Author Interview: Jessie Kwak

JessieKwak_headshotJessie Kwak’s novel, Shifting Borders, is set primarily in South Seattle, and takes advantage of the neighborhood’s rich cultural diversity, stretches of industrial buildings, and delicious pho restaurants. 

We asked her to tell us her favorite things about Seattle.



1. When did you first come to Seattle? Did it make a good impression?

I arrived breathless and bright-eyed as a college freshman in September of 2001. I’d visited Seattle many times over the years (I remember always being annoyed that you needed a jacket even though it was summertime), and I was excited to try my hand at living in the Big City. I remember that there was constantly something to do, whether it was a play to attend, a new coffee shop to visit, or just a park to go read a book in. I absolutely loved it.


2. Do you live in Seattle? How long have you lived in Seattle?

I’ve called Seattle home for 12 years, although I’ve spent a bit of that time living temporarily in other places (like Santa Elena de Uairén, Venezuela, and the equally exotic Coeur d’Alene, Idaho). Now I’m living in Portland, Oregon, which feels a lot like Seattle, minus the hills. I’m sure Seattle will be home for us again someday soon.


3. What is the best part of Seattle? 

The best part of Seattle (and all of the Pacific Northwest) is that things aren’t trying to kill you. The poisonous snakes and spiders are really rare, the volcanos are mostly dormant, and there aren’t any hurricanes or tsunamis or earthquakes. They keep talking about the Big Earthquake that will destroy everything, but I think that’s probably just a ploy to keep immigration rates down from the rest of the country. Oh, and the beer is fantastic and plentiful.


4. What place in Seattle holds the most nostalgic power for you? Why?

Mr. Spot’s Chai House in Ballard. I went there to study all through college, and I was crushed when it closed down. I also have a soft spot for Mount Pleasant Cemetery in Queen Anne – I spent a lot of time with friends there.

Photo by mertxe iturrioz on Flickr.
Mount Pleasant Cemetery – Photo by mertxe iturrioz, via Flickr.


5. If you had to pick a favorite coffee shop in Seattle, which would it be? Favorite Bar? Favorite Microbrew from Seattle area?

Favorite coffee shop: This is a tie. The old Bauhaus on Capitol Hill wins for reasons of nostalgia, but All City Coffee in Georgetown wins for being a better place to get actual work done. Oh – and Joe Bar because it’s the best coffee shop ever.

Favorite bar: Summit Public House on Capitol Hill, and Loretta’s in South Park.

Favorite microbrew: I love IPAs, so Seattle is beer heaven for me. That means it’s also super hard to decide, so I’m going with a 3-way tie. The Elysian’s Space Dust IPA and Savant IPA, and Georgetown Brewing’s Lucille IPA. And I’m not just saying Elysian because I worked there for 6ish years. They make some seriously delicious beers.


Photo from Erik Mörner, via Flickr.
Elysian Brewing Company – Photo from Erik Mörner, via Flickr.

6. What is your favorite place to write or read in Seattle?

The Capitol Hill Library is a fantastic place to write and read – there are tons of little nooks and crannies to tuck yourself into.


7. Do you believe that Setting is a vital part of narrative?

Definitely. I minored in theater, and loved the technical side of things. I’ve built enough physical sets to know that the stage your characters perform on is every bit as important to the story as the characters themselves. I’ve seen plays with lavish, changeable scenery, and I’ve seen plays performed on bare stages – even the most minimalist of sets is still an important choice to the story a director is trying to tell.

He may be using the same words, but isn’t Baz Luhrmann telling a completely different story with his Romeo + Juliet set in Verona Beach than the same play set in a Shakespeare-era Verona?


8. Why is Seattle a critical part of your life? Why is it your setting? or How does it critically impact your life?

My story is set in a part of Seattle that I didn’t realize existed until a few years back. For my first 8 years here I lived on Queen Anne and Capitol Hill, I played in Ballard and Fremont, and those are the neighborhoods that I thought of when I said “Seattle.”

But after my husband and I moved back from a year living away, we moved to Georgetown. We went out on Beacon Hill, I picked up my prescriptions in White Center. We met friends for drinks in Burien and South Park. We took bike rides through Renton and West Seattle and Columbia City. My definition of “Seattle” expanded hugely in those years we lived in Georgetown, and so maybe it’s only natural that when Patricia sprang into my life, she was firmly rooted in South Seattle.


9. What is the most important or interesting thing that has happened to you in Seattle?

Seattle is a major part of where I formed as a human being – it’s where I developed and tested a lot of my ideas about life, and what it means to be a part of society. Certainly the most important thing that’s happened to me was meeting my husband. I’ve written and deleted the rest of this paragraph a dozen times now, so let’s just suffice to say that he’s help to push and mold me into a more purer version of who I want to be, both personally and professionally.

Seattle Waterfront – photo by Robert Kittilson, Jessie's partner and muse.
Seattle Waterfront – photo by Robert Kittilson, Jessie’s partner and muse.


10. What’s the best restaurant in Seattle?

Stop trying to make me pick just one favorite. I won’t do it.

Umi Sushi in Belltown, Hangar Cafe in Georgetown for the crepes, Joe’s Endolyne in West Seattle for brunch, Fonda la Catrina in Georgetown if you need yourself some delicious Mexican food (and, again, not just because I used to work there). Oh, and Slim’s Last Chance for the chili and cleavage.

And because my story is about ghosts, I must shout out to the dearly departed Sunday special burger at now-closed Calamity Jane’s in Georgetown (may God rest it’s delicious soul). The beef was always cooked just right, then topped with blue cheese, and AMAZING balsamic-caramelized onions, and the chef was sweet enough to come out and explain exactly how she cooks the onions to make them so damn tasty after we raved to our server. I ate a lot of those burgers when I lived in Georgetown.


11. Where can the cool kids be found on a Saturday night?

Reading books and drinking wine on the couch? Or am I not considered one of the cool kids?


12. What neighborhood is the best in Seattle? Why?

Georgetown. Because of the people, the restaurants, the Art Attack, the Carnival, the Ghost Tour, the neighborhood holiday party, the Garden Walk, the antique shops, the kids, the neighborhood cleanup days, the 9 Pound Hammer, and the way it smells like boiling hops no matter where you are, thanks to Georgetown Brewing and the Elysian.

Photo from Smarty Pants' website.
Photo from Smarty Pants’ website.


13. What would you say if you had to convince your favorite author to come to Seattle for a reading?

Seattle is apparently one of the most literate cities in the nation (or at least that’s a thing we keep repeating to each other), so you’ll get lots of people at your readings.


14. What is your favorite thing about being a part of Four Windows Books first serial quarterly?

The collaboration aspect. I love how insightful and thought provoking everyone’s comments are, and I feel like this story really wouldn’t have come together if it wasn’t for this group.

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