Richard Porter, 33, says he’s been a compulsive writer since he was a teenager growing up in Monroe. (Andy Bronson / The Herald)

Richard Porter, 33, says he’s been a compulsive writer since he was a teenager growing up in Monroe. (Andy Bronson / The Herald)

An Everett writer searches for the roots of ‘The Spar Tree’

History buff Richard Porter tells stories of grassroots people and places in Snohomish County.

Writer Richard Porter likes to hang out at Buck’s American Cafe because he thinks Ernest Hemingway would have liked it.

Buck’s is in the 1892 Swalwell building at the corner of Hewitt Avenue and Pine Street in Everett. It’s been in business for more than 30 years.

It’s not hard to imagine Hemingway, an avid hunter, seated at a table at Buck’s, beneath the gaze of one of the many mounted game trophies that adorn the dining room.

Porter, 33, of Everett, is a local writer and historian. We met at Buck’s American Cafe on a recent Thursday to talk about his latest book, “The Spar Tree.” We sat at a table near a window so we could soak up the cafe’s rustic charm and some sun rays. I asked for sweet tea; Porter ordered black coffee and seltzer water with lime.

Porter, who writes for Live in Everett and the Snohomish County Tourism Bureau, has three other books to his name: “Arizona Light,” “I Speak the Spell” and “Smokestackers!”

“Since I was a teen, I’ve been a compulsive writer. I had a notion that I would become a writer somehow,” said Porter, who graduated from Monroe High School in 2004. “It’s not always the easiest thing to do, breaking into the writing scene.”

He studied English and literature at North Seattle Community College and Everett Community College, making it a goal to write 750 words per day — his key to breaking writer’s block — as he looked for work as a writer. He landed a job in 2016 as a blogger for Live in Everett.

Porter also runs Porter Wordsmith, his writing and editing business. He published his four books through his own imprint. All of his books were printed at Alexander Printing Co., a local press that has been in business since 1886.

“Smokestackers!” is a narrative history of the underdogs of Everett when it was known as “The City of Smokestacks.” Porter was inspired by a Live in Everett assignment to share what he calls “lesser-told tales” — stories of everyday heroes, such as civic leader Carl Gipson and dance teacher Betty Spooner, who exemplify the city’s grit.

“I found the narratives to be so striking, I dramatized them in third person,” Porter said.

“Arizona Light” is a book of poetry that serves as a eulogy for his mother’s family from Scottsdale, Arizona, including his mother, who died 10 years ago.

“I Speak the Spell” is another collection of poetry, this one written on his typewriter. Porter owns an Olivetti Lettera 22, a Italian typewriter designed by Marcello Nizzoli in 1950. He picked it up in one of Snohomish’s many antique shops. “It worked and the price was right,” he said.

Porter writes short works on his typewriter — mostly poems. You may see Porter at work on his Olivetti at another favorite hangout of his — Narrative Coffee, housed in a storefront built in 1921 on Wetmore Avenue. He also writes in a shed in the back yard of his home in the Delta neighborhood of Everett.

“Some people think it’s an affectation,” Porter said of the typewriter. “I like the manual feeling.”

Ernest Hemingway, by the way, preferred to write standing up and kept his Royal Quiet de Luxe typewriter on a bookshelf in his Havana home.

“The Spar Tree” is a longer work, so Porter wrote it on his laptop. He said Buck’s American Cafe also matches “The Spar Tree” vibe.

It’s a collection of essays, poems and photographs illustrating what it’s like to live in Snohomish County. The book was inspired by trips to the county’s backcountry while on assignment for the Snohomish County Tourism Bureau.

He was writing his 750 words per day when he noticed a pattern: All of his essays were about local culture and the importance of preserving it.

“Everett — and in a greater sense Snohomish County — is rapidly changing,” Porter said. “Without foresight, a lot of things will be trampled. I’m not just talking about culture, but the environment as well. We need to be conservative in the literal and figurative sense.

“How can we enjoy the natural beauty without destroying it? How can we keep the character of Everett intact?”

Porter explored ghost towns, climbed mountain lookouts and strolled driftwood beaches in search of prose for “The Spar Tree.”

As a writer, Porter’s influences include Joseph Campbell, author of “The Hero with a Thousand Faces,” as well as William Faulkner, Carson McCullers and Flannery O’Connor. His motto is borrowed from poet Emily Dickinson: “Tell the truth but tell it slant.”

“As much as I’m a compulsive writer, I feel like I’m also a compulsive reader,” Porter said. “Everything I read ends up coming back somehow.”

While writing “The Spar Tree,” Porter read works by prominent Washington writers: “Snow Falling on Cedars,” by David Guterson; “The Orchardist,” by Amanda Coplin; and “Starvation Heights” by Gregg Olsen.

Another one of Porter’s favorite hangouts is the Northwest Room at the Everett Public Library. A history buff, Porter happily spends hours researching Snohomish County’s days gone by.

In writing “Smokestackers!”, for example, Porter listened to oral histories collected by the library’s historians. Porter also read local history books, “Riverside Remembers” and “Voices from Everett’s First Century” among them.

If Everett Public Library’s Lisa Labovitch is there, Porter also will pick the history specialist’s brain.

“It’s neat that Richard takes oral histories and compiled histories and gives them a fresh spin,” Labovitch said. “His work takes a poetic approach to storytelling — it’s more literary than what you might see in a textbook.”

Next, Porter is working on another collection of poetry and a sequel to “Smokestackers!”

Labovitch is excited by Porter’s work. She said there is a need for more writers and historians like him in Everett.

“Everett’s seeing a rebirth in a way. We’re revamping ourselves; we’re trying to rebrand,” Labovitch said. “What that means is we have a lot of transplants moving here, and they want to make connections here. They’re trying to find their new roots.

“They’re not familiar with the history of Everett yet.”

For some of those newcomers, myself included, those new roots may lead to Porter’s “The Spar Tree.”

Sara Bruestle: 425-339-3046; sbruestle@heraldnet.com. Twitter: @sarabruestle.

“The Spar Tree”

By Richard Porter

Porter Wordsmith. 44 pages. $12.

About the author

Richard Porter, 33, writes for Live in Everett and the Snohomish County Tourism Bureau. He also runs Porter Wordsmith, an editing and writing business, through which he has published four of his own books. He and his wife of 11 years, Christa Porter, make their home in Everett’s Delta neighborhood. They have three daughters, ages 5, 3 and 1. They also perform together in a band called The Porters — Christa on ukulele and Richard on rhythm guitar. Learn more at www.porterwordsmith.com.

Washington North Coast Magazine

This article is featured in the winter issue of Washington North Coast Magazine, a supplement of The Daily Herald. Explore Snohomish and Island counties with each quarterly magazine. Each issue is $3.99. Subscribe to receive all four editions for $14 per year. Call 425-339-3200 or go to www.washingtonnorthcoast.com for more information.

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