Imagine, if you will, walking down the streets of a modern metropolis, sipping on a steaming half-caff-double-foam-single-shot-soy-macchiato. You notice that (aside from your drink being something of a caffeinated paradox) your footsteps seem oddly hollow. You dismiss it as just an artifact of city life – after all, they have to put the wires and plumbing somewhere, right?
But what if, instead, there was a whole separate city right beneath your feet, built by moving an entire hill and paid for by taxing prostitutes. A city where bankers and bootleggers once roamed, now abandoned and full of the discarded debris of consumerist 20th century. At least, it seems abandoned – though you could swear you hear faint echoes of laughter and the clink of bottles drifting up through a nearby grate. You could say that the sound is rather…haunting.
[Editor’s Note: That pun was not approved by us. Every time we deleted it, it just reappeared. We are choosing to blame it on the ghost in the machine.]
If you’ve ever been to Seattle – or, if you’re the kind of person who enjoys watching excitable strangers panic about blinking lights *coughGhostHunterscoughcough* – then you’ve probably heard of the Seattle Underground. If you’re really lucky, you’ve actually had the opportunity to take one of Bill Speidel’s Underground Tours.
The history of the Seattle Underground is fascinating and suitably shadowy. Essentially, early Seattle suffered from terminal corruption, which led to a spreading of full-of-crapitis from the politicians to the city as a whole. It turns out that people generally don’t like backwards-flushing toilets, and the fire of 1889 offered a chance to rectify the situation. The roads were elevated by regrading a nearby hill, leaving one to two stories of the existing structures below road level. When the sidewalks were finally installed, the people didn’t stop using those levels – hence, Seattle once had a literal seedy underground.
The story spun by the tour guides certainly piques interest, and it plays nicely into preconceived notion of Seattle’s Wild West, Gold Rush history. Is the story entirely true? Probably not. But does it hit on the human craving for the salacious, mysterious, and obscure? Absolutely.
The possibilities for a novel set in Seattle, regardless of time period or genre, are nearly endless. Thrillers and mysteries could use the dark corridors and dripping water as a setting for a spine-tingling chase. It would almost be too easy to use as a setting for a horror story – so why not stick some sort of creeping eldritch monster down there, rather than the ghosts that readers would expect? It’s a perfect fit for fantasy, too; there could be a whole parallel magical society living underneath the streets, with minimal effort to hide. It’s a natural for paranormal romance – in fact, I was surprised I could only find one example to use for reference.
The only genre I’ve struggled to fit into the Seattle Underground is contemporary romance, especially the more Harlequin Presents style ones. It’s kind of hard to imagine the Italian Playboy Millionaire getting his Gucci loafers dirty while he chases his Amnesiac Pregnant Ingenue Secretary through the Underground to save her from his Evil Career-Driven Sexually Empowered Ex-Mistress. Then again, that’s still slightly less icky than some actual Harlequin Presents titles.
Will you see the Seattle Underground show up in a future novel of mine? Almost certainly. It’s too good of a setting to pass up. Will it be my next novel, however? Well, guess you’ll just have to wait and see…