Authors You Should Know: Mindy McGinnis

How would you rate your survival skills?  As a rather avid reader of dystopian and post-apocalyptic YA, I’m already aware that I probably wouldn’t survive very long.  I do not have mad archery skills like Katniss, nor do I know how to do generally useful post-apocalypse tasks, such as:

  • hotwire a car
  • start a fire (I know.  I wasn’t in any sort of scouting troup.  I am useless.)
  • identify edible plants
  • run (I am a horrible runner.  I’m a Redshirt for sure.)

Not A Drop to DrinkHowever, after reading Mindy McGinnis’ cli-fi (that’s climate-change based science-fiction, so it’s not really dystopian) novel Not a Drop to Drink, I realized that I would be so totally dead.  McGinnis gets down and dirty with deer skinning, crude medicinal practices, and water purification systems.  Last year, she released a companion novel entitled In a Handful of Dust.  Both books are excellent.  They feature strong female protagonists, excellent pacing, and vivid world-building.  And surprise!  McGinnis is also a teen librarian in Ohio!

Mindy was gracious enough to let me interview her via email.  Here’s our chat!

Pam: How has being a teen librarian affected your writing, since you write YA?  Do you get feedback from your patrons?

Mindy: It affected my writing in a big way — I was writing only adult novels after I graduated from college, and failing miserably at it. I had been hired at a public school and working for two years before I realized I was surrounded by my audience and market forty hours a week… why not write for them? Feedback… yeah, I get that. Often in the form of yelling. I’ve had In A Handful of Duststudents burst into my office and scream at me when they finish Not A Drop to Drink.

Pam: One of the (many) things I love about the Not A Drop to Drink duology is that the books really could be read as stand-alones.  Was this a conscious reaction to the proliferation of trilogies that we see in publishing, or did it just happen, or none of the above?

Mindy: Definitely a conscious decision. As a reader and viewer, I dislike feeling manipulated by cliff-hangers. I think you can deliver a solid, well-rounded story, and choose to build off of it later – or not. DRINK was conceived of as a stand alone, but Harper asked if a second book was a possibility. I said I’d think about it, and overnight the concept for DUST germinated – luckily!

Pam: In Not A Drop to Drink, readers are dropped into Lynn’s world and it’s all that they know, whereas In A Handful of Dust covers a lot of territory.  I assume that you used your experience as an Ohioan for the first book; did you travel for the second?

Mindy: I did not. I made egregious use of Google Maps and developed a respect for authors who researched before the internet. Google Maps was a powerful tool for me while writing DUST. I could take my little yellow man, drop him where I wanted my characters to be, and then do a 360 turn and see exactly what they would see. Can’t argue with that.

Pam: What was your favorite book growing up?

Mindy:  Hard to pick one… I was a huge fan of the Little House books, but also Madeleine L’Engle and C.S. Lewis. I read across genres then, and do now

Pam: Do you have a favorite book now, or one that you often recommend at the library?

Mindy: Blockbusters are easy to hand off to the kids, especially the ones that have been made into films. What I’m fascinated by is the titles that have less visibility but never disappoint my kids – books like CRUEL BEAUTY by Rosamund Hodge, or TWISTED by Laurie Halse Anderson. 

Pam: Have you done any teen programs that were really successful?  Did any of them involve butchering a deer?

Mindy: I’ve been at the same school for thirteen years now, the district librarian and I having been hired in at the same time. We started a book club 8 years ago, and have grown from a handful of members to our most recent meeting, which had 23. I have never butchered a deer right in front of my kids, but I would certainly consider it. The library is carpeted, but I own tarps.

Pam: If you, as an author, could ask one favor from teen librarians, what would it be?

Mindy: Promote what you love, not just what’s hot. Like I said, it’s easy to hand off the books that sell themselves. Knowing your collection, being aware of sequel release dates, cover reveals… all of the marketing techniques that publishers use work in libraries if you’ve got the content on the tip of your tongue.

Pam: Are the poetry quotes used in the Drink world personal favorites?  Was poetry something you read as a teen?

Mindy: A lot of them are, yes! I never appreciated poetry until I was in college. I can’t write it (I’ve tried, it’s horrible) but I can respect what others do. If DRINK and DUST bring young readers to read the full text of some of the poems referenced, that’d be an amazing side benefit.

Pam: Finally, pie or cake?

Mindy: Pie. Also cookies. And waffles. Or pancakes. Sugar in general.

Thank you so much, Mindy, for taking the time to chat with Teen Services Underground!  I have successfully booktalked both of Mindy’s books to boys, because as soon as you say “guns” and “butchering a deer” they are all over that.

Plus, watch for Mindy’s new YA novel, A Madness So Discreet, coming out in October 2015! a madness so discreet


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