By Leslie Lindsay
The mysterious disappearance of a father and his 9-year-old son into the Minnesota wilderness and then the return of that son a decade later on grief, abandonment, family, and more. Mindy Mejia is here chatting about her newest book, LEAVE NO TRACE (Emily Bestler Books/Simon & Schuster, October 2018).
Mindy Mejia’s 2017 domestic thriller, EVERYTHING YOU WANT ME TO BE introduced gritty small-town secrets and the precarious Hattie Hoffman, sending readers in search of ambition, obsession, and the elusive one-day read.
She’s back with another compelling thriller, this time set in the wilderness of Minnesota’s Boundary Waters Canoe Area.
Maya Stark is 23-years old and beginning her career as a speech pathologist at Congdon Psychiatric Facility. Her boss/mentor, Dr. Mehta suggests Maya work with the young ‘back-from-the-dead’ Lucas Blackthorn, who, after ten years of missing (presumed dead) in the wild of Minnesota is back, largely non-verbal and fighting demons. Maya isn’t sure. She’s young and relatively inexperienced.
Yet Maya has secrets, too. Her mother abandoned she and her father years ago and she’s had a series of run-ins with the law. And might Dr. Mehta be more than just her boss?
The prose is gorgeous and alternates in POV, reading much like a slow-burn mystery: why did the father and son disappear? Where have they been all this time? But these other elements meld to bring a more complex narrative to the table. There’s love and loss, family ties, friendship, all wrapped in the tender, delicate cocoon of the fragile shell of Minnesota’s wilderness.
Mindy Mejia spins a tender tale with an ending that is ultimately intrinsically serendipitous and I am thrilled to welcome her to the author interview series.
Mindy, thanks so much for popping over. I’m always so intrigued with books set in Minnesota, maybe because I lived there for awhile, maybe something else. Can you tell us why this book, why this setting?
This book was inspired by a story I read about a father who escaped the Vietnam War with his infant son and they lived in the jungle, completely cut off from the human world, for forty years. I’m a Minnesotan and the US Midwest is the landscape in my head, so one of my first reactions was to wonder if something like that could happen here. And the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness was the first place that came to mind.
LEAVE NO TRACE is a complex, multilayered narrative, dredging up pieces from the past, secrets, and mental health issues. But there’s more: friendship, love, loss, and the wilderness (which almost becomes its own character). At the core, LEAVE NO TRACE seems to be a novel of re-invention and rehabilitation. Can you talk about that, please?
Both of the main characters in this book have lost their parents in some way, and that shared sense of loss is what initially draws them together. My mother was very sick when I was a child, and I grew up in constant fear of losing her. The first story I wrote when I was five years old was a detailed account of her death and funeral, which naturally got me sent straight to the school guidance counselor. Crime writing, for me, is a way to write into my deepest fears, to walk straight into that worst case scenario, because by writing into it I can write past it and process the fear. That’s where we see the re-invention and rehabilitation. There’s no way for Maya and Lucas to avoid these devastating losses, but they have to dig into themselves and discover how to survive them.
“Mejia’s thrilling tale works both as an engaging mystery and a haunting meditation on grief, abandonment, and the lost places within ourselves. Brutal, devastating, and utterly riveting.”
~Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
Your first book, THE DRAGON KEEPER, was published by Ashland Creek Press. I’ve read some of their books and have always loved the environmentalist approach, the soft touches of nature. Do you consider yourself an ‘eco-fiction’ writer?
I love their catalog too! It is eco-fiction, but that’s such a broad category—more of a guiding principle than a genre. Ashland Creek Press offers books for every reader: mysteries, YA, thrillers, romance, and short story and nonfiction as well. In my own approach as a writer, I’ve always viewed setting—which is both the natural and constructed world, the entire ecosystem of our lives—as greater than character. Setting plays a foundational force, it can allow a character to flourish or it can destroy them. Sometimes my characters are oblivious to this, but I never am.
I dog-eared a page where you talked about other families who cordoned themselves off from society. The Ho Van’s, Chris McCandless of Alaska, Christophe Knight, and the Lykovs. Can you tell us a little about them—and your research in general?
As I mentioned, the Ho Vans were my initial inspiration for the book and soon afterward someone told me about the Lykovs of Siberia, another family whose lives were in danger in the 1930’s. They escaped to the taiga and lived out their lives in that endless subarctic forest. When I was researching these families, their stories seemed to have a fundamentally different narrative than the accounts of individuals who had left society, such as the Grizzly Man and Alexander Supertramp. Those individuals sought freedom from the constraints of human society, but these families—the Lykovs and the Ho Vans—were afraid for their lives. Their stories were about sacrifice and love; these parents gave up the world to keep their children safe. Maya discovers these stories as she’s trying to find a way to connect with Lucas, and she realizes something must have similarly driven the Blackthorns out of the human world, and that becomes the central mystery of the book.
The page is blank. What’s calling to you and how do you fill your time when you’re between projects?
I’m working on my next book right now, which combines accounting and kickboxing! When I’m between novels and the page is truly blank, I like to work on side projects. I’m planning a blog series right now called Tax Advice for Writers, since I’m also a CPA, in order to help my fellow authors handle the business end of their writing. I also review books, read as much as possible, and catch up on administrative stuff. After I finished LEAVE NO TRACE and was waiting on my editor’s comments, I wrote a 20,000-word piece of fan fiction just to blow off some steam. I’ve never done that before and it was embarrassingly fun.
Mindy, it’s been a pleasure. Is there anything I should have asked, but may have forgotten?
I can’t think of anything. Thank you so much for letting me share a bit about LEAVE NO TRACE! It’s been lovely chatting!
For more information, to connect with the author via social media, or to purchase a copy of LEAVE NO TRACE, please visit:
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Mindy Mejia is an internationally acclaimed thriller writer whose work has been translated into over twenty languages. She’s the author of THE DRAGON KEEPER and EVERYTHING YOU WANT ME TO BE, which was a People’s Best New Books Pick and listed in The Wall Street Journal’s Best New Mysteries. Her latest novel, LEAVE NO TRACE, is on sale now. You can find out more at MindyMejia.com.
You can connect with me, Leslie Lindsay, via these websites:
- Facebook: LeslieLindsayWriter
- Twitter: @LeslieLindsay1
- Instagram: @LeslieLindsay1
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[Cover and author image courtesy of Emily Bestler Books/Simon Schuster and used with permission. LEAVE NO TRACE cover image with ‘read’ from L.Lindsay’s personal archives and can be retrieved via her Instagram account @LeslieLindsay1]