The Dragon Whistler

The Dragon Whistler
Now available in paperback.


Q&A with Ally Carter

On a middle school visit yesterday, author Ally Carter took questions from the kids, and she was nice enough to let me share the answers with you.

BTW:   For you Cool Kids in the Dallas area, she’ll be signing books at the Barnes & Noble/Southlake tomorrow (Saturday) afternoon
at 2 pm so get on out there!

Name: Ally Carter

Alma Mater: Oklahoma State University, but received her Masters from Cornell. (She was also co-valedictorian of her high school class.)

Fav Football Team: OSU (of course!)

When did you first start writing? She always wrote poems and stories, got really interested in middle school, but it wasn’t until her mid-twenties that she started writing books.

When did you realize you wanted to be a writer? When she read The Outsiders
 in junior high. She grew up in Oklahoma near Tulsa, and when she found out that book was written by teenage girl living in Tulsa, she thought, wow that’s what teenage girls from Tulsa do… so she wanted to as well.

What was your favorite book to write? Heist Society: it’s the newest, and therefore the baby of the family, but she says that for an author, every book you write becomes your favorite at the time – besides, writing is always a learning process, you hope that you’re getting better with each book.

What was your first published book? Cheating at Solitaire (in December of 2005), then I’d Tell You I Love You But Then I’d Have To Kill You (in April 2006)

Who is your favorite character in the Gallagher Girls books? Cammie, because she’s the one Ally spends the most time with, but she likes writing them all. She finds it fun to write wacky characters. Tina is fun to write. Ally wouldn’t want to do an entire book about her, but she does like her when she comes around.

Where do you get your inspiration? Different ways: for one book it was while making spaghetti. For the Gallagher Girl series it was while watching the TV Show “Alias”, specifically the flashback episode where we see her sister in the orphanage. Seeing them running around that school in the dead of night made Ally think about a boarding school for spies.

For Heist Society, the idea came to her while she was listening to a book on tape. There was a line in the book “I was like a cat burglar in my own house” and it immediately made her want to write a book about a girl named Cat who was a burglar.

What is your thought/writing process? As she’s writing, Ally thinks of the book like watching a movie in her head. She started off writing screenplays, and learned a lot of things from that process like the technique of storyboarding – she gets a big white board and puts it on the wall, and when she has an idea for a scene or a line, she writes it on a Post It note and sticks it on the wall. Then she can go through and arrange and rearrange, like pieces of a puzzle, switching scenes around, and getting rid of others as she’s rewriting.

How do you come up your titles? The Title Fairy drops them off, ha ha. Ally says they just come to her somehow, and she’s very grateful for that. Some of them are harder than others to come up with, like Heist Society – the title occurred to her early on, and as she was writing the book she always referred to it as “Heist”… she supposes that word was always at the top of the brain, so that is why “Heist” ended up in the title.

As far as the Gallagher Girl titles – Tell You… Kill You, was always there from the beginning. Once that was out, then she knew she had to make the others fit the pattern, so she’d Google idioms and common sayings to find one that made sense for the book. She also says by time you get to the last page of the forthcoming 4th book in the series, Only the Good Spy Young, you’ll see the title makes perfect sense.

Then Ally divulged a bit about the book… it begins where Don’t Judge A Girl By Her Cover left off, with Cammie going on winter break with Bex in London.
(P.S., you can read the first chapter at the end of the paperback edition of Don’t Judge…) She says we find out a lot of information in this book. Although it’s one of the shorter books in the series, a lot happens in it. However, while Cammie does start figuring things out, this book will also raise more questions.

What’s the best/worst thing about being a writer? You get to work in your pajamas. It’s a cool benefit.

Worst part is the pressure – as wonderful a blessing as it is to have a successful series, there’s always people asking ‘when’s the next book coming out?’ You can read them faster than she can write them. And she wishes she could write them just as quickly.

What are you working on now? Heist Society 2.

What book are you most proud of? All of them in different ways, because they all symbolize something different. She was most satisfied with how Heist Society turned out, but Tell You… Kill You was special as it was her first foray into YA. Cross my Heart was hardest to write…

What do you do when you have writer’s block? First she asks herself which type of writer’s block is it? It’s either 1) you just want to lie on the couch and watch TV; you know what’s going on with the book, but don’t feel like writing, and your easily going to get sucked into stuff that has nothing to do with writing. When that happens, you just have to make yourself focus.

But 2) is more dangerous – that’s when you’re going and going every day and it’s like banging your head against wall, nothing seems to be right. You’ve gotten off track. This isn’t something you can write through, you have to write around it. Sometimes you have to take a break, back up and re-examine what you’ve done.

Which book took you the longest to write? Cross my Heart – It took a year and a half—she wrote it 3 different times with 3 different plots. Her deleted scenes file is 800 pages long!

Do you type or write longhand? A combination of the two. She has an Alpha Smart word processor, and all you can do is type on it. She uses this for her rough drafts because without email or the Internet there are fewer distractions and its cheap and light. She can carry it with her without having to worry about dropping it and breaking it. Then she downloads the rough draft to a real computer, because the Alpha Smart has a smaller screen.

Every now and then she’ll use pen and paper. Sometimes just the act of holding a pen fires something in your brain. If she gets stuck, she’ll write longhand sometimes.

Is Cammie going to meet a new boy in Only the Good…? No, but there are new characters.

What advice would you give to someone just starting out who wants to be a writer? Two things: read as much as you can, and write as much as you can. So many times she meets people, and when they find out she’s a writer, they say “I should write a book, I have a great idea.” But when she asks whether they read, they say no. That’s like saying, “I’m going to compete in the Olympics, but I don’t want to work out.”

Ally encouraged the kids to read a lot – not just the books you like to read, but all types of books. If you like Twilight, maybe pick up a high fantasy, mystery, thriller, or some non-fiction – read as widely as you can. You’ll learn something from every single book you read.

Are any of your books going to be made into movies? She can’t say for sure, but Heist Society is “under option” with Warner Brothers. Which means they have the right to think about making it into a movie, but they don’t have to make it if they decide not to. It’s kind of like reserving a senior prom date in your freshman year. The studio is working on a screenplay, and for now, it’s just wait and see. So far they’ve shown a lot of enthusiasm for the project.

Do you get to pick the actors/actresses/can I be in the movie? When you go to film something like this, you lose control of everything. In optioning her book she signed a contract saying they can turn the book into a movie, and they write her a check. This is a good deal, because checks are good, you can cash them and get money, pay the rest, etc.

The bad news is that you’ve relinquished control, so one day they can wake up and say, hey, you know how you have your girl going around the world looking for art, we think she should be looking for golden coins, or elephants because those are big right now… that’s the reason some movies made from books aren’t very good, because so many people have to sign off on a movie. Everybody has an idea and they all think they know better than the author. So you just sign it over with a hope and prayer that they get it. Sometimes they do and sometimes they don’t.

Do you want one of the books to become a movie? Yes, she loves movies and Hollywood, and she would love to go to a premiere, and visit the set, and meet George Clooney and marry George Clooney… She would really like to see Heist Society become a movie because she feels it is the most cinematic of all her books. The conflict in it makes for a better movie. With Heist Society, the conflict is more external, as opposed to being inside Cammie’s head.

What’s the best book you ever read? To Kill A Mockingbird, by Harper Lee. It is a MUST read.

How do you come up with covers for the books? She has nothing to do with the covers. That’s true for all authors. Publishers have art departments, with art directors and designers. They mock up some ideas, send to the author, and if they don’t like the covers, sometimes it doesn’t matter. Luckily, she’s liked all her covers.

1 comment:

Anita said...

Thanks for introducing me to Alley Carter. I enjoyed reading the interview. I never tire of hearng the thought process of writers/authors.
Well done!