Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel

Written by Vicki DeArmon

Station Eleven by Emily St. John MandelStarting a book is like starting a love affair, so it most definitely matters what book it is. I picked up Station Eleven before it became listed on the National Book Awards long list and immediately, and irrevocably, fell in love. The other twenty novels stacked on my bed stand faded away as I tumbled into Station Eleven and could not extricate myself.

Dystopian novels are now a vast genre and the outlandish made grittily real is often how we judge them—the more horror in a sense, the better.

Station Eleven sidesteps this mandate, delivering a story that is uplifting as it travels through multiple characters’ lives before and after the collapse of civilization as we know it. We recognize our world when a flu virus wipes out the majority of the population which in turn collapses the systems we rely on: access to transportation, electricity, the internet, and electronics of all sorts. This collapse bleeds out into a likely dystopian future where the surviving one percent of the population, after roving for years, finally settles. In Mandel’s words, “civilization in Year Twenty was an archipelago of small towns.”  

Yet all this is not the heart of the story, but the backdrop, the reasons why our characters make the choices they must make. There’s none of the preemptive racing for the next horror in this book, but rather an almost idyllic and magical suspension of time. The novel traverses the twenty years since the collapse to flashbacks in the previous world.

The story focuses on the essence of art and its importance in a well-lived life through a band of Shakespearean actors and symphony musicians who travel from hamlet to hamlet along Lakes Huron and Michigan to conduct performances for the scattered outposts of humanity. Why Shakespeare? A character concedes, “People want what is best about the world.” And like a salve for the human soul, Shakespeare’s plays persist, as they once returned to the stage following the devastating plague of 16th century England, and in Station Eleven’s pandemic. One of the tents of the Traveling Symphony bears the inscription, “Because Survival Is Insufficient,” challenging the notions of most dystopian novels yet again. 

The novel starts with Arthur Leander, a Hollywood actor, who suffers a heart attack while playing King Lear just before the collapse. Leander is a metaphor of the collapse, serving as a testimony to all that raged in the pre-collapsed world including excess, fame, money, divorce, superficiality, and the quest for meaning. The other characters’ stories radiate out from Arthur, all who link to him in some way: his ex-wife, his fellow actor, a paparazzo, his friend, and his son. These links provide a web of connection throughout the novel that is mysterious and surprising.

Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel

Author Emily St. John Mandel

But it’s not about the impact of a person such as Arthur Leander in the post collapse world, but rather the surviving bits of him as artifacts or memory, that wind through the novel, now infused with meaning by the survivors. For instance, there is Kirsten, the child actress who played along side Leander in King Lear, now in Year Twenty performing Titania from Midsummer Night’s Dream in the Traveling Symphony. She has from Arthur a gift of two treasured comic books that sustain her spirit. The book’s title comes from these comic books which were created in the pre-collapsed world by Leander’s ex-wife who drew a space station resembling a small planet called “Station Eleven” and gave her character, Dr. Eleven, the words, “I stood looking over my damaged home and tried to forget the sweetness of life on Earth.” This novel resonates with such echoes. 

The novel ties brilliantly together in an uplifting end that claims art as the beacon when all else fails. This is not utopia. There are people who are violent and damning as the main characters confront them in this new world. Yet each protagonist persists in his or her view that art and fellowship are the preferred way. The preciousness of life is found on a small scale, beautifully written, with characters who are deeply compelling. This novel is a tribute to the goodness of people rather than a descent into all that is wrong with them when the worst happens. I cannot recommend it highly enough. 

Mandel’s previous work includes Last Night in Montreal, The Singer’s Gun, and The Lola Quartet. Station Eleven is being hailed as the breakout novel that introduces her for the first time to a wider community of readers. Read more:

Book review written by Vicki DeArmon, Marketing & Events Director, Copperfield’s Books, Seven stores in San Francisco’s North Bay

Vicki DeArmonBook Review by  Vicki DeArmon

Book Review: The Missing Place by Sophie Littlefield

Written by Sherry Joyce

Sophie Littlefield Interview

Sophie Littlefield

Something a reader looks for, but does not always find, is a book unique in both its setting and story. What makes The Missing Place a compelling read is not only the setting in the oil fields of North Dakota, but the complexity of the two characters in the story, Colleen and Shay, as they search for their sons who have disappeared.

With each of their sons missing, these two very different women are brought together in a dire situation to find out what happened in a town where others have died on oil rigs or suffered terrible injuries while working on high-risk, often exceptionally well-paying jobs. Together the two mothers confront everything:  from oil rights and Indian reservation rights to OSHA as a looming threat with the power to shut down rigs. There is plenty to question about the companies who own these rigs and the men who work in the face of danger everyday.

Colleen, a wealthy woman from Massachusetts, with secrets about her own son, Paul, is suddenly having to cohabitate in a small trailer with Shay, a no-nonsense woman who has survived through life on her own terms with grit and determination. Shay is on the same quest to find the answers to how her own son, Taylor, disappeared while working with Paul on Hunter-Cole’s rigs.

MissingPlacecoverA first glance, some readers might shy away from a story about two young men who disappeared while working on oil rigs in a town with few esthetic redeeming qualities. The weather at times so harsh it rivals the Alaskan frontier, causing you to shiver against the biting wind and drifting snow. However, as chilled as you feel by wondering if these two young men are still alive, you become engrossed in a uniquely compelling story that propels you forward because you want to believe against the odds and hope.

Colleen and Shay have nothing in common except their own terror while trying to uncover what has happened to their missing sons. They search for common ground in how to pursue strategies to find out what happened to Paul and Taylor while irritating each other to the point of exasperation and total exhaustion. However, through thinly veiled tolerance and complete frustration with one another, they manage to uncover surprising clues that led to the disappearance.

A character-driven story, where you struggle to like and accept Colleen and Shay, you nonetheless feel empathy for what they are going through, and with their sense of despair so deep, it unravels humanity to its core. However, The Missing Place, at its heart, is a mystery with plenty of suspense and plot twists that are surprising.  

Littlefield’s exceptional writing creates unusual insight into women’s relationships, as Shay and Colleen are each forced to form an alliance with the other while neither can conjure up a modicum of acceptance. The things not spoken aloud create considerable tension due to their extreme differences in personalities. Not knowing if their sons are alive, forces both women to forge an unlikely alliance, slowly breaking down the facades each has built to protect themselves from truths in their own lives.

Like many small towns, there are good people who have adapted to difficult circumstances and others who will do anything to cover up the truth. Set in Lawton, North Dakota, where the oil boom changed everything, this book is an edge-of-your-seat story whose characters will live long after you have turned the last page.

                                    –Sherry Joyce, Author of The Dordogne Deceptio

Meet Sophie Littlefield and discuss her book at the National Reading Group Month Event
 Co-sponsored by WNBA-SF and Litquake 2014.

Mysteries at Opera Plaza! The Thrill of Shared Reading

October 11, 2014, Saturday, 2:00 -4:00 pm

Books, Inc., Opera Plaza 601 Van Ness Ave., SF 94107

SPECIAL OFFER: The Missing Place will be for sale and signing by the author days before its official launch October 14!

WNBA Third Annual Writing Contest

2014_Writing_Contest_01_WebBegins: 8/14/2014, Ends: 1/15/2015

Flyer Click here for download.

We are seeking your best work for our national writing contest. Winning entries will be published in a special issue of The Bookwoman–the national newsletter of the WNBA. First place winners receive $250 cash prize. Second, third and honorable mentions will be published with the first place winners in the contest edition of The Bookwoman. Open to all writers 18 or older writing in English. Read previous winners on our website.

2014 Entry Fee: WNBA Members: $15 per entry Non-Members: $20 per entry

All submissions and payments are through Submittable. Simultaneous submissions are acceptable, please inform the contest judge if work is accepted elsewhere. Previously published work accepted. If work is accepted elsewhere please contact the Contest Chair:

Creative Nonfiction: Includes memoir, personal essay and commentary. 2,500 words maximum.

Poetry: 3 – 5 pages of poetry.

Fiction: Includes short fiction, novel excerpts and flash fiction. 2,500 – 3,000 maximum.

Submit your work:

WNBA contest page:


Fiction Michelle Hoover is the Fannie Hurst writer-in-residence at Brandeis University and also teaches writing at GrubStreet, where she co-founded the Novel Incubator, a year-long intensive in the novel. Her debut, The Quickening, was shortlisted for the Center for Fiction’s Flaherty-Dunnan First Novel Prize and is a 2010 Massachusetts Book Award “Must Read” pick. For more, go to

Creative Nonfiction Deirdre Bair received a National Book Award for Samuel Beckett: A Biography (1978). Her biographies of Simone de Beauvoir and C. G. Jung were finalists for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize. Her biographies of Anaïs Nin and Simone de Beauvoir were chosen by the New York Times as “Best Books of the Year,” and her biography of Jung won the Gradiva Award from the National Association for the Advancement of Psychoanalysis.

Poetry Ellen Bass’s most recent book of poetry, Like a Beggar, was published in April 2014 by Copper Canyon Press. Her previous books include The Human Line (Copper Canyon Press), named a Notable Book by the San Francisco Chronicle, and Mules of Love (BOA Editions) which won the Lambda Literary Award. For more, go to


Julia Park Tracey

Written by Catharine Bramkamp

Julia Park TraceyJulia Park Tracey is a busy author, active member of WNBA-SF Chapter, and was just honored as Poet Laureate for the town of Alameda. 

She is glad to part of a well-respected organization populated by strong, professional women. “I appreciate the women in this group for their mentoring, friendship and collective wisdom. WNBA is well known and commands respect. That always feels good when I talk about it.”

A question that we all may well ask is exactly how does one become a poet laureate? The poet, Mary Rudge, who served as Alameda’s Poet Laureate for ten years, passed away this year. Julia was simply encouraged to apply. “I was surprised to be selected. I am known for many other things besides poetry, but poetry is my first literary love. So I’m pretty chuffed about the title.”Amaryllis

Besides poetry, Julia is the editor for her aunt’s diaries. “The Doris Diaries is a women’s history project to publish the diaries of my late Aunt Doris, who was a flapper in the 1920s, a Bohemian and a student in the 1930s, and eventually a social worker in the 1940s. Her diaries are rich with Portland and San Francisco history. The two volumes I produced myself drew thousands of followers and readers, and garnered several awards. I published them to showcase the eloquent writing of this articulate young woman on the cusp of historic turning points. She never published them, so I’m fulfilling her legacy.The profits from the diaries go to a scholarship fund at her alma mater, Reed College.

I've got some loving to doThe Doris Diaries are loads of fun, because the more things change, the more they don’t: Doris’s trouble with men, with finding an affordable studio in San Francisco, with hating her boss, with partying all night, with crashing the car and having to explain to her parents—this is all stuff we can appreciate. But lard it with contemporary slang and news items, and you find yourself laughing all the harder. Or weeping for her. The project does, however, feel more scholarly, when looking up corroborating news items or locating where a certain house or restaurant might have been. Footnotes! Appendices! Indexing!

My own fiction is like letting the ponies run free—write a story from thin air and be the god of the characters’ lives. It’s positively Zeusian. It’s freeing, but then again, I have to do all the work, not merely clean up and straighten the chairs after the party (to mix metaphors a bit.) All the fun, all the responsibility.” 

BookTrope is re-publishing both the Doris volumes, plus Julia’s first novel, as well as a chick-lit series she is writing now. “BookTrope is very smart with its marketing. Their authors work with a team of editors, proofreaders, designers and marketers to give each book its best chance. And they have a massive database of blogs, web sites, and social media where readers look for books. Those readers are targeted, and BookTrope manages to put books—thousands of them, hundreds of thousands of them—into readers’ hands. That feels like they’re doing something right. 

I am delighted to say the switch was their idea. I was recommended by a sister author to BookTrope. They are only taking writers by personal recommendation these days (they were inundated with unsolicited subs and had to close the doors). I have a novel and two biographies that I indie-published, and in my few years of marketing, traveling, speaking and writing about these topics, I met enough other writers who saw my work and my efforts, and appreciated it enough to recommend me.”

Like many of us, Julia is not an overnight success. “What’s interesting is how success comes so slowly. You have to work for years to really get good at craft. I worked in the crucible of a newspaper, where there is no second draft, no second chance. And I started there before computers, so we literally had one shot, no corrections, and had to literally cut and paste before deadline. You learn to write cleanly, to get the material you need, because you can’t go back and check the website or get another interview.

There have been times when I burned with jealousy over other people’s successes (You got a book deal? Just like that? You write crap! What about meeee?). And it seemed that years went by and I did ‘nothing’ with my writing. But all of that living counts as apprenticeship, you know. It’s all material. Use it. Just keep writing. Keep submitting. And savor the journey.”

Visit Julia’s blog: