Emily St. John Mandel on Finding a Sense of Creative Recklessness
In Conversation with Maris Kreizman on The Maris Review Podcast
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On popular (and sexist) book tour questions:
MK: Of course, I thought I was kind of clever to ask you [during promotion of The Glass Hotel] what it feels like to be living in a pandemic when you wrote that book about the pandemic. It seems like maybe you got that question a couple of times.
ESM: A couple of times! You might have been the first. There is this autofiction element in Sea of Tranquility, which is the only part of the book that I started writing before the pandemic. I have a really weird life; I feel like it’s pretty extraordinary that I get to do this. To be a full-time writer is an incredible thing and not something I ever expected.
My working assumption up until a year after Station Eleven came out was that I’d always be an administrative assistant, and I was at peace with that. So I feel like I live this incredible life. At the same time, people say such interesting things to me on tour. “Interesting” is doing a lot of heavy lifting. I think I really mean sexist and bizarre. To be clear, the overwhelming majority of my interactions with readers are really lovely, but then that 1 percent… it’s intense.
MK: I seem to recall a tweet of yours in which someone called your husband a hero or something like that for taking care of your child.
ESM: My husband and I have a daughter who’s six. To be clear, he is the father of that child. I was in Texas and this woman said to me, “You must have a very kind husband to take care of your child while you do this.” In the moment my mind went completely blank and I lost all access to language. But yeah, you can just file that under a vast category of things that male business travelers absolutely do not hear when they’re providing for their family in a traveling capacity.
My very long-winded point that I was getting to was I feel bad that I put interviewers on the spot. I was working on this autofiction and the pandemic hit, so I filtered it through this sci-fi lens and it became part of a much larger, much stranger work. I hadn’t thought it through that I’d make interviewers feel bad, delivering these questions verbatim back to them.
MK: Now I feel less special.
On finding creative freedom:
ESM: Things were so horrible that I think it gave me a sense of creative recklessness. I had this feeling that I don’t care what people think of this work. Life is terrible and I’m going to write whatever I want. And here’s a time traveler on a moon colony in the year 2400. It was a crazy sci-fi thing from the very beginning.
It’s Not Nothing by Courtney Denelle • Scary Monsters by Michelle de Kretser
Emily St. John Mandel’s five previous novels include The Glass Hotel and Station Eleven, which was a finalist for a National Book Award and the PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction, has been translated into 35 languages, and is the basis for the HBO Max series by the same name. She lives in New York City with her husband and daughter.