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Ally Braithwaite Condie is the author of the # 1 New York Times bestselling Matched series and the Edgar Award Finalist Summerlost, among other novels, and of several picture books, including Here. A former English teacher, Ally resides outside of Salt Lake City with her family, including her four children. She has an MFA from the Vermont College of Fine Arts and is the founder and director of the nonprofit WriteOut Foundation.

Interview conducted by Tamra Pratt


Inscape Journal: I heard you first became a writer when you were four-years-old?

Ally Condie: I think that’s fair to say.  I actually “wrote” books before I could write. It’s how I’ve always made sense of the world. My mom would come home from work and I would have dictated words to the babysitter. I’d tell her: “I have a story, will you please write it down?”

IJ: You have written seventeen books in eighteen years—that is phenomenal. What is your writing process that allows you to put so much out? 

AC: There have been years where nothing came out, and years where several things came out. A lot of the writing process was just around kids’ nap times, kids’ bedtimes, because I was a full-time stay-at-home mom, and in some ways I still am. I work a lot while the kids are at school, but [before] they were in school, it was nap time and bed time. If there were a couple of hours on the weekends I could sneak in, that was great. A lot of it has been chipping away with these tiny blocks of time, and just carving out a half hour here, an hour there, and doing it consistently. I know a lot of writers that write in big rushes. They’ll go away for a weekend and write ten thousand words, and that works great for them. That hasn’t been the way I could do it, or get my brain to work, but I know there’s a million ways to skin a cat. This is the particular way that worked for me with my family, and the situation with my kids, and putting my husband through graduate school.

IJ: My daughters and I are both big fans of the Matched series. What was your inspiration behind it?

AC: Much of my life has been spent in Utah and the particular inspiration for that book was Timpview’s prom. I taught at Timpview and Provo High. I love them both. Timpview High had an interesting tradition back when I was teaching there. (At the time, I didn’t think about it for a book, but later, when I was writing Matched, that memory came to mind.) The tradition was this: a few weeks before prom they would circulate a list of all the junior girls who didn’t have a date to the dance among a group of senior boys, and they would make sure all the girls got asked. It was really lovely and also probably problematic in some ways. As an author you often take something really lovely and make it sort of evil. So, in this case, I thought: what if the pairing off wasn’t chosen by the students and the government was picking it?

IJ: In September 2023, you had a new novel released: The Only Girl in Town. It’s a different style than your previous works—would you mind telling us a little bit about it? 

AC: The Only Girl in Town is set in Ithaca, New York, which is where my ex-husband went to graduate school and where [we] lived in the sorority, and where I put him through school, and had our first two babies. I wasn’t a teenager there, but I did substitute at the high schools there to make ends meet. As I was thinking about writing this book, that town came to mind for a potential setting. It’s a really beautiful town in western New York.

I initially had the idea for The Only Girl in Town clear back in 2014. Often, when I have an idea, I write 25–50 pages, and then kind of hit a wall and think, ‘Okay, I’m either not ready to write this book yet or I’m missing a key component.’ It was that way with this book. Something just wasn’t quite there, but I really liked the idea. I knew it was Young Adult, because she was always about seventeen. I also knew everybody had disappeared, but I didn’t know if it was science fiction, paranormal, or slipstream fiction, where one element is off but the rest of the world is pretty normal. Slipstream fiction is where I landed eventually. 

One of the early influences on the book was the Ray Bradbury short story called “There Will Come Soft Rains,” which is about a house in the future. The nuclear holocaust has happened and everyone is dead, but it’s the future so the house is a self-cleaning house. And it keeps on cleaning itself. Somehow, even though no characters are on the page, you care about the people who died and were in the house. I kept thinking, how can I do that? I have a character that has been left behind, but how can I get readers to also care about the people who are gone? So, I thought about it a lot, and then 2019 happened. 

Near the end of 2019 my then-husband left, and shortly after in March 2020 we all know what happened. So within a few months, the world really changed for me. Because of the way COVID works, and child custody works, when my kids were at their dad’s for the weekend they were gone. And especially during those early months of COVID, I couldn’t be with anyone else because of social distancing. I had days when I woke up and I thought, ‘Oh everybody I love in the world is gone.’ And I suddenly had the thought, oh I know how this character feels, even though she was in a very different circumstance. I had the emotional heft to go back to that book and take it through to the finish. 

IJ: I love how you said you started it in 2014, and then it was on pause for a while, then in 2019 it was ready to be worked on some more, and you finished it in 2020. 

AC: Sometimes there is a big pause before I finish a novel. I’m always working on something, but I am often working on several things, and some of those come and go, and some of those turn into books later.  

IJ: Speaking of novels, you have one coming out in June 2024: The Unwedding. Do you mind giving us a pitch? 

AC: I’m very excited about that novel. It’s a murder mystery for adults, and it’s the first novel I’ve written that isn’t for kids, either middle grade, young adult, or picture books. So this is new and it was so fun to write. I set it in Big Sur, California, which I think is one of the most beautiful places on earth. It’s a locked-resort mystery—the guests at the resort can’t leave because there’s a mudslide that takes out communication and cuts off the roads.

I’m a big fan of Agatha Christie and her work. A lot of her books have that element where nobody can leave and everybody is trapped, someone dies, and you’re trying to figure out the murder mystery.  I’ve wanted to write a book like that for a long time, and just never thought I could do it. I had the idea for it in 2020. 

Again a little bit of it was based on personal experience. My ex-husband took someone else to California for what would have been our 20th anniversary, and I felt so sad. I also ended up going on a trip by myself and I realized you have a lot of bandwidth to pay attention to everyone else when you’re traveling alone, which I hadn’t done in some time. And I thought, oh this would be an interesting plot for a murder mystery. Maybe the main character is in a similar situation and then she can solve the murder mystery because she’s the only one who’s been unattached. She’s the only one who has been paying attention to everyone else, the other groups, the other dynamics. What started out as kind of a sad experience or just a hard experience turned into this really fun idea, and I thought, Oh, maybe I can write a murder mystery, why not try it?  It was so fun to write. I loved writing that book. 

IJ: You were an established author already before you decided to go back to school to get your MFA at Vermont. What made you decide to go back to school?

AC: Before I was a writer I was a high school English teacher, and I’ve always really valued teaching. Teachers in my life have always profoundly influenced me. My mom and my sister are both teachers at the university level, and I thought, ‘I love teaching but I don’t know how to teach writing.’ I don’t have the vocabulary to teach a lot of different people and a lot of different processes to help them workshop. So I did it with an eye to perhaps someday [teach] at a collegiate level or at a university, and also with the idea of just bettering my own teaching when I teach the kids at Write Out Camp, for example, or other places. And I also had never taken a creative writing class. I was an English teaching major, but you don’t take any creative writing classes, at least back then at BYU. I asked myself, what if I took some creative writing classes? What if I spent a little while learning that?

I chose Vermont College because they have a low-residency program. You go for eleven days twice a year, which is a lot. My mom was amazing and she came up and helped with my kids during that time. But for me as a parent, it was easier to leave for eleven days. It was brutal because I missed my kids so much, but it was easier than trying to get out the door everyday. It was also one of the only programs in the country that focused on writing for children and young adults.

I didn’t want to spend one minute away from my kids if it meant defending writing for children and young adults, saying no, this is worthwhile. Some master’s programs have an element of proving that writing for kids is valuable, proving that writing for kids is literary enough. I’m not interested in any of that, I just want to be around people who enjoy writing for kids. They were great, it was so wonderful. 

IJ: Could you tell us a little bit about your Write Out Foundation?

AC: It was a camp that we ran in southern Utah. I grew up in Cedar City, and Cedar City has a lot going on—we have a university and a Shakespeare festival—but it is also a small town, and I don’t ever remember having an author visit or anything like that as a kid growing up. So one of my dreams was to make a writing camp and author visits accessible to kids that live in rural areas. We had 100 kids total and people came from across the country. We did fundraising and we scholarshipped 20 kids from rural Utah who wouldn’t have been able to go otherwise.

The camp was several days long. We’d bring in nationally published authors, and they’d workshop with the kids in the morning, and the kids would have a chance to show them their writing, and then we would take them to national parks and a Shakespeare play. 

That was extremely rewarding. I have a lot of kids that still contact me about it. That meant the world to me. Kids would come back as camp counselors to help. It was so fun. We funded it completely on donations and volunteers. Nobody took a paycheck. We had a lot of volunteer teachers from Cedar City and elsewhere who would come down and chaperone and volunteer, get the kids ready, set up the lunches, and go on the field trips to help out. It was unbelievable, the effort of educators in Utah.