By Fiona Stephens.
We are thrilled to welcome Mindy McGinnis to The Reading Corner to talk about her hotly anticipated new release A Long Stretch of Bad Days, out on 14th March 2023.
Lydia Chass doesn’t mind living in a small town; she just doesn’t want to die in one. A lifetime of hard work has put her on track to attend a prestigious journalism program and leave Henley behind—until a school error leaves her a credit short of graduating. Undeterred, Lydia has a plan to earn that credit: transform her listener-friendly local history podcast into a truth-telling exposé. She’ll investigate the Long Stretch of Bad Days: a week when Henley was hit by a tornado and a flash food as well as its first—and only—murder, which remains unsolved.
But Lydia needs help to bring grit to the show. Bristal Jamison has a bad reputation and a foul mouth, but she also needs a credit to graduate. The unexpected partnership brings together the Chass family—a pillar of the community—and the rough-and-tumble Jamisons, with Bristal hoping to be the first in her family to graduate. Together, they dig into the town’s worst week, determined to solve the murder.
Their investigation unearths buried secrets: a hidden town brothel, lost family treasure, and a teen girl who disappeared. But the past is never far, and some don’t want it to see the light. As threats escalate, the girls have to uncover the truth before the dark history of Henley catches up with them.
Hi Mindy- firstly, it was a pleasure to get my hands on your new book. I loved it. It was a mysterious, small-town thriller that bubbled with humour throughout. To begin with, please tell our readers a little about yourself and your work.
It might be obvious, but I am a small-town girl. I grew up – and still live in – a town in Ohio that graduates about 65 kids a year. We are tiny and tight knit, and I can’t imagine living any other way. All of my books reflect small town life, while illustrating that all problems are human problems, that cross boundaries.
The real soul of this book is centred on our two protagonists- Lydia Chass, who is the upstanding, respectable cornerstone of the community with an unblemished family legacy. She has been ruthlessly focussed on her means of escaping Henley via the Ivy League. Whilst Bristal Jamison is the girl from the other side of the tracks with a fondness for cussing and vaping, who has little to no expectation placed on her. It is a case of opposites attracting (without the romance). How would you describe Lydia and Bristal’s relationship?
They really are opposites, right down to their bloodlines. In a small town, your last name means a lot, and people attach generational meaning to it. Lydia has grown up with a certain expectation, while Bristal has grown up with virtually none. Lydia wants to escape by being admitted to an Ivy League school; Bristal wants to be the first person in her family to ever graduate high school. But they are both goal-oriented, determined females who have zero patience for their gender being identified as a weakness. It’s that common strain of grit that unites them, eventually.
I found their burgeoning friendship touching and authentic. Each has something the other lacks. The excitement, the vulnerability, the friction, the realizations. Lydia, at times, can be a very difficult character to warm to but we see her especially evolve and mature by the end of the book. What do you think they each learn from the other? Was there a character you leant to more as you were writing? Do you identify more with Lydia or Bristal?
Oh, if I had to pick, I’m Bristal, all the way. I definitely grew up with some of the expectations and outer shell that Lydia deals with, but all of my internal monologue was Bristal. An interesting thing about Lydia is that I had her pegged as a certain way in my head, but when I started writing her, she was angry. Her voice kept coming through with this aggression I hadn’t expected—she just doesn’t show it to the outside world. It made her so much more interesting as a character, having access to her internality. Whereas for Bristal, I didn’t need chapters from her POV, because she says exactly what she is thinking and has no concern whatsoever of how she is received or what people think of her.
When writing a cold case whodunit with many interweaving layers, what is your writing process? Is there a board with lots of red string tied to different characters? Do you work backwards from the reveal?
No, I’m an absolute non plotter. I knew who the guilty party was, but I had no idea how the girls were going to figure it out. I let the story evolve as I write, and I love that freedom. It maintains an organic feel, and also can take me by surprise at times as well, which is always fun, as a writer.
I must admit, I saw the word ‘tornado’ in the synopsis and was compelled to read this. There is something captivating about their iconography in film and literature. A tornado springs up in ‘A Wizard of Oz’ to transport Dorothy to a fantastical world far removed from her mundanity. Or they show up in movies like ‘Twister’ for the determined scientists to chase down answers and solutions. But that is not to trivialize the very real danger they pose. Coming from the UK, we don’t really see these absolutely devastating phenomena in our lives. The use of the tornado immediately rooted this in rural America. ‘Destruction is one thing…But this is different. This is my hometown…’. When Bailey Foxglove says the townsfolk use things like the church spire as signposts to navigate the town but they can’t do that when the church spire is no longer there. This felt very real and personal. Why did you choose Henley to set your novel in? Why did you include natural disasters as a backdrop? As catalysts?
For a very real, very simple reason. My own hometown was utterly destroyed by a tornado in 1981. Everyone in our town has a tornado story. Generationally, we can place who was alive “before” and “after” by how they describe the architecture, or the names of certain stores or landmarks—because the town changed completely as a result. It’s a narrative that comes up repeatedly, and is simply referred to as “when the tornado came through.” I was alive for the tornado, but only a toddler. I do have a recollection of fear, and feeling my parents’ fear, and suddenly realizing that something was very, very wrong if they were scared. “The tornado” is something that has just been an ever present story in my life, and is a defining one for most people around here.
This story is partly about teenage girls coming to terms with their own truths written for teenage people. It is pitched as a YA novel, how does this inform the choices you make in the book as opposed to an adult novel? What would you like parents to know about this book if choosing this for their child?
I don’t make any concessions. I write about teenagers, but I write for everyone. I write real people in real situations, so they talk about real things and they use real language. If I wrote an adult novel, I wouldn’t change my approach. Here in the US, we’re currently under a storm of censorship that a few of my titles have been drawn into. I’ve never altered who I am or what I write, and I won’t apologize for my content.
When it comes to parents, if they believe something is inappropriate for their child, then they are correct. They know that child, and it’s their job to raise them as they deem appropriate. When they say something is inappropriate for all children, they have moved out of their lane, and I deny their unilateral decisions.
”Funny thing about those cracks” Bristal says. “Most of them are teenage-shaped girls” ‘. It really does cut to the crux of the matter- Bristal is very good at doing that. When towns and individuals ‘turn the other cheek’ as they do in the case of Denise, the safety of these troubled people is threatened. Swallowed up by the dark underbelly of any town or city. Were there real-life cases that inspired this strand of the novel?
Both her name and what Denise was wearing when she disappeared is directly pulled from a real life case, detailed in both The Innocent Man by John Grisham and The Dreams of Ada by Robert Mayer. The chilling, random, senseless death of this young woman—Denice Haraway—had a deep impact on me when I was writing The Female of the Species, and those echoes clearly linger, years later.
Yet one of my favourite elements of the book was how both Lydia and Bristal were determined to use their voices and their online platform to discover the truth and achieve justice. The power of female unity. The need to speak up when it matters. Who are the people (real/fictional) who inspire you to find courage in adverse moments?
This is where, quite frankly, I always come off sounding like a bitch—I’m my own hero. I grew up in a conservative community, and all of the women in my life fell into very gender appropriate ways of speaking, working, and living. Even as a little girl I was like – no, fuck that. I want to do what I want to do, and I like what I like. I’m going to be me, and people are just going to have to deal with that. To this day, one of my mom’s enduring goals for me is to “be nicer.” Lol.
Podcasts are becoming a significant trope for the crime genre as seen in TV’s ‘Only murders in the building’ and literature’s ‘A good girl’s guide to murder’. What do you think podcasts add to a narrative in terms of pace, tone, and perspective? What makes them an alluring ploy for a writer?
Honestly, I don’t know. I don’t listen to podcasts, myself. I tend to find them fairly annoying. I only have so much free time, and if I come to you for your content, get to your content. I don’t care what you had for dinner or what you bought at Kohl’s or what your kid did yesterday. It doesn’t matter to me.
I DO find the egalitarian spread of news and opinion in podcasts to be liberating, which is what I find attractive about them. The current proliferation of them—literally everyone has a podcast now—and, if I’m being honest—lack of quality in many of them, is what turns me off.
“…look at the darkness and find the shades of grey”. Lydia’s dad, Brent, also mentions how bad people can do good things and good people can do bad things. There is a great deal of moral ambiguity throughout culminating in a wonderful twist at the end. Was that fun to write? To challenge readers’ assumptions? Or was it difficult to place your characters through these quandaries? What messages do you hope readers take from this book?
All of my books operate in this area, so it wasn’t difficult for me to focus on that theme. Good and bad, black and white, may be an easy way to educate children about the proper way to live, but it’s simply not how the real world works. We are all capable of horrible things; we are all capable of beautiful things. Learning and accepting that early on will help anyone move through reality.
What is currently on your bookshelves? Which books and authors do you recommend for our readers?
Unfortunately, I have very little time to read these days. A lot of avid readers that I know suffered during the pandemic—a time that should have been our golden age. For whatever reason, reading was difficult for me during the lockdown, and I’m still feeling the effects of that hangover.
Thank you so much for your time, Mindy. It’s been a pleasure and I hope you enjoy great success with this book. To sign off, where can our readers get your book on March 14th 2023?
Online, at major retailers, and of course – support your local indie!
Mindy McGinnis is the author of multiple novels that span many genres. From historical to fantasy, contemporary to gothic thriller, you can always count on Mindy’s books to deliver grit, truth, and an unflinching look at humanity and the world around us.
A ninth-generation farmer, Mindy attributes much of her character to growing up on an Ohio farm, learning the value of physical labor, and the harshness of the natural world early in life. Much of her writing reflects small-town living and aspects of rural poverty. A former school librarian, Mindy still lives and works in her hometown, and is dedicated to making herself available to financially disadvantaged school districts and communities.
Mindy’s Instagram: @mindymcginnisauthor
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