I recently read The Female of the Species and was absolutely stunned. I gathered up my courage and reached out to Mindy McGinnis, who graciously agreed to an interview. I learned about her, and her process, and hope you enjoy it too.
TPM: Your website says you have nine cats and two dogs. As a person with two cats and six dogs, I’d like to know a bit more about your pets. Can we get names/breeds/genders?
All my cats are boring, silly American shorthairs. They’re also all strays and dumps. I have a beacon buried somewhere inside my body that brings them to me. Six of the nine cats were bottle-fed (which also includes rubbing their bums to make them go to the bathroom, or else they’ll die of sepsis). Once you’ve made that kind of connection with something, you can’t “find a good home” for them.
Alicia – gray/white, often absentee. She’s my old lady, coming in at about 10 years old. She will disappear for sometimes months at a time, and come home and tell us ALL ABOUT IT.
Samuel Wilderness – possibly a MaineCoon, discovered by former students in the woods, who immediately thought I was the person to take him to. Also a bottle fed. Somewhat internet famous. #SamuelWilderness
Samhain – long-haired, pure black, difficult to photograph. Dropped in my lap by a co-worker who heard I liked black cats.
Panda – oddly-spotted killing machine, polydactyl. The hero of the abandoned kitten group who flagged down my father at the farm and looked so pathetic it sent a 6’4″ man into a panic. I was called in.
Gilly – overweight, somewhat cross-eyed, escape artist. We think she climbed out of the box and hit her head too many times as a kitten.
Norton – gray tabby, overly handsome, broken vertebra at tip of tail. He doesn’t give a shit if you like him or not.
Ginger – orange tabby, perma-freckle on nose, drools when happy. Thinks my boobs are her bedding.
Minnow – calico runt, utterly spoiled, polydactyl. Either believes that she is a human or that my boyfriend is a cat. Either way, she’s pretty sure he’s her spouse.
Dana “Scully” – 17-year old Australian shepherd. I was recently shaving her for the summer and found a growth on the side of her face bigger than her face (it had been hidden by her beard). Took her to the vet. They removed it. Said her heart is great, her lungs are great, her blood work is great. She came home and frolicked like a puppy. I believe she may be a horcrux.
Brutus – 8 y/o German Shepherd / Greyhound mix (seriously, you should see this guy). Adopted from pound. Boyfriend believes he’s incredibly stupid. I believe the opposite – he’s smart enough to have convinced the b/f he’s stupid, so that he doesn’t have to obey him.
TPM: You’ve written across multiple genres (which I’ll ask more about later), what is your favorite genre to read? As a teen librarian do you typically read Young Adult exclusively, or do you jump around a bit?
MM: I am constantly jumping around on what I read, both in age and genre range, as well as non-fiction. Honestly, if it’s well-written, I’ll read it. You can keep up with what I’m reading by friending me on Goodreads, or following this Pinterest page.
TPM: You have a blog, Writer Writer Pants on Fire, which some people may not know about, but I’ve poked around. What is your favorite feature? Do you consider the blog another job, or is it a labor of love?
MM: I love my blog! Thank you for asking! Yes, I started Writer, Writer, Pants on Fire back in 2010, when I secured an agent. My original intent was to provide answers to all of the questions I had when I was an aspiring writer, and wished I had published authors I could reach out to. I started a series of interviews for that purpose, featured every Tuesday.
I do Mindy-centric posts on Mondays, typically with writing advice or announcements for my readers. On Fridays I do ARC Giveaways, and Saturdays bring the Saturday Slash, where I provide feedback on queries to followers for free.
In less-hectic times I also do Word Origin Wednesdays (etymology based) and Thursday Thoughts, which tend to be… interesting.
My newest – at the moment, favorite – feature is a podcast! I decided to move forward with this recently and have begun the Writer, Writer, Pants on Fire podcast, which features one author guest per show, talking about writing, their journey from aspiring to published, and their books.
Both of these things are entirely labors of love. I’m actually losing money on the podcast right now, but I’m dedicated to doing it for a year and re-assessing goals at the end of that time.
TPM: Between writing, your blog, your pets, and your time at the library, when do you have time for yourself? How do you spend downtime that you have? Do you have any hobbies you wouldn’t mind your fans knowing about?
MM: I’m actually working full time as an author right now, having left the high school library a year ago. I volunteer once a week, though. I have TONS of hobbies. Too many, really. I do genealogy (obsessively), I also knit and garden and I work out three times a week. I did kickboxing for a few years, but I recently started circuit training so we’ll see if it kills me.
TPM: When writing do you prefer silence or background noise? If you like having background noise, is it music or just noise in general? What is your writing anthem? How do you stay focused during your process?
MM: No music. White noise. I’m positive that all my writing is just subliminal messages buried in static.
TPM: I’ve read Not A Drop to Drink and The Female of the Species. You’ve crossed from post-apocalyptic to contemporary with what seems like great ease. Is it challenging to move from one sub-genre to another? What are the most challenging aspects of going from one sub-genre to another?
MM: I’ve written in quite a few genres, from post-apoc with Not A Drop to Drink and it’s sequel, In A Handful of Dust, and then to A Madness So Discreet, which is a Gothic historical set in an insane asylum (it won the Edgar Award in2015, *cough*), then to contemporary with The Female of the Species and most recently, high fantasy with Given to the Sea. My upcoming release, This Darkness Mine is another contemporary thriller, and I have the sequel to Given to the Sea (Given to the Earth) releasing in April of 2018. After that I will have a survival tale coming from Harper Collins in the Fall of 2018. It’s untitled as of yet, but my working title for it is Drunk Hatchet With A Girl.
It’s not challenging to switch genres as much as it is to be working in multiple ones at the same time. For example, I was doing copy edits on a historical, while doing structural edits on a contemporary, while drafting a fantasy. That was definitely not easy, but you learn to compartmentalize.
TPM: The Female of the Species is written from three different points of view, Alex, Peekay, and Jack. Was it different to move between their perspectives? What about the change from male to female?
MM: I only wrote one section per day, so that voice got to take over entirely. Then I’d palate cleanse and come back the next day to whoever was up to bat. Peekay was the easiest to write because she used humor as a coping mechanism, and she’s as refreshing for readers as she was for me as a writer.
Jack is actually the first male POV I’d ever written. It was important to me to have a very real, flawed boy in this book, but to also have him be a good person. It’s a feminist book, but feminism isn’t anti-male. It’s anti-harming-women. Plenty of men fall into that category, and Jack needed to be one of them. I had multiple male beta readers go through it with me, and would send texts to male friends asking about things like locker room talk and masturbation, and they’re all cool enough to just answer me, which is awesome.
TPM: How do you mentally prepare yourself to write a book with such a dark premise? Where did the inspiration for Alex come from?
MM: I’m basically always thinking worst-case scenario. People ask me all the time how I put myself in the right frame of mind to write such dark fiction, and I’m like, “Dude, I always think like this. I walked into this room and ascertained the best place for me to sit in case there’s a fire. That’s how I operate.”
I was in college when I ran into the inspiration for SPECIES. I never had cable television growing up, so my freshman year in a dorm I was suddenly mainlining all kinds of things, but especially true crime. I watched a mini-doc about a girl who had been raped and murdered in a small town, but there wasn’t enough evidence to convict. Even so, everyone knew who did it. I was watching this becoming more incensed, and realized, that if I were capable of it, I could easily find this town, find that mine, and take care of things myself. Then I thought it was probably time to turn off the TV.
TPM: When I read books like this, it effects my mood as well as my internal psyche and I have to take breaks to remember to look on the bright side of things. Does writing such a storyline have the same kind of effect on you?
MM: Actually, writing A Madness So Discreet was more difficult for me, mostly because I wrote it in three weeks. It was a deep, dark dive into the world of insane asylums and I couldn’t come up for air if I wanted to hit my deadline. SPECIES I wrote a chapter a day, and always had Peekay to look forward to as a brightener. Honestly it wasn’t that bad.
TPM: While Alex is the main character, I felt like I saw a lot more of Peekay, and I feel like she has the most growth throughout the book. Was there ever a struggle to tell the story from Alex’s point of view? Was Alex or Peekay’s point of view easier to write?
MM: Alex wasn’t easy to write. She didn’t want to be written and didn’t want poking and prying. Peekay was so easy. She just had a lot to say. So yeah, I did have to struggle to MAKE Alex open up, and Peekay was a breeze.
TPM: I feel like there is a lot to be said about Alex, with her dark tendencies, working at an animal shelter and being so loving could seem out of place. Only Peekay really got to see this side of her. Is there a reason that you let the reader see this bright side of Alex? Were you worried that Alex would be seen as a villain instead of the hero?
MM: I wasn’t worried about how people see her, other than I didn’t want anyone thinking she’s a psychopath. A true psychopath has a complete lack of empathy for other humans. Alex has the opposite problem – she feels too much for others, leading to a protective nature that escalates into violence. The tenderness for animals definitely exists for that reason, to show that she has empathy and compassion.
TPM: Branley as the “popular hot chick” seems to meet most high school stereotypes. By the same manner, Jack, as the all around jock, does as well. It seems most people want to move away from stereotypical characters, but you seem to have embraced them. Was this planned from the beginning, or did they develop this way on their own?
MM: That’s exactly the point – those stereotypes exist, so write them. Then make them people. Sure, you hate Branley in the beginning, but does anyone, really, by the end? Jack, of course, was planned to be who he is. But Branley surprised me, much in the same way she surprised Peekay when she showed up at her house and she found out she had a St. Bernard… because honestly only really patient people own Saints.
TPM: There’s a lot of talk about sexual assault in the book. From Anna’s death, to the police officer that comes to school, we kind of see a theme building from the beginning. When Peekay’s assaulted, after the police officer had been at the school, why didn’t she report it? Was this a statement about the reluctance of victims to speak up? Do you think the book would have ended differently if Peekay reported the incident?
MM: Impossible to say, because that’s not the book I wrote – make sense? Her friend Sara exists as a voice to say, “Hey, you need to speak up… but we also need to talk about Alex.” The reader needs to draw their own conclusions about what would have, could have, should have happened.
TPM: In the book, Peekay tells Jack that Branley is a Golden Retriever and Alex is an Irish Wolfhound. With all the possible breeds out there, why would you choose to describe Alex this way?
MM: Because everyone loves a Golden Retriever. Look at advertising. They’re the All American Dog. An Irish Wolfhound is odd, out of place, awkward… but beautiful and different and unique.
TPM: Was the end of the book the ending you expected? I don’t want to spoil anything, just want to know if every one’s fates were planned before you finished writing, or if it developed this way.
MM: I never know how my books are going to end. I write them from beginning to end without knowing what will happen next. I was definitely wondering, as things escalated, what I was going to do. When it happened I definitely sat back and said, “Well, that makes sense.”
My Final Thoughts This was my second interview, and the first that I approached the author for. Miss McGinnis was so nice about everything, and provided prompt responses to all of our correspondence. The only thing I wish I would have done differently was to finish writing my review before sending the questions, because it’s difficult not to spoil anything. Overall, another great interview with an interesting author and a wonderful book.