Western's Carol Guess and Elizabeth Colen Collaborate on New Collection of Short Stories

by Kayna Dean, WWU Office of Communications and Marketing intern


Western Washington University English faculty members Carol Guess and Elizabeth Colen’s new collection of short stories, “True Ash,” was recently published by Black Lawrence Press.

true ash cover image
“True Ash” is a series of interconnected stories inspired by the way Seattle is gentrifying and changing with the tech boom. Colen and Guess worked on the book for about three years.

“This book was an opportunity for us to explore the collaboration process and simultaneously critique gentrification,” Guess said. Most stories in the book were started by one author and finished by the other. Colen credits Guess for coming up with a lot of the initial ideas for stories in the book, while Guess credits Colen with strong narrative structure.

“Carol would write a couple of pages of a story, send it along to me and then see what I did,” Colen said. “Sometimes we would trade back and forth to finish it, and other times she would send them to me and I would finish it.”

Some parts of the book were also written individually.

“People can kind of try to figure out who wrote what, but I’m more interested in it being a seamless collection and it really being one voice even though it’s two writers,” Colen said.

Since not all of the stories were written at the same time, Guess said there was a surprising amount of editing that went into the book. She said a lot of work went into unifying the individual stories by using repeating images and characters to make it feel like you’re reading a novel.

One of the things the authors encourage is for students to get comfortable with the revision process early in their writing careers.

One of the greatest things about collaboration is it forces you to try new methods, to be open to learning from the other person, and to see your weaknesses.

“For me as a writer, I didn’t get comfortable with revision until much later and I think you can’t really embrace the writing process unless you love revision,” Colen said. Another tip the authors suggested was stepping out of your comfort zone, collaboration being one of the ways to do that.

“One of the greatest things about collaboration is it forces you to try new methods, to be open to learning from the other person, to see your weaknesses,” Guess said. “It humbles you and you really have to put aside your ego.”

Colen has written six books in her career, and Guess has written 20. Colen and Guess have collaborated before with another colleague in the English department, Kelly Magee, on a book called “Your Sick.”

“True Ash” is published by Black Lawrence Press, a company both Colen and Guess have been published through before. The book can be found on the Black Lawrence Press website, Amazon and at the WWU bookstore.

For more information about “True Ash,” contact Carol Guess at carol.guess@wwu.edu or Elizabeth Colen at elizabeth.colen@wwu.edu.



Friday, October 26, 2018 - 10:32am