If you’ve been following my blog or Goodreads account at all this fall then you’ve probably seen me raving about Mindy Mejia’s upcoming mystery Everything You Want Me To Be. If by some miracle you’ve overlooked this one, you can find my review here. Go ahead and add it to your TBR list; this is one you definitely don’t want to miss! I was blown away after reading an early copy, and while I don’t want to give away any spoilers, I think it’s safe to say you should block out a day with nothing else to do as you won’t want to put it down. I had the pleasure of asking the author some questions about her journey on becoming published as well as questions regarding her new book. Don’t worry, this interview is completely spoiler free and safe to read before experiencing the book. Atria has been super generous and is offering 1 copy as a giveaway on my blog; don’t forget to enter HERE!
Interview with Mindy Mejia:
1. Could you tell us a little about your journey to becoming a published author? Have you always wanted to be a writer?
My mom gave me my first journal when I was eleven years old, but I had no concept as a kid that I could ever turn storytelling into a career. I wrote pieces for my high school speech team and literary magazine and took writing electives in college as my “fun classes.” Half-finished novels and story fragments littered my life during the 90’s. I began much more than I ever seemed to finish.
After graduation I got a corporate job and wrote on the side. I didn’t talk about it with most people, because the inevitable follow-up question when you tell someone you write is, “Have you published anything?” A good friend of mine, though, was a classical composer. Andy was one of those rare people you meet in life who will never be equalled. A brilliant, inspired non-conformist, he composed arias and musical ciphers at three in the morning. He picked up trash on public lands and protested the war in Iraq. We had art nights painting maps of imaginary worlds, long before wine and canvas was a thing, because we were pretty sure a writer and a composer would make a couple of great painters. (Spoiler: we didn’t.) One of the most important things Andy taught me was how integral art is to the soul. No matter what else your life brings, keep making art.
Then a few things happened. I got my Master of Fine Arts, my husband and I had our first child, and shortly afterward, for reasons I will never fully understand, Andy signed up for the army and was killed in Afghanistan.
Looking back now, each of those events galvanized me in their own way. The MFA degree gave me the tools to translate all these stories in my head. Becoming a mother challenged me to pursue publication, because how could I teach my kids to chase their dreams if I hadn’t chased mine? I started sending out my thesis project from my MFA and found an amazing small press who published it in 2012, starting my career as an author. With this second book, I got an agent and we’ve sold rights in seventeen countries so far. I’m working on my third book now and no matter where it leads I will always have Andy—who quietly composed music in a notebook on the fields of Kandahar—inspiring me to never stop making art.
2. ”Everything You Want Me To Be” is quite the stand out mystery and some have compared it to “a modern day Lolita”. Were there any real life incidents that contributed to the story? Where did the inspiration for the plot come from?
The initial inspiration was a mashup of images and experiences. I grew up near an abandoned barn that partially flooded every spring, and that became the Erickson barn. When I was young, my grandmother casually mentioned a man stabbed another man to death in a field near her farm, and I could never drive by that field afterward without wondering—where exactly did it happen? And why? With the idea of writing a small town murder, I gravitated toward the idea of a Laura Palmer figure, a high school girl who took on different roles for different people.
As far as other real life incidents, I did know a girl in high school who became involved with a married man. And I dated someone for the wrong reasons once—nothing as duplicitous as the Hattie-Tommy relationship—but it was something I felt guilty about for a long time.
These were all places for the story to start, but once the characters were born they took on lives of their own. Like Ray Bradbury said, “First, find out what your hero wants, then just follow him.”
3. EYWMTB is told from multiple POVs; how difficult was it to write from ever changing perspectives? The story is mainly told from a middle aged cop, a twenty-something male, and a teenage female; was it challenging to portray a novel from three voices that were completely different from your own?
I had a root for each of these narrators that gave me my way in. For Hattie, I read through all my old high school journals to jump back into a teenage girl’s worldview. Peter and I are both vegetarian runners, if you count sweaty, gaspy jogging as running. (Gaspy is totally a word, btw. It’s the external manifestation of Gatsby’s psyche, revealed during the unnatural attempt to turn one type of body into another.) And Del had my grandfather’s voice, which was probably why he became my favorite character to write. Their personalities grew from those initial connections and once I understood their perspectives and the tension between them, it became relatively easy to navigate through each POV.
4. There is a heavy sense of mortality portrayed in the book; we are constantly reminded of how fleeting life is, even for youth. Was this theme intentional and, if so, how did you ensure it would come across in the most subtle way?
This book is dedicated to my grandparents, who farmed in Iowa and southern Minnesota. For anyone who’s spent time on a farm, mortality becomes a matter-of-fact concept. It’s the decay after the harvest. It’s how the meat gets to your table. There’s a strange dissociation of life and death in more urban areas where people tend to ignore the food chain, but even though farmers are more in touch, it doesn’t mean they’re unaffected. My grandmother would never eat dinner on butchering day. I’ve had the same reaction to death, especially the idea of death as entertainment. I wanted to write a murder mystery that didn’t gloss over the body like it was simply a prop, something to jumpstart a plot. EVERYTHING explores the impact of a murder on a small town and how such an act is absorbed in a community like this. As for writing subtly about a giant theme like mortality, it helps me to turn the subject inside out. Three of my grandparents died right around the time I started working on this book, and I took their spirit and my loss and channeled it into the murder of an eighteen-year-old. Sometimes writing in the opposite direction gets you to the right place in the end.
5. Can you give us any insider info on your next project? Are you currently writing or do you have any ideas for your next book?
I’ve gravitated north for my next project, to Duluth and the Boundary Waters. This one is a speculative thriller set in a near future that’s experiencing more of the effects of climate change. It’s looking like a two book series. I’m loving this story and these characters, but can’t talk too much about it as it’s still evolving.
6. Tell us one awkward/embarrassing/unique fact about yourself!
I’m embarrassed to admit I didn’t read GONE GIRL until after I sold EVERYTHING and people started comparing/contrasting my book against the novel that basically created the griplit sub-genre. Had to quickly and quietly erase that gap in my education!
My six-year-old just said it’s embarrassing that I wear tank tops when it’s cold outside and my husband said it’s embarrassing that I don’t know how to drive a 5-speed. My four-year-old smiled and hugged me. She’s obviously the favorite.
Mindy received a BA from the University of Minnesota and an MFA from Hamline University. Apart from brief stops in Iowa City and Galway, she’s lived in the Twin Cities her entire life and held a succession of jobs from an apple orchard laborer to a global credit manager. She’s currently working on a project set in Duluth and the Boundary Waters that may or may not be a trilogy. Mindy is available for readings, workshops, and book group discussions. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.