Although Not a Drop to Drink (HarperCollins 2013) is Mindy McGinnis’s first novel, calling her a rookie or a novice would be misleading. She’s been writing since her college days at Otterbein University in Westerville, Ohio, and has since had her short stories published in multiple anthologies. She also publishes a blog and contributes to multiple writers groups and websites.
When she’s not writing, McGinnis is surrounded by books as an assistant librarian in the Cardington-Lincoln Local Schools district. The saying is to write what you know, and McGinnis knows young adults after working in public schools for more than a decade. She also knows about living in a rural environment, and while the location in the novel isn’t specifically named, it might not be such a far stretch from the area in Ohio where she grew up.
There are a few important differences, however, between the novel and McGinnis’s experience. Perhaps most importantly, while the main character—16-year-old Lynn—is a good shot and unafraid to kill, the author has never shot anyone herself. Moreover, while the future depicted in Not a Drop to Drink is harsh, McGinnis’s future is a bright one. Not only has she completed the sequel, but her work will soon reach audiences through the movie theater. Fickle Fish, a production company started in part by Twilight (Little, Brown, 2005) author Stephenie Meyer, is working to turn the dystopian young adult novel into a film.
SLJ talked to McGinnis about the inspiration that led to the book, how her career as a librarian has helped her writing, and what she’s working on next.
How long have you been writing? When did you become a librarian?
I’ve been writing since college, when I decided that it was time to stop saying I “wanted” to be a writer and actually become one. It’s not that easy, though. There was a solid decade of rejection before landing my agent with the query for Not a Drop to Drink. I’ve been working in the public schools for 12 years now, but I don’t actually have my MLS—I’m an aide. It’s still a goal, but right now I’m focused on my writing.
What books do you like to read? Did those books influence your novels? If so, how?
I’ll read anything and everything. At the moment, I’m reading Victorian novels. I’m not sure that I have any influences as far as writing goes, but I definitely will read certain authors and think that I’d love to be as good as they are someday.
What were the inspirations behind Not a Drop to Drink?
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.”
Why do you think that young adult novels about dystopian futures, like the “Hunger Games” (Scholastic) series and Veronica Roth’s Divergent (HarperCollins, 2011), are so popular?
I think that dystopians and post-apocs in general say a lot about humanity. In a world like the one in Drink, there are no social norms to adhere to. Everyone is free to behave exactly as they please. It says a lot about who you are at your core in a situation like that, and I think everyone is curious how they themselves would behave in these worlds.
Was working as a YA librarian helpful as you wrote your book?
It’s helpful in that I can see what genres they are enjoying and which ones they are sick of, but in the end, if there is a story percolating in my brain that’s the one I need to write, trend or not.
Have any of the students in your school read the book? What was their reaction to it?
Yes! A lot of my kids have read Drink. In fact, we’re running our circulation numbers for the end of the year, and I found out yesterday Drink was the top circulated fiction title in grades seven through 12. So I feel pretty good about that. The reaction I get the most is shock that there are some bad words. They must think I don’t know those.
Do you have a routine that you stick with when you sit down to write? What’s your process like?
I write at night, usually after 10 p.m., and I write in bed. I tend to set a goal of about 1,000 words per night, or 5,000 for the week. I do zero plotting. I simply sit and write the book linearly, night after night, until I reach the end. It makes for a sloppy first draft, but I find it to be the most organic way of writing.
How involved are you in the movie adaptation?
I am not writing the script—screenwriting and novel writing are two very different creatures—but I am very much involved. I wouldn’t say that I have creative control, but I definitely have a lot of input. One of the reasons I was happy to get an offer from [Twilight’s Stephanie] Meyer is because she is a writer, too. She’s been through adaptations of book to screen, so she knows how it feels to see your work translated like that.
Did Stephenie Meyer offer any advice for making the story work visually or for getting through the adaptation process?
We’re not far into the process yet. Right now all we’ve done is talk briefly, find out that we thought we could work well together, and then make the announcement.
What writers do you admire and/or strive to emulate?
A lot of the writers that I really enjoy are the ones that practice economy of words. They leave much to the reader to fill in, which is the best way to engage them. I also love writers who take fairly ludicrous plots and/or situations and make you buy into them completely. Anything by Margo Lanagan falls under this category. If you try to explain Tender Morsels (Ember, 2008), you’ll look like an insane person, but if you simply hand the book to a reader, they’re sucked in.
What do you think the future holds for the generation that reads your work? Do you really see things as heading to that dark of a place?
It’s really hard to say. I certainly don’t want to be the Orwell of water, but we are taxing our planet in ways that it can’t recover from easily. There’s always hope as long as there’s respect for the situation, but once that’s gone…
How much of yourself (or the people you love) goes into the characters you create?
Hardly any. I think it’s fairly dangerous to base characters on people you know in real life.
Are there plans for a third book in the series? What’s next for you?
As of right now, no. In a Handful of Dust will be out in September. It’s a companion novel that takes place 10 years after the events of Drink. I think there’s probably room to write a third if I feel so inclined, but at the moment, I’m disengaged from that. I’m currently working on a gothic historical set in an insane asylum. So I’ve definitely switched gears.
Carly Okyle is a freelance journalist who has written for FamilyCircle.com, YourTango.com, and Guideposts magazine. Her blog “The D Card” is candid look at living with disability issues.