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Author (New York Times Best Seller) - Ally Carter
Ally Carter, an Oklahoma author, has four books published. Two of those books are young adult books or books for teenagers. The YA book’s titles are I’d Tell You I Love You but Then I’d Have to Kill You and Cross My Heart and Hope to Spy. The adult titles are Cheating at Solitaire and Learning to Play Gin. On Ally’s website she says “I can assure you that even my ‘adult’ books are rated PG.” Ally’s latest novel, Cross My Heart and Hope to Spy, is currently on the New York Times Best Seller’s list
Q: When did you first realize you wanted to be an author?
A: Well I think it’s something that I’ve always been kind of interested in, it’s like sort of kind of subconsciously. I didn’t actually start really writing you know with the intent of actually writing seriously probably until I was in college. And then the first things that I wrote were screen plays. And they were very very bad, but that’s okay because everybody has to write bad stuff first. And so I got my bad stuff out of my system. And um about oh eight years ago I started writing novels. And it took a couple of years to get one finished and to get one published and everything. Um but I would say probably for the last oh ten or twelve years or so I’ve been you know very very interested in writing professionally.
Q. When your first book came out did you believe you’d be able to write more books?
A: Well actually I was very fortunate in that the first book that I sold was Cheating at Solitaire and I don’t know if you’ve read that one or not…
Me: I have.
A: But that’s the book that’s the one that came out from Berkley (publishing house) and that’s kind of geared towards older readers um did you like it by the way?
Me: Yes I very much liked it.
A: Great, well when Cheating at Solitaire sold we actually sold it as what they call a two book deal; so I knew at that time that I was going to get to write a sequel which was Learning to Play Gin. And so at the time I knew that yes I was going to get to write at least two books. And then while I was in the process of working on Learning to Play Gin I had the idea and everything for I’d Tell You I Love You but Then I’d Have to Kill You and then that sold as a two book deal. So kind of right away I knew that I was going to have at least four books out. Which was really kind of surreal and crazy. So I was very very fortunate in that respect.
Q: What helps you get started with the writing process? And what helps you cope with writer’s block?
A: Oh those are good questions. Um get started with do you mean coming up with the initial idea or just like getting the first chapter on paper?
Me: Kind of both.
A: Kind of both okay. Ideas for me come in a lot of different ways; Book ideas. Um I’d Tell You I Love You but Then I’d Have to Kill You occurred to me while I was watching (the television show) Alias one night. Cheating at Solitaire occurred to me while I was making spaghetti and meatballs, and so you just never know where the idea is going to pop into your head. I just, A new book that I just proposed, it’s just been submitted to my editor and we’ll see if they want to buy it, um but I had that (idea) while I was you know driving down a highway. So you just never know where those (ideas) are going to come.
And often times I think for a lot of writers, especially, I know this is true for me, um the coming up with the ideas is kind of the easy part but the actually figuring out okay how is this going to work? Who is this character? What is the central conflict in this characters life? I mean that’s really where the writing process begins. Because it’s on thing to say oh yeah I going to write a book about spies, okay now what? What kind of spies? Where does she live? What does she want, what is her goal? What’s keeping her from her goal?
That’s really where you get your story from. And so those are the things that I think they just take a long time. And you’re going to have a lot of missed false starts. And you’re going to start, try things and it’s not gonna work and so you’re just going to have to throw that all I the trash and start again. And so that’s where what you say, writer’s block comes into play.
For me I think there are two main types of writers block. And I’ve heard of others writer friends I’ve talked about this with me as well. The first kind is the “oh I’m just not in the mood to write, I’d rather lie here on the couch and watch TV and eat potato chips all day” and you know that’s kinda type one writer’s block. That’s the kind that I think the only way you get through it is to push through it, okay I’ve got a deadline, I’ve got to get this done, I‘m going to write for x number of hours today whether if it kills me.
The second type of writer’s block I think is the hardest type and where a lot of writers make mistakes is they don’t know which type of the two types they have. The second type is the book isn’t going well, there’s something wrong with the book, um I’m don’t know what I’m doing, I don’t like what I’m writing, I don’t want to sit down at the computer because it’s going to be painful , it’s just really hard. And for me that’s the really really bad kind. Um because that’s the type where it’s not necessarily that you don’t want to write but it’s that you’re writing the wrong things. And so that’s when you can’t push through it because then you’d keep writing more bad stuff. So that’s when you have to stop and step away and say, “Okay why isn’t this working?” And eventually for me that means that I’ve got a character doing the wrong thing or behaving the wrong way or I don’t have enough conflict so I just make up conflict.
Um S. Scott Fitzgerald said what was my favorite writers quote, and I’m probably butchering this, I don’t know it verbatim but it’s something to the extent of great books write themselves only bad books have to be written and I absolutely love that quote because I think that’s really really true. The best writing that I ever do is writing that comes really fast and comes really easy. And that’s when I know I am writing the right thing. Other wise if I’m trying to write through a brick wall then chances are it’s gonna feel false and it’s gonna feel forced and people are gonna see how tough it was. You know you’ve gotta find the best… when you find the true heart of story the writing should take care of itself.
Q: Do you have a favorite word or phrase?
A: Oh, gosh, yes, sure I do. I tend to have people leaning a lot. It’s something that my editors always get onto me about “knock it off”. But every writer does it. And this is something that you don’t even consciously know your doing until the book gets finished and it goes through the editing process. And at one point during the writing process of Cross My Heart and Hope to Spy edits one of my editors said “do these guys have inter ear infections why are they always leaning on stuff” so I, cause I especially when you’re writing dialog you want to kind of break it up when he says “I thought I’d find you here,” you know, so and so says as he leaned against the fireplace. You know because you want to emphasize that there is a break in his speech pattern and so I usually tend to do that by having them leaning on stuff. And so I have to go back and make changes and make them upright more than they usually are. So yes I do and I think that that’s okay to some extent to have favorite words, especially in respect to dialog.
Um, you know Camie might use a word more than a normal person would use a word. And part of that is because I am using that word a lot as the writer but another part of it is, is because that’s how people talk. People do have favorite words that they use over and over again. So in respect to dialog I think that’s perfectly okay. I do that like with the constantly having people leaning on stuff thing, that’s probably not okay. And thank goodness for editors because there always there to point that out.
Q: Can you give me a synopsis of your new book Cross My Heart and Hope to Spy?
A: Yes actually I think I can do that. This is always a very tricky thing for me. Cross My Heart and Hope to Spy begins oh just a few weeks after I’d Tell You I Love You but Then I’d Have to Kill You ends. And in it um Camie is dealing with the consequences of having lied and rebelled against the authority of her school for a whole semester. And um as a result of this she’s going to have to deal with some new mysterious visitors that are coming to the school this time. And her mother is acting very very secretive and there’s a lot of stuff Camie doesn’t know. And so for the first time in her life she’s really, she’s not spying on boys this time, she’s really spying on her mother and on the school it’s self. And so that’s probably all I can tell you and I think this book has a lot of good surprises and I don’t want to ruin any of the surprises for anyone.
Q: Your YA books are all set in high school. On your web page you say that high school and middle school were less than pleasant experiences. Tell me what made it so horrific?
A: Oh it wasn’t horrific I think High school and middle school is for many many people it’s the low point of their life. That doesn’t necessarily mean it’s bad. It just means that those are really tough ages, when your, you know your body is weird and everybody’s changing and nobody knows you know who their suppose to be when they grow up and so they, their just trying to figure out who they are. And so it’s really really a tough age to do. You know I think most of my friends in high school would agree with me, most of my adult friends now would agree with me, it’s just it’s a really tough age. And you know that’s why YA literature I think is so important; it illustrates that to young people that you know the things that you’re feeling the things that you’re going through, um you’re not the first kid to ever have to live through that. And there is a light at the end of the tunnel.
On the whole I had good high school and middle school experiences. You know I was good at school, I luckily, I feel very lucky very grateful that I went to a very small school, relatively speaking. And so you know we didn’t have like the huge mean girl clichés and stuff like that. It was the kind of school where everybody pretty much knew everybody else. And um even though you had some people that were better friends with each other than other people, um you really didn’t have a lot of clichés per se and um so you were able to, you were able to take the classes you wanted to take, hang out kinda with whoever you wanted you wanted to hang out with and in that respect I had a very good high school experience. Um would I do high school over again? Not on a million years. Just because I like being a grown-up better than I like being a teenager.
Q: If you could be any of the characters from your YA books, which character would you be?
A: If I could be any of them?
A: Oh that’s hard. Well I think for the Gallagher girls books the think about them like I tried to make each one of the girls really really great at one thing; so that if you combine them all into one person you have a perfect person. Um I guess I’m probably the most like Camie and I would probably like to be like Camie but in many respects I wouldn’t. Camie lost her father and I’m fortunate enough to still have both of my parents.
Um you know Bex still has both of her parents, and Bex is very beautiful and very athletic and really smart and every thing; But Bex you know only gets to see her mom and dad ya know a couple of times a year because their always off saving the world.
Camie is er er Macey is rich and beautiful and has you know kinda the world at her feet and yet I think it’s pretty obvious like you know getting to know Macey that that’s not all it’s cracked up to be either.
Um Liz is you know a super genius and just a wonderful sweet person but bless her heart, she’s awfully clumsy and feels very awkward and you know she’s so intellectual that other parts of her life are kind of missing.
So in that respect I think that it’s hard to pick one of those girls and say yes that’s who I want to be. Um maybe I’d be Rachel because you know Rachel is the cool mom and she kind of has it all together. So I do like Rachel an awful lot. But again there she’s had to deal with a lot of sadness in her life too. So I guess maybe if it’s an option I’ll just stick with being me.
Q: How much are your personal experiences or those of people you know a part of your books?
A: That’s a very good question. Um I don’t know anybody who goes to a school for teenage spies. Um but I do, I do and I think all authors do, draw upon on personal experiences and real life experiences. Because what’s the fun of fiction if it doesn’t have any sort of root in reality? And so you know the things about how Camie feels invisible has a base in reality. I think all teenage girls, I know I, felt like that many many times in my life. And I think all of us have, I think that’s why girls really like Camie.
Um the things about I really draw a lot from real life about how the girls have to investigate Josh in the first book and trying to decipher okay when a boy says this, what does he really mean? And I can remember spending hours upon hours with my girlfriends’ dissecting every little thing a boy said in an e-mail or a phone conversations and you know replaying, “Okay tell me exactly what words he used. Did he say very or did he say really? Because it can make a difference” you know and that probably doesn’t make any difference.
But that’s something that was really kind of at the core of the first book. So I think all girls are spies when it comes to the boys that they like. These girls just happen to have training to back it up. And so that’s I think that if you had to summarize I’d Tell You I Love You but Then I’d Have to Kill You in a nut shell. That’s really what it is.
Q: Are there any mistakes or place holders in a book of yours that were overlooked in the editing process?
A: Oh I’m sure there are. I’m sure there probably are you know many many mistakes. Because you know people do that people type up those things, people edit those things, people write those things, people make mistakes. And even though I can assure you we went through them a dozens upon dozens times, looking for mistakes; I’m promise you some slipped through the cracks. I personally don’t know of any, I can’t tell you, you know page you know whatever has one but I know there has to be some out there.
So you know some things are just style differences. This is something that I learned because um Cheating at Solitaire and Learning to Play Gin were published under a different (publishing) house. And houses will have what they call house styles. And like at some houses like the word goodbye might all be one word. And some houses good-bye might be hyphenated. And so you know you’ll find that they do things differently like that.
And so that’s one thing that I’ve learned, because you know I thought “oh I’m learning all this” going through writing Cheating at Solitaire and doing copy edits, “now I’ll know exactly what makes that mistake for next time”. And so I’ll put it in the manuscript the way Berkley does it or the way the other publisher does it. Only I have Hyperion now and they tell me “oh no we don’t do it that way we do it this way.” And so even between publishing houses, you know there are things that some would be a mistake that others wouldn’t correct. So it’s really a very interesting experience.
Q: What messages do you hope the reader will get from I’d Tell You I Love You but Then I’d have to Kill You and Cross My Heart and Hope to Spy?
A: I think the thing I want girls to understand or anybody who reads the books to understand is that um everybody feels like a spy sometimes, everybody feels like their living a double life, everyone feels um the pressure of having to I guess really find out who you are; that’s a major thing with Cross My Heart and Hope to Spy-as you know having just read it. Um you know I was really having trouble getting the first chapter of that book until one night it occurred to me what the opening line of the book would be and that’s Rachel’s line when she tells Camie “just be yourself”.
And that was really one of my pet peeves as a teenager; my mom would always tell me “oh just be yourself”. And I’d always want to scream, “But how do I know who that is?” You know I don’t… who am I supposed to be? The person I am with my mom or sister or when I’m with my friends? You know am I supposed to be the person I am with my teachers? I can be all these different people and so I think all kids and all people to some extent really feel like chameleons sometimes.
Who am I supposed to be where? And so that’s one of things I want people to really take away from that, is that that’s normal you’re supposed to have those kinds of worries. And the more you feel okay with that the more yourself you’re going to be.
Q: Has being an author changed anything about your life?
A: Absolutely, it’s changed a lot about my life. Um I feel um I probably work a little harder than I did. I probably spend a few more hours behind a computer than I did but it’s also a lot more rewarding. Because I get you know… the best part of my job easily is getting e-mails or having conversations like this with readers or having readers come to things like the one we’re going to have on October second in Tulsa. And just getting to know what I’m doing makes a difference. It matters. I’m bringing enjoyment and you know a few laughs and a little thought provoking um into peoples lives. And so that’s a major major benefit of my job. That’s the biggest benefit of my job. And if I weren’t writing and publishing then I probably wouldn’t have given a lot of that. And so I’m very grateful to have that opportunity.
Q: Who are some of your favorite YA authors?
A: Oh I have a lot; my favorite book when I was your age and probably the book that when I look back on it and think yeah that’s when I decided I really to be a writer was S.E. Hinton’s The Outsiders. And so I read The Outsiders and then I read Rumble Fish and then I read That Was Then This is Now and I read all those in kind of in quick succession. Because I found out she was from Tulsa and I thought that was the coolest thing in the world was that somebody from Tulsa had actually written these really great books and had these really cool movies coming out about then. So I thought wow if she can live in Tulsa and do that then I’m from kind of by Tulsa, I can maybe do that too. And so that was a very big moment for me.
I don’t know there’s a lot of debate on whether this is a YA book or not but I still love To Kill a Mockingbird. That’s probably my favorite all time book. And that’s a book I’ll go back and read over and over again.
Um my favorite authors writing right now; I really love E. Lockhart who wrote The Boyfriend List and Dramarama and some other really great books. I think she’s just amazing. Um I absolutely love John Green’s stuff. Um I’m a big big fan of Megan Shoals, who wrote a book called Amazing Grace, it was one of my favorite books of the last two years. There’re very very very good. And there’s a lot of people that are doing some good stuff right now. I was a big fan of Harry Potter, you know back when the Harry Potter’s were still coming out which sadly they won’t be any more. But I guess we can love those books forever.