The A to Z of Joe Meno

12 April 2010

There are twenty six characters an author can use to define themselves, to form worlds with, or to interpret the world around them. Picador author Joe Meno gets back to basics with an A to Z all about himself.

A is for Apple, Apple Records. I hadn't been a fan of the Beatles growing up and then sometime, in my mid-twenties I heard "Eleanor Rigby" for the millionth time and it occurred to me how brilliant, how much like poetry it was, and still, somehow a pop song. In writing The Great Perhaps, I went back to the Beatles' music quite a bit, especially Revolver and the White Album. I wanted the book to have the same willingness to throws its arms around everything, the way that particular record seems to cover all of twentieth century music, with a multitude of styles, tones, and voices.

 

B is for Birds. Birds, for some reason I haven't ever figured out, are a recurring feature in my novels, short stories, and plays. I've written about bluebirds, owls, and in a child's puppet show, a city where all the birds suddenly disappear. Pigeons figure prominently in this new book.

C is for communism, which like a lot of things, looks better on paper. Amelia Casper, the oldest daughter in the Casper family, is a self-professed communist, which, for a girl of seventeen, is both a little sad and somewhat charming.

D is for dogma, and the age in which we're now in. If anything, it seems to me that the question of the 21st Century has to do with reconciling fundamentalism of forms with a more expansive, complex view.

E is for everybody. Everybody should check out Todd Baxter's website, baxterphoto.com, as he shot the amazing cover for the American paperback of The Great Perhaps.

F is for Faulkner, the American author I admire the most for his formal experimentation, complex characters, and willingness to ponder the nearly impenetrable question of race. My favorite novel by him is his last, The Reivers, which is shot-through with a lot more humor than some of his other works.

G is for ghost, another recurring image in a lot of my work. For me the best characters in fiction are like ghosts, characters who are stuck between two worlds, and conflicted about something. In this book, there is the cloud-figure, which works something like a ghost.

H is for hat, or in French, chapeau. I received a wonderful book on the painter Magritte from my wife and was amazed at how many paintings, over a thousand, he painted in his lifetime, many of which feature his famous wandering, chapeau-wearing stranger. He captures that intersection between waking life and dream so well, which is what I most often enjoy about fiction.

I is for iceberg. Kurt Vonnegut once said writing an anti-war novel is about as useful as writing an anti-glacier novel, which is a line that's lived in my imagination for a long time.

J is for jelly, or jam. I have been accused of having the palate of a elementary school student.

K is for Koren, my wife, whom I met when I was nineteen. Against all odds and good sense probably, we have been married for ten years. In many ways, when I write, I still feel like I need to woo her.

L is for Lulu, our daughter, who has reminded why stories are so important.

M is for mischief, which many great books contain. Rainer Maria Wilke once said "No great art has ever been made without the artist having known danger."

N is for Naysayers, of which there are many. In the world, in America, at this moment, there seems to be a protracted contest between the forces of progress and those who want things to remain as they were, or worse, go back to how things appeared to have been a century ago, in art, in politics, in religion. But it's impossible. Time, and civilization, hopefully, never move the other way. You can fight it but all you end looking is ridiculous.

O is for Odile, the main character in my favorite film of all time, Jean Luc Godard's A Bande A part, about three young people planning a robbery.

P is for Thomas Pynchon, whose The Crying of Lot 49 is so weird and funny it makes you wonder why no one writes like that anymore. There is an air of self-seriousness in most American writing that seems both frightened and frightening. For inspiration, I've been looking at the books of the late sixties, early seventies, when many writers seemed to go out of their way not to be taken seriously.

Q is for a question, which every book or play I've written has always started with. For The Great Perhaps, the question was this: why has our country become so afraid, and why has it become so afraid of complexity?

R is for rat-fink. Someone kept stealing packages from the front steps our building which prompted my wife to post a sign, which she made herself, announcing that only rat-finks steal other people's packages. The sign made everyone laugh but did not impede the thief's progress.

S is for Slaughterhouse-Five, a book that reminds me what a book can do, that film and television can only hopelessly try and emulate. There is the feeling, reading that book, that Vonnegut had decided to disobey all the rules of novel-writing, and the results are spectacular. There's few books that deal with such monumental, grim issues with such accuracy and humor.

T is for try. I've begun to appreciate the attempt, the ambition of writers and musician and artists, almost as much as the result, because the result is almost always imperfect anyways. So much of really interesting art just involved the artist trying something new and failing, or failing at first.

U is for underwater. Researching The Great Perhaps, I discovered how little we know about what goes on in the ocean's depths, and how the ocean, even with all the technology we now possess, is really closer to outer space, except unlike outer space, there are things down there, all sorts of creatures we can only briefly glimpse.

V is for the Velvet Underground, whose songs like "Sunday Morning" and "After Hours" remind me of how important music is to my life.

W is for Wolf Parade, a band from Montreal, who I greatly admire. They somehow manage to sound familiar and yet extremely new. Their records make me feel like I am in my twenties again.

X is for Xylophone, an instrument which never really made the transition to rock n' roll. There is a Violent Femmes' song, "Gone, daddy, gone" which features a xylophone, but that's about it.

Y is for yeti, the primate equivalent of the prehistoric giant squid.

Z is for the zoo. I often go to the zoo with my wife and two year old daughter, and having not gone in about fifteen years or so, I think I secretly enjoy it more than they do. It's humbling and a little gloomy, seeing the animals in their cages, but it reminds me exactly of the sense of wonder I felt going there on school trips. Now we speak with the docents and try and learn all of the animals' names. Our favorite is a female polar bear named Ananna.

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