Great Expectations

A blog of the Department of English at BGSU:A place for faculty, students and alumni to connect.

Lawrence Coates’ new novel explores wine-making, crime . . .

Posted by bgsuenglish on March 13, 2012

Associate Professor of Creative Writing Lawrence Coates‘ third novel was published February 28 by University of Nevada Press. Lawrence graciously agreed to tell us a little about the creative process that went into the writing of the novel:

The Garden of the World is the tale of a pioneering winemaking family headed by Paul Tourneau, a fiercely ambitious vintner determined to make the finest wine in California.  His plans are disrupted by a phylloxera epidemic at the beginning of the twentieth century, the trials of national Prohibition, and the bitter alienation of his older son.

I came upon the anecdote that inspired The Garden of the World while doing research for my first novel, The Blossom Festival.  The year was 1928, and Prohibition was in effect, and vineyards were going bankrupt or barely hanging on by selling sacramental wine or grapes for the home winemaking market.  Then, a robbery was reported at the vineyard of Paul Masson, in the hills above Saratoga, the town where my mother grew up.  The initial report stated that $400,000 worth of wine was stolen, a fabulous sum in the twenties.  The robbery was never solved, and some conjectured that Paul Masson had arranged to have himself robbed, in order to move some product out of his cellars.

The story gave me a good excuse to spend time learning about grape growing and winemaking in California, which have long been interests of mine.  I spent time in the Napa Valley Wine Library in St. Helena, and the Sonoma County Wine Library in Healdsburg, reading old books about viticulture by Eunice Frona Wait, Agoston Haraszthy, Edward J. Wickson, and others.  I read oral histories about winemaking in the California History Center at De Anza College.  And I talked with Dave Muret, then with Mirassou Winery, about the history of winemaking in the Santa Clara Valley.

The novel I ended up writing is only loosely based on the story of Paul Masson, though it does end with a vineyard being robbed.  Still, while reading about Masson, Haraszthy, Niebaum, and other early winemakers in California, I began to see them as representative figures of the West.  They were pioneers, founders, the kind of men who could build something large and leave damage in their wake.  There’s a certain ruthlessness in their ambition – it’s not completely admirable, but it’s not to be completely condemned either – and the damage they cause has consequences that they might not have foreseen when they began.

Congratulations to Lawrence! His novel can be purchased from the usual fine booksellers!

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