In a time when the political climate is anything but pastoral, sometimes what we need is a chance to retreat to the countryside for a relaxing dose of…drama, an illicit love affair and a violent murder.
They play out in a rural Midwestern setting in Minnesota writer Mindy Mejia’s new murder mystery, Everything You Want Me to Be. She recalls that the idea for her latest novel came from the image of an abandoned decrepit barn with the body of a teenager inside.
For Mejia, it was necessary to place this murder mystery in a small town where such an event can really shake a community. "That's the idea, that it is a close-knit community and despite the independence and resilience that a lot of those people have, they do know each other and they pride themselves on having that close knit community and that sense of belonging," she explains.
It is no spoiler to reveal that the murdered teen is the character Hattie Hoffman, a popular and seemingly perfect young woman with big aspirations who was due to star in her school's play the night of the crime.
For Mejia, getting to know and develop Hattie's character was a real challenge. "The myth that I started this book with was that I could easily write a teenage character because I was a teenage girl, but that was actually while ago and you forget," she jokes. "Luckily, I had saved all of my old high school journals and so I went back and re-read those just to get back into the mindset of a teenager and that was hugely helpful."
Mejia admits that she was more bookish in high school compared to her main character, but she says that there is an "inherent narcissism" during your teenage years as people search for their identity. "The boundaries of your world are expanding so rapidly and you're trying to figure out your place in it. That was probably the closest I was going to be able to come to identify with Hattie."
While she did not largely identify with Hattie, Mejia does sympathize with her. "I think she is a manipulator, but at the same time she manipulates herself and convinces herself of things as she's doing them. So she's as much a victim of her manipulations as she is the perpetrator," she says.
Everything You Want Me To Be is written in three perspectives; that of Hattie, the local sheriff Del Goodman whose a family friend of the Hoffmans and the new English teacher whose marriage is crumbling. Each point of view weaves the story of Hattie's senior year and the event that lead to her death.
"It was about four chapters from the end of the first draft when I figured out [who did it]," says Mejia. "And I think in retrospect, that might've helped because I wasn't writing in that direction. So hopefully since it surprised me, it might surprise a reader."