On the Way Down

Tomorrow, March 14, is the book birthday of my debut middle-grade novel Matylda, Bright & Tender, a novel I started in the summer of 2012. I came home one night recently, and there was a box on the dining table, addressed to me. I opened it right away—and inside I found a necklace, with a note from one of my closest friends . . . the note said that even though she couldn’t be with me in person, she hoped I would wear the necklace on publication day and keep her near me that way.

I looked at the necklace closely, and on each silver circle were words:

She took the leap

and built her wings

on the way down.

It didn’t take long for the tears . . . because this person understood where art (in this case a story) comes from. The tears came because it is such a gift to be seen and loved and understood for all of who we are, with the knowledge that writing requires bravery, and leaps into the unknown, and the hope and trust that we’ll get stronger every time we dive. I’ll be wearing my necklace tomorrow.

I’m also doing two events very soon that I wanted to let you know about. The first is a middle-grade panel at [words] maplewood bookstore on Saturday, March 18, at 4 p.m. I’m excited to be on this panel with other middle-grade authors Sally Pla, Barry Lyga, and David Weisner, and I’m especially happy that my very funny, smart & sassy friend and fellow writer Jenny Turner Hall will be the moderator. It’s sure to be a thoughtful discussion, with a lot of laughs I promise! If you’re in the New York / New Jersey area, I hope you can come.

Then on March 28, a Tuesday at 4 p.m., I’m doing a solo presentation as part of the Maplewood Ideas Festival. I’m honored to be in this impressive line up, and I’ll be sharing my journey of writing Matylda, Bright & Tender, how I transformed the worst thing that ever happened to me into art, into story. I’ve been working hard on this one, because it means so much to me personally. The talk runs about 30 minutes or so, and we’ll have time for questions after.

I’m a writer and a literary agent, and up till now, I’ve written under pen name Hallie Durand. With Matylda, Bright & Tender, a novel with a plum line straight to my heart, I decided it was time to integrate my agenting career with my writing career, and from here on out I’ll be writing under my given name, Holly M. McGhee.

I hope you can come, and bring your children ages 8 & up if you like—I’ll do everything I can to make you glad you did.                                                                      

Despite everything . . . happy holidays


Heading home last night, on the 8:51, after a rigorous cleaning of my work desk, I was in a four-seater on NJ Transit, sitting across from a middle-aged man with wire-framed glasses, in navy blue dress pants, blue tie, and light blue shirt, texting on an iPhone 6—he had a gold watch too. I left home pretty early yesterday, and my mind was kind of hazy by that hour . . . yet this man reminded me of another man, on another commute, several months ago, on an equally long day  . . .

It was back in June, and I was thinking about the lazy days of summer ahead, when I boarded the 8:05 from Penn Station. I headed toward the quiet car as usual, when I “saw” the president of a publishing house I do a lot of business with; I like this guy—he’s witty, clever, and somehow or other he’s never lost the enthusiasm of a twelve-year-old kid (he’s a shark too but you really can’t tell at first glance). He makes you pay attention. I kinda wondered why he was on the Maplewood train (he doesn’t live in Maplewood), but it didn’t really register in my brain-soft state.

I walked up to him, gave him a hug, and kissed his cheek . . .

“Hi,” I said.

He grinned . . .

I took a step back—he was tall, with short grey-black hair just like my friend, but when I looked at his face, I realized he was much older than the man I knew  . . .

oh my god.

I fled to a seat in another car—had I really just kissed a complete stranger?


I never told anybody about what happened that night on the train, but it seems like the right time to tell it now . . . because . . . I don’t know . . . just that despite the election, despite the state of the world, despite everything really . . . that guy’s grin is sticking with me . . . and it’s making me smile too.


Happy Holidays!


A Good Karma Chair

This chair came with the lake house we bought in 2000—and when we sold that house in 2004, the chair accompanied us to Maplewood, NJ. It’s not an especially pretty chair, but it’s a comfortable one, and the arm rests are wide enough to hold more than a few glasses. This chair has seen many good movies, like October Sky and Atonement and The Lunchbox. This chair has held many people, old ones, newborns, and every size in between. This chair has watched a lot of CNN and heard its share of viola, trumpet, piano, and french horn practicing, as well as plenty of conversations . . . This chair knows what it takes to keep a family together.

good karma chair

But this year, the time came to part ways, because we needed room for a keyboard, and I wanted to find our chair a happy new home. I posted in a swap room on facebook that this good karma chair could be yours for one dollar. I posted about how well loved this chair was. Somebody messaged me right away saying she wanted it. I gave her my address. She wrote back “got a truck /OTW.” I asked my daughter what that meant. She said “on the way.”

It was Wednesday, July 6, at 9 p.m., the middle of one of the bleakest weeks in American history with the shootings in Dallas, but what happened with my chair was a teeny ray of light that night. We took the chair out of the garage and I sat down, in the dark, on the sidewalk in front of my house, waiting for this person I’d never met. I wondered if I had made a bad choice, giving out my address to somebody on facebook. I thought I might have. She PMed me, six minutes away. I waited.

She didn’t show up, and I wondered if it was a joke. I PMed her: “Where R U?”

She wrote back; she had gotten our house number wrong, so I corrected her. Next I saw two giant round headlights beaming their way up the street. I was nervous. The truck stopped in front of my house. I got out of the chair and went to the driver’s side, hoping my instinct to trust was right. And I looked in the car window at this beautiful lady with the kindest eyes I’ve ever seen.

We loaded the chair in the truck. Turned out she works in a Senior Center in a city closeby, and she wanted the chair for the people who live there. She said, “it’s a beauty.” And she handed me a wadded up one dollar bill. I started laughing, and then we hugged . . .

Just two strangers who got together over a chair.