Accomplished writers by themselves, Emily Henry – the author of works such as The Love that Split the World – and Brittany Cavallaro – author of the New York Times bestselling series Charlotte Holmes detective novels – have teamed up to write Hello Girls.
Telling the story of Winona and Lucille, two teenage best friends who end up on a road trip as they escape their respectively awful lives, the book looks at questions of female liberation, powerful women, the enduring bonds of friendship, and the transformative experience of a roadtrip.
Brittany and Emily were kind enough to answer a few questions for The Nerd Daily about Hello Girls, books, and friendship.
Hi Brittany and Emily! Can you tell us a little about yourselves?
EMILY: I’m 5’7 and I once won nine consecutive cakewalks.
BRITTANY: When I was sixteen, I was a contestant on Who Wants To Be A Millionaire (the Regis Philbin one), and I won zero ($0) dollars. I am shorter than Emily but not by much.
Obviously, you guys coauthored the book; can you talk about your process for that?
EMILY: It was horrible. Just kidding, it was the most fun I’ve ever had writing a book, and that’s saying something because there’s actually nothing I love more than the act of writing. We hammered a synopsis out together in person, and then took turns writing chapters and sending them back and forth. Like pen-pals. Then, to finish the book, we rented a cabin in the woods in the dead of winter and did nothing but write until our wrists ached. We did a lot of our revision on a shared Google doc, often in real-time while the other watched, which led to a lot of fake, hilarious revisions solely for the benefit of whichever of us was watching. There was a lot of long-distance laughing until we were crying.
BRITTANY: I was completely terrified that we’d accidentally send the fake-bad version to our editors. I think it included lines like, “she said, boobily,” making fun of male authors who seem to include their female characters’ breasts in every sentence they write. To echo what Em said above – I have never had more fun writing anything than Hello Girls. Sometimes I would open up our shared Google doc while I knew Em was working and just watch her write things and I would be so intimidated and so inspired all at the same time. Basically it was a master class in writing, because I knew I wanted every sentence I wrote to be as good as the one she’d just written.
What prompted you to write this book together?
EMILY: We were on our very own road trip, and it was a perfect friendship pressure cooker, an intense and protracted period of time (with a lot of caffeine) during which we basically never stopped talking. We had that kind of rapid-release friendship, the kind that takes you from casual friends to you know all of my greatest fears and deepest dreams in a couple of days. And while we were bonding like this, we were also interrupting all these conversations (gut-wrenching ones, hilarious ones, and every other kind in between) to pump gas and pop into convenience stores for candy and chips.
We were struck by something odd: Over the course of a couple days, every single person greeted us the same way when we walked inside: Hello, girls! It was this bright, cheery greeting but there was something unsettling about it. We were having all these intense conversations about real stuff and every time we came up for air, resurfaced in the world, it felt like we were instantly being reduced to something simpler than we really were. Something cute and charming, and assumed to be pleasant. Something uncomplicated. Hello, girls!
At one point, we got back into the car after one of these encounters and looked at each other and were like, “We could’ve just robbed a bank for all they know.” That moment was the true starting point of the book. We were hooked by the idea of two girls, losing their innocence without anyone around them even noticing.
Would you consider writing another one together?
EMILY: The biggest and loudest “yes” ever.
BRITTANY: We are already making plans. We were in another cabin in northern Michigan (clearly our happy place) and we had another one of those moments where we yelled OH MY GOD WHAT IF WE… and then like an hour later we had a synopsis. I’m super excited to work on it with her!
I’ve seen comments that this is heavily influenced by Thelma and Louise. Is that the case, and if so, what inspired you to rework the story?
EMILY: There’s definitely a heavy dash of Thelma and Louise in Hello Girls, but I wouldn’t necessarily say that we were inspired to rework the story actually! We had the idea for the book, and then, as we were hammering out details, we started to see the parallels to T&L, and became excited about playing with some of the movie’s plot points. Ultimately, it’s a film about liberation and without spoilers (for this twenty-eight-year-old movie), it’s hard not to take the final scene of the movie as a comment on where exactly a liberated woman fits into the world, where she can be safe, where she can be free.
Women have been telling stories about women (and girls) breaking free from convention for a long time, and every one of those stories speaks to a particular time. We were excited to play with that tradition, but within the context of 2019 and the additional context of teenagedom—how much more complicated is liberation when you’re not even technically an adult?
BRITTANY: Exactly! There are definitely moments that are in homage to T&L, which we adore, and a few plot points (hellO, Brad Pitt) that echo that movie, but we really consider Winona and Lucille to be their own characters, in their own story.
Have both or either of you visited the places you mentioned in the book? I assume especially with regard to the motels, you only need to go to one…
EMILY: Well, I’ve definitely been to some 7/11s for slushies in my day, but most of the places in the book are fictionalized, though vaguely inspired by real places. We’ve both spent a fair amount of time in Michigan and done the drive west a handful of times, so it was more a case of trying to capture the spirit of that drive than any concrete places. There is something so uniquely terrible and yet awe-inspiring about this route. You see a lot of beautiful things, but you also go through long stretches of nothing, which made it the perfect fever-dream of a landscape for us to work with.
BRITTANY: So much nothing when you drive across the middle of the country (said with love by someone who grew up in the middle of the country). It is a perfect space to completely lose your mind. We wanted to capture some of that hysteria in HG, which is obviously amplified by Winona and Lucille knowing they have people chasing after them. I’ve spent time in the Quad Cities, in Michigan, in Illinois, in Vegas, in Denver—pretty much the only place in the book I haven’t been is the #5 Largest Truck Stop in America on the Indiana side of Chicago, though I did research it thoroughly online with Em looking over my shoulder. We were both super interested in the Dogomat.
I must admit, I had a bit of a giggle when Winona thought that On the Road was not a great book. I’ve repeatedly tried to read it and had male friends tell me “oh, it’s a bit of a boys’ book”. What do you think is behind those kinds of comments, and how do you perceive a counternarrative to that?
EMILY: Weirdly, I think Kerouac speaks to (some) people for the same reasons Thelma & Louise speaks to others. A lot of his work is arguably about breaking free from convention and expectation. That said, at seventeen (the age at which I was first assigned Kerouac’s books) the conventions of 1950s white masculinity were not something that spoke to me, even setting aside the fact that nearly all the books we were being assigned were dealing with the exact same thing, within their own respective decades.
Reading Kerouac as a teenage girl felt to me a lot like following around a group of teenage boys, who are very drunk, super high, fairly rude and positively bursting with self importance: I went up the mountain, I got super fucking high, and I realized…. I was the mountain… and the mountain was me!
I’m sure there’s all sorts of merit to Kerouac’s work for the right person but to Teenage Me, the experience was something along the lines of, oh great! More of this! In high school, that’s most of what you read. White boys and men dealing with the problems of white boys and men. And, teen girls, when you meet a teenage boy who likes Kerouac (shout out to all my high school bfs, I’m sure), it might not mean he’s, like, super deep. Boy might just love shrooms.
BRITTANY: Yeah, I used to super love Kerouac until I realized that most of the women in his books were very much beside the point. Reading a Jack Kerouac novel for me is like the fictional experience of sitting bored on a couch, watching the guys you’re with doing…something, and hoping you don’t get arrested alongside them for what is clearly their BS. I did enough of that as a teenager. Basically Em and I have the same take on it, I think. I can’t speak to the literary worthiness of Kerouac’s work (my work in my PhD was on poetry and detective fiction), but he’s definitely not my jam. We didn’t set out to write Hello Girls as a specific corrective to that kind of dudes-on-shrooms-road trip, but I’m totally fine if you read it as one.
What books are you both reading at the moment?
EMILY: I’m reading Roselle Lim’s Natalie Tan’s Book of Luck & Fortune, and it is divine! I’m also rereading an old favorite, The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern.
BRITTANY: I’m reading a lot of memoirs right now. I just finished Vivian Gornick’s Fierce Attachments, which I loved.
Brittany Cavallaro is the New York Times bestselling author of the Charlotte Holmes novels. She lives and writes in Michigan, where she teaches creative writing at the Interlochen Arts Academy. You can find Brittany on Twitter and Instagram.
Emily Henry writes stories about love and family for both teens and adults. She studied creative writing at Hope College and the New York Center for Art & Media Studies, and now spends most of her time in Cincinnati, Ohio, and the part of Kentucky just beneath it. You can find Emily on Instagram.