Author Jess Walter entertains readers at Barrett Bookstore
Keeping a room of admirers in near-hysterics, author Jess Walter proved that he's not only skilled with the written word, but the spoken one as well.
Walter paid a visit to Barrett Bookstore April 4, sharing stories about how he wrote his sixth novel, "Beautiful Ruin," talking about his family, Hollywood and his success, and generally sharing the kind of quick wit that makes his prose so inviting.
"I didn't grow up in a literary family at all. I grew up in a family of cattle ranchers and construction workers," said Walter, who still lives in his hometown of Spokane, Wash., with his wife and two children.
He shared how his father, who worked in an aluminum plant all his life, told him he doesn't understand his books. "`I start to read them and I don't know what the hell is happening,'" he said.
Neither does his father understand why Walter appears at readings such as this one.
"`Wait a minute,'" he once told him. "`You mean you wrote the thing and now you have to read it to them?'"
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But Walter himself said he enjoys meeting his public, as well as visiting independent bookstores, such as Barrett.
"Writing is a very solitary profession, or obsession, or whatever it is, and there really are those two parts," he said. "You have to write it, but people have to read it."
"I probably do 30 readings like this a year," he said, "mostly independent bookstores, and it's really a culture I like ... It's where I discovered books. It's where people discover books."
The process of discovery syncs with Walter's work, for a great part of his stories and the characters inhabiting them arrive organically. In the case of his latest novel, which he formulated over 15 years, a trip to visit his wife, Anne's, family in Italy introduced him to a setting he found ideal to capture.
"I bring a writing journal with me everywhere I go (and) I wrote in my journal, `This is the kind of place you write fiction about,'" he said of Cinque Terre. "It was an amazing place ... The idea of a place that you can only arrive at by boat seemed like the most romantic place in the world."
Walter used the location as a jumping off point for an intricate story sprung from Elizabeth Taylor's movie "Cleopatra," involving her two-time husband Richard Burton and the oft-tarnished worlds of Love, Hollywood and Celebrity.
Some of the real love, however, was bound in the idea Walter had to give a gift to his late mother by enabling her, through the spirit of one character, to live some of the joys she may not otherwise have experienced. "I wanted to give my mother another life," he said.
"I'm never writing this thinking anyone's going to read this," he said. "I'm really writing to entertain myself."
Walter's latest book is a short story collection called "We Live in Water."
"I don't know if it's something you choose to do," Walter said of being a writer. "I always wanted to be a writer. It was not something in my family that was in the box of choices, but I was always the storyteller."
Jarret Liotta is a freelance writer.