There is no other author I know that can wreck your heart and destroy your dreams of love as well as Mindy McGinnis. Her prior novels, Not a Drop to Drink and In a Handful of Dust are gripping, raw and heartbreaking. With these companion novels, Mindy created a world lacking in water and characters that epitomized survival. These two novels were startling and terrifying because of the ease in which the reader can visualize and imagine our (not so distant) future without access to water.
Next month Mindy will be venturing into a new genre, a historical thriller, with her novel: A Madness So Discreet. I’m beyond excited to read this…check out this little tidbit from the summary on Goodreads:
“In this beautifully twisted historical thriller, Mindy McGinnis, explores the fine line between sanity and insanity, good and evil—and the madness that exists in all of us.”
Today I am honored to have Mindy here to answer questions about her books and give us some insight into what we can expect with A Madness So Discreet
I was incredibly impressed with the depth you went into with portraying how life would be in a world with little water in Not a Drop to Drink and In a Handful of Dust. You explained water purifying techniques and dowsing for water as well as firing rifles and traveling miles over land. What type of research did you do to learn so much about these subjects and to approach them so realistically?
The honest answer is that a lot of those things were just part of my childhood. I live in an extremely rural area, and I grew up knowing how to handle firearms safely. When someone was getting ready to build a house, you called a dowser to see if there was a legitimate water source to tap into. It’s just how we live. The purifying techniques involved in both DRINK & DUST were definitely research based. I strive for realism. The method from DRINK involving plastic water bottles and exposure to the sun is called the SODIS method. You can read more about how it works in the paperback of DRINK, which has an essay from me in the extra content about the science behind it.
Did you experiment with any of the survival techniques you wrote about?
I do garden and can a lot of my own food, so that’s all speaking from experience. I also own a pond, but I’ve never drank from it, SODIS method or not. But if I HAD to – of course. And as a matter of principle I always inform people that I’ve never shot anyone. I think that’s an important baseline to establish.
From the summary your next novel looks to focus on mental illness and criminal psychology. I can’t tell you how excited I am to see you explore both of these topics. Can you tell us a bit more than the summary provides us about your story?
Sure! I’m very excited to get A MADNESS SO DISCREET out to my readers. My main character, Grace, has been a victim of abuse in her home, and is pregnant as a result. She’s from a wealthy, politically influential Boston family, so it has to be swept under the rug. In the Victorian era, inconvenient pregnancies were sometimes handled by sending the girl into an insane asylum until the delivery of the baby, explaining away their absence by saying they were abroad. This is Grace’s fate.
She’s been cursed with an eye for detail and infallible memory, along with a mother who won’t listen to the truth. When we meet Grace she’s a selective mute in the asylum, having given up on language after it failed her. Asylum conditions are… pretty horrible. Grace loses her child, finds her voice in a burst of violence that lands her in the darkest corners of the asylum, and there meets a young doctor who spots her talent, knowing it will be influential to him as he moves into a new career dabbling in criminal psychology (criminal profiling).
He helps her escape the asylum, and effectively removes her from the reach of her father. But faking insanity in order to live as an inmate at the Ohio asylum where the doctor works takes a toll, and she starts to question how much of her act is a farce. Combined with dark nights chasing killers – and one in particular who is targeting young women – Grace has to struggle with the fact that the life she’s escaped to isn’t exactly beautiful… and she kind of likes it that way.
Could you tell us a bit about the research you did about the asylum that helped inspire your setting, Athens Lunatic Asylum?
As an aside- you MUST check out Mindy’s Pintrest board here.
I researched for an entire year before writing a word of this book. There was much to learn – the beginnings of criminal psychology, the history of asylum medicine (both the good and the bad), and of course historical details in general. What kind of lighting would be in a room in 1890? What would an asylum inmate be wearing? I’m very particular, and there were days when I couldn’t finish a sentence without doing half an hour of research in order to make sure I got it (hopefully) right.
The specific setting – the Athens Lunatic Asylum in Ohio – has an amazing history. You can do a quick Google and learn about how it’s one of the most haunted places in the world and hear horror stories about the graveyard. And while I’m a fan of the supernatural, I’m also a fan of data. That type of history doesn’t interest me, because most of it quite frankly, just isn’t true.
The Athens asylum was actually an amazing model of humane treatment for the insane. If you were crazy (or just unlucky enough to be deemed so) in 1890, it was a good place to land. One of my best resources for the history of the asylum was Asylum On The Hill: History of A Healing Landscape, by Katherine Ziff. If you’d like to learn more about the actual history of the Athens Lunatic Asylum give it a shot.
I also toured the buildings, which are now part of the Ohio University campus. You can’t go into the patient wards for safety reasons (they are literally crumbling), but some parts of the building are currently in use as staff offices as well as an art gallery. The gallery is open to the public, and when you visit you can see original floors, staircases and woodwork from the insane asylum years. Definitely hit up my Pinterest board if you want to see some pics from my tour!
You can most definitely repost some of my pics from Pinterest, just make sure if you use any of the older ones that you use the attribution that I did, b/c some of those actually belong to University Archives.
Grace Mae, your main character, is battling with mental illness- did this make it more difficult to write her character?
Ha – no. It made her much, much easier to write than a person with no issues at all. Those people don’t exist.
Criminal psychology is a fascinating practice- how has it changed over the years and what resources did you use to incorporate it into your story?
What’s interesting is how some things have changed – and some really haven’t at all. Methods of crime can change, but motivations essentially don’t. We’re just as human now as we were in 1890. Some of the crime solving methods from back then were incredibly spot on even today, while others are just not. And just like today, people argued within their own fields about what was and was not accurate. Phrenology, for example is something that comes up in the book.
Do you listen to music while your write or for mood setting inspiration? If so what type of music did you listen to while plotting/writing A Madness So Discreet?
I usually don’t, although sometimes that can change from book to book while I’m writing. With MADNESS I definitely did not. I had to be very conscientious of every detail while writing this book. There was no “flow” with this one. It was work. Every word. No room for distractions.
You wrote your prior books in third person, is AMSD also in third person?
It is. I don’t plan my books at all, so I don’t walk into any book knowing how it will be narrated. I just let the first line happen, and that usually dictates person and tense.
Is A Madness So Discreet a standalone, series or will there perhaps be a companion novel?
As of right now it is a standalone. But I’m alarmingly ready to revisit this dark nasty world.
Can you tell us anything about what you’re working on next?
I do have a book coming from Katherine Tegen in 2016. It is a dark contemporary… and guess what? It’s a multiple POV in first person
About the Book
Grace Mae knows madness.
She keeps it locked away, along with her voice, trapped deep inside a brilliant mind that cannot forget horrific family secrets. Those secrets, along with the bulge in her belly, land her in a Boston insane asylum.
When her voice returns in a burst of violence, Grace is banished to the dark cellars, where her mind is discovered by a visiting doctor who dabbles in the new study of criminal psychology. With her keen eyes and sharp memory, Grace will make the perfect assistant at crime scenes. Escaping from Boston to the safety of an ethical Ohio asylum, Grace finds friendship and hope, hints of a life she should have had. But gruesome nights bring Grace and the doctor into the circle of a killer who stalks young women. Grace, continuing to operate under the cloak of madness, must hunt a murderer while she confronts the demons in her own past.