Happy release day to Ghost Girl by Ally Malinenko! To celebrate its release I’m excited to bring you all a Q&A I was able to have with Ally about the book and her writing experience/process. If you haven’t already make sure you check out my review for Ghost Girl. Also, huge thanks to Ally for answering my questions and thank you to the publisher for reaching out to me about reviewing this title!
Ally Malinenko is a poet, novelist, and librarian living in Brooklyn, New
York, where she pens her tales in a secret writing closet before dawn each day. Connect with Ally on her website at www.allymalinenko.com.
Now let’s get to the questions!
It says that this book is based on some of your own experiences, could you share a little bit about that?
Yes! I can see ghosts! Just kidding. Ghost Girl is based a lot on my childhood in the Hudson Valley. My best friend and I would spend a lot of time making up stories and wandering through the woods. Even drawing eyes on trees to mark our favorite spaces as protected. Like Zee I loved spooky stories the most. I practically memorized everything in Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark. Also though I have two sisters and Zee only has one, my sisters and I are very close and I wanted to show that between Abby and Zee.
How long did the writing process for this book take?
I wrote this book quickly actually. Probably about six months. But I wrote it to nurse a broken heart after the YA science fiction book I spent 7 years on, the one that landed me an agent, was rejected by pretty much all of publishing. I felt like a failure. So I decided to go back to the stories I loved the most. The stories that made me love books and dream about being a writer. All of those stories were middle grade, many of them were spooky.
Could you tell us a little bit about Monroe and how it inspired the setting of Ghost Girl?
Monroe is a lovely small town nestled in the heart of the Hudson Valley but when you’re a kid and you can’t drive and you live too far to bike to the center of town where the library is, you get a touch bored, much like Zee does. The development I grew up in is surrounded by woods so, my best friend and I definitely spent a lot of time in there, making up stories and pretending. Monroe is a little bit bigger than Knobb’s Ferry but sadly, it is lacking a giant cemetery.
Do you have any upcoming books in process?
After GHOST GIRL my next book is called THIS APPEARING HOUSE also published by Katherine Tegen Books. It’s the story of a young girl and her best friend who get trapped in a haunted house that is more than it seems. It’s also an exploration of trauma and illness that was compared to A Monster Calls. It’s a very personal story for me so I’m both excited and nervous about it being in the world.
There are a lot of powerful themes in this book that many kids deal with in real life, what would you say to your readers who are struggling with things such as gender roles and fighting common stereotypes?
I’m so glad you asked me that because talking about gender, and specifically about breaking gender barriers was really important to me. Zee spends a lot of time aware that she is expected to be quiet and small as a girl and that doesn’t fit how she feels inside. There is even a scene where she smashes mirrors in a symbolic breaking of the glass ceiling. One of the other stereotypes that was important to me is Elijah’s weight and his body positivity. Elijah’s father struggles to connect with his bookish son and instead wants him to do more things with his hands – more things that are stereotypically male. He winds up focusing on Elijah’s weight thinking that if he were fit they would be able to connect more. I wanted kids to see all kinds of bodies in Ghost Girl and it was very important to me that while Elijah was hurt by his father’s actions, it was clear that he himself was not ashamed of who he was.
So to any of the kids that might be struggling with these kinds of things, I want them to know that they are GREAT the way they are and they, like Zee and Elijah and Nellie, should always stand up for themselves and their friends. There is room in this world for every type of person.
What are your favorite writing tools?
So I know a lot of people love books like Save the Cat but I’m a terrible pantser (the opposite of a plotter) and never really know what a book is really about until I’m halfway through it so to be honest one of my favorite writing tools, outside of my occasionally temperamental laptop, are my feet. I walk five miles to my librarian job and whenever I am stuck on a plot point or a new chapter, it is always on these long walks that things really start to come together for me. I highly recommend to other writers when you’re stuck and you’re done crying on the floor, throw on your sneakers and go for a walk. It really frees your brain up.
Could you tell us a little more about your secret writing closet?
Yes! So my husband and I are both writers and when we moved to NYC many years ago we could only afford a one bedroom. I figured I would just stick my little desk in the corner of the living room and that would be fine. But while the agent was showing us the apartment, he opened a door to a walk-in closet/storage space and my eyes fell out of my head. It had a bunch of built in bookshelves that the last person crafted and a little spot underneath that fit my desk perfectly. It was wired with electricity and it became my little writing nook where I wrote everything for the last 14 years. I loved it. We recently moved and have since upgraded to a second bedroom so now my little closet is an adorable little room that I also love. But I will always have fond memories of all the poems and stories and novels, including Ghost Girl, that I wrote in my secret writing closet.
What takeaways do you want your readers to have from this book?
Oh that’s a good question. Well ultimately, I hope that kids love it and have a spooky adventure in the realm of what I call “safe-scared.” Meaning, it’s fun because you can always walk away from the scares. But beyond that I hope this book shows kids that the way they are is the way they’re meant to be. That, even thought it’s scary, standing up for your friends is important and that sometimes the kids who are the meanest might also be struggling. So be like Elijah and choose kindness.
Who would you recommend this book to?
My book was recently reviewed by School Library Journal and they cautioned that this is not a book for a kid who claims to want horror but really wants suspense or an adrenaline rush. And I have to agree with that. I wrote a spooky book, emphasis on the spooky. So the best reader of Ghost Girl would be a kid that loves to get scared, knowing they can always close the book, and loves a good adventure with a lot of heart. If you want to root for some characters, Zee, Elijah and Nellie will definitely give you the chance.
Lastly, do you have anything else you want to share with readers regarding this book?
I’ve had a few people raise an eyebrow when I tell them that I write horror for children. Something in that expression doesn’t compute. And I get it. But I also worked as a children’s librarian and I know the kids that have read every copy of Goosebumps 1500 times. The thing is kids know that the world is scary. Scary books provide a safe place to navigate that. A place to be the hero. Kids need to explore fear in a safe way because it’s already a part of their lives. Scary books let kids examine their fear and their anxiety. They get to hold it up to the light and understand it. These are valuable lessons and when we shame kids for liking horror we’re just telling them that their fears are something they should be ashamed of.
Scary books let them defeat the monsters on the page so that they’ll learn how to recognize the ones that will – inevitably – appear in their lives one day.
Again I want to give a huge thank you to Ally for taking the time to answer my questions. I hope you all had as much fun reading her answers as I did. Make sure you check out Ghost Girl!