Paul Dorpat, Archivist of Seattle

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Picture it: Duvall, WA. April 28, 1968.

There’s a 500 pound piano, suspended by helicopter, over a woodpile surrounded by lit votives. Why? Why not?

After my meeting with Paul Dorpat at Ivar’s Salmon House and scratching a few microns into his reign as the historian of the Puget Sound Region, I imagine scenarios like “The Piano Drop”, the event that spawned the Sky River Rock Festival four months later, are liberally sprinkled throughout his life.

Dorpat has authored and contributed to more than a dozen books on Seattle history, co-founded and edited Helix, is the principal historian of History Link, and for more than 30 years, he’s written Seattle Now and Then, a visual diary of the city’s evolutionary ambitions, for the Seattle Times. Despite this, when I approach him for a meeting he assures me that I probably know more than he does. I suppose that’s how one acquires a granular knowledge of a place and its people, via constant vigilance for an unfamiliar perspective. I can reassure you Reader that I am in no danger of eclipsing Dorpat’s knowledge of Seattle anytime soon. In fact, the Cryptid Coterie series was inspired by his research.

That being said, don’t blame Dorpat for the fanciful liberties I’ve taken with history, the Yesler family tree, the personalities, motives, and habits of the Denny Party (the founding families of Seattle). ‘Tis fiction. “Minnie Gagle Yesler was involved in the death of Henry Yesler? But how?” he asked. Because Magic Paul. I explained that my novels also include cryptids and mythology so no, I have no proof the heirs to the Yesler legacy have lately met with mermaids aboard the defunct MV Kalakala. I also don’t have definitive proof they haven’t. Shrug.

Still, speculative fiction is not Dorpat’s wheelhouse so we focus on the various creative avenues his appetite for history have taken him down. In addition to being a living treasury of the past, he’s also created a photo series called Wallingford Walks, and he’s working on a novel about Ivar Haglund, famed restaurateur. We bond over the endless allure of just one more click on Wikipedia, the necessary neuroses of the writing process, and the things you want to change after you’ve released a book into the wild of the world. When I ask him about the differences in his approach to writing versus photography, he’s puzzled by my insistence that there’s a connection. I maintain that the storytelling in image composition shares DNA with writing, but because I’m not a photographer, perhaps not. Dorpat explained that anyone with a camera is a photographer. “I’m a Promiscuous Photographer, I can just drive down the street taking pictures of everything and anything.”

I rather like the idea of Promiscuous Creativity, and Dorpat seems an archetype of Promiscuous Curiosity, also a good thing. He’s a pioneer in the Seattle tradition of D-I-Y and committing to the life of the mind. His first volume of Seattle Now and Then, was self-published when he had no money, solely on the credit of his assurances to the publisher that it would sell well, and it did. According to him it was luck; there were no other amateur historians focusing on regional history to the exclusion of everything else, but his legacy is inspiring because you can’t be lucky if you’re not prepared to act on a benefactor’s leap of faith.

About “The Piano Drop” spectacle: Dorpat maintains that it wasn’t his idea, he was just the ringleader and promoter. His friends did all of the organizing. They merely wanted to hear what it would sound like when it landed. The helicopter pilot was fearful about the physics involved in hoisting and releasing the piano, but up they went. Dorpat wasn’t near the woodpile, he was further away, trying to keep people out of the drop zone. His unease grew the higher the piano went, and when it was released, “something in my gut or my heart just came up”, Dorpat gestured around his impressive snowy beard. The piano came down into the soft mud near the woodpile, with scarcely a sound. Because shrapnel is a thing, this was likely for the best, but considering the absurdity of the plan, the outcome of the event becomes outright hilarious.

My meeting with Dorpat was cut short by the growing noise of a busy lakeside restaurant on a beautiful day, and my powerful fear of evening Seattle traffic, but stay tuned for our rematch. Paul has promised to answer more questions than he asks next time. I don’t believe him, but I’m still looking forward to it.

For more from Paul Dorpat visit pauldorpat.com and check out his latest book, Tradition and Change on Seattle’s First Hill: Propriety, Profanity, Pills, and Preservation

W

Turning to the Light

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If you’re black and American, or simply a human who values the lives of other humans equally, it’s been a horrific week. I’ve said plenty on Twitter, so I won’t revisit here, but know that the malignancy of American racism flourishes in the hearts you’d least expect it and almost nothing is done to curtail it.

After several days of reflecting on it, I consulted one of my influences for guidance, the regal Toni Morrison.

This is powerful and instructive. I must not waste time refuting the absurdity of racism to the detriment of doing meaningful work.

Because today is the summer solstice, I want to share a review of my annual read, Imajica by Clive Barker.

ImajicaImajica by Clive Barker

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Every Midsummer, I dream of the Dominions.

Imajica by Clive Barker is one of my all time favorite books as a reader. As an author, this novel is a master class in world building. Barker’s details are impeccable, but that’s not all that impresses me. I’m drawn back into the story of Gentle, Pie, and Judith, on an almost annual basis, because fantasy and imagination on this scale, with complex and diverse characters is rare. If all you know of Clive Barker is the Hellraiser movies, and you love epic and contemporary fantasy, go get this book right now. Probably read the Abarat series first to train for a twisting “not your mama’s fantasy novel”, but then dive right in.

I have two editions, a hardcover single volume, as well as a greatly abused single volume paperback with an illustrated appendix. I couldn’t say why there’s a paperback version of the book split into two volumes, but I will say, this book is best read in one go. It was never intended to be serialized.

Even though I’d read nearly all of Barker’s other work, and knew he was not shy about visceral, bizarre, multiple ethnicity, queer, feminist themes, the first time I read Imajica, I couldn’t believe a woman hadn’t written it. This book is a big ass love letter/apology to gender studies. A heartbroken gender fluid, ethnically ambiguous assassin, is in many ways, the voice of reason. A man and a woman each at war with their biological definitions of themselves, are struggling with identity and culpability. All this was written in 1991, when diversity in speculative fiction wasn’t a hashtag movement because there was no such thing.

Ancient mysterious rites of women is familiar territory for Barker. His novels are full of dangerous women who are perhaps behaving badly, but not without provocation. His constructions are as grotesque as they are gorgeous, but not in a way that raises men above women or vice versa. There’s a sense of women having so far lost all the gender battles, but the war is very much still a go. Judith, Quaisoir, Clara Leash, and Celestine are a lively and problematic bunch.

Aside from all this heavy duty battle of the sexes, religion, dictatorship, murder, and whatnot, there is fantasy crack making each Dominion vivid and threatening. I want to stroll the Merrow Ti Ti, shop in Patoshoqua, and of course reconcile the Dominions while defeating the Autarch and the Unbeheld.

There are parts of the book that drag on the plot,like Little Ease, but, raise your hand if your own internal monologue has ever been negative to the point of derailing your entire life. I think of the Clerkenwell diversion as an odd bit of realism. If you’re trying to save the world and change it irrevocably at the same time? You shall overcome some inner turmoil. Unfortunately for Gentle, his is a bit…insistent.

Imajica has a massive character roster with peculiar species and all sorts of unnatural phenomena. It’d be a parable if it wasn’t SO long.
The story takes common plot conventions like love triangles, assassinations, and blood thirtsty madmen, adds insanely inventive imaginary things that you’re certain exist, and weaves them into an adventure tale about self-discovery. Damned impressive.

View all my reviews

Our Novels Ourselves

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Writing is therapeutic. Sometimes I like writing about mermaids. Therefore, I have invented the Mermaid Self-Help genre, an exciting development in literature and mental health.

We all know that writers put observations about themselves and their world in their work. The challenge then becomes how to create authentic characters without sliding from forgivable Author Avatar to indigestible Mary Sue. Tangent: the best explanation I’ve ever read about why the Mary Sue template “works” is The Oatmeal’s take on Twilight. Good writing invites readers to connect with the authenticity of a character’s experience rather than the optics of the reader’s mirror image. The main pitfalls are confusing archetypes with default relatability and being oblivious to how much of your work is effortlessly you.

I’ll explain.

Mary Sue characters are directly connected to one of the fallacies against diversity in books. Able bodied readers who don’t kill people will connect with your down on her luck quadriplegic assassin (I have to write that now, tucking it into the idea file) just fine if you promise them a really good story and deliver. Sure it’s possible to give an Every Hero archetype a single feature that makes him so unique he is both familiar and totally novel from the outset, but considering the breadth of fiction ever printed it’s not plausible. Guy transforms into a robot dragon in space has probably been done already. Try harder, do better. I doubt J.K. Rowling consciously set out to make a Diverse Book, by creating Cormorant Strike, a veteran with a prosthetic limb, it was merely a side effect of expert character creation.

Taking my own advice, the Cryptid Coterie series was an act of therapy from the outset. When I started writing it, I was stuck in Seattle. The move I desperately wanted was not in my cards at the time, and it was my outlet for working through it. Toni Morrison said write the book you want to read, so I did.  Characterization is one of my strengths as a writer so while Tabitha is without a doubt my Author Avatar (but then so was her antagonist Irene) there are significant things that separate Tabitha from being a Mary Sue copy of me. Flaws were an integral part of Tabitha’s build. I didn’t want to write about the perfect, gold-hearted elemental that triumphed over the mean two-dimensional people. I wanted to create a living, breathing person and that meant obnoxious personality traits. Tabitha is a fair parody of myself at her age, in a wardrobe of self-awareness as well as wish fulfillment. Likewise Irene was Neutral Evil but also an exploration of aspects of myself. Dividing the chapters between them allowed for an antagonist with her own demented humanity that readers could identify with. The Villains we love to hate are successful because on some level, we understand them. We applaud them even.

When it came to being vulnerable in writing, I discovered that I was infusing my work with vulnerability without even trying. Every word comes from some nook deep inside the writer, how could it not be revealing? Blame shifting is difficult when it’s your name under the title. My magic happens when I can take the Reader to that same place inside themselves.

Go forth, and trope responsibly.

W

The MixTape

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I’m starting to feel the heat of the Broken Wave deadline. In a good, “I will not let this sequel become vaporware” kind of way. When the writing gets real, I reach for my headphones. Music is an integral part of my everyday life and my creative process. I wouldn’t attempt to write a book without music anymore than I’d agree to a single minute at the gym without a playlist. It’s my preferred way to push through to the finish line.

As a blerd my musical appetites are diverse, sometimes unexpected, and intense. Judge my taste all you want Internet, cause I can’t hear you over the awesome.

When I wrote Girl Out of Water, I tried something new: making a core playlist for each POV character. So when I switched from the Tabitha chapters to the Irene chapters, I’d switch up the music too.

The combined Girl Out of Water playlists were almost 1000 songs strong, but here are some of the highlights.

Favorites from the Tabitha chapters of Girl Out of Water

Favorites from the Irene chapters of Girl Out of Water

These tracks are for the drafting process which tends to be more subtle and plodding as does the music.  The music I listen to during drafting registers in the faintest possible way. It’s almost a security blanket, but it has to be present in order for me to feel right even if I’m not consciously focused on it. Broken Wave’s initial draft was split between Seattle’s cryptid history and how that affected Tabitha’s time, so the playlist included a lot of classical music and instrumental. It’s shifted slightly more contemporary since that focus has been cut.

Broken Wave Playlist Highlights

Editing is where I get complicated. It’s not that the Lilith Fair-ness of it all goes away during editing, it’s just outnumbered and overpowered by EDM, arena rock, and yes Reader, Kanye by the pound.

There are only 47 days until the release of Broken Wave, expect more dispatches about the struggle right up until the deadline.

W

Pre-order Broken Wave Now

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Pre-order your copy of  Broken Wave (Cryptid Coterie Book 2) on Amazon now, available everywhere July 28, 2015

Deja What Now

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The best 404 error ever.

I prioritize time spent writing over time spent blogging about writing, hence the awkward radio silence for the last six months. Oh, also a contributing factor: as soon as I came home from 3.5 weeks in Scandinavia, I promptly planned a 5.5 week return trip to Europe.

I’ve been back in Seattle for just over 3 weeks, and while I feel much better about the overall direction and progress of Broken Wave, I’m focused on precision over speed, since the angry mob demanding its swift release has wandered off in search of brunost and chocolate. Angry mob, population: 1, answers to the name Winifred.

Whilst gallivanting, and working long hours at the day job in order to afford said gallivanting, my vision of  the novel sharpened. I sculpted contours with a machete. I hacked the ever-loving shit out of its structure to reveal the gem beneath. What’s taking shape is the literary equivalent of mixed-media outsider art that people only pretend to appreciate, but its a better approximation of what I wanted to say all along, than the novel I almost released last summer.

What mystifies me about the creative process, is how much easier it isn’t the second time around. I thought figuring out if I was capable of conceiving and completing a novel, was the hard part. I thought there would be, like, a second book discount on process angst. A 15% shave off production time, and zero plot confusion down. It turns out that writing the first novel (if writing novels is what you want to do forever and always), is akin to arriving at base camp. This is not the summit, the summit isn’t even visible from here.

After I got over the initial paralysis of my own hopes for the Cryptid universe and some of the reader insights in reviews, I fell back on what I want to people to feel when they read the next installment in Tabitha Slate’s story, and the things these characters were going through. I also unlocked the author achievement of real-time therapy on the page, writing through the demons I’ve been exorcising for the last 18 months or so. There is nothing like surrendering to the storm upending your world. I’ve been leaning into the wind snatching at my every step. It’s been a hell of a ride, but I’m better for it.

The distraction of navigating new environments with strange food (fish for breakfast now makes total sense to me), languages, and customs (dear Berlin, stop closing down Schonefeld airport between flights, some of us arrive early and it’s mean) helped refine my perspective. I had a few insights into the gift of failure. In Particle Fever, the documentary about the first experiments at the Large Hadron Collider, one of the scientists said “…jumping from failure to failure with undiminished enthusiasm is the secret to success.” This is the essence of writing I think, unless you’re one of those people who is annoyingly secure about your writing. Yes the quote is a paraphrase of that Magnificent Bastard of the 20th century, Winston Churchill, but if I just quoted Churchill, how would you find out that I watch documentaries about particle physics?

The second and much more grand lesson in failure happened in Stockholm at the Vasa Museum. Imagine for a moment that you have created something ornate and expensive but ultimately, utilitarian, like a house. Or in this case, a ship. Then imagine that on its first day as a functioning object, your opus sank like a carefully planned sarcophagus to the bottom of the sea. That’s what happened to the Vasa, the expansive 17th century refueling ship of the Swedish navy, that sailed only 1300 meters (less than a mile) on its maiden and final voyage. Today the Vasa Museum employs archivists, docents, and scientists tasked with its preservation. The ship’s carved detail and intricacy is second only to its breathtaking scale (over 50 meters tall and nearly 70 meters long). Its spectacular failure as a seaworthy vessel is what guarded the Vasa from historical obscurity. Had the ship made it into open seas, saltier water and shipworms would have eaten it away. Instead it lay beneath the water awaiting rescue, for more than three centuries..

As I wandered the Vasa Museum, or as I like to call it, Sweden’s Fail Monument, I took comfort that someday, some stranger might find my work buried beneath the ocean of content proliferating around the world, and then, I pressed on writing.

W

What Had Happened Was…

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I totally blew my deadline for Broken Wave. In fact, I’m still in the process of blowing that deadline, as much as I am simultaneously in the process of correcting the matter by wrestling my manuscript daily. Let me explain.

Working an obscene amount of hours at my day job while moving across Seattle to better facilitate that workaholism didn’t help, but truthfully gentle Reader, that’s not why Broken Wave isn’t yet ready for purchase. As ever, the reasons are writer angst, procrastination, and “Is this good enough? No? Ok, how exactly do I fix that?” The story at its core, has stayed the same, but I’m not sure about a few choices I’ve made, and if I change them, I have to change the whole damn book, and possibly the next book in the series as well.

The only way I fail is if I stop completely right?

The only way I fail is if I stop completely right?

To punish myself for missing my publication deadline, I’m sending myself on a mini sabbatical into writing exile. Abroad. For 26 days. I hope that when it’s over, I return from Sweden and Norway with more confidence in my creative decisions, and clarity in general. I need to turn my routine upside down a bit, and delicious Scandinavian coffee brewed to exacting preference, fjords, and Viking ships are just the ticket. To further atone I will make travel porn posts, put Girl Out of Water on sale, and talk to myself quite sternly about the importance of sweat equity for the dream. I’ve always known that I don’t need a precious loft, a fancy trip abroad, Moleskin notebooks, or any tools in particular to write. I’ve discovered that I do need time to wander away mentally, to daydream the “What Ifs” that fuel my fingers at the keyboard, free from a thousand urgent requests and tasks that must be done right now. I might also need rain. I don’t like trying to write in beautiful weather. Fortunately for my production, it is once again Fall in Seattle. When I return, expect at least a novel excerpt. I will release Broken Wave sharpish, if only to introduce you to Ursalynn Wade, who talks to me at all hours of the day and night.

A special thanks to Meredith Morgenstern, contributor to Holiday Magick, for featuring me in her Speculative Fiction by Women of Color project.

It’s not too late in October, there’s still time to join Seattle Geekly’s Extra Life 2014 charity gaming team or to help them reach their fundraising goal of $500.

Writer Behind Schedule. Send Glitter, Coffee, & Downpours.

W