Written by Lauryn Smith
Guess who came to town—Erik Larson! Larson is the best-selling author of a handful of nonfiction novels, including "The Devil in the White City" and "In the Garden of Beasts." This Reviewer swooned when she found out he was coming to North Central College’s Wentz Concert Hall in Naperville, IL, for a talk and signing event April 7, 2015 (thank you, Beth). A couple of us Reviewers attended Larson’s lecture, during which he spoke about his newest release, "Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania," released March 10, 2015, marking the 100th anniversary of the historic disaster. Here are five takeaways from the lecture.
1. Writing Style
Anyone who has ventured into one of Larson’s novels knows that while they are extremely interesting and well written, the amount of information presented does not make them conducive to reading cover to cover in one sitting (not that it is impossible!). However, Larson made clear a humorous nuance to his writing when he read a passage from "Dead Wake" aloud. Some bits of information do more than relay facts—they also illustrate inconsistencies of thought common during the period being written about. In "Dead Wake," for instance, Larson touches on Silas Weir Mitchell’s infamous “rest cure” for female nervous conditions, the most severe cases calling for electric shock treatments in a tub of water.
2. Thought Process
Know how starting a project is the hardest part? So does Larson. He says idea generation is quite the effort. For a story to be worth writing, Larson says two tests must be passed. The first—there must be sufficient documentation, as archives are his main sources of material. The second—there must be no competition, as in another book already written on the same subject. Furthermore, Larson says he will answer any question posed to him but one: what are you writing next?
3. To Label or Not to Label
Larson’s books have been labeled creative nonfiction and narrative nonfiction, but this guy does not care much for categorization. A former journalist, Larson says he writes stories about interesting events, ones that are worth sharing. It is a form of immersion journalism, no labeling necessary.
4. Movie Rights
It is no question that Larson’s books are popular, so one might wonder if any movies based on his novels are in the making. The answer is not yet, but possibly soon. Leonardo DiCaprio bought the rights to Larson’s 2003 "The Devil in the White City," and Tom Hanks bought the rights to the 2011 "In the Garden of Beasts." Fingers crossed these stories make it to the big screen!
5. Humble Beginnings
Sure, he is popular now, and many have read “all” of his books, from "Isaac’s Storm" to "Thunderstruck." Some, however, may be unaware of Larson’s first book, "The Naked Consumer." Larson says when the book was released, he spent more than an hour at a table ready to sign copies, but not one person seemed to recognize or care that he was the author. The lesson for aspiring writers—even those with talent do not make it big overnight. But the fact that there might be a movie premiere or two in Larson’s future proves that anything can happen.
Be sure to check back for our review of Larson’s "Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania."
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