How Seattle Inspires Holiday Bookfest Authors
By Bill Thorness
“She rushes down the dark street, past the glittering bookstores and coffee shops, past the Space Needle with its weird alien suggestions, past the stutter and stammer of rush hour…”
In that line from Anna Quinn’s novel The Night Child, Nora’s view of Seattle reveals her mental state.
The colorful imagery also shows how the Pacific Northwest influences area authors. Some of the celebrated Northwest authors who will appear and sign books at the 10th annual Holiday Bookfest on Nov. 23 offer insights into that inspiration.
“Everybody always asks me where Lillian’s restaurant is” from The School of Essential Ingredients, says Erica Bauermeister. “The kernel of inspiration came from the craftsman house in between the two Guild 45th theaters. I passed it every day and I just thought the idea of a house tucked between two commercial buildings was fascinating.”
Bauermeister, a Holiday Bookfest founder when it was a Seattle7Writers fundraising event, will appear with her new book The Scent Keeper and will also take the stage for a short reading during the Saturday afternoon event. A portion of the book sales will again benefit BFI and PNA.
“I’ve lived in Seattle my whole life, and all my books take place here,” says Rachel Lynn Solomon (Our Year of Maybe). “To me, it’s so much more than a setting—it’s a feeling. A foggy morning at Pike Place, a sunset at Golden Gardens. There’s something about Seattle that feels infinitely hopeful.”
More recent residents also are inspired. “After I moved to Seattle in 2013, I knew I had to weave this vibrant city into my political thriller series,” says J.L. Brown. “In the second book, Rule of Law, FBI Agent Jade Harrington partners with a Seattle detective to investigate a cybercrime. She is pulled back to Seattle in The Divide.”
Even the dark corners of our city can be useful, says perennial Bookfest favorite Kevin O’Brien. “I’ve set nearly all twenty of my thrillers here in Seattle. With all of the area’s forests and different bodies of water, I never run out of places where my villains can dispose of their victims,” he says wickedly. “My latest thriller, The Betrayed Wife, has scenes at Rattlesnake Mountain, Lake Union, the Oddfellows Building and Roanoke Park.”
Author Deb Caletti (A Heart in a Body in the World) weaves in “favorite spots, foods, funny customs (no umbrellas), and sayings (‘The mountain is out’), as well as our moody, atmospheric landscape.” David B. Williams (Stories in Stone) says Seattle’s “close tie to its geology and ecology” has inspired his explorations of “the intersection between people and the natural world.”
And for Jennifer Gold, who will bring her new book The Ingredients of Us, “There’s something magical about our mountains, forests and ocean that just begs to be written.”
Local culture can also offer insight. Gina Siciliano’s new book I Know What I Am: The Life and Times of Artemisia Gentileschi is about a 17th century Italian artist, but she contrasted her character’s struggles with her own. “Just like modern Seattle, 17th century Naples had its own huge population of homeless, skyrocketing rents and rising prices for everything, and a totally unfair tax system,” she says. “Also like Seattle, its people were prone to rising up and speaking out in desperation!”
Nathan Vass sees our modern life from behind the wheel of a Metro bus. “Seattle represents the American experiment in stark relief,” he says. It offers “boundless” material for his writing in The Lines That Make Us: Stories From Nathan’s Bus.
Sometimes a writer wants to disconnect, says Beth Jusino (Walking to the End of the World). “I needed to step away from the always-on digital world,” she says. “So I set out to walk 1,000 miles on a thousand-year-old pilgrimage trail called the Camino de Santiago.”
Kim Brown Seely and her husband took another tack when they wanted to unwind, teaching themselves to sail and setting off on a 1,400-mile watery adventure. “Uncharted is basically a love letter to the Northwest,” she says, and “an intimate account of that summer, digging into the changing nature of love and new life chapters.”
The verdant landscape also offers a siren call to writers.
Louisa Morgan set WWII novel The Witch’s Kind on the Olympic Peninsula and says “My protagonist’s farm is as real to me as my own garden.”
Her Bainbridge Island landscape has always inspired Kathleen Alcalá (The Deepest Roots). “Approaching the puzzle of sustainable living in a place of abundance and prosperity, I realized the answers are all around us – we just need to be willing to implement them.”
Another Bainbridge writer, Lynn Brunelle (Turn This Book into a Beehive) was so enamored of the wild mason bees near her home “that I had to write a book about them that actually turns into a bee house for them.”
Even the neighborhood’s young authors are inspired by their surroundings. At tutoring center Bureau of Fearless Ideas, whose latest anthology of What to Read in the Rain will be available at the event, kids in grades 3 to 5 piped up eagerly with their observations.
“There are cool things to write about indoors, like erasers, what it’s like to be a stapler,” one said. “But outside there’s so much to write about, like trees, birds, snow, clouds, cement…”
A second youth got philosophical: “I’m inspired by the diversity of Seattle, because there’s no right or wrong answer.”
And a third spoke of things young writers see around them, saying “We are inspired by the beautiful planes, the sunsets, the beautiful trees, the Puget Sound, and by all the rain.”
Perhaps it’s the rain that fuels the community of writers and readers, young and older, that also feeds the souls of local authors.
Anderson Coats (The Green Children of Woolpit) is “deeply grateful” to readers who “always turn out in force to support the printed word,” and Jennifer Haupt honed her craft immersed in Hugo House’s “inclusive and diverse literary community.” After her first novel, In the Shadow of 10,000 Hills, was published, she says becoming a Hugo House teacher “was a sweet full circle.”
“Seattle has mostly inspired me through its literary camaraderie,” says David Laskin (The Family). “Writers work in solitude, but when we come out of our damp caves, it’s always nice to find colleagues blinking in the sunlight and smiling shyly.”
Twenty-four celebrated Northwest authors will come smiling into the light at this year’s Holiday Bookfest at the Phinney Center, Nov. 23, 3-5 pm. If you can’t make the Bookfest, find work from all these and many more local authors at Phinney Books.