My introduction to Joe Meno was through his heartbreakingly awesome novel The Boy Detective Fails – ZOMG! – check it out if you haven’t already. When the chance to interview Meno presented itself, I was on it like the proverbial thing that is on that other thing. Oh, and be sure to check out Tim’s rave review of Joe Meno’s new novel The Great Perhaps. Read on…
Baby Got Books interview with Joe Meno, author of The Great Perhaps
Baby Got Books: Your books, particularly the new one, are all very, very
character-driven-the characters are incredibly fleshed out and real,
with frighteningly well-thought-out eccentricities. Who are some of your
favorite characters in literature-”classic” or newer?
Joe Meno: Thanks so much for the compliment. To me, stories about characters, and their relationships to one another, so that’s where I always start. The ones that live on in my imagination always seem to have a real sense of complexity about them—Byron Bunch from Faulkner’s Light in August, Salinger’s Fanny and Zoey, Pecola Breedlove from Morrison’s The Bluest Eye. I have stolen liberally from each of those authors for my own books and stories—how Faulkner uses place to reveal character, what Salinger does with dialogue and gesture, how Morrison can give the reader a new understanding of a character through a single object.
BGB: Regarding the new book-clouds and squids: did you have to do much
research into either topic to make the imagery/meaning factually
accurate (is it factually accurate?)
Joe Meno: I worked on The Great Perhaps for about four years—the research for the novels was pretty extensive, ranging from looking into the prehistoric giant squid, German-American internment camps, radio serials of the 1940’s, social bird dominance, Marxism, the development of the F-4 phantom jet, and epilepsy, and I tried to make it as factually accurate as I could, although that is never the goal I have when I write. I just kept following my curiosity, looking for connections between the lives of the characters I was describing and what already existed in the world. For me the most interesting thing I discovered was how prevalent and, at the same time, how little we know about epilepsy. In the book, Jonathan has seizures which are triggered by clouds, which seems pretty absurd. But in reality, there are all sorts of cases of people whose seizures are triggered by these incredibly specific cues—lights, movement, sounds, one woman in Germany is stricken whenever she hears a certain piece of music by Brahms.
BGB: What was the impetus for Boy Detective Fails? That novel ranks in my
favorite books of all time, ever, and it’s so funny and aching and strikingly original that I’d be remiss in not asking about how it came to be.
Joe Meno: Thanks again. I actually started working on the book some time after September 11th, and at the time I was turning thirty, and in that way, the book is about how terrified I was that the world had become this random, violent, disorderly place. Usually, when I feel lost, I turn to books and music. In this case, I started thinking back to The Hardy Boys and Encyclopedia Brown and bands like Belle and Sebastian: there’s something incredibly sad about children who are smart, which Belle and Sebastian seem to capture in their music. Like all my books, it was a way for me to come to some kind of understanding about the world: why mystery was something important, something necessary.
BGB: What books do you recall reading as a child that first pushed you to want to write?
Joe Meno: With my daughter, I’ve been revisiting some of those books, like Where the Wild Things Are, and Madeline, and Ferdinand, and you realize how all the basic storytelling techniques that work for adults are there: character, place, action, change. It’s actually really helpful to see that, even as adults, I think we go to books for the same reasons: to have a moment to daydream, to experience something outside of ourselves, and be reminded of the possibilities of things.
BGB: What music are you listening to as of late?
Joe Meno: I’ve been listening to a lot of Beatles lately. My daughter is a year and half old and she just started asking to hear them by name, which is pretty exciting. I feel like whatever mistakes I make as a father, that at least I passed on something important, like an appreciation for “Hey, Jude.” She gets very serious and sings the Na-na-na parts at the end of the song, and it makes you realize what the point of making art is all of a sudden.
If you’d like to have Joe Meno read a part of the first chapter of The Great Perhaps just for YOU, click here.