Readergirlz Seattle Host Stephanie Guerra recently sat down to chat with Ally Carter, author of the Gallagher Girls series. Here's what they talked about:
Ally Carter, author of the Gallagher Girls and Heist Society series, came to Third Place Books in Seattle to promote Out of Sight, Out of Time (fifth in the Gallagher GirlsSeries). She was delighted with the crowd, and commented on her enthusiastic, smart readers. I read the book and had the chance to interview Ally, who is funny, articulate, and altogether charming.
In Out of Sight, Out of Time, Cammie Morgan wakes up in a European convent without a clue about what she has done in the past few months—or what’s been done to her. All she recalls is that she had to leave Gallagher Academy to protect her family and friends from the Circle of Cavan, an ancient terrorist organization. Now she must return home and try to unravel what she’s been through, and whether she can trust her friends, her boyfriend, and even herself.
Carter’s plot is rip-roaring action full of twists and surprises. She’s a master of the cliffhanger, and she writes in clean brushstrokes that keep the spotlight on her characters. Her work has plenty of drama and suspense, but it’s also infused with a spirit of light-heartedness and fun.
A few words with Ally:
SG: It’s clear there’s an involved history behind the Gallagher family. Can you say anything about your methods for writing that history? How much back-story did you create?
AC: I haven’t actually written it, but know it internally. I’ve considered writing a prequel about the first ten years of the school, and what the culture and climate was like.
SG: Which secondary character in Gallagher Girls is your favorite?
AC: From a writer’s standpoint, Liz is my favorite. She’s smart, great for comic relief, and sort of an “every girl.” Lots of readers identify with her, because she sees the spy world through an outsider’s eyes.”
SG: Can you tell us a little about your writing process, in particular revision? Do you outline?
AC: I am a very fast and dirty rough draft writer. It’s not uncommon for me to write the first draft in 4-6 weeks. But then I do massive revisions. I doubt that there will be a thousand words in the second draft that appeared in the first draft. I change pretty much every sentence in that book. But I have to write that rough first draft just to figure out what the story is. I like to make an analogy to a house: I need to build the foundation and figure out where the rooms are before I worry about hanging up wallpaper or decorating.
SG: How do you feel about the balance between focusing on plot and character?
AC: My plots originate with character, but then it’s my job as the author to mess that character’s life up in the most interesting way possible. For me it’s very much about making sure there’s as much going on externally as there is internally. And those two things need to tie together very tightly. For instance, in the fifth Gallagher Girls, the external tension lies in the fact that Cammie can’t remember what happened to her over the summer. But that has massive internal implications: Can she trust herself and her friends? Is she a good person? Or has she changed in some massive way?
SG: With multiple series underway, do you tend to work on one project at a time or juggle several at once?
AC: I focus on one project exclusively until it’s finished. If I let myself bounce around, I wouldn’t ever finish anything. There’s always an idea that sounds shinier or more exciting than the book you’re two drafts into and hating every word of.
SG: Who are some of your favorite YA authors?
AC: Holly Black is our Yoda; when all else fails go sit at the feet of Holly Black! I also love Emily Lockhart and Rick Riordan.
SG: What was your favorite book as a child?
AC: To Kill A Mockingbird. What’s interesting is that reading it as a kid was so different from what I read as an adult. It changes. You read it as an adult and you realize exactly what Atticus is going through.
SG: Did you always want to be a writer?
AC: I began to think of writing as a possible career when I read the The Outsiders, probably when I was about thirteen or so.
SG: What is your goal as a writer?
AC: Ultimately, my goal is to get better with every book. I never want to rest on my laurels. I am constantly trying to deliver better material, books that are more timely, more relevant.
SG: What's the best piece of advice you ever got on writing?
AC: I got the best advice from my mom, who is an English teacher. I was a kid, sitting at the table trying to start my novel, feeling so distraught because my first page wasn’t as good as the first page of To Kill A Mockingbird. My mom said, “Never compare your first draft to somebody else’s finished draft.”
Great advice -- and a great interview! Thanks, Ally. And thanks Stephanie!