Thursday, June 05, 2008

Author Chat: An Interview with Allyson Braithwaite Condie

Hi Allyson. Welcome to Bloggin' 'Bout Books!

Me: How did you start writing? (What is your background in writing? Did you always love to write? Etc.)

ABC: I always wanted to be a writer, but due to a severe lack of early talent (most of my stories involved pregnant unicorns for some reason, which sounds vaguely obscene as I type this), I decided it would be better to be an English teacher instead. Then I could read books and talk about them and not have to go to all the work of writing them! I ended up teaching high school English and found out that there is still a lot of work involved. Tons of it, in fact. But I loved teaching and didn't think much about writing during that time.After teaching English for several years, I took a break to be home with my new baby (I am still on that break five years and two additional kids later). In the evenings, my husband would work on his PhD dissertation, and I no longer had papers to grade, so I thought, "Maybe I should write something after all." I knew that I didn't want to do dishes or clean the house. :) So, I started writing Yearbook, my first book.I have no "formal" background in writing. I've never taken a creative writing class (which I regret). But I did write for my high school newspaper. Does that count?

Me: It definitely counts. I wrote (and edited) my school newspaper, too :) Which authors do you love to read and why?

ABC: My favorite author of all time is probably Anne Tyler. I remember reading her novel Saint Maybe in high school and feeling like, "This changed my life. I don't know how, but I know that it did." I also love Shannon Hale, Linda Sue Park, Agatha Christie, Karen Cushman, Gary Schmidt...the list could go on and on. I read a lot of YA fiction and there is so much out there right now that is exciting.

Me: Why did you choose to write books for LDS audiences?

ABC: It just sort of happened. I never intended to write LDS fiction. Yearbook was a national market book to begin with, but after being rejected multiple times, I decided to revise it a little and try Deseret Book. They rejected it, too--but the acquisitions editor, Lisa Mangum, wrote a very nice letter and said she would look at it again if I cut out half the characters. Three revisions later, it was accepted for publication. Lisa is still my editor and I trust her very much. Looking back, all the changes she recommended for Yearbook were absolutely what I needed. She mentored me through that first book. Since then, I've enjoyed writing LDS fiction for a lot of reasons. It's fun to use experiences from growing up LDS (having to wait until the age of 16 to date, missions, etc.). I like being able to mention the gospel without having to explain or defend beliefs constantly. The readers and fans who like the books are supportive and great. I also love working with a publisher who understands when you say, "I'm sorry, I'm going to miss this deadline, but as you know my real/full-time job is being a mom, and this week no one napped. Ever. So I didn't get to write much."

Me: So many LDS books are populated by characters who never struggle with their testimonies, never fight with their parents, and never fall under peer pressure. How do you make your characters believable?

ABC: This is a hard balance for me--trying to write realistically but not dragging things down. Sometimes, what I think is realistic doesn't make the cut because of other concerns that the publisher has. For example, I had to cut some "excessive kissing" and also some steady dating from Yearbook at my publisher's request. That was frustrating, but I understand and respect where they are coming from. I do feel that showing the flaws in characters--in their testimonies, personalities, relationships--is important and essential.

Me: Tell me about your new book, Freshman for President. Where did you get the idea for the novel?

ABC: I was talking with a friend about the upcoming election year. He mentioned that he might be writing an election-based novel, and I jokingly said, "Well, too bad I can't, because that wouldn't make sense for a young adult book." Later that night, I thought, "Wait a minute. I could write an election novel. What if a freshman in high school ran for president or something crazy like that?" I started writing just to see what happened and it felt like it was working. It was fun to try something different.

Me: Freshman for President is not an LDS novel - how does writing for an LDS audience and writing for a general audience differ? What made you decide to break out of the LDS market?

ABC: As I mentioned earlier, it was always my dream to write for the national market. So, I wrote Freshman, knowing it was not in my usual genre, and hoped that Shadow Mountain would want it (they publish nationally). I was thrilled when they accepted it for publication. Writing it was not much different than writing any of my other books as far as the process goes-- I felt a little more free, I guess, in some ways. I'm excited to see what happens when it is released in June. The publisher has been very supportive of the book and they have some fun things planned for promotion.

Me: Thanks so much, Allyson.

ABC: Thanks for doing this!

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