Pixelated is the digital, double-blind, lit-inclined conversation series.
In each episode we put two writers on a sort of blind-date, and have them interview each other. The result? Who the hell knows. All conversations are 'manuscript-first', meaning they were typed as you see them.
Episode VII: "One of the more erotic sports personalities of the last decade"
In this installment, I set up John Dermot Woods (above) with Mike Meginnis (below). They discuss eroticism, God’s naming scheme, Allen Iverson and his painting, music, winning awards no problem, Peter Markus and more.
Andrew: Welcome to the seventh installment of PIXELATED. I’m here with Mike Meginnis (author of FAT MAN AND LITTLE BOY, Black Balloon Publishing, 2014) and John Dermot Woods (author of THE BALTIMORE ATROCITIES, Coffee House, 2014).
Andrew: In addition to working with two of my favorite independent presses, both Mike and John have written (and in John’s case, illustrated) two fantastic novels. In FAT MAN AND LITTLE BOY (which was named one of Flavorwire’s best independent books of 2013 and also won the 2013 Horatio Nelson Fiction Prize), Meginnis anthropomorphizes the atomic bombs dropped on Japan. In doing so he forces empathy where there should be none, not just because the recipients are objects, but objects of mass destruction. THE BALTIMORE ATROCITIES (which was named on Electric Literature’s 25 Best Novels of 2014), will make you sort of scared to live while, at the same time, invigorated. John has taken the city, crumbled it up and laid it out anew, marking heartbreak like landscapes and illustrating each atrocity with his brilliant drawings.
Andrew: First things first: would you each a) kindly describe where you are and what you see, and b) confirm whether you’ve met?
John: I’m sitting at the empty coffee shop at the St. Lawrence University Bookstore. (It’s spring break). I can see an ATM and an arch of fake greenery laced with Christmas lights. I’ve never met Mike before.
Mike: Welp, I’m sitting in my office in my basement. It’s a nice little basement with lots of wood on the walls. It’s a bit chilly, because Iowa City. There’s an open thing of parmesan to my right. Also a plush ninja turtle shaped like a ball. Donatello.
Mike: I’ve never met John either.
Andrew: It would be weird if you’ve met him but he never met you
Mike: Weird but also kind of erotic.
John: And very possible.
Andrew: Out of curiosity, how do you define erotic?
Mike: Erotic is what it’s called when you have a secret about someone else’s body. They don’t need to have a secret about yours.
John: The definition would have to include “thrill”
John: I like that.
Andrew: This has already become profound.
Mike: I’m not sure I do but I’m committing to this character. :)
Andrew: So let’s have some examples
John: The body part is the one part I’m getting hung up on.
Andrew: How’s that?
John: Seems that the physical is not necessary for eroticism, right?
Mike: It is the way I do it.
Andrew: It would be great to be a version of this chat room, where all of a sudden god says “You will now be known as Unidentified932492”
John: I think we’re there already.
Mike: When you’re born, God gives you your Unidentified name, but your mother and father can’t hear, so they settle on “Mike,” “John,” or “Andrew.”
John: I feel like I’m typing on my older brother’s TRS-80
Mike: (Those are the only three names.)
Andrew: So every person is a Mike, John or Andrew? What are the differences? One is the artist, one is clergy and one is the peasant.
John: Andrew is polysyllabic. That’s about it.
Mike: Yeah, I think John has it. Polysyllaby.
Andrew: Do you think when AIs finally pass us in intelligence they’ll just have infinite chat rooms like this?
John: Otherwise we’ve got late 20th Anglo-American straight-down-the-fairway nomenclature
Andrew: There’s nothing about being an AI, by our definition
John: I think Allen Iverson is one of the more erotic sports personalities of the last decade.
John: I mean that earnestly.
Mike: I think the AIs will have an economy of information that means trading ideas in this form would be a bit pointless.
Andrew: OK, we can get back to this ‘economy of information’ mumbo jumbo
Andrew: It’s apparent Mike isn’t in with the lingo
John: Meaning all of this will already be immediately accessible in their on-board databases?
Andrew: AI refers to “Allen Iverson”, Mike
John: “The Answer”
Andrew: Like, use Google
Andrew: So—what happens when a bunch of Allen Iversons surpass in intelligence and take over the earth?
John: That’s kind of already happened.
Andrew: Will everything just be pure eroticism?
Mike: I don’t know anything about sports. I did know he played basketball. I just googled him. I seem to be right about that much. He looks a lot younger than I thought he would.
John: I owned an Allen Iverson painting for a while. (Meaning one painted by him.)
Mike: I see he’s 39. I guess he’s just very well preserved.
Mike: What’s in the painting?
John: It was a huge, muscular basketball player with a tiny head. It was surprisingly well paitned.
Mike: Does he paint a lot of basketball players? Is that his thing?
Andrew: What other sports-related artistic memorabilia do you have John?
John: He did in college. He was a couple of years ahead of me at Georgetown and I was a painting major. A friend of mine inherited one of his paintings. I thought he gave it to me. Turns out it was on loan.
John: Another cool one is I have lino print silhouette of Gary Carter that says “The Kid” done by a young French woman who lives in Brooklyn.
Mike: So there came a day when he came to reclaim the Allen Iverson painting.
Mike: How did he approach this?
John: yeah – in a really subtle way. Like, “I’m going to take that home now.”
Mike: That doesn’t sound super subtle.
John: Like it was assumed it was always going to happen.
John: Just on his way out the door
Mike: Oh wow.
John: I didn't have a leg to stand on.
Mike: You could probably pull that move with most of the stuff in my house.
John: I should ask my friend Shaun if he still has it.
John: I'd love to do that in more people's houses.
Mike: Like, as long as it's on the way out the door, you could probably take my only painting.
John: And I'm kinda low on drinking glasses, so I'm gonna grab a couple of those.
Andrew: What about children?
Mike: If it gets past a certain size you have to have an accomplice to hold the door open.
John: They seem like they're acquired at quicker rates than most people are comfortable with.
Andrew: Or the house itself?
Mike: Like, you can have my TV, but only if you don't have to pause to open the door. If you do, I'm going to take the TV back.
Andrew: What's the most expensive thing that has ever been stolen from you?
Mike: If you take my kid I'll make another. If you take my house, I'll make another.
Andrew: That's a Twitter bio for ya
Mike: I'm not sure anything has ever been stolen from me that I missed. Which is strange because I'm really careless with my things and generally super trusting.
John: Well, that explains it. You don't overvalue your stuff.
John: You're careless because it's not going to kill you if you lose it. That's the key to coping.
Mike: My brother used to carry just about everything he had in one backpack. All his CDs and his laptop and stuff. It wasn't much, mind, he was a teenager.
Andrew: Was he eventually robbed of it all?
Andrew: That would make a fine parable
Mike: They went out one day, I think to the bowling alley, and someone got in the car and took it. I was heartbroken.
John: I've lost stuff that disappointed me, not sure about having it stolen.
Andrew: What's the moral of that brother story?
Mike: Don't put your eggs in one backpack.
John: That's rough. How'd your brother deal with it?
John: What was his favorite CD that was stolen?
Mike: He was super depressed and gradually we replaced the stuff.
Mike: You know what's awful though? I can't quite remember which brother it was. I have two.
John: Too bad you didn't have kickstarter back then.
Mike: I didn't live with them at the time so it's all second-hand for me.
Andrew: Well my mom can't remember if it was me or my brother who was the C-section
Andrew: I think that's worse
John: Is that true?
Mike: I don't know if that's bad so much as puzzling.
Andrew: I think so
John: That's incredible.
Andrew: This'll go through fact check
John: I think it's laudable.
Andrew: Just being so passe about childbirth?
John: Yeah, that isn't easy.
Andrew: Definiely hard to be cool as ice in labor
Mike: When I give birth I'm usually pretty chill about it.
John: Mike, I still want to know more about your brother's CDs.
Mike: Yeah, but if I don't remember which brother it was, what are the odds I can name the CDs?
John: Or what the difference in your two brothers' CD collections would be.
Mike: If it was the youngest brother, which I THINK it was, he probably lost some They Might Be Giants stuff he would really mis.
Mike: The middle brother . . . I think he was pretty into The Decemberists then.
John: Who sound a lot like TMBG, so there's a nice connection there.
Mike: I never thought about that but it seems like a defensible claim.
John: I actually made that claim about a week ago.
John: certain songs
John: Or Mountain Goats on certain songs
John: (I'm not all that familiar with The Decembrists, though)
Andrew: Who are you listening to now?
John: The Mountain Goats
Mike: I actually just hit the age where you stop liking new music apparently.
Mike: I'm 28 so this feels a little bit premature.
John: And lots of fiddle music. (My wife and daughter are fiddlers.)
Mike: So like for a while I hated Pitchfork but if they recommended something strongly I usually checked it out and often enjoyed it. But now I hate Pitchfork and most of the music they recommend.
John: Mike, you'll spend the next decade kind of not listening to new music. It doesn't change much.
Andrew: How hard are they pressuring you to start so you can start a fiddlig family troupe?
John: They know better.
John: My baby son really wants to play.
John: They were "violinists" until we moved to rural NY state for the year.
Andrew: Is he an infant or is that what you call him?
Mike: I'm getting into some rap, some opera, some . . . is neoclassical the term? For living "classical" composers? I have no idea. Michael Nyman.
John: He's two
Mike: John is much more reproductively accomplished than I am. So far I've only made cats.
John: Nyman is good for writing.
John: John is older. Give it time, Mike. No need to steal kids.
Mike: He is! I kind of stopped listening to music while I write but I can listen to him. And Nixon in China.
John: And all that post-rock stuff
John: Mogwai, etc.
Mike: Man I wish I didn't hate that stuff. I liked it for about a year.
John: And My Bloody Valentine
John: And brian eno
Mike: Is it against the spirit of this exercise to google the other guy? Because I have been this whole time.
Andrew: You mean googling John?
John: I just looked at your website, Mike. I like it.
Mike: I wanted to see his drawings.
Mike: They're good drawings! Much better than mine.
John: Thanks, Mike.
John: What brought you to write about Japan?
Mike: I was in grad school and I was taking a class about war in American cinema.
Andrew: Grad school in what?
Mike: MFA, fiction. In New Mexico.
Mike: So we had an assignment where we were supposed to look at old news weeklies at a time surrounding some significant date.
John: Seems like the right place to write about atomic weapons
Mike: I chose the atomic bombing kind of randomly. Which led to me being reminded they were called "Fat Man" and "Little Boy." Which made me think, well obviously they're brothers.
Mike: So then there was a book.
Mike: Yeah the New Mexico thing worked out really well. I went with some friends to the Trinity test site.
John: You know that movie Fat Man and Little Boy.
Mike: I know it exists! I haven't watched it.
John: I have this vague memory of them showing that at my elementary school when I was like 7. We had an "assembly." We had no idea why we were watching it.
John: I think it's about Japanese schoolyard bullying, if I recall correctly.
John: Which I probably don't.
Andrew: Were you surprised to win the Horatio Nelson award?
Mike: Sure. It's surprising when anything good happens.
Andrew: I guess it would be pretty weird if you said "No, it wasn't surprising"
John: I had that in the bag from the moment I hit "send"
Mike: When something makes me that happy I always seriously entertain the possibility it didn't happen, that I dreamed it or am going insane.
Andrew: Yeah, that's definitely a familiar feeling
Mike: Same thing happened when I got into Best American Short Stories. But even moreso because I had been depressed for like a full year.
Andrew: Did that lift you out of it?
John: Did that turn things around for, depression-wise?
Mike: My experience with publication has been that it doesn't really change anything about your life except maybe it makes it easier for you to look yourself in the eye in the mirror.
Andrew: Do you think that's universal?
John: Which is no small thing.
Andrew: What changed for you John?
John: With what?
Mike: Like, I don't feel happy most of the time, but I also don't actively hate myself as much, because the answer to the question "did I waste my entire life learning to write books" is "not really." Mostly I don't feel much of anything, which is its own kind of bliss.
John: I like that a lot, Mike.
John: For me, I'm not sure. I feel like my "career" has been so incremental.
Mike: Do you identify with it or is it different for you? I feel like if I'd gone the family route I would have a very different relationship to self loathing.
John: I think it's allowed to me to keep making stuff. And justify it, having gone the family route.
Andrew: What's the family route?
Mike: Right -- the "keep making stuff" thing is key. I work half-time so I can write, and I get to keep doing that if I keep publishing.
Mike: By family route I mean kids. I'm married but that's different, we still have enough time to be fundamentally selfish people.
John: Same here. It helped me get a tenured job which lets me sleep a bit at night.
John: And publish some helps you publish a bit more.
John: I think you need to be compelled by making stuff. The external rewards are too empty.
Mike: The book I'm writing right now is mostly for my wife.
John: That's interesting. Explain that.
John: It's an incredibly humane claim.
Mike: I have another book waiting to find a home, one that I still sort of think might be a commercial smash someday, if only it weren't so unpublishably long, so it's not like I need to write another.
Mike: But I want to write another, and she wants to read it, so I'm working on it -- will write today after we're done. When I hit the end of this chapter I'll send her what I've got.
Andrew: Is she your best reader?
Mike: She tells me how to fix everything I write.
Mike: If she doesn't respond to something well I usually just quietly abandon it.
Andrew: Is she also in the arts?
Mike: She writes also. She had a dry spell for a while, for a lot of reasons, but last night she sent me her first new story in ages. Which is great, because I always learn a lot from her.
John: What'd you learn by reading this particular story?
Mike: I have't read it yet. I read the first paragraph. That one was good.
Mike: Does your wife read your stuff while you're writing?
John: Sometimes. But full drafts.
John: My writing is such a mess, it's not worth having anyone look at anything mid-draft.
Mike: Yeah I think I'm unusual in that I share with her periodically.
John: My wife has been writing stories too.
John: She's been working withe Peter Markus.
John: Which is interesting.
Mike: In the sense of collaborating or in the sense that he's teaching her?
John: She was a foreign correspondent, in Japan actually, for years.
John: He's teaching her.
John: Which is interesting, because my aesthetic comes from such a different place.
Mike: I would be really interested to see how he comments on a story.
John: That's eye opening.
John: So precise, so specific.
Mike: Is it mostly line edits?
John: I think his seriousness is a lesson worth learning.
John: No, not mostly line edits. That's what I would've expected. Like a Lish/Lutz approach.
John: Lot's of holistic approach ideas. Considering how to think about writing.
John: From what I understand peeking over her shoulder.
Mike: Yeah, that's pretty much the opposite of what I would have thought.
John: She published her first story recently.
Andrew: Where at?
Andrew: Let's plug it right here right now
John: Everyday Genius. It's about eating a peach. Part their food month.
John: Mike, do you let people other than your wife look at your work mid-draft?
Mike: I would generally let anyone look who wanted to, I think.
Mike: But I don't recall anyone asking. I don't have that kind of relationship with other writers. I'm very jealous of those who do.
Andrew: On that poignant note, I'm going to say we're almost out of time.
Andrew: Any last thoughts?
Andrew: I think we had a great gradient from complete irony to complete earnestness
John: I agree (I think it was the AI conversation that focused things.)
Mike: I've always loved his name.
John: Nice to "meet" both of you.
Mike: Yes. I've ordered your book while we were talking.
John: Haha - I was just doing the same!