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Emily St. John Mandel. Photo via Facebook
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Author visits Oceanside as part of citywide Big Read


OCEANSIDE — A Conversation with the Author: Emily St. John Mandel, held at the Star Theatre April 5, proved to be as warm and personal as event’s name implies. Mandel, the author of the richly detailed and compelling best seller “Station Eleven,” shared interesting anecdotes on her life, writing process and novel.

“Station Eleven” is the book selection for the fifth citywide Big Read led by Oceanside Public Library, which invites residents to read and attend book-themed events and discussions. The post-apocalyptic novel is set in the Michigan Great Lakes region after a fictional flu pandemic kills most of the world’s population. Literary critics call the novel “equal parts page-turner and poem.”

The author event kicked off with an invitation dessert reception, followed by a free ticketed interview conducted by KPBS North County bureau chief and reporter Alison St. John. Seated on stage in matching upholstered chairs, the conversation between Mandel and St. John was light-hearted and fast-paced.

Mandel discussed the novel’s themes of remembering the past, taken-for-granted technology, organized religion versus spirituality, and the need for the arts.

“I didn’t want to write about disaster, per se,” Mandel said.

Mandel also shared how her everyday curiosities about people she would routinely see, or unique occupations, made their way into the story.

She also gave insight into her own upbringing in western Canada, where she was homeschooled by “hippie parents” until she attended high school at age 15. Mandel described herself as a “ballet girl” through her teens.

She went on to study dance at the prestigious Toronto Dance Theatre conservatory for contemporary dance. Upon finishing her study, she said she started to lose her passion for dance, and took on factory-type jobs to make a living. Mandel said she was looking for something more and began writing.

Mandel is a self-taught writer. She said she acquired informal training from her parents’ homeschooling requirement to write every day, and from being an avid reader. Her process to write a book is to pen a rough first draft, then rewrite the story dozens of times until she reaches a finished product. She said the published “Station Eleven” is the 27th version of the novel.

“The first draft is incredibly messy,” Mandel said.

She has written four novels, and will soon publish a fifth. She said she has no plans to write a sequel to “Station Eleven,” but one character from the book does make a cameo appearance in her upcoming novel set to be published next year.

To engage community readers, copies of “Station Eleven” were given out at earlier Big Read events. Following the author interview literary fans lined up out the door of the theater to speak one on one with Mandel and have her autograph their copy of the book.

“Station Eleven” is the winner of the 2015 Arthur C. Clarke Award, Toronto Book Award and Morning News Tournament of Books. It is also a finalist for the National Book Award and PEN/Faulkner Award. The novel has been translated into 31 languages.

Other books by Mandel are “The Lola Quartet,” “The Singer’s Gun,” and “Last Night in Montreal.”