Wednesday, November 19, 2008

WBBT Interview: Ally Carter

Ally Carter is the New York Times bestselling author of the Gallagher Girls series: I'd Tell You I Love You But Then I'd Have to Kill You, Cross My Heart and Hope to Spy, and the upcoming (June 2009) Don't Judge a Girl By Her Cover (review here). Ask me why I love these books and I'll give you two words: spy school. In my mind, the Gallagher Academy for Exceptional Young Women is a boarding school to rival Hogwarts.
You can visit Ally online at

What was the inspiration for Love You, Kill You and its following books?

LYKY came about after my agent emailed to ask if I’d ever considered writing YA. That night I was watching the TV show ALIAS when I had the idea for a boarding school for girl spies. Immediately I did what I always do and asked the question “what’s the worst that could happen?”. That’s when I knew that the worst thing for that girl at that time would be for her to fall for a boy who could never know the truth about her.

CROSS MY HEART AND HOPE TO SPY came from a small “throw away” line in the first book (which I won’t share in case some of your readers haven’t read CMH yet and don’t want to be spoiled.)

DON’T JUDGE A GIRL BY HER COVER was a story that was probably shaped, in part, by the political world that we’ve been living in and, in part, by who the characters are and what I felt was the logical next step for them to take.

Which character are you most like? Who do you have the most fun writing about?

I think a little of me ends up in all of the characters from time to time, but on the whole I relate most to Cammie. The Chameleon. The girl who would far rather be unnoticed than in the spotlight. I’ve always felt that way and that’s why Cammie feels so close to home for me.

That being said, however, I really enjoy writing all of the characters—especially some of the more minor supporting characters who don’t get a lot of screen time but always make me smile. Basically, there are no characters I don’t like to write. If there were, I’m sure I’d find a very delightful way to kill them in book four.

What kind of research have you done for the Gallagher Girls books? Have you been able to talk to any actual spies about their work?

I haven’t interviewed any clandestine service professionals personally, I’m afraid. (Although I’d really like to.) I do have a collection of books with titles like HOW TO BE A SPY and THE HANDBOOK OF PRACTICAL SPYING. I’m probably on a few NSA watch lists given the things that I find myself Googling from time-to-time. But that’s the fun of fiction. I try to base the classes the girls take and the lessons they learn as much on fact as possible but the details I’m free to make up.

You started out as a screenwriter, before you turned to writing novels. How has that helped your novel-writing? What made you make the switch from screenwriting to novel-writing?

I don’t think anyone can ever tell anyone else how to learn to write, but I’m personally very grateful that I started by studying screenwriting because it forced me to focus on storytelling first.

Prose is important—massively so—but I think a lot of people starting out make the mistake of falling in love with their words and forgetting about characters, dialogue, conflict, pacing and all of those things that maybe aren’t as intoxicating as a perfectly-worded sentence but are essential for getting the job done none-the-less.

I made the switch from screenplays to novels because 1. It’s far easier to sell a novel than a screenplay. And 2. Once I sat down to write my first novel it felt so much more natural to me that I knew I’d really found my creative home.

You do some pretty heavy outlining for the books you write...could you please describe your process for that a bit?

I use an old screenwriting technique called storyboarding. Essentially, I have a large whiteboard in my office and a massive supply of Post-Its. Every time I get a thought about a scene/line/character I write it on the Post-It and stick it on the board. As I write—and especially as I re-write—I’ll move those Post-Its around much like pieces of a puzzle until the book finally falls into place.

When I start a book I always know who the main character is and what central conflict will stand in her way. But even though I know essentially where the story is going to go there are always surprises along the way, and that’s exactly how I like it.

If you had to be one of the following, which would you want to be: spy, con-artist, or actor? (let's assume they're all equally legal)

I don’t think I’m brave enough to be a spy, clever enough to be a con-artist, or secure enough to be an actor, so I guess I’ll just beg and plead to be allowed to just stay a writer.

What are you writing next?

Right now I’m working on the first book in what we hope will be a new series set in the world of high-end conmen and thieves. We don’t have a title yet, but the book—and the world—have been a lot of fun so far and I’m incredibly anxious to see what Gallagher Girl fans will think of these new characters and adventures.

What's your favorite thing about being a writer?

This is usually where I laugh and say that the best part is getting to work in my pajamas—and that is pretty great. But the truth is probably that there’s no better feeling than talking to a young person who has read and enjoyed something that I created.

Thank you so much, Ally!

Find the rest of today's Winter Blog Blast Tour interviews:

Ellen Klages at Fuse Number 8
Emily Jenkins at Writing and Ruminating
Mark Peter Hughes at Hip Writer Mama
Sarah Darer Littman at Bildungsroman
MT Anderson at Finding Wonderland
Mitali Perkins at Mother Reader


Beth Kephart said...

I look about my office, wonder if there'd be room for an actual white board, which sounds like a very good idea indeed.

TadMack said...

Oy. Storyboarding sounds so labor intensive! But, man, when you're stuck, I'll bet it comes in handy! (As in, it means you may never get stuck. *sigh*) I LOVE these books, so whatever it takes for her to write them, I'm glad about it!!

MotherReader said...

I love the idea of storyboarding for a novel and the concepts of screenplay writing for novels in general. Good stuff.

Let's hope Ally is writing actual screen plays for these novels. They'd make great movies...

Terry said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Terry said...

Wow! Great interview. As someone who used to be in the business, I'm surprised I haven't seen the Gallagher Girls series.

Melissa Walker said...

Beth, you KNOW you have room for a whiteboard in your pristine office!

Miss Erin, I love this interview, and Ally, I adore the idea of high-end conmen. HOORAY! Can't wait for more Ally Carter titles.

Vivian said...

Loved reading about her writing process! Thanks for a great interview.

Sarah Rettger said...

In what business, Terry, the spy business? ;-)

Now I'm going to have to go home and reread the first two books - and then start hunting for an ARC of #3!

Edge said...

Oh, to go to that school! And get an ARC of book 3!

Camille said...

Carter's book(s) are so popular at the schools where I sub. I will have to direct her fans to this great inteview.

Shelf Elf said...

I would be the world's worst spy (I have no ability to lie). But I would love to go to spy school. Great interview Erin!

cuileann said...

That was really interesting. "Clandestine services" is a pretty cool phrase.

And I had no idea she started out screenwriting, but I can totally see that.

Em said...

I managed to get my hands on Don't Judge a Girl by Her Cover and as soon as I get a breather from cybils, I'm diving right in. :)

Great interview! :)

foreveryours said...

i think i would have been an actor!! where u can pretend on screen where u cant actually find urself acting in the outside XD but i would like to also go to spy school and learn a few things that pplz dont usually get to learn XD
keep on writing ally!! u write very interesting, passionate, influetial and kool books @-@

Anonymous said...

Ally carter you are the best writer ever... I thought you needed to know that keep writing. Don't make the series end!