I had the pleasure of speaking with author Ally Carter while she was at the International Spy Museum in Washington D.C. We chatted about All Fall Down and the Embassy Row series, what Ally liked to read when she was a teenager, the possibility of a Heist Society movie, and more:
Lauren: This is the first time you’ve written in a new world in a while. What was the hardest thing about writing All Fall Down?
Ally: I think you probably hit the nail on the head. It was the fact that it was the first time in a really long time that I sat down to write about a new character and thought “What’s her name? How many friends does she have and where are those friends from and what are their names? How many are boys and how many are girls? What’s the name of the city?” So, it’s all those crazy things that I hadn’t had to deal with in a really long time. Every book I try to have some new characters that come in because new character equals new conflict (J.K. Rowling taught me that). It was the first time I was starting totally from scratch in a very long time. It was a big change and sort of a culture shock for me. I’d gotten spoiled.
Lauren: I recently learned about the terms “pantser” and “plotter.” What do you consider yourself?
Ally: I am somewhere in the middle; I’m a strange kind of hybrid. The very first things I ever wrote were really bad screenplays. The first things you write are really bad something—really bad poetry, really bad short stories, really bad novels—mine were really bad screenplays. In screenwriting, they do this technique called storyboarding where you have an index card or in my case, really big Post-It notes, and you write down all of the scenes you think are going to happen, so when I start a book I always do that. I always know the big picture things. I’ll know 4 or 5 different things that are going to happen but I won’t know all of the little details. I’ll know the bones but I won’t know any of the cartilage, if that makes sense. I sit down and figure those things out as I go. Sometimes I’m really surprised. I’ll get to where I thought This is where they’re supposed to get on a plane and go to Paraguay but they don’t go to Paraguay so you just never really know until you get right on into it.
Lauren: During the chat for the cover reveal for See How They Run, you said writing sequels is harder for you. What was most challenging about See How They Run?
Ally Carter: See How They Run has been a bear because it’s a sequel and sequels are just hard. I think it’s largely because your first instinct for how to do everything [is the same way] you did it in the first book. So the first way you’re going to introduce Noah, you [already] introduced him that way in the first book. In See How They Run, the biggest problem was probably that I thought I was being really smart and clever with how I ended the first book and mega—I’m not going to say cliffhanger—but I basically cut it off mid-scene. I thought This’ll be great because book two will just start right up with the next sentence out of Ms. Chancellor’s mouth is the first line of book two. I thought That’ll be amazing! And then Oh no, that really doesn’t work. It’s going to work; it’s going to be amazing but it made a lot of challenges for me because then it’s hard to get back to do the recap. That made it a real challenge. Plus there’s just a lot going on in See How They Run. I try consciously and unconsciously for every book to get a little bit bigger. After All Fall Down, we’re going literally deeper and bigger and hopefully better and it’s a lot.
Lauren: How many books do you see this playing out to be?
Ally: There are three under contract so probably three. I have a really good working relationship with Scholastic and my editor there, David Levithan, and so if I get into Book Three and I can’t wrap it up, I feel pretty confident I would get to do a fourth, but right now the goal is three.
Lauren: If you were going to do a heist with any of your characters, who would you choose and why?
Ally: Obviously Kat because Kat is really good at heists. She’s maybe my favorite character of all time. I like Kat a lot. She would be a lot of fun to do a mission with. There is not a single book that I have written that the people in it would not benefit from knowing Kat so that’s probably a good answer.
Lauren: When you were the prime age for reading YA, what was your favorite book?
Ally: When I was the prime age for reading YA, YA didn’t exist which is really crazy to think about. I was on a retreat just last week with Carrie Ryan, Sophie Jordan, and Rachel Hawkins and there was a woman named Monica McCarty there who writes really wonderful Scottish Historicals. She was talking about how she had done a poll recently of her readership and it was startlingly old, meaning that the historical romance market does not have many young twenty-somethings reading it right now. We got to talking about it and we realized that when we all started reading historical romance, it was when we were teenagers because that’s all we could find to read. Now teenagers have actual YA that they’re reading so it’s a very big change in the dynamic of the marketplace.
There obviously were some. I was a big Nancy Drew fan. I loved everything by S.E. Hinton. I probably graduated out of Nancy Drew and into the works of S.E. Hinton and then from there it was basically adult stuff. Honestly, I wasn’t a huge reader. I was kind of a reluctant reader. I didn’t really enjoy reading until I was probably in my late 20s and realized I’m not liking this book, I don’t have to finish it. Then I became not afraid to pick books up because I was always afraid if I didn’t like something it was going to take a year of my life to struggle through it. I realized I can only read the fun stuff now and that was a huge moment for me as a reader.
Lauren: Being a college student and starting to think about what I want to major in and do with my life, has your degree had an influence on your writing?
Ally: My degree is in agricultural economics so directly no. I didn’t learn a lot about literature with my degree. I will say it’s been incredibly beneficial from a business management standpoint. At the end of the day, I have a degree in small business management and I am my own small business. I’m actually incorporated and all that jazz. I have a person who works with me so it’s very, very important to know the business stuff if you want to do this or have somebody that you work with.
I just recommend that people major in whatever it is they feel they would want to have as a day job. I know that I am incredibly blessed that I am one of the chosen few who gets to do this full time. Odds are very good that I would have had to keep my day job for the duration of my career so I think it’s important to major in something that you won’t mind doing to pay the bills. Writing is one of those things that you don’t have to have a degree to do. There is no barrier to entry in this, just a publishable book. Nobody is going to look at you and say they won’t publish you if you don’t have a creative writing degree. They don’t care! They could not care less. They care that your book is at a professional level.
Lauren: The very first piece I wrote for The Young Folks was a piece on why Lionsgate should make Heist Society into a movie (see it here). Do you have any updates?
Ally: The update is that I really hope Pitch Perfect 2 does well this weekend because it’s Elizabeth Banks’ production company. She directed it and I’m just so impressed with her and with her husband Max Handelman and their company and they’re doing such smart things. Hopefully something will happen. You never ever know. I have a feeling that after this weekend, her stock is going to be incredibly high. It all has to come down to the script. If they get a script that they like with a hot producer attached, I think the odds are probably 80-90% that it’ll get made. So they’re working on a script and I haven’t seen anything or talked to anyone about that, but I have a lot of faith in Elizabeth and her company.
All Fall Down is for sale wherever books are sold and See How They Run is coming January 2016!