Aug 23, 2011

Ally Condie Lecture (June 21st)

     As part of the Orem City Library's teen Summer reading program, local, LDS, NY Times bestselling YA author Ally Condie spoke on June 21st about her books Matched (available now) and Crossed (Nov. 1, 2011), the first two books in her dystopian trilogy.
     The presentation took place in the big city council room adjacent to the library (connected by a cool sky-walk). I was the first one there ('cause I'm weird like that) so I helped set up chairs. Helping out if you can makes you feel like more than just a visitor or a patron.
     As the starting time drew closer and the room filled up I could hear the girls nearby whispering, "She's out there in the hall", and turning around trying to get looks at her. What did I tell you? Ally is a super star.
     She came in a few moments later and sat up front while one of the library workers introduced her. Ally is such a cute lady! She is pretty and petite.

     Crossed went in to the publisher in September 2010 and the last edit was May 2011. The lady explained what an ARC (advanced reader's copy) is. Apparently the Salt Lake Tribune misprinted about Crossed's availability (saying that Ally would be signing copies of it, as though it was available for sale). Ally's publisher allowed her to bring a couple of ARC's to raffle off, but of course the book won't be available to purchase until November 1, 2011 (all of us fans are in the know about these things though, so I don't think there was any real confussion).
     Ally lives in Orem. She taught high school English at both Provo and Timpview High. The librarian explained that there were 87 holds on 10 copies of Matched at the Orem Library so they bought 10 more copies and now there are 88 holds! Matched is on the NY Times bestseller list, Publisher's Weekly's best 2010 list, and three YALSA lists: best fiction for readers, quick picks, and teen's choice. Ally has three sons, eight, five, and three.  
-End introduction-

     Ally told us that she promoted Crossed at BEA (BookExpo America) but that this was the first time she's talked publicly about Crossed. Matched was her sixth book published. The first five were with Deseret Book. She was working on Being Sixteen and had Matched as a "back burner" project. Instead of another book for Deseret, she decided to do this different story. She was very excited about it. She had to start over to find an agent and a new publisher. She did so. She sold two sequels not yet written at the time.
     Where did the idea come from? The Timpview prom. Ally was a chaperone in 2002. She didn't know that memory was an inspirational idea until 2008. She was just living life and realized it later. She made $25 per night to be a chaperone. She loved it. All of the kids were dressed up. It was at the courthouse in Provo. She thought it was so fancy. There was a red carpet down the stairs. Two weeks before the dance a list started circulating around the school of girls who had not been asked to the dance. The senior boys made sure that all of the junior girls had a date. Ally thought that was pretty awesome. The senior boys still do that to this day.
     Ally moved and lived in New York for six years. She and her husband had a discussion about marriage one day. In America the government decides what marriage is -as long as a person is present, it works. What if the government decided more? Then the prom came back to Ally's mind and the dance became a banquet instead.
     Matched was first sold as a stand alone story but the publisher wanted more. "Great!" Ally thought.
     The setting in Crossed is based on Southern Utah -a desert-type place with slot-canyons and narrows. Ally hiked a lot as a kid. At first she didn't want to so her parents bribed her with skittles, then she began to love it (even without skittles). The Outer Provinces was the clear setting for Crossed.
     Why did Matched end the way it did? Because that's where Cassia (pronounced CASH-uh) became what she needed to be. No one's story is complete until they're dead, but she moved to where she needed to be.

Ally then opened for questions:

Q: Why the green dress? (asked by a little boy there with his mom and sisters)
A: It's in the opening of the book. There are only a few times in their lives that the people could dress up, otherwise they just wear mechanical jumpsuits.

Q: How often do you write?
A: Every day but Sunday because I need a break.

Q: Will there be a third book?
A: Yes. I'm working on it now. It will probably be completed in September then the last edit in May like before. I have it all outlined.

Q: How long did it take you to get your first book published?
A: 2003 with Yearbook. It took me a year and a half to write it. Now it takes me about a year to write a book.

Q: How do you become a writer?
A: Just write. Finish your book. If you want to be nationally published you need to find an agent first in order to sell it.

Q: How did you come up with the futuristic machines?
A: It's not my strong point. But I imagine it (the machine) would exist. I tried to think what would be really convenient and awesome. I'd like food delivered. In Crossed there are special coats, but then I found out afterwards that they really exist in Columbia.

Q: Other projects?
A: Oh yeah. I can't say, but some have been around for a long time. I'm most excited about the dystopian genre right now, but I also like contemporary.

Q: Will you still publish with Deseret Book?
A: Yes, but not right now.

Q: When did you start writing?
A: I've always written. I have boxes and boxes of my writing. Even before I could write I would dictate to my babysitter. In high school I wrote but I never finished anything. In college I focused on becoming a teacher. In 2003 I quit teaching and wrote because I missed it (I think she meant that she missed teaching, but perhaps she meant that she missed writing -or both because she writes for the age group that she taught).

Q: When did you decide to be published?
A: In 2004 after I wrote my first book. I was 26 years old.

Q: Which character do you love more, Ky or Xander?
A: I love Ky and Xander equally. Half of my husband is in both. At the end of book three, one is better for Cassia, but they are equal to me. Matched means that Ky and Xander are equally matched (AH-HA!).

Q: Was there ever an issue with the publisher wanting more language or anything in your books?
A: It was never really an issue. If anyone thinks that there are no teenagers that don't use bad language I can just tell them, "they're in my neighborhood, I promise." And as for passion-ish stuff (didn't want to say the word because there were young kids present) there was never really a question. The publisher probably expected none of that. I swore more in Freshman for President -two words.

Q: What were your favorite books growing up?
A: I probably read Anne of Green Gables 67 times. In college I read Agatha Christie, Anne Tyler, and Wallace Stegner.

Q: What is your favorite part of Matched?
A: Either the very beginning or the very end. I worked the hardest on those parts and felt like they really worked.

Q: Why was was the match within the community?
A: You never fall in love with someone that you don't know. I wanted there to be a real decision so it had to be someone that Cassia knew. I thought about how I had felt about Christian Slater, but I never actually loved him of course (so that's why Ally decided the match[es] to be someone that Cassia knew -so it would be real love and not Christian Slater-ish love.)

Q: What do you do for writer's block?
A: Reverse psychology. Step away and then you'll want to come back with an idea. Also run. It relaxes the brain. 85% of the time one of those will do the trick.

Q: Any practice novels?
A: Tons of stuff never finished. The first book I finished was Yearbook and it was published. i had to rewrite it twice so that could be considered my practice book.

Q: A young writerly man asked several questions including what to do with fully written stories.
A: Write what you are excited about. (Ally recommended him to read Dan Wells because the young man writes horror-type stories.) Dan Wells is reinventing teen horror. He's a good writer. (and so after the lecture I bought Dan's first book I Am Not a Serial Killer from the library's sale section -$7.50! woohoo! And read it. And I agree with Ally, Mr. Wells is a very good writer -but that is for another post! Thank you Ally for the recommendation!). Find a critique group. You need other authors. You also want an emotional connection and pay off in your stories.

Q: How many times did you have writer's block while writing Matched?
A: Three or four times a day (Ally laughed when she said this). I have to write when there's time so I would write some ideas just to keep going. Almost every day.

Q: Do you ever get down on yourself?
A: I would say to my husband, "I'm writing the worst book ever." and he would reply, "Statistically that's impossible." He said so, so it must be true. I would get down a lot. You want it to be good. I'm still learning. But I'm possessive -this is mine and I'm flawed, but I'm still going to do it.

Q: What about the names in Matched?
A: I didn't want them to be distracting, but not too plain. The name Cassia took forever (again, it's CASH-uh). Originally I had a different name until my editor told me that another book already had that name -I'm not allowed to say- so I had to change it (my first thought was Violet, the main character from Elana Johnson's YA dystopian book Possession, but we'll never know!). Cassia is a flower, becasue of the mother's job. It's the cinnamon flower and is a remedy for the common ills in society (so prophetic/profound/foreshadowing!). I liked the Hawaiian name Kai. I also wanted a classical feel so I chose Xander (like Alexander).

Q: Should writers start a blog?
A: Yes. I've been blogging since 2006. It's been great. I didn't sell a ton of books but I was writing. You can have a blog about you and a blog about your work, but be careful what you say.

Q: Do you re-read your books after publication?
A: I don't. As an author you've read your stories so many times. I did read Matched though and I wanted to change some things. But on a positive note I thought, "I wrote that?". I like convergence in literature (I'm not sure what this means here but it's in my notes as an answer to this question! She likes literature that comes together...maybe she meant the Thomas poem and her story...).

Q: Do you ever get discouraged with book sales? How can people support you? (asked by a girl whose father is an author and she wants to help him)
A: That's a really kind question. The best support is to believe in them. I've been on both ends. some books have not sold very many and one has sold lots. There are always critics, but then others will find your book and be passionate about it. Care about what they are writing. Ask to read it and give support.

Q: Someone asked a question about how Ally gets ideas -from her childhood play or from dreams, etc.
A: I played Clue almost completely. I haven't had an idea for a story from a dream, but I first have an idea and then might dream about it later. Stuff has to happen to me in order to write about it. I'd love to dream about an idea.

     After the questions, Ally concluded her presentation talking about Crossed.
     There are two narrators, Cassia and Ky. They take turns telling the story. There are two new characters, Vick and Indie. Ky and Cassia both have sidekicks. Vick is based on Ally's brother-in-law. You can send him into the canyon and he'll come back with something to eat. He's the ultimate guy's guy and he's so smart. He's also a pharmacist and can make drugs legally -called compounding- so that's why the character has conversations about the tablets.
     There's more action in book two but it's still about two people learning who they are.
     Ally then read from the first page of Crossed.
     Whereas Matched drew heavily upon the poem, "Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night" by Dylan Thomas, Crossed utilizes the poem "Crossing the Bar" by Alfred Lord Tennyson. (Because I had read Matched  and thus became familiar with the Thomas poem -I totally won a signed print of a James C. Christiansen piece during poetry month at the BYU Bookstore!)

Crossing the Bar
Sunset and evening star
   And one clear call for me!
And may there be no moaning of the bar,
   When I put out to sea,

But such a tide as moving seems asleep,
   Too full for sound and foam,
When that which drew from out the boundless deep
   Turns again home.

Twilight and evening bell,
   And after that the dark!
And may there be no sadness of farewell,
   When I embark;

For though from out our bourne of Time and Place
   The flood may bear me far,
I hope to see my Pilot face to face
   When I have crossed the bar.

     This was the fourth time that I had seen Ally, but the first time listening to her speak (the other times were books signings; Costco, Deseret Book Ladie's Night, and the Festival of Books. Just FYI she signed Freshman for President for me and mentioned that that book has a special place in her heart because she wrote it for her husband). I'm glad that I had the opportunity! I learned a lot and received much needed hope and motivation (this is why I love going to author events!). And I love the fact that Ally knows who I am, name and all. Top. Of. The. World.


     Ally Condie will be at the September 10th, Utah Festival of Books Part 2 at Utah Valley University, as well as the Teen Book Fest @ the Provo City Library, November 12th, along with Elana Johnson, Robison Wells, & Kristen Landon (can I get a yip-yip!).

1 comment:

  1. Wow! What an awesome recap of this event that sadly I had to miss since I was out of town. Ally really is one of the coolest authors out there.


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