Alison McGhee

Interview with ALISON MCGHEE, co-author of BINK AND GOLLIE

Alison McGhee is a Pulitzer Prize nominee and a #1 New York Times bestselling author. She writes for all ages and in all forms, from poetry and stories to novels and picture books and essays, and her books are popular with critics and readers alike. Her novel Shadow Baby was a Today Show Book Club pick, and her picture book Someday was featured on NPR. Her many awards include THE THEODORE SEUSS GEISEL AWARD FOR YOUNG READERS, SHARED WITH KATE DICAMILLO AND TONY FUCILE, four Minnesota Book Awards, the GLCA National Fiction Award, Friends of the American Library Award, Gold Oppenheimer Toy Portfolio Award, ALA Best Books for Children, and Parents’ Choice Award, and a City Pages Artist of the Year award.

Alison is a full professor of creative writing at Metropolitan State University, where she coordinates the creative writing program. She has taught at many other colleges and universities and was a founding member of Hamline University’s MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults.

Gigi Amateau: I laughed out loud when I read Bink and Gollie and I thought that would be that – a sweet book. But then, like a bag of chips at midnight, I could not stop. I just kept reading it over and over so I could keep on laughing. I can’t wait to read it to my goddaughter! From reading about your writing process on, it sounds like you and Kate D. had a few laughs in writing together, too. [‘The finger has spoken’ is pretty funny.]
Alison McGhee: So funny. I’m thrilled that you loved it, Gigi. We had a ton of fun writing it together. Secretly, I thought it was a weird book – even though we laughed out loud every time we worked on it – and that it might not appeal to actual readers. I’m glad I was wrong.

GA: In a starred review, Publisher’s Weekly wrote that it’s the “sharp, distinctly ungirly dialogue that makes every page feel like a breath of fresh air.” Are Bink and Gollie are what we used to call tomboys? Is there still such a thing as a tomboy? I was definitely one. That’s a compliment, by the way, that Bink and Gollie feel like tomboys to me.
AM: Funny, I never thought of Bink and Gollie as either girls or boy-girls or tomboys. I don’t think Kate did either. The girls just came out who they are, sort of like the way babies just come out the way they already are. Do Bink and Gollie strike you as un-girly? That’s something I’m going to ponder. What does “girly” even mean, anymore? Maybe the secret of the ungirly dialogue is that Kate and I aren’t very traditionally girl, and that came out in the book? (See how I’m answering your question with a series of questions? Isn’t that obnoxious?)

Meg Medina: What is the process you used to write as a team?
AM: Kate and I wrote every word together. We blocked out two-hour time slots three times a week for approximately four to six months (neither of us remembers exactly how long the books took – we wrote them all of a piece), and she would come over to my house. I would present her with her requisite mug of black coffee, and we’d get down to business. We had decided to write a book together about two girls, and the very first story came about because we had no idea what to do with them. We didn’t know anything about them. We didn’t know that they lived in a tree, that they loved to rollerskate, that Gollie was a pancake maker and a world traveler, that Bink was a lover of peanut butter. We sat and stared at each other for half a minute, and then Kate got up and said, “Well, that was fun,” and started to leave. I hauled her back, pulled off one of the very brightly striped socks I constantly wore that year, and we gave it to the girls to see what they’d do with it.

We had another rule, which was that we were not allowed to work on or even think about the book when not in each other’s presence. We didn’t call each other to bat ideas around, we didn’t email each other with revision suggestions, we didn’t talk about the book with anyone else but each other, and if we did start to talk about it when we weren’t in my room at my house, we made each other stop. We were extremely strict when it came to this rule.

MM: Did each of you assume a persona?
AM: Personas, HMM. We didn’t consciously assume either persona, and we wrote every word, every sentence, devised every page turn, together. It was a collaboration par excellence. THAT SAID, Kate would say she’s much more like Bink, though –short, dandelion-headed, loud, and hilarious, all of which are true– and I share some qualities with Gollie –tall and thin, dry humor, problem solver combined with a deep and constant longing for travel and adventure. Gollie’s sense of humor reflects my own, and Bink’s reflects Kate’s – we played off each other in the writing of the books. The girls’ personalities just evolved on their own as we wrote story after story.

GA: In my mind, Bink and Gollie have moms who just adore them and think those girls are about the best little gals ever, which is why their moms made them such a rocking tree house. Is that right?
AM: I love your view, but honestly, in Kate’s and my minds, the girls are parentless. They live together on their own, in a tree house, perfectly happily. We never even considered giving them parents or explaining the lack thereof. . . we sort of had a Charlie Brown “wahwah” approach to adults in general, when it came to creating the world of Bink & Gollie.

MM: Girl friendships are sometimes so problematic. What, in your mind, is the secret of healthy girl friendships?
AM: Middle school can be a hellish time. And yet my girl friendships are more precious to me than riches of any other kin. My best friend and I have been BFF’s for more than thirty years; I can’t imagine trying to get through life without her. The secret of healthy girl friendships? Lose the passive aggression. Vow to be honest and kind and talk openly about issues as they come up. Lose the passive aggression; gee, I already mentioned that one, didn’t I. It’s worth repeating. Passive aggressive behavior is something I frequently witness in girl friendships and almost never in boy friendships.

GA: I read in the Star-Tribune, that y’all might write another. Would you like Girls of Summer to break the story that there will be a second Bink and Gollie book? I would like that.
AM: Well, ladies, I’m pleased to let you know, firsthand, that YES, there will be a second Bink & Gollie book. It comes out next April (2012), and in it, our heroines head to the State Fair. Yeehaw!

GA: What are some of your favorite books for girls?
AM: I still love My Side of the Mountain, by Jean Craighead George, The Trumpet of the Swan, by E.B. White, Bridge to Terabithia, by Katherine Paterson, and all the Ramona Quimby books. The Cheese Stands Alone, by Robert Cormier. Contemporary books I love include pretty much any by Kathi Appelt; M.T. Anderson’s astonishing novels, especially Feed and the Octavian Nothing duo; Olive’s Ocean, by Kevin Henkes; and so very, very many more. Oops – you asked about books for girls, didn’t you? I guess I don’t distinguish between books for boys and girls. . .

GA: What are you working on now?
AM: I’m working on four books simultaneously. (And losing my mind as I do so.) Two are picture books, one is a novel for young children, and one is a young adult novel. As of today, the picture books MIGHT be finished. The novels are definitely not finished. What possessed me to try to write four books at the same time? Insanity, I guess. Do not attempt this at home.

GA: Would you complete this sentence: Strong girls___
AM: live life on their own terms.


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