Mindy McGinnis, author of Not a Drop to Drink, goes into the moodier moments — and unusual inspiration — of her third novel, A Madness So Discreet.
About ‘A Madness So Discreet’
Grace Mae is already familiar with madness when family secrets and the bulge in her belly send her to an insane asylum — but it is in the darkness that she finds a new lease on life. When a visiting doctor interested in criminal psychology recognizes Grace’s brilliant mind beneath her rage, he recruits her as his assistant. Continuing to operate under the cloak of madness at crime scenes allows her to gather clues from bystanders who believe her less than human.
Now comfortable in an ethical asylum, Grace finds friends—and hope. But gruesome nights bring Grace and the doctor into the circle of a killer who will bring her shaky sanity and the demons in her past dangerously close to the surface.
Interview with Mindy McGinnis
Tell us five random facts about yourself.
1) I have very fat thumb pads. They’re grotesque.
2) Glitter really freaks me out. What is it made of? I don’t understand.
3) I don’t ever paint my fingernails because when I do I can feel them suffocating.
4) Much like a cat, if you raise my body temperature, I will promptly fall asleep.
5) I learned how to walk in high heels from watching Tootsie.
Which is more challenging to write — the first line, or the last line?
Oddly enough, I usually know exactly what both of those will be. It’s filling up the space in between that jams me up.
What was your initial inspiration for A Madness So Discreet?
I was reading a lot about lobotomies and I needed a place to put all that information. It’s not a socially acceptable conversational topic (I tried) so I had to go in a corner and talk to myself about it with my laptop.
What was it like to move from the post-apocalyptic-ish Not a Drop to Drink to the gothic historical fiction of A Madness So Discreet?
Surprisingly easy, yet intimidating. I read widely, and I’d like to write widely as well. The writing in Not a Drop to Drink is very spare, and I needed that to change to preserve the tone of the time period. I read a lot of Anthony Trollope to get a feel for speaking cadences and narrative in order to execute A Madness So Discreet properly.
Your protagonist, Grace, is a sane person among mad people. However, her trauma significantly complicates her psychology — how did you approach these two delicate elements of the story?
Great question! It ties into one of the major themes of the book, that we are all mad in small ways. Many of the inmates of insane asylums during this time period weren’t necessarily insane — they were simply socially unacceptable people. Every single one us has characteristics that aren’t the norm, we’ve just learned to quash them. Weaving true mental disorders into the story alongside Grace’s trauma, and comparing it to the madness in both the killer they are chasing, and the man who damaged Grace is part of the journey.
How do you go about crafting your villains and antagonists?
I let them craft themselves. They are real people in my head, so I give them the freedom to transfer to paper and they do most of the work. I’m hardly necessary.
Is there a YA book you wish you’d had growing up?
Any of the YA available to teens now would have been great. I had a darker bent as a reader even when I was young, and YA was mostly clean when I was growing up. I went from Sweet Valley to Stephen King. And I’m okay with that, but a little jumping off point would’ve been nice.
Would you rather be a book or a computer?
I’d rather be a book, because any computer will be outdated in two years :)