October 01, 2012

AFTERNOON BOOK CHATS with Mike Barnes & Pasha Malla

By Jeannette Bodnar

So I finally made it out to one of the Afternoon Book Chats held at McNally Robinson. Truth-be-told I’ve been sick all week and spent most of Tuesday in a Dimetapp haze. By Wednesday I was able to peel myself off my mattress and suppress my obnoxious cough long enough to make a public appearance.

And I’m so glad I did.

The afternoon featured authors Mike Barnes and Pasha Malla in an intimate conversation mediated by Charlene Diehl. Mike spoke about his new book The Reasonable Ogre: Tales for the Sick and Well, and Pasha about his novel People Park. After reading from each of their respective works, the authors spoke candidly about the process of blending magical elements into the world of realism.

Let me begin with Pasha Malla.

Pasha describes People Park as, “my first novel, other than the one I wrote when I was six, about five kids going through the back of a cupboard into a magical land.” And while his attempt to rewrite Narnia may not have left the ground, it seems as though his early writings were, if nothing else, precursors to his current project. It made me think of a writing exercise I once did in which I had to reflect on my favorite childhood stories and think about how they influenced me now. At the time I couldn’t see the connection. In retrospect my prof may have had something.

When Pasha is asked about the magical elements of the book he refers to it as an extension of his reality. He is attracted, he says, “to telling a story and having someone believe it.” The book itself seems as though it represents what Pasha is trying to do. One of the central characters is a magician who is an illustrationist. Pasha emphasizes the word illustrationist, as opposed to illusionist. “He’s not interested in telling lies, he’s interested in showing the truth,” he says. A parody of what Pasha himself is trying to do. Although he admits, that the idea that he is some sort of oracle is ridiculous. 

Mike also tries to convey the truth through magic in The Reasonable Ogre. The book, which was done in collaboration with Toronto artist Segbingway, is beautifully illustrated and echoes the feeling of a graphic novel but is somehow not quite that. Mike describes the stories in the book as operating on a surface level throughout, yet beneath that having layers of meaning. The illustrations, which he describes as inspired by Asian brushstroke, woodcut, and manga, have an extended narrative of their own.

Essentially, both Barnes and Malla are highlighting the truth of their realities by inviting their readers into an altered one. 

For the rest of the event Mike and Pasha talked a lot about the writing process and the truths and fallacies about writing as they saw them. There were some great audience questions and some interesting perspectives about breaking the “rules” of writing that we’ve all become accustom to hearing. Both authors seemed very genuine when discussing their own challenges and shared the emotional impact that this type of writing can have. As a developing writer I’m always amazed at how different one writer’s process and experience is from the next. 

Wednesday was my first Afternoon Book Chat. And though I’ve loved all the events I’ve attended so far, I really enjoyed the intimacy of this one. I’m not sure if it was the warmth of the sun in atrium, or the Tales for the Sick and Well, or maybe it was just the comfort of discussing great books in a relaxed setting, but by the end of the afternoon I was feeling much better. 

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