Jim Lynch on His Latest, Truth Like the Sun, and the ‘Truth’ in His Own Writing

The Olympia author talks with Humanities Washington about how his background as a journalist affects his writing and keeps it grounded in the Pacific Northwest.

  • September 12, 2012
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  • 5 Questions
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  • By Jefferson Robbins

In advance of Humanities Washington’s Bedtime Stories Spokane (Sept. 28) and Bedtime Stories Seattle (Oct. 12) galas, Spark magazine is conducting 5 Questions interviews with each of the talented Northwest authors featured at this year’s events. Today: Jim Lynch Previously: Kathleen Flenniken, Shann Ray and Jess Walter.

Check back during the next few weeks for interviews with Kim Barnes, Charles Johnson, Kevin O’Brien, Nancy Pearl, Amy Wheeler and Nance Van Winckel.

Jim Lynch

Jim Lynch

As a journalist, Olympia writer Jim Lynch ferreted out the strangenesses of Seattle and environs. As a novelist, he’s maintained that course, marrying fictional narratives to true-life oddity … or vice versa. His 2005 debut The Highest Tide won the Pacific Northwest Bookseller Award for its tale of a young man gifted at finding extraordinary sealife in Washington’s tidal basins. Border Songs sketched a hapless Border Patrol agent whose routine circuits of the U.S.-Canada dividing line sweeps up an array of absurd aliens.

His latest, this year’s Truth Like The Sun, looks at two phases in the life of Roger Morgan, a fictional Seattle kingpin who conceives and shepherds the Space Needle to reality in time for the 1962 World’s Fair, then undergoes scrutiny from an ambitious young journalist as he runs for mayor in 2001. Along the way, Morgan rubs shoulders with Elvis Presley, Lyndon B. Johnson and other outsize historical characters.


What: Bedtime Stories Spokane 2012

Where: The Skyline Ballroom of the Red Lion Hotel at the Park, 303 W. North River Drive, Spokane [Directions]

When: Friday, Sept. 28
Cost: A limited number of individual tickets are available for $75 each.
Note: For information on becoming a sponsor or purchasing a table for this event, contact Kari Dasher at (206) 682-1770 x103 or kari@humanities.org.

Lynch appears Sept. 28 at Humanities Washington’s Bedtime Stories event in Spokane, where he’ll read a piece concerning a noirish gumshoe he invented during the writing of Truth Like The Sun. “I’m taking my Seattle private eye over to Spokane,” he says.

Humanities Washington: Truth Like The Sun takes place on the eve of two world-changing events (the Cuban Missile Crisis and 9/11) forty years apart. How does that framing device support what you’re trying to do within the novel?

Jim Lynch: I picked these two time periods because I thought they were good at illuminating Seattle. Once I zeroed in on these time periods, I realized they were also interesting times for the country. So I liked how different 1962 and 2001 feel, and how I connected those two time periods in part by the fact that the country was on the brink of a scary moment in its history. I liked the parallel behind-the-scenes menace of the Cuban Missile Crisis and 9/11, just to kind of add a little bit more energy and symmetry. Particularly with the Cuban Missile Crisis, I liked telling a story about all the optimism of a fair at a time when we were building bomb shelters and bracing for potential nuclear annihilation. It gives more significance to everything that was going on. At least it did in my head.

HW: Your characters in Border Songs and The Highest Tide are prone to encounters with wonder. Truth Like The Sun’s Roger Morgan is prone to encounters with famous people. How do you decide when a jolt of the fantastic or absurd is right for a story, and when it’s too much?

Lynch: I guess the way I would explain that is I have a desire to tell a really tall tale, but I try to pack it with so much realism that you believe it. At the core, I like hypnotizing the reader with realism and pulling them into the story, and then giving them something fabulous or slightly magical or very unlikely, and yet having it be so in the context of the narrative that it feels believable and real. I’ve always been a fan of fiction that gets a little fabulous around the edges. I also think it kind of fits with the books that I’m writing, and fits with the Northwest. There are certain things about the Northwest that seem sort of bigger than life and too much to be true.

Truth Like the Sun

Truth Like the Sun, by Jim Lynch

HW: Your novels have ranged the Pacific Northwest, but Truth Like The Sun is your first book to deal directly with Seattle — its past, its politics, its people. Did you have this story building in you the whole time you were working with other stories?

Lynch: I always knew I wanted to write an urban novel at some point, and Seattle’s the city I know best and have studied the most. I used to write about it for The Oregonian, and I’d try to explain Seattle to Portland residents. I was really struck by Seattle’s history of being wildly ambitious and dreaming big, and the fair encapsulated that for me – this little city that was just an outpost at that time, competing with New York for the next World’s Fair, and somehow manages to land that fair. So I always wanted to do a Seattle novel, I just didn’t know what it would be or when it would happen. It’s been percolating in my head for a while – the last ten years at least.

HW: Your novels are distinctly Northwest creations. Do you see yourself doing a non-Northwest story at some point?

Lynch: I’d like to. I realize there’s that whole rest of the world out there. But I think it’s probably my journalistic training that gets into my novel work – I really like to be able to go out and do the kind of on-the-ground information gathering and reporting and observation that I did as journalist, to give my novels life and vividness. I’m just not the kind of guy that comes back from two weeks in Greece and writes a Greek novel.

HW: Is there ever a tension between the journalistic instinct and the fictional drive? Do you ever have to tamp down the truth-telling in order to fudge a fact or introduce a fictional element?

Lynch: I’m very journalistic about hoarding information. The same way that I used to write articles, I do similar fact gathering, and I find interviewing is even easier, because people just aren’t worried about what they’re telling me or what they say — I’m just this harmless novelist. I do find through that I’m learning more and more over time when to veer off from what I’ve gathered into what the story needs. I increasingly realize that research is there to inspire my imagination. Like with the Border Patrol in my Border Songs novel — I went up there as a reporter, and they were very reserved. Then when I went back as a novelist, my God, they just spilled every story they could think of.

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