Under the Skin:
Literary Obsessions & Cult Followings

October 18 & 19, 2013

On Friday & Saturday, Oct 18 & 19, the authors at the (downtown) omaha lit fest delve into their own preoccupations, nervous habits, bad influences, and literary obsessions. Nationally acclaimed writers will discuss the appeal of dangerous characters, the danger of appealing characters, the experimental, the sentimental, the personal, and the impersonal. Hosted by Omaha Public Library, the (downtown) omaha lit fest features author panel discussions, an art exhibit, and an opening-night party.


All events free/open to the public (no registration required), and held at W. Dale Clark Library, 215 S. 15th Street, Omaha.


In a partnership with AIGA: Nebraska, (downtown) omaha lit fest kicks off on Friday night, 6:30-9:30 pm with A Carnival of Souls: The lit fest opening-night party & exhibit. Members of AIGA: Nebraska, a professional association of designers, will exhibit their own versions of classic movie posters from the golden age of low-budget horror and drive-in theater (think: Attack of the 50 Ft. Woman; Little Shop of Horrors; Night of the Living Dead; Mothra), in celebration of B-grade cult cinema, cheap thrills, exploitation, and scary carnivals. Among the authors in attendance at lit fest 2013 is Owen King, whose debut novel Double Feature tells the story of fictional B-movie actor Booth Dolan “whose screen legacy falls somewhere between cult here and pathetic.”

SATURDAY, OCT 19 / 12:30 pm

Love/Hate: The villain as hero in contemporary fiction.
Annasue Wilson, who moderates this panel, kicked off a national debate earlier this year with a controversial interview in Publishers Weekly, riling up everyone from Margaret Atwood to Jonathan Franzen on the topic of whether literary characters should be likable. Annasue will explore this topic with Lit Fest authors: Carolyn Turgeon, whose The Fairest of Them All tells the story of a fairy-tale heroine-turned-villain; Monica Drake, whose The Stud Book is “the freshest look at the tyranny of the baby bump since Rosemary got pregnant,” according to Chelsea Cain; Alissa Nutting, whose Tampa was declared the “sickest, most controversial book of the summer” by Cosmopolitan; and Kelly Braffet, whose Save Yourself is “an electrifying tomahawk missile of a thriller with honest-to-God people at its core,” according to Dennis Lehane.

SATURDAY, OCT 19 / 1:30

Obsessed: Research and biography.
Authors discuss the rigorous, obsessive (and sometimes unhealthy) pursuit of their subjects. Panelists: Author and journalist Leo Adam Biga (Alexander Payne: His Journey in Film), who has followed the career of Alexander Payne since the Oscar-winning filmmaker’s earliest projects, and visited the set of his most recent film, Nebraska; Mary K. Stillwell, who has written The Life and Poetry of Ted Kooser, the first critical biography to consider the poet’s life and work together; Owen King, who researched his novel, Double Feature, by watching hours and hours of horror films, and is currently furthering his obsession with baseball; and Timothy Schaffert, whose forthcoming novel, The Swan Gondola, involved full immersion into 1898 Omaha.

SATURDAY, OCT 19 / 2:30

Experiments: Writing around the mainstream.
Authors talk about risk, invention, small-press publishing, dangerous subjects, and the literary underground. Panelists include: Elwin Cotman, author of Jack Daniels Sessions EP: A Collection of Fantasies; Brion Poloncic, author of Xanthous Mermaid Mechanics (published by Journal of Experimental Fiction); and Thom Sibbitt, who explores sex, death, and drugs in his novel The Turnpike.

SATURDAY, OCT 19 / 3:30

Cinematic: Movies as subject, inspiration, and influence.
Leo Adam Biga (Alexander Payne: His Journey in Film) moderates a panel on how movies shape a novelist’s vision. Panelists: Owen King, whose novel, Double Feature, is about a famous B-movie director; Monica Drake, author of Clown Girl (optioned for film by Kristen Wiig) and The Stud Book; Carolyn Turgeon, whose novel Mermaid has been optioned for film; and Sean Doolittle, recently involved with the development of an adaptation of his thriller The Cleanup.

SATURDAY, OCT 19 / 4:30

Trigger Warnings: writing about sex, perversion, and the politics of pleasure.
Our semi-annual “writing about sex” panel… writing about love, twisted romance, and intimacy in the apocalyptic 21st century. Panelists: Alissa Nutting, whose Tampa centers on a sexual deviant); Kelly Braffet, whose first novel was written with a “restraint” that “lends the novel a prim mystery, deepening its creepy intensity,” according to the New York Times; and Elwin Cotman, who is a “synthesizer… of lewd dialect and high lyricism,” according to Karen Russell.

SATURDAY, OCT 19 / 5:30

Book signings by lit fest authors.

Marge said she didn't care to go with them to San Remo. She was in the middle of a 'streak' on her book. Marge worked in fits and starts, always cheerfully, though it seemed to Tom that she was bogged down, as she called it, about seventy-five percent of the time, a condition that she always announced with a merry little laugh. The book must stink, Tom thought. He had known writers. You didn't write a book with your little finger, lolling on a beach half the day, wondering what to eat for dinner. But he was glad she was having a 'streak' at the time he and Dickie wanted to go to San Remo.

—From The Talented Mr. Ripley, by the nefarious Patricia Highsmith [note: Patricia Highsmith was infamous for bringing her pet snails along to cocktail parties; and when she was a child, her mother boasted that she'd tried to abort her by drinking turpentine. "It's funny you adore the smell of turpentine, Pat," her mother once remarked.] Here's a picture of Patricia Highsmith:

While in San Remo, Tom Ripley fatally brains Dickie with an oar. Meanwhile, Marge continues to guzzle gin martinis in her rented villa, and effortlessly arouses interest from a publisher for her book about the little Italian town of Mongibello. ("Now if I can only finish the damn thing!" Marge says blissfully.)

Highsmith presents a precise and telling portrait of the writer's life (martinis at noon, extended Italian vacations, overwhelming unproductivity, compulsive acts of homicide), but an even more accurate one can be had at the (downtown) omaha lit fest, held annually in various venues. We've been whoopdeedooing it since 2005, and we're always threatening to quit. (They're idle threats, calculated to make us sound blissfully indifferent and sophisticatedly blasé .) Our first year, the loosely applied theme was banned books, and also included panels on crime writing, screenwriting, and telling secrets in memoirs; for 2006's festival, the theme was the literary fringe, with panels on blogging, literary sex, death on the plains, and stretching the truth in memoir, among others. We also saluted the vanished poet, cult figure, and Nebraska native Weldon Kees, and showed his rarely screened experimental short film, "Hotel Apex."

In 2007, we paid tribute to "Depraved Women Writers & Others," and also partnered with Film Streams for "Adaptations," a repertory series of films with literary origins, which included East of Eden, The Shining, Masculin Feminin, and the panel discussion "Liquor, Junk, Madness, and the Underwood Portable: The Portrait of the Author in Film," following a screening of David Cronenberg's Naked Lunch. The festival also served as the Nebraska premiere for Chicago's renowned reading series "The Dollar Store Show" and kicked off the Lit Fest Print Series, with limited edition prints by area artists.

"Plagiarism, Fraud & Other Inspiration" was the theme for 2008, and included panels on music and the visual arts as literary influence, and discussions of the art of gentle creative thievery. The art exhibit TXT:ART included work by local and national artists that incorporated text. And in recognition of the 70-year anniversary of the banning of Mari Sandoz's classic novel Slogum House from the Omaha Public Library, the book was re-banned for the weekend following a public reading of some of its more objectionable parts.

In addition to Nebraska authors, the fest has hosted novelists, short-story writers, nonfiction writers, and poets from New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, Kansas City, Portland, Washington DC, and Topeka (and beyond). The (downtown) omaha lit fest has received mention in the travel section of the LA Times, in such international publications as Library Journal, Poets & Writers, and Prestige Hong Kong, and was spotlighted as "a particularly good time to visit" Omaha in the New York Times Style Magazine. The Omaha World-Herald cited the fest as "another strong indication of Omaha's continuous cultural growth and expansion of diverse activities" and an "impressive part of the landscape." In an editorial, Elizabeth Currid of the University of Southern California and author of The Warhol Economy: How Fashion, Art and Music Drive New York City, wrote, "While Omaha is small compared with other metropolitan areas, the Lit Fest is on the radar of those in the cultural know... While Lit Fest is ephemeral, what it can teach us about the vitality of city life is not. Creativity — particularly, arts and culture — is a central part of the growth and success of metropolitan areas and needs to be taken more seriously as a part of any city's economic development scheme."