Interview with Pernell Plath Meier, Author of In Our Bones
13 Oct 2020
What can you tell us about your new release, In Our Bones?
I’ve been a lifelong news and politics junkie, but when President Trump came into prominence, I became somewhat obsessed. I felt as if I was seeing the rise of a fascist demagogue and worried about my children’s future. At the same time, I was also learning more about the strength of armed white power militias and how emboldened they were by the President. To make matters worse, I kept hearing about the potential devastation of climate chaos. The combination of all these terrifying concerns began to eat away at me. I was so concerned that my children would have no chance at life that interacting with them became difficult without grief overwhelming me. The scenario that haunted me was this – if the President stays in power (fueled by white nationalist aggression), will there be any time to address the climate catastrophe that’s already overtaking us? Particularly considering that the President is a climate denier and rolling back progress. Furthermore, what human rights atrocities will be committed under his watch? Already so many have been occurring. I took to bed for a time, not able to face it all. Then, I realized that I was not being as effective of a mom as I wanted to be for my kids right now, whatever the future might hold. I resolved to do something to change my own emotional trajectory, if nothing more. But I still had no idea what I wanted to do.
In the answer to the next question below I’ll discuss more about why I settled on a novel as my contribution to addressing these problems, but first I’ll discuss some more about the book itself. I wanted to weave together these disparate concerns that were floating around in my mind to create a narrative with an authoritarian executive branch propped up by white resentment, violent extremists, religious zealots. I hoped to demonstrate the rapid decline that can happen in a society when actual governing slides and lying, cheating and stealing become the norm.
It was important to me to point to ways in which ordinary people’s lives could change, rather than focusing on those in power. I’ve always said the reason I cared about politics was because how it makes a difference for good or bad in regular people’s lives. The picture I wanted to create was how much it mattered whether those at the top are compassionate and competent or cruel or indifferent to the job they’re supposed to do. I also wanted to highlight the various groups that are vulnerable due to increased race, ethnic and gender-based hate. Finally, bringing in the day-to-day realities of living on a hot planet with more dangerous storms and other weather events was essential to helping people grasp the dangers.
What or who inspired you to become an author?
I’d never considered myself a writer until a few years ago. In some ways, I still don’t entirely feel comfortable with the label. If I’ll allow it for the moment, though, I would say that I became a writer in 2018. My ex and I adopted and fostered quite a few children over the years and several had severe mental illness. I started a blog to work through everything; I was the stay-home mom and took the brunt of it.
Up until In Our Bones, I hadn’t written fiction at all. My blogs were on gardening and adoption/kid stuff. I’d only ever written a few short stories in high school, though writing about my family built the foundation for the storytelling that I needed to learn for the novel. When I found myself so depressed about the world and struggling to get out of bed, I fairly quickly settled on writing as my contribution to addressing the problems I was seeing, however at first I presumed it would be nonfiction.
Yet, I understood the power of fiction to draw together disparate threads and paint a picture more fully than dry facts. One evening in July of 2019 I was having a few beers, thinking about random stuff and listening to music. Like a bolt from the blue, the basic outlines of what became my novel came into my mind. I’m not a particularly spiritual person, but the experience of conceiving of this story was as close to divine inspiration as anything I’ve felt. I just knew that night that this was what I was called to do, so I began fleshing out the details and learning to write fiction.
What’s on your top 5 list for the best books you’ve ever read?
The Grapes of Wrath
Pride and Prejudice
On the Beach
Say you’re the host of a literary talk show. Who would be your first guest? What would you want to ask?
Can I go back in time? If so, I’m going to have Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley. And I would want to ask her about what it was like to be an intellectual and accomplished woman at a time when to be so was almost unheard of.
If I need to stick with contemporary authors, I would talk with Stephen King and ask him how or if he’s able to leave behind the darkness he writes about when he’s finished with a story.
What’s your favorite thing about writing?
My absolute favorite thing is feeling a sense of pride and accomplishment when it’s finished! Aside from that, I’m a solitary person by nature and writing suits my spirit well. I like the challenge of organizing my thoughts and making them accessible to others – like piecing together a puzzle.
What is a typical day like for you?
I start my day listening to Up First on NPR while I wake up and start moving around. I drink coffee while spending an hour or so reading news and catching up with trends on Twitter. I dip into personal social media a little, then start on the day’s to-do list. Usually it’s a combination of stuff for kids, writing or other things related to the novel, and taking care of the puppy. In the last year I was divorced, so my kids are only with me half time now. When they’re here, I’m doing all the usual mom stuff and trying to keep up with their education during COVID. I read to the younger two and sing songs when I tuck them in. When kids aren’t with me my schedule is a little more loose. Most days I sneak in some cleaning to keep the chaos at bay. I like to cook and hope to do so again, but right now I mostly subsist on ice cream, smoothies, and coffee. Thankfully, I feed my children better. I’m a night owl and stay up until all hours. I usually get my best work done after nine p.m. I find I don’t need much sleep anymore (or maybe that’s why I drink so much coffee?! 🙂
What scene from In Our Bones was your favorite to write?
That’s a hard question to answer because my novel is so dark. If I think carefully about it, my favorite was probably the epilogue. Even though in many respects it’s very sad, I also find it hopeful to imagine life flourishing again after devastation. I also like the idea of people being more humble and respecting that they’re part of the natural world.
Another scene I enjoyed writing was when Lauren and her mother are up on the hill behind the farmhouse picking flowers. I like this one because it’s a happy moment amidst a lot of sad stuff in the novel and a strained relationship between mother and daughter. I also found this scene fun to write because I got to talk about solutions to help us address climate change, and not just the frightening effects of it. Plus any time I can write about flowers, I’m feeling good!
Do you have a motto, quote, or philosophy you live by?
People need loving the most when they deserve it the least.
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