March 27, 2013 • 03:54:11 p.m.

Author bringing lively 'dead' talk to library

Discussion kicks off city-wide book program in St. Charles


Author Kevin Brockmeier combines a "playground for fantasy" and a looming apocalypse in his book, "The Brief History of the Dead," which he plans to discuss at an April 9 event at the St. Charles Public Library.

His work has been characterized by others as fantasy and "fabulist fiction."

"I don't think that's inaccurate," Brockmeier said. "However, if people were hunting for the sort of fantasy J.R.R. Tolkein wrote, you wouldn't find it in my work. In nearly all of the fiction I've written so far that has been published, most have traces of science fiction."

"The Brief History of the Dead" contains two narrative strands. The first takes place in the Antarctic, where character Laura Byrd is completely isolated, and later finds out a calamity has befallen the human race. Another takes place in the City of the Dead, a place where people linger after they die, as long as someone who is still alive remembers them.

Brockmeier said writing about the afterlife naturally lends itself to fantasy. He said he was inspired to write about this topic after reading a book called "Lies My Teacher Told Me," by James Loewen. The book mentions an idea derived from African folklore that there are different categories of the deceased, including one where a dead person is still remembered by someone who is still alive.

"The idea of a city of 'remembered dead' struck me as really compelling," he said. "I thought it could be the basis of a short story, if not an entire novel. That's the seed from which the book sprang."

Brockmeier has written several short story collections and children's novels. "The Brief History of the Dead" is the second of three novels he has published for adults.
Numerous writers have influenced him, he said, including Peter S. Beagle who wrote "A Fine and Private Place," and Italo Calvino, who wrote one of Brockmeier's favorite books, "The Baron in the Trees."

"Like most writers, I would say I'm a reader first and a writer second," he said.

As a child, Brockmeier said he would write to entertain himself. But it wasn't until he was 18 that he decided to pursue writing as a career. He studied creative writing, theater and philosophy, and "squeezed writing in around the edges" while he taught creative writing at universities and colleges. When he landed his first publishing deal, he took a plunge into writing full time.

He said he has just completed another book, called "Seventh Grade," which he described as a single sustained narrative, and more autobiographical than most of the books he's written.

Brockmeier's visit is part of the St. Charles Public Library's Our Community Reads program. Several other guest speakers are slated to participate in events with titles such as "Art of the Afterlife" on April 4 and "How the Afterlife Has Been Depicted in Cinema" on April 16.

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