In Andrew Gaines’s novel, NeuTraffic, his characters are set adrift on an odyssey through a Seattle that seems at once both familiar and quite strange. As they explore the University District, Fremont, Ballard, and the no-man’s zone that Downtown has become, Andrew weaves famous landmarks and local favorite spots together into a fabulistic new world.
We asked him to tell us his favorite things about the Seattle of today.
1. When did you first come to Seattle? Did it make a good impression?
My first real memory of visiting Seattle was when I was in Elementary School, coming up from Fife-Milton (a small town on the outskirts of Tacoma) to do a summer camp at the University of Washington. It was a Greek Mythology themed camp. I remember being an awkward nerdy kid even in relation to other generally awkward nerdy kids, and making a retrospectively hideous mask of Hermes. I had a great time, though! And the UW campus in the summer… it was very difficult not to fall in love, and I knew from then on out that I wanted to go to school and live here.
2. Do you live in Seattle? How long have you lived in Seattle?
I do live here in Seattle, specifically in West Seattle. I’ve lived here for nine years now. But, really, I grew up in the greater Seattle area, about forty minutes south of the city, so moving here was more of a blended transition (maybe a Star Wars style screen wipe) than a drastic, upending move.
3. What is the best part of Seattle?
The rain. Far and away, it’s the rain. I can wax philosophical on how I think the weather is partly responsible for our awesome music history, our literacy, our tech savvy, our Seattle Freeze… but really, I just like it. It makes me feel peaceful. Which means that for the majority of the year I’m a pretty chill dude.
4. What place in Seattle holds the most nostalgic power for you? Why?
I’m not really a nostalgic person, and I try not to give nostalgia much power (the here and the now, baby!), so I’m struggling with this one. Can I take a pass?
5. If you had to pick a favorite coffee shop in Seattle, which would it be? Favorite Bar? Favorite Microbrew from Seattle area?
Hmmm… favorite coffee shop, probably the Java Bean next to the Luna Park Cafe. They make a really tasty spicy Cafe Mole, and a egg/bagel (eggel, I think they call it?) sandwich on a salt bagel. For the most part though, I just drink home-brewed black coffee. My favorite bar is definitely Beveridge Place Pub: it’s very welcoming, never too crowded, has a great beer selection, and is dog friendly. You can bring or order in your own food, and Zeek’s down the street will just walk your pizza to you… we’ve had many many nights where we’ll walk the dog down (it’s about a mile away from my place), order a pizza, and enjoy some tasty brews. Speaking of brews… favorite microbrew from the Seattle Area? That’s a tough one, but I’m going to go with Lucille IPA from Georgetown Brewery. I’m also a regular drinker of the “Wolf” blend from the Elliot Bay Brewery, where they take their No Doubt Stout and top it off with a port. Good stuff.
6. What is your favorite place to write or read in Seattle?
I wish I could be romantic and say “a coffeeshop” or “a park” or “alone at the bar” like many of my much more elegant friends can, but really, my favorite place to write is at my desk, and my favorite place to read is on my couch (preferably when it is raining outside). In fact, I have a hard time writing/reading in any other arrangement, but I’m a bit of a homebody and get plenty of opportunity for both.
7. Do you believe that Setting is a vital part of narrative?
Yes, I think Setting can be a very vital part of narrative. Some writers (and some film directors) are able to make the setting of their pieces into a character into and of itself, a force of aid or hindrance for or against the protagonists. This is especially true in travel narratives. But often, I think of setting as a critical piece of insight into each of the characters. Take any setting that is given enough attention (either on the page or on the screen), and think about its relationship to the characters. Which characters feel natural there? Why? Which characters are out of place? Why? And what does this mean for those that fit the setting naturally, and those that don’t, and what happens when their settings change? I don’t think we always notice this, but I do think it is a factor in literature and in reality. We often take our own settings for granted, but I would guarantee that they have influence on our own narratives just as much as they do in art. I think it’s a pretty magical, everyday thing, and an important one.
8. Why is Seattle a critical part of your life? Why is it your setting? or How does it critically impact your life?
Seattle is an intensely critical part of my life right now. Like an old blue hoodie I often wear, Seattle just fits me. I’m comfortable in it. I feel powerful in it, while still feeling challenged at every turn. The music and the literary scenes, the weather, the landscapes, the restaurants and the bars and the parks… I love it. It is the setting of my shaping. It is home.
9. What is the most important or interesting thing that has happened to you in Seattle?
My entire time here in Seattle has been an ongoing, monumentally important and fascinatingly interesting moment/thing for me. I can’t break the moment’s continuum, because it all led me to this moment which is leading me to my next.
10. Best Restaurant?
Circa, where everything on the menu is delicious (especially the lamb burger). Ooh, but Buddha Ruksa thai food? and Mashiko’s sustainable sushi place? La Rustica, for wonderful Italian food? I refuse to answer this question definitively.
11. Where can the cool kids be found on a Saturday night?
At a concert. I don’t care what concert, or why you are there, but if you are listening to live music, you are at least a step cooler in my book. Especially if you are supporting local musicians! (This answer comes with bias.) I also think you are cool if you stay home on a Saturday night. (This “also” answer also comes with bias.)
12. What neighborhood is the best in Seattle? Why?
It’s roots have blossomed in all of my answers so far. West Seattle! The views are breathtaking (I mean this literally, I often get a bit overwhelmed), the people are pretty relaxed, the restaurants are great, and it’s quirky without trying to be in-your-face about it. But really, I think all of the Seattle neighborhoods deserve to be called best, if they are the sort of place that fit you. They’ve all got their charm, and they are all very Seattle-y in their own way. West Seattle just fits me better than any place I’ve ever been. I love it here.
13. What would you say if you had to convince your favorite author to come to Seattle for a reading?
“Mrs. LeGuin, please, I will personally come pick you up and drive you to Seattle. We could listen to some books on tape! And I promise to try and get the dog smell out of the car.”
14. What is your favorite thing about being a part of Four Windows Books first serial quarterly?
I love workshopping with my fellow authors in an environment that is supportive and collaborative, rather than competitive. We all get to do our own, individual art, but with the vested interest in making everyone’s piece as good as it could possibly be. Which is almost too easy, as Alisha, Ian, and Jessie are great writers, and each time I read an evolution of their pieces I have a blast doing so. I can’t wait to see what they do next with their novels. Not only that, I’m getting to know them as friends, and I think it says a lot that our workshopping sessions go until the early hours of the morning, and we all leave with big smiles on our faces. It’s fun.