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Interview: Mindy McGinnis, author of NOT A DROP TO DRINK

What would happen if our entire water supply was contaminated? Author Mindy McGinnis tackles this question in her debut, NOT A DROP TO DRINK. Teenage Lynn has been taught to defend her pond against every threat: drought, a snowless winter, coyotes and most important, people looking for a drink. Lynn has no use for the world beyond the nearby fields and forest. But when strangers appear, the mysterious footprints by the pond, the nighttime threats, and the gunshots make it all too clear Lynn has exactly what they want, and they won't stop until they get it...

In this interview, Mindy McGinnis explains the inspiration for her environmental dystopian debut, confirms how fun it is to write a character completely inexperienced with social interactions and reveals how she'd fare in a survival situation.

What was your inspiration to write this book?

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."

The setting of NOT A DROP TO DRINK is in rural Ohio -- why did you choose this location to set the story?

The setting is very dear to me, as it is more or less my own backyard. I also think though that there are a lot of kids that live in rural areas that need to read something they can really relate to. There are plenty of excellent books set in big cities and exotic locations. I figured it was time for something fresh!

The dystopian society that you create doesn't have zombies, aliens or many of the other supernatural aspects many do. Why did you choose this story to be environmentally based, with the issue of water supply?

Zombies and aliens are a TON of fun...and pretty difficult to write with a unique twist these days. In order to stand out in a crowded genre I needed to do something different. I decided to work outside in the box in kind of a backward fashion --- by going as simple as possible. Boiled down, this story isn't about the apocalypse or even water. It's about human nature and our decisions translating into actions that define who we are as human beings.

Lynn is tough, strong-willed and strong. She knows how to survive, and she knows she can survive on her own -- even after her mother's death. Did you base her character on anyone that you know?

No, I never base characters on real people. I think it gives me a lot more freedom to put them in harrowing situations without feeling guilt because I'm seeing a familiar face as I write it. Likewise, I think it would be uncomfortable to write romantic scenes when you're seeing a familiar face from everyday life. That might just be me, but I definitely don't pattern on people.

Lynn doesn't go to school but instead performs required and taxing daily chores such as sterilizing water, finding fuel and then also keeping watch during the night. If given the choice, would you choose high school or protecting the pond?

Protecting the pond! Always! In all honesty, Lynn's mother does a good job of giving her a decent education because it's important to her as an educated woman to pass something of the past civilization down to her daughter. Lynn is in school --- life school.

What struck me about the novel was how Lynn had to think through every social situation because she had only ever socialized with her mother. How much fun did you have writing Lynn's social interactions with the few others she comes into contact, especially between her and Eli?

They were the most fun scenes to write, definitely. Lynn is so cautious and careful all the time, so accustomed to being the queen of her own little realm. But you put her out of element, like just trying to have a simple conversation with a cute guy, and she's completely floored. She can't read body language, doesn't even know certain words (or have a clue about flirting) because it's just not anything her mother thought was important. She gets a crash course in humanity when she steps off her own property.

How would you hold up in a survival situation like the one Lynn is faced with?

I'd like to think I'd do okay. I'm a pretty good shot, and I actually do know how to skin and dress a deer, and I build a decent fire. So if I had to survive in that manner, I think I could make a solid attempt. Could I kill someone else? That, I don't know. And I don't think anyone can know what they would do in a life threatening situation until they are actually in it.

What would you like readers to take away from NOT A DROP TO DRINK?

That there's a very gray area between right and wrong and that the decisions we make shape our character --- especially the big ones.

What are you working on now? Will there be a sequel to the book?

I just wrapped up the revision for my 2014 release, and I recently signed a contract with the same publisher (Katherine Tegen Books) for YA releases in 2015 and 2016. DRINK is a standalone though in the sense that the storylines are tied off. There are no loose ends and no cliffhangers here!