Guest Post: Down the Research Rabbit Hole with Mindy McGinnis
[box type="note"]Amie here first: Today we have a guest post from the lovely Mindy McGinnis, whose latest book, A Madness So Discreet, came out yesterday! She's here to tell us about the entirely unreasonable demands of her muse, and the amazing book that resulted![/box]
My muse is fickle and unreliable, which is really frustrating for me because I’m the type of person that is constantly busy. I knit while watching TV because being still is not in my body’s repertoire. So when Miss Muse shuts down for a little bit, I tend to get frustrated with her, and she usually responds by dumping three to four great concepts into my lap at once, declares her job done, and disappears again.
She pulled this trick on me in 2013 when the barren waste land that had formerly housed my inspiration suddenly said, “Hey, you should write a Victorian Gothic novel set in an insane asylum about a girl who assists a criminal psychologist in catching killers. Also, she has to pretend to be lobotomized in order to escape her abusive father. That should be easy to deliver, ta-ta.”
To which I said, “Hey, thanks muse. Nice. How do I go about doing that?” But she didn’t answer because she’d already jetted off to wherever she goes when not spouting difficult-to-execute concepts at me. But I already knew the answer: research. I needed to know a lot of things in order to even come close to doing this the right way.
How did insane asylums operate in the 1890’s? How was criminal psychology executed then? How often was it right? Was the science accurate enough that a well-trained person could conceivably have caught a killer based on what they knew about the criminal mind at the time? How were lobotomies performed?
OOPS—snag. Lobotomies weren’t a medical practice in 1890. That’s a pretty huge roadblock for me since the plot hinged on my main character being (supposedly) lobotomized. Shifting the timeframe to 1936, when the first lobotomy was performed in the US, would screw up my plot even more. So instead I needed a feasible situation where a doctor could be aware of the benefits of a lobotomy-like procedure, without...you know...actually calling it a lobotomy. This train of thought ended with me reading this book, and this one. Yes, I was really popular on public transit.
I also read this book, and this book, this one (it has pictures—ouch), and to get the other side of that story, this one. And finally a slightly more relaxing one so that I was familiar with my setting. Then just to be thorough, I took a trip to the asylum where the book is set because I’m a big fan of knowing what the hell I’m talking about.
A year after Miss Disappearing Muse dropped the concept on me, I figured I knew enough to actually start writing the book. Except, no. This was the first time I’d ever attempted to write a historical, and because I despise anachronisms I had to get things as correct as I possibly could. From what kind of lighting was in the room my character waked into (Fire? Gas? Electrical?) to what she was wearing, to the question of whether she was working side by side with “policemen,” “cops,” or “constables,” I found myself in the position of not being able to finish most sentences without a quick fact check.
It was painful, torturous writing – and not only because of what I put the characters through. To make thing worse, I’d spent so much time researching that I’d painted myself into a pretty serious corner in terms of deadlines. I won’t tell you how quickly I wrote MADNESS because you’ll question my sanity, but I will tell you I gained almost fifteen pounds doing it because I basically shut myself in my room and wrote while slamming cheeseburgers. At one point I would’ve accepted a catheter just to get the job done more effectively.
A Madness So Discreet released yesterday, and I’m pretty proud of it. It marks a genre departure from my earlier works—Not a Drop to Drink and In a Handful of Dust are post-apoc survival—but not a departure from what I do best. Which apparently is write rather stomach-churning scenarios while eating.
Told you I’m a multi-tasker.
MINDY MCGINNIS is a YA author who has worked in a high school library for thirteen years. Her debut, Not a Drop to Drink, a post-apocalyptic survival story set in a world with very little freshwater, has been optioned for film my Stephanie Meyer's Fickle Fish Films. The companion novel, In a Handful of Dust was released in 2014. Look for her Gothic historical thriller, A Madness So Discreet on October 6 from Katherine Tegen Books.