Gritty. Gruesome. Gripping. Glittering.
These words and more describe Evergreen: Grim Tales & Verses From the Gloomy Northwest, a newly released anthology from Scablands Books, the small independent press founded by Spokane author Sharma Shields.
A 377-page collection of poetry and prose, both fiction and nonfiction, Evergreen features the words and musings of 56 Pacific Northwest writers. Among the tales contained within its navy blue and gold-etched cover are stories that, Shields hopes, stick with readers long after they've set the book down. Evergreen ($25) released this week and is available locally at Auntie's Bookstore and Wishing Tree Books, plus a few other local retailers, and online at scablandsbooks.org.
"Literature of despair," as she's dubbed it, has long been Shields' personal creative focus, seen in her two novels, The Sasquatch Hunter's Almanac and The Cassandra, plus dozens of short stories. For Evergreen, however, Shields sought to collect similar somber stories from fellow writers across the Inland Northwest, from the Pacific Coast to Western Montana.
The result is an unhappy mix of stories — no optimistic fairytale endings here — about death and destruction, colonization and oppression, monsters and molesters, and plenty more uncomfortable truths about the terrible things humans inflict on each other and are forced to endure.
In one sense, Evergreen feels like the literary equivalent to rubbernecking over grisly tragedy. While it fulfills that morbid, animal impulse to watch those around us suffer through unimaginable loss or pain, the anthology also underscores that we're all battling our own demons, real or imagined, seen and unseen.
Despite this bleak theme, Shields hopes readers find solidarity, personal connection and even comfort in Evergreen's writers and characters.
"This is kind of the antidote to social media," and its carefully curated content of life's happy highlights, she says.
"It's a real story that you can stay with for a while, and get to know these characters and their experiences, and see a side of life that is not glorified, but spoken about with real honesty. That is increasingly rare, I think, for people."
Many of Evergreen's inclusions are based on writers' real, lived experiences, Shields says, including Richard Fifield's recounting of a deadly car accident, CMarie Fuhrman's encounter with a maimed coyote, and Elissa Washuta's bitter reflection on the generations-long trauma White colonizers have inflicted on Indigenous people like her and her ancestors.
Other pieces center on the more absurd and fantastically grotesque, like Shawn Vestal's Frankenstein-esque monster that destroys a small, rural town, and Erin Pringle's "Digging," about a filicidal mother.
Evergreen is bookended by a quote and poem from the late Washington state poet Lucia Perillo, a MacArthur Fellow whose poetry often reflected on mortality and life with multiple sclerosis, a disease Shields also lives with. In her introduction for Evergreen, Shields summarizes her fascination with and appreciation for such serious, bleak literature: "It's not that grim writing can solve the world's many problems, but that, by reading it, we can perhaps more fully see what these problems are."
Shields founded Scablands Books back in 2017 to focus on publishing local writers' work.
"I was seeing local writers who were writing really quirky and interesting work, but not being published," she says. "I really wanted to get their work out there, and I have always been really interested in the publishing business in every regard."
As founder, publisher and editor, Shields admits that, early on, she realized Scablands was a big project to tackle solo. Running it as a nonprofit has also proved more difficult than she foresaw.
"I tend to want to support the community more than I want to make sure that we still have money for next year's printing costs, so that is a big lesson I'm learning," she says.
The logistics of running the small press have smoothed out since Shields brought on designer Keely Honeywell, who oversees layout, typography, cover design and other elements of the book-making process. Poet Maya Jewell Zeller also serves as Scablands' poetry editor.
"I might do a little editing with the poetry, but Maya really handles the schematics, and you know, she is a wizard with all those things in a way that I'm not," Shields says.
Many other local writers and poets have contributed to Scablands' success. Several of its existing titles were created to support fellow community nonprofits, like Lilac City Fairy Tales (benefitting Spark Central), Try This at Home (Carl Maxey Center) and Baby Speaks Salish (Salish School of Spokane).
Evergreen is one of few Scablands projects not connected to another nonprofit, an intentional decision to "see if we could have an anthology where the money was coming back to us," Shields says.
"We have such an awesome collection of writers in the anthology, it'll be fun to finally hold the actual book in our hands," Shields says. "I'm getting really excited for how the book will be received." ♦