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Emily St. John Mandel's Station Eleven shipping this week, plus an interview

 Station Eleven by Emily St John Mandel

We’re delighted to be publishing a signed, limited edition of one of our favorite books of recent yearsStation Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel (which, coincidentally, is down to the last 25 copies for sale). Mandel’s fourth novel, Station Eleven follows a riveting cast of characters at the moment of and decades after a pandemic that ends civilization we know it, including a theater troupe known as The Travelling Symphony. Station Eleven was nominated for the National Book Award and the PEN/Faulkner and won the Arthur C. Clarke Award. We thought we’d give you an exclusive interview with Mandel in honor of our edition being released.

Gwenda Bond: I’ve read that this novel originally was about a present-day troupe of Shakespearean actors in Canada, and then the idea of contrasting that with what happens after the apocalypseor after the immediate aftermath of the apocalypse, rather--came to you. I’m curious...were the major characters there all along? Who came first?

Emily Mandel: Some of the major characters were there all along. Others came along later. I always had the character of Arthur, because I was always going to start the book with that opening scene, the actor dying of a heart attack in the fourth act of King Lear. That scenario immediately suggested other characters to me. It seemed natural that someone would try to save him, so there was Jeevan. I'd recently seen a gorgeous staging of King Lear in New York, directed by James LaPine, which involved child actors on stage in non-speaking roles, playing childhood versions of Lear's daughters and then playing hallucinations in the mad scene. I wanted to copy that staging in the book, so that gave me Kirsten.

Miranda and Clark emerged later, as I started to think more about Arthur's life and the people he knew, but they ended up being my two favourite characters to write.

GB: Also, the Michigan parts are near and dear to our hearts here at the SubPress offices. When did that part of the setting shift?

EM: I'm pretty sure I had that setting from the first draft onward. I'd toyed with the idea of setting the book on a post-apocalyptic Vancouver Island, but that presented a lot of logistical problems—how to get characters on and off the island after BC Ferries shuts down, for example—so I decided that the Michigan lakeshore made more sense. I like that region a lot. I've been on tour there a few times and think it's beautiful.

GB: Station Eleven does a brilliant job of creating an expansive world, but also telling very intimate stories. And there’s this echoing idea throughout of the way we record not just History capital H, but personal historiesof how little control we have over what lives on, but also of people fighting to preserve bits of the past in spite of that. Is this something that fascinates you in our world too?

EM: Thank you. Yes, that question of what survives does fascinate me, and it's the reason why I'm extremely careful about what I post online; it seems to me there's a certain randomness about what survives and what doesn't, which means there's a fair chance that the stupidest thing you ever tweeted will be the digital artifact that your grandchildren read. I was interested in that randomness when I was writing Station Eleven—perhaps the Beethoven symphonies and the Shakespeare survives, but there's no reason why the celebrity gossip tabloids and the TV Guides wouldn't survive too.

GB: Would you visit the Museum of Civilization?

EM: Yes, definitely. If I lived in a world where I had to hunt my own deer and make my own candles, I think the world of chocolate chip cookies and electricity would seem kind of magical.

GB: This is at heart a hopeful book about humanity, which is a refreshing addition to post-apocalyptic tales, though with a chilling antagonist in the Prophet and plenty of darkness at the edges.

EM: I'm glad that hopefulness comes through for you. I loved The Road, but I was very conscious of wanting to write something very different. It seems to me that most of the post-apocalyptic fiction I've read has been set in that immediate aftermath of mayhem and chaos and horror following a complete societal breakdown, and it was more interesting to me to write about what comes next, about the new world and the new culture that might begin to emerge fifteen or twenty years later.

GB: What kind of research did you do for Station Eleven?

EM: The research for Station Eleven was pretty varied—everything from reading Shakespeare to trying to figure out how many horses you need to pull an extended-bed Ford pickup truck with the engine removed. I also ended up doing a lot of reading about pandemics. I didn't want to dwell on the collapse—as I mentioned, I was more interested in the distant aftermath—but if you're going to write a post-apocalyptic book, you've got to end the world somehow, and I wanted my pandemic to be halfway plausible.

GB: Have you always been interested in pandemics or the end of the world as we know it?

EM: I've been interested for a long time in the idea of the end of the world as we know it, ever since I read Walter Miller's A Canticle for Leibowitz when I was fifteen or so. That book made an enormous impression on me. My interest in pandemics didn't really come about till I was writing Station Eleven. I spent a lot of time reading about the smallpox epidemic in North America in the late 18th century. The stories from that epidemic are devastating and fascinating.

GB: We loved “Mr. Thursday,” your short story for Slate earlier this year. So, last but not least, can you give us any hint at what’s next? Are you working on a new novel?

EM: Thank you! Mr. Thursday was actually based on an excised section of the novel I'm working on, but that bit was excised for a reason—the new novel isn't done yet, but I'm 100% confident that it doesn't involve time travel. My next novel is tentatively titled The Glass Hotel, and it will be published in 2019. It's about the collapse of a Ponzi scheme, and also about container shipping. I will figure out how those two things go together sometime before 2019.

GB: Thank you so much for talking to us!

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