Photo by Sarah Samudre: Capitol Hill novelist and journalist Peter Mountford is this year's Artist Trust Gar LaSalle Storyteller Award recipient.
Photo by Sarah Samudre: Capitol Hill novelist and journalist Peter Mountford is this year's Artist Trust Gar LaSalle Storyteller Award recipient.

Capitol Hill novelist and journalist Peter Mountford says he’s happy to win the Artist Trust Gar LaSalle Storyteller Award for only the second year it’s existed, having had some substantial experience with its selection process in the past.

Gar LaSalle Storyteller Award is funded by local artist and author Gar LaSalle through the Artist Trust nonprofit, and comes with a $10,000 cash award.

“Last year I applied and was not a finalist,” Mountford said, “but my partner Jessica Mooney was the runner up. Oddly enough, she was the runner up this year, too. The judges apparently didn't know that we're together. They spend an hour and a half arguing about which one of us should get it. When Mr. LaSalle called me up to give me the news, Jessica and I were in the middle of putting my kids to sleep, so of course she was right there. Five minutes later, unaware that she and I live together, he called her up to tell her that she was the alternate once again.”

He hadn’t been optimistic he would receive the award this year, making it a policy to assume such, so he’s never disappointed, he said.

“Being a writer involves facing a ton of rejection. I have hundreds and hundreds of rejection letters in a box. Over the last 10 years I’ve applied for eight grants and five fellowships from Artist Trust, in addition to last year’s Gar LaSalle, and this is the first time I’ve ever won anything from Artist Trust,” Mountford said. “So it’ll be nice to not flinch every time I drive past their offices.”

Mountford’s published two novels, “A Young Man’s Guide To Late Capitalism,” published in 2011, and “The Dismal Science,” in 2014. He’s been published in Salon, Slate, The Atlantic, Granta and other prominent periodicals. Ask him about Seattle, though, and he reaches right for the corned beef hash, and his memories of one Broadway hot spot.

“Charlie's was so big for me when I moved to Seattle in 2004,” he said. “I was a smoker at the time, and I would sit there drinking their cheap beer, smoking like a chimney in their great booths, and writing away. It sounds very pretentious, and maybe it was, but I got a lot done there.

“I've made a serious amateur study of breakfast places throughout Seattle. Corned beef hash is a good way to assess a kitchen's capability. Is it from a can? Forget about it. If it's homemade, how do they handle the potatoes, and are there other vegetables involved?”

He lists the best Seattle hash eateries, in no particular order, as Roxy's in Fremont and CJ's in downtown (pretty similar); Skillet (not traditional, but great); Lost Lake (surprisingly, since much of the rest of their food is not good at all; The High Life; and The Bay Café.
In and around stalking that perfect plate of hash, Mountford teaches at Hugo House, the University of Washington and Sierra Nevada College.

“The time it takes is the primary challenge for a writer,” he said about writing and teaching. “I want my students to have a great experience, but I also need to reserve 15-20 hours a week for myself to write.

“Hugo House is very merit-based, it's really helpful. You get paid per student per hour, so the students need to really like what you're doing, or they're not going to take your classes.

“Having that kind of financial pressure built into the system has served me really well in the last eight years or so that I've been teaching there; it's forced me to be nimble and attentive and to find a way to make the classes interesting enough for students that they'll tell their friends. But if I'm not writing, I'm not a good teacher, so I need to be writing, too. That means I reuse lessons more than I'd like, or I keep going back to the same story as an example of some aspect of craft.

“I wish it was all new material all the time, but if there were that much reinvention of the wheel, I wouldn't be a writer.”