Interview | Mindy McGinnis
Mindy McGinnis….how has the world lived so long without having a Mindy McGinnis book on the shelves until now? Her debut, Not A Drop To Drink, is a tour de force. You know those blog posts you see about writing where they advise you to have action on every page? This book has action and tension and suspense in every sentence. I’m not kidding. I read this book in one big inhale. I teared up at about, oh, FIVE different parts of the book. And even though the story is about survival and justifying the means to an end, and there’s killing and carnage in the story…I actually laughed a few times too. Out loud. Do you realize how hard it is for a book to make me laugh aloud? It’s hard. Trust me. And for a book that’s all about one girl’s journey and struggle, the supporting cast of characters are so well-drawn and complex that they linger as equally and powerfully in my mind as the lead character. A boy who maybe had two paragraphs dedicated to him…I STILL think about.
Mindy’s writing is effective and evocative, thrilling and romantic. And Mindy is self-deprecating, generous and one of the nicest people I’ve interviewed. My review of her book will be up in the coming days, so until then, enjoy this interview.
Thanks so much for being here Mindy! Let’s just dive right in and talk about your debut year! How’s it going so far? Any huge plans?
I’m very fortunate to be part of the Dark Days tour along with Rae Carson, Sherry Thomas, Madeleine Roux, Michelle Gagnon and Amelia Kahaney. I will actually be *in the air* flying to Vegas for our first tour stop when I debut, so I think the huge plans are already made for me. And thank goodness, because I’m a very practical person. I celebrated my contract by scooping the cat litter.
Not A Drop To Drink is being published by Harper Collins/Katherine Tegen, the same house that released the hugely popular Divergent series! How has it been working with the company? Everything you dreamed of?
Beyond what I dreamed. The entire team has been amazing. I met everyone at the beginning of 2013 when I was in NYC for Winter SCBWI and it was surreal walking into the HarperCollins offices as if I belonged there. My editor, Sarah Shumway is an awesome person who I also spent some downtime with in Chicago for ALA. It’s awesome to get along with her as a person and a co-worker. The artist who did my cover, the Epic Reads girls, my publicists… man, it’s seriously a team effort. And I feel like my team kicks ass. Our bus is the one playing a lot of Queen.
Can we go back a bit and talk about The Call, both from your editor and from your agent, Adriann Ranta? Tell me all the juicy details?
Confession: I hate talking on the phone. I’ll talk face to face all day long, but the phone does not agree with me, for whatever reason. I actually converse with both Sarah and Adriann mostly over email. When Sarah read DRINK on submission she Googled me and unfortunately I had just written a post about my 10 worst personality traits – one of them being that I didn’t like talking on the phone. Sarah talked to Adriann and said, “So, do you think if I make an offer she’ll take that call?” Adriann said, “Um, yeah. I’ll make sure she does.”
To expound on this a bit, can you describe your journey from finishing the manuscript to querying it to accepting representation by Ms. Ranta? You wrote a great post about it at YA Highway. Anything you want to add?
My journey for DRINK was fairly short in comparison to what came before it. I had been writing – and failing – for 10 years before I wrote it. When DRINK popped in my head it was a fast ride, falling out of me in less than six months. I had the query polished and ready fairly quickly. It didn’t hurt that the first line of the book was also a fantastic hook for a query – Lynn was nine the first time she killed to defend the pond. I sent out 10 queries and had I believe 8 full requests in a matter of days, and two offers of representation shortly after that. My head was pretty much spinning. The novel I’d written before DRINK had accumulated over 130 rejections. I was so good at failing I wasn’t sure how to handle succeeding.
What sort of advice would you give to someone who’d like to be represented by someone as great as your agent?
Do your homework, and hone your patience. Firing off a sub-par query to your A list of agents is a great way to burn through all the best ones before you’ve found your footing. I usually send off my first round of 10 queries to mid-list agents in my I Want Pile. If I don’t get a high request rate off of it, I know something isn’t working, and I need to revise before firing off to my Top 10. With the query for DRINK though, I knew it was solid. It went out to my first loves, right off the bat. So… I guess I didn’t follow my own advice. No one should listen to me. I’m rather an idiot.
You once wrote that it’s been a life goal to become an author. What sort of steps did you take to ensuring your best chances as becoming just that?
My first step was to assure myself that it would never, ever happen. Then, armed with that knowledge, I picked a career that I could gladly be in for the rest of my life and still be happy. I’m a librarian, and I love my job. I could contentedly BE that everyday for the rest of my life and be fine without the pie-in-the-sky published writer prize.
As far as attaining the goal, the first thing I had to realize was that I wasn’t an undiscovered, diamond-in-the-rough genius. I was a person who had written a book (like pretty much 88% of the world) and I needed to make important people care. I joined a writing community (AgentQuery Connect) and learned the industry. At first I didn’t want to. I just wanted to be the writer, producing cool stuff all day long on my balcony and drinking mint juleps. But that’s not how it works. I don’t even have a balcony. I had to succumb to the reality of homework. Learning the ropes and how to navigate them was the best thing I ever did, and I keep my nose glued to industry news even now.
Okay, let’s switch gears a minute. On top of your excellent Writer Writer Pants on Fire site, you contribute to a lot of blogs! Some of your posts have been book previews, reviews, interviews, they talk about the publishing industry and the writing life. How do you keep coming up with fresh, funny and informative content?
The mint juleps help. I’m involved with quite a few group blogs – Book Pregnant, Friday the Thirteeners, From the Write Angle, The Class of 2k13, The Lucky 13s & The League of Extraordinary Writers. What makes it possible for me to come up with something new for my own blog and for each of the others is that each blog has it’s own individual twist. BP is focused on the debut year, Thirteeners has a truth or dare theme, FTWA is industry driven, 2k13 is geared for bookstore owners and librarians, and the League is science and spec fic based. So, they’re always pointing me in a direction right out of the gate, I just decide where to take it from there.
My own blog, Writer, Writer, has a pretty set schedule of me being an ass on Mondays, Tuesdays are for interviewing other authors, Wednesdays are etymology days, Thursdays are for me to continue to be an ass, and Friday is a librarian book talk. On Saturdays I do query critiques. Me being an ass kind of takes care of itself, and other people are more or less providing the content on Tuesday, Friday and Saturday.
You’re about to go on the Dark Days Tour with some incredible authors! How have you been preparing for that? And are you nervous? I’ve heard some great stories about tours, but also some scary ones!
I am so pumped about the authors I’m touring with. Rae Carson is from Ohio as well, and I met her at a book signing for another Ohio author, Liz Coley. I had this great moment where I poked my boyfriend and said, “See that girl? That’s Rae Carson. She’s a big deal.” He says, “You should go say hi.” So I girded my loins and walked up to her after the reading and introduced myself. She screeched, “Mindy MCGINNIS!??!! I LOVED YOUR BOOK!!” and like, totally tackle-hugged me. That was a pretty cool moment.
I’m preparing for the tour by not thinking about it. I figure that’s perfect.
Speaking of great writers…who are some of your favorite writers, and what would you say you’ve learned from them?
I love Stephen King and Donald Ray Pollock, both knowing how to make you extremely uncomfortable yet really enjoy the feeling. I love Diana Gabaldon for being able to head-hop and flashback without me realizing she did it until two pages later.
Finally, Mindy, it’s advice time! What’s the best advice you’d give someone who also has the goal of becoming an author?
Do your homework. Buckle down. You are not a genius. Join excellent writing communities and find fantastic critique partners. You will only improve as a result!