Midwest muse: Ohio native loves setting novels in Midwestern landscapes
When author Rae Meadows decided to set her current novel, “I Will Send Rain” during the Dust Bowl, she was interested not in the stories of those who migrated west, but those who, despite everything, stayed behind.
“This is a 10-year drought, and year after year they stayed, hoping things would get better,” she explained in a recent phone interview. “I was very curious about what life was like for families who did that.”
Her novel, which she will read from on Sept. 7 at Prairie Lights in Iowa City, tells the story of the Bell family, “whose farm is already struggling, and when the dust arrives it knocks this family loose and they start veering off in their own directions.”
“The book is about how they both struggle to stay together and also think about their choice and how life could look differently for them. I’m very much interested in how in times of disaster a new normal takes hold.”
Setting a novel in the Midwest was nothing new for Meadows, whose last book, “Mercy Train,” took place partially in Wisconsin.
Meadows grew up in Ohio, and lived in both Madison and Minneapolis before calling Brooklyn, N.Y., home.
“There’s something Midwestern about my sensibility both as a person and as a writer. There’s something about the vastness of space, and people have a different view of the world that is partly because of the landscape from where they live: the openness, the lack of crowded space.”
And while Meadows admits that there are “beautiful books written about cities,” they don’t “tap into the same magic that is the Midwestern landscape.”
“I have no interest in writing about Brooklyn,” she said.
She also has little interest in writing novels set in this current time period.
“I kind of avoid writing about technology,” she admitted. “As a novelist there’s so much to be gained from expression and body language and the feeling of being close to a person and have to directly talk to someone and look in their eyes.”
“Technology can deflate drama — you can find answers really quickly and you can communicate with people really quickly — and that takes away the human drama that can play out.”
But Meadows is willing to challenge herself, and plans to set her next book in the 21st century, “to see if I can explore interpersonal relationships given the modern world we live in.”
Her next book also will take place in Mulehead, Okla., — the same setting as “I Will Send Rain” — and will explore how the Dust Bowl continues to have an impact on the second and third generation.
“I don’t want it to be heavily sequeled book, but I do like the idea of using Birdie as a bridge: she’s a teenager in this novel, and will be an old woman in the next.”
“When I talked to people from that region, they have such strong ties to the Dust Bowl. It’s part of their mythology. And I like that idea of having a personal bridge to that time through Birdie.”
So while the time period will be a departure from her last two novels, her new work will invariably carry on a theme close to Meadow’s heart: the relationships between mothers and daughters.
“‘In I Will Send Rain,’ the heart of the story is very much the mom, Annie, and the way that she begins to question her choices …. I like the idea of both not wanting to follow in your mother’s footsteps, but also wanting that mothering. Or, from the flip side, to have a daughter and want certain things from that daughter but knowing she is an independent being and has to make her own decisions and choices.”
Meadows has seen this from both sides in her own life, first as a daughter and now as a mother to two young daughters.
“I never had that rebelling thing with my mom, and I’m not quite sure why. I think she was a very relaxed mother, and didn’t have the anxiety that I seem to have with being a mother. In this book, the mother/daughter relationship is more what I experience with my own daughters.”
“We’ll have some really fun teenage years,” she laughed. “My oldest is only 8, but I can already see the writing on the wall.”
What: Rae Meadows will read from “I Will Send Rain” and Dean Bakopoulos will read from his novel, “Summerlong”
When: 7 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 7
Where: Prairie Lights Books, 15 S. Dubuque St., Iowa City