HOME | THE LITERARY LATTÉ - Stories & Poems | ON MY NIGHTSTAND - Books reviewed | REVIEW - Writing and more|SALON - Interviews, Submission, Contacts|The STACKS - Back Issues



To Sur, with Love: Literary Visions of Big Sur and Monterey

What a trip.

by J. Macon King

We left our old Underwood (just kidding, the laptop came with), embarking on a road trip south for some surf and turf—surfing and mountain biking. Of course we couldn't resist a few literary highlights...

Spending a night in Salinas, we downloaded East of Eden audiobook for inspiration (narated by Richard Poe.) The book is surprisingly dark, graphic and long, with the Eliza Kazan\James Dean movie just at the very end.

A cup of coffee and a browse at the 60's throwback Henry Miller Memorial Library in the coastal redwood grove refreshed us for the rest of the drive to Sand Dollar Beach.

At Plaskett Creek campground our surfin' safari group hosted the only legal campfire (standing propane firepit) which attracted fireflies and alcohol. The fireflies joined in "spirited" discussions of Steinbeck and Burroughs (E.R. not W.) and Miller. Back in the day when men ruled the typewriters.

Another hour, and a few more passed tourists, we could have been at Hearst Castle, which would qualify for our literary tour, as Hearst was a journalist. Next time. Instead we headed back up the coast. Esalen beckoned where The Sun magazine was holding a writers workshop. There we immediately ran into The Sun's founder and 40 plus year editor, steadfast Sy Safransky. In Big Sur, our thoughts turned to Kerouac and to Henry Miller, who one biographer referred to as, “one of the most famous—and infamous—writers of the 20th century.”


Please don't read MillValleyLit Editor J. Macon King's secret, private notes (sshh) down below the photos.

Sunset - the Big Sur coast, photo by Gene "Tarzan" Fischer.


Poster inside the Library.


Literary Sights on the California's Central Coast

The Monterey Pen

"For over a century, Monterey Peninsula has been the inspiration for several famed authors including “Cannery Row” author John Steinbeck, poet Robinson Jeffers and writer Henry Miller whose books were banned in the US until 1961. Ed Ricketts wrote his classic treatise "Between Pacific Tides" after studying the shoreline creatures along Monterey's coast. Even Treasure Island author Robert Louis Stevenson spent some time here. If you're a fan of these popular writers, don't miss the some of the notable literary sites in the area including the National Steinbeck Center, Robinson Jeffers' Tor House and the Henry Miller Library." (from See Monterey web site)


Henry Miller Memorial Library grounds, Big Sur.


Inside the Henry Miller Library.

The National Steinbeck Center 1 Main St, Salinas, CA

from Yelp

"A Model T Ford, like the one mentioned in "Cannery Row" and "East of Eden," sits at the beginning of the Center's chronological overview of Steinbeck's life and times. The multi-sensory tour is replete with big-screen clips from movie versions of his novels starring the likes of James Dean. No matter how much you know about Steinbeck, you'll find a new angle to appreciate. As you end your tour, you'll see the green camper Steinbeck drove through 34 states before he wrote "Travels with Charley," parked right inside the museum.


Take Highway 68 west out of downtown Salinas. You're now in the fertile Salinas Valley, which inspired many of Steinbeck's stories. Turn off to visit the few streets of what remains of the company town of Spreckels. Steinbeck worked here in the early 1920s, at what was then the largest sugar plant in the world. He gained inspiration here for several of his novels including "East of Eden" and "Of Mice and Men."" (From the See Monterey website)


Tor House, 26304 Ocean View Ave, Carmel, CA (photo See Monterey)


Big Sur's Esalen Institute

Esalen Institute bookstore and... - a real cliff-hanger.




memoir by Christie Nelson


Christie Nelson 
Christie is a native San Franciscan, longtime Marin resident, and graduate of Dominican University. Her novels, Woodacre, and Dreaming Mill Valley, reflect a fascination of place and exploration of contemporary characters in search of identity. Her memoir, My Moveable Feast, is a letterpress book produced by Center for the Book. She is finalizing a historical novel with a dash of noir, Forgotten, Treasure Island, 1939. It’s a story of love, intrigue and deception set in San Francisco at the Golden Gate International Exposition. She lives with her husband in the brewmeister’s house of the former San Rafael Brewery. 


memoir by Christie Nelson


            I like to tell people that I learned to water ski off a houseboat in Sausalito. Essentially it’s a lie. But I never feel guilty telling it. 

            There is a houseboat, over on Bridgeway, where the alleged event took place. It’s still there, between Pine and Johnson, in a line up of six other houseboats. It’s second from the far end, clear of the jetty. Technically it’s not a houseboat.  It’s more of a boat-like structure set on pilings.  

            A few days ago the door of the houseboat was half open in the bright sun.  The blinds in the window shut tight. I had come to investigate. A woman approached and smiled at me. I smiled back. She walked the little gangplank to the door, called out, “Monica,” and stepped inside.     

            The person I knew who lived there wasn’t Monica. In ’59, he was a young swashbuckler named Bart. His friend, Greg, and I were sweethearts. I was 17. They were in their mid 20’s. Men of the world. Insurance salesmen by day, Hasting Law Students by night. 

            Greg drove a hunter green MG convertible, rag top. He’d drive us out of the city over the GG bridge, top down, wind in my hair, freckles on my knees. He’d take the curves rolling down into town, onto Bridgeway, past the Glad Hand restaurant, the fountain in the park from Treasure Island in ‘39, the Tides bookstore, the No Name Bar where he taught me how to drink to Scotch, and right back into a parking spot in front of the houseboat. 

            Bart was ready, dressed for action. Faded khaki trunks, no shirt, barefoot. They were both tan from nine hole afternoon golf games.  Bart’s hair was sunbleached; Greg’s eyes were clear baby blue, fringed with black lashes.

            They had a ritual: lots of kidding, how are you’s, slaps on the back.  We ate sandwiches, drank beer.  Then we headed to the stern.  There was the salty tang of the bay, white masts bobbing in the yacht harbor beyond, and gulls screeching. Greg passed me a towrope and lowered himself into an outboard. Bart strapped on water-skis, swung his legs over and perched on the railing.  I passed Bart the rope.  Greg put-put puttered away and waved over his shoulder. Bart shouted “hit it” and simultaneously dropped into the water. Flumes of spray shot out from the skis, and over the throaty growl of the outboard, I heard their laughter.

. . .

            Kappas Marina West is about two miles down from the houseboats on Bridgeway. By ‘81, the Tides was long gone, the Glad Hand had changed hands, but the No Name was still hopping. With the exception of a few relics, every boat on Kappas was a houseboat. A real houseboat. Some gussied up, some simple, all-bursting with pride of ownership. There was a high locked gate to pass through and you needed the combination to enter. The dock was long and I was headed to the very end.  

            The heels on my boots struck a solid rhythm on the planks. The creosote smelled sharp and by then I was old enough to know better than to operate on more than wind in my hair and a Technicolor promise of waterski spray.

            I’m wasn’t sure what to expect, but the last boat on the right, the one where I was invited, was no bigger than a sad little gray trailer and it was listing in the water. But the unobstructed view, aimed toward the Tiburon hills, captured shorebirds lifting off the bay, and you could hardly hear the whoosh of traffic on 101.  

            I walked the gangway and rounded the corner.  On the small narrow deck, there was a sliding glass door that reflected the hills. I tapped on the glass and walked in. An open Murphy bed swallowed up the floor space. A sheepskin jacket was tossed on top. Somehow the man, the jacket and his silver gray Cadillac Seville parked in the lot, all seemed to go together. The first time I rode in the Cadillac, an electrical motor was wedged into the footwell of the backseat.

            “For a job, I’m building,” he had said. Of course, I thought. Why not?  

            Off to the side of the bed a small table and two chairs were wedged against a window. A six foot long galley kitchen, in need of robust cleaning, ran to the opposite wall. The door of the stove was held together with a piece of rope.

            The man popped his head from around the corner. His eyes were boy-scout blue, his shoulders wide, and while I generally preferred shorter men, he was just the right height. He wore turquoise rings and a turquoise stone was studded in his belt buckle.

            “Hello,” he said, his voice deep and resonant. That’s when I noticed a violet orchid on the table, and a flat of strawberries on the counter. Who buys a flat of anything? I wondered. That’s when I decided to stay. 

            Eventually I did learn to waterski but that story is not nearly as colorful to tell as the lie. And I unlearned how to drink scotch, and stay away from men who called “Hit it”— although that took much longer. Those two houseboats are like bookends between which I can view a span of years. The people in both boats gave me immeasurable gifts. Unfortunately the men from the boat on Bridgeway cannot be found. But the man from Kappas? He is still very much around. And that ain’t no lie. 





The Editor's Private Notes


What a awesome Surf and Turf. Four Dreamsicle sunsets in a row for me, super large Hunter’s Moon, Orionid meteor shower, and perfect weather before this week's storm. The tequila campfire (But it’s safe & sane, Officer!) Wed night was classic. Luis’s flamen-ukulele, Molly Moonbeam, and Gui-Tarzan’s yell and fall from the grapevine! A special thanks to Nick, Chris M, Jon for the logistics.

Highlights from the trip:
a) Tarzan discovers Tarzana – (What? They named a whole town after me!?!)
b) Molly Moonbeam’s Hollywood exit – “Goodnight Daddy.”
c) The two headed baby pickle jar escapade.

Here are a few photos. The pano pic and wave crashing on rocks were in Pacific Grove. Other shots are Esalen where the cliff area features tubs, massages and naked tattooed Euro-babes. Highly recommended.

For Chris R, Tom and Tarzan re our conversation about Tarzan, Edgar Rice Burroughs and ghosts - see the articles and fantastic book covers in the back issue of my magazine Mill Valley Literary Review directly at (once there, scroll down).

The sci-fi issue in which I interviewed Blade Runner originator Philip K. Dick’s ex is in current issue. I was impressed Chris and Tom could recite the entire Rutger Hauer roof-hanging movie monologue.

In the film, the dying replicant Roy Batty makes this speech to Harrison Ford's titular Blade Runner character Deckard moments after saving him from falling off a tall building. Deckard had been tasked to kill him and his replicant friends. The words are spoken during a downpour, moments before Batty's death:

"I've seen things you people wouldn't believe. Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion. I watched C-beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhäuser Gate. All those moments will be lost in time, like tears in rain. Time to die."

BTW the Blade Runner sequel is coming 2017!

J. Macon King

Cover art by Norris Burroughs.

Darn, we could have used this in our Sci-Fi issue featuring Philip K. Dick. Available in Stacks.



    HOME | THE LITERARY LATTÉ - Stories & Poems | ON MY NIGHTSTAND - Books reviewed | REVIEW - Writing and more|SALON - Interviews, Submission, Contacts|The STACKS - Back Issues

Author photos, this issue, from the authors.

Kappas floating homes photo by Ric Miller from Floating Homes Assoc. Inc.

uncredited photos by J. Macon King.

© MillValleyLit. All rights reserved. Reproduction of any material without permission is strictly prohibited.