Thursday, June 11, 2009

Ally Carter Interview

So yes, for me, this is Ally Carter week. As I said yesterday, I interviewed Ally previously (July 2008) but wasn't blogging then. So I thought I'd run it here so you can all learn more about her and her wonderful books.

Tell us a little about your books in a nutshell?

The books I’m best known for is a series about the Gallagher Girls. I like to think of them as fun books set in a boarding school for teenage girls who are learning to be secret agents and the high jinks and boy trouble that they get into. I am figuring out that all teenage girls with crushes are really spies. These girls just happen to have the training to back it up. So no matter how many languages they learn and what scientific methods they master, boys and the general life stuff are still things girls have to figure out on their own. So Books 1 and 2 are about just that: Who can you trust? Who is it OK to let into your life? How do you learn to be who you are when you are just growing up?

Did you always want to be a writer?

I think in the back of my mind the answer to that question is probably yes. I didn’t actively pursue writing, I wasn’t a creative writing major in college or anything like that but it was the dream job. You know if you had asked me when I was ten what I wanted to be when I grew up that’s probably what I would have said was my heart’s desire.

Why YA?

Actually I started out writing very literary adult books then my agent noticed that I was rather funny, so I started to write lighter adult stuff. My agent then noticed that I was kind of clean and kind of funny and suggested I try writing for YA. I had never thought of it because to tell the truth when I was eleven, twelve, thirteen I didn’t find a lot of books I liked. We did not have the amount of great YA writers we have now and I had a bias of sorts in the back of my mind. I knew that I didn’t like teen books when I was a teen and I didn’t know the genre had changed so much. My agent told me to pick up a book by Meg Cabot or any other teen writer and see if I still had the same opinion afterwards. So I did and immediately said, where were these books when I was this age? And I knew I had found my home.

Do you write full time?

I do. I am blessed that I am at the point that I can write full time. It’s a wonderful feeling to roll out of bed and know that you can work in your pajamas all day long if you need or want to. I feel very grateful to my readers because they are the ones who allow me to live my dream.

What inspired you to write the series?

This series came about firstly from the email from my agent saying I think you should try to write YA. Then I sent her a list of ideas, all of which she hated. She told me to go home and think bigger, think better, and remember that teen girls are really smart. They only want to read the best. So I went home and was watching the TV show Alias and I had the sound on mute. When I looked up, only really half paying attention, it was a flashback scene when the main characters were young, running through this old abandoned building. And the first thing that flashed through my mind was, I wonder if they went to a school for spies. I turned up the volume and that wasn’t it at all but by that time the seed was already in the back of my mind. I knew spy school was something I was going to spend time thinking about.

Will there be a third in the series?

Yes, there will be a third. And I can tell you that Book 3 covers essentially the fall semester of their junior year at school. It has worked out very nicely that Book 1 was fall semester sophomore year, Book 2 spring semester, now we’re back in the fall semester for Book 3. We actually see more of the girls away from school than we have ever before and they are definitely growing up. Of course Cammie writes the books and I found myself using slightly bigger words, and there’s just a little more mature of a tone. I didn’t consciously do that but she’s 16 now and the problems of a 16-year-old are a little different, especially when you deal in covert operations. So far it’s my favorite of the three and I hope readers agree.

(I left that question in, even though the third has just been published to keep the interview intact and to hear what she thought of it pre-publication. Now I'd ask about the rest of the series...Ally thinks there will be six)

Will we find out more about Cammie’s Mom, Rachel?

Yes, I love Rachel. She’s a wonderful role model. You can just imagine her going off to some small country nobody has ever heard of, doing these incredibly dangerous, heroic things, then coming home to Cammie and being Mom. And I think that so many of the working mothers of the world are like that and I think it’s a shame that their daughters don’t get to see them in their professional role quite as much. So that’s one of the things I really love about Rachel. Oh, and I love that she’s bad at something. That she can’t cook to save her life. And that’s OK. She tries. She really wants to be able to cook a good Sunday night dinner but she just does not have that skill set.

After this series, will you continue to write for young adults?

Oh I do. I’m not going to say that I’ll never do anything else because I think you have to go wherever the really good idea takes you but I do love writing for teenagers. I think the highs are higher for teenage readers and the lows are lower. And I love that teenagers don’t turn their nose up at you. If you write for adults and you have a character who lives with her heart on her sleeve adults have a tendency to say things like, “oh, I would never do anything like that”, whereas teenagers embrace it. They are not afraid to think something is cool and if they love it they are going to tell their 1400 best friends about it. I’m grateful every day that I write for teenagers.

I’m assuming you read a lot of spy novels or watch a lot of spy movies. Who is your favorite spy?

My favorite fictional spy that I did not create is Jason Bourne. I love the Bourne movies. Maybe it’s because I love Matt Damon. But they kind of reinvented Bond so he’s Bond without the gadgets, Bond on his own. I, of course, have no idea what’s it’s really like in covert operations but I think that’s a lot of it--just a person and their wits, surviving. And that’s something that I really enjoy.

So, who was your favorite Bond?

Honestly I have not watched many of them. Probably Pierce Brosnan, because I loved him back when he did Remington Steel (yes, I'm totally dating myself). But I remember back when I was little, we were all so in love with Remington Steele. So I’ll go with him even though people think Sean Connery is the quintessential Bond. Oh, and the new one, Daniel Craig, is exceptionally dreamy too.

Are you tempted to try out the spy techniques that you write about?

I have to say I am more aware in parking lots than anyone. I memorize license plate numbers, and watch to see if someone follows me in the grocery store and whether he follows me to the car. I’m very into that. And now that I work from home, oh my poor neighbors, I check to see if they are away, I notice if cars are parked in the same place two nights in a row. I’m just very, very nosy. I want some night vision glasses so badly I can taste it but I’m resisting the temptation. I so want to go to the spy museum in Washington, DC especially when I found out that they are selling my books in their gift shop. I have to say that was one of the highlights of my career, knowing they are selling my Gallagher Girls books as reference material!

Which writers do you admire most?

I love Jane Austen. And when I was a teen I really worshipped SE Hinton because she grew up near where I grew up. I’ve often wondered if I would have had the courage to do what I do now, if I hadn’t known that teenage girls from where I was from could do this. She set that example for me in a way that I’m really, really grateful for. When I think of teen books that I love right now, I think of John Green who is great, and I absolutely adore E. Lockhart, especially The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks, which I think should win the Printz award hands down. I’m very good friends with Jennifer Lynn Barnes who writes a really fun series called The Squad about cheerleading secret agents. Of course I’m very into Harry Potter and Stephenie Meyer and I make it a point to read as many super popular books as I can because I’m of the opinion that there has got to be something there. Even if I hate 99% of the book, there is 1% there that I can learn from. If you want to win awards you should read the award winners. If you want to be a best seller you need to read all the bestsellers and look for what you can learn from them.

What are you currently reading?

I’m reading a book on the history of art theft because I’m doing research for my new series about a band of teenage thieves. So whereas Cammie grew up in a family of spies I’m now writing about a girl called Kat who grew up in a family of high-end con men and thieves. That’s a very interesting world. In Italy alone it’s about a billion dollars a year business because so many churches in Italy have an Old Master on their wall or have a really historic altar piece. And most of these crimes are very low tech, done by a couple of guys with a ladder.

What young adult author are you an evangelist for?

E. Lockhart this year. Emily and I are friends. She and I have the same editor, who often told me about how good the book was. So my expectations were incredibly high and it exceeded them.

Have you ever bought a book because of the cover?

OK, I think I won the cover lottery. I love my covers. I am so blessed. One of the research books I bought recently, The Museum of the Missing: A History of Art Theft, is a gorgeous book and even if I never read it, I will lay it on my coffee table forever because it looks so sophisticated! There’s also a book called Hero by Perry Moore that has a wonderful cover, white with a mask on the front. I went away with a copy of that book from BEA because I loved the cover.

Have you had any interest in making your books into a movie?

Usually I get that question from the girls. It is currently under option at Walden Media, who did Chronicles of Narnia, Bridge to Terabithia, Journey to the Center of the Earth. They do a great job of bringing books to film. They are working on a script and it was an honor just being asked if they could turn it into a movie. If it happens, it would be wonderful. If not, it doesn’t change the books one bit because they’re already movies in themselves you just have to sit down and roll the film inside your own head.

(this was last year and I'm assuming things are different now)

If you could pick someone now, who do you see playing Cammie?

I like the young girl in the movie, Jumper — AnnaSophia Robb. She was also in Bridge to Terabithia. She’s a wonderful young actress and I think would make a great actress. But nobody is going to ask me!

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