Hi, Ally! Thanks so much for joining us on the Mixed-Up Files Blog. I am so excited to talk all things, GHOST GIRL. I’m just want to say upfront; I’m an Ally Malinenko super fangirl. I loved your book so much. The writing, the storytelling, the characters . . . Everything was simply brilliant and creepy and left me wanting more. So let’s not keep your fans waiting . . . Time to put you on the hot seat.
Lisa: Tell us about Ghost Girl.
Ally: Ghost Girl is the story of Zee – a spooky story-loving, tow-headed, stubborn girl – her best friend Elijah and her bully turned buddy Nellie. After a massive storm washes through Knobb’s Ferry strange things start to happen. People are missing. And a new principal arrives who seems to be able to help people manifest their deepest desires. When things start going bad it’s up to Zee and her friends to figure out what’s going on, embrace exactly what makes her “Ghost Girl” and save their families.
Lisa: How did you come up with the idea?
Ally: Zee as a character has lived in my head for a long time. I tried slotting her into other short stories and it never worked. But she was always there, chattering on in the background. Two major things lead to the writing up Ghost Girl. One was a heartbreak and the other was art. The heartbreak came in the form of having spent over 7 years writing and rewriting a YA science fiction novel with a magical system based on chess. It was called Palimpsest. This book landed me my agent. We went on submission and, like one of those publishing horror stories you hear, it was rejected by every major house. So at many editors suggestions I tried to break the bones of that story and refit it as an MG. It was brutal. Afterwards, I was pretty heartbroken. So I decided to go back to the books that made me a reader – the books that I obsessed about as a kid – Middle Grade Horror. The other reason, art, is that I got very into a recording artist named Nick Cave. The book has 17 references to Nick Cave’s music. Hence the red right hand. If you know, you know.
Lisa: Did you base any characters on people you know? If yes, spill the beans!
Ally: I used to tell people that all of my characters were me, and I still believe that. I wouldn’t say the characters themselves are based on anyone but the events are. I grew up with my best friend around the corner and he and I spent a lot of time galivanting around the woods of our little town, drawing eyes on trees and making up stories about the Birdman who stole kids out of the rooms at night. I also have two older sisters who I love very much so it was important to me to show sister representation.
Lisa: How much of your real-life experiences play a role in the stories you tell?
Ally: Well for Ghost Girl it was, as I said, a lot of my childhood. The town of Knobb’s Ferry is based on Monroe, NY where I grew up. Knobb’s Ferry is definitely smaller than Monroe and Monroe sadly does not have a massive cemetery to explore but otherwise they’re similar. In my next book This Appearing House, there were definitely some serious life experiences with trauma and illness that found it’s way into that book. I think it’s impossible for real-life experiences to not inform any writer’s work. I mean, our books are just our experiences filtered through our imaginations and then held up to the light. Stories exist to create empathy. They are the bridge for people to say to each other “I feel this way. Have you ever felt this way too?” and then to hopefully have the answer be “yes.”
Lisa: Did you get bullied in school? And or were you ever a bully? If yes, to either, how does that impact your writing?
Ally: I did get bullied in middle school. When I joined facebook, she attempted to friend me and while I had not thought of her in a long time, those feelings of helplessness and anxiety came back pretty fast. But I didn’t include bullying in Ghost Girl because I was bullied. I included it because so many kids are bullied, because bullies are often more than just mean kids, and because I wanted to blow up the “mean girl” trope that I see everywhere. I wanted girls who were different to learn to understand their differences and work together. It’s my life’s mission to abolish the term “catty.”
Lisa: What books did you like to read when you were a kid? Do those books influence your writing?
Ally: Everything honestly, from non fiction animal books to classics like A Wrinkle in Time but I had a love for horror that burned bright. Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark, non-fiction books about Halloween, anything about witches – those were my favorites. I recently read a piece by Ally Russell called “On the Loneliness of the Young Horror Fan” that really hit home. Ally talked about how she struggled to find other kids into horror, especially as a young Black girl. She talked about being shamed for reading horror. Which reminded me of an experience I had. I was fortunate to meet a well-known biographer who happened to write the biography of one of my favorite writers. I had just gotten my book deal and this woman wound up being the first non-family member that I shared the news with. When I told her it was middle grade horror, she wrinkled her nose in disgust and said, “Why would anyone write books like that? I would never let my children read something like that.”
I’m getting a little off topic here, but what I’m saying is horror books were my favorite as a kid. Kids today are no different. They know the world is scary. Horror gives them a safe space to navigate those fears. Adults need to support that.
Lisa: Were there any scenes or chapters you found difficult to write because of an emotional experience you had to tap into?
Ally: Without getting too spoiler-y, there is a scene towards the end where Zee, fearing she is losing Elijah to the bad guy, has to convince him that the thing he wants most in the world – for his mother to be well again – is not really happening. She has to tell him the one thing Elijah doesn’t want to hear in order to help him and I had to walk away from that scene a couple times. It’s not easy to write about breaking the heart of someone you love in order to save them.
Lisa: Do you believe in ghosts? If yes, have you had any first-hand experience with the paranormal?
Ally: Do I believe in ghosts? The million dollar question. I don’t believe in ghosts but I also don’t NOT believe in ghosts. I have never had a paranormal experience (though I did once see something very unsettling in the sky that I have not been able to shake) but I know people who have and I believe 110% that something happened to them and that if they tell me it was a ghost then it was a ghost. Who am I to say? Like Shakespeare said, “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.”
That said if any kind ghosts out there want to say hello, I wouldn’t mind.
Lisa: What is your writing process? Are you a plotter or a pantser?
Ally: Both? Neither? I wrote ONE synopsis in my life when I sold my second book and thought I know I’ll have to I never want to do it again. So outlining is not for me. Usually I know how a story opens and how it ends. The in between is a little murky so that’s the space where I let my characters surprise me. I also find that the universe delivers so many little nuggets of inspiration when I’m drafting. Like, it KNOWS I need some guidance. It just happened last night, listening to a podcast, I figured out the missing part of Book 3. The universe can be very generous if you’re paying attention.
Lisa: What advice would you give 12 year-old Ally?
Ally: Well considering 12 year-old Ally wanted to be a writer more than anything in the world, I would tell it was going to happen! YAY!
But then I would gently tell her the road is long and winding and there are so many ups and downs, so much joy and heartbreak, and so much hope and tears but that’s okay.
That’s what an adventure is.
Lisa: Thank you for chatting with me, Ally. And congratulations on your debut novel! For more GHOST GIRL fun and games, please join Ally’s Ghost Girl Launch Party on August 10th at 3:00 pm EST.