My family moved here when I was seven years old. My mother is from Alaska and my father is from New York, so my formative years were spent here. I grew up in Shoreline and went to Shorewood High School—go T-Birds!
I moved back to Seattle in 2001, and we live now in Mount Baker. We love the neighborhood for a lot of reasons. We love the boulevards and the areas designed by the Olmsted Brothers, all the parks. We’re right across the street from Mount Baker Park and a block from its swimming beach. Seattle is a city of neighborhoods, and there is such a great environment in Mount Baker with the old and the new, and the ethnic diversity, which is fabulous. We have Mio Posto down the street, but we also have Little Ethiopia just up the road on Cherry Street, so we go for Ethiopian food a lot. We like our kids growing up in a world where we can eat more of the authentic foods. It’s very kid-friendly and very beautiful.
In the writing I do, location plays a big role; it’s another character. So, as characters in our own stories, we interact with the world, we react to things around us (like ridiculous traffic circles and hills with a manual transmission!). As a fiction writer, my job is not to portray reality but to mold reality, but I also like putting in things that are real. In The Art of Racing in the Rain, there’s Lake View Cemetery with the Brandon and Bruce Lee graves, and there’s the courthouse and Bauhaus Coffee. I’m doing it again with this new novel I’m working on—I needed this really cool setting, so I created a fictionalized version of The Highlands, which is right near where I grew up. It has this fascinating history of old Seattle, having been built so rich lumber guys had a place to play golf.
There is a facade to every city that casual visitors see, but you won’t really learn the pulse of a city unless you dig deeper into specific neighborhoods, and spend time in Fremont at night, for example, or Capitol Hill—if you walk through Capitol Hill at 10 o’clock in the morning, you might say, “It’s kinda ‘eh,’” but if you go on a Friday night, you’ll get a whole different impression.
I have a driving tour that I do (I do not own a duck/bus, so I can’t actually take people out onto the water!) I start at my house and go down to Seward Park, which has old growth forest; it’s very beautiful. Then we go up Lake Washington Boulevard, up through Leschi and to where the fancy people live, and to see Kurt Cobain’s bench in Denny Blaine. Then we drive the swithchbacks over to Madison Park. I like to take them on a walk through the Arboretum, and out to the ship canal to see people in their canoes. I also love taking people to Interlaken Park, because it’s a whole different feel but it’s part of the same park structure. A great resource we have on the water is the Center for Wooden Boats, where you can rent boats: I’m a member and have taken classes there—it’s really a terrific place.
I think that people aren’t used to so much nature being so intertwined with the urban structure of Seattle. You have to get them somewhere where they can turn around and see Mt. Rainier and go “Whoa!” There are some great vantage points for that, especially at the bottom of Madrona on Lake Washington—if it’s a clear day and the mountain has popped out, it’s pretty impressive. Then I tell them that it’s actually one of the most dangerous volcanoes in North America!
Interview by Jess Van Nostrand, 2012.
Photo taken at the Columbia City Branch Library.
Author Garth Stein discusses his new book “A Sudden Light”.