Exclusive Interview with Ally Condie, Author of the MATCHED Trilogy

Hello, fellow matched fans! You asked, and Ally answered. Three student librarians from the Bethesda Library asked if they could join in on the interview that we set up. Lily, Erica and Tara joined me at the table, Ally Condie sat with us all and awesomeness ensued.

I can not emphasize enough just how awesome Ally was for this interview. She was so welcoming, and truly interested in answering our questions. All in all, we got to talk with her one-on-four for a good 30-35 minutes.

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A bit blurry, but Ally Condie looks about 5 years younger than me! And of course, we have a lovely backdrop of stuffed bears in various colors for your viewing pleasure.

There were some truly hilarious moments and lots of laughing. But the amount of insight you can gain from reading this will blow your mind! Yeah, I went there. Did you know a character in the series is based off of Ally’s mom? Or that the Matching ceremony is based off of the idea of a prom taken to the extremes?

During the interview, Ally touched on a little bit of everything.

(Me) The majority of our fans, their number one question was – now that you’re done with the trilogy they all seem to want more – we had a user Audra ask, “Now that the trilogy is complete, have you ever wanted to go back and write a novella about some aspect of the trilogy you weren’t able to touch before, a prequel, or is it complete for you?”

It’s complete for me right now; but that said there are certain characters and things that I could see revisiting in the future. There’s no contract or plans or anything started, but I wouldn’t ever rule it out. I mean, it feels really complete but I can also see the potential for maybe something later.

(LILY) Can you tell me who your favorite character was?

My favorite character to write is Indie, because every time she was on the page it was really unexpected and she was making a mess and I liked that a lot. So that’s my favorite character to write.

Poetry, symbolism, Ry Bradbury and a heart-warming story of children eating Easter egg dye after the cut!

(Erica) Have you ever thought that writing was not the career for you, and if so what was the outcome of that?

Yeah, I always wanted to be a writer when I was little but then when I got to high school I really wanted to teach English and coach cross country and track. And so that’s what I did for three years after college. And then, after I quit teaching I went back to writing. So, they’re the two things that I love most – job wise – so if I can’t do one, I find a way to do the other.

(Me) Arkanee from Ontario, who also asked if you could please go visit there…

I would love to!

(Me) She, Alyssa and Jessica L. all wanted to know more specifics about the events that took place prior to the society. But what I was wondering, is, as an artist, did you intentionally leave the specifics kind of vague?

I did. I left it vague for a few reasons. The first one was, any time you tie something down too specifically to US, you open that up to political interpretation and sort of a lot of pinpointing and fact-checking; and while that can be really fun it can also be kind of limiting, especially as you’re writing. And so I did leave it vague, mostly because I wanted it to feel like its own thing – definitely tied to our world – but not locked down to certain stuff and not used for one side or the other politically if that makes any sense.

(Me) Yeah, it makes complete sense.

And another reason for that is just in case I did want to write a prequel, I wanted there to be enough on the page that you knew what was happening and understood the society, and what it meant to them now, but if there was something later there would be plenty to do. So, those are kind of the two. And they seem kind of counter-intuitive, like, if you want to leave it vague how can you write a prequel?

(Me) Well, now you’ve got options.

Yeah.

(Lily) I read that Disney owns the rights to Matched as a movie, who would be your ideal actors to play the characters?

That’s always a tricky one to answer because I’m not really going to be involved in the casting so what I say doesn’t have any weight. But, I did see the movie the Perks of Being a Wallflower, and I thought Logan Leerman would be a really good Ky. So, like, in a dream world [I’d choose Leerman] but I haven’t really thought of a lot of other people…

(Erica) Do you attribute the idea for Matched to anything specific? Where’d you get the idea?

So, I’ll give a longer explanation tonight. But the really short answer is that it was kind of from a conversation that I had with my husband about marriage and what if the government could decide everything, including who you married. And because I’d been a teacher and chaperone to junior prom, that’s where I got the idea for the opening scene. It was like, what if it looked like prom but taken to an extreme?

(Me) A question I have here is that… It’s a safe bet to say that the majority of your readers were surprised, to say the least, by the decision to make the plague the Pilot, or, a pilot of the novel. Kate, one of the co-creators of the Fandom.Net wanted to know how early on you knew the trilogy would end, and if you made any significant changes to the plot once you had made that decision?

I knew how I wanted it to end and what I wanted each character to kind of portray how I wanted that arrival to be, so that didn’t really change but some of the ways they got there did change, significantly actually. The plague ended up being – I knew it would be an important part of the book – but then it ended up that it was everything that it sort of got into everything. And even though I had kind of anticipated that, it was surprising to me how much research I had to do and how much work I had to do to lay the foundation. And even though a lot of that research didn’t actually make it into the story, it sort of influenced what I wrote. Like, even though Cassia is not dealing specifically with it, I had to make her act in ways that sort of made sense with what the others were doing. Like, how would she act if there was this illness everywhere? In one of the original versions I imagined her being sort of unaffected by it, like being somewhere where it wasn’t as important. But then I realized no, it was where she was too; just little things like that.

(Me) Yeah, you could tell that there was a sort of spine around it [the plague] and everything was building around it, and it all kind of, the way that it kind of worked together was so interesting to me.

(Lily) The colors of red, green and blue are really significant in the series. Were they intentionally the primary colors of light?

Yes, a little bit, the primary colors, well, technically yellow –

(Lily) Yes, but the primary colors of light?

Mostly it was that I wanted some iconic, archetypal mythology colors. So, it was less to do with light, and more to do with archetype. And in our culture green stands for certain things, blue, red; in Asian culture and other cultures that doesn’t always correlate. But in ours, the meanings of those three things are really important. Like, the blue pill is calming and that’s what blue stands for in our culture, and green is for growth and red is for blood and bravery. And so, it was more influenced by archetype as opposed to light, but I like that, I think that’s great.

(Erica) Are there any authors that influenced your writing? And if so, why?

I think, probably the biggest influence would probably be Ray Bradbury, because I read a lot of his short stories and science fiction growing up. And then I ended up teaching a lot of them too, and so I’ve sort of been associating with his writing for 25 years now, ever since I was little. So he was probably the biggest influence. And someone else I really like is Agatha Christy, because I think she does really great dialogue and suspense. Even though I don’t write murder mystery, there’s a lot you can learn from someone’s who’s that good at plotting. So those are two of my favorites.

(Me) We have another question coming from Adam, the other co-creator of the Fandom.Net

Oh, great!

(Me) He says he “absolutely loved Reached”

Oh great, tell Adam thank you!

(Me) I will, definitely! As he was closing out the series, he had some questions come up upon reflection. He asked, “In Matched, you emphasize several times how the society monitors dreams. Was Cassia creating new ideas in those dreams – the kind of creativity that could lead to The Gallery someday – and would the Society have been able to see that?

So, that’s not on the page, but the dreams are not able to be monitored. It was a plot construct to make us wonder, but it turns out that they can’t. They can see brain patterns, but that’s all. So that’s kind of where we go with that.

(Me) I was actually wondering, was it also maybe an undertone of the society trying to make it so that a character like Cassia was almost afraid to dream?

Yeah, it was a psychological thing that they were doing, kind of keeping them wondering. The correlation to that is the tubes. Like, they do all this stuff with the tubes, but they don’t actually have the power to do a lot with them, but they use it as a mechanism for control. And so, the dreams really are another aspect like the tubes if that makes sense. It’s one of those things that is an easy way to maintain some control and some fear with very little effort on their part if that makes sense.

(Me) Yeah, it does.

(Lily) Where, geographically, would you say that the settings of your books are located?

So, it’s no secret that book two is a lot of Southern Utah, um, book one I give little hints in the names if you look at the names of the Provinces you can Google them and kind of see what part of the country they’re supposed to be. My editor doesn’t like me to tie it down too specifically, because it also could be an alternate reality. Like, it could be our world parallel, if that makes sense. But yeah, Southern Utah was the inspiration for book two.

(Erica) If you could sit down and talk to any one person from any one period of time, who would you talk to, what about, and why?

Any period of time… I am kind of sad that I never did get to meet Ray Bradbury. He just passed away this year and secretly in the mind, I was like, someday you’ll do a book signing, although he wasn’t doing a lot of them near the end. But I would love to talk with him. I mean, he was writing so well for so long, even just a month before he died in his 80’s he had a piece in the New Yorker. That is a 50 or 60 year career, and I think a lot of the stuff that he wrote was really full of foresight. And he was also one of the few fiction writers that never got really, really jaded. He still seemed hopeful, and I would like to talk to him about that too.

(Me) As a teacher, author, and I read that you’re a daughter of artists, it seems that an important lesson that rings true in Reached is that people should express their feelings and their thoughts and their creativity, regardless of whether or not they’re going to gain criticism and regardless of whether or not they’ve been said before by others. Can you explain why this was an important message to express for you?

Yeah, I think in our society we’ve kind of gotten used to the idea that we should all be a little bit famous. Do you know what I mean? Like, with Facebook and everything, we all feel like that and we want to control that fame and have people know who we are, and I totally get that. But I also think that it’s really important to just make stuff and do stuff because you want to. And my mom was the one who kind of taught me that. She’s a painter, and one time I asked her – she uses chalk – and I asked her why she didn’t use oil because it lasts longer and she had this great quote where she said, “It doesn’t really matter so much what I’m making or how long it lasts, you can’t control who likes it, there’s just no way, and you can’t control how long it lasts throughout history, but the only thing you can control – which, you can’t even really control this – but if you make something you are changed, and that’s the important thing. If you are a person who is creating, you are a different kind of person than the kind of person who is only criticizing and consuming.” And I thought that was a really, it’s important to be the kind of person who engages in trying to make something, even if it’s just for you. So that’s why, because of that thing she said, I thought, that’s true!

(Me) Is that reminiscent of Ky’s mother with the paintbrush?

She’s exactly, yeah, I mean my mom has paint and stuff, but she is definitely based on my mom.

(Me) Oh cool, that’s very cool.

(Lily) Where do you personally draw inspiration from?

So there’s a lot of places, being outside is one of the things I get a lot of inspiration from. I really like watching the Olympics, like, even when it’s not an Olympic year I like to find clips online of like… Michael Phelps, I could watch him all day, it’s really fun to watch him win. And I like long distance running so I’ll watch that. There’s music that I like, there’s a few songs that can sort of always get me –

(Lily) Can you give us examples?

Yeah, I really like “Dustland Fairytale” by The Killers – that’s on the Crossed playlist – and so there’s a lot of Killers music I like, a lot of songs by Regina Spektor, “All the Row Boats” is one, another is called “Genius Next Door” that I listen to. Sports, music, being outside too, I know I said that but that’s a really good one when I’m stuck.

(Erica) It’s funny that you brought up music, because my next question is; do you listen to music to write? If so, what music, why and what characters do you associate any songs with?

Well, I associate all characters with some songs. The ones that I mentioned, and I also really like Bruce Springsteen, he’s a favorite. I don’t listen to music while I am writing, but I do listen to it after I’m done getting my kids dinner, and then I go down and start to write, and I kind of need that transition so I’ll listen to a few songs before I start writing to kind of clear my mind and get myself in the mood. And that’s where most of the songs on the playlists come from, they’re the songs I listen to, to sort of get going. I do listen to music while I’m revising, so that does happen.

(Me) We a fan say, “At the end of the trilogy and at the end of Reached you write several beautiful passages about Cassia and Ky trying to hold onto memories and feelings, even if some of them slip, unavoidably through their fingers. They wanted to know, how will you remember the years of writing Matched long into your future?

Oh, that’s a nice question. There are a lot of really nice emails I’ve had, and so when I get the really nice ones – I’m really behind on my email which is embarrassing but I do read all of them – I’ll print those out to save them to remember, “Oh this is how people felt when people were responding to the books,” which is really exciting.

(Tara, another interviewer from the library steps in and introduces herself.)

So, that’s kind of what I’ll think of. But I think that I’ll also think of my kids, the ages they were and the cute things they would say about the books. They haven’t read them, but in the back of the books I talk about how the kids made them possible. And, it is really hard to write with kids, but I found that a lot of my inspiration for the series came from my children – just loving them and wanting to write a story that maybe someday they’d want to read. So, one of my favorite memories is of me writing and my four year old just coming over, getting a paper and crayon and just coloring next to me. Its things like that that I will remember a lot of, and what ages they were [at that time].

(Lily) How much time do you spend on a daily basis writing?

Well, 5-6 hours a day when I’m drafting. When I’m revising, it can be more or less depending on how intense the revision is. But when I am writing a new book, it’s about 5-6 hours.

(Erica) Do you believe our country is facing a future similar to the one portrayed in your books? And if so, what would you revise your readers to do to prevent that?

(Laughs) Um, this is a loaded question… it’s definitely something I could picture. But I’m not writing about a specific government or a political party. What I’m mostly writing about is us as people and what we’re willing to give up regarding our creativity. And I don’t think it’s a choice the government is imposing on us necessarily. I think we’re making certain choices to give up creativity, and so that’s more what I’m speaking to. It’s not necessarily one political party coming in and taking that away, you can really argue that case any way with Homeland Security and President Bush and certain policies of the Obama administration. I’m actually rather moderate in my political beliefs, so I’m not out to get any group, but I think that we often will give up a lot of freedom for convenience, and that’s sort of what I’m speaking to. And I am just as guilty of it as anyone else.

(Tara) One of the things I really liked in Matched and Crossed was how you brought in poetry. And I really liked how Ky talked about rain and how he thought that it was kind of weighing down on him. And so, what was your inspiration for that? How did you feel writing that from his point of view?

There’s a lot of water imagery in Crossed, which was done intentionally because of the blue pill and I think that certainly in a lot of cultures and societies water represents rebirth and so that’s what I was thinking of when I wrote those scenes. It’s hard to have that all happen, but you end up being a new person, which is the answer that I was kind of looking for.

(Tara) You mention creativity, so do you think that creativity kind of fosters that rebirth?

I do. I think any time you’re creating something, you’re making yourself vulnerable and so there an opportunity for growth – also for failure – (laughs all around) but you can grow from failure too!

(Me) The last question that I have is from Adam, the co-founder of the Fandom.Net. He wants to know: “Is there any way you could come out with a version of the red pill so people can experience the joy of reading Reached for the first time all over again?

That’s adorable!

(Me) He adds, “I’d take one!”

That was awesome. Tell him I will work on it. No! (Laughs) I have no chemical background. But, my brother-in-law is a pharmacist, so… That’s really fun though.

(Me) Yeah.

People always ask, “What do the tablets look like?” And I always think of, like, those Easter egg dye tablets? Have you guys seen those? The things that you drop in the vinegar and they’re like, “fizzzz.”

(All of us) Yeah. (Laughs all around)

That’s what I picture.

(Lily) Well, the pills do dissolve on the tongue though.

And that DOES happen. My children ate the Easter egg tablets, and so I had to call Poison Control and be like, “What do you do now?!” They all said, “It’s fine! Give them something to drink.” I won’t tell you what it looked like when they went to the bathroom.

(Laughs all around)

It’s a powerful dye…

(More laughs!)

(Erica) OK, so, what concepts led to the creation of the society?

I think a lot of thinking about convenience and what I’d give up, so, how much choice I would give up. And also a little bit of thinking about, if we could be guaranteed healthy and really long lives, how much would we give up? Because my grandparents have been passing away, and it’s been sort of miserable for all of them, they’ve all lived really long. But it seems like after 80 they started to just really deteriorate and so I was thinking about that a lot in the book. Like, if you could guarantee me that until I died I was really healthy and strong and great, would I be willing to let you pick my job for me, and I was like, “I might think about it.” So it was kind of like my own, “Hmm” moment, even though I think choice is important, that’s kind of where I got the idea.

(Lily) Last question, which character from your series would you like to be in your series and why?

Like, as me being them? Or have them be a part of my life?

(Lily) Part of your life.

Oh, that’s a good question! I’ve had the, “Who you want to be,” but now, “Who you want to know.” Um… I guess I can’t pick Ky or Xander –

(Erica) Why not?

Because I like them both equally. So maybe both of them? Um, and I also really have a soft spot for Bram and Eli; kind of like the little brother characters, because I have a little brother that I like a lot but he’s not little anymore.

Ally graciously goes around the table and asks everyone if they had any other questions. Jokes all around about scratchy hand-writing and being late for the interview.

(Lily) Well, a lot of the poetry is original, is that you writing that poetry?

Yeah, I mean, sometimes people will say, “I love your poem about ‘do not go gentle into that good night’ and I’m like ‘Oh no! No! That’s not me!'” That is Dylan Thomas. And of course, the “I Did Not Reach Thee” poem is Emily Dickinson, I think I’m pretty clear which poems are [mine] but all the poems that are from Ky and stuff, I did write.

(Tara) Did you have any training?

No, actually I was taught to teach English. So I’ve never taken a creative writing class. And so, I would like to do that someday. But I did take a lot of English education classes which, we read books and wrote analyses of them and then were taught how to teach that. But no, I wasn’t a straight English major so I missed out on the creative writing part.

(Tara) Do you just write as a profession, is that your only job? Or do you like to balance it with something else as well?

No, no I am just a writer. And I am also a mom, so, I have four kids and I don’t have a nanny so that’s the other thing I do. I do have a babysit who comes for 8 hours a week total, but that’s mostly just so I can take other kids to their lessons and not have to drag everyone along, ’cause my baby is super naughty.

(Me) Oh yeah, I heard that you had just adopted?

Yeah!

(Me) Congratulations!

Thanks! Yeah, we got her back in February and she is really fun and feisty. But, you know, if I try to take one of them to piano lessons she wants to play the piano too. Or if they’re in soccer, suddenly she’s out on the field, she’s feisty. So it’s been really fun.

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