Author Interview: Hallie Durand A.K.A. Holly McGhee
Photo Credit: Sharon Stewart
Hallie Durand, also known as Holly McGhee, is the author of Dessert First, the first book in her chapter book series starring a girl named Dessert. Dessert is a believable third-grade character with lessons to learn and energy to share — you can check out my review of Dessert First here. The tone of Hallie Durand’s debut novel is pitch-perfect, so I just had to know more about her background and her journey to becoming a published author. I hope you enjoy reading her answers as much as I did!
Questions on your works:
1.) What was the inspiration for your debut book, Dessert First?
Well, I’ve been sharing dessert with a very dear friend for over a decade. For the first several years, every time the dessert we ordered arrived, I would subtly turn the plate a bit this way or that, so that the best part of the dessert was facing me (the puddle of fudge sauce that went along with the ice cream, or the back side of the cake with the most icing, that kind of thing). Then one evening, well into our friendship, I gently “shifted” the dessert as I always did, and she said to me, “WHY DO YOU ALWAYS TAKE THE BEST PART OF THE DESSERT?” And I thought for a moment and couldn’t find a way around the obvious and unflattering reality, and so I said quietly, “Because I thought I was getting away with it.” And that’s when we became friends for life, because we’d been honest with each other, which takes a lot of courage.
Years later we were sharing a slice of iced lemon cake (her favorite) and she was encouraging me to try writing. I said that maybe I would, but I didn’t really mean it. It’s hard to believe what happened next, but it’s the truth. That very evening, as I walking from my office to Penn Station, the character of Dessert boldly appeared in my head, and I saw her name written out in my mind, complete with the maraschino cherry after the “t” at the end. As soon as I boarded my train, I opened up a spiral notebook and started writing down her story. And I just kept writing, as fast as I could—I was afraid that Dessert might leave as quickly as she came.
2.) How long did it take you to write? Where was your preferred writing location?
I began writing Dessert First in February 2007, and I wrote whenever I could (I have a full-time job as a literary agent). I wrote on the computer in our kitchen fairly often (standing up), and in a notebook when I wasn’t near a computer. I was obsessed with getting the story down, and I was grateful for every hour of quiet my loud family granted me! I finished a draft a few months later, and then a second draft a month after that. It was acquired by Atheneum Books, and the real work began . . . I wrote five more drafts, and during that time, with the help of my amazing editor, Kiley Frank, the book began to take shape. From start to finish the writing took about a year and a half.
My very favorite writing place is in my living room, when the kids have gone to bed, on my red couch, in front of a cozy fire. That’s ideal. But I can write just about anywhere, even on New Jersey transit.
3.) The names of the characters have a ton of kid appeal, for example, Dessert and Mrs. Howdy Doody. Was it easy to choose names for them?
I’ve decided I must be weird, because the names never seemed odd to me! Dessert came to my mind with her signature and the cherry, as I said above, and there was no question about it—I wasn’t going to mess with her. And the name Mrs. Howdy Doody came like that too, and I didn’t realize until later that she was inspired by a teacher two of my kids had in preschool, Mrs. Normana Schaaf. So those names didn’t feel like choices at all—they just arrived all together like that, without a doubt.
4.) In the book, there is a dessert called the “Double D’s”. Is there a real recipe for the “Double-Ds”? If so, I certainly hope you will share it!
I grew up in farm country, and there wasn’t a whole lot to do except go to 4-H meetings, so one summer I taught myself how to type. And for my sister Laurel’s birthday, I typed out a collection of recipes on index cards for her. Double-Decker Chocolate Bars were my very favorite, and the original recipe card I typed out is on the back jacket of the book (my sister kept the recipes all these years). They’re easy to make, as long as you have plenty of confectioner’s sugar on hand. . . . My ten year old Charlotte asks for them every year for her “classroom” birthday treat. That makes me so happy!
5.) The second book featuring Dessert is titled Just Desserts, what can we expect from our new favorite character?
I had a good time writing the second book. The tables are turned on Dessert because her sister Charlie stops following Dessert’s instructions. Dessert is unprepared for this turn of events, and it doesn’t please her. We also get to know Emily V., Bonnie A., Donnie and Billy, Evan C., and Sharon S. more intimately. Dessert gets a taste of power, too, and for a little while, she forgets what being a good friend is all about.
6.) Whose ingenious marketing idea was it to send out advance review copies with a little chocolate cake treat?
That is the wonderful work of the Simon & Schuster marketing department. I had been told that they were doing a “teaser mailing,” and I was asked to write a note to go inside it. But I never imagined they would make such a delicious-looking bakery box with red-and-white string, and a special treat and all. I love those boxes!
7.) You have also written a picture book titled Mitchell’s License. What’s it about? And when can we expect to see it on the shelves?
Mitchell’s License is about a three year old who doesn’t want to go to bed, so his father says he can drive there . . . it’s based on a game my husband made up called “Remote-Control Dad.” It will be illustrated by Tony Fucile, whose first book Let’s Do Nothing was just published. Karen Lotz of Candlewick is our editor and the three of us spend lots of time laughing with this story. I think it will be published for Father’s Day 2011, but that could change.
Questions for Holly:
8.) Can you tell us about your journey to becoming a published author?
In my regular life, I’m Holly McGhee and I opened a literary agency, Pippin Properties, eleven years ago. Brainstorming with our authors and artists is something I love, almost to the point of obsession. The editing I do comes naturally to me, but I never thought about writing much. And then Dessert Schneider burst into my life, and it truly felt that this package had my own name on it, and it was delivered right to me. So I gathered my courage and jumped in. It surprised and delighted me that my story became a real book—that felt like a big bonus to me.
9.) What is your favorite dessert treat?
I have so many! I love a delicious scoop of vanilla ice cream with hot fudge sauce, but I also love Pineapple Upside-Down Cake, Double-Decker Chocolate Bars (truly), Lemon Meringue Pie, and Rhubarb Cobbler. I guess those are my favorites.
Add this book to your collection: Dessert First