Yesterday afternoon, I traveled with three fellow Book Swap pals to Prairie Lights Bookstore in Iowa City, where we attended a reading and signing by “Everything You Want Me to Be” author Mindy Mejia.
First off, I wanna say that Mindy is hilarious. She told us how, while making breakfast for her two young children one morning, she was in writer mode and imagining how a single stab in the heart could kill “EYWMTB” main character Hattie Hoffman. After all, there’s the rib cage to get through … and she started picturing the attack as more of a lunge from the obliques …
Then she smelled something burning. It was the eggs. And her kids weren’t sure what the heck was going on. Why was Mommy gouging the air with a spatula?
“Mommy’s practicing a new dance move,” she told them, and didn’t really know what to think when her daughter got up from the table and started copying her.
Aside from a couple of other enthusiastic ladies sitting opposite us on the front row (we’re shameless) and the emcee, who apparently didn’t ask Mindy how her last name is pronounced before introducing her (it’s Meh-HE-ah), my friends and I were pretty much the only attendees who asked questions or made comments. Thank goodness we were there, right?! That could have been uncomfortable. And apparently it was being broadcast live on some local radio station. No pressure.
If I ever write a book, I would love to have someone like Mindy as a mentor. She has some great insights. For instance, she talked about how, in a murder mystery, the dead body is usually presented as little more than an object. Her goal was to paint a better picture of Hattie as a live person, not just a victim. In my review of “EYWMTB”, I noted that even though Hattie wasn’t a terribly likeable person, she was still a person who left behind loved ones. And Mindy really brought Hattie to life through the perspectives of her friends and family. I told Mindy that one of my favorite characters is probably Hattie’s dad. Hattie has him wrapped around her little finger, and that’s the kind of relationship I’ve had with my dad since I was born. I have a feeling that if anything awful happened to me, my dad might also be tempted to go after the person responsible.
It’s those kinds of character interactions and deeply honest emotions and responses that make “Everything You Want Me to Be” such an incredible book, and Mindy Mejia such a gifted author. I can’t wait to read more of her work. I posted on her Facebook page to thank her for sharing about her book and teaching us a new dance move.
“I’m working on a few more with the next book,” she said.
Grip-lit is apparently a thing …
So for a long time now, it has really been grinding my gears how every psychological
thriller with a female lead is compared to “Gone Girl” or “The Girl on the Train.”
Apparently, this is now considered a sub-genre. Mindy informed us that it’s called grip-lit.
I’m sure you probably had the same reaction just now that most of the audience had yesterday. “Whaaaa?!”
A June 2016 Daily Mail article says the term was coined by author Marian Keyes (thanks a lot, lady) and is “where female commercial fiction meets crime thrillers. It is written – in the main – by women, for women, with female characters more likely to be the star of the story than the long-suffering love interest or the body in the shallow grave, as can be the case in conventional crime fiction.”
The question posed by Mindy, and I totally agree, is this: Why do we have to give these books such a specific label? Isn’t “psychological thriller” or “mystery” good enough? Yeah, I realize as much as the next person that “grip-lit” (gag) really is a big deal right now. I just think it’s unfair to compartmentalize it in such a way. Mainly, I just think Keyes could have come up with a less dumb-sounding name for it. (I admit it, I can’t think of anything better right now. How about, like I said, no label.)
Also, the beef with grip-lit is that critics try to diagnose the female lead with any number of mental illnesses. Rachel in “The Girl on the Train,” for instance, has clinical depression that manifests itself in alcoholism. Mindy says Hattie probably could be diagnosed with narcissism.
But she also thinks fiction writing is a disease in itself – namely, psychosis, which the National Institute for Mental Health describes as “some loss of contact with reality … During a period of psychosis, a person’s thoughts and perceptions are disturbed and the individual may have difficulty understanding what is real and what is not. Symptoms of psychosis include delusions (false beliefs) and hallucinations (seeing or hearing things that others do not see or hear).”
Other fun tidbits
The inspiration for “EYWMTB” (I ask good questions, what can I say) came from a barn in the town where Mindy grew up. It’s been slowly sliding into a nearby lake for years, and Mindy started imagining, “What if someone found a dead body in there?”
Mindy spent a year of her undergrad studies at the University of Iowa and worked at a video store not far from Prairie Lights. She often attended readings at this legendary bookstore, so coming back to do a reading of her own book was a dream come true.
Mindy works full time as an accountant, and most of “EYWMTB” was written during lunch breaks.
Before finishing the first draft of “EYWMTB,” Mindy hadn’t yet figured out who killed Hattie. Really, that’s how a good book should be written … just go with the flow.
Non-reading-related: After a late lunch at HuHot (it was my first trip and I was kind of terrified when the waiter tried to explain the process of selecting ingredients, but Robin and Kat were wonderful advisors), we went to this amazing consignment place called Stuff Etc. I swear I only bought one book: “The Crooked House” by Christobel Kent. It’s only got an average rating of 3.19 on Goodreads. Hopefully I didn’t waste $3, right?
Also non-reading-related: I think Anna and I need to write a children’s book called “If You Give Anna a Latte.” I’m pretty sure she was hearing colors after she drank the one she ordered at Prairie Lights. I also forgot how hilarious she is when she’s driving. Can’t wait for our next road trip!