An Evening With Lauren Beukes

Posted: 24 June 2013
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After a quick speaking engagement in Portland, Oregon, at Powell's City Of Books to promote her grisly new novel The Shining Girls, author Lauren Beukes unwittingly endured the weirdness of the city with an acquaintance turned tour guide, which included crashing a studio party and hunting buck in high definition.

An Evening With Lauren Beukes: Powell'sLauren Beukes has spent several months promoting her newest novel The Shining Girls, a story of a time-travelling serial killer that is set in Chicago, embarking on a worldwide tour that has surely been exhilarating and exhausting. On 8 June Lauren flew into Portland International Airport for a reading at Portland's world famous Powell's City of Books. After a rushed, canned introduction by a Powell's employee (who did not pronounce "Beukes" correctly), Lauren took the stage and read the first chapter of The Shining Girls.

I haven't been to readings in several years and the most recent were from non-fiction authors. Immediately I was impressed with how quickly Lauren became absorbed in telling the story of Kirby and Harper, the protagonist and antagonist, respectively. With so many readings under her belt already, Lauren appeared a seasoned pro. She effectively changed her inflection and the speed of her speech to make the characters' dialogue and voices distinct and easy to follow, which I appreciated, as it can be difficult to discern when you don't have the pages in front of you.

After reading the first chapter, Lauren gave some explanations and history of the novel, which included telling the audience about her time living in Chicago, her choice to set the novel in that city rather than in a city in South Africa, and her writing process for keeping the three timelines of this tale organised.

An Evening With Lauren Beukes: Reading at Powell'sAfter her reading and brief explanation, she opened the floor to questions, and the crowd was quite lively and engaged. Some questions discussed the potential possibility for a film or TV adaptation. Lauren explained that the rights for a 13-part mini series have just been sold and each episode may tell the story of each of Harper's murder victims. She was also asked about how much artistic control she will have in this process and she explained that she has a consulting role but there are many people who will play a decisive role in how the mini series is created.

Lauren was very keen on explaining why she portrayed the murders of the victims in such a gruesome way. She said she was very careful in writing these stories so the reader felt emotionally engaged with the women and horrified during the murder scenes. This is because she wanted to avoid the sexualisation and glorification of the serial killer that is so commonly seen in film and in TV shows, and portray the story for the female victims in a visceral, realistic way.

She also indicated her interest in telling this story and using time travelling as an integral part of the story because of the "loops" of time travel and the parallelism between the "loops of history". She expanded on this idea by explaining that history does repeat itself: in 1950s America, McCarthyism ruled and privacy suffered. One of the "shining girls" exists in this era and the effects of McCarthyism is apparent. This parallels what is currently happening with the leaking of information that the NSA is spying on millions.

Finally, she was asked about her next project, which she explained will be a new novel set in Detroit that features a detective. She is interested in Detroit because it represents the rise and fall of the US and there are parallels between South Africa - Johannesburg in particular - that she is exploring.

After the Q&A period, Lauren offered to sign books and talk with people individually, and nearly everyone queued at the small table set aside for her.

An Evening With Lauren Beukes: signing books

It was my first time meeting her, and she had been warned that I would be there, so she asked me to stick around after she had finished signing books. There were a few people in the audience that she knew, so we all waited to talk more with her. We decided to leave Powell's and went to Clyde Common for a drink and some food.

At Clyde Common we discussed Lauren's insanely hectic book tour and her thoughts on the profitability of this book, the efficacy of book promotions and speaking tours, and general news stories.

An Evening With Lauren Beukes: Big Buck HDAfter we left Clyde Common, Lauren was to meet her friend and colleague Jordan Metcalf at a studio party. Since it was not quite time for the party, we stopped at the Low Brow Lounge for a quick drink and to play some Ms. Pac-Man. Unfortunately, Ms. Pac-Man was no longer there, and had been replaced by Big Buck HD. After depositing several dollars and quarters, I taught the finer points of hunting buck to Lauren, who obviously didn't need my instruction since she was quite adept at taking down several bucks, ducks, and salmon. We both had had quite a bit to drink, which is a crucial component for the activity of killing pixelated animals in high definition with a rifle-shaped controller, and so we found this all very hilarious and I was proud/ashamed to include this as part of her experience of Americana

At approximately 19:30 we went to the studio party and discussed her book, readings, and South Africa with various artists and designers. However, we weren't at the party for long before it was time for Lauren to leave for the airport. We hurriedly hailed a taxi to get across the Willamette River to my car and then I drove us to Lauren's hotel near the airport through some of Portland's worst traffic. The hotel, which Lauren admitted only served as a large locker for her luggage (complete with chocolates on the pillows) because she was only in Portland for less than 12 hours, was tucked away in a confusing bit of industrial warehouses, and so I got us a little lost. It was at this moment she began to question my identity, so I felt compelled to prove who I was by extolling my knowledge of our shared friend and, though I may not have been completely convincing, I think I put her mind at ease when we arrived at the airport safely and in time for her to undergo the humiliation of United States airport-security theater, another less glorious experience of Americana that formed part of the whirlwind US leg of her book tour for The Shining Girls.

Tags: #books, #games, #horror, #lauren_beukes, #portland, #speculative_fiction, #team_scripticon

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