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writers you love - author q&a

Debut novelist Mindy McGinnis on developing your story

Prepare to laugh out loud, Inklings! We chatted up debut novelist and full-time YA librarian Mindy McGinnis, whose dystopian book Not A Drop To Drink has just been published. Here she talks about writing YA, developing ideas from real-life issues and tons more. Take a look…


Survey Says with Not A Drop To Drink author Mindy McGinnis:


My best friends call me… McGinnis

I was mildly concerned in high school

And back then, I was… the slightly off girl.

My favorite color is… green.

I got my first kiss when I was… in shock

And he was… under pressure.

Never have I ever… eaten squirrel.

And I really, really want to… go to Ireland.

My favorite book is… changing constantly.

The best book I read in school was… Z for Zacharia by Scott O’Dell

And right now, I can’t wait to read… The third Daughter of Smoke & Bone by Laini Taylor.

The author whose work I read religiously is… Margo Lanagan.

I absolutely could not write without… my brain.

If I wasn’t a writer, I would… be a librarian!

But I knew I was going to write great things when… Oh, I never know this. I’m convinced I’ll produce crap every time I sit down to try.

My favorite punctuation mark is… The interrobang!

The grammar rule I always mess up is… toward vs. towards

One word I love is… anathema

One word that makes me cringe is… embarrassing – I always spell it wrong!

The best thing about writing is… reading what I wrote the night before and liking it.

And the worst thing, sigh, is… reading what I wrote the night before and spontaneously vomiting.



Let's get down to business! Mindy talks about the YA genre, developing characters and a story and getting published.


Q: Aside from a brief Survivorman phase, have you always wanted to be a writer?

HA! I think technically I’m still in survivor(wo)man phase, but yes, generally I’ve always wanted to be a writer. I took one of those mandatory personality / career matching tests in junior high, and I remember telling the proctor that I wanted to be a writer. The results came back and said I should be a cop.


Q: What’s the best thing about being a YA librarian, by trade? And the best thing about being a published author?

The best thing about being a YA librarian is that I am honestly doing what I love every day. I think we’re hitting this really cool period where it’s not just nerds who read anymore. A kid can be excited about books and still be the Homecoming King.

The best thing about being a published author is being able to call other published authors my friends. As a lifelong reader, it’s an amazing feeling to read a book then email the author and be like, “DUDE. Good work.”


Q: Your debut novel has a solid environmental bent. What inspired that?

I watched a documentary called Blue Gold, which is about a projected shortage of potable water on our planet due to overpopulation. It was a horrible thought - we all need water to survive, and it's something we can't make. I went to bed very grateful for the small pond in my backyard, and that night I dreamt I was teaching a young girl how to operate a rifle so that she could help me protect the pond. I woke up and thought, "Hey... I wrote a book in my head just now."


Q: Your heroine, Lynn, is seriously kick-butt—and she has to be. Is she modeled off of you, or someone you know?

She’s not modeled off of anyone in real, life no. None of my characters are. To create Lynn, I asked myself what the little girl in my dream would evolve into as a teen. If you kill someone when you’re nine, what does this do you?


Q: Why pair Lynn with such a young supporting character? Why not a teenage BFF rather than a 5 year old?

Great question – it’s because Lucy is everything Lynn is not. Innocent, trusting, and somewhat reckless. Also, every supporting character teaches Lynn how to fill different roles. She knows how to be a feral survivalist, but she learns from Stebbs how to be a neighbor and a daughter, from Neva how to be a friend, from Eli how to have romantic feelings, from Lucy how to be a mother.


Q: What is your writing process like, from start to finish? What’s your favorite part, and what do you dread?

I don’t plot, plan or outline. I sit down and start typing from beginning to end. I rarely even have notes, just a story in my head that goes where it pleases. The story dictates the plot, not the other way around. My favorite part is when it’s flowing and it doesn’t feel like work. I dread File>New Document.


Q: When writing a story that deals with issues like environmentalism and resource scarcity, what’s the most important thing writers should keep in mind?

Keep it believable, that’s what will be the most frightening. If you go for sensationalism it will pull your reader out of the world. They might go, “Wow, that was cool,” but in the end being cool isn’t that hard. If they go, “Wow, that was scary…” Truly scaring people is the most difficult thing, I think.


Q: You’ve written and published a lot of short stories, too. How is writing a novel different from writing a short story, and what should girls writing either keep in mind?

They are very different animals, indeed! I think the best thing to keep in mind when you’ve got a project is that you need to know right off the bat whether it’s one or the other. If you don’t have enough material for a novel out of an idea, don’t be afraid to write a short story. I’d rather read a well-written short than a novel with a great concept and 100 pages of filler scenes.


Q: What’s the best advice about writing, editing or publishing that you’ve ever been given?

Kill your darlings. Really. I know you love (and I do too) every word you write, but seriously you don’t need 1/3 of them.

What advice can you give other writers who are hoping to get their work published? Do your homework, learn the business. Sure, it’s the non-creative drudgery part of it, but you have to know what you’re doing if you want to navigate this business. When it comes to creativity, find a good critique partner whose opinion you trust, and listen to them. You might not always like what you hear, but you cannot dismiss criticism of your work just because it hurts.


Q: Like all writers, I’m sure you’ve had your share of tough reviews and criticism. What advice would you give to young writers facing the same thing?

If you hear the same negative thing repeatedly, you need to realize that it’s probably true. The flip side of that is, you have to be aware how subjective all the arts are. There will be people who love my book, and I guarantee you there will be just as many who hate it. I’m happy to win half of them!


Q: When you’re stuck and have no idea what to write or how to solve a problem, what do you do?

I actually don’t get stuck, which I know probably isn’t what you want to hear! Honestly I think procrastination is the enemy of creativity, not writer’s block. If you want to write, you need to do it even when you don’t want to!


Thanks, Mindy! Be sure to grab a copy Not A Drop To Drink, available now right here and in bookstores near you.

published September 26, 2013
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