This year’s Santa Monica CityWide Reads selection, The Shadow Catcher, by Marianne Wiggins, has a strong following. The Main Library’s auditorium was packed as Wiggins talked about her book, an unusual novel with parallel stories about a photographer from the last century, Edward Curtis, and a contemporary writer called Marianne Wiggins.Wiggins began by reading from the beginning of The Shadow Catcher, as fans followed along in their copies.“It must have sounded different in your head,” she commented at the end. “”The first time I read it in my imagination, it was much better in my head.”She spoke of the difficulty of reading one’s work out loud to audiences. “I’m a better performer now because I teach students (at USC).” But she noted that some writers don’t read their own work well and “probably shouldn’t be let out of the closet.”Wiggins fielded questions from the audience, many of which concerned the evolution of her novel. Edward Curtis was famed for his photographs of Native Americans (the title comes from their name for Curtis). His wife Clara however, felt neglected by him, and finally divorced him. Wiggins said that it was difficult to find information about Clara, because of the past lack of interest in women’s lives. At the same time, she thought it important to use Clara to give the reader perspective on Curtis as a character.“Why did you use yourself as a character instead of a fictional writer?” someone asked.“We’ve had enough books with writers writing about writers,” Wiggins replied. She conceded that although the idea of using oneself as a character has been done in other novels, it just seemed like the best way to say what she wanted to say. The Marianne Wiggins character in The Shadow Catcher is writing a novel about Edward Curtis, while also researching a man who stole the identity of her father. Most of this story line is untrue, although Wiggins’ father, like the father in the book, did take his own life. The weaving of fact and fiction, past and present, is tricky, and Wiggins admitted that she felt she had exposed more about herself than she wanted to.For those who found themselves identifying with her characters, Wiggins supported the idea that when we read, we begin to “own” the characters. She remembered how at a reading for one of her previous novels at Dutton’s a few years ago, readers got on her case because two characters in the novel died. “They were saying to me ‘How could you kill Fox? I know Fox!’ I wondered how they could know Fox better than me.”Marianne Wiggins certainly seemed to have found many readers in that library audience who “know” her characters and love her visions.“Support writers” she told them. “Where they exist is at a crossroads between the work on the page and the sound of the work in your mind.”For information about CityWide reads and a schedule of events, go to santamonicacitywidereads.blogspot.com.
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