Reviewer Malissa Stark recently spoke with author Mike Meginnis about his powerful new novel, Fat Boy and Little Man. In this unusual book, Meginnis brings to life the bombs that fell on Nagasaki and Hiroshima, reimagining them as human characters. In the interview, Meginnis explains his creative process and how this book came into existence. Click HERE for Malissa Stark’s review.
Malissa Stark: What in the world inspired you to write this story?
Mike Meginnis: I was getting my MFA at New Mexico State University at Las Cruces, and I took a class on Hollywood and war. There was an assignment where we had to go read [from the library’s] huge collection of old Time and People magazines, [and] the newsweeklies from back in the day. I chose to read something about the bombs [in] Time [and] saw the phrases “Fat Man” and “Little Boy.” I had known that they were called Fat Man and Little Boy. In fact, I remember I went to some air and space museum in Ohio as a kid and they had a replica Fat Man bomb. It was a visiting exhibit and I felt weird about it at the time, but I had forgotten about it. So when I saw those phrases again, it immediately made me sad because it seemed unnecessary to me to name them, as if they were people. For me, it created the idea of a fictional consciousness in the bombs. I thought, who wants to be awake for that? I also immediately pictured them waiting for a bus in the rain together as brothers. I write about family, about brothers [in particular] because it’s a good dramatic relationship. There are a lot of problems that come from brothers.
MS: So the characters really came to you first?
MM: Yeah, yeah. What I’ve always said is that I’m ready to write a book when I have a character or a situation that is so interesting to me that I don’t really have to plan the book, I just have to follow the characters and it will [write] itself. With this book I didn’t know what the structure was going to be when I was writing it. I knew where it was going to take place. So obviously you’re writing about this period right after the bombs exploded, well clearly it’s going to be mostly, for a while, about surviving and walking around and seeing things and finding food. That’s going to be your first hundred pages. Then they want to get as far away from that as they can. So I thought about how different could I make it? That put me in France. So I’m reading about France and I find Gurs, the concentration camp, and I think, oh, that’s a good environment for them to hang out in because it’s different, but not different enough. A lot of the decisions came from the basic pressures of the situation.
MS: You’ve never been to France or Japan?
MM: No, there’s a line at the end of my bio that I put in there as sort of a quiet apology for this. It says, “I’ve never seen the ocean,” which is true. I still haven’t. Up until I went to college in New Mexico, I had never been outside the Midwest. And then I went down there and got my MFA and saw a little bit more of the world, but it was just the Southwest. Up until recently, I never had the resources to travel at all. The book was written entirely by materials I had found in the library, stuff that I found online. I spent a lot of time looking up photos and video and trying to get references. It is something that I stress out about a lot. Even now that the book is out, I spend a lot of time being scared of the moment when somebody comes and tells me what I got wrong. Because I definitely did, right? I don’t know what it is, but I definitely could not get all the details right under those circumstances.
MS: The concept of the novel is so bizarre, was it a hard book to sell?
MM: It was a frustrating book to sell because it was always on the verge of being sold. My experience with this book was that I sent it to every small press that you care to name—if you can think of one, there’s a good chance they saw it. They all sent me this rejection that said: Wow, this is really I good. I hope it gets published. . . . My theory is that it was expensive to print and they were intimidated by the problem of editing it. . . . It’s not cheap to print a book this long, at all. That’s something I don’t think people realize. . . . So finally the way it got published was Black Balloon has an annual contest [and] this was the first winner. . . . It worked out really well. It’s a really attractive book. It looks nice and they were easy to work with. I felt hopeless for a while. I had kind of given up when they took it. [Black Balloon] was the last place that I submitted to.
MS: You and your wife run Uncanny Valley Press together. Tell me about that.
MM: We do. It’s very small. We will make you an attractive book, but we have no money for marketing . . . but we do what we can to promote it. . . . We’ve done our first book, which is called Leave Luck to Heaven. It’s a series of lyric essays by Brian Oliu about Nintendo. And they’re really good, really different from anything that you’ll read anywhere. Nobody really writes like he does.
Malissa Stark is a freelance writer from Colorado currently living and working in Chicago. Her book reviews have been published in Bookslut and The Review Lab as well as Colorado Review. Her work can also be read in Eco News Network, The Story Week Reader, and Crack the Spine, among others. She also serves as associate editor of The Publishing Lab, an online resource for emerging writers.