Are the young readers in your house always looking for a new series to sink their teeth into? There was such angst in ours when Harry Potter ended, and then again with the Twilight series, and then once again with The Hunger Games. Next up? Ally Condie’s trilogy: Matched, Crossed, and the forthcoming Reached. They’re addictive. Friends, I’d love for you to meet Ally. If you haven’t already, you’re going to be hearing her name a lot!
Q: We always imagine a creative person’s childhood was surely magical, ridiculously happy, or tragically lonely! Please describe yours.
A: One of my favorite quotes is the first line of Agatha Christie’s autobiography: “One of the luckiest things that can happen to you in life, is, I think, to have a happy childhood.” The dream of my life is to help my kids have a happy childhood. I certainly did. I had wonderful parents, a beautiful place to grow up (the small town of Cedar City, Utah), and lots of books to read.
However, I think most creative people have a place for loneliness inside, even with a happy upbringing. I have always felt that — and I think part of being creative is acknowledging and exploring that loneliness, letting it be a part of you, and accepting it as much as we accept happiness and magic.
Q: What’s your earliest memory of being creative…and how was your attempt received by your family?
A: My earliest memory of being creative was of writing a story about pregnant unicorns. I dictated it to my (very patient) babysitter and she was lovely about it. I think that, in my young mind, the only thing better than plain old unicorns were those with the ability to give birth to EVEN MORE unicorns! I don’t remember reading it to my family or sharing it with them, but the fact that it was lovingly preserved in my box of childhood artifacts all these years speaks volumes. (Thanks, Mom!)
Q: When did you realize your writing talents? That moment where you thought “I can make a living at this!” When did the rest of the world realize your talents, too?
A: I’ve always loved writing — it’s been a part of me since I can remember — but it was when I was 24 and had just quit teaching and had my first child that I thought, “I’m going to make this a priority and see how much better I can get.” I’ve never been great at anything right out of the gate, so I was lucky in that I knew it might take years of daily, dedicated writing, and I was prepared to invest that kind of time (anything to avoid the dishes!). I wrote five books with my regional publisher (Deseret Book) before my sixth book, Matched, was picked up by Penguin. That was a huge moment of validation, of course, but there were many others along the way, sometimes as simple and personal as sitting back at my desk and thinking, “I may be the only person who ever reads it, but I got this paragraph just right.”
Q: Describe your work space, or where you work best. Where do you find inspiration? How do you ward off writer’s block and work worries?
A: I recently moved into my first “true” office — a room that is an office only, and not a corner of another room. It’s been lovely, but I wrote those first eight books in a shared space and that worked well too. I do need to have my own desk, and I prefer to write on a “regular” computer, not a laptop. For some reason, laptops wreak havoc on my wrists. I like to have earphones in to block the noise (usually I’m not listening to music, just silence).
I can and have written just about anywhere including planes, hotel hallways, etc., but most of my work happens at my desk. My office is kid friendly; there are little things for them to play with (like Muji city blocks that are in constant disarray), and a table where they can work and do projects while I answer email or put out small fires. We spend a lot of time together in this room and I love it! However, I do most of my “serious” work (i.e., writing and revising) when they are in bed.
I find inspiration in work. Those fun, wonderful moments when the writing just comes remind me of running races. If you put in the work, something good can happen and you have that moment when it all comes together. And, of course, inspiration also comes just from living. For me, being a creative person means that I have to do both: I have to make time for the work, but I also have to live my life outside of the work.
Q: We’re always wondering how to find balance between parenting and work; do you have a system for separating the two jobs, or are your days more free flow?
A: I am a terrible multi-tasker. I can usually only do one thing well at a time. For my first six books, I wrote during nap time, after bedtime, and on Saturdays when my husband was home. Now, I have a (wonderful!) babysitter who comes for eight hours a week. I use that time for writing and then fit in the rest of my work by putting in the hours when the kids are in bed. It’s a bit difficult to try to fit in what can feel like two full-time jobs (writer and stay-at-home mom), but I do the best that I can. Of course, there have been plenty of times when I have a phone call from my agent and I’m in the middle of changing a diaper.
Q: What’s been the best response to your work so far?
A: As a former public school teacher, I love it anytime a middle or high school age student comes up to me and tells me that they liked my book. And sometimes I get notes from kids who say, “I didn’t think I was a reader until I read your book.” That makes it all worthwhile.
Q: The first book that changed your life…
A: Ooh, that’s a tricky one. It was probably the Little House on the Prairie series. I wanted to BE Laura Ingalls Wilder. For the entire year I was five, I wore a satin skirt and a sunbonnet that my grandmother made for me out of a wallpaper sample. That was my idea of the perfect pioneer outfit. I was (and still am) pretty short, so my dad called me Half-Pint just like Laura’s dad did in the book, and I loved it.
Q: The one book you wish you had written…
A: I wish I could write as beautifully as Wallace Stegner in Crossing to Safety. This book makes me ache. I remember reading it in high school for the first time and feeling torn up and put together again.
Q: What do you hope your career choice is teaching your children? (Do they brag about you?)
A: My kids don’t brag about me. My oldest, who is nine, is kind of coming to the age where he thinks that what I do is cool, in the sense that he really likes writing and reading and can understand why I would want to do that as a job. I hope that my career choice teaches my kids that creativity and hard work are both good things, and that they go hand in hand.
Q: Please finish the sentence: I can’t believe I…
A: I can’t believe I am lucky enough to be a mom and a writer.
Thank you, Ally! I think we all wanted to be Laura Ingalls Wilder! And that was also one of the first series I remember never wanting to end. And Crossing to Safety is one of my all-time favorite books! Thank you again for adding your trilogy to our libraries.
Friends, what has been your favorite series? Were you devastated when it ended? Don’t you wish all of your favorite authors would agree to keep writing about the characters we grow to love? That would be a lovely rule to institute. I wonder who you would keep following, year after year?
By the way, those pumpkins? I found them via Shannon Hale.