“Writing is a solitary occupation. Family, friends, and society are the natural enemies of the writer. He must be alone, uninterrupted, and slightly savage if he is to sustain and complete an undertaking.” Jessamyn West (author, The Friendly Persuasion)
But does it always have to be like that: an isolated writer surrounded by his or hers imaginary characters. Not according to Jennie Shortridge and her fellow authors, the Seattle7Writers.
Jennie Shortridge is the author of When She Flew, which has been selected by Indie Booksellers for the Winter 2011 Reading Group list. Other books by her are Love & Biology, Eating Heaven and Riding with the Queen.
She is also a founding member (along with Garth Stein, author of The Art of Racing in the Rain) of the Seattle7Writers, a collective of Pacific Northwest authors, such as Kit Bakke, Erica Bauermeister, Carol Cassella, Randy Sue Coburn, Maria Dahvana Headley, Mary Guterson, Kevin O’Brien, Laurie Frankel as well as friends of the group like Erik Larson, Mark Lindquist and Terry Brooks, etc.
The Seattle7Writers has a mission to encourage the written word in communities in the Northwest and elsewhere. They raise money to support literacy through projects like donating used and new books to variety of sites in the Puget Sound region for women, men and children who are currently without homes or bookshelves of their own. They have also raised money for programs like Powerful Schools, Writers in Schools and Path with Arts.
In the fall of 2010, Seattle7Writers brought together thirty-six Pacific Northwest writers for a week-long marathon of writing on stage in Seattle. Imagine writing live, in front of an audience. It sounds like paint drying, but it wasn’t, it ended up being a productive and exciting project.
The results were a novel: Hotel Angeline: A Novel in 36 Voices.
Fifty percent of the proceeds from Hotel Angeline go directly back to the writing and reading community. Seattle7Writers will use these proceeds to award grants to worthy nonprofit organizations making a difference through literacy programs and support of the local arts.
Below is an interview with Jennie Shortridge about that project and about her own writing.
Who are the Seattle 7 Writers, and how did they get together as a group? What is the group’s purpose and mission?
Seattle7Writers really began in 2006, when I met Garth Stein at a reading we were both doing. We became friends and got together for coffee one afternoon to talk shop. Over the next year, we met for coffee every last Friday of the month, each time inviting other local authors.
We realized that our collective energies could be used, not just to promote our books, but also to give something back to our community, so we formalized the organization in 2009 and began putting on events with proceeds benefiting literacy programs in the Northwest. We also started our Pocket Library program, where we collect donated books and shelve them in unconventional places like shelters and correctional facilities.
At one point there were actually seven of us, but we now have ten core members and thirty-four “Friends of the Seattle7.” You can see all of them at the website here.
How did the idea of a marathon novel come up? Tell us about the plot of Hotel Angeline?
We wanted to do something really fun and different for Arts Crush, a month long celebration of the arts in Seattle. Writers always do readings, so Garth said, “Why don’t we write?” So we decided to do what we do best and write a novel. It actually got published (and is available on Amazon or at OpenRoadMedia.com and some bookstores. Here’s the blurb from the jacket:
Something is amiss at the Hotel Angeline, a rickety former mortuary perched atop Capitol Hill in rain-soaked Seattle. Fourteen-year-old Alexis Austin is fixing the plumbing, the tea, and all the problems of the world, it seems, in her landlady mother’s absence. The quirky tenants—a hilarious mix of misfits and rabble-rousers from days gone by—rely on Alexis all the more when they discover a plot to sell the Hotel. Can Alexis save their home? Find her real father? Deal with her surrogate dad’s dicey past? Find true love? Perhaps only their feisty pet crow, Habib, truly knows.
Walk us through the actual process for writing the Hotel Angeline – A Novel in 36 Voices.
We wrote for six days, with each author taking a two-hour stint on the stage at Hugo House and writing a chapter we’d “assigned.” An editorial board (five of us) had met the week before to put together a story idea, characters, etc. Then I mapped out what might happen in each chapter to get from beginning to end (very loosely) and the authors took it from there. They were free to write whatever they wanted to as long as they didn’t kill off the protagonist or introduce a chainsaw.
We had lots of help on site, including managing editors to work with each incoming author to get him or her up to speed. We had volunteers synopsizing as the authors wrote, and we compiled a running account of the story. We had butcher paper on all of the walls in the green room, with new developments, like characters and locations and time passing. It was the craziest and most fun thing I think I’ve ever done. All in front of a live audience in Hugo House and online, where it was streaming live.
You wrote the first words of this marathon novel. Did you feel the pressure to be the first to step up and write live on stage? Do you remember what you were thinking at the time?
Well, you see, if you’re the first, it’s the easiest! I didn’t have to know what came before or fit in with anyone else. I did have a big job, of course, to introduce the story and location and protagonist, and hint at the issues to come. I just thought it was a blast. It was more fun than I’d imagined it would be, and each writer said that, leaving the stage.
How did the group handle rewriting the final mss? Did each author do it individually, or was someone acting as the overall “chef” to make sure the soup tasted delicious?
Our publisher assigned a wonderful editor to the project and although she used a pretty light touch, she really helped pull it all together, snipping loose ends and tying up dangling threads.
In your own writing, your characters step outside the every day box to do something they’ve never done before, such as Mira in Love and Biology, leaves her family behind to start an unknown new life. And in your latest book, When She Flew, Jess breaks the rules big time in an effort to help a man and his daughter. Do you see a part of yourself in these characters and if so, why?
Oh, I’m certain they’re all from some place inside me. As a kid, I loved books about females overcoming hardship and obstacles, and then I overcame a lot of hardship and obstacles. So, I love putting those kinds of stories out into the world.
You used to be a musician (singer with a band). Can you relate the two creative impulses (music and writing) together? Has your music background had an effect on your writing?
I think what I really was all along was a writer. Singing in a band was a way for me to communicate my writing (poetry) to an audience. I’m an okay singer, but I think I really found creative satisfaction when I began writing full time 16 years ago. I still sing with my hubby and friends occasionally, just for fun, but I get a lot more out of writing every day.
What do the Seattle 7 Writers plan on doing now after Hotel Angeline?
Funny you should ask! We have two events on October 15th in honor of Arts Crush this year. The first is Write Here Write Now, a day-long intensive writing conference for all levels of writers, with tons of Northwest authors all around to help, all together. Lots of writing. And that night we’re putting on a super weird fun performance of authors reading, but in theatrical ways. It’s called Up Late Reading, and there will be music and comedy and dance and adult beverages and a silent auction . . . all very fun, and all to benefit literacy in the Northwest. There’s info at our website, www.seattle7writers.org.
Can you give us a hint about your next book?
I’d love to—I’m just about to finish it and turn it in! It’s the story of a Seattle woman who experiences amnesia and flees her fiancé, a condition known as dissociative fugue. When she turns up standing knee-deep in the San Francisco Bay, he comes to get her and bring her back to Seattle, and their life together begins again, even though she remembers nothing of the past. The story was inspired by a true story of a man from Olympia who experienced the same thing. There was a story in the paper about his fiancée going to get him in Denver and I found it very romantic but mysterious and intriguing. So, I’ve written a love story wrapped in a mystery. My working title is The Amnesiac’s Love Story, but I’m getting a little push back on it, so who knows what it will end up being at this point. Ah, publishing.
Please give us an 8-word description of your life.
Writing writing writing writing writing writing writing sleep. (Until my deadline.)
Jennie Shortridge website