Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Vol. CLIV, Issue 5
Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

English Professor’s Latest Novel Inspired by Love of Pacific Northwest

A “lifelong love affair with the Olympic Peninsula of Washington state” was the inspiration behind English Professor Scott Elliott’s new novel “Temple Grove.” Set in the Olympic National Park on Washington’s Olympic Peninsula, “Temple Grove” follows a young native man and his struggle to protect the old growth in the park from the local loggers. Elliott gave a reading of his novel, which was released in May of this year, at the Walla Walla Public Library on Sept. 18.

Scott Elliot
Photo by Rachael Barton

Elliott, who has worked on the book since 2000, was inspired by the creative fiction written by his Whitman students as well as his love of the Olympic Peninsula. According to Elliott, this adoration is a result of years spent visiting his grandparents in Port Townshend, Wash. and his thorough exploration of the area.

“All the little sensual experiences that equal and comprise the place were ready to find their way into a narrative,” said Elliott.

This is Elliott’s second novel, following his 2003 title “Coiled in the Heart.”  The two are vastly different, due to the fact that the prior is set in the American Southeast, while the new novel portrays the Pacific Northwest way of life, but Elliott asserts that they share critical elements.

“[Temple Grove] is in a completely different setting, but equally as concerned with story arising from a place,” said Elliott.

Elliott, a writer of both short stories and novels, believes himself more suited to novel writing.

“Sometimes when I attempt to paint on the smaller canvas of the short story with minute deft strokes, I find my whole arm moving in grand sweeping strokes, the scope widening out to include this and this and also this, rather than zeroing in on a single, revelatory moment,” said Elliott.

One goal of Elliott’s when writing “Temple Grove” was to create a story reminiscent of classic Greek tales.

“I got the idea of a young environmental activist who would want to defend some trees that were either in or outside the park,” said Elliott. “And a story that would have mythic undertones and that would read almost like a Greek tragedy, with roles characters are playing in broad strokes.”

At Elliott’s reading of the novel in the Walla Walla Public Library, Walla Walla resident Janene Michaealis spoke to the power of the books fantastical elements.

“I thought it was cool at the end how he brought in magical realism,” said Michaealis. “There’s a primal way it goes back into the earth as it was and how it is presented as a character in the story.”

As a professor and a writer, Elliott is forced to divide his time between his two fields.

“There’s obviously some tension between the two because they both take so much time and so much concentration. There’s a kind of selflessness required in teaching that requires that you look at someone else’s work and really pay attention to it,” said Elliott. “I think of myself as a writer and teacher both equally.”

Scott Elliot
Photo by Rachael Barton

According to Elliott, Whitman students contribute to his happy medium between the two trades.  The intellectual level and desire to learn from those enrolled in his fiction classes pushes Elliott to be as talented a writer as possible while also augmenting his teaching skills.

“I’ve asked myself from time to time ‘Am I more a teacher now than a writer?'” said Elliott. “I think the quality of student writers’ work here at Whitman in the classes I teach, and the degree to which they’re able to engage in deep questions of craft early on ensures I keep a hand in those questions more than I would if the students weren’t as capable.”

An important part of maintaining his teaching-writing balance is making sure his students are excited to learn from him.

“Teaching puts good pressure on me to keep writing fiction at the highest level, so when I’m talking about fiction in class I don’t feel like a fraud or a charlatan.”

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