Half city, half town, all water, Olympia has its charms. Consider the gift of a fictitious Olympia or Thurston County: a story set in our home, a gift that supports a local author. What’s great about such a gift is showing out-of-state friends and family a part of our home as only a writer can capture it.
We’ve gathered a collection of fiction and nonfiction by writers who’ve lived in Olympia, or who currently live here, and who have written stories set within our liquid borders. Each book is unique, featuring diverse perspectives of both fantastical and shockingly real events, so we get a comprehensive look at Olympia — past, present or magical.
Moss Covered Claws, by Jonah Barrett
Barrett’s debut short story collection teems with speculative fiction about “anxiety-feeding” demons and dimension-traveling antifascists. It’s on back order from Blue Cactus Press, but copies may be found at local bookstores. One story is set at Olympia landmark The Evergreen State College. The publisher describes Moss Covered Claws as 10 “macabre tales of speculative fiction. They offer a fresh, cheeky voice to Queer fiction and fantasy genres, delivered in this multiverse of forgotten dreams and broken promises.”
Teacher, by Alec Clayton
The high school in this book isn’t real, but bits of reality are sprinkled throughout: the old Smithfield Café and Capital Lake, plus such historical events as the Hands Off Washington campaign. Clayton aims for intense, funny, true-to-life and Oly-evocative. The blurb describes his protagonist as “damaged and uncertain Eva McRoy, a bisexual high school English teacher who lost her child after a tumultuous divorce. Her self-identity is now under threat at work and in relationships. Yet Eva grows in identity and power as she starts an LGBT support group at school, protests a police shooting, and survives a school shooting herself. Through these struggles, she discovers a passion for justice and renews a sense of self that had waned.”
A Deadly Wind, by John Dodge
Some readers may know Dodge from his work as a weather reporter for The Olympian. Nonfiction book A Deadly Wind is about the historic Columbus Day Storm of 1962, which destroyed the Western coast from California to Vancouver, British Columbia — including Olympia. Learn of the storm’s ramifications on American history. OSU Press says, “This is a must-read for the tens of thousands of storm survivors, for history buffs, and for anyone interested in the intersection of severe weather events and climate change.”
Kickback, by Tracy Gunn
Set at Capital High School, Kickback is a murder mystery with a transgender hero. All proceeds from sales of this pseudonymous novel go to PFLAG, so your purchase is also a donation. The novel follows Max Prescott, high school senior, who’s grieving the death of his girlfriend. When Max stumbles across a dead body the police ascribe to an accident, he concludes it was murder and investigates the death. “Will Max identify the killer?” asks the blurb. “Will he survive the torturous events he encounters along his investigative journey? And will his new girlfriend leave him when his secret past is revealed? Read Kickback and get the answers as the shifting evidence is uncovered.”
An American Picture Bride, by Toy Kay
This autobiography of Chinese American author Toy Kay focuses on her arranged marriage and time in Olympia. Born in Butte, Montana, Kay received a Chinese upbringing reminiscent of the Qing Dynasty culture of the late 1800s. An arranged marriage to Bill Kay brought her to Olympia, where she became an active voice in the Chinese American community. In 2003, she received the Living Legend Award of Thurston County. Her book’s description promises, “Readers of her story will appreciate the unique voice of a Chinese American elder and hear her challenges as a woman working in the family restaurant, a woman dreaming of higher education and a woman who battled deep despair. Through it all, she becomes a woman who finds strength through spiritual exploration, education, and community involvement. Toy’s story is one of survival and inspiration.”
Here I Come and Other Stories, by Alex Jennings
New Orleans-based Jennings often uses Oly locations and legends in his work, and even thanks his Evergreen instructors in the foreword. The blurb asks, “Who are we when we are alone? What are ghosts if not memories of the past given voice? Are our bodies and identities warped by the emotions that pass through us? What would it mean for Humanity to have a cosmic parent? Unsolvable by logic or method, such topics are not the business of the scientist. Only the philosopher, the guru, and the fantasist are fit to map these terrains. Consider this volume a guidebook.”
The Highest Tide, by Jim Lynch
The Highest Tide is about a young boy who discovers a giant squid stranded near Priest Point Park. Harlequin Productions staged it as a play in early 2020. Blending literary fiction with a bit of magic, Lynch creates a spellbinding story of youth, discovery and tenacity. Winner of the Pacific Northwest Bookseller Award, The Highest Tide is among the best-known books set in Olympia. It’s an excellent gift for sharing the fantastical nature of the water surrounding us, plus the wonder lurking just beneath the waves. The blurb explains, “One unforgettable night, 13-year-old Miles O’Malley sneaks out on the flats near his home in search of shellfish only to discover something remarkable, a giant squid. When he continues to discover more exotic sea life, he becomes a local celebrity and is pursued by TV crews urging him to explain what’s going on. And as the days shorten and the water begins to rise, his summer-long attempt to understand the muddy flats becomes an examination of life itself, and this enchanting debut novel about obsession and natural wonder surges toward an unforgettable ending.”
Plagued Company and Other Stories, by Aigner Loren Wilson
There original stories and reprints range from fairy tale to fantasy to science fiction. They focus on unfortunate pairings and friendships, many in Thurston County. One’s set in Lacey, at a magical version of Forever Young Beauty Salon. The blurb describes the book thusly: “Hopeful, strange and, at times, funny, the speculative stories in Plagued Company cover themes of home, the pain it can sometimes bring, and the dire situations our desires can get us into. Readers can find queer relationships and queer people throughout the entire collection — both good and bad and some that exist in the in-between.”
Editor’s note: Authors Barrett, Clayton and Wilson are also staff writers for OLY ARTS.