Thursday, February 26, 2015

Mindy McGinnis, Not a Drop to Drink

What is writing and publishing a novel like? Hardest part? Best part? Tips?
It's much harder than anyone imagines. If you want to have a career, then most likely you will need to be traditionally published. Which generally means you need an agent, which in turn means you need to know how to write a query letter, and what agents represent what genres. There's a whole industry you need to learn in order to gain your footing towards publication, and that's without mentioning the craft of actually writing. 

It took me ten years and five finished novels before I landed an agent. And that's something people outside of the industry don't understand. And to be fair, I don't expect them to. But at the same time it's a little frustrating when you've spent that amount of work (and a third of your life) working towards something and someone says to you, "Oh. I thought you just printed it out and mailed it to the publishers and they made it into a book for you." Um, no.

All that being said - it's totally possible to succeed. I am a farmer's daughter. I never took a writing class in my life. I had zero contacts in the industry. I still made it. You just have to work your ass off.

What advice do you have for teen writers?

Get good critique partners and learn how to process criticism. Having your mom read your stuff is fine, but she's going to give you positive feedback, and that's not going to help you grow as a writer. Learn how to accept it when someone criticizes your work, and then learn what parts of their criticism to implement. It's not easy! But it's a necessary step.

What inspired you to write 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.”

There were some unlikely friendships in Not a Drop to Drink, how have you observed social class, age, gender, religion, and/or political affiliation affecting friendships? What made you write unique friendships?

I think friendships are much more enduring than romantic relationships. So much more of who we are is a product of them rather than our love interests. I'm a very open person, and I have friends who are both much younger and much older than me, across all spectrums. 

In DRINK, Lynn isn't going to be surrounded by her peers - it just wasn't organic to the story. She also starts life as a very feral individual, and she needed to learn about all aspects of relationships that coalesce to form a whole person. So she learns about friendship and romantic love, but also how to be a nurturer, and how to let someone care about you as well.

The ending. Why did you write it how you did? Most writers are afraid to break from convention the way you did.  What sort of feedback did you get because of your decision?

I don't plan or plot my stories at all. I let the tale tell itself. It decides who lives or dies, not me. That being said, when everything went down at the end I hovered my finger over the delete key and thought, people are going to be mad at you if you do this. Which was followed by, Good.

Yes, people have definitely been upset by it. But that's great! They're having a visceral emotional reaction to something that never happened to people that don't exist. That tells me that it worked.

If you could give Lynn any piece of advice at any point in the novel what would you tell her?

I don't know, honestly. I think she handles herself really well. I'm more likely to need tips from her.
~Mindy McGinnis

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Yes Please

Amy Poehler Yes Please

Amy Poehler's memoir is an adventure to read.  She covers a handful of decades, relationships, states and everything in between with grace and humor.  She tells it how it is from pot to parenting.  She explores her habit to say "sorrysorrysorry" too often and her life as a "bad sleeper."  The paper bound copy of the book comes with scrapbook-esq visuals and the audio version comes with Poehler herself reading. 

Taylor Swift

     When someone insults your role model it stings.  When a bunch of people continually hate on your role model it enlists a certain kind of expression;  jutted out jaw, pursed lips, scrunched nose, and furrowed brows.   Hands on my hips I stomp my foot and say, “nuh-uhhh!”  My petty, knee-jerk reaction sadly does nothing to challenge the other person’s opinion.  I’m hoping this piece accomplishes more than my hissy fits.    
     A couple of songs of Taylor Swift’s have ruffled some feathers.  Her song “Picture to Burn” is one such song and is about being dumped by a boy and declaring the relationship a waste of time.  The line that is often critiqued is, “So go and tell your friends that I’m obsessive and crazy, that’s fine, I’ll tell mine that you’re gay.”  Let me just say I am totally against bigoted lyrics.  That being said I want to explore this.  Though Swift uses gay as a treat she makes no obvious implications that the word gay should or does mean anything inherently negative.  In a different part of the song she discusses getting revenge by dating “all of your best friends.”  I believe Swift is threatening to tell her friends her ex-boyfriend is gay because it would eliminate or at least decrease the chance of him avenging her in the same method she considers using.  Even if Taylor Swift is being homophobic in this song, at least she is using the term accurately instead of as slang for stupid.  There are many worse and irredeemable songs we should be taking issue with before this one, which, depending on Swift’s intentions, might not have anything wrong with it in the first place.

       As much as I adore Miss Swift she does have a few songs that, despite being catchy and dance worthy, have less than stellar aspects.  Her song “Revenge” objectifies her boyfriend and “Shake It Off” has a good message but the video is almost completely based on racial stereotypes in dance.  She is not perfect.  No one is.

     The song “15” is written in the point of view of a senior reflecting on herself as a freshman, an if-only-I’d-known sort of song.  One line in this song has upset many people.  The line is, “Abigail gave everything she had to a boy who changed his mind.”  The assumption that Abigail might’ve been sexually active isn’t outlandish if the lyrics and music video are considered.  That is not what’s upsetting people.  What has gotten the most panties into bunches is the belief that Taylor Swift considers a teen girl’s virginity to be her “everything,” implying that the love, time, effort, and trust she brings to a relationship isn’t worth anything.  Knowing her songs as well as I do and having listened to many interviews I highly doubt that was Taylor Swift’s intention when writing this song.  Even if that was Swift’s belief at the time she never clarifies for listeners exactly what constitutes Abigail’s “everything.”  Every person claiming Swift means Abigail’s virginity needs to pause here a moment and consider why that conclusion was made.    I believe this interpretation is so popular because of the cultural regime we live under.  For a long time I was guilty of making the same quick assumption about Abigail too.  It’s almost a sort of Rorschach test.  Our assumptions about Taylor Swift’s implications reveal more about us than about one particular song or singer.  We know enough to be disgusted when someone claims a girl’s virginity is her entire worth, yet we are ignorant and oblivious enough not to realize we are the ones making such claims.

     Any slip-ups Taylor Swift has made or  will make need to be held against nine years of her unwavering role model status to millions of young people and her many songs about self acceptance, suicide prevention, overcoming bullying, and everyday life as experienced by a teen and young adult female. 

     Taylor Swift is a talented young person.  She has been voted Most Charitable Celebrity for the past three years on  She gave some of her fans personalized holiday presents.  She gives personal advice to lucky fans on Tumblr.  She calls out gender based double standards.  She is just an awesome person overall.