Interview with Matylda Bright and Tender Author Holly McGhee

Today is Matylda Bright and Tender’s book birthday! I am so thankful Holly is here to answer a few of my questions.

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Hey Holly! Thanks for joining me here to talk about all you have in store!

Hi Dylan, it’s such a big honor to be here. Thank you for having me!  

Tell us a little bit about your newly released book, Matylda, Bright and Tender.

Matylda, Bright & Tender is my first novel; I wrote a chapter-book series and three pictures under my pen name Hallie Durand, but with Matylda and my future books, I wanted to simplify and integrate my life as a literary agent and a writer, so from here on out I’m using my given name, Holly M McGhee. Matylda is the story of Sussy Reed, her best friend Guy Hose, and their leopard gecko. Sussy and Guy are inseparable until the worst imaginable thing happens, Guy is killed while trying to save Sussy’s life, on a simple bike trip. Sussy thinks that if she can just love their lizard Matylda enough, she can hold onto Guy—it’s a story of love and loss, but most importantly surviving.

Matylda is not an easy book to read, and I know it won’t be for everybody. But it’s the book I had to write—as a kid, I was also in a terrible accident, and it took me decades to put my life back together; with Matylda, I wanted to reach kids who might be suffering too, and I wanted to let them know that they will survive, that there is a light on at the end of the tunnel, hard to see but it’s there if they can keep going forward. That as crazy as they may feel they’ll be okay. And I hope Sussy’s story helps its readers find hope more quickly than I did.

What were you doing before you started writing? What made you want to move into writing?

As a middle schooler, I sold a lot of sweet corn from my dad’s red pick truck at a local gas station ☺ But as a grown up, I was first an editor at HarperCollins before I opened the doors of the literary agency Pippin Properties, Inc. Nine years into my work as a literary agent (and as the mom of three very small children), I started writing my first book (under my pen name); it’s probably a natural outcome from being around creative people all my working life. I think of my writing as a passage to a deeper part of myself—Matylda is a work of fiction but with a plum line straight through my heart.

And I’ve heard buzz about a 2017 title you wrote, Come with Me. I love the premise for that. Can you tell us a little bit more?

Oh, thank you for bringing up Come with Me. I think Come with Me actually started with the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center in New York. At that time, my Belgian artist friend Pascal Lemaitre sent me and my daughter a painting of an angry grieving man planting a flag at the trade center site—on the flag was a big red heart. Pascal and I have worked together as literary agent and artist these years and then last spring, with the Brussels lockdown, he and I were emailing every day because I was worried about him and his family this time—he’d tell me what he was doing during the crisis, walking the dog, shopping at the Moroccan grocery as always, watering the garden. Going on. And the idea for Come with Me was born, fast and furious, the first draft done in one night. What do we do in the face of an angry, hate-filled world—what do we do amidst the Pulse nightclub killings, the shootings In Dallas, Newtown, Paris, Nice . . . what do we say to our children? We show them how to go on, that’s what we do. And that’s what this simple book is about. Every one of us has a part.

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Have you always been into writing?

In some ways, yes, as an editor and an agent. But I never thought I would be a writer too. Now I am all three: editor of my authors’ books before submission, literary agent for authors and artists, and a writer. I feel like there is an ever-expanding universe in life, and if we allow ourselves to follow our hearts, if we don’t try to put people neatly into drawers and label them, we can do everything that calls to us. We can be free.

What’s the most exciting part of your job?

Far and away the most exciting part of my job as a literary agent is helping to create and share projects that resonate with me emotionally, first with publishers and then with the world, in book form, audio, television, film, theatre, everything! As a writer, the most exciting part is when the idea begins to gel . . . and you see the pieces falling into place before your eyes, you remember exactly where you were when you got that scene, what you ate that night, who said the thing that helped you along the way, what came to you in your dreams.

What inspires your creativity?

Paying attention. This past summer I was talking to the man who owns the fish shop on Long Beach Island, where we buy our seafood when on vacation. A five-foot high waterline from Hurricane Sandy is still marked on the wall. I asked him what he does in the off-season, this incredibly helpful, good-spirited, rotund young guy. He said “This” pointing to a picture of a man fishing, and “That” pointing to a beer can. I’ve been thinking about it ever since—this guy sells enough seafood during the summer to fish and drink beer all winter, and he is very, very happy. It makes me smile / he is a fully developed character in my mind already / he enjoys the simple pleasures of life. “This and that.” All to say anybody, any word, any pet, anything at all can be a source of inspiration if we pay attention.

What is one thing that readers don’t know about you, that only you could tell us?

While I was writing the scene in Matylda where the lizard loses her tail, my own lizard lost his tail. Our geckos Midnight and Speedy used to share a tank, and they got along well, until one day when Midnight attacked Speedy, and Speedy dropped his tail. It was a terrible, terrible day and the coincidence was uncanny. It can’t be just chance. (Obviously Speedy and Midnight each have their own tank now.)

If you weren’t writing books, what do you think you’d be doing?

If I weren’t writing, I would probably represent even more writers and artists. I would cook more extravagantly too. Whenever I finish writing something, I head to the kitchen—I love chopping vegetables and roasting stuff.

What can readers expect from you in the future?

I have a couple of picture-book ideas in the vein of Come with Me I’m about to get serious with, I am working on a very crazy formatted book for adults, and I have the underpinnings of a new middle-grade novel . . . it’s beginning to take shape. But they may take years—you never know.

Anything else you’d like to share with readers of this blog?

Just a shout out to say thank you for being a champion of books for children. Not everybody starts reading in kindergarten or even first grade, I know from my own three children. The oldest was a voracious reader from early on, but the middle child didn’t get hooked until second grade. And my son, the youngest, didn’t get the bug until third grade with Tin Tin. As long as we keep the books in front of the kids, I believe they WILL become readers—there is a book for everyone. I always tell my adult agent friends that there wouldn’t be a single reader of adult books without kid readers. Pay attention to children’s books; they’re essential.

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