Orem Reads is almost over, but there’s still a ghost stories program tonight and our finale with Ally Condie, the author of Summerlost, to look forward to! Check out this exclusive interview with Ally before her talk and book signing next Monday.
Summerlost is quite different from your previous books. Tell us about the book and how it came to be.
I was supposed to be writing something else, a young adult novel, for my publisher. But my oldest son, who at the time was about twelve, kept asking very interesting questions at bedtime that I couldn’t fully answer. And I started thinking about how pivotal that age—twelve—was for me. I lost a sibling and a grandparent, and I also met my best friend. I started jotting down notes about a character who has suffered great loss but who finds something magical in friendship. The book wouldn’t let me go.
Tell us about the first book that really grabbed you. What was it? What was it that captured your imagination? How did you find it?
I loved a lot of books as a child, but reading Anne of Green Gables in third grade had a huge influence on me. I loved Anne, and I loved where she lived, and I loved all the big words she used. I wanted to be her. I read the book thirty-three times that year. (I know this because I made a mark on the inside front cover every time I finished reading, and I still have the copy of that book.) My parents always took us to bookstores when we went on vacation, and we could choose a new book. (We lived in Cedar City, Utah, and this was long before you ordered books online. So bookstore trips were a huge treat.) Anne of Green Gables was one of those vacation picks. I’ll always be grateful to my parents for starting that tradition on vacations—we looked forward to it so much. (And now I make sure to take my kids to indie bookstores on all our family trips.)
What made you decide to start writing? What advice would you give a novice writer?
I actually don’t remember a time when I wasn’t writing. Even before I could physically write, I told stories to my babysitter and asked her to write them down for me. Writing is how I’ve made sense of my world and of my place in it. I’d tell a novice writer to write what they love. And to do things that they find exciting, and to pay attention to the world and stories around them. Be open.
What are some of the books that make you want to write?
Emily of New Moon, which is another novel by L. M. Montgomery, made me realize that you could write as a career. I read that book in fourth or fifth grade. I’d always written stories and poems, but it was because it was part of me, not because I really thought about doing it as a job. In that book, though, and in the sequels, Emily works very hard and you see her go through the creative process and struggle with self-doubt, naysayers, her own limitations, and rejection. I also love everything by Anne Tyler and Wallace Stegner.
Tell us a little about your process and habits as a writer. For example, how many books/projects have you started writing, versus finished writing? Do you have a specific time of day when you write? Any writerly rituals or superstitions?
I have lots of projects I’ve started but never finished, but I’ve never finished a novel that didn’t end up being published. I write whenever I have a babysitter or my kids are in school. I don’t have any huge rituals, but I do drink a lot of water while I’m writing. And I like to listen to music before I begin, as a transition from being a mom to being in the story.
If you could take a month-long vacation in any of your books, which would you choose, and why?
Hmmm. My books tend to be in really terrible dystopian worlds, so I guess the only one that would really work would be Summerlost. It wouldn’t be too bad to have a month to spend in Iron Creek, which is based on Cedar City, Utah, where I grew up. I could go on some great hikes and runs, see plays, and eat at all my favorite spots.
Who are some of your favorite characters in literature?
A recent read that I loved was Patina by Jason Reynolds. I love the main character. I also love Ian Bedloe in Anne Tyler’s Saint Maybe, Calvin in Martine Leavitt’s Calvin, and Min in Brendan Reichs’s Nemesis. They’re all extremely different characters, but they’re each complicated, interesting, and unique. And they all have something enormous to overcome.
What literary world would you most like to be real?
I’m like everyone else. I’d LOVE to go to Hogwarts. I’ve tested Gryffindor on the Pottermore website, but I know I’m a Hufflepuff. Certain of it.
Are you a library user? Tell us some of your favorite things about libraries.
I am! In fact, the Orem Library is my library. I love bringing my kids to choose books. They always get very excited and I have to restrain them. My youngest in particular is a bull in a china shop and wants to take everything she sees. I also love having access to books for myself. When I was working on my MFA (I just graduated this summer), I got a lot of the books I needed for writing papers and for my study from the Orem Library. I love how libraries are communal places and how people are always there, working in cubicles or reading in a corner or walking up and down among the shelves. I feel myself physically relax in a library. This may be because I spent most of my lunch recesses during elementary school in my school’s library. I was a shy kid without a lot of friends, and I always knew I would be safe and have something wonderful to read if I went to the library.
Is there anything you would like to tell Orem readers about Summerlost?
First of all, I’m extremely, extremely honored that Summerlost was chosen for Orem Reads this year. I have attended lectures and read books for the Orem Reads program in the past, and to be chosen means the world to me. I’d want to tell Orem readers that this is a book about grief, but it’s also a book about magic and mystery and friendship. It’s about a girl who finds happiness in surprising and unexpected places. It’s about a small town and kids with big dreams. There’s candy and Shakespeare and a maybe-ghost in this book. I hope there’s something for everyone!