Beginning as a weekly coffee date between Jennie Shortridge and Garth Stein, the Seattle7Writers has turned into a league of superfriends in the writing world. The group includes nine core members and more than 30 “friends.” To give you a sampling of who we’re dealing with, writers who support the group include Tom Robbins, Jim Lynch, Mary Guterson, Terry Brooks, Elizabeth George, Erik Larson, and everyone’s favorite librarian, Nancy Pearl.
Not that it needs to be said, but this isn’t your typical writers group. They don’t meet to discuss and critique each other’s writing. Instead, their goal is to support literacy in the Northwest by donating books to people who don’t readily have access, curating events at independent bookstores and libraries in the region and donating proceeds from writing workshops to literacy programs.
One of the biggest fundraisers the Seattle7Writers has organized so far has been their collaborative book project, which resulted in Hotel Angeline: A Novel in 36 Voices. A week-long project that took place last fall, the book is the product of 36 Pacific Northwest writers who each had two hours to add their touches to the story. The authors were provided with a basic summary of the novel, but the sky was the limit when it came to adding the details. Oh yeah, and the entire writing extravaganza was performed live on stage at the Richard Hugo House in Seattle—and on an online livecast. Some of the donations from this project were raised as Nancy Pearl auctioned off characters in the book; the highest bidders got naming rights for a character. The authors also donate 50 percent of the proceeds from the sales of Hotel Angeline to award grants to nonprofit organizations that promote literacy and the arts. So far, they have helped raise more than $11,000 for various literacy organizations.
In May, seven friends and core members of the Seattle7 took part in the Chuckanut Radio Hour, a monthly variety show put on by Village Books in Bellingham, WA. Kit Bakke, William Dietrich, Robert Dugoni, Kevin O’Brien, Suzanne Selfors, Jennie Shortridge and Garth Stein also sat down with Lindsey McGuirk of Village Books to answer a few questions.
Shortridge: It was actually almost exactly as we had anticipated. It was quite a magical process, which has really been the case with the entire Seattle7 group.
Stein: We were able to do the project from a grant through (clears his throat) Amazon. Hotel Angeline really couldn’t have happened without it. Well, that and the adult film industry for perfecting the technology for viewing things online. We were making the book available as an eBook, but we knew we wanted to make the book available to indies. At first we weren’t sure how to actually make Hotel Angeline available to bookstores. That’s where the Espresso Book Machine came in handy. Now stores with the machine can print copies of the book.
Selfors: I was so nervous doing Hotel Angeline. That’s why I did it; I wanted to challenge myself. When it was my turn to write, I was panicked at the idea of people watching me. Writing is such a private process. But then I realized that it was probably just my Mom and agent watching me, and I relaxed. Turns out that a couple teachers had their classes sign in to watch when it was my turn. It was a good experience for them because students can be really against the revision process. But they got to see me adding and deleting things I had written and revising text. They got to see how authors actually write.
O’Brien: It was really great. You hear how people who work on movies feel a loss when filming is wrapped up, and I definitely get that. When Hotel Angeline was done, I was like, “Wait. What do I do now? I don’t get to hang out at the Hugo House anymore?” Everyone started to feel like a family.
Stein: It was a playful competition.
Shortridge: Mary still won. Also, someone paid $350 in the naming auction to have a character that dies named after their boss.
O’Brien: Yeah, I got to kill him!
Bakke: And it was a very slow death.
O’Brien: (laughing) I had been writing and writing and was getting down to the last 15 minutes of my time slot, but I still hadn’t killed the character. People in the audience began yelling, “Kill him! Kill him!”
McGuirk: In one sentence, why do you write?
Bakke: It’s a personal challenge. Books have given me so much; I want to give something back.
Stein: I think it was Dorothy Parker who said, “I don’t like writing. I like having written.”
Dietrich: I wanted to do something clean! I had worked so many grimy jobs. When I got my first writing job at the Everett Herald I thought, “This is so clean!” Writing, for me, is also an excuse to learn.
O’Brien: I wanted an escape from being a railroad inspector. So it is an escape that turned into a living.
Shortridge: When I was deciding if I wanted to have children or not, my sister told me not to unless I had a burning desire. The same can be said for writing.
Dugoni: Follow your dreams and the money will come. Follow the money and you lose your dreams.
Stein: I once had someone read one of my books and tell me to go back through my book and cut the last sentence of every paragraph. I was like “um, okay?” But I did. And he was right. I realized that I didn’t trust myself, so was over-explaining what I had written.
Dugoni: Yes, you have to trust yourself. More importantly, you have to trust your reader.
Dugoni: But you also sometimes have to make your own call. I recently had four people read one of my manuscripts and three people loved it, but one person hated it. I had to decide if I wanted to go back and change things because of one person.
Selfors: Oh! I know a piece of advice I wish I would have received. Don’t write the sequel until you’ve sold your first book.
O’Brien: I know the worst piece of writing advice I’ve ever given. I was having lunch with Garth and he told me about a book he wanted to write that was told through the voice of a dog and involved a racecar driver. I told him not to do it. I’m glad he didn’t listen to me.
Lindsey McGuirk began her career in books as the Events Coordinator for Village Books in Bellingham, WA. She took a two-year stint at Algonquin Books in North Carolina, where she learned about the publishing end of the business, but returned to her true love of bookselling at Village Books in 2009. She is now the Digital Marketing & Publishing Coordinator and handles the online marketing and working with authors to get their books printed on the store’s print-on-demand Espresso Book Machine.