The only thing better than a beloved author penning a wonderful new story? Two beloved authors penning a wonderful new story! At Brightly, we were thrilled to find out that bestselling authors Holly Goldberg Sloan and Meg Wolitzer were teaming up to write a middle grade novel — and we’re even more thrilled now that it’s here. Told in the form of exchanged emails, To Night Owl From Dogfish centers on two tween girls, Avery and Bett, whose dads send them to summer camp together to bond. (Avery and Bett are wildly different and reluctant to become friends — at first.) To Night Owl From Dogfish is authentic, sweet, and funny, and you’ll find yourself beginning to love the characters as you get to know them and they get to know each other.
In this interview, Meg Wolitzer and Holly Goldberg Sloan ask each other questions about To Night Owl From Dogfish, their memories of what it was like to be 12, and their opinions on Twizzlers.
MEG WOLITZER: I loved the idea of asking you a question and then waiting to get an answer back. Because that is essentially how we wrote To Night Owl From Dogfish. One of us wrote an email in the voice of one of our two main characters and sent it to the other person; and then that person responded in the voice of the other main character. And so we went back and forth, and that’s the way the book got written. So let me start today in my own voice, as opposed to the voice of a 12-year-old girl. Do you remember being 12? What it felt like, and the experiences you had for the very first time? I certainly do, and I think we channeled a lot of that time of life when we wrote our book. What were you like at 12?
HOLLY GOLDBERG SLOAN: It isn’t hard for me to remember what it felt like to be 12 years old because in some ways I still feel that way! My best friends and their families in Eugene, Oregon, were so important back then. They were everything! I’m very proud to say that Katie and Annie Kleinsasser and Kathy Golden, despite miles between us, are today very much in my life. I had my first “dinner party” when I was 12. I worked on the menu for a long time, even though I could only cook two things. I insisted that everyone wear long dresses to the big event and I think we put flowers in our hair. I rode my bike all over town and pretended it was a horse, but I took the bus with Annie and Katie to the public library on Saturdays to get books. I liked to go bowling and to eat tacos. I loved trips to the ocean, seeing movies, and thinking about whether I could figure out a way to talk to animals, using their language. I’m still working on that. What was 12-year-old Meg like?
MW: I was a pretty funny kid, or at least I wanted to be. I used to go to novelty shops and buy dribble glasses and things like that. I once found a rock in the backyard that looked just like a potato, and I put it on my dad’s dinner plate with a pat of butter next to it and said it was a baked potato. Another time, I wrote away to a company that advertised in the back of an “Archie” comic, and bought a fake cast so I could tell everyone that I had broken my arm. I felt really cheated when this flabby piece of white rubber arrived, which would’ve fooled no one on earth. (The baked potato, however, did fool my dad. Or so he said.) To this day, I really like being funny, and I got a lot of pleasure from writing humorous interactions between Avery and Bett.
HGS: It was a real joy to write To Night Owl From Dogfish. So much of the life of a novelist is solitary, and this was a true departure for me. Do you think we would have written the book without technology? Is the ability to email each other what made it possible?
MW: Boy, the technology certainly helped. If we’d had to send things to each other in the mail there wouldn’t have been that immediate gratification. But I suppose that since we wouldn’t have known it was possible to be immediately gratified in that way — because the technology wouldn’t have existed yet — it might have worked fine. But it would definitely have taken a lot longer, between using typewriters or even writing by hand, and then sending everything through the mail and waiting for the mailperson to arrive. I have a feeling we might have decided to visit each other so we could do some of the writing in person, sitting in the same room. That would’ve been fun. Just think of all the delicious meals we could’ve eaten between chapters. And all the Twizzlers. (Holly, do you like Twizzlers?) What’s your sense of this?
HGS: Wow! I learn something new every day from you. What’s a Twizzler?
I just looked it up! It’s licorice? I can’t STAND red licorice. Really hate it. Despite this — sweet Meg — our friendship will go on. This leads me to my next question: What’s something I don’t know about you? Or something people get wrong who know you well? In other words — tell me a secret!
MW: Well, since other people are going to read this, it wouldn’t exactly be a secret, would it? But here’s something that doesn’t go on the back of my books, where it says ABOUT THE AUTHOR. I am ambidextrous. I can write and draw with both hands. Mostly I write with my right hand (stronger for writing) and draw with both hands. I hold silverware like a lefty. I would like to hear a secret from you too, but maybe you can tell it to me when we see each other, and no one else is around. Make it a good one. For now, let’s go on to the next question…
Holly, I am really interested in why people like the books they like. Would you say that there are a couple of kinds of books that you tend to like? For me, I like books with characters who feel so detailed they are like real, living people. One of my favorite things about writing this book with you was the exploration into who Avery and Bett were (and are). It’s a strange thing that a writer learns who her characters are by writing them. So they develop more and more personality as the pages pile up. Which is true, in a way, about real people. You have a baby, and he or she starts to get a personality, and more and more details are filled in, and then you absolutely know this person and you can’t imagine not knowing them. I feel that way about both of these girls. To me, they are definitely filled in. You and I are both very interested in filling in the people we write. That’s why I’ve always loved your work.
HGS: Thanks, Meg! And you know I feel the same way about your writing and the characters you create. When I’m in the middle of writing a novel, I tend to read almost exclusively nonfiction. I’m afraid that another novelist’s “fiction voice” will seep into my head. But when I’m not deep into my own work, I read all kinds of fiction. I loved Lisa Halliday’s Asymmetry. I love all of Kate DiCamillo’s books. When I was a kid I couldn’t get enough of Beverly Cleary. I really admire Zora Neal Hurston’s work and I named a character after her in a movie I wrote. What about you?
MW: The first book that really affected me emotionally was Charlotte’s Web. I loved Beverly Clearly too. The Beezus and Ramona books were amazing, and the one book of hers I loved the most is Ellen Tebbits. I read fiction when I’m writing fiction. Some writers whose work I love are Toni Morrison, Jeffrey Eugenides, and Margaret Atwood. I’m not too worried about fiction voices seeping into my head, because I think all writers are influenced by books they’ve read in some way or another, and I don’t mind. You and I are different in this way. (Also, there’s the red licorice difference.)
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