Author Interview: Mindy McGinnis

I’m very excited to bring readers this interview with YA author Mindy McGinnis who recently won the Edgar Award (YA Category) for her new novel, A Madness So Discreet. Mindy was generous enough to answer some questions about the book shortly after winning the award. Here’s what she had to say …

indexKC:  A Madness so Discreet is a huge departure from your previous young adult novels. What inspired you to delve into the world of 19th century mental institutions for this one?

MM: I never know what’s going to spark a novel. In this case it was the stack of my current reading on the nightstand. I had a history of insane asylum treatments (the good and the bad), a biography of a famous lobotomist, a history of serial killers, and a collection of Sherlock Holmes shorts. I was looking at these spines and thought, “Wouldn’t it be really interesting to combine all those things in one book?”

KC: Unlike the protagonists in your Not a Drop to Drink duology (Lynn and Lucy), the protagonist in this book (Grace Mae) starts out as apparently powerless in the face of a horrible situation. Was it more challenging to write a protagonist who is literally trapped by the system as opposed to characters with more apparent freedom?

MM: I don’t think it was more challenging, but it required a different approach. Lynn and Lucy are both strong characters – Lynn physically and emotionally, Lucy through her resiliency and humor. There are so many different kinds of strength, and when people use that (now hated) phrase “strong female character” it needs to embrace all those different meanings. Grace’s strength is in her mind, her obstinacy, her intelligence, and her refusal to give in to the darkness that surrounds her – even if she may succumb occasionally. She could exhibit strength within the system, and ultimately escape it.

KC: The details in the book on mental illness and how it was treated in the 19th century are incredibly realistic. How did you go about researching the book?

MM: I researched for 18 months before writing this book, and at times I knew *too* much. I read nearly two thousand pages about the frontal lobe, lobotomies, and Phineas Gage, only to use the information in about two paragraphs. However, the background knowledge I acquired emanates from the book as a whole, in ways that aren’t intentional but the reader is aware of.

KC: The story is extremely dark and some of the opening chapters in particular depict hospital activities that are quite harrowing. How hard was it to make this material accessible to a younger audience? Did you ever consider writing the story as a book for an older readership?

MM: There are always qualms about content when you’re dealing with disturbing situations and a younger readership, but as a librarian I’ve found that teens are good at self-censoring. If they are reading something that is too much for them, they will voluntarily put it down. When it comes to gatekeepers – parents, teachers, fellow librarians – when I’m asked why I would write a book for teens about a girl who is sexually abused by her father, my answer is – “Because that’s who it happens to.”

KC: The book just won the Edgar Allan Poe Award in the YA category – CONGRATS!  Are you a fan of Poe’s work? Who are some of your favorite authors in the mystery/horror genres?

MM: I do like Poe, and read quite a bit in my formative years. Although I think “Annabel Lee” is probably my frontrunner over “The Raven.” I’m also a huge fan of Stephen King, and in the YA arena Kate Karyus Quinn is a fantastic, under-appreciated author of dark fiction.

KC: Can you tell us what’s up next for you?

MM: Yes! THE FEMALE OF THE SPECIES will be releasing on September 20. It’s my first contemporary, a rape-revenge vigilante justice novel that takes a hard look at rape culture. It was recently picked by Publishers Weekly as a Buzz Book for the Fall / Winter 2016 season, and the first four chapters can be read for free in the Buzz Book catalog, along with 19 other up-and-coming titles.

Thanks for sharing your thoughts with us, Mindy. Congrats again on the Edgar!