Apple Valley author returns with small-town mystery

Mindy Mejia is set to speak April 18 at the Steeple Center in Rosemount as part of the Meet the Author series. (Photo submitted)
Mindy Mejia is set to speak April 18 at the Steeple Center in Rosemount. (Photo submitted)

Mindy Mejia’s new novel, “Everything You Want Me to Be,” follows the investigation of a high school student’s murder in a small town. To give the book a true-to-life feel, the Apple Valley writer delved into research of police procedure and crime-scene investigation.

“I’ve never worked in law enforcement, so it took some effort to get into Del’s head, the sheriff who’s investigating the murder of Hattie Hoffman,” she said.

“I interviewed some law enforcement officers and am a member of Sisters in Crime, a national writer’s group devoted to promoting female authors of crime fiction. The Twin Cities chapter hosts guest speakers who provide their expert insight on everything from autopsies to crime-scene cleanup.”

“Everything You Want Me to Be” is Mejia’s second novel. “The Dragon Keeper,” released in 2012, follows a zookeeper and the Komodo dragon she cares for as scientific, religious and media forces converge on the zoo after the reptile produces eggs without ever having had a mate.

Mejia is set to speak at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, April 18, at the Steeple Center in Rosemount as part of the Meet the Author series presented by the Rosemount Area Arts Council. Admission is free.

Mejia spoke with this newspaper recently about her writing habits, the allure of mystery fiction, and the real-life murder case that helped to shape her new novel.

At what point in your life did you know you wanted to be a writer?
I started writing at 8 years old when my mom gave me my first journal. I’ve always been a writer, but I didn’t realize I could make a career out of it.

What is your writing strategy? Do you have any writing rituals?
I currently have a full-time day job in accounting, so at the moment my main writing time is on my lunch breaks. My main writing ritual when I begin a writing session is to review the last few paragraphs where I left off and do some minor line edits. It propels me back into the scene.

Describe your writing room.
When I’m able to write at home, I use a very messy office where there is barely room for my laptop. Once I’m settled in, an overweight tomcat named Dusty likes to cozy up next to the keyboard or on my lap. He’s my supervisor.

w-author-mejia2-4-7“Everything You Want Me to Be” is a murder mystery — what drew you to the mystery genre?
I’ve always loved mysteries and the lure of solving them, even though certain things in life are unknowable. This book was partly inspired by a murder that occurred in the town where my grandparents farmed, and even though the murderer was arrested and sentenced, the mystery of why it happened still lingers. What motivates someone to kill someone else? What choices led to that meeting and confrontation? The privilege of being writers and readers is that we get to step into those situations and try to imagine the unknowable.

Did you incorporate any of your own life experiences into the new novel?
The characters in “Everything” are pure fiction, but the landscape of the book was shaped by the farm town where my grandparents lived. I wanted to showcase the spirit and resilience of agricultural communities in this book.

What are you working on now? Any book projects in the works?
I’m working on a new thriller set in northern Minnesota. It’s about the disappearance of a man and his son in the Boundary Waters and the mystery of the son’s emergence from the wilderness 10 years later.

What was the last truly great book you read?
I’ve read so many fabulous thrillers in the last year, but the book that absolutely stunned me was “Everything I Never Told You” by Celeste Ng.

What books, other than your own, would you recommend to readers interested in the mystery genre?
“Good As Gone” by Amy Gentry, “The Vanishing Year” by Kate Moretti, “Behind Her Eyes” by Sarah Pinborough — don’t finish it after 10 p.m. — and anything by Mary Kubica.

What advice do you have for young writers?
Keep writing. Don’t ever expect your first draft to be your final draft. And, of course, read like crazy.