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How the “Seattle Freeze” Inspired my Spy Series

The Book cover for The Assistant next to a black fedora, a black revolver, and a candle.

The first book in my Emerald City Spies series begins with a short prologue written from the perspective of the city itself.

Let’s get one thing straight: Seattle doesn’t care about you.

Oh, we’ve got a reputation for being nice. A lie so old even the locals believe it. But our history speaks a sweeter truth. Seattle’s spirit was forged during the Klondike gold rush. We grew wealthy selling tents and food and sex to starry-eyed prospectors. And today? Different century, same game. Seattle’s always been a company town. We take someone with a vision —  the profitable kind — and line up enough idealists to do the heavy lifting. They work cheap, and we’ve always had a knack for attracting them. Our city thrived on that system, and we’ll always thrive. We pushed gold, then wood, then airplanes, then software, then coffee, then websites that everyone laughed at. But who’s laughing now? Not us! Retail is dead, and houses here start at half a mil.

Progress is what we care about. Growth. Disruption. Change. A hundred years ago, when our hills dared be too tall, our businessmen ground the entire city into rubble, creating a platform upon which bigger and better things could grow. And if certain worthy individuals profit from a city’s transformation, from those cycles of destruction and re-creation, isn’t that only fair? After all, when we push out the old in favor of the new, and our smartest people grow richer, we honor a legacy that goes back to our very founding.

So tell us: What has your city done lately? Are you still waiting for your steel mill to rise from the dead? Or do you reminisce about the good old days while waiting for some smooth-talking politician to save you? Take some advice from the city that knows. Waiting is what kills you. Because winners don’t wait; they take.

The Origins of Emerald City Spies

When I wrote The Assistant I was thinking about:

  • Young people entering the workforce and being stuck in dead-end jobs while laboring under massive debts.
  • Seattle’s history as a ruthless capitalist paradise.
  • Our unearned reputation as a “nice” city.
  • The ways businesses use psychological manipulation to motivate and shape behavior.
  • What power can look like (both for good and evil) as seen through a lens of female agency.
  • My desire to tell a fun, suspenseful, gadget-filled spy story.
  • The imperfect ways we try to protect the people we love.

It’s been fun to write dark and suspenseful fiction! My academic background is in organizational psychology and this series has given me an excuse to consider how how the tools of my trade could be used in a devious fashion. Also, it’s been fun to explore a noir-ish version of Seattle. And as I prepare to turn my attention back to the sweeter and sunnier world of Ellie Tappet, I wanted to share some of the inspiration for this series, particularly the setting, as it has a different tone than my other books.

“Seattle Nice” and the Seattle Freeze

I love Seattle, but my city isn’t perfect. When I walk the streets, talk to people, attend events, and engage in commerce, I feel an energy and a vitality that I rarely experience elsewhere. We’re a city where art and technology smash together. And my city is full of creative, hard-working, and technically adept people. The closest analog for me is New York but Seattle’s energy is of a different flavor. We’re a small city, known for our commerce, natural beauty, and progressive nature. And we’ve enjoyed a positive reputation. But we’re also a city of hustlers. If you dig one inch beneath our shiny steel and glass veneer you’ll find a particularly ruthless form of capitalism here. And I won’t lie; as a businesswoman there’s ambition in my heart, and there’s a certain joy I take in winning, and it’s not always nice.

In Seattle we like to paper over our history to make it sound sweeter and kinder than it actually was. One tiny example: we’re located in King County, a county named for William R. King, a slave owner and US Vice President, and in 2005 the county was “renamed” for Martin Luther King Jr. and a new logo was put into place: MLK’s face is literally our logo. On the surface this seems like a positive change, right? Yet the notion of leaving everything the same and using speeches and a rebranding to make ourselves look good is such a Seattle thing to do. King county became… King county. And we patted ourselves on the back and built our cultural pedestal a little bit higher.

If you’ve ever attended a business event or a potluck in Seattle, you probably found yourself surrounded by warm and friendly people. The business community is so supportive! The emphasis is on collaboration and lifting one another up. But later on when the gathering has dispersed and no one is looking you in the eye any longer, chances are that no one will give you the time of day. Emails are ignored. Calls go unanswered. High-minded intentions dissolve like the foam on your morning latte. This cultural phenomenon, known as “The Seattle Freeze” is often dismissed as an exaggeration, yet it remains a stubborn reality. We have a fiercely individualistic culture here, a what’s-in-it-for-me culture and yet we tend not to view ourselves in that light. And this two-facedness is something that’s long fascinated me about my hometown.

Obviously not everyone who lives here falls into the Seattle stereotypes. You live here long enough and you’ll find your tribe, just as you would anywhere else. But as I said, my city isn’t perfect. 😉

To me, Seattle is energetic, creative, smart, beautiful, and inspiring. It is absolutely my home! But it’s not nice. So when I started my spy series I took my odd little observations about my hometown, sharpened them, darkened them, and formed them into a fictional version of Seattle that still feels real to me: The Dark Emerald City

And I’ve enjoyed my recent time there. __😈 __

Jessica’s Warne’s story will continue in Power Play, coming September 12th! If you’re curious about the series, The Assistant is currently on sale for $2.99 at the following stores:

Amazon

Apple Books

Kobo

Barnes & Noble

Google Play

Smashwords

A New Release! And the Story behind my Cruise Ship Cozies.

A look back at the Panama Canal. A long blue channel of water bordered by grass and low buildings. A Cruise ship is inside the canal, taking up the full width of the channel.

Hey, blog buddies. I have a new book out today!

The Case of the Floating Funeral is an old-fashioned murder-mystery at sea. Down below, I’ll tell you about the real life cruise that inspired it. But first, here’s a bit about the story:

The Case of the Floating Funeral Cover

Ellie Tappet Cruise Ship Mysteries

Book 3

Wealthy entrepreneur and famed gambler Morgan Picklewick is dead, and his family and friends are coming aboard the S.V. Adventurous Spirit for the memorial service at sea. As the ship heads to sunny South America, Morgan’s heirs will scatter his ashes in the deep blue waters of the Panama Canal. But not everything is as it seems. Morgan’s business partner and friend, Roberta Crowley, believes he was murdered by one of his children.

Did one of Morgan’s children kill their father to avoid being disinherited? As Ellie mingles with the mourners, it seems everyone is hiding a motive or two. Perhaps one of his wealthy business partners saw an opportunity to take a bigger piece of the pie? And what about his ex-wife? Is her diva-like behavior covering a guilty conscience? As Morgan’s heirs prepare to seize their father’s stake in the cruise line, with devastating consequences for the crew, Roberta gives Ellie her most difficult assignment yet: Identify Morgan’s killer before the crew is torn apart and scattered to the four winds, forever.

Available now on Kindle and Kindle Unlimited

The Cruise that Started it All

The setting for The Case of the Floating Funeral is loosely based upon a South American cruise that P & I took during a pivotal moment in our lives. I’d just finished writing Death by Team Building , and we were wrapping up our travel sabbatical and preparing for our return to normal life. We’d just made a big decision too: we were going to open a little publishing business together. This would be my first time treating my writing like a career, and it would be the first time my husband and I had worked together since college.

Against that backdrop of new beginnings, we went to South America. And over the course of a few weeks, we admired the engineering marvel of the Panama Canal, hiked through a jungle in Columbia, and learned about archeological digs in Peru. Our tour guides showed us beautiful sights (and some ugly ones too) and educated us about the culture and history of the places they called home. One afternoon in Peru, in a seaside park full of colorful tile murals, a street vendor sold me some woven bracelets. Perhaps buoyed by the thrill of the sale, he turned to P and offered to sell him some drugs. Americans like drugs, the man insisted, as if this might clinch the sale.

We didn’t buy drugs, but I did pay five bucks to get my photo taken with a burro. When you’re playing tourist, you may as well go all the way, right?

Cheri stands next to a donkey. The donkey wears a wreath of flowers. A tour bus is in the background.

We’d taken cruises before, but this particular voyage was brimming with larger-than-life characters. At breakfast, we were surrounded by big-haired Texas ladies talking shit about their husbands. At dinner, we listened to a orange-tinted philanderer brag about his fleet of yachts while his much-younger wife yawned and played with her expensive jewelry. At the bar, an old guy in white Velcro shoes and knee-high socks was talking someone’s ear off about Panama’s favorable tax laws. He had so much enthusiasm for the topic that it seemed he was trying to sell the other bar patrons something, but what? We ate dinner with a couple who had recently retired from the mortuary business. (I asked them if working in that industry had given them any insights about mortality and the human condition. They laughed and said no.) Later, there was a wacky toga party, kind of like a mosh pit for the retiree crowd, and I was mesmerized by the sight. After dinner, we listened to a karaoke singer that looked just like Willy Nelson. And I thought to myself, someday I’d like to write a cruise ship mystery.

After a trip like that, how could I not?

In a way, my cruise ship cozy mysteries are an homage to the places we’ve been lucky enough to visit. And that’s especially true for this most recent story. We didn’t uncover any murders on our South American vacation. (Thank goodness!) But we did write the business plan for Adventurous Ink during that trip (the name for our business came to me one night in our stateroom) and we met some wacky characters that would later inspire an entire series of mystery novels.

The truth is, I’ll always be fond of cruises. And although cruising is off limits right now (for very sensible reasons), I’ve enjoyed writing these books because they’ve been a chance to take a vacation in my mind. And I hope you enjoy Ellie’s adventures too.

Someday, I hope to pack a bag again and board one of the big beautiful ships headed to sunny ports of call. And until that day comes, thank goodness for books, right?

Happy reading!