Jackie Casella is a creative bartender with a literary bent, and management of the Brix 25 in Gig Harbor is wise enough to take advantage.
“Here's one – I call it 'To the Lighthouse,'” Casella said. “You use scotch, Earl Gray-infused honey, Fernet Branca, Velvet Falernum and an orange twist. It’s kind of earthy, and I named if for Virginia Wolfe's book, 'To the lighthouse,' which was set in Scotland.”
A 37-year-old Tacoma mother of four – two children in their late teens, two others age seven and three – Casella uses her literary ability for more than drinks. She has written since childhood, and for the past three years has created, maintained and grown a group for writers called Creative Colloquy.
“It’s my baby, a passion project from the beginning,” Casella said “We meet at the B Sharp Coffee Shop at 7 p.m. every third Monday of the month. We have four or five featured writers read, then hold an open mic where anyone can read some of their work.”
The group’s first meeting, in 2014, drew 60 members. Average attendance is between 35-60 people, she said, and most come to listen, not read – including her husband Chris.
“We’ve published a volume of short stories, essays, poems and local art the past three years,” Casella said. “This year, we’re releasing it Dec. 19.”
There are no membership fees, no reading or publishing fees. The downside, Casella said, “is we can't compensate anyone for posting their work or using it in the book. We're not a non-profit, but we operate like one.”
The group is no vanity project for Casella.
“I’ve written the forward in all three volumes, but haven’t had anything published, haven’t even submitted anything,” she said. “I emcee our meetings, introduce the writers, but I’ve never done a reading.”
Why not? Casella laughed at the question.
“That wouldn’t be me,” she said. “When I first emceed the meetings, I’d get almost physically ill standing up there.”
Casella nurtures writers, encourages them and enjoys talking about writing. Her own, however, is mostly professional or personal.
“I’ve written all my life, but five years ago I became a professional writer – meaning I got paid for it,” she said.
She wrote for City Arts magazine and the Daily Volcano, and has successfully freelanced in print and online.
“I've got two projects I'm working on,” Casella said. “The first is a cocktail book, with recipes, photos of the drinks and stories from behind the bar. I'm probably 90 per cent finished with that.
“The other one is a memoir, which you have to write when you're 37, right? I'm probably 60 per cent done, and it's a little darker than I thought it would be. I sent one chapter to my dad to read, and afterward he kept saying, 'I'm so sorry!' I told him the point wasn't to make him feel bad.”
The darkness began in childhood, when a stepmother nearly convinced her she was stupid, unloved and worthless. Her father worked long hours, was largely unaware of what his daughter was enduring.
“The reason I wrote wasn’t just to vent the feelings; it was with the hope that it might help one person reading it,” Casella said.
Neither the cocktail project nor the autobiography is Casella’s first book.
“The first one I ever wrote I wrote in third grade, and the subject was the Oregon Trail,” she said. “I wrote about a rocking chair that fell out of a covered wagon, and its adventures afterward.
“My teacher acknowledged me for being so creative, and that was it. I loved the process.”
On occasion, she is able to recreate that joy in others, helping them get published online or in print for the first time. There’s a Creative Colloquy website – CreativeColloquy.com – that accepts submissions.
“Each month we post as many as six new works,” Casella said. “And everything we’ve ever used is on the website, and that’s a lot.”
As with submissions to the annual book, website submissions are reviewed by a group of six people, including founder/director Casella and a three-member board. The volumes are all available at Kings Books and Amazon.com
“This year we had 60 submissions and accepted 19,” Casella said. “We also accepted art from local artists.”
That book launch will be Dec. 19th at B Sharp Coffee Shop, 706 Opera Alley. In the meantime, Casella will continue her own writing and let her imagination flow – whether behind the bar or on a city bus.
“When I ride a bus, I'm always making up stories about the people I see around me,” she said. “That woman is secretly a princess … that man holds ferret fights in his basement …”