Alec Nevala-Lee

Thoughts on art, creativity, and the writing life.

Posts Tagged ‘Oak Park Public Library

A writer’s family values

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Laurence Olivier as Hamlet

Recently, I’ve been thinking a lot about family. Over the weekend, my wife and I hosted my parents, my brother, and my grandmother at our house in Oak Park, meaning that we had four generations living for a few days under the same roof—which is enough to make anyone reflect a little on the joys and complexities of family life. After seeing my mother off yesterday, I had my reading at the Oak Park Public Library, where I ran into a friend I hadn’t seen in a long time, who had his adorably enormous baby son in tow. (He also happens to be the photographer who took my excellent author photos.) When I took questions at the end of the reading, he asked if having a newborn daughter had changed the way I write. I responded, truthfully, that this was an excellent question to which I didn’t have a good answer, but that I expected it would, although the effects have yet to be seen. Every novel, as I’ve said before, is secretly about the process of its own creation, and it’s inevitable that a major change in my personal life will be reflected indirectly in the stories I write.

At the moment, though, if there’s one thing the characters in my novels have in common, it’s that they’re all alone. Ilya, the central character of the trilogy, is literally an orphan, and he’s defined by the fact of his isolation, which pits him against other players and larger systems in a game that he plays on his own. We never learn anything about Maddy’s parents, and Wolfe’s family only appears in a couple of phone calls from her mother. Powell is largely shaped by the absence of his father, who suffers from Alzheimer’s disease. And none of these characters are married or in a serious relationship. Part of this is due to the conventions of the thriller, which generally doesn’t have much room for family narratives: it tends to focus on individuals versus the world, particularly in conspiracy stories. It also has something to do with my situation when I first conceived the series. At the time, I was living alone in New York, and although I was far from lonely, like most writers, I spent much of my time in my own head.

Odysseus and the Sirens

And while I’d argue that themes of isolation are central to The Icon Thief and its sequels, it also strikes me as a limitation. Families are central to many of the most interesting stories we know, both because they provide such rich material for drama and because they allow us to see the characters from multiple perspectives. I’ve always been fascinated by the example of Odysseus, the most fully realized figure in ancient literature, who acquires much of his interest because we see him in every role a man can play: he’s a father, a son, a husband, a lover, a beggar, a companion, and a king. (It’s no accident that one of his epithets is polytropos, “the man of many turns.”) The same principle applies to Hamlet, whose character is defined by his radically different relationships with Claudius, Gertrude, Ophelia, Horatio, Polonius, his father’s ghost, various courtiers, and even the skull of Yorick. And such characterizations work both as a narrative strategy and as a reflection of life itself, in which we all suffer from a loneliness or individuality that finds its fullest expression in the company of others.

In other words, family is both a subject and a valuable fictional tool, and the fact that these elements play such a minor part in the novels I’ve written is something I occasionally regret. I always welcome the chance to depict my characters in the light of a range of relationships, and I feel that Wolfe, for instance, is nicely enriched by her interactions with her mother. I just wish there were more of it—and I suspect there will be. These days, my life has changed a lot since I first started out as a writer: in the five years since I began work on the first draft of The Icon Thief, I’ve gotten married, acquired a house and mortgage, and found myself the father of a beautiful daughter. And although I’ve spent most of the ensuing time on projects that were conceived much earlier, I don’t doubt that I’ll start to see the signs in my own work. Writing, at its heart, is a way of seeing the world around me more clearly, and it can’t help but evolve as the life around it changes as well.

Written by nevalalee

May 9, 2013 at 9:17 am

Live from Oak Park

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An author event at the Oak Park Public Library

Last year, a librarian named Carolyn DeCoursey at the Maze Branch of the Oak Park Public Library read and enjoyed one of the many books in her stack of new arrivals, a debut conspiracy novel set in the New York art world. She liked it so much, in fact, that she started recommending it to her patrons, and one day, one of them said: “I know the author. He’s my neighbor—and he lives only three blocks away!” The novel, of course, was The Icon Thief, and although my author biography clearly states that I live in Oak Park, that part of the cover was evidently covered up by a sticker with the library bar code.

Since then, I’ve had the pleasure of meeting Carolyn at other library events, and that serendipitous connection was the essential first step that led to my reading tonight at 7 pm at the Maze Branch. It’s going to be a good event—I hope that some of you in the Chicago area will be able to attend—and it has a lot of sentimental importance to me, since the Maze Branch is where I intend to take my daughter Beatrix as soon as she’s old enough. (She’s already been there once, but she slept through most of the visit.) And the moral of the story, obviously, is that whether you’re a writer, a reader, or just a good neighbor, it pays to be friends with your local librarian. 

Written by nevalalee

May 8, 2013 at 9:50 am

Posted in Books

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More news from all over

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Il ladro di reliquie

I’m very pleased to announce that Il ladro di reliquie, the Italian translation of The Icon Thief, was released yesterday by Newton Compton. Here’s how the first paragraph reads:

Andrey era quasi al confine quando si imbatté nei ladri. Erano ormai tre giorni che viaggiava. Di norma era era molto cauto al volante, ma a un certo punto nell’ultima ora la sua mente si era messa a vagare e, scendendo da un breve pendio, era quasi andato a sbattere contro due auto parcheggiate lì davanti.

Although I haven’t seen a surge in fan mail from Italy just yet, I’m still excited to see my novel in the language of Dante and Umberto Eco, and I’m looking forward to receiving my author’s copies. In the meantime, as I’ve noted before, you can check out the first three chapters on the book’s official site, and if you happen to read Italian, I’d be curious to hear your thoughts.

If you’re in the Chicago area, I also have a pair of upcoming author events that I hope some of you reading this will be able to attend. On Wednesday May 8, I’ll be at the Maze Branch of the Oak Park Public Library at 7pm to discuss City of Exiles and the upcoming Eternal Empire, an opportunity that I owe entirely to the generosity and support of librarian Carolyn DeCoursey, who read The Icon Thief, liked it, and was surprised to discover that the author lived only a few blocks away. I’ve also confirmed that I’ll be appearing at the upcoming Printers Row Lit Fest on June 8 and 9, which is always a highlight of any year. My panel discussion last summer with David Heinzmann, Jan Wallentin, Manuel Muñoz, and Sean Cherover was one of the most memorable author events I’ve ever had, and I’m hopeful that this year will be even more special. (If nothing else, I expect that my newest, biggest fan will be in attendance, and I hope she’ll ask some good questions.) Stay tuned for more details.

Written by nevalalee

April 26, 2013 at 8:53 am

A word from your author

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Author video for City of Exiles

With only four days remaining until the release of City of Exiles, my vast promotional machine is kicking into something resembling high gear. If you’re in the Chicago area today, I’ll be appearing at a local authors event at the Oak Park Public Library at 2pm, where advance copies of the new novel will be on sale. And if you can’t make it, you can at least enjoy this promotional video, which I recorded last summer and is finally available online. Looking at it now, I’m more amused by it than anything else, both by the fact that they cut half an hour of material down to just over a minute—probably wisely—and by the enormous microphone clipped to my shirt. But if you’ve been dying to see me in action, here’s your chance.

Written by nevalalee

December 1, 2012 at 7:30 am

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