In Bink & Gollie, two precocious girls who have little in common except for their fertile imaginations are the closest of friends, and embark on a series of adventures. Bink & Gollie’s co-authors, Kate DiCamillo and Alison McGhee, at first glance, seem as though they have little in common, but are themselves the closest of friends. While DiCamillo and McGhee spend a lot of time together and have embarked on adventures, including collaborating on the three interlinked stories in Bink & Gollie, PW was unable to bring them together for a joint interview. But we did the next best thing: we discussed friendship in fact and in fiction with DiCamillo before she headed to the U.K. for an author tour, and with McGhee a few days later, after she’d returned from a working vacation spent at her Vermont cabin.
Are Bink & Gollie based on you and your co-author?
KDC: We probably wouldn’t have said that when we were writing the stories, but it is so apparent to me in the finished product. For me, looking at Bink, it’s like looking at myself on the page in a way that I’ve never experienced with any other book that I’ve written. While we were working, we were writing about a tall girl and a short girl, which we thought was funny, because Alison’s tall and I’m short. But for me, it’s like looking at myself on the page. So, yes, at least from my end. You could say there’s a lot of Alison in Gollie too.
AM: I think we’re getting that question a lot! I would hesitate to say the characters are too related to either to us, but they certainly draw on our physical traits and personality traits and then exaggerate them to the nth degree.
Are any of the stories based on your own childhood experiences or traumas?
KDC: Bink can’t cook, which is true to form, and Gollie can cook. Gollie goes off adventuring and Bink is waiting for her at home. She wants Gollie to come home to make something to eat. Gollie ends up making Bink a peanut-butter sandwich, on top of a make-believe mountain. None of that is reality-based, except Alison’s a great cook and I can’t cook at all. I’m always wondering who’s going to feed me today. So that’s reality-based in that respect, but there’s no trauma involved.
AM: No. I would like to say yes, but no. We pulled them out of our feeble little brains.
How did you and your co-author meet?
KDC: Her sister, Holly McGhee, is an agent, and she’s my agent in New York. She’s Alison’s agent too. Even though Alison lives here in Minneapolis, I met Alison through Holly, when Holly came to Minneapolis to visit Alison. She said I should come to dinner with them. That first dinner, I said something pretty smart-alecky, and Alison laughed really hard at it. It made me happy.
AM: We met in the summer or fall of 2001. I had never met Kate, though I’d heard her name, and I think she knew of me too. We were laughing within a few minutes, I mean really, furiously, laughing. So we were off to a good start.
Where’d you have dinner that night, and do you remember what you ordered?
KDC: It was at Figlio’s [in Minneapolis]. I know exactly what I had, because it was so good: their three-cheese ravioli. But I can’t remember what I said to Alison that night that made her laugh so hard. But she got me right away and I got her right away.
AM: We had dinner at Figlio’s, which has turned into a restaurant called Il Gato. I’m 99% positive I had Joe’s Eggs. I know every time I went there, and I loved it, I ordered Joe’s Eggs. Kate probably had a pizza, because she loves pizza. Our agent, who despises mayonnaise -- I mean, loathes it with a passion beyond comprehension -- could smell it on a salad a few tables away. We had a long discussion on the attributes or lack thereabouts of mayonnaise. I love mayonnaise.
How’d you come to collaborate on this book?
KDC: I was over at Alison’s, I think we were playing Scrabble. I remember we were both complaining -- yeah, we sound like whiners -- about how hard writing is, and how we didn’t have a story to work on. Alison said, ‘Why don’t we work on writing something together,’ and I said, ‘Eh, I don’t know if I could work that way.’ She said, ‘Well, just show up here and we’ll see,’ and I said, ‘Well, what would it be about?’ She said, ‘Duh, it’d be about a tall girl and a short girl.’ So I agreed to come and try it for a day. We were 15 minutes into it and nothing was happening; I thought, well, that’s not going to work. Then all of a sudden everything clicked. I don’t know how long it took us, but I would just show up at Alison’s office. She would type and we’d just kick it back and forth. Writing is so scary for me, such a lonely endeavor, and it became a wonderful thing to show up and have somebody else go through it with me. It was actually a wonderful experience.
AM: We were both between projects and I always want to try something new. I like to write in all different genres. I just like a new challenge. We had so much fun together as friends that I suggested we write a book together. Kate tends to be more reluctant about change. I convinced her to give it a try and she came over. We’d decided to write a book about two friends. I gave her some coffee and then we sat there not knowing what to do. How do you start writing a book together? So Kate got up after about 10 minutes into this endeavor, and said, ‘Well, that was fun,’ and started to head out the door. I said, ‘Wait, wait, wait, no no no,’ because I’m a bit more patient. So we decided to give the friends an object and see what they did with it. The object was a sock and it went from there. Once we got going, once we got on a roll, it became very easy to work together and to figure out how to do it. We would meet for two-hour segments, usually from 10-12, two or three times a week. We met all one summer, and I think into the fall.
Our rule was that we would write everything together, literally every word. So we would act them out, we would toss ideas back and forth, we would laugh, we would argue. Sometimes it went really well, sometimes it was such a pain in the ass. Our other rule was that we wouldn’t work on it at all when we weren’t in the other’s presence. It was really hard not to do that. We’d start going on email back and forth, ‘What do you think about this, what do you think about that?’ But, no, no, no, it had to be live. So we forced ourselves not to look at it except during those two-hour stretches when we were actually with each other.
Why would you write a book about friendship?
KDC: The way we started was, Alison said, ‘Tall girl, short girl.’ We had no plans beyond that. There was that first 15 minutes, when we sat there, and nothing happened. And then the voices kind of showed up. We didn’t set out to write about friendship, but the more we worked, the more we saw that it was, more than anything, a story about friendship.
AM: I don’t think we intended to write a book about friendship, I think we intended to write a book about two friends. I suppose, the natural outgrowth about writing about two friends, it becomes about their friendship, and the complexities of it, and the way personality plays off each other, and what they each like to do, separately and together. It developed on its own; it was an organic process.
Can a tall person and a short person can truly be friends?
KDC: I’m in trouble if they can’t, because everyone’s taller than me, and if that’s true, that means I can’t have any friends! Alison and I look very much like, I was going to say Bink and Gollie, but I meant Mutt and Jeff. We look ridiculous when we walk down the street together, because she’s so tall and I’m so short. But yes, tall people and short people can, and should be, friends. I, personally, like being short. I think it makes things easier. People think, ‘Oh, that’s just a little short person.’ They’re more inclined to think that you’re benign.
[At this point, DiCamillo, who is 5’1”, and PW’s correspondent, who is 4’10”, started trading stories about growing up short in a tall person’s world.]
KDC: It’s a book about shortness and tallness, so I think it’s appropriate to discuss the virtues of shortness. I wouldn’t mind being 4’10”. I always wanted to be a character, when I worked at Disney, but I wasn’t short enough for certain characters and I wasn’t tall enough for others. I wanted to be a chipmunk; I think 4’10” was the cutoff.
AM: It’s very cool to be short, very cool. When I was in eighth grade, and the height I am now, I would just look at the cute little short girls and think, ‘If only, if only.’
Would you collaborate on another Bink & Gollie book?
KDC: I sure would like to. One, we laugh a lot -- that was great. Two, I enjoy writing, but it’s a lonely undertaking. To have someone in the room with me is an absolute delight and makes it seem less impossible. It became a kind of comforting, joyful process. When I do it by myself, there’s a lot more terror and uncertainty. So, absolutely, I would like to do another one. And I think Tony Fucile, who did the illustrations, is an absolute genius. I’ve never met him. Alison’s never met him. I think we sent him pictures of ourselves, photos from like when we were seven years old. That’s what he worked from. He captured exactly what we looked like. I’d love to do another one with Alison, not just for the joy of writing, but also for the joy of watching Tony bring it to life with his illustrations. I’m hoping at BEA, or ALA, I’ll get to meet Tony and shake his hand and thank him.
AM: I sure would like to. We certainly have a lot of ideas, and we both love what Tony did with the book. If we could all pull it off, I think all three of us would like to do another.
What’s your favorite food-on-a-stick at the Minnesota State Fair?
KDC: My favorite food is deep-fried ravioli. I always get that every year. It’s not on a stick, though -- sorry to mess up the question. And I always go to the Agriculture Building, where they make apple cider popsicles for a dollar. Those are the two things I always have to get.
AM: On a stick? Big Fat Bacon. I’m a big State Fair person, and my main goal is to eat as much food as possible, but I tend not to do the foods on a stick. But I like Big Fat Bacon.
Bink & Gollie. Kate DiCamillo and Alison McGhee, illus. by Tony Fucile. Candlewick, $15.99 Sept. ISBN 978-0-7636-3266-3