Issaquah inspires setting for writer’s first novel

June 14, 2013

By Joe Grove

Young girls trying to catch their true love might want to read Issaquah author Allyson Valentine’s first novel, “How (Not) To Find a Boyfriend.” As they read, they should not be surprised if the setting seems familiar as Issaquah and Issaquah High School inspired much of it.

By Greg Farrar Allyson Valentine (front row center) is surrounded last week by the Issaquah High School cheerleader squad on campus.

By Greg Farrar
Allyson Valentine (front row center) is surrounded last week by the Issaquah High School cheerleader squad on campus.

The story takes place in the fictional town of Riverbend, and of course the high school students are known as the cutthroats, with school colors of purple and gold. Like Issaquah, Riverbend is steeped in fish metaphors. The main character, 16-year-old Nora, takes biology, and if you took biology from IHS teacher Lena Jones, you might recognize your class as you read, because it served as a model for the one in the story.

People in Riverbend often eat at the Flying Pie and the girls equate boys to ice cream flavors found in Molly Moon’s. Unfortunately, the closest Molly Moon is 12 miles away in Seattle.

Nora is a “crazy smart” girl who is universally disliked through her elementary school years because she always has to show everybody how smart she is.

In high school, she is a transfer student at Riverbend High School, where she spots the fellow she wants as her special boyfriend. She begins a series of manipulations that include joining the cheerleader squad and secretly arranging classroom schedules and seating.

Eventually, her manipulations blow up.

“She discovers that she is really the dumbest cheerleader of all because of her prejudgments, and she discovers that everyone is really way smarter than she thought they could be,” Valentine said. “There is a lot of relationship building that goes on throughout the story.”

This not an action story, but it is a fast-paced one.

Valentine moved to Issaquah 21 years ago and then left to live in Kirkland and Fall City for a while. She moved back to Issaquah a couple of years ago.

When she first moved to Washington, she worked for Asymetrix as an information systems manager, later joining Vulcan, where she worked as a project manager. She left Vulcan to work as the head of technology for the Experience Music Project.

Her husband was a software engineer at Microsoft, and she said she found herself in the position “that sadly most people don’t get in their lives. If you could do anything, what would you do? It was about 13 years ago that I started taking writing classes.”

Valentine got a certificate in children’s writing at the University of Washington and went on to get a master’s degree in fine arts in writing, specifically in children’s and young adult writing at the Vermont College of Fine Arts. It was a low residency program, requiring her to go there for two weeks every six months.

“It was the first MFA program in the country for people who were specifically interested in writing for children,” she said.

Why the passion for writing?

“I’ve just always been a storyteller since I was a little kid,” Valentine said. “I moved here from New York. While I was still doing technology, I started teaching software classes and discovered that I really like teaching and trying to figure out how to explain things to people, and that is a sort of storytelling. I would kind of make things up as I go along and come up with examples.

“After I had my first child, I was telling stories to him all the time and reading a lot of children’s books. I wondered how one goes from telling a story to writing a story,” she added. “How do you write it so that it actually has a beginning, middle and an end? How do you create characters?

“I took my first creative writing from a marvelous woman by the name of Peggy King Anderson, who is really big in the children’s writing community here in the Seattle area.”

Valentine said her first published poem was called “Scentipede” and was about a centipede that had really smelly feet.

“Scentipede, oh Scentipede, your feet, they smell divine,” she quoted.

She has also written 30 small nonfiction books for the educational market. These are the kind of books a young student would use to do a report on a subject like marmots, for example.

The book’s publishing date is June 14. On June 15, Valentine will have a book signing from 1-3 p.m. at the Writer’s Cottage in Gilman Village.

The book has received buzz. Publishers Weekly said, “Valentine offers a book about honoring the truth, following one’s bliss and being oneself that avoids being saccharine or overly prescriptive.” It rates the book for ages 12 and older.

On the Web

Preorder Allyson Valentine’s first novel, ‘How (Not) To Find a Boyfriend,’ on Amazon.com.

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