An academic coach with the Center for Inclusive and Academic Excellence at the University of Iowa, Mike Meginnis has released his latest novel ‘Drowning Practice,’ which follows the fictional lives of a mother and daughter as they approach the end of the world.
Mike Meginnis is an academic coach with the Center for Inclusive and Academic Excellence at the University of Iowa. Accompanying his previously published works, including Fat Man and Little Boy and other fictional short stories published in a variety of outlets, Meginnis recently released a new book titled Drowning Practice. Following the fictional lives of a mother and daughter who are quickly approaching the end of the world, Meginnis explored human nature and relationships through his work. Meginnis recently spoke with author and Assistant Professor at Coe College LaTanya McQueen at Prairie Lights on April 1. Meginnis answered The Daily Iowan’s questions over email.
(This interview has been edited for length and clarity.)
The Daily Iowan: Your newest book Drowning Practice follows the story of a mother and daughter in an apocalyptic setting. How did you determine how you wanted to depict that familial relationship?
Meginnis: This is somewhat less true in the book world, but in popular culture, apocalyptic fiction is all about fathers: men protecting sons, men protecting daughters, men protecting wives and communities. You see this in TV shows and comic books like The Walking Deadmovies like Children of Menand books like The Road. I like all of those stories to varying degrees but, taken as a whole, they are deeply weird. It seems like the end of the world shouldn’t be reduced to an opportunity to reflect on different models of masculinity. My frustration with this dynamic peaked while I was playing The Last of Us, a blockbuster video game about a man who will do anything to protect his surrogate daughter. I felt like that game, which I do like, would immediately become ten times more interesting if it were about a mother and daughter instead — so eventually I decided to write that.
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GAVE: Where did you get inspiration for the unique apocalyptic premise of your book?
Meginnis: In the book, everyone in the world has a dream in January where they are told that the world will end in November. They don’t know why or how, but most people do believe — because the dream was the same for everyone — that it’s true. This premise is the result of a series of small, intuitive decisions. I wanted the characters in the book to be pretty sure that the world was going to end, and when, but I didn’t want them to be absolutely certain. A global dream seemed like a good way to achieve that, because it’s obviously noteworthy, and yet dreams rarely predict the future. I decided to end the world in November because it’s the month where the weather starts to turn cold, at least where I grew up — at least before climate change really got going — and because it sounds nice. “November” is a good and ominous word. I also chose it because it isn’t December and ending the world in the last month of our human calendar felt too neat. I also chose it because it isn’t September, which, being the ninth month, is associated with childbirth; the book was already clearly about motherhood and didn’t need any additional pointers to that theme. The other good thing about having the story begin with a dream is that it gives me some license to make the book feel dreamlike.
GAVE: What aspect of the craft draws you to fiction writing?
Meginnis: Writing fiction is one of the richest, most rewarding things a person can do. A writer has to think about character, structure, plot, drama, and sonic beauty while also imagining hypothetical future readers and attending to their needs. It’s nearly impossible to do right, partly because it’s a frivolous way to spend time, and there’s always more to learn. I can’t imagine ever being bored by the challenges that it provides or feeling less than amazed when I read a book that I think really works. Seeing someone else write something great makes me want to see if I can do the same.
GAVE: Is there an overarching theme that you want your readers to take away from Drowning Practice?
Meginnis: Honestly, not really. I mainly hope that they find it a satisfying experience and that it gives them opportunities to think about things that they find interesting and useful. The book does make some arguments, I think, mostly because it can’t help itself, but I don’t really want to convince anyone. If anything, I prefer that my readers reject most of what I believe. They might find something better.