Last night I was fortunate enough to attend the launch of the "Summerlost" book tour with author Ally Condie. The tour kicked off at the Provo Utah Public Library, a beautiful site to hold a meet the author event. Chattering voices could be heard in the hallway as we excitedly waited outside the ballroom to be let in. At first the group was mostly women, but as the ballroom filled up there were quite a few pre-teens there as well.
When we entered the ballroom there were bookmarks for us, a raffle to join, a lovely selection of Ally Condie's books we could purchase (thanks to The King's English Bookshop), a refreshment table (donated by James Worthington Kneaders CEO), and a lovely display of items that related to the book (courtesy of Brook Andreoli).
Ally Condie is an international best-selling author, as well as a Utah resident. The ballroom was filled with not only her fans, but also her family which made it a special event. The event was broken up into three parts - her presentation, a Q&A period, then a book signing.
Ally started her presentation by sharing that this night would be a walk down memory lane. Her book Summerlost is not an autobiography in any way, but she did add personal touches to the book and wanted to share those things that inspired the story. She had a slideshow of photographs from growing up in Cedar City, Utah where they hold the Utah Shakespeare Festival each year. Many of her experiences and parts of a tour she recently took behind the scenes at the festival site inspired her writing of Summerlost.
Summerlost is a middle grade book (9-12 years) with the story of a young girl who is healing after the tragic death of her father and younger brother. We meet Cedar the summer after they die and she is living in the small town her mother grew up in and has bought the family a summer home. We read about how Cedar is dealing with her grief and how she begins to heal from the loss through a new friendship. The Summerlost Theater Festival is the setting where much of the story takes place.
Ally shared that when writing a book, she starts with a character and builds everything from there. She get to know the character through their dialog in the book and that helps to fill in the details of who they are, what motivates them, and how they shape the story.
It was interesting to hear her talk about her writing process and especially that she doesn't write a book based on a theme. She writes her story, then is able to see that there was an underlying theme throughout. She said that this book does have a theme - friendship, familial love, and a journey of healing. On friendship she said, "Falling in friendship, the magical feeling of finding a friend."
Personal Tidbits Included in the Book
- Growing up Ally had a best friend named Justin and their friendship was always platonic. She based the friendship between Cedar and Leo on their friendship.
- Cedar's little brother liked to have something to hold, it made him confident and grounded. She said that was inspired by one of her sons. He was there and had a hammer in one hand and a wrench in the other that he held up for all of us to see.
- One summer she baby-sat her younger brother and they didn't get along, except between the hours of 12-2 when they would eat their lunch, sit on the couch, and watch Perry Mason followed by Days of Our Lives. She added a part to the story where they watched a soap opera and became engrossed in the story line.
- The setting in a small town where a Shakespeare festival was held was based on her experience. She said that when growing up, she was able to ride her bike over to the college campus to the festival. She remembered the safety felt at that time and wanted to write a book where that was the feeling of the time.
- When the publishers contacted her about doing an illustrated book jacket, they asked if there were any ideas she wanted to include. The cover is Cedar and Leo riding their bikes. The back of the jacket is a simple house where Cedar lived. Ally sent them a photo of her grandparents home and they based the house that Cedar lived in on that home.
A Few Q&A Tidbits
Q: Why was this the hardest and easiest book to write?
A: Easiest because in other books she has had to create a fictional world; their system, history, logic, currency and explain everything. For this book she wrote about a small town where everything happening was realistic; kids riding their bike, buying candy, watching tv. It was the hardest because it dealt with personal things and brought up memories.
Q: Is this book set in the past or current?
A: Ally wanted it to read as if it could be set anytime after 1980 and didn't want to date it to any certain time. She purposefully did not give any of the characters a cell phone and edited out parts that would have made it strictly more current (a scene where they bought something online with a credit card).
Q: How do you deal with writer's block?
A: Stop writing and watch YouTube videos where talented people do things other than write. Michael Phelps swimming of favorite dancers from Dancing with the Stars. She gets out of writing and sometimes that will inspire her.
Q: How did her publishers react to a book that was so different than her other ones (middle grade instead of YA fantasy)?
A: She was supposed to be writing a YA book and struggled with it. She had the idea for this book and wrote the first draft in 6 months (fast for her). She sent the entire book to her agent who sent it to the publisher and they loved the story.
Q: Does she like her book? (asked by a cute little child)
A: She did like her book. She put the best she had into it.
Q: What is she working on now?
A: The YA book that she struggled with before, but isn't struggling with any longer. A fantasy book set at a boarding school.
Ally was so nice during the book signing. Having the name "Ali" she commented on how much she liked my name, wrote a little personal message to me, she complimented me on my shirt and necklace, we chatted about the next stops on her book tour, then she posed for a picture with me. She spent about 2 minutes talking with each person while she signed their books and stood up to pose for pictures with them. There were over 100 people there! I've been to book signings where the people working the event tell you not to talk to the author and don't expect a photo. The author events I have been to at the Provo library have all been a wonderful experience, the author takes time to talk with you, doesn't make you feel as if you are wasting their time, and genuinely seems to enjoy the interaction with their fans.
At the end of her presentation, Ally talked about the website Go Jane Give. Go Jane Give is a website that has fundraisers to help out different causes (the causes have all been researched and found to be legitimate). Everyday women (plain Jane) can start a fundraiser using their talents for a cause they believe in. Cookie baking, piano recitals, making fudge, hosting a backyard dinner party, walking a 5K, sales of your latest craft....the ideas are endless. Read the inspiration story how the website was started here.
Kneaders CEO, James Wothington, and his wife (Amy I think) donated the wonderful sugar cookies for the event. They were custom made to match things from the book. There was a donation jar that we could add money to, the money going toward the charity Camfed. If you live near a Kneaders, definitely go there! Their sandwiches, smoothies, soups, and desserts are amazing! The iced sugar cookies are good, but if you love chocolate try the Cream Cheese Chocolate Brownie.
The display of Shakespearean items was beautiful. Ally's friend Brook Andreoli did a wonderful job on the display. It seems she takes all the photos for Ally's website and her author photograph too. I wasn't able to find a website for her, but Ally's site mentions that Brook had a blog at one time. If any of you know of it, send me the link so I can share it here.
Check back in a few weeks for a review of Summerlost from me and my 11 year old daughter. Since Summerlost is a middle grade book (9-12 year old) I thought it would be a great idea to share thoughts from someone the book is supposed to be written for. Until then, you can read my Sneak Peek review of the first 6 chapters here.