Querying Quammen on Craft: My Upcoming Talk with David Quammen on His Deadly Spillover

Calendar note of jubilation: AT 5:15 pm on Saturday, October 27, in Raleigh, North Carolina, I’ll be doing a live interview and Q&A on craft with David Quammen, whose book Spillover will be published October 1. The 60-minute talk, sponsored by The Open Notebook, is sited and scheduled to fall during a 90-minute break in the National Association of Science Writers annual meeting at the Raleigh Convention Center; it will be in Room 303, near to (but not one of) the conference-center rooms used for the annual meeting’s session.

Important update: You can guarantee a seat by registering at the event’s page at EventBrite. Details at bottom.*

I’ll be talking with Quammen about how he created Spillover, which, as I wrote a few weeks ago,

is about how human epidemics rise from diseases that spill over from the animal kingdom. Think HIV, SARS, bird flu, and other nasties. The book is riveting, terrifying, and inspiring, and it matches and possibly excels Quammen’s Song of the Dodo, which I consider one of the best science books of the 20th century.…

He is true to the real state of progress, the ‘growing island’ model: the more we expand our knowledge, the bigger is the border between what we know and what we don’t understand. He embraces constantly the mystery of where these diseases come from and how they spill into and spread through humanity. He mines the perplexity of the scientists trying to crack these mysteries in a way that reminds me of the way Georges Simenon mines the confusion of his French detective Jules Maigret. Maigret usually gets his man (or woman). Yet he’s mystified all the way through almost every novel, and the stories draw meaning at least as much from Maigret’s mystification as from the arrests at the end. When it’s over we see that Maigret has solved one mystery — whodunnit? — but remains confounded by the deeper, far more important questions of human nature, cause, chance, and epistemology.

We’ll discuss how one goes about structuring such a complex book; when and how to put oneself in a scene; why you  should keep your mouth closed when watching bats fly overhead; and how, once in a blue moon, maybe once in a lifetime, it might make sense to go fictive to describe a central event in one of the deadliest infectious disease outbreaks of the past century. We hope to have time for a few questions at the end.

I won’t lie; I can’t wait for this.

If you’re in Raleigh,  join us at the Raleigh Convention Center; we’ll be in a room very near the rooms where the NASW sessions are held, and there should be time to get from this conversation and over to the gala afterwards. (Gala open only to registered NASW attendees.) The event is free — and we’ll be giving away 10 copies of Spillover. Possibly with masks and gloves.


*Seating is limited, so do register at Eventbrite to guarantee a spot. Event is free, though donations to The Open Notebook are encouraged and most welcome, as they will defray the considerable costs of the room and A/V services. (Disclosure: TON will cover some of my expenses, but that money will come out of their normal editorial budget, and I’ll collect no fee on this one; as a TON advisory board member and an NASW member, I’m donating the time. Donations to TON will therefore  go to the event and to support TON.) Some seats will be saved for walk-ins, but not many, so secure a spot if you know you’re going — and PLEASE unregister if you decide not to.

In any case, I hope you’ll consider hitting the Open Notebook Tip Jar, with any amount. It all helps.


3 responses

      • Thank for the info. I’ve pre-ordered the book as a gift for a friend, so I’d very much like to give him the link to that complementary interview as well. :-)

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