Interview with Ally Carter

Posted by Goodreads on December 2, 2015
The Gallagher Girls were spy wunderkinds who could take down a terrorist organization and speak 14 languages. Author Ally Carter introduced them in I'd Tell You I Love You, but Then I'd Have to Kill You, and their daring exploits lasted through six books that sold more than a million copies altogether. In Carter's new Embassy Row series, Grace may not have the training of the Gallagher Girls, but she certainly has their bravery. As the only granddaughter of one of the most powerful ambassadors in the world, she's grown up in a rarefied universe, but that doesn't mean she's always had it easy. In the first book of the series, Grace wanted to solve the mystery surrounding her mother's death. In See How They Run, out this month, the stakes are even higher.

Read on for Ally Carter's answers to your questions about her writing process, her favorite scene, and whether she'd rather be a thief or a spy.

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Tolu: The Embassy Row series is a really cool concept that has never really been touched in YA fiction. What was the inspiration behind Embassy Row?

Thank you! Embassy Row is a series that I have wanted to write for ages! I had the idea when I was speaking with my local librarian. Her son was starting college, and I asked if he had declared a major. She said that he was thinking about going into the foreign services, but she wasn't sure how she felt about that because "that means my grandchildren will grow up in embassies all around the world."

Well, as soon as I heard that, I became obsessed with the idea of kids growing up in embassies around the world! I knew that was an environment I had to explore. And it's been a blast.

Kate: In your first two series, Gallagher Girls and Heist Society, you mainly kept to a feel-good, adventurous sort of vibe—with the possible exception of United We Spy. What prompted you to turn to the darker themes we see in Embassy Row? (Can't wait for the second installment, by the way!)

Thanks, Kate! I suppose the most truthful answer is "I don't know." Really, a lot of these things aren't conscious decisions as much as it's just me thinking about a character and asking one question: What's the worst that can happen?

My job is to mess my characters' lives up in the most interesting way possible. And poor Grace's life was messed up in a really tragic way. As if it wasn't bad enough that Grace saw her mother murdered three years before All Fall Down begins, I wanted to go one step further and have no one believe her.

From the very first moment I decided to write a book about a kid on Embassy Row, I knew the hero or heroine needed to be someone who had "cried wolf"—someone who knows some really big tragedy is coming but no one will listen.

That's exactly what happens when Grace sees her mother's killer and becomes convinced he's going to kill again. But after years of talking about "the Scarred Man," everyone on Embassy Row ignores her, so it's up to Grace and her new friends to track down her mom's murderer and avert an international disaster.

Cullen: What was the first sentence you wrote for your new book? Did you keep it intact or did you change it?

I am really weird about first lines. Even though I know that every line in a book can be rewritten a million times if need be, for some reason I have trouble starting until I find the right first line. I might think about it for weeks. All Fall Down was no different.

But then one night I was cooking dinner, and the opening line just popped in my head. I grabbed the first piece of paper I could find and scribbled it down, then taped that paper to my kitchen cabinets (it's still there, by the way). Finally, I had one line that said a ton about this character and this place.

It changed a little, but the gist stayed the same. I wanted people to read it and think "those two countries aren't next to each other!" and not know if the book was fantasy or alternate universe or what—just that it was going to take them to a whole other world. Hopefully it did just that.

The note on Ally's kitchen cabinet!
Bethan: Your books always have a badass heroine. Who is your biggest female inspiration?

I've been lucky to be around awesome women my whole life. I grew up on a farm, and farm people just work so hard, and it doesn't matter if you're a man or a woman: When a cow is struggling to have a calf, that calf has to be pulled. Now. And the cow doesn't care where the help comes from.

So I was raised in a world where, sure, it's largely considered a man's domain, but the women excel anyway. Because failing isn't an option. I don't think it's a coincidence that all my heroines are all girls who grew up in male-dominated fields.

Andrea: What books did you read as a teenager, and how do they affect the things you write today?

Well, the first thing you need to know is that the YA genre is a fairly new thing—probably less than 15 years old. When I was a teen, we had Nancy Drew and SE Hinton (both of whom I loved). And we would have a few other books about teen protagonists, but they were few and far between, and they almost always had some message or moral or cautionary tale.

But then came Harry Potter. He wasn't just the boy who lived. He was also the boy who changed the face of children's literature forever.

All of a sudden, books for teens and tweens weren't just cool—they were profitable. And so the entire publishing world changed. I wouldn't have a career today without it.

Apatheticeyes: The Gallagher Girls series has a very unique take on spies. Did you ever stop and wonder if you were making the Gallagher Girls too 'perfect'? What made you decide to make the Gallagher Girls fluent in so many languages as well as have the ability to understand and break codes, all while having kick-butt combat skills? In other words, what inspired you to create the world's best spies the way you did?

Thanks! Honestly, when I started the Gallagher Girls, I was so new at this business that I had no idea what I was doing! I just wrote from the gut. There was no worrying over every little decision or weighing pros and cons. But it worked. And, in fact, now I worry every day that if I were to start the GG series now, I wouldn't do a lot of the things that made those books so popular.

I wanted the girls to be amazing at the spy stuff—still learning—but naturally very adept and learning in the best possible environment. Where I wanted them to struggle was with the "girl" stuff. Because those are things you don't learn at school—they're the things you learn from living, and that's what I wanted the series to be about: normal girls growing up in an incredibly abnormal environment.

As for what they were good at, I looked a lot at real CIA training manuals and guidelines. The 14 languages came about because I went to grad school with a guy who grew up in Zimbabwe and could speak 13 different languages and dialects. I wanted my girls to be able to do one better than that!

Courtney: How has your writing process differed from book to book? Both within series and from series to series.

Every book is different, and that's something I'm still getting used to. Every time I set out to write a book, I struggle for weeks—or months—before I remember that it's always a struggle, and every book requires a different process, and this will probably be the case for the rest of my career.

When I started out, I did very little outlining and prewriting. Now I will work a long time hammering out the story before I ever put a word on the page, and that means I write a whole lot slower than before. I absolutely hate that this is my process now; but it's the process I've got, so I'm just going to have to learn to live with it!

Emma: What is your favorite scene you've ever written in one of your books, and why is it your favorite?

Ooh. Good question. And also a HARD question!

I think I'm going to have to go with the big climax from All Fall Down. I don't want to say a ton and spoil it for anyone who hasn't read it, but there is a lot going on in that scene; both internal and external conflict are in high gear, and I'm so proud of how it turned out. It's also probably the biggest "reveal" I've ever written, and even though I shouldn't admit it, I'm incredibly proud of how it turned out.

Camy: Thank you for the adventures you've brought into my life. I will keep them with me and cherish them forever. I go to a boarding school myself and was just sitting with a table of nervous underclassmen girls. I looked around our dining hall and suddenly felt like I was at Gallagher academy. I mentioned this to the table, and squeals erupted. Your books have led to great conversations and great friends.

As a young adult writer, how do you find the balance between substance and glamour? Between what is a good story and what will be successful from a marketing perspective? Do you ever feel like you have to sacrifice content to make your novels appealing to teen readers?

Not at all! If I've learned one thing, it's you should NOT write down to teen readers. If anything, teen readers are smarter, more attentive, and more discerning than adults. I think that's one reason why so many YA books are being read by adults these days.

A good story is a good story, and I can honestly say that I've never made a decision that might hurt a book but make it easier to sell. Those things are not mutually exclusive. Better books are easier to sell, and that is largely because teens are so darn savvy.

Kimberly: If you were to choose between an accomplished spy and a thief, what would you be, and what sort of risks would you be willing to get yourself into just to save someone you love?

To be honest, I'd be so incredibly awful at both of those that it's almost funny. Really. I'm a wimp. But if I had to choose, I think I'd say spy because so many spy skills would be super useful in real life. Like always remembering names and faces and phone numbers and stuff. That would be amazing. I would love that.

I'd like to think I'd take any risk to save someone I love. But I'm sappy like that.

Dany: What is Hale's first name? Please, stop torturing us. #YourEvilPlanIsWorking

Nice. Try. #IllNeverTell

Comments Showing 1-10 of 10 (10 new)

dateDown arrow    newest »

message 1: by Mash (new)

Mash OMG haha the last one got me excited!

message 2: by Sarah (new)

Sarah Mash wrote: "OMG haha the last one got me excited!"
I know, it was the perfect ending question--one that everyone knew she wouldn't actually answer, but nevertheless, the most important question asked.

message 3: by Faith (new)

Faith Sarah (Fritz) wrote: "Mash wrote: "OMG haha the last one got me excited!"
I know, it was the perfect ending question--one that everyone knew she wouldn't actually answer, but nevertheless, the most important question as..."

But you just can't tell cause it'll spoil the mystery! The romance! You gotta have some unsolved questions. Oh Hale. <3

message 4: by Alison (new)

Alison Mash wrote: "OMG haha the last one got me excited!"
So true.

message 5: by petra.kay23 (new)

petra.kay23 OMG yes! I have to know what his first name is.
I would be a thief- but a good one like Kat. Spies seem to get into so much more trouble and I would freak out under some of the situations Cammie goes through.
Also I like art, emeralds, and forging. And please, Hale over Zach.
I don't only love the private jet. ;)

message 6: by Tess (new)

Tess She'll probably never tell. And All these fangirls will weep because we never learned the true name of W. W Hale

message 7: by Nilofer (new)

Nilofer Tessa wrote: "She'll probably never tell. And All these fangirls will weep because we never learned the true name of W. W Hale"

message 8: by Nilofer (new)

Nilofer Petra wrote: "OMG yes! I have to know what his first name is.
I would be a thief- but a good one like Kat. Spies seem to get into so much more trouble and I would freak out under some of the situations Cammie go..."

Hale is awesome

message 9: by Arshpreet (new)

Arshpreet Kaur wow, can anyone tell me what is grace and Alexia, Jamies personality

message 10: by ClaraBelle (last edited Nov 03, 2020 08:00PM) (new)

ClaraBelle 7/8/20: I’m about to read my first AC book, Heist Society!
11/2/20: currently reading HS and I love it! 2.5 stars!

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