Children’s author Holly Goldberg Sloan has a background in film, having written and directed family features including Angels in the Outfield and Made in America. Sloan is also the author of bestselling contemporary novels for young readers such as Counting by 7s, Short, and more. Meg Wolitzer is the author of numerous novels for adults, including The Interestings and The Female Persuasion; the YA novel Belzhar; and the middle grade novel The Fingertips of Duncan Dorfman. This February, the friends and fellow writers are pairing up for a new epistolary middle grade novel, To Night Owl from Dogfish, about two girls from opposite coasts who are brought together—initially against their will—when their fathers begin dating. We asked Sloan and Wolitzer to interview each other about their friendship and their first collaboration, which grew out of their lively email correspondence.
Holly Goldberg Sloan: We met in Naperville, Ill., at Anderson’s Bookshop’s YA conference. I remember that you were giving a keynote to the educators and I poked my head inside the hotel banquet hall to listen. I thought you were funny, and almost immediately you put aside the pages you’d written that were on the dais and you started to just talk to the room. I loved this because I do almost everything in a fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants way.
The next thing I knew after that, we were drinking wine in a hotel bar and discovering that we had so many life similarities. We’re both writers married to writers. We both have two sons. We are born nine months apart. We both want to laugh more than anything. Over the course of the next few years, as we sent each other email and text messages, we decided we wanted to write something together. We didn’t know how, exactly. I remember asking my husband, and he said, “Just start by emailing each other.” He meant, for the record, that we should send emails back and forth with ideas, themes, and possible outlines. I didn’t understand. I thought he meant I should email you as a character. So I did that. I’m pretty proud to say that the very first email of To Night Owl from Dogfish remains very, very close to that first message!
Meg Wolitzer: It’s a strange and delightful thing to write a book with another person, or at least it was in this case. I usually think of writing as such a solitary act, but that wasn’t true here. I took a lot of pleasure and comfort in the fact that when I had written a page and sent it off to you, you would respond and write more. Usually when I write a page, my only reward is to have to write another one. (That, and the occasional Snapple.) I also loved the fact that you knew the characters as well as I did, and that we could discuss them as though they were people we actually mutually knew. What were your favorite aspects of writing a book with another person?
Sloan: I guess my favorite thing about the past two years of working on this book was that our friendship grew. It’s not easy at this age (since we are both 39—hahahaha!) to make what feels like a new lifelong friend. But that happened. At least to me. A great friend makes life bigger and better. Meg, your friendship does that for me.
Wolitzer: I feel the same way. (Not trying to cheat off your paper, Holly. I really do feel the same way.) I sometimes think, “Oh God, I have enough friends”—but then I meet someone new who is terrific. It’s not like it’s a public space where there’s a Maximum Occupancy sign posted because it would be a fire hazard to have too many friends. In a funny way, we became friends the way kids do. We just sort of jumped in and started talking about everything, as if there had been some preamble to our conversation, though of course there hadn’t been. And our husbands met and liked each other, too.
I want to ask you a question about our upcoming book tour. Any tips on getting massive groups of kids to listen well? Especially when we don’t have props, or a PowerPoint presentation, or any cute illustrations of dogs? Tell me what I should expect. This is your bailiwick, Holly Goldberg Sloan.
Sloan: I have been to schools all over this country and in many parts of the world, and speaking to kids is a joy. I’m not kidding. Kids are all in. They are happy to have a special school schedule, and a reason to go to the auditorium. They don’t have agendas other than an interest in the story and the storytellers. I have found the kids to be so engaged. They ask great questions. They give me so much hope for the future of the planet. Kids care. At least, that’s been my experience.
Our book is about two girls who are trying to navigate the fact that their single fathers are now in a relationship. It’s about identity and family, and it’s funny and, I hope, moving. I look forward to what the kids will ask us. Sometimes they ask something unexpected. I was in Wales and a boy raised his hand and then stood up. His face told me that he had a question to ask that was burning inside him like wildfire. I called on him and he said, “Do you like cheese?” I was in a rural area, and maybe he came from a family of cheese-makers. I don’t know. But I answered him in what I hope was a thoughtful and honest way. And for the record, I love cheese.
Wolitzer: Also for the record, I too love cheese. So perhaps if we write another book together it can have a cheese-related theme. I’m eager to go to schools with you. I imagine that we might be asked whether we have any advice to give about writing. Sometimes when I’m asked that, the answer I give people (whether they’re adults or kids) is that it’s a good idea to read and re-read books they love, and circle the parts that are their favorites. And then they can ask themselves why that part was so good. Was it that the character felt big and real? Was it that they could picture the people and the rooms? Was it that the writer used weird words that they didn’t expect? Or was it that the book was funny? I really love books that make me laugh, and often the reason I’m laughing is that the character has said something or thought something that is so... them. No one else would have thought it or said it in the same way.
Sloan: My advice to everyone about everything is the same: You are what you do. So if you want to be a writer and get paid for it, then you need to do it all the time. Every day. You need to commit. That’s how I feel about people who want to be trombone players or hair stylists. Talking about it, dreaming about it—that’s one thing. Actually finding a way to do the thing day in and day out is what makes you both good at the endeavor, and changes who you are.
To Night Owl from Dogfish by Holly Goldberg Sloan and Meg Wolitzer. Dial, $17.99 Feb. 12 ISBN 978-0-525-55323-6