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Author Leyna Krow digs deep into Spokane history for her first novel

Courtesy of Penguin Random House

Krow writes a story set around the time of the historic 1889 fire.

Spokane short story writer Leyna Krow has extended her literary wings, so to speak, with a first novel called “Fire Season.” Given the time of year we’re in, it’s an appropriate title, except that it’s not necessarily about wildfires.

“The book is set in 1889 here in Spokane, which at the time was called Spokane Falls, and that year, Spokane suffered a devastating fire in downtown, but three other cities in Washington Territory also suffered devastating urban fires. And it was a super hot summer and there were wildfires that were very close to the city as well, so I was thinking of it as the whole season," Krow said.

She developed three characters who are at the center of the plot.

Leyna Krow: “Barton, Quake and Roslyn, Two of them, Barton and Roslyn, have been in Spokane. They’ve been in Spokane quite awhile and neither of them are from there, but both of them sort of see themselves as not totally belonging. Barton is the manager of a bank. He doesn’t think he gets the respect that he deserves from the people of Spokane Falls and is very bitter about that. Roslyn is a sex worker and is sort of largely invisible in the city and she is not living the life that she wants. So she too is very much disconnected, I think, from her surroundings. Quake, he rides into town on a horse. He’s just there to make trouble. He’s not from Spokane. He doesn’t even like the place and leaves as quickly as he can. And all three of them, after the fire, used the fire to reinvent themselves, largely through doing criminal activities and, ultimately, I consider Roslyn, the protagonist, I think she does emerge in a redemptive way, but really, it’s a story of how this fire happens and then these three people take this opportunity to change themselves as the environment around them changes.”

SPR: “Did you base your characters on people who actually lived back then or is this entirely fictional?”

Leyna Krow: “It is almost entirely fictional. There are references to a few characters who were real people. Bill Wolf, who owned Wolf’s Hotel and Lunchroom, was a real person. He makes a brief appearance in the book. And then Kate, who is a friend and colleague of Roslyn, who is really the book’s protagonist, Kate is based on the idea of One of the theories on how the real fire started was that a sex worker named Irish Kate knocked over a kerosene lamp in her apartment and so the Kate in the book is a reference to her, but we don’t even know if she was a real person.”

SPR: “It’s mostly a fictional story, but did you feel some obligation to stay at least a little bit close to the historical part of Spokane or did you give yourself a lot of poetic license?”

Leyna Krow: “I definitely gave myself a lot of poetic license. It’s more fiction than history. What I wanted to get right was the feeling of the time, particularly for people who live in Spokane and know something of the history. I wanted the book to feel like I’m immersed in this time and place and then have the facts and the action be fictional. But I did want it to feel like what I thought Spokane at the time would have felt like, so that’s what most of my research and my efforts to be accurate went into.”

Leyna Krow’s new novel is “Fire Season,” is published by Penguin Random House. Word about the book is getting out. Last night [Monday] she was at a Pittsburgh book store for a reading.

One of the Northwest's most seasoned reporters is returning to his SPR roots. Doug Nadvornick will be heard frequently on KPBX and KSFC reporting on local news.