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Northwest Passages: Jess Walter talks ‘The Angel of Rome’ and the greatness of Spokane’s ‘gritty’ side

June 28, 2022 Updated Thu., July 14, 2022 at 10:49 a.m.

Spokesman-Review columnist Shawn Vestal, right, talks with local writer Jess Walter about his new book “The Angel of Rome and Other Stories” on Tuesday during a Northwest Passages event held at Bing Crosby Theater in Spokane.  (kathy plonka)
Spokesman-Review columnist Shawn Vestal, right, talks with local writer Jess Walter about his new book “The Angel of Rome and Other Stories” on Tuesday during a Northwest Passages event held at Bing Crosby Theater in Spokane. (kathy plonka)

Award-winning novelist and Spokane’s own Jess Walter said he doesn’t think anyone knows how to write a novel.

Walter, 56, said every novel is a “hot mess,” “barely held together with chewing gum and tape.”

On the other hand, writers can find a perfect moment in short stories and describe it in a near-perfect way, Walter said.

“Writers love short stories,” he said. “It’s the form that we often start with. It’s the form we teach.”

The East Valley High and Eastern Washington University graduate chatted about his newly released collection of short stories, “The Angel of Rome and Other Stories,” his relationship with Spokane, and a host of other writing topics Tuesday night to a crowd of more than 600 at the Bing Crosby Theater in downtown Spokane. The event was part of The Spokesman-Review’s Northwest Passages book club series.

The new short stories collection comprises a dozen stories he has written since 2013. He said there were exactly 17 “good ones,” and narrowing it down to 12 proved difficult.

“I had a story from Esquire and then another from Harper’s, and if someone would have told me as, like, a 25-year-old that I would have a story in Esquire and Harper’s and not include it in my collection, I would have thought I was nuts,” Walter said.

But in the end, Walter said the collection came together in a way that fit.

He said looking back on the almost 10 years of stories, from losing a close friend to watching his father suffer from dementia, he found a writing connection with his family and friends.

“I kept coming across these dark situations that led to moments of hope and these moments of connection between characters that I found surprising,” Walter said.

“The Angel of Rome” is his second collection of short stories. He released his first book, “Every Knee Shall Bow,” which expands on the Ruby Ridge incident and the Weaver family, in 1995.

He covered the Ruby Ridge shootout and standoff, in which federal agents engaged white nationalist Randy Weaver at his North Idaho property, as a reporter for The Spokesman-Review.

He proceeded to write seven novels in addition to the two collections of short stories.

Walter was born in Spokane and continues to reside in the Lilac City.

He said Spokane has become a richer place to live over the years, noting better food, music and art as examples.

“I still love that it’s gritty,” Walter said. “I still love that our dive bars are still dive bars.”

He said he also loves that until a few years ago when “we got Zillow drunk,” anyone could afford a house.

“I worry that with this increase in real estate,” Walter said, “that we’re going to lose something really valuable that I came to appreciate.”

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