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Interview Tue Jun 26 2012
Joe Meno is back with another helping of fiction with his newest book, Office Girl. Meno, a Chicago-based author and teacher who has penned works likeHairstyles of the Damned and The Great Perhaps, will be holding a book release this Thursday, June 28. The event is sponsored by Anobium magazine and the Handshake magazine. Meno set aside time to answer some questions ranging from being a teacher to the manner of his promotion of Office Girl.
What was different for you, be it in your process, writing, or editing with this new book compared to any previous work?
Over the last decade or so, I've begun to think about what you can do in a novel that you can't do in other narrative forms. The most obvious answer is scale--novels can be more complex, more ambitious, with more characters, covering a greater length of narrative time, hundreds of years, in some cases. We've seen how the majority of contemporary literary novels exploit this idea, and how, over the course of the last 20 years, novels have become more about information--how the world works--than about characters. I wanted to write a book about the small, nearly imperceptible moments of drama in a character's life, which is something most films, television shows or stage plays usually don't try to relate, a book focused on two characters and their relationships over the course of a few weeks. The novel also employs drawings and photographs to help capture the intimate tone of the book, as drawings and photographs are usually concerned with those small, singular moments. In the end, the book resembles something like mid-Sixties Jean Luc Godard movie, which was the exact aesthetic we were trying to create.
The main character in the novel is Odile, an art school type girl on a mission to create a new art movement. Being an instructor at the arts school Columbia College and having to read student work and offer feedback, how do you find being a teacher has benefited your writing?
The students I work with are some of the bravest, most innovative writers I have had the chance to read. Their willingness to try something new, to push themselves, and if need be, fail, is a constant reminder of how daring I need to be in my own writing. Although the characters in Office Girl are close to my students' age, it's actually based on my own art school experience and the years following, where I was trying to negotiate these grandiose ideas I had about art and the sometimes difficult realities of being an adult, being in love with the possibilities of art and at the same realizing their limitations.
The Chicagoan is just one of many really interesting projects that have launched in the last year; I feel lucky to have had my work featured in the debut issue. Folks like JC and Dan Sinker and magazines like Anobium and ACM and The Handshake and other, forward-looking projects by literary madmen are some of the reasons I most love living it this particular city. Like I said, this is a great city to try to do something in, even if in the end, it doesn't work out. I feel like failure is sometimes just as important as success and with someone with JC, you can see how the end of Stop Smiling and the lessons he learned from it, has informed The Chicagoan, which is ad-free and distributed without middlemen.
There were a few more pieces of the novel released in a promo zine. Writers now have to be more savvy promoting their works on the internet, such as offering free chapters via download or making a book-trailer. What made you choose this medium as a source of promotion?
The story is about two young people who start their own, short-lived art movement, and part of their movement includes making a zine. It seemed to make sense to create an actual zine to promote the book. I've actually used this promotional device for other novels in the past. As a former zinester, I don't think there's anything more compelling than something that still carries the whiff of a Xerox machine. It's the literary version of a 7-inch record. It feels closer to a religious tract or a love letter.
Your book release has a great line up, so who are some other local authors you currently enjoy reading?
In the last few years, there has been this true explosion of talented writers living in Chicago--Jesse Ball, Nami Mun, Pat Somerville, Lindsay and Adam--whose work is incredibly compelling and challenging. I feel lucky to be part of this ongoing exploration of literature in a city that doesn't rely on an established publishing apparatus. People who live and write here have to be dedicated in a very different way; they have to be self-starters and interested in working with other writers. All of these people are pushing at the boundaries of what literature could or should be, which in turn, inspires me to do the same.
The release party for Office Girl will be held at the Book Cellar, 4736 N. Lincoln Ave. at 7pm, and will feature readings by Adam Levin, Lindsay Hunter, Stephanie Plenner and music by Nick Butcher and Jordan Martins. Drop in to get a copy of the book and be part of a great literary night on the town.