We took a second to catch up with author Meagan Macvie before the launch of The Ocean in My Ears (November 7), asking some questions about books, goats, and life growing up in Alaska.
First, I’ve got to get the most burning question out of the way: what can you tell me about your goats?
I have two Dwarf Nigerian goats—a girl named Beth and her stinky brother Lucky. I take them out almost every day for walks in the field behind my house. They munch blackberry bushes and fiddle ferns while I think about the world. My goat-inspired ponderings often end up in my writing.
Besides totally owning #goatstagram, got any weird hobbies?
Hm. Weird hobbies. I like taking pictures of fungi. Like a lot. I go on walks in the woods and see all these crazy ‘shrooms. Wild mushrooms are strange and mysterious to me. There are so many different kinds and colors, and they’re very photogenic.
The Ocean in My Ears opens with an epigraph from Margaret Atwood’s “Circe/Mud Poems.” Without spoilers, why is this epigraph so important for this book? Why should we read Atwood with relevance today—and, if we’ve never read her before, what should we start with?
There are many ways into Atwood because she’s wildly interesting. She’s a big thinker and prolific writer who’s written in all genres. As a young person, I started with her poetry for so many reasons. I was a teen girl becoming uncomfortable with the roles being foisted upon me as an almost-woman, and Atwood’s Circe/Mud Poems explored these cultural expectations in ways that sharpened my own thinking. I badly needed an ally at that time in my life, and there weren’t many to be found in Soldotna, Alaska. As a feminist thinker, Atwood’s work is as relevant today as it ever was. I also loved The Edible Woman and, of course, The Handmaid’s Tale.
What were some of your favorite fictional heroines growing up? How about more recent ones?
I was pretty geeked out on sci-fi and fantasy in my younger days. Wonder Woman, the Bionic Woman, and Morgaine from Marion Zimmer Bradley’s The Mists of Avalon come to mind. I wanted to be beautiful and strong, clever and mysterious. Even then, I wanted to fight evil in the world, especially evil that was confusing. Not the obvious “bad guys” in Disney films, but the slick conspirators who pretended to be good. The early Christian patriarchs threatening the matriarchal Celtic culture. The doddering old man who puts his hand up your shirt when no one’s looking. That last one may be a real-life experience, but my battle felt no different, the odds no less impossible, than those facing my fictional heroines. I still admire strong women who face impossible odds. Although I did love the new Wonder Woman movie, now my heroines tend to be real women fighting for justice in today’s world. Beautiful, strong, clever, and mysterious women like former First Lady Michelle Obama, writer Roxane Gay, and US Senator Patty Murray.
What was the book scene like in small town Alaska in the 90s?
I went to a Christian school through seventh grade. There was no library in my school. We read from the Bible, Christian textbooks, and ancient Encyclopedia Britannicas. My mom also had a mail order subscription for kids books. Disney, Dr. Seuss, and Little Golden books would arrive in our mailbox once a month. I don’t remember an actual bookstore in town, but at the drugstore I bought Nancy Drew hardbacks as a kid and later mostly popular sci-fi and fantasy paperbacks. My mom had stacks of romance novels that I would sneak and read in the bathroom. That pretty much sums up my young reading life. I did attend a public high school, where I read novels that focused on social, political, and cultural critique—1984, Brave New World, Animal Farm, Looking Backward, The Jungle. There was no shortage of fear-based thinking in my life at the time. I also had to read some Shakespeare, Of Mice and Men, and bits of Greek mythology in school, but I didn’t encounter a ton of literary fiction until college. As an English major, I was expected to read everything from John Milton to Toni Morrison. That was a steep learning curve for me—I had to quickly step up my library, reading, and critical thinking skills.
If you were to be tattooed with one literary quote, which one would you choose? And what font?
Oh, that’s a good one. Maybe just “without guilt” from the Atwood epigraph in the book, because guilt has sucked so much of my energy—wasted energy—over the years and kept me from doing things I wanted or needed to do. It’s made me hate myself. Guilt is an empty glass.
In terms of font, I have very particular font tastes. I like a traditional serif font with round “i” dots and round periods. Garamond is a traditional font I like, but this Alice Google font is pretty lovely.
The Ocean in My Ears is heavily rooted in nostalgia for the 90s. Did you listen to anything in particular to get you into that mindset while writing? What 90s band would you recommend for teens today?
I listened to a lot of Journey while I was writing Joaquin and Meri scenes. Though I wouldn’t call Journey a 90s band, I listened to them a lot back then, and their songs—especially their ballads—were popular at dances. The Brett character was clearly informed by Def Leppard. Depending on my mood while writing Meri, I’d maybe pull up some old Madonna or British bands I used to love, like Pet Shop Boys or Tears for Fears or OMD.
(Listen to Meagan’s The Ocean in My Ears–inspired playlists to really get in the mood.)
What’s one interesting thing about growing up in Alaska that readers won’t find in The Ocean in My Ears?
Once in real life I fed carrots to a moose from my back door. That is not in the book.
Kirkus Reviews categorized The Ocean in My Ears as historical fiction. How does that make you feel?
Old, of course.
What was your very first job?
Babysitting. I hated it.
Go-to order at Dairy Queen?
Chocolate Dilly Bar.
Last book you read & loved?
Thi Bui’s graphic memoir The Best We Could Do.
Three things you can’t live without?
Hummus and salami on a pita (I count that as one thing), my green puffy coat, and my phone that is also a computer and a gps and a thermometer and camera and a data base and a recorder and a million other gadgets in one.
Pick a gif to describe your feelings about the upcoming publication of The Ocean in My Ears.
Like that one gif of Sam and Dean where Dean’s all “I’m totally fine” and then makes a whacked out face and the caption reads INTERNALLY SCREAMING.
Meagan’s The Ocean in My Ears is about Meri Miller, a girl growing up and facing challenges of leaving her small-town life in rural Alaska for college in the 1990s. Read it November 7, 2017.