WA-List » Fictional Washington

Fictional Washington

Published by Steve Campion. Category: Arts, Culture & Media

Step outside and breathe in the real Northwest. Then open a book and get lost in the fictional world of Washington.  Many writers have found inspiration in our deep evergreen forests, alpine heights, and expansive farm and ranch land.  Seattle’s intriguing modern city life and cultural reputation have stoked the imaginations of others.  And what storyteller isn’t lured by the steady heartbeat of raindrops and the moodiness of overcast skies?  Recent generations of novelists have woven tales about our corner of the country with themes of ambition, independence, secrets, mystery, racial conflict, murder, and vampires.

Vampires?  Of course.  You can’t drive through the Clallam County town of Forks without learning something about the Twilight novels.  But Twilight (and its cultural successor Fifty Shades of Grey) are only two fictional representatives of our area.  We wanted to see more; we wanted a broader view of our literary landscape.

WA-List asked Matt Lemanski, Collection Management Librarian at the Pierce County Library System, to share a list of recent novels set in Washington state.  He kindly agreed and proceeded to compile a thoughtful and varied bookshelf of fiction.  Here — with his descriptions — are Lemanski’s 28 examples of Washington in contemporary fiction.  Some are series like Emma Lord and Greywalker. Others are by local authors including David Guterson and Maria Semple.  But whether the books deal with romance and heartache, or mystery and evil, they are uniquely Washington.



Emma Lord series by Mary Daheim.  This cozy mystery series is set in a small town in the Cascade foothills.

West of Here by Jonathan Evison.  This story is set in a fictional town on the Pacific coast of Washington.  It goes from focusing on the town’s founders in 1890 to the residents of the town in 2006.

Lottery by Patricia Wood.  Perry L Crandall lives in Everett, WA, and he has just won a 12 million dollar lottery.  He also has an IQ of 76, making him suddenly very popular amongst his relatives.

The Other by David Guterson.  This is the story of John William Barry, born to a wealthy family in Seattle, and Neil Countryman, born of blue-collar, Irish blood.  When they meet at the age of sixteen they bond over their mutual love of the Washington backcountry.  Neil later becomes a teacher but John wants to disappear into the woods permanently.  Will Neil help him to disappear?


True Colors by Kristin Hannah.  The Grey sisters live in a small town in Washington and this book follows their lives from the time of their mother’s death in their teens through adulthood, showing us all their highs and lows.

Border Songs by Jim Lynch.  Set behind the coast between Washington and British Columbia, this book tells of Brandon Vanderkool.  He loves birds but has a harder time with women.  He works for the border guard and is surprisingly good at it as he finds his simple world flooded with drug runners and politicians.  Nothing says the PNW like birding, drugs and farmland.

The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven by Sherman Alexie.  22 connected tales narrated by despondent residents of a Spokane Indian Reservation, this book tells of the distance between Indians and whites, reservation and urban Indians, as well as the differences between tradition and the modern.

Deadline Man by Jon Talton.  A Seattle newspaper columnist meets with a regular source when that source suddenly falls from his office 20 stories to his death.  Back at the paper, the journalist finds the company is to be sold and his job is uncertain.  Soon, the feds get involved.

The Atlas of Love by Laurie Frankel.  When Jill becomes both pregnant and single at the end of one spring semester, she and her two closest friends plunge into an experiment in tri-parenting, tri-schooling, and trihabitating as grad students in Seattle. Naturally, everything goes wrong, but in ways no one sees coming.


The Violets of March by Sarah Jio.  In her twenties, Emily Wilson was on top of the world: she had a bestselling novel, a husband plucked from the pages of GQ, and a one-way ticket to happily ever after.  Ten years later, the tide has turned on Emily’s good fortune. So when her great-aunt Bee invites her to spend the month of March on Bainbridge Island in Washington State, Emily accepts, longing to be healed by the sea. Researching her next book, Emily discovers a red velvet diary, dated 1943, whose contents reveal startling connections to her own life.

Greywalker series by Kat Richardson.  Recovering from a near-fatal accident, Seattle Private Investigator Harper Blaine develops the ability to move through the Grey: the realm of ghosts, vampires, witches, and magic that exists between our world and the next. Harper wants her life to return to normal, but when her clients turn out to be paranormal, the reluctant Greywalker is drawn into the affairs of ambitious vampires and angry ghosts.

You Don’t Want to Know by Lisa Jackson.  After spending the past two years in and out of Seattle mental institutions, unable to remember the details of her 2-year-old son Noah’s disappearance, Ava returns to the family estate and, secretly visiting a hypnotist to restore her memories, discovers that her son may still be alive.

Our Lady of the Forest by David Guterson.  Ann Holmes is a fragile, pill-popping teenaged runaway who receives a visitation from the Virgin Mary one morning while picking mushrooms in the woods of North Fork, Washington. In the ensuing days the miracle recurs, and the declining logging town becomes the site of a pilgrimage of the faithful and desperate. As these people flock to Ann and as Ann herself is drawn more deeply into what is either holiness or madness, “Our Lady of the Forest” seamlessly splices the miraculous and the mundane.


Wild Life by Molly Gloss.  When mother of five Charlotte Bridger Drummond becomes lost in the Great Northwest Woods, she is rescued by an elusive group of quasi-human beasts that force her to examine her previous notions about the differences between animals and humans, men and women, and wilderness and civilization.

Another Roadside Attraction by Tom Robbins.  What if the Second Coming didn’t quite come off as advertised? What if, on display in that funky roadside zoo is really who they say it is?  What does that portend for the future of western civilization? And what if a young clairvoyant named Amanda reestablishes the flea circus as popular entertainment and fertility worship as the principal religious form of our high-tech age? A little hot dog stand and zoo on a highway in Skagit county answers those questions and a lot more.

Desolation Angels by Jack Kerouac.  According to the book’s foreword, the opening section of the novel is almost directly taken from the journal he kept when he was a fire lookout on Desolation Peak in the North Cascade mountains of Washington state. Much of the psychological struggle which the novel’s protagonist, Jack Duluoz, undergoes in the novel reflects Kerouac’s own increasing disenchantment with the Buddhist philosophy with which he had previously been fascinated.

Snow Falling on Cedars by David Guterson.  On San Piedro, an island of rugged, spectacular beauty in Puget Sound, home to salmon fishermen and strawberry farmers, a Japanese-American fisherman stands trial, charged with coldblooded murder. The year is 1954, and the shadow of World War II, with its brutality abroad and internment of Japanese Americans at home, hangs over the courtroom. Ishmael Chambers, who lost an arm in the Pacific war and now runs the island newspaper inherited from his father, is among the journalists covering the trial – a trial that brings him close, once again, to Hatsue Miyomoto, the wife of the accused man and Ishmael’s never-forgotten boyhood love.

The Last Town on Earth by Thomas Mullen.


The Living by Annie Dillard.  The inhabitants of a nascent town near Washington’s Puget Sound in the final decades of the nineteenth century struggle to make their lives successful.

Microserfs by Douglas Coupland.  They are Microserfs:  six code-crunching computer whizzes who spend upward of sixteen hours a day “coding” and eating “flat” foods (food which, like Kraft singles, can be passed underneath closed doors) as they fearfully scan company e-mail to learn whether the great Bill is going to “flame” one of them. But now there’s a chance to become innovators instead of cogs in the gargantuan Microsoft machine. The intrepid Microserfs are striking out on their own, living together in a shared digital flophouse as they desperately try to cultivate well-rounded lives and find love amid the dislocated, subhuman whir and buzz of their computer-driven world.

The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein.  Nearing the end of his life, Enzo, a dog with a philosopher’s soul, tries to bring together the family, pulled apart by a three year custody battle between daughter Zoe’s maternal grandparents and her father Denny, a race car driver in Seattle.

Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford.  When artifacts from Japanese families sent to internment camps during World War II are uncovered during renovations at Seattle’s Panama Hotel, Henry Lee embarks on a personal quest that leads to memories of growing up Chinese in a city rife with anti-Japanese sentiment and of Keiko, a Japanese girl whose love transcended cultures and generations.

Where’d you Go, Bernadette?  by Maria Semple.  Bernadette Fox is notorious. To her Microsoft-guru husband, she’s a fearlessly opinionated partner; to fellow private-school mothers in Seattle, she’s a disgrace; to design mavens, she’s a revolutionary architect, and to 15-year-old Bee, she is a best friend and, simply, Mom.  Then Bernadette disappears. It began when Bee aced her report card and claimed her promised reward: a family trip to Antarctica. But Bernadette’s intensifying allergy to Seattle–and people in general–has made her so agoraphobic that a virtual assistant in India now runs her most basic errands. A trip to the end of the earth is problematic.

Wilderness by Lance Weller.  Thirty years after the Civil War’s Battle of the Wilderness left him maimed, Abel Truman has found his way to the edge of the continent, the rugged, majestic coast of Washington State, where he lives alone in a driftwood shack with his beloved dog. Wilderness is the story of Abel, now an old and ailing man, and his heroic final journey over the snowbound Olympic Mountains. It’s a quest he has little hope of completing but still must undertake to settle matters of the heart that predate even the horrors of the war.

Where Lilacs Still Bloom by Jane Kirkpatrick.  German immigrant and farm wife Hulda Klager possesses only an eighth-grade education—and a burning desire to create something beautiful. What begins as a hobby to create an easy-peeling apple for her pies in her garden in Woodland, Washington becomes Hulda’s driving purpose: a time-consuming interest in plant hybridization that puts her at odds with family and community, as she challenges the early twentieth-century expectations for a simple housewife.

Twilight by Stephanie Meyer.  The list would be incomplete without this series.  Bella Swan’s move to Forks, a small, perpetually rainy town in Washington, could have been the most boring move she ever made. But once she meets the mysterious and alluring Edward Cullen, Bella’s life takes a thrilling and terrifying turn. Up until now, Edward has managed to keep his vampire identity a secret in the small community he lives in, but now nobody is safe, especially Bella, the person Edward holds most dear.  Love it or hate it, everyone now knows about Forks, WA.

Fifty Shades of Grey by E. L. James.  What started out as Twilight fan fiction became some of the best-selling erotica in history.  When literature student Anastasia Steele goes to interview young entrepreneur Christian Grey, she encounters a man who is beautiful, brilliant, and intimidating. The unworldly, innocent Ana is startled to realize she wants this man and, despite his enigmatic reserve, finds she is desperate to get close to him. Unable to resist Ana’s quiet beauty, wit, and independent spirit, Grey admits he wants her, too—but on his own terms.

Anything by Debbie Macomber.  The queen of cozy, Debbie Macomber’s Cedar Cove series, which features a different address for each title, is becoming a Hallmark Channel original series.  If you love love itself as well as knitting, you’ll love Macomber’s work. [See also: our Cedar Cove, Washington list.]

SOURCE: We are grateful to Matt Lemanski for assembling this list.


2 Responses to “Fictional Washington”

  1. Linda Says:

    This is an intriguing list. I’m surprised how few I’ve read but some of them are now on my future-reads list.

  2. Joan Says:

    I never realized there were so many prolific writers here in Wa or so many books set in this corner of the world.