I entered the glass marvel of the Salt Lake City Library and made my way toward a table piled high with colorfully covered novels.
People mingled in a line with books piled high in their arms. They were there for the Breathless Reads Book Tour that featured five bestselling young adult authors from across the country: Utah author Ally Condie, who wrote the recently published "Matched" (Dutton Books, 2010); Andrea Cremer, author of "Nightshade" (Philomel, 2010); Brenna Yovanoff, author of "The Replacement" (Razorbill, 2010); Beth Revis, author of "Across the Universe" (Razorbill, $17.99) and Kirsten Miller, author of "The Eternal Ones" (Razorbill, 2010).
These authors were all totally different, and their books ranged from mystery, horror and dystopia to werewolves and reincarnation. Nevertheless, they all shared a love for story, and in a panel discussion Feb. 12, they identified with each other about the joys and challenges of writing.
I loved learning about their unique writing processes. One example: How does an author choose names for his/her characters? These five writers represented a wide range of styles. One author -- Miller -- says she "steals" her names from movie credits and name tags. Cremer delves carefully into name meaning and origin. And Yovanoff says she just uses the very first thing that pops into her head.
As an aspiring writer, it was incredible to listen to the discussion of these five authors. The highlight, however, for which I had been "breathless" with anticipation, was my personal interview with Condie.
I was directed to the "green room" where we had an inspiring chat about writing and books. Condie, who lives in the Sandy area, was energetic and bubbly and easy to talk to.
Wow ... was this actually real? Was I really having a one-on-one conversation with a professional novelist?
Write or sort socks?
Condie has been writing since she was a little girl; "I always told stories," she said.
Her official writing, however, began in 2003 while her husband studied for graduate school in the evenings. Her first book was "Yearbook," which after many revisions -- Condie revises her work 20 to 30 times before publication -- was published in 2006 by the regional Deseret Book Publishing Company.
"It was long," Condie said about her path to publication. "I tried to publish it nationally first, and I just kept getting rejection after rejection."
"Yearbook" is a novel about high school, told from many dimensions and points of view. Condie is a former high school English teacher, and that, she said, "made me want to write for teens."
Now a mother with three young boys, Condie dashes to her computer in the "cold corner of the basement guest room" as soon as her children are sleeping. She listens to her sister's teenage pop music to transition from mom-mood to young-adult-author-mood.
She spends most of the time writing, and if she gets stuck, she takes a break to do some "unpleasant task" like sorting socks to make her want to tackle her book again. She will also jump ahead to a scene she is craving to write or lace up her shoes and go for a run to clear her head.
'Matched' to marry
Condie discovers the story as she writes. She says that working without an outline creates a messy first draft, but it is writing this first draft that she loves best about being an author. The revisions that come later are the grueling part. She writes for 5 or 6 hours a day.
"I'm a pretty slow writer," said Condie.
"Matched," which came out last November, is Condie's first nationally published work. She originally wrote it as a stand-alone novel, but now a second book, "Crossed," is set to come out this fall, and the third and final book in the trilogy is about 100 pages in the works.
Condie's ideas can materialize at any time; "A random car driving by may trigger an idea," she said.
Her idea for "Matched" developed from an evening chaperoning prom and also from a conversation with her husband where he posed the question, "What if someone wrote the perfect algorithm for lining people up, and the government used it to decide who you married, when you married, etc.?"
"Matched" takes readers into a dystopian world where the government makes all the decisions such as who you will marry, what career you will follow and when you will die. Condie's novel spins a charming story that reminded me of other dystopian novels such as "The Giver" and "Uglies." Although simple and predictable, it is a fun narrative that weaves its own twists into this future society.
The story is told from the viewpoint of Cassia, a 17-year-old girl who has never questioned the ways of "The Society" until a mistake occurs regarding the boy she is "matched" to marry.
Like a cookie
Reading this novel made me grateful that I have more than 100 poems to read, more than 100 songs to listen to, more than 100 paintings to look at. And thank goodness none of them are selected by the government. I hold dear the ability I have to create, to choose who to marry, to hike on a real mountain.
"Matched" reads like a cookie is eaten. I wanted to both savor the warm crumbles on my tongue and gobble it up in a single swoop. I've enjoyed many chocolate chip cookies before but this one was still a sweet treat that melted in my mouth. And when "Crossed" comes out this fall I will be in the bookstore to find out what happens next.
Condie's advice for aspiring writers? First, she says, "Live an interesting life, try what's interesting to you. That's where the ideas come from."
Next, she says, "Get in shape." Condie compares writing to running -- you can't just step up one day and race, you have to commit to it daily.
"Put the time in," she says.
You have to stretch your writing mind, practice collecting ideas and converting them into words, and enjoy the process with patience. Condie says that sometimes it's hard to begin, and sometimes you have a bad race, but sometimes you hit your stride and there is nothing more exhilarating.
Alexandra Burton is a senior at Ogden High School. You will find her running, writing or playing the violin. E-mail her at email@example.com.