Publisher’s Weekly Q & A with Matched Author Ally Condie

Ally Condie to publish middle-grade book Summerlost

ally condieAlly Condie is best known for her dystopian YA trilogy Matched, a story of a society where everyone’s mate is chosen for them, but one teenage girl falls for someone else. Now she’s back, this time publishing a middle grade book called Summerlost, which tells the story of Cedar, a girl who must adjust to a new town following the deaths of her father and brother. Summerlost comes out on March 29th 2016. PW interviewed Ally Condie about both books, as well as her life as an author.

Did you always want to be a writer? What made you choose this career path?

When I was little, I would dictate stories to my babysitter. And because my mom kept everything, we still have all those old stories. My parents were supportive of my artistic endeavors. In fact, my mom is a retired professor of art. But she would always tell me that if I was going to pursue a creative career, I also had to be practical as well.

I decided I would teach high school English. In my mind, it was perfect; I would teach but write on the side. Ironically, when I was a teacher was the only time in my life that I was not creative. Don’t get me wrong – I loved teaching. But there is a lot of grading when you teach high school English and it prohibited my own creative time.

Can you talk a bit about your writing process? How do you know when you have a book idea that is going to “stick”?

Usually, when I get an idea, I don’t know until I am 20 or 30 pages in whether or not it will stick. Sometimes, I’ve had to abandon a story at that point, but fortunately not too often – maybe only four or five times total.

My book ideas almost always start with a character. I won’t know the plot necessarily at that point. The setting comes next, and that part usually comes quickly. I don’t actually outline the story until I start writing, and even then I don’t outline in the traditional sense. I jump around a lot when I write – sometimes I might skip ahead a few scenes and then come back. Keeping a running outline helps me keep the story details sorted out.

Matched was an international bestseller with foreign rights sold in 35 countries. How did that kind of exposure affect you, both personally and professionally?

There were some fun things that happened almost right away. Before Matched, I had been with a small publisher in Utah. Suddenly, I had a national audience and got to attend things like BEA.

But the two biggest things that changed? First, I gained this amazing and supportive team. My agent, Jodi Reamer, and my editor, Julie Strauss-Gabel, are like my own two-woman team. I feel like I have the most perfect situation with these two ladies on my side. Add in my publicist, Shanta Newlin, and I am over the moon.

The second thing that changed was the amount of traveling I did. I got to visit schools and be back in the classroom talking to my readers. However, I have four kids of my own, so it isn’t always easy to configure all of that, but I enjoy the traveling for sure.

After three books, I would imagine that you became pretty fond of the characters. In what ways was it hard to say goodbye to them?

Leaving the Matched series was bittersweet. I felt like I had gotten those characters to where they needed to be. And I was kind of surprised where they ended up, I’ll admit that, but they ended up where they were supposed to be. I would guess it feels a little like sending a kid off to college – you’ve done your job as a parent and though you are sad to see that child leave, you also feel satisfaction to have brought them this far. I felt that way with the characters in Matched – satisfied that I had done my job.

Any plans to continue the series at some point?

Not really. I left it all on the page. However, if there were a spark of an idea that could be explored, I would be open to revisiting it. Just right now, there is no opening to do that.

It was reported that the film rights were sold to Disney in 2010. Any movie prospects in the near future?

We got as far as writing the screenplay, but it pretty much died after that. Disney renewed its option a second time, but has since let it lapse. I do get a lot of emails from readers that say, “Please turn this into a movie!” But it’s hard to explain that I don’t necessarily get to make that decision!

Were there challenges in making the transition from dystopian YA to realistic middle grade with Summerlost?

Actually, it was ridiculously easy. I’m not trying to be glib, because writing middle grade is hard. But as much as I loved writing my previous books, there was just magic in writing Summerlost. In my other books, I had had to build the setting from the ground up. For this book, I had to do nothing but drop my characters into this place that I already knew so well. And though I usually get to know my characters better during my first draft, I already knew these characters – Cedar, Leo, and Miles – really well. Cedar, for example, is not truly based on me but I would say she has a little bit of me in her. And Leo is very much based on a childhood friend of mine, who I am still quite close to.

The rest of the interview can be found here!