It’s been nearly two years since my novel When the de la Cruz Family Danced was published, so more than ever it’s a delight to discover readers, especially when they are practically in your own figurative backyard. Having lived in Seattle for thirty-six years, I’d heard of Indianola, but had only a vague idea of its location—somewhere across Puget Sound.
Recently, I was invited to spend an afternoon with a book club of twenty-two women who live in Indianola and its environs. I don’t have a car, so Nancy, the member who first read my book and recommended it to her book club, offered to pick me up in Winslow at the southern half of Bainbridge Island, a twenty-five minute ferry ride from downtown Seattle. (Nancy is the sister of my friend Joni whom I met when our daughters, now 23, were in first grade together. Friends and word of mouth—great ways to have your book find its way to readers.)
Aside from the chance to meet readers of my novel, my trip to Indianola offered a geography and history lesson. It was cool and cloudy, a typical Northwest day. We headed north on the island and crossed the Agate Pass Bridge to the Kitsap Peninsula. Just across the bridge to the left is the Clearwater Casino, a major enterprise of the Suquamish tribe which had fished the rivers and the sound long before the Europeans appeared. The Suquamish people ceded most of their land to the United States in 1855. Kitsap was one of the tribal leaders during those years. Another leader was Sealth for whom Seattle was named. The tribe was able to retain some land, now called the Port Madison Indian Reservation. Here’s a cool fact: In 2011, the Suquamish tribal council voted unanimously to approve same-sex marriage.
We turned right, away from the casino and toward the town of Suquamish, which in fact is not really a town but a CDP, a census designated place—a term used by the census bureau to identify a concentration of population. From Suquamish, we continued north on Miller Bay Road.
During the drive on this road bordered on both sides by woods, sunlight began to make tentative and brief appearances through the trees as Nancy and I talked. It was our first time meeting, but conversation came easily. We had Joni in common and Joni’s daughter Idalina who is on a two-month solo traveling adventure in Southeast Asia. Mixed with the pride Nancy expressed about Idalina’s independence was a wistful envy. “We didn’t have those opportunities when I was a young,” she said. “You either got married or became a teacher.” Nancy got married. Though Nancy and her husband became successful business owners, she wishes she’d had a chance to go to college. Passionate about reading, her interests in books are wide-ranging. Most of all, she loves a good story that takes her places.
I loved that my book was taking me to Indianola to meet Nancy’s book club. We rounded the narrow tip of Miller Bay and drove through the main street of Indianola. Also a CDP, Indianola originally began as a summer community and was a stop for Mosquito Fleet ferries until the 1950s. We arrived soon after in a residential area at the home of the host. Inside, nearly two dozen women were seated in a comfortable living room that looked out on the waters of Port Madison Bay on the west shore of Puget Sound.
Most were white- or gray-haired. I learned they ranged in age from 66 to 92. They were a smart, charming bunch. They asked questions about my novel, how I came to write it and how it came to be published. They asked about the inspiration for the characters and shared their own favorite scenes. Then we talked about other authors whose books we’ve enjoyed: Alexandra Fuller, Lauren Groff, Ben Fountain. I had just finished reading Ghana Must Go by Taiye Selasi, and Nancy had recently put it on her to-read list after watching a television interview with the author. Many of the book club members recommended Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn.
The skies had cleared and the sun had flooded the room. The meeting was coming to a close and there was just enough time for a group photo with some of the members before Nancy had to get me back to the ferry dock for the ride back to Seattle. I felt uplifted by my afternoon in the company of these women who love books and pleased that my novel about a Filipino American family was among them. On the ferry, I sat on the open top deck under a cloudless sky, Mount Rainier in the distance, the Seattle skyline in front of me, Bainbridge and the Kitsap Peninsula behind me where When the de la Cruz Family Danced had a place on the list of books read by the Indianola women’s book club.