Thanks to you, we're turning two

This week marks the anniversary of our first publication, two years ago. Can you believe it?

How lucky are we, being able to publish local original content, day after day. Publish nearly two hundred reviews, a huge parcel of poems, and enough daily columns to keep even the most fidgety Seattle reader eye-deep in words. We've had some triumphs, and some stumbles, but through it all one thing has remained constant: you.

It's because of you that we are able to sell sponsorships to the best crowd of advertisers the world has to offer. Everybody who wants to get the word out has a myriad of ways to do so. But our sponsors choose to share their work here; their new books, their best events, their opportunities for writers to gather and learn. Along the way, they directly pay for the great writing you see on this site.

Instead of running a call for sponsors this week, we just wanted to take an opportunity to thank our sponsors, and thank our readers. You're what makes this community great. Happy anniversary to us all.

(of course, we won't stop you from buying a sponsorship if you really want to ... We've nearly sold out our August-January block!)

Meet Karen Junker, the creator and director of Readerfest

Karen Junker’s life has always been devoted to books. Though the tiny Washington town where she grew up, DuPont, didn’t have a library when she was young, “I loved reading more than anything.” One of her high school classmates was Robert Heinlein’s niece, and Junker clearly recalls her meeting with the sci-fi great to be a turning point in her life.

“Some people collect comics and baseball cards, and I collect meetings with famous authors,” Junker tells me on the phone, just before relaying an anecdote about accidentally bumping into George R. R. Martin. She’s about more than just the big names, though. Junker is well-connected in the literary community: she knows agents and editors and publishers and booksellers. And she admits that she’s “not afraid to call anyone and ask them for anything.”

Junker says she “likes to introduce people that will help other people.” One of her favorite things to do is to organize events that place a famous writer next to a lesser-known writer, creating the possibility to inexorably alter the course of a career. She’s organized conventions and a popular series of writing retreats called Writers Weekend and all sorts of other literary events.

Junker doesn’t believe in genre. She recalls a moment when she was younger that taught her not to look down her nose at someone for the kind of books they read: “I was working in a bookstore in West Seattle and I was helping a regular customer there and I said, ‘you seem like a really smart woman. Why do you read romance?’ She pretty much dressed me down. And rightfully so!” That customer turned out to be president of the local Romance Writers of America chapter, and she invited Junker to attend writing workshops. “It really opened up my mind and respect for that genre.”

After putting on some romance events, Junker started to branch out. She scored a rare appearance from sci-fi author Mercedes Lackey at a writing group, and then she started to expand her scope into a regular series of writing workshops. And now she’s expanding her scope event further with Readerfest, a free family-friendly book festival at Magnuson Park on Saturday, September 9th. Junker just started planning the festival five weeks ago, but she’s filed with Washington’s Secretary of State for nonprofit status and plans are proceeding at high speed. “I started making phone calls and people are getting on board,” she says. “We’re adding people and sponsors every day.”

“I’m a big fan of the writing community, especially in our region,” Junker tells me. “I started Readerfest because the Northwest Bookfest was so cool, and I feel that this is something I can do to organize a little tiny thing to build that back up again.” She admits to being “scared” by how quickly Readerfest is growing, but “I’ve done these for so long that if you get good people who you know can talk about what they do, I don’t have to manage that. It takes care of itself.”

Inclusivity is important to Junker. Readerfest will feature an indigenous arts tent, and there will be talks by local native artists. The festival will feature conversations about “cultural appropriation in literature, and race and gender representation in steampunk.” The festival does have more sci-fi authors on its slate than Northwest Bookfest, but Junker is looking to expand that slate as much as possible. “I have some poets, I have some non-fiction writers and some comics. We have spoken-word storytellers coming. We don’t have a lot of literary fiction writers yet.”

So what should you do if you want to participate in Readerfest? Junker says interested parties should email her if they’d like a table. The Readerfest site will be updated soon with information for volunteers and, as soon as the organization gets its nonprofit status approved, the ability to donate for future Readerfests.

In the end, Junker says, she just wants to put on an event that will connect people to books that they’ll love. “I just felt the need in the community for this kind of event — one that’s family-friendly but not exclusive of any genre. I’m a fan of all types of writing, and there’s a reader for everything,” she says.

Save the date: Saturday, September 9th is Readerfest, a free and family-friendly book festival at Magnuson Park

From 1994 to 2004, Northwest Bookfest was a centerpiece of Seattle’s literary year. Held in various locations throughout the city — from a pier on the waterfront to Washington State Convention Center to Magnuson Park — the general-interest literary festival brought as many as 20,000 Seattleites together over a weekend to meet a wide array of nationally published authors.

Northwest Bookfest eventually failed for a number of reasons, but ultimately those reasons all boiled down to money: Seattleites balked at a cover charge, sponsors including the Seattle Times backed out, publishers stopped sending as many authors on nationwide tours. In the years since, an ill-conceived attempt to relaunch the festival fell apart under its own weight.

Eventually, the hole left by Northwest Bookfest was filled by a number of smaller, more specific festivals including Short Run and the APRIL Festival, which itself reached the end of its life cycle earlier this year. These more local festivals — paired with genre-fests like NorWesCon and Emerald City Comicon — seemed to represent the new status quo of book festivals in Seattle.

But the Seattle literary scene of 2017 isn’t the Seattle literary scene of 2014, or 2011, or 2008. Maybe there’s space for a larger, more general-interest book festival in the calendar year again?

We’re about to find out.

On Saturday, September 9th, a new nonprofit organization will host a book festival called Readerfest at Magnuson Park. If you look at the lineup on the festival’s website at, you’ll see that the list of events and readers isn’t nearly as wide-reaching as Northwest Bookfest when it was in the height of its powers. Currently the slate of readers is heavy on the science fiction: novelist (and beloved Seattle Review of Books columnist) Nisi Shawl, children's book author Salina Yoon, and former Seattle author Cherie Priest, whose steampunk Clockwork Century series centered around a zombie-ridden Seattle, are among the headliners. But that list is still evolving, and more participating authors and publishers will be announced over the next few weeks.

Readerfest will be free and family-friendly. In addition to the authors, there will be panels discussing the publishing industry, how to get published, and the future of fiction. The show will also include food trucks, a play from Last Leaf Productions, and music from Jim Valley, a former member of Paul Revere and the Raiders.

If this all sounds good-but-a-little-random to you, there’s probably a reason for that: Readerfest is all coming together very, very quickly. The founder, a Seattle-area event organizer and author named Karen Junker, says it’s all been put together over a span of about five weeks, and support has been snowballing ever since. What you’ll find at Magnuson Park on September 9th will likely be more low-key and haphazard than the Northwest Bookfests you may remember. But Junker has a long history of organizing book festivals and literary events, and if there’s enough interest in Readerfest, she intends to start planning an expanded festival for 2018 on the morning of September 10th.

You can learn more about Readerfest at the festival’s website. Find my interview with Junker, where she discusses her history with books, what she expects Readerfest to be, and how you can be included in this year’s festival, right here.

The Sunday Post for July 23, 2017

Each week, the Sunday Post highlights a few articles good for slow consumption over a cup of coffee (or tea, if that's your pleasure). Settle in for a while; we saved you a seat. You can also look through the archives.

Go Independent Or Go Home

Not to beat you with a dead horse, as my high school chemistry teacher used to say (verbatim) — the issues novelist Matthew Galloway raises in this piece are frequently discussed on the Seattle Review of Books — but: Publishing is going through the kind of cataclysmic shift that certain industries refer to as “disruptive,” and no reader or writer can afford to play innocent bystander.

Galloway published his first book in the “Green Zone” enclave of Big Publishing, his second with “the resistance” (independent publishers and sellers). The metaphor is dramatic, and he’s quick to dismiss the financial issues faced by those for whom writing is a vocation, rather than an avocation. But he has a solid insider’s view of how Amazon is shaping the book market, and how that translates into costs and benefits for authors, publishers, and readers.

Here’s some good news: As soon as an industry player is declared disruptive, it’s a sure thing that they’re vulnerable to disruption by the next new thing. It’ll take more than a drone army to keep Amazon fresh, as long as those committed to the written word make pragmatic decisions — decisions that drive the right action from publishing, and not Amazon’s bottom line.

Then there’s Amazon. If you talk to your overworked/underpaid friends who work in the trenches of Big Publishing, you’ll be keenly aware that no decision  —  from “content” to book covers to publication schedules to sales/marketing strategies  —  gets made without considering the actual or looming impact of the alien overlord/distributor. If Amazon is “unhappy” about anything, or if the perception of unhappiness is wielded like a dictatorial cudgel, the publisher will scurry to find a solution. The message  —  and the reality  —  from Amazon is: Make Us Happy or Die Trying.
How Checkers Was Solved

The story of artificial intelligence is, at least for now, a story about human intelligence. Alexis Madrigal profiles Marion Tinsley and Jonathan Schaeffer — the world’s greatest checkers player and the world’s greatest checkers programmer. Chinook, the program that came between them, is a quiet third wheel as the two men race to the death (literally) for mastery of the board.

Schaeffer and Tinsley sat across from each other, and a large screen rendered the movement of the pieces. Tinsley drew first blood, besting Chinook in game five. But then in game eight, Chinook delivered a stunning win; it was Tinsley’s sixth loss in 40 years.

Despite the years of toil and dreams of success, Schaeffer felt sadness in that moment. “We’re still members of the human race,” he wrote in his book, “and Chinook defeating Tinsley in a single game means that it will only be a matter of time before computers will be supreme in checkers, and eventually in other games like chess.” Schaeffer might have won, but the humans have lost.

On my second birthday, we landed on the moon

To celebrate his fiftieth birthday, Mike Montiero wrote a letter that’s somehow both typically irascible and terrifically poignant — about landing on the moon, landing in America, and choosing your own “we.” If you can get through this without watching the Dead Milkmen video twice, and/or crying a little, you’re a better man than I am.

As I looked down at my new son, I realized that for the first time in my life I was in a relationship I could not run away from, could not put on someone else, could not half-ass, could not pretend to do right. Even if I managed to to get all those things right, what genetic malfeasance had I saddled this kid with? I looked at this little bundle of pink flesh and spit and poop and realized that inside him there was the genetic code for depression, Alzheimer’s, cancer, anxiety, and all sorts of other shit. I looked at that little kid and thought, little one you are fucked.
Digging in the Trash

Conversations about race and class and economic disparity are loud and angry in post-Trump (or, sadly, mid-Trump) America. David Joy strikes the tough balance between apology and defense in this honest essay about what “trash” really means.

Maybe that’s why what I read in a trade review recently struck me so hard. The reviewer didn’t like my book, and that’s all right. A whole lot of people don’t like my books, and that’s perfectly OK. My books aren’t for everyone. This reviewer didn’t like what he called my “Southern Poverty Law Center photorealism.” This is what got me, though. He wrote that I should “leave the peeling trailers, come down out of the hollers, and try writing about people for a change.” He actually italicized that word, people, to be sure and say that what lives in those trailers, what finds itself in a world consumed by hopelessness, addiction, and violence, those aren’t people at all. I’m not sure what he thinks men like my grandfather, boys like Darrell, Smokey, Bubba and Lyndon, men like Donny, like Paco are, other than to use his own words, “trailer trash.”
Frances Gabe, Creator of the Only Self-Cleaning Home, Dies at 101

Yes! Housework is “a nerve-twangling bore”! Let’s celebrate the life of the woman who recognized that ugly truth and did something about it: designed and built a house — her own — to end the tyranny of daily cleaning chores.

In each room, Ms. Gabe, tucked safely under an umbrella, could press a button that activated a sprinkler in the ceiling. The first spray sent a mist of sudsy water over walls and floor. A second spray rinsed everything. Jets of warm air blew it all dry. The full cycle took less than an hour.

Runoff escaped through drains in Ms. Gabe’s almost imperceptibly sloping floors. It was channeled outside and straight through her doghouse, where the dog was washed in the bargain.

Seattle Writing Prompts: The Hike In

Seattle Writing Prompts are intended to spark ideas for your writing, based on locations and stories of Seattle. Write something inspired by a prompt? Send it to us! We're looking to publish writing sparked by prompts.

Also, how are we doing? Are writing prompts useful to you? Could we be doing better? Reach out if you have ideas or feedback. We'd love to hear.

We interrupt this writing prompts to call your attention to:

We're running a short story contest based on Seattle Writing Prompts, judged by Matt Ruff! Come and join the party, we can't wait to read your stories.

You leave Seattle at the crack of dawn. The drive isn't far, but it's far enough, and in the high summer you need to get to the trailhead early. You were up late packing and repacking. Making sure the food is smart and balanced right, the water containers are clean and full, the first-aid kit and compass and elevation map and convertible zip pants and bulletproof bear bag and floppy brim hat and walking pole and tent and sleeping bag and gortex shell and wool socks and perfectly-broken-in-boots and technical fabric shirts and everything is perfectly rolled into your pack and ready to go.

You drive for a few hours. It doesn't take long before you're off the freeway and on a highway that becomes a windy mountain road. You have a high-clearance vehicle, so you can get up where some people can't. You park, making sure your pass is visible so you don't get a ticket, then you double check everything, put your phone in airplane mode (you'll use it as a camera, still, otherwise you'd power down), and take your first step on the gravel of the trailhead.

Seattle is one the best bases in the world for back-country hiking. You could go to Alaska, of course, but here in Washington you're just hours away from scenic accessible low-traffic worlds to explore. There's a reason REI is based here, after all.

It's something to do with the culture of this city, it's in our bones the way that the rain is on our skin. We love to get away. Be it a quick trip up to the Big Four Ice Caves with some out-of-towners, a beach trail on one of the San Juans, a jaunt up to Paradise when the wildflowers are exploding, or a multi-day pack-in where you'll be clearing huge vertical miles on the way to that elusive off-trail spot you love to visit every few years.

But stepping outside leads to so many situations, so many unknowns. We like to think our lives are contained and predictable in the city — of course they're not — but we give up that illusion when we go into the mountains. We know we're on geologic scale, now, and we talk about the things that fall off of mountains by the appliance that matches their size most closely: "Did you see that refrigerator that nearly took out Gina?"

So with that surrender to the natural wonder, we find one thing that we carry with us always, even into the most remote of locations: our stories.

Now then, most stories coming from the woods are of people enjoying themselves. But writers need drama in our imaginary lives. So, just for now, things are going to have to go very, very wrong....

Today's prompts
  1. It started with a bad omen before they even left the city: hitting the bumper on the car behind them outside of the coffee shop. This uptight dude confronted them, made them stop and wait while he inspected it ("that's what they're made for, dude," Shelley said. "That's why they call them 'bumpers', right?"). Then traffic and construction over the pass, then that near wipeout backing down the logging road to let the jeep pass. "You think the crows circling above mean anything?" Hugo joked, pulling his pack on. "Those are ravens," said Shelley. "So, yeah, they mean something." Jorge laughed. "You guys are too damn superstitious," he said, hearing the crack of his sunglasses under his boot, which he didn't notice had fallen onto the gravel.

  2. Geocaches were always a fun distraction, and a good reason to get out of the house and hike a nice trail. You'd find the weirdest little things — pins, plastic figures, buttons, patches, toys. But finding the cache on the peak of the trail, it looked like it hadn't been opened in years. The latch was caught, and it took some working to get it open. Inside, some very old packets of crackers, and a note: "I'm being held a half-mile due southeast. Call the police." It was dated three years ago.

  3. "Hey, you guys better be careful," she told the college boys. "Get your food secured, you're gonna get bears coming through here." Their campsite, messy — and all the beer they packed in! — had food everywhere, and they didn't have a bear cannister. They assured her they would, and off she went. But coming back through the next day, she saw they left a mess. They also left their tents, and all their gear. Was that blood over there? Calling out, there was no response, but she knew that if they were nearby and needed help, she was all the help they were gonna get.

  4. "Oh my god, I'm so sorry!" she said, coming across the naked man sitting by the lake. "Oh crap!" he said, reaching for his shorts and pulling them on, obviously embarrassed. "I've been here an hour and hadn't seen anybody, so I figured I was safe." Putting a bit of room between them, she dropped some iodine tablets in her bottle and filled them from the stream that fed the lake. The man was packing up when she walked past. "You hiking through?" he asked. "No," she said. "I am. Doing the whole trail. Started at the Mexican border. Getting close, now. How about you?" She gestured back the way the trail led in. "No, just on a day hike." Then she added. "I just came up to get some water. My boyfriend's waiting for me just over the ridge." She waved, and walked off through the small pass, to the switchbacks down. But about half way down, looking up, she saw a glint of light off of metal, and some movement at the top.

  5. How fast things change. The day was hot, dry, blue sky. They were in shorts, and then inside of thirty minutes they were in a cloud. The trail, once as clear as a contrail in the sky, was now occluded and hard to find. How could they get so cold so fast? The cotton socks and light jackets they packed weren't enough. The compass on their phones wasn't registering at all. And when one of them put their foot through crusty ice into a water hole, they found out fast why people suggested wearing wool. "I think we're lost," one of them finally confessed. And in that, they both knew, it was going to be really hard to get found again.

Can you read a video?

For weeks now, friends have been telling me to read 17776, a longform experimental sci-fi story written and designed by Jon Bois. I was resistant because the story is, in general terms, about football. That is to say that it begins as a blog post titled "What football will look like in the future." And I cannot stand sports at all.

But just a quick glance at the beginning of 17776 will tell you that it's not really about sports. The banal football article literally disappears from view as it's swamped by repeating instances of the words "something is terribly wrong."

17776 then unfurls across a calendar, tossing the reader into the future. It's a magnificent use of the internet as a storytelling tool, in a way that I've never seen before. Football does play into the story — narrow swaths of the United States are carved out into football fields that are hundreds of miles long and which host football games that last many years — but it's a backdrop. Eventually, the narrative becomes a Vonnegut-like farce, an examination of the way we think about the future. I'd need to read it again to actually review it; the first experience of 17776 is too exploratory to really collect any meaningful critical thoughts.

But I do have one issue with the storytelling methods in 17776 that hasn't really been discussed much in the public sphere. One of the many attractive things about literature, for me, is that you can read at your own pace. Using certain rhythmic tricks, a writer or a cartoonist can slow a reader down a bit, but the reader ultimately plays the role of the conductor. We set the rhythm, we pause when we want to, we turn back or flip forward, we speed ahead eagerly or linger behind and savor.

The problem with 17776, for me, is too much of the reading experience is swamped with animations, and swaths of the story are told in scrolling text via YouTube videos. To me, that changes the form into something new. When a reader can't read at their own pace — when you can't easily turn back and re-examine lost pieces of dialogue, or when you get bored because the scrolling mechanism isn't fast enough for your tastes — you're not really reading, exactly, anymore. You're experiencing. It's more passive, more like watching TV.

Listen: if you care about sci-fi or experimental internet storytelling techniques or good fiction, you should read 17776. No matter how you classify it, it's worth your time. And one of the reasons why it's worth your time is that the form opens up important questions about the limitations and strengths of reading. That's an exciting conversation to have.

The Help Desk: If Cienna Madrid could force all Seattle to read one book...

Every Friday, Cienna Madrid offers solutions to life’s most vexing literary problems. Do you need a book recommendation to send your worst cousin on her birthday? Is it okay to read erotica on public transit? Cienna can help. Send your questions to

Dear Cienna,

This year, the Seattle Public Library chose Angela Flournoy’s The Turner House as the Seattle Reads selection — as in, the one book they wanted everyone in Seattle to read this year.

I’m dying to know: if you had the power to make everyone in Seattle read one book, what would that book be?

Dinah, Central District

P.S. If you ever wanted to start your own misanthropic version of Oprah’s Book Club, I’d be a charter member.

Dear Dinah,

I have been sitting on your question for months now and each week, my answer has changed. My favorite recommendations are spontaneous and personal – for instance, a conversation about my dead aunt's newly-discovered secret 70's love child sparked a recommendation to read Katha Pollitt's Pro: Reclaiming Abortion Rights (not because my cousin should've been aborted, but because my aunt had no safe, legal recourse other than adoption at the time).

So you can understand how encouraging an entire city of people to read just one book is daunting. The kind of people who could answer that question unblinkingly are the kind of people who have only read three books in their lifetime – for them, choosing a favorite is easy.

In past weeks, I would've recommended Amy Bloom's Lucky Us because it is so funny and beautifully written that I have actually confused lines in the book for memories of my own, or Kindred, by Octavia Butler, because Butler lived and died in Seattle and despite her powerful stories, not enough people in the region know her name or worship her writing.

But if I had to choose a book this week, it would be Marc Reisner's Cadillac Desert, which is a nonfiction book about the diversion of rivers and damming of the American west. Reading about our untenable water policies is not as fun as reading Bloom or Butler would be, but it is a fascinating and necessary book for westerners. Seattle may not suffer from a water shortage, but it is the de facto democratic capital of the west and should be a leader when it comes to progressive water policy, and this book pretty clearly spells out the ecologic and economic disaster we're going to face if we don't re-evaluate how we use and think about water. Also: the only people I've found who've actually read this book are homeless-looking white men with REI budgets.

Along with a ton of other useful shit, like comprehensive sex ed and how to responsibly handle a credit card, Cadillac Desert is the kind of history lesson that should be taught in schools – or at least discussed among a wider audience than redwood-humpers with briar-patch beards and gear that costs more than my mortgage.



Portrait Gallery: Anastacia-Reneé

Each week, Christine Larsen creates a portrait of a new author for us. Have any favorites you’d love to see immortalized? Let us know

To celebrate the second release of her busy summer, Forget It from Santa Cruz publisher Black Radish, Anastacia-Reneé will be joined on Tuesday the 25th at Elliott Bay Book Company by three stellar Seattle-area authors: poet Jane Wong, memoirist Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore, and poet-slash-civil-rights-attorney Shankar Narayan. She’s not only generous with the spotlight, but Anastacia-Reneé is perfectly willing to give time and exposure to other authors who complement her work. Other writers would balk at giving three dynamos some of her stagetime. Anastacia-Reneé knows that every stage is big enough to share.

Elliott Bay Book Company, 1521 10th Ave, 624-6600, Free. All ages. 7 p.m.

Why won't The Stranger pay a young writer for their work?

Yesterday, I reported that The Stranger is running a "contest" to choose a writer to serve as the Bumbershoot Correspondent for their Bumbershoot guide and website. Though the writer will win a collection of branded merchandise from contest partners, including a camera, film, and records, the position is unpaid. Just last week, Stranger publisher Tim Keck posted that the publication is "profitable" and has "been growing financially for years." If that's true, why isn't The Stranger paying a writer for their work?

The Vera Project, an all-ages nonprofit that champions youth engagement in the arts, responded to writer Lindsay Hood's questions about the lack of payment:

I want to be perfectly clear before I go any further: The Vera Project is a fantastic organization. I always donate to them for Give Big, and I have friends who work for and volunteer for the organization. They are an unalloyed good for Seattle, and they deserve your time and money. If we were talking about an unpaid volunteer position for the Vera Project, that would be a different discussion altogether. But we're not talking about that: we're talking about an unpaid position for The Stranger, which is a for-profit business.

This argument doesn't make sense. Okay, so the position is "meant for new writers w/o enough experience to get a paid gig," and "many of our ppl are looking for opportunities like this 2 get a foot in the door." You know what's really incentivizing for young workers? A paycheck in exchange for work.

Look: I get that young writers take more time than seasoned professionals to guide and edit. There's an investment there on behalf of The Stranger. But that's a standard business cost; most businesses have to train and recruit new workers. If there's a good reason why a profitable alternative weekly should be an exception to this standard, I have yet to hear it.

And the fact is that the Bumbershoot Correspondent's writing, once it's published on the site, will still make money for The Stranger. Ads will still appear next to the Correspondent's writing and photographs, and those advertisers will likely not pay lower rates because the writer has less experience than other writers on the site. The Stranger will collect the same payment.

Since we first posted on the issue yesterday, people have made the argument that since The Stranger will be choosing a young writer for the Bumbershoot Correspondent, that writer will likely not expect to be paid. This argument, likewise, is nonsense. The contest is not open to writers under the age of 18. I don't know about you, but when I was 18, I needed money. You can't eat a swag bag. Landlords won't take refurbished Polaroid cameras in lieu of rent checks. In America, we tend to agree that labor should be compensated.

Does this position amount to an unpaid internship? (The Stranger eliminated its unpaid internship program several years ago.) It's unclear whether the contest winner will be an employee of The Stranger or not. In her email to me yesterday, Stranger account executive Diana Katz said the contest winner would be "working" and doing "work" for The Stranger. The Washington State Department of Labor & Industries Unpaid Internship Cheat Sheet (PDF) has this to say about the difference between unpaid internships and employees:

It seems likely to me that the Correspondent would "displace regular employees" — The Stranger typically requires multiple staffers and freelancers to cover Bumbershoot. And it also seems likely that The Stranger would gain "immediate advantage from the activities of the [Correspondent]," in the form of pageviews. At the very least, it seems as though the relationship between the contest winner and The Stranger is a nebulous one.

Look. We can spin wheels on this forever. But in the end, this just comes down to decency. Thanks to Keck's post last week, we understand that The Stranger is making money. This means that management has simply made the decision not to compensate a young worker for their time and effort. And that's wrong.

Tacoma is very close to finally honoring Dune author Frank Herbert with a park

Matt Driscoll at the News Tribune says that a new 11-acre park on a peninsula in Tacoma is super-close to being named after Dune author (and Tacoma native) Frank Herbert. Tacoma is now taking suggestions to name the park. Driscoll writes:

According to Metro Parks spokesman Michael Thompson, 173 submissions were received over the weekend — and some variation of a name honoring Herbert was “the most common.” (There was at least one vote each for Parky McParkface and Breaky McWaterface.)

The park looks like it'll be gorgeous:

If you're a Tacoma resident, you can suggest a name for the park on Metro Parks Tacoma's website through August 4th.

Thursday Comics Hangover: Say something nice

A considerable portion of Seattle’s comic book talent is in San Diego this week at the corporate pop cultural orgy known as San Diego Comic Con. It makes sense to take stock of comic culture at this time of year, because it’s the closest thing to a High Holy Days in the nerd calendar year. Look anywhere on the internet right now and you’ll probably find an equal share of breathless odes to SDCC and vicious takedowns of everything having to do with the crass commercialism of nerd culture.

The thing is, I do enough whining about corporate comics in this space. And so for Comic Con, I thought I’d point out seven comics series that I’m genuinely excited to read every month. Prepare for niceness:

  • Ms. Marvel is the best comic that Marvel publishes. It’s consistently great — a deeply personal celebration of the superhero myth.

  • Paper Girls from Brian K. Vaughan and Cliff Chiang evokes a wide array of sci-fi source material — Stranger Things, Lost, Steven Spielberg and Stephen King — while still feeling completely original. It’s a time travel comic that has seemingly been planned down to the last detail, an adventure comic that places character at the forefront of the story, and a touching story about growing old while combating nostalgia.

  • Giant Days is a perfect sitcom of a book, about a group of young women trying to navigate the adult world. It’s funny, but not in a way that sacrifices the dignity of its characters. It’s sweet, but not cloyingly so. Giant Days is about as likable as a comic can be.

  • The Black Monday Murders imagines a world where money is power. Okay, but like magical power. It’s a murder mystery set in a world where America's wealthiest families have amassed dark magic along with their wealth, creating a metaphor for income inequality that is perhaps more vivid than any I’ve ever read.

  • The new comic by underrated novelist Victor LaValle, Destroyer, is a fresh take on the Frankenstein story that addresses race and police violence in a meaningful way. It’s the second-newest comic on the list, but it looks to be a work that will add to LaValle’s shelf full of novels that use genre to investigate the black experience in America.

  • I just wrote about the first issue of Calexit last week, but I’ve thought a lot about this book in the past seven days. It’s not often that a single issue of a comic lives in my head like this.

  • Kill or Be Killed is the closest thing to Taxi Driver I’ve read in comics form. It takes vigilante justice to its logical conclusion in a story narrated by a damaged man who murders people he believes to be criminals.

And here’s a bonus comic: yesterday I picked up the first issue of Generation Gone, an Image series written by Ales Kot and illustrated by André Lima Araújo. It’s very promising. The story is about three young hackers who are preparing to steal an obscene amount of money from an obscene too-big-to-fail bank. The class struggle is real: “These children are millennials,” someone exclaims in the middle of the issue. “Men like you have taken their future away from them. They are getting ready to steal it back.”

Araújo draws a diverse cast with expressive faces and he lays out the action through a wide variety of perspectives. It’s a kind of realism that draws you in and lulls you into complacency. Just when you think this is a book about normal people in normal rooms doing fairly straightforward computer-y things, the twist kicks in and you understand that Araújo has a wider range than you first expected: he’s a rare horror artist whose work is genuinely scary.

This first issue of Generation Gone is all set-up. It’ll make for a compelling first chapter in the inevitable collected volume, but readers of the first issue might be annoyed that just when the book gets started, it ends. Still, if you give it a chance you'll find a well-written and superbly illustrated high-concept first issue of a series — one that could well wind up on your list of favorite monthly comics.

Book News Roundup: Why did the robot kill itself?

  • Don't forget that the deadline to apply for a table at this year's Short Run Comix & Arts Festival is July 31st. The organizers this year are eager to include the literary arts, so even if you're "just" a writer and not an artist or cartoonist, you should consider applying.

  • This is a pretty big get: the King County Library System Foundation announced yesterday that basketball great and all-around awesome human Kareem Abdul-Jabbar will be the headliner at their 2018 Literary Lions fundraising dinner. This year's headliner, for comparison's sake, was Daniel Handler. Handler gave a spectacular speech and he's definitely a high-profile author, but Abdul-Jabbar is a household name. Expect tickets to go very fast for this one. The Literary Lions dinner will take place in Bellevue on Saturday, March 10th of next year. We'll let you know when tickets go on sale.

  • At the Seattle Times, SPL librarian David Wright wrote a great profile of local publisher Pharos Editions, which has brought some essential Northwest literary classics back from the dead.

  • While we're talking about local reviews, Seattle Mystery Bookshop bookseller Fran published a good review of Cory Doctorow's latest novel, Walkaway.

  • Tara Marie at the Polygon has written a good meditation on white cisgender privilege in the comics industry, using Howard Chaykin's atrocious Divided States of Hysteria as the launching pad for the piece. (I read the first issue of the series and decided to ignore it; Chaykin has a long history, with his best work decades behind him, and he's now become nothing more than an aggrieved-white-dude comics troll like Frank Miller. I'm happy to not give Chaykin the attention, but I'm glad that writers like Marie are around to explain what it all means to general audiences.)

  • The new Jane Austen pound notes have a quote from Pride and Prejudice — "I declare after all there is no enjoyment like reading!” — that shall we say...not quite delivered earnestly in the novel:

As many Janeites were quick to point out, that quote wasn’t sincere. Caroline Bingley, the haughty gentlewoman who competes with Elizabeth Bennet for Mr. Darcy’s attentions, makes this announcement in hopes of impressing him. “How much sooner one tires of anything than a book!” Miss Bingley adds. Shortly after saying so, already bored by a quick dip into a book, she throws it aside and tries another gambit to grab his attention. In short, Austen wrote the line as a satirical comment on how we perform certain admirable qualities to win approval.
  • I don't really believe in guilty-pleasure reading. Every book has some value, even if it proves that value through negative means. But people like interactive lists on the internet, so maybe you might enjoy this checklist of "Books You'll Never Brag About Having Read." Don't listen to the headline; feel free to brag if you want to. Try to beat my score:

  • After you've watched Wonder Woman for the 16th time this fall, you might want to take a break by watching the biopic about the creator of Wonder Woman, titled Professor Marston & the Wonder Women. The trailer was just released yesterday:

Your Week in Readings: The best literary events from July 19th - July 25th

Wednesday July 19th: TUF Zine Release Party

TUF is “a female/nonbinary/trans collective centered on electronic music and art,” and they like to make beautiful things. They’re celebrating the release of their second anthology zine with a big party in the best pizza place on Capitol Hill and a dance party at Dino’s brand-new basement music venue, with readings and visual art.
Dino’s Tomato Pie, 1524 E Olive Way, 403-1742, Free/$13. All ages. 6 p.m.

Thursday July 20th: Arabella and the Battle of Venus Reading

The sequel to Portland author David Levine’s swashbuckling adventure novel Arabella of Mars sails through space to the “swampy” planet of Venus. It also features a wedding, bribery, and a space war. If you’re looking for a fun summer sci-fi series to read, this is the one for you. University Book Store, 4326 University Way N.E., 634-3400, Free. All ages. 7 p.m.

Friday July 21st: Thinks Out Loud Reading

Seattle author Martin Perlman’s debut novel is about a group of bloggers who travel the world having adventures involving shipwreck and princesses and some light time travel. The book is written in the form of the main characters’ blogs. What’s the blog equivalent of an epistolary novel? A bloggiad? University Book Store, 4326 University Way N.E., 634-3400, Free. All ages. 7 p.m.

Saturday, July 22nd: Queer Geek Board Gaming

Capitol Hill’s biggest nerd emporium welcomes all to a free afternoon of “GLBTQ-flavored gaming and socializing.” Available games include DC superhero and Adventure Time-themed games, Relic Runners, and Small World, though you’re invited to bring your own game to share. Meet some new people in a safe and welcoming environment. Phoenix Comics & Games, 113 Broadway E, 328-4552, Free. All ages. 1 p.m.

Sunday July 23rd: Waterways Reading

Seattle is a city that has repeatedly changed its own geography, from building Pioneer Square out of mud flats to the Denny Regrade. Local historians Jennifer Ott and David B. Williams discuss their new book, which follows the history of the Lake Washington Ship Canal and examines its impact on the Seattle Public Library, 1000 4th Ave., 386-4636, Free. All ages. 3 p.m.

Monday July 24th: African-American Writers’ Alliance

The African-American Writers' Alliance (AAWA) is a Seattle-area writing collective. What this means is they put new and published authors together in forums and provide opportunities like published anthologies for members to show off their writing. Another way the AAWA honors its members is by hosting readings like this one. Elliott Bay Book Company, 1521 10th Ave, 624-6600, . Free. All ages. 7 p.m.

Tuesday July 25th: Forget It Reading

See our Event of the Week column for more details. Elliott Bay Book Company, 1521 10th Ave, 624-6600, . Free. All ages. 7 p.m.

Is the Stranger running a contest where winners cover Bumbershoot as unpaid marketers?

“Ever wanted to write for The Stranger? Now’s your chance,” chirps the copy on an ad shared by the Vera Project on Twitter yesterday afternoon. It continues:

The Stranger is partnering up with Bumbershoot and The Vera Project to bring you an exclusive opportunity to go behind-the-scenes at Bumbershoot! Calling all budding journalists for: The Stranger’s Official Bumbershoot Correspondent Contest 2017.

As you can see above, the ad features The Stranger’s official logo and a Stranger email address for contestants to contact. It promises that “an associate editor at The Stranger will select the best entry and the lucky winner will receive” an array of prizes including a refurbished Polaroid camera, film for the camera, and a prize pack from Freakout Records. Perhaps more importantly, the winner’s “photo gallery and experience reviews” will be “featured in The Official Stranger’s Bumbershoot Guide and”

I have an email out to The Stranger to confirm, but the ad doesn’t mention any compensation besides the aforementioned prizes. If this position is unpaid, it marks a departure for editorial content in The Stranger. When I worked at the paper — I started there as an intern and freelancer in 2005, went full-time in 2008, and resigned in 2015 — Bumbershoot coverage was provided by salaried staffers and paid freelancers. If The Stranger is now enticing a “lucky winner” to provide free Bumbershoot-related content in exchange for an armload of swag, that represents a significant shift in the paper’s arts coverage.

Could you imagine a distribution firm throwing a contest to select one “lucky” person to work as an accountant during tax season, with the “winner” to be paid in free donuts? Or a convenience store offering to pay a temporary cashier in coupons and branded merch? Then why would it possibly be okay for a newspaper to do this with writers?

Here’s the thing: writers deserve to be paid, and not just paid in amorphous “exposure.” When an organization like The Stranger — a publication which publisher Tim Keck assured readers as recently as last week is “profitable” and has “been growing financially for years” — reduces its arts coverage to a contest for some eager young dupe to win, it devalues the rest of the paper’s arts coverage. Seattle’s vibrant arts community deserves the attention (and, yes, the criticism) of professional, paid writers, and The Stranger — a newspaper which made its name on intelligent, opinionated arts criticism — should prioritize its arts writing as more than just an add-on to a swag pack.

But there’s more than just the question of payment. The ad promises that the Official Stranger Correspondent at Bumbershoot 2017 will “Join the Bumbershoot Marketing Team with [sic] telling the Bumbershoot story with an insider’s perspective.” Though the ad claims to appeal to “budding journalists,” it sounds more like a co-branded marketing opportunity.

How closely will the “contest winner” work with the Bumbershoot Marketing Team? If Bumbershoot has some control over the direction of the pieces, will the published work be clearly marked as sponsored content? Will The Stranger’s “partnering up” with the Vera Project and Bumbershoot to provide this coverage be clearly disclosed in the Bumbershoot guide and in coverage on the site? If not, how can we trust The Stranger’s Bumbershoot arts coverage to be anything more than a glorified advertisement? Where does the line between editorial content and advertising content begin and end?

Back in 2014, Keck famously told the Capitol Hill Seattle blog that “Loud, brash opinions are a dime a dozen.” Many Stranger staffers at the time took that quote as a sign that Keck was moving the paper away from its fiercely independent arts coverage and toward something less opinionated and more advertiser-friendly. If The Stranger is in fact enlisting free labor to cover the city’s largest arts festival, and if that coverage is closely coordinated with the festival’s marketing team, it looks like our worst fears have been vindicated.

I sent an email to the address in the above advertisement asking if the paper will pay the Bumbershoot Correspondent, and asking them to clarify the position’s relationship with Bumbershoot’s marketing team. They haven’t gotten back to me. If they do respond, I’ll let you know.

UPDATE 11:14 AM: Just got an email back from Diana Katz, an Account Executive at The Stranger Here it is, in its entirety:

Hi Paul,

Thanks for reaching out. Happy to help clarify as best as possible -

1. The position is unpaid. The winner receives a high value swag bag (valued at over $1,700) along with promotion of the winner’s work on

2. The winner will be working independently at the festival in regards to conducting interviews, taking press photos, etc. The Stranger team and the Bumbershoot Marketing team will be assisting the winner with an introduction to music artists to conduct this work as well as providing an access pass to go behind-the-scenes at the festival. Any write-ups/editorial reviews by the correspondent winner will be reviewed by a Stranger Associate Writer before this work is published on This work will be presented on our site’s page along with the winner’s full name and title as Stranger’s official Bumbershoot Correspondent 2017.



Literary Event of the Week: Forget It reading at Elliott Bay Book Company

Every so often in Seattle, a writer pops into the popular consciousness. You’ll find them everywhere at once: in every Seattle-centric magazine, newspaper, and website that covers the literary scene. (Yes, and there aren’t so many of those these days, but that’s a complaint for another time.)

When these kinds of writers appear — a Robert Lashley, say, or a Sarah Galvin, to use two recent-ish examples — it must be easy for aspiring authors to fall prey to jealousy. You toil at the open mics and publishing for free in the hand-printed literary magazines, and then all of a sudden there’s the it-lit figure of the moment staring out at you from free boxes around the city. This doesn’t happen very often, and it probably feels as though they’re taking up some of the spotlight that by rights ought to belong to you.

In my experience, though, these overnight success stories happen because the writers in question work. Their. Asses. Off. They read everywhere, they write all the time, and they put in the hours to gain the respect they deserve. Case in point? Anastacia-Reneé, the poet who has received glowing profiles in a number of local publications including a fantastic City Arts cover story by Galvin that’s on the stands right now.

The reason Anastacia-Reneé is getting so much attention is that she’s publishing three books of poetry with three different publishers this summer: (v.), Forget It, and Answer(Me). This confluence of publication dates wasn’t just handed to her on a platter; the truth is that Anastacia-Reneé is relentless. She reads all over town and advocates for other writers. She experiments in plays and visual art and non-fiction. Until recently, she was the Poet-in-Residence at the Hugo House, making her expertise available to aspiring authors with regular office hours and special appointments.

Anastacia-Reneé’s restlessness shows up on the page, too. She has written under a number of different aliases over the years, and her work investigates the question of identity — race, sexuality, community — in nearly every poem. She is fragmented, and she is mighty, and she is a force of nature. She’s exactly the kind of writer we need to see posted on every corner of the city right now.

To celebrate the second release of her busy summer, Forget It from Santa Cruz publisher Black Radish, Anastacia-Reneé will be joined on Tuesday the 25th at Elliott Bay Book Company by three stellar Seattle-area authors: poet Jane Wong, memoirist Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore, and poet-slash-civil-rights-attorney Shankar Narayan. She’s not only generous with the spotlight, but Anastacia-Reneé is perfectly willing to give time and exposure to other authors who complement her work. Other writers would balk at giving three dynamos some of her stagetime. Anastacia-Reneé knows that every stage is big enough to share.

Elliott Bay Book Company, 1521 10th Ave, 624-6600, . Free. All ages. 7 p.m.

To boldly go where someone else has gone before

Ever since Douglas Adams’s Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy first wooed me into reading adult fiction, I’ve always had a soft spot for the mixture of sci-fi and comedy. So the none-too-serious title of Becky Chambers’s first novel, The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet, caught my attention from the shelves at University Book Store. And the cover blurb by Ancillary Justice author Ann Leckie — it just reads “Great fun!” — promised exactly what I was looking for in a sci-fi novel.

Long Way doesn’t seem to be interested in breaking any new ground. It’s playing with familiar tropes: a spaceship staffed by misfits and outcasts bumbles into the middle of an interstellar conflict. And that’s okay: Chambers is a deft enough storyteller that she knows when to get out of the way and let the characters lead. Much of the book consists of the reader getting to know and enjoy the crew of the Wayfarer. By the time the central plot is in action, you likely won’t care too much about the stakes — you’ll just be eager to spend more time with these aliens and space-sailors.

That said, some of the tropes in this book hew a little too close to archetypes. Some of these characters — one in particular — feel lifted directly from other space travel stories. Specifically, there’s a character in Long Way who feels hijacked out of Joss Whedon’s cowboy space opera Firefly. At first, it’s a similarity, but after a while it feels too close to be comfortable.

Ultimately, Long Way doesn’t go far enough to distance itself from those who have gone before. Archetypes and tropes are fine to use as shorthand in genre fiction, but you have to do something with those tropes — upturn them, deepen them, blend them together in interesting ways — or else your story just feels like a cover of a cover of a cover, leaving the reader to wonder where they’ve heard this song before. I breezed through Long Way, but I don’t know if I’m going to be back for the just-released sequel unless I’m assured that Chambers finally takes her crew somewhere new for a change.

Summer Sponsorship deals!

We just released our Sept 2017 - January 2018 sponorship openings, and they've sold faster then ever. Of that block, only three two dates remain available, in November and December. Thank you, sponsors!

But we still have a few dates left this Summer — one next week, and also a few in August. We've just marked those down, so if you're looking for a sponsorship deal, head over to our booking page and snap up the date you'd like before someone else does.

Your sponsorship gets you in front of Seattle's most passionate readers, and your money goes to hire the writers and keep the site running. It's a virtuous cycle, and we couldn't do it without you. Come on board, and be part of the team that keeps our community growing.

Joe Biden is coming to Benaroya Hall on December 3rd to read from his upcoming book Promise Me, Dad: A Year of Hope, Hardship, and Purpose. Elliott Bay Book Company is selling advance tickets. You can get all the information you need from their Facebook page. (But be warned that you will experience sticker-shock; tickets are in the three figures, for the most part. It costs a lot to bring these bigwigs to town in a venue large enough to support them. I assure you no greedy booksellers are getting rich off your ticket sales.)

Poem Where We Apologize For Being Human

There is a part of me that doesn’t understand longing.
And yet, with my hands full of daisies, forget-me-nots,

I walk into a field of wildflowers and ask for more.
This is how I feel when you touch my shoulder.

There are nights of only so much moonshine
and I want to bathe in more than my share.

Saltwater, you’ve said. The oceans calms. Sometimes
I lose myself and want to go under. Part mermaid.

Part riptide. There was a time when every beach
was a room I would undress in. Now, I forget to live

that openly. Now, I hold back what I want to say.
There’s a belief we each have to live flawlessly.

I rip off the roots of flowers and place them in a vase.
Forget the fields where you could kiss me hard

and instead, call the florist, close the door.
Because we can’t say what we want, we write

a confessional poem where every sentence is true,
except one. Tell me again how often you think about me.

Tell me again how the drowning man finds himself
dreaming how one day walk he’ll walk on land.