Edgar Award-winning author Mindy McGinnis has written across multiple genres, and her newest audiobook takes on a heavy topic: a young female athlete that finds herself a victim of the opioid epidemic. I had the chance to speak with Mindy at Winter Institute about her upcoming release Heroine, out 3/12, narrator Brittany Pressley, and her favorite audiobooks.
So how did this story surrounding a female athlete and the opioid epidemic take shape?
On a school visit to a city in Ohio that is generally thought to be one of the epicenters of the opioid epidemic, McGinnis spoke with local librarians and learned that if you lived in this city, you worked at the school, the hospital, the prison, or you sold drugs. Sadly, many opted for selling drugs.
She had been wanting to write a story featuring a female athlete for a long time–having worked in a high school library for several years, she knew that female athletes weren’t often the center of stories.
“I wanted to write about the opiod crisis and I wanted to write about female athletes and those two things are married, unfortunately, very easily,” she says. “So that’s how the whole concept came about.”
Mickey is a softball player with a bright future, and she’s the hero–the heroine–of this story. But she’s not particularly extraordinary. “I’m using this character that is in every woman,” said McGinnis. She’s not the most popular girl, she’s not the best athlete on the team even. She is very good at what she does, but she’s not beautiful, she’s not smart, she’s not perfect, she’s not any of these things.”
Mickey’s relatability is key, as the reader will watch her make small choice after small choice that will ultimately lead to addiction.
McGinnis did a lot of research before this book was written and she took it very seriously, knowing how crucial it would be to the telling of this story: “Because of the expanse of the opioid epidemic, everyone knows someone, so it was important that this was correct and people are going be able to see themselves or someone that they know.”
Still trying to decide whether you should listen to this audiobook? The opening line is: “When I wake up, all my friends are dead.”
(You can purchase the audiobook now.)
From there, McGinnis takes us back. “I’m going to show you how that happened, and it’s in very small steps, small steps all the way,” she says. “There’s no huge leap.”
Her goal was to help the reader understand how the slide into addiction can be gradual and riddled with decisions that seem logical and well-intentioned. And she certainly achieved that. As I read, I found myself rooting for Mickey, even when what she really needed was to fail, so that someone would realize what was going on and get her help. McGinnis says that the response from early readers was similar, and that was her intention with this character: “Her situation is your situation and her needs and goals are yours.”
Narrator Brittany Presley has narrated some of McGinnis’s other work, including her Edgar Award-winner A Madness So Discreet.
“Oh she’s an amazing narrator!” McGinnis says. “I love everything about how she shifts her vocalizations for her characters and the emotion in her voice is always well-played…I am just really fascinated to hear what she brings to Heroine. I think it’ll be even more sympathetic than just the words alone in text.”
McGinnis travels a lot and listens to audiobooks while she travels. She shared some of her favorites with me:
- Stephen Florida by Gabe Habash, narrated by Will Damron
- Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders, narrated by a full cast
- American Gods by Neil Gaiman, narrated by a full cast
- My Year of Rest and Relaxation by Ottessa Moshfegh, narrated by Julia Whelan
And she’s a big fan of all of Caroline Kepnes’s audiobooks: “I was just listening to Providence, which doesn’t get enough press. You of course is an amazing book as well, and with the series it’s getting so much attention, which is great because she’s an amazing writer. But Providence, no one talks about that book! It’s so good.”