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Interview: June 2011

June 2011

Ally Carter loves to write about spies, thieves and empowered teenage girls who sometimes need to hack, steal and lie their way to the truth. The author of two beloved spy series, Gallagher Girls andHeist Society, she has been churning out books year after year.'s Donna Volkenannt spoke with Carter about her latest, UNCOMMON CRIMINALS, the sequel to HEIST SOCIETY.

In this interview, Carter explains the original seed for the novel's plot and discusses why she can't not write "girl power" books. She also dishes on her favorite heist films and the research needed to get famous gems and criminal exploits just right. In the second book of your Heist Societyseries, Katarina (Kat) Bishop has been asked to steal the infamous --- and cursed --- Cleopatra Emerald and return it to its legitimate owners. Where did you get the idea for UNCOMMON CRIMINALS, and what does the title mean?

Ally Carter: The initial plotline actually occurred to me one night when I was watching the TV show "Leverage." It's a great heist show, and as always, while I was watching I was trying to think two or three steps ahead. I was certain that I knew where that episode was going --- that I'd seen the twists from a mile away. But then the twists didn't happen, and I was actually really disappointed. I really wanted to see a heist story play out that way, and that's when I realized that if I was to see it, I would just have to write it.

The title comes from a casual line in book one where Kat remarks that she is no longer a common criminal. It seemed a very fitting description for where the crew is in this book so that's why we chose it as the title.

TRC: Although Kat comes from a family of thieves and is skilled at burglary, she is extremely likable and seems much older and wiser than her 15 years. How did you come up with this character?

AC: Thank you. This is a series first and foremost about Kat, and I really wanted to make her someone who had grown up in this crazy, quirky, illegal world and yet had come out of it a very sound, sensible and ethical person. Really I didn't "come up" with her as much as I just tried to understand her. If you had never had a home... If you've been sucked into elaborate criminal schemes from the time you could walk... If you love your family but just don't like them very much sometimes... If all of those things are true, then what kind of person are you likely to be?

TRC: In UNCOMMON CRIMINALS, the details about famous gems, criminal exploits and cons are specific. How did a writer from Oklahoma become so knowledgeable in these areas?

AC: Well, it helps that I'm writing fiction! Really, I did some research about precious gems --- the famous ones. That was very important early on. I wanted to know exactly how large and how valuable these stones are and what kind of histories have they had. Where were they discovered? How did they come to be so infamous? I could not have created the Cleopatra Emerald without first thinking about stones like the Hope Diamond and the Star of Africa.

As for the cons themselves, well, I'm incredibly lucky that I get to design both the heists and the security systems. Real thieves rarely have that luxury.

TRC: Mysteries are woven into the plot of UNCOMMON CRIMINALS. In particular, the identity of Visily Romani and the real name of W. W. Hale the Fifth are puzzles. When will we learn more about Romani and what the W stands for in Hale's name?

AC: To be perfectly honest, I don't really know. I really think that there are two primary models that a series can follow. Let's call the first the Harry Potter Model: one story told over X number of volumes. My Gallagher Girls series very much fits within that model. I know that there are going to be six books and about when big things will be revealed along the way.

The second model, however, is more like Nancy Drew. Every book will introduce a new central mystery, and the series is far more open-ended. I don't know if there will be two Heist Societybooks or 20.

I can say that, eventually, we will get Hale's name and Visily Romani's identity, but for the short run, at least, I don't see those questions being answered because, ultimately, those questions aren't what any of the books are about.

TRC: International travel to famous and exotic locations is a part of Kat's exciting life. Where is the most exotic place you've traveled to?

AC: A little over a year ago I had the opportunity to spend 10 days in Italy, and that was easily the most beautiful place I've ever been. I loved it.

TRC: I love the book cover, especially the way the Cleopatra Emerald reflects off of Kat's sunglasses. What influence did you have in the cover, and how did the design come about?

AC: Fortunately, I have absolutely no say in the covers! The amazing team at Disney-Hyperion is in charge of that, and that's the way it should be. Trust me. I try to speak up sometimes and it usually just results in a lot of trouble and expense, and we end up realizing that everything was better before I butted in.

This cover came about in-house. They had done a very large photo shoot for the first cover, and I believe this was one of the images that came from that. The team knew it would be important for the cover of book two to be reminiscent of --- but not too identical to --- book one, and this was what they came up with. It's beautiful.

TRC: As I read HEIST SOCIETY and UNCOMMON CRIMINALS, I was reminded of caper movies, like The Sting and The Pink Panther. Are you a fan of these types of films, and if so, which are your favorites?

AC: Oh, I absolutely love heist films. Love them. My favorites (in no particular order) have to be The Sting, Sneakers, The Italian Job, The Thomas Crowne Affair, Ocean's 11, The Hot Rock andHow to Steal a Million.

TRC:Speaking of movies, what can you tell us about plans to bring HEIST SOCIETY to the big screen?

AC: I'm afraid there isn't much to tell at the moment. At the time HEIST SOCIETY was released (in February 2010), Warner Brothers optioned the film rights. They have hired a screenwriter to work on the script and are, supposedly, very interested in a director. Unfortunately, the movie business moves incredibly slowly, and as far as I know, nothing has moved beyond those stages at the moment.

TRC: Which of the characters you've created is most like you?

AC: I'm a lot like both of my main characters. Both Kat (fromHeist Society) and Cammie (from Gallagher Girls) and I grew up in family businesses in very traditionally male-dominated fields. We're all used to being the only girls at the table, and that's something that we definitely have in common. In fact, that's the unifying theme that I keep finding in my writing. People frequently ask why I write "girl power" books, and the only answer I can give is because I don't know how not to live a girl power life.

TRC: What is the best and worst writing advice you ever received?

AC: I have no idea where I heard or saw it, but the best writing advice I ever got was this: Don't get it right, get it written. I tell myself that every day of writing a first draft. If I let myself fixate on the little things, then I'd never finish anything. Ever.

I don't know that there really is such a thing as bad writing advice because every writer is so different. What's great advice for me might throw somebody else off their game for weeks or months. And vice versa. The only thing I feel certain of is that there is no one-size-fits-all writing advice (even though I have seen people say so). So I guess I'd have to say that the worst advice is the advice that comes from anyone who says that their way of writing a book is the best --- or only --- way to write a book.

TRC: You have a website, a blog, a Facebook page and Twitter account. How has having such a strong Internet presence affected how you interact with your readers?

AC: Having an online presence is a great way to connect with readers. It's nice to be able to share things like new covers or snippets from an upcoming novel and get immediate, live reactions. That's what I enjoy most about those things and largely why I keep coming back to them again and again.

TRC: What are you working on now, and when can readers expect to see it?

AC: Next up for me is Gallagher Girls 5. I'm afraid we don't have an official title or release date quite yet, but I do know that the plan is to have it in stores sometime early in 2012. I'm incredibly excited about this book and where the series is going, and I just hope that readers can be a little bit patient in order to give me time to get it right.