Interview with Ally Condie

Posted by Goodreads on November 12, 2014
Ally Condie has already proven that she's a master at creating a dystopian world that is equal parts fascinating and maddening with her blockbuster Matched series. The author started out as a high school English teacher—chaperoning the prom helped inspire her to write about the possibility of engineering love! With her new standalone book Atlantia, Ally takes on a struggle that we've all faced—finding your own voice. Rio lives in an underwater world but dreams of the land up Above. All of her life she has been Below, hiding her siren voice, and she can't keep quiet much longer.

Here Ally answers your questions about transitioning to a new project, creating the character of Xander, and the power of poetry.

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Christine: I felt empowered reading the Matched series. There was some organic way in which it motivated me. What, above all, do you hope young women hear from reading your books?

Honestly, first of all, I want them to enjoy the story. I want them to care about the characters and see themselves in the pages, and for each reader to feel like there was something in the books for them. And I think that, above all, I'd love for them to come away from the books feeling inspired to create, to do whatever it is they love and believe in.

Lianne: I really love the Matched saga! But I don't really understand why poems and all are so important. On the other hand, Maria asks: I had read "Do Not Go Gentle into that Good Night" by Dylan Thomas in a lit class and was quite fond of it, but the way you used that poem in the Matched series made me really attached to it. How did you decide that this poem was going to be the one that Cassia finds the most meaning in?

To answer Lianne: I think poems are important in the same way that music and visual art and stories are important. They make our world beautiful, and they give people a chance to create (those who write and sing and draw) and to experience (those who listen and read and look). Without poems or songs or movies or beautiful photographs, without art, we would lose so much as individuals and as societies. We would lose those conversations with culture, with our pasts, with ourselves, with our future.

And to answer Maria: I used to teach a poetry unit when I taught high school. I love poetry, but it can be hard to teach, especially for students who aren't really convinced that it matters/that they're going to get anything out of it. But every time I had students read this poem, they just got it. Those lines, "Do not go gentle into that good night / Rage, rage against the dying of the light" mean something to everyone. Rage and death and light—those are universal human feelings and fears and desires. So when I was trying to think of a poem that Cassia could read that she would instantly feel, I knew right away that this was the right poem.

Danielle: What kinds of relationships can we expect from the characters in your upcoming book?

I love putting two people with great chemistry on the page together. It makes for sexy banter, which I always hope will lead to something more! However, it can be challenging to have two characters who are constantly running from death believably slow down long enough to explore their feelings for one another. As a writer and a human, I like to see hints of hope amid fear and desperation. There is no situation too cynical for love. I try to balance the really tense, heart-pounding moments of danger with two people forging a connection that runs deeper than the need to survive. In Black Ice Britt and Mason, one of her captors, are trapped on a mountain for different reasons. The only way they can survive is if they learn to trust each other. I'm not particularly drawn to writing stories about normal and functioning relationships—thankfully for me, real life offers enough of those. I'm much more inclined to write about obsession, self-doubt, violence, and betrayal. Books are a safe place to explore our darker inclinations and fears, I think.

Kaitlyn: How long did you know that Cassia would choose Ky instead of Xander?

I actually didn't know until I started writing Reached that she would end up with Ky. I was open to either possibility. But then when I started writing the first chapter (which is the first time we have the story being told from Xander's point of view), I thought, "Oh my goodness. It's not going to be Xander. He's going to need someone else." It was kind of heartbreaking, to be honest. I loved Xander, and it was hard to let go of that possibility.

And Kaitlin [different person!] also wonders: What gave you the idea to make a character like Xander? Throughout the series you slowly see him change into a person you'd never thought he'd be. I find good people—people who are kind, who try to do the right thing, who keep going when things are hard—endlessly fascinating. I find them much more interesting than bad/evil people. And so that's what gave me the idea for Xander. I wanted to write a character who was a truly good person. I wanted to take him and throw him into the worst, hardest situations and see what he'd do and if he'd be able to make it out with his integrity and his essential decency still intact. And I was very proud of him at the end of the series, because I felt like he came through everything life threw at him and was still Xander—still good, still willing to love.

Alyssa: Ever since I first read the Matched series, I wondered about the different meanings behind the colors of the books. Why did you choose these certain colors for the book covers and the pills (green for Matched and calming pills, blue for Crossed and the pills that are said to keep you alive but actually kill, and red for Reached and the pills that erase your memory), and how do the colors of the books and the certain pills correspond?

I chose those colors for specific reasons: Green often represents growth (which is what we see happen with Cassia in Matched), blue represents water and change (which is what we see in Crossed), and red represents blood and battle (which is what happens in Reached). So I wanted each book and each tablet to connect to those symbols. It was great, because even though I don't get to choose the book covers at all, the cover designer took those colors and made them the covers of each book. Which I loved, of course, and which I think really helped tie it all together visually.

Kelly: Also, did Cassias's dress being green also have to do with the green pill symbolically?

It did, yes. Green is traditionally a symbol of growth and renewal, and I wanted that for Cassia. I also liked the literal connection to her inner self (her green eyes) and to the world around her (like the greenspaces). There's a line that Grandfather says in Matched that specifically references that connection. It's those things—growing, connecting, believing in herself—that give her the strength to resist taking the green tablet.

mckenna_toggs: What's it like transitioning into a new book/series? Are there still parts of Matched you miss or want to go back to?

It's actually been great transitioning into the new book (Atlantia is a stand-alone). It was fun to write a story that began and ended in one book and to know that I could put it all on the page and not have to save anything for future books. I loved creating the underwater world, and I loved getting to know Rio, the main character. I do still miss the Matched series, because I spent a lot of time with those characters, and I loved telling their story. But I feel like they all ended up where they needed to be. That said, I do wonder what really happened to Indie now and then… ;)

Cullen: What is the first sentence you wrote for Atlantia? Did you happen to keep it intact or did you rewrite it?

I don't know if I can remember the first sentence I wrote for Atlantia, unfortunately. But I do remember that I wrote the last line of the book fairly early on, and that it stayed the same. I had to fight a little to keep it that way, but it was very important to me. It felt like that last sentence defined the book and the characters in it.

Raquel: I would love to know what inspired you to write about sirens. What I loved about the Matched series is how it surprised me. I expected a soft love story but got a gritty survival romance. I wonder if Atlantia will surprise us and change the way we think about mermaids. How are the sirens from Atlantia different from our popular (yet still lovely) Little Mermaid? Are they good or evil?

I hope Atlantia surprises you! :) There aren't any mermaids in Atlantia, but the story was heavily influenced by The Little Mermaid (the Hans Christian Andersen tale, NOT the Disney version). The original fairy tale is dark and beautiful, and the character longs to be above in a way that is extremely poignant—and the story has a very sad ending! (SPOILER: In the real version the little mermaid DOES NOT get the prince! She dies!) I wanted my character Rio to have that same longing and suffering that the original tale had. And then I think the idea of water automatically led me to the idea of sirens and to their voices and to what would happen if someone had to suppress their voice and who they are (as Rio has to do with her voice). The sirens in the book are good and evil. They are complicated. They are very, very human.

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Cityofdauntlessshadowhunters: Can you give us some insight into the personality of Rio and possibly some of the struggles she faces?

Yes! Rio is very different from Cassia. They're strong in different ways. Rio has had to hold part of herself back her whole life, and I think the interesting thing about her is that she's taken that and turned it into strength and bravery when other people would let it make them bitter. Rio's been underestimated and overlooked, and she plays on that a little bit. She's physically very strong; she's a welder and a swimmer, and she's also a dreamer, someone who's longed for something more all her life. Her struggles come as, bit by bit, everything and everyone she loves is taken away from her—her mother, her sister, her dream—and Atlantia is about her fight to get them back and to claim her own voice.

Emily: What are some of your worst fears when it comes to writing?

There's this great Ann Patchett quote about the idea of the book being this beautiful butterfly, and it's flying around you and it's lovely and you have a wonderful time thinking about it. (I'm paraphrasing, obviously—she says it much more elegantly than this.) And she says that when you sit down to write, you're basically killing that butterfly and pinning it to a display case. Her description made me laugh because it is kind of true for me. Once you start to write your beautiful idea, you have to deal with your own shortcomings. That's the part that is the hardest about writing, and it can be scary—dealing with your demons, your insecurities, your worry that what you have on paper will never live up to what you imagine—but it's also the best part, because it's how you become a better writer.

Tiffany: How do you figure out how to write a good ending?

This is a tricky question. It's hard to get the ending right! I think of it as "sticking the landing"—you know, when the gymnast goes over the vault and then you hope and hope she'll land just right and not fall. You want that ending to feel right because it's what people (often) remember. Usually the last line or paragraph or scene of the book comes to me fairly early on in the process, and so I have a lot of time to finesse it and try to get it right as I keep going. For me the ending is about realizing where the characters need to arrive at the end of the story and figuring out the best way to say/describe that arrival.

Kassidy: Who was your favorite author growing up?

Growing up, I was a HUGE L.M. Montgomery fan in elementary school (I read everything I could find that she'd written, and I read Anne of Green Gables dozens of times). Then in high school my favorite authors were Anne Tyler and Wallace Stegner and Agatha Christie (and they're all still my go-to authors for when I need a good read).

Comments Showing 1-21 of 21 (21 new)

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Patricia Nolan Stein I'd like to ask Ally her thoughts on L.M. Montgomery's BEST novel (in my opinion!)---"The Blue Castle."

message 2: by Sarah Amelia (new)

Sarah Amelia This was so insightful to me. I love and adore both the Matched Trilogy and Atlantia, so I loved to find out more about the meanings of things and symbolism!!!!

message 3: by Pastor (new)

Pastor Dennis Can't wait to read this book of Ally's! I'm starting to get into these types of books.

Pastor Dennis

message 4: by Audrey (new)

Audrey Gran weinberg I read Atlantia ! (Audio version) and was not disappointed! Love to read YA fiction - very inspiring and the story is imaginative and yet - indeed - very human.

message 5: by Emily (new)

Emily Kidd I am a fan of anyone who loves L. M. Montgomery… I absolutely adore her!

message 6: by Brittany (new)

Brittany Quarters Does anyone know the contents of the book? (I'm mean like language and sexual content...) I'm SO excited about this!

message 7: by Sarah Amelia (new)

Sarah Amelia Brittany wrote: "Does anyone know the contents of the book? (I'm mean like language and sexual content...) I'm SO excited about this!"

It is very clean!

message 8: by Alma (new)

Alma Knapp Can't Wait To Read It !

message 9: by Debbiebajomo (new)

Debbiebajomo I love Ally Condie and I love the matched series. I can't wait to read Atlantia !!!

message 10: by Cullen (new)

Cullen Kisner Literally can't contain my excitement that she answered my question... I can't deal right now. I'm so happy

message 11: by Lexi (new)

Lexi I read Matched one of her books and it was AMAZING she is an a amazing author! Three cheers for Ally Condie

message 12: by Kbullock (new)

Kbullock I really wish Goodreads would stop posting these suggestions to my homepage. This might be a fine author, but she has nothing to do with my reading preferences, and these pointless suggestions are really cluttering my homepage. Make it stop!

message 13: by Brittany (new)

Brittany Quarters I got this for Christmas! The first chapter totally has me hooked! I'M SO EXCITED!

message 14: by Sashlia (new)

Sashlia _x really want to read it now!

message 15: by Brittany (new)

Brittany Quarters Sashlia wrote: "really want to read it now!"

You will LOVE it! I just finished it and am dying waiting for whatever book she writes next to come out.
The ending left me in shock, such twists and turns, such a fun ride!

message 16: by Lexi (new)

Lexi Allie Condie always writes great books. She is a great author

message 17: by Sashlia (new)

Sashlia ... Some of the reviews I read were soo harsh, but, this is going on the top of my tbr list. And God knows how long that list is.

message 18: by Sarah Amelia (new)

Sarah Amelia Sashlia wrote: "Some of the reviews I read were soo harsh, but, this is going on the top of my tbr list. And God knows how long that list is. "

Don't listen to those reviews. It's really good!

message 19: by Brittany (last edited Jan 02, 2015 01:25PM) (new)

Brittany Quarters I agree with Sashlia, the reviews were tearing the book apart quite a bit.
But don't listen to them, like Sarah said, just don't listen to them. :)

message 20: by Machaba (new)

Machaba sewela nice

message 21: by Olga (new)

Olga Fittini Thanks Ally.

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