The Last of the Mohicans”. Cooper’s cave, as we knew it, is in the rocks underneath the bridge across the Hudson River. There are several movies of this story and none of them look like this steep, rocky stretch of the Hudson River as it flows through the foothills of the Adirondacks. It has always made me wonder why movie makers choose to use settings so different from the ones described in the books their stories are based on.

  9. Hello Hilltop Farm Wife! History and tourism go together like potatoes and gravy. As much as I love the beach, there’s nothing like a “you are there” history experience. What a rich tradition for your home town!

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