Author Interview with ALLY CARTER

2051099_origI was very fortunate to be offered an interview with the fabulous Ally Carter to discuss the release of Book Three in her Heist Society series. She’s a great person to interview, full of lots of interesting stories and details about her books and open to answer pretty much anything. Please be aware – since we discuss the third book, there are spoilers, both major and minor, within this interview. Read at your own risk!

Both Kat and Cammie are definitely under the heading of “kick ass heroines” but in very different ways. What do you think are Kat’s best qualities?

One of the good things about the Kick Ass Heroine is that they are all different. Funnily enough the Heroes are always seemingly the same (tough, roguishly charming, super strong), but what makes a character interesting is not necessarily their strengths but their flaws.
Both Kat and Cammie have a lot of self-doubt – not necessarily in what they do, but in who they are. They are actually a lot like me – professionally, they are very confident. Personally, they have a lot of doubts. I’ve been that way since I was a teenager up until now, and probably will continue to be until the day I die. The things I have been trained to do I feel very confident in doing. No one ever trains you in how to be a girl. No one ever trains you how to talk to a boy. No one trains you how to relate to your friends and family. You can learn how to pick a lock, but the other stuff can be harder to learn. They are both a little self conscious in that respect.
Another thing that makes them awesome is that they are both very loyal and they have pretty good compasses. Sure, we are going to make mistakes, and we are going to do some very bad things but it will be for very good reasons. They both can have some lapses in judgement, but for the most part …. well, as a writer, I need to have my characters doing stupid things sometimes. You also then need them not to be stupid – it’s a very fine line.

So they can’t be the “Too Stupid To Live” kind of people?

Exactly! You need to have her rushing into that burning building, but not as an idiot who won’t stop and call the authorities.

For Kat, it seems that a lot of her loyalties are tied to her family – her extended family.

Exactly! In this book, she’s putting herself out there for Hale, and she knows that he will NOT be happy with her. But it’s the right thing to do. That was one of the things that my editor and I went back and forth about for a while – how long should Hale spend in the dark? Why should Hale stay in the dark? Hopefully I communicated that it would be more dangerous to let him know. He’s also a smart guy, and he will figure it out even though he has family issues. I should say that this all originated because I wanted Hale to become the client. It completely changed the dynamic of everything, and I liked that juxtaposition. Technically, he’s kind of the boss and the person Kat is working for, but he’s too close to make any of the calls. She has to know that, and he can’t be part of the process.

It was also so interesting to see how everyone else’s motivations changed as well. They aren’t doing it for the score, or for the adrenaline – they are doing it for Hale. It was good for Hale – a man who’s grown up distanced from his own family – to see that he has a family who cares for him just because he’s Hale.

Especially the adults. Hale is usually the brave face, the cool demeanour -to be able to show his more vulnerable side was one of my favourite things about this book.

In Uncommon Criminals, Kat refers to herself as “return artist” -how do you think she views herself compared to the others in her family? Is that her with compensating for returning to the ways of a thief but not really wanting to?

I actually really wanted that to be the title of the book! I loved it, but for some reason there was another book that was similarly titled that had a similar release date, so I didn’t end up using it. I still keep it in the back of my mind though – maybe in the future, if I need one for book 4, 5 or 6 we can use it then.
It’s how Kat justifies her return to thieving – in book one she’s so conflicted even though she can still automatically calculate the number of steps between X and Y, or what the security systems are like, etc. This is how she makes peace with that part of herself that needs the excitement of the heist.

What about when she’s older?

She has this great partnership, retrieving Nazi items … I think if you were to ask her, she would say that Kat at 25 or 30 will be exactly like Kat at 15. She’s going to continue to grow and be a more adult person, but I don’t think she will become more like her uncle and her dad, even though I think one of the exciting things about Perfect Scoundrels is that we got to see her poised on the precipice of being the heir apparent of her family. You have Hale as the heir apparent to his family dynasty, and Kat is the heir apparent to her family dynasty. She’s taking it in a different direction, to be sure, and I think that that will be something I will want to play with if I’m fortunate enough to write more books … about how or will she ever pull apart from her family again? They all came together to rally around Hale, but they are fundamentally steered by a different course.

That was very clear in “Uncommon Criminals” as well, with Charlie….

I loved Charlie. I want more of him. He has such potential … I want to see Charlie, Eddie and Maggie all together.

We’re not done with Maggie, are we?

We are not done with Maggie at all. Maggie is probably my favourite villain. She’s the anti-grandma. Someone asked me, and I said Taccone, but then I had to think – no, it’s Maggie. There’s something about her…

Well, he’s the obvious one – he is all menace and fear. She is so subtle… and she knows so much about them.

What I love about Maggie is that the next time we see her she could be completely different – she could be the ally or the villain – she could be the client!

There’s a whole issue with trust with Maggie – you never know where you stand.

I know! I love her for that! I would love – and this is not to say that there will ever be a movie – but I love the civility, that someday Helen Mirran could play her.

Or Emma Thompson – I just saw Beautiful Creatures, and her ability to transform from one character to another with just a straightening of the spine and a glance … shivers.

Yes – exactly! Or Maggie Smith! Helen Mirran would be perfect for me because of the ageless quality of her. She could be 50 or 70, she could be robust or infirm. You could absolutely see her rappelling down a building!

Sum up your HS characters in a few sentences:

Marcus (and I love Marcus – the training of Eddie? Hysterical):

Loyal, first and foremost. Hidden depths. If he had to take a bullet for Hale? No problem. If he had to kill someone for Hale? No problem. He comes from a very loyal family, and he would have done anything for Hazel, and ergo for Hale. He is the person who loves Hale the most, aside from Kat. He’s also the person Hale trusts the most.
We know the least about him in the first book, and he’s had a transition. I knew the criticism I would get about the first book is the unrealistic nature of things because they needed an adult to do things like rent the car! (Laughs) They need an adult to be the one dealing with the hotel reservations desk. Marcus had a purely functional origin, but he has hidden layers, and the more I write him, the more I discover.

Uncle Eddie:
Feisty! Cantankerous. (You said in one interview you that you saw him as a Nero Wolfe figure) He doesn’t like to leave his house, but he knows everything about everything. He’s a genius. He’s a pure encyclopedia of everything – not just heists and cons, but also train schedules in Europe. Uncle Eddie will know, and without the internet.

Grace. I loved the notion of taking the smooth and sophisticated one and letting her have all the pratfalls with the curse in Uncommon Criminals. I would love – and I don’t know if I can get to it or not – to do for Gabrielle what this book did for Hale, and to delve into her back story a bit more. You get to peel back her layers, and I don’t think she’s as put together as we might think. I think meeting her mother might be a big part of her. She’s a very interesting character and connection. I think, in many, many ways, she and Hale are almost a brother/sister or cousin relationship – the kind that hang out together at the boring family get-together and cause mischief. I think they have had a very similar relationship with their family.

Genius. Meeting Uncle Silas was one of my best moments – when Uncle Silas mentions that Simon’s Dad is good but that Simon is better is one of my favourite lines in the book. Simon is brilliant but thinks outside of the box. While his father would say, “This is what needs to be done and how we can do it”, Simon will look at it from a completely different way and get a better result. He’s almost a Steve Job’s type. He just doesn’t understand why you can’t just touch the screen and have things happen.

“Everything’s better with Bagshaws” – discuss!
Absolutely. On tour, that’s one thing I’ve learned – everyone wants more of them! Dad is the muscle, the ruddy-faced Scottish guy who, at first glance, may not seem to be very bright – and that’s a great asset in his line of work. They are often compared to the Weasley twins, the two brothers in Ocean’s Eleven. They are amoral but love the chaos. People want more from them – and I can’t really blame them. C’mon – Hamish and Angus go the dry cleaners and stuff happens!

You totally could do a whole series of novellas about them…

Absolutely! Hamish and Angus go to the dry cleaners – and blow it up. Hamish and Angus decide to go to the movies … and mayhem ensues. Hamish and Angus decide to install a new shower head … so much could happen!!! Disaster will follow wherever they go.

I love the Koningburg reference you put in the latest book… In past articles and interviews you’ve talked about the impact The Outsiders & the Percy Jackson series has had on you … what have you read recently (either new or new to you) that has had an impact on you?

I’m been on a really big Daniel Silva audiobook kick – audio books and adult fiction in general. Love his work because it’s so different but still so interesting. He’s an art restorer, he himself deals with Holocaust art stuff so I’m fascinated. I love a good spy book. I’ve been reading a lot of books for friends. I had an ARC of Jennifer Lynn Barnes’ latest, “Nobody”, so I read that. I just read her new book, “The Naturals”, which is coming out from Hyperion, and I’m blurbing that one – it’s basically a teen Criminal Minds. It’s pretty great. I’m a little behind at the moment, but I tend to read more YA thrillers because they make me super happy and I’m happy that there are so more. There are a lot more of those coming down the pike.
I’m excited about Marie Lu’s ‘Prodigy’ … There are some books where I’m just not sure – I don’t know if I can handle the horror. I can’t read anything too scary. Carrie Ryan is a very dear friend, and I’ve told her “I’m sorry, we will be friends until the day I die, but I can’t read anything you’ve written because it’s too scary. I know you can write, but nope. Can’t read it.” Luckily, she’s okay with that!

The Heist Society is a fabulous series – a great blend of Ocean’s 11, Thomas Crowne Affair and the Italian Job… What are some of your favourite ‘heist’ movies?

I love them all – even the bad ones. I’ve gone through all the Rafifi and classic ones but they tend to be more of a downer. At that time, they always wanted the thief to get his come-uppance. It’s something I try to do as well. We’re now in an era where we try to make it where the bad guy is the good guy. Think of Ocean’s Eleven – Andy Garcia’s character is not the good guy – if he had treated Julia Robert’s character better, we would like him more, but in this case, the good guy is the one you don’t like. If he had been better, then the movie wouldn’t have worked.
My personal favourites are Sneakers (Robert Redford!!) and, of course, The Sting. They are both classics. I really, really liked the The Thomas Crowne Affair, Ocean’s Eleven, The Italian Job.

The Henley – I envision the Courtauld Collection or the Wallace Collection – Kind of national Gallery-esque but on a slightly smaller scale. What was your inspiration?

Yes, exactly – kind of the stand-alone home that is now turned into a gallery. I was picturing the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston where they had the famous heist. I haven’t visited it yet, but have always wanted to do so. Like that The Henley has expanded several times, but at the core it’s still this basic museum. Lots of entrances and staircases and hallways.

The poor Henley – it keeps getting taken down by Kat and her family!

The Henley keeps getting hit – but they never realize it. That’s the best part – the level of detail like the detail found in the Thomas Crowne Affair is what blew me away. I always say that there are two cons in progress – the one you are running for the heist, and the one you are running on the reader. That’s what makes it hard, and what makes it work.

Well, it’s what makes this third book work so well for me.

Thank you very much!

My thanks to Ally Carter for such an interesting interview! If you have not read the Heist Society books, you can check out my reviews over the past three days here, here and here. I highly recommend picking them up and reading them as they are not just great fun, but well written and a wonderful link to the classic heist genre.