How the “Seattle Freeze” Inspired my Spy Series

A paperback copy of The Assistant rests on a table next to a dark black hat and a gun.

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:

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. 😈

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Book cover for The Assistant by Cheri Baker. A young woman looks down at papers in her hands. Seattle glows lurid red in the background.#writing #seattle