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At the start of the mid-level horror novel “The Darkdeep”, co-written by Brendan Reichs and Utah author Ally Condie, the characters find a cave on the shore near their town.
Inside the cave is a rowboat they use to reach a small island shrouded in mist. And there, they discover a power that can bring their dreams and nightmares to life.
Condie recommended readers who want to experience some of the book’s vibe for themselves to experience any type of cave.
In particular, she recommended the Rock Canyon Trail, a 5.7 mile hike near Provo.
“There are all these little caves and secret places, and the kids notice this stuff,” she said.
Condie and Reichs’ book harnesses the intelligence and ingenuity of children as their young characters work together to protect their city. Readers will enjoy the vibrant characters, fun pop culture references, and some truly mind-blowing moments.
Condie recently spoke to The Salt Lake Tribune about her and the Reichs writing process and where they were inspired by.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
What inspired “The Darkdeep”?
The book was co-authored with Brendan Reichs. We have the same agent and publisher, we went to college at the same time, and we have children of the same age. One day we had a conversation where we asked ourselves, “What did we like when we were kids?” We talked about ‘Goonies’ which is a bit of a problem now, but as kids what we liked a lot was that the parents weren’t really involved. They were kids solving their own problems, going through their own adventures, facing some really scary things. And we thought the producers kind of picked up on that with “Stranger Things,” which is also set in the 1980s. So we thought, “We could write something that looks like these things for us, but for this generation. Our book is set in modern times, but we wanted to have this feeling of a group of kids who really get along, who support each other, who fight together as a team.
“The Darkdeep” highlights five children but alternates perspectives between just two of them. Why did you think Nico and Opal were the right characters to live the story?
We both wanted to have a character to write because we wanted the book to have distinct voices. We also wanted vantage points where you could see what was going on from two or three different backgrounds. We thought Nico would be important because he’s the one who has a vested interest in the land, and he’s also being bullied. With Opal, she is the initiator. She’s the one who doesn’t get harassed, she’s a little more involved in the city.
But for the most part, it was just that they were fun to write. We wanted a boy and a girl and then we wanted to see what differences they made to the group. We enjoyed writing the other characters so much, too, that there was a point where we thought maybe they should have chapters written from their perspective, but then we realized it would be a total disaster. – too many cooks in the kitchen.
Brendan wrote the chapters for Nico and I wrote the chapters for Opal. Brendan would write a chapter and send it to me, then I would reread it, write my chapter and send it back. But we wanted it to be very fluid, so we got into each other’s business so much that now we don’t even know who wrote which lines.
Are there any unique challenges associated with co-writing a book?
We both had different ideas about where the story might go or what a character might do in a given situation. If we stumbled upon a point where we didn’t agree, sometimes we just reverted to the other person’s way of thinking. But if we were both very attached to our ideas, then we would both throw them away and we had to find a third solution together. And it always worked better. Turns out, if your co-author doesn’t like what you’re doing, there’s a reason for it, even though no one can quite put their finger on it.
The book includes a number of pop culture references such as Power Rangers, Minions, and the Star Wars sequel trilogy. Have you ever worried that kids might get or dislike certain referrals?
We were totally worried about this. Everything ages so quickly. By the time a book is published, cool has moved on. So we were trying to think of things that have been around for a while, that kids have loved for over a year or two. But we also didn’t want to be too vague, because it’s not fun.
You are best known for your successful dystopian young adult series “Matched”. How is writing for children different from writing for teens?
That’s in the sense that you maybe pay a little more attention to the content, but honestly what you’re trying to do either way is tell the story from the character’s perspective. The characters care about the people they love, the things they are passionate about, where they live, any issues they need to solve. So it doesn’t change the writing process. You’re just trying to get into the character’s head.
How did you and Brendan balance the horror elements of the book as they got older?
We really wanted to hit just the right amount of scary, where it would freak you out a little bit, maybe keep you awake for a minute, but not haunt you forever. We used our children a bit as guinea pigs. We’d say, “Hey, what do you think? What do you think about that? “And kids are amazing. They aren’t easily scared. They don’t want it to be stupid and scary.
Without revealing anything, at the end of the book, the children each have to face their greatest fears, and it was harder than thinking about the big monsters. We thought, “How do we treat these fears that these children have with great respect, so that children reading this know that their fears are also treated with great respect?” There are some fun and scary things, but there are also some things that are really scary, and the fact that you have fears is completely normal and human to feel.
There are two other books in the “Darkdeep” series. What can readers expect in books two and three?
Volume 2 is super fun because we made everything bigger. There’s a YouTube channel that comes to town to try and investigate what’s going on in the first book, and it was really fun playing it for a bit because kids love to watch online so much. Then, in the third volume, everything becomes a bit global. You get bigger explosions and bigger monsters and give the characters bigger problems to solve. So I guess you could say the show is getting more and more spooky and fun.
You are the founder of the WriteOut nonprofit in Cedar City. How can people get involved?
COVID-19 has hit us like everyone else, so we are trying to get up. But what we did was organize writing camps for rural teenagers. We did this for three years before COVID-19, and it was super fun. We have always maximized the number of campers we can take. The aim was to bring children from areas that might not receive visits from authors. We would have five or six writers and we would do workshops with these kids all week. The kids really got to know us, and we really got to know them and their stories. Most of our campers were from Utah and 20-25% of our students were still scholars. We would use our funding to make sure we have kids from Price or Delta or other rural areas.
Are you working on new projects at the moment?
I work on young adult books for Penguin, my longtime publisher. I can’t really say what they are talking about, but I can tell they have been submitted and are with my editor. And then my first picture book will be out in 2023. It was really fun because my mom was an illustrator growing up.
What advice would you give to aspiring writers?
Make sure you are doing interesting things. They don’t have to be interesting to anyone else in the world. If you have a weird hobby or something that no one else cares about that you like, I think you should explore this. And then I think you should do it on a loop. Whenever something that interests you comes up, go ahead and play with it. Go ahead and educate yourself, as this will all serve as fuel for writing later. If you want to be a writer you’re going to have to write, but it’s also quite good – especially as a young writer – to be in the rallying phase. Collect experiences, collect memories and collect knowledge, and just have fun with it.
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