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American immigrants, Mexican Californios, Tongva/Gabrieleno Indians and Spanish padres come to life in Barbara Crane’s imaginative re-telling of California’s Mexican era, set in what is now Long Beach and in the pueblo of Los Angeles. As the novel unfolds, its themes of loss, hope and redemption resonate from every page.
Here is the early Los Angeles basin before the American conquest, a portrait of the land and the people painted in brilliant colors … showing the emotions, environment and manmade objects woven carefully and accurately into a tense and very readable novel.
Steve Iverson, Historical Curator (Ret.)
Rancho Los Cerritos Historic Site, Long Beach, CA
Read an Excerpt
Having said that, I want you to meet and get to know the main characters in this novel without having to spend too much time thinking about what existed beneath the cement and the rebar that cover much of California’s landscape today. So, I offer you the following photographs to help you place the characters in their natural setting.
The Los Angeles River
The wild, willow-shored Los Angeles River, or Río Porciúncula, as it was then known. This photo shows how the river might have looked in the 1840s when the whole area abounded with streams, rivers and wetlands.
Rancho Los Cerritos
The rancho, in what is now Long Beach, California, plays a central role in the novel. It was built to serve as headquarters for the ranch and as a home for the ranch owner and his invited guests. Rancho Los Cerritos has been preserved; you can visit it today.
Big-Headed Girl’s Village
An Indian village not far from the river is home to an important character, Big-Headed Girl. A creek, barely visible through the thick willows in the lower center of the picture, runs along Big-Headed Girl's village. After her time, the spring that fed this creek became the city of Long Beach's first water supply. Today, the land is degraded by oil operations, but Willow Springs Park recently opened along its eastern edge.
The Mission San Gabriel
Here is a 19th century drawing which depicts the Mission, the setting for the last third of the novel. In the background, you see the San Gabriel Mountains. In the right foreground, you can see a small portion of the mission's extensive agricultural fields. The long barracks, on the left, housed the Indians who worked at the mission.
Click on the name of the character to meet them
Twenty years before the Civil War, only fifteen hundred souls inhabit Los Angeles, a tiny Mexican pueblo situated on a river bank. The vibrant Los Angeles River runs free and the land around it is a marsh, not a desert. This world of rivers and wetlands is already vanishing when the American immigrant Henry Scott arrives in the Pueblo of Los Angeles in 1843 during the waning days of Mexican rule. Having escaped an abusive father and a life of poverty, he is desperate for a new start.
In a stroke of luck, he meets the successful merchant Don Rodrigo Tilman, whose money, determination and arrogance will help change life in California forever. Tilman eventually makes Scott the foreman of his multi-acre ranch, twenty miles south of the pueblo along the Los Angeles River.
In a village nearby, Big Headed Girl, a Tongva Indian, suffers the deaths of her family members and watches her tribal way of life disappear. Forced to feed herself and her children, she leaves to work at the ranch, where she encounters Henry Scott and ignites his hope of marrying her.
Padre José, the Franciscan friar in charge of the Mission San Gabriel, is haunted by the memories of his father and brothers, murdered by soldiers in his native Spain. He is spiritually dead until a miracle brings him to faith at the end of the novel.
The novel’s dramatic conclusion, when all converge on Tilman’s ranch, will leave you with an altered view of a California that lives on beneath today’s concrete and rebar.
Meet the Author
The novel When Water Was Everywhere emerged from days of crisscrossing the Los Angeles Basin by automobile—sometimes putting 15,000 to 20,000 miles a year on my car in the course of my work as an independent writer and corporate trainer. As I crossed overpasses high above the land, I often turned north toward the soaring transverse range. Known in our time as the San Gabriel Mountains, they ring the Los Angeles Basin. I wondered, “What did the first people on this land think about living in the shadow of these magnificent mountains?
I crossed over the Los Angeles River, saw it encased in its concrete channel, and wondered what the river looked like when it ran free. I drove along the coast and imagined the ships full of adventurers, explorers and holy men who came to California as early as the 16th century, changing the landscape, people and culture forever. All these wanderings coalesced into the novel When Water Was Everywhere.
I graduated from UC Berkeley with a major in history and a minor in English. Given that education, I suppose it’s natural that both of my novels and nearly all my short stories have required historical research—in the case of “Water,” years of it. But I can’t confine my imagination to the bare facts. Characters are born into existence who live the history I’ve read.
Testimonials & Reviews
When Water Was Everywhere is a finely-crafted historical novel in which landscape functions not as background, but as a potent force which both shapes and is shaped by those who occupy the lands that we now know as southern California. Crane's broad canvas shows Anglos, indigenous peoples, and Spanish settlers in conflict and sometimes in concord during the era of colonization; it is a tribute to her artistry that while she does not turn away from the horrors of this era, she brings deep empathy to all her characters.
Anne Finger, author of Call Me Ahab, Winner of the Prairie Schooner Prize for Fiction
Set in California in the early days of El Pueblo de Nuestra Senora la Reina de Los Angeles, and where Rancho Los Cerritos still sits today as a museum, this tale brings to life compelling, and believable characters living and struggling to find their place in the melding of cultures of this time. Barbara Crane has skillfully woven the often conflicting interests of these characters in such a way that it will give the reader a fascination for a period of California history that most of us have forgotten.
Landes Bell, Past President of the Board of Friends of Rancho Los Cerritos
This is a novel of Los Angeles set in the 1840s, when it was a village. Throughout the story, the waters run with little interruption, as three cultures meet in conflict and occasional harmony. The characters, Anglo, Mexican/Spanish and Indian, move within and outside their spheres in widening circles, subject to the land in which they seek to survive and prosper.
Here is the Los Angeles basin before the American conquest, a portrait of the land and the people painted in brilliant colors. The author has taken great pains to depict the lives touched by this clash of cultures, showing the emotions, environment and manmade objects woven carefully and accurately into a tense and very readable novel. When Water Was Everywhere provides rare insight for readers who want to understand the growing pains of the pueblo, village and rancho.
Steve Iverson, Historical Curator, Rancho Los Cerritos Historic Site, Long Beach (ret.)
An excerpt from When Water Was Everywhere won the grand prize in an Outrider Press anthology.
Crane’s smoothly written prose effectively established the physical as well as emotional mood and location, engaging the reader’s attention and setting the stage for action. In every way, not only did her excerpt pass the ‘first page test’ by grabbing audience attention from the beginning, her piece sustains interest throughout via Crane’s accomplished technical skills and beautifully nuanced expressions of emotion.
Whitney Scott, Publisher & Editor, Outrider Press
News & Links
When Water Was Everywhere wins the 5th Annual Beverly Hills International Book Awards in the Historical Fiction category.
- Barbara discusses her book at the Volunteer Council meeting at Rancho Los Alamitos on February 18, 2017.
- As part of Long Beach’s Temple Israel adult learning current focus on water, Barbara presents “Water in Southern California’s Early Days: A Story Told Through Fiction and Photographs” on February 9, 2017.
- For LARiverWorks, a department in Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti’s office, Barbara presents a Lunch ‘n Learn at Los Angeles City Hall on January 24, 2017.
- Barbara presents “The Early Los Angeles River Watershed in Fiction and Photographs” at the Long Beach Aquarium of the Pacific on January 19, 2017.
- Two more book groups will read When Water Was Everywhere in January: an Orange County (Southern California) group and the Banning Museum book group.
- Barbara discusses When Water Was Everywhere at the Belmont Heights Community Association book club in Long Beach on January 15, 2017.
- Barbara is guest speaker of the Book Club at Gatsby Books on Saturday, November 5, 2016. She discusses When Water Was Everywhere. For more information, visit: gatsbybooks.com/new-events
- Barbara Crane reads from When Water Was Everywhere on the Los Angeles River. Friends of the Los Angeles River (www.folar.org) have invited Barbara to read from her historical novel, which is set on the Los Angeles River. Where: the Frog Spot: The LA River Bike Path, 2815 Benedict St., Los Angeles, 90039. Time: 3 p.m. A FoLAR representative will be on hand to answer questions about the river and to guide a short river walk.
- On September 8 at 6 p.m., Barbara reads from When Water Was Everywhere at the Long Beach Public Library, Bay Shore branch located at 195 Bay Shore Avenue, Long Beach, CA 90803.
- If you live in the Long Beach/Los Angeles area, please join us for Barbara Crane’s book signing at Gatsby Books on Sunday, June 26, 2016 at 3 pm. Gatsby Books is located at 5535 E. Spring Street, Long Beach, CA 90808.
- Barbara presents her book to the members of the Long Beach Water Department, Water Board, on June 16, 2016.
- Lagoon House Press introduces their premiere publication at the Press Launch on Saturday, May 14, 2016. When Water Was Everywhere, a new novel by Long Beach, California author Barbara Crane, will be available June 1st on amazon.com and barnesandnoble.com and other outlets soon.
If you enjoyed reading When Water Was Everywhere, there are a number of other websites that will give you more insight into the people, the time and the place. Here are a few of my favorites:
Friends of the Los Angeles River: www.folar.org
Dedicated to protecting and restoring the Los Angeles River.
Heyday Books: www.heydaybooks.com/about
Independent, non-profit press. Publishes many books by and about California Indians.
Rancho Los Cerritos: www.rancholoscerritos.org and Rancho Los Alamitos: www.rancholosalamitos.com
Long Beach, California is fortunate in having two historic ranchos, both exceptionally well-maintained. Both are sources of local history and offer provocative lectures and activities.
Aquarium of the Pacific: www.aquariumofpacific.org
Another Long Beach attraction, the aquarium abounds with learning experiences. Its lecture schedule and weekend activities are first rate.
Long Beach Museum of Art: www.lbma.org
Museum of Latin American Art: www.molaa.com
Los Angeles County Museum of Art: www.lacma.org Many images in my writing are inspired by visits to these art museums.
Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County: www.nhm.org
The 100-year-old museum has been newly updated and features a variety of gardens. The museum calls the gardens “the city’s new backyard."
Malki Museum: www.malkimuseum.org
California’s first museum founded by Native Americans. Also home to Malki-Ballena Press.
Survival International: www.survivalinternational.org
Defends tribal peoples around the world.
Human Origins: www.humanorigins.si.edu
The Smithsonian Museum’s link to research into human origins. Web search “origins of early humans” for other fascinating links.