This weekend I went to the annual Omaha (Downtown) Lifest with the theme Nervosa: Science, Psych & Story featuring a number of local, regional and national authors. I really enjoyed last year's Litfest, but this year had to stick to my budget, which meant just listening in, writing down titles and choosing only one book to take away with me. (That's what wishlists are for, right? And libraries?). You'll have to forgive the very brief overview of the panel discussions as I didn't pull out a notebook for note taking until the very last one--it was too absorbing just listening.
Unfortunately I missed most of the first panel discussion on "Diagnosis", so I caught only the tail end of the question and answer session. It featured authors Bud Shaw and Lydia Kang. Shaw is a doctor who wrote Last Night in the OR: A Transplant Surgeon's Odyssey, and Kang recently released a YA novel, Catalyst.
"Treachery" was the topic of the next panel which featured authors Theodore Wheeler-On the River, Down Where They Found Willy Brown, Douglas Vincent Wessleman,-Tales of the Master: The Book of Stone, and Marilyn June Coffey-Thieves, Rascals & Sore Losers: The Unsettling Deals that Helped Settle Nebraska. It was quite a lively discussion on books dealing with darker themes.
I found the discussion about the third panel, "Empathy", most interesting since the topic of women's writing and how their books are marketed came up during the Q&A. Each author in this session also read from her book--Love Water Memory by Jennie Shortridge, How Winter Began: Stories by Joy Castro and Mr. and Mrs. Doctor by Julie Iromuanya.
The last panel was a Q&A/conversation with Emily St. John Mandel about her novel Station Eleven (which I was very impressed by when I read it earlier this year--and alas the only book I had read before hand). The theme was "Health, Illness, and the End of the World". Halfway through the session I did jot a few notes down. Emily St. John Mandel is a very articulate, soft spoken speaker. She seems very modest about her success and the awards she has won.
She read the first page or so of chapter 11 of her book, which I was also quite struck by when I read it.
I thought it interesting that one of her favorite books is Donna Tartt's The Secret History. I got the sense it is the sort of novel she would like to write--one with a literary sensibility yet a good story. And someday I am going to read the Tartt book! I'd say St. John Mandel did a most excellent job of combining good writing with excellent plotting and well developed characterization.
A few bits and pieces that came out during the Q&A: she wrote the book in scenes rather than as a linear, straightforward narrative (that's one way of never feeling bored by whatever part of the story you are telling), the novel began as a story of a traveling Shakespeare troupe and the end-of-the-world twist came later to the story, she was more interested in telling a story about 'what came after' the collapse rather than the actual epidemic. She didn't want to focus on the horror of the sickness and so didn't dwell as much on that as what life was like once 90% of the population was knocked out. She was interested in writing about technology, but wanted to do it from the perspective of life without it rather than with it, which I thought very clever.
She doesn't like being pigeon-holed into one category (and doesn't like that compartmentalization of literature generally), and now that she has written in a variety of styles and genres (now I must read some of her other work!) she feels fairly liberated to write as she likes in her next book.
At the moment she is working on the 'script' (not sure what the proper term is) for a possible graphic novel--the story of Station Eleven that was a comic book within the book. She said it is like writing a movie script--describing the panels and writing the text. The illustration would come later. I hope that this is a project that see fruition--how cool would it be to read those comics from the novel?
And how cool is this wire art? The sculptures were made by local artist Jay N. Cochrane, and these are a few of my favorites. They were made for the Litfest "using hundreds of yards of metal wire and a crochet-like looping technique". And you will be happy to know that no book was harmed in this process. Each can still be read and enjoyed!