Peyton McKean’s Seattle: Life Under A Cloud

Where does a writer draw inspiration from? A good starting point is to look around right where you’re at and view things in a new light. For example, when I was invited to submit a story to the Seattle Noir mystery anthology I was advised by my editor, Curt Colbert, that one way to think of noir fiction is that the protagonist lives life “under a cloud.” He meant it figuratively of course, but I got to thinking about it literally — after all, every Seattleite lives under a cloud most of the time. But the mission to write “Blood Tide,” which was chosen as Seattle Noir’s lead-off story, was an exercise in learning to see my own environment in a new way. Take a good look at the picture. I snapped it just the other day. The place really does exist under one cloud or another most of the time, doesn’t it?

Still, born and bred Seattleites like me grow so used to clouds that we hardly notice them. But when one takes Seattle as a whole and asks what sorts of figurative clouds are floating overhead, then that new light begins to shine.

The destruction of Chief Seattle’s culture was not fully completed until city engineers diverted the Duwamish River headwaters and changed Tukwila from a river village to a barren wasteland. That happened in the early nineteen hundreds, barely a century ago, and the oral tradition of those times carries on among the displaced natives here to this day. A bit more than a half century ago, I was born and raised in a housing project on the banks of what remains of the Duwamish River, in what’s now the South Park neighborhood. So I feel an affinity for the people who lived there and drew sustenance there before me. Not many Seattleites can say they grew up on those banks, although in old times nearly all Duwamish people did.

The hardships of the Duwamish people continue today. Some still fish the muddy waters of what’s left of the Duwamish River although even Cecile Hansen, Chairwoman of the tribe says she wouldn’t eat a salmon caught in a Federal Superfund Cleanup Site, which is what the river has become. A few years back, Bill Clinton issued a decree establishing the Duwamish as a Federally Recognized Tribe, but George Bush immediately rescinded all Clinton’s orders, either without reading about the Duwamish, or at least not giving a damn about their fate.

What’s all this got to do with writing? Let’s just say I’ve found my place, and a voice, and a cause. I contributed cash to help the tribe build its first longhouse in West Seattle since their old “Herring’s House” was burnt by a mob of pioneers in the 1890s. I’m learning a bit of the almost-extinct Lushootseed language in classes at the longhouse. And I’m writing fiction that dramatizes conditions among Seattle’s native population.

By extension of my own experience, then, my lead character Peyton McKean is imbued with personal background and qualities of mind that derive as I did, out of the mud of the heavy metal contaminated Duwamish River, under a sky heavy with clouds that portend rain. Maybe that rain will wash away some of Seattle’s original sins. If not, then plenty more black days lie in store. No matter which, my stories will draw strength of character in the telling of old hurt, old calamity, old bigotry and hatred. Fertile wellsprings for hard-edged mystery fiction.

And that’s noir. It’s life under a cloud. It’s Seattle.

About Tom Hopp

Thomas P Hopp is a scientist and author living in Seattle. He writes medical thrillers, natural disaster novels, and the Dinosaur Wars science fiction series.
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2 Responses to Peyton McKean’s Seattle: Life Under A Cloud

  1. j.m.newell says:

    Language Lessons

    I have a brother who was a Marine.

    The first time I heard the word renege it was formed in his breath with disgust at promises broken.
    The meaning was clear.

    Original sin was a concept my parents had the good sense to keep from their children.
    We were introduced instead to free thought.
    I miss them.

    If atmospherics are like the Zeitgeist and light is the source of all that lives,
    How do we make more of the words that heal us?
    Dark clouds unpredictably give spectra suspended in mid-space.

    Hello Tom

    I hope all goes well with you.

    When you wrote “a fabric that refuses to unravel despite our best efforts” are you writing as a biochemist attempting to decern a part of a greater pattern or do you mean that Nature is resistant to the worst of our assaults? I’d like to understand you. I think it the former. If so, I hope the relevant strands reveal their characteristics to you as days come to light.

    Years ago I had a conversation with James Rasmussen at a public discussion about the toxic condition of the river. How effective can an under informed population be in demanding the activity needed to revitalize an abused environment?

    When words become shop worn they lose meaning crucial to convey the dire certainty of these toxins effects. If we say how these substances insinuate themselves into the lacey threads of salmon flesh and into our own the response of the reader may be visceral and remembered. A list of chemical names that are carcinogenic have little to add to our understanding of what they do to us and to the fish.

    Few are cognizant of the complexity. I admire that you are bridging the gap between science and the humanities in your writing.

    Best Wishes

    The big bang is a stupid name for the depth of a heart.
    “The scientific approuch to life is not really appropriate to the states of visceral anguish” (Anthony Burgess)

    PS The king can go to hell.

  2. j.m.newwell says:

    I should have written (unless the kings are the likes of Arthur) devine-right identity is corrosive. I do not have an editor. I was in a hurry, I apologize.

    I keep this quote at my desk:

    “The most terrifying fact about the universe is not that it is hostile but that it is indifferent; but if we can come to terms with this indifference and accept the challenge of life within the boundries of death – however mutable man may be able to make them – our existence as a species can have genuine meaning and fulfillment. However vast the darkness, we must supply our own light.”

    (Stanley Kubrick)

    My question to you is how best to supply this wave-like quanta? Why do you say the origin theory is the dinosaur of our time?

    RE: 2.7 degrees and defying the 2nd Law

    I read her coded message as intended.
    You are more then you know.

    As are we all,
    Until we are no more.

    We walk through perceptual doors alone.
    We trust someone to listen.
    We share the experiential phenomenon.
    We write. We grieve. We wait to read our own sustaining, error-correcting echo.


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