If you didn’t already know this, I’m going to tell you. Rick Walton is one of the kingmakers (or queenmaker, if you prefer) of authors in Utah. Every kids’ writer in our state has some connection to Rick and some of us even think of him as the Godfather of Utah Kids’ Writers because he’s well known for making offers we can’t refuse. Rick Walton also happens to be my next-door neighbor, so I’m quite familiar with the comings and goings over at his mansion, and sometimes I’ll find the corpse of a headless horse in my backyard.
Carol Lunch Williams and Andy Ellis can tell you about Rick if you don’t believe me.
Anyway, because I know Rick, I’ve been able to meet famous authors from our fair state and famous authors who visit our fair state. Today, though, I want to share some inside information about one of our fabulously famous authors: Ally Condie. If you want to know what everybody else knows about Ally, what she wants the world to know about her, you can visit her website. But I’m going to tell you the stuff you can only learn from having dinner with Ally.
Yes, I have had dinner with Ally Condie. Actually, I have had dinners with Ally Condie—two in the last couple of months. You’re wondering, “How did a schmoe like Chris Crowe manage to dine with Ally Condie?” Well, I know Rick Walton, and he owed me a favor. Of course, because I am Chris Crowe the Schmoe, the dinners I had with Ally weren’t exactly dinners with Ally all by herself. We were at the same table both times, and I did actually exchange a few words with her. I wish I had snapped photographic, documentary evidence of these meetings, but her bodyguards won’t allow schmoes to take photos of her without her permission.
OK, so if you’re a nit-picky semanticist or wannabe English teacher, I suppose I should say that in all actuality, I ate dinner at the same time and in the same place and at the same table with Ally Condie. Twice.
So even if I wasn’t close enough to hear her chewing or to have something like a real conversation with her, I was there. And I’ve got witnesses to prove it.
But you’re dying to know what she’s really like, right? Well, I’m dying to tell you.
The first thing you notice is the advance bodyguard. Before Ally enters a room, this crew-cutted, bull-necked goon in a black tuxedo comes in and sweeps the room. The guy can’t smile or take a joke, and I’m not even sure if he can talk. But he does know how to frisk schmoes for cameras and concealed weapons—and he’s not gentle about it. After the muscly man-mountain sweeps the room, he growls something into his wrist microphone, and Ally’s entourage marches in. Five black-suited, sunglassed security guards take up positions at the doors and windows, and once they’re situated, the second wave comes in. Two nerdy women in business suits and with pencils stuck in their hair buns strut over to the table where we’ll be dining and review the seating arrangements. Name cards have been placed at each setting, and if you’re a schmoe, you get moved to the crummiest seat at the table, the seat that’s the greatest distance from Ally. Then one woman reviews the menu while the other talks with the serving staff to make sure they are familiar with serving Ally and other royalty.
While these two women are training the restaurant staff, three more people show up. One is a pencil-thin guy in a pink leather leisure suit. His eyelids glitter with sparkly stuff, and he sashays over to our table and takes up a position behind the chair where Ally will sit when she finally arrives. He’s her personal hairdresser and make-up artist, he explains. Ms. Condie doesn’t like to be caught in public without having her hair and make-up just right. The next person looks like a cross between a school librarian, an English teacher, and an accountant. He’s got a Bluetooth phone plugged into his right ear, and he’s carrying a thin black portfolio, and he while he pulls out his I-Pad, he tells everyone that he’s Ally’s personal assistant and that he’s here to script our dinner conversation. All questions have to be run through him first. Instead of actually talking directly to Ally ourselves, he will read our questions to her. Schmoes are allowed only one question, he says, looking at me over his wire rim glasses. The third person is Catwoman. She’s wearing a skin-tight black body suit, and one look tells you that she could kill you with a flick of her wrist. She walks around the table, slowly, wordlessly, making sure we all get a glimpse of the ninja stars she’s wearing on her belt. Once we’re properly intimidated, she takes the seat on the other side of Ally’s chair and gives me a stare that could melt most schmoes.
With Ally’s entourage settled, an awkward silence falls over our table. Waiting, we’re all waiting and wondering where the famous author is. No one, especially the schmoe at the table, has the guts to ask, but the anticipation is palpable. My growling stomach breaks the silence, and Catwoman slaps the table and tells us all that that will be enough of that. I feel a dull pressure in the middle of my spine, and a security guard leans over and whispers in my ear that one more sound out of me, and I’ll be eating my dinner alone in a Dumpster out back.
More silence. More anticipation.
Then Ally Condie walks in. A quiet gasp rustles through the restaurant as she enters. She’s wearing a long, bright green satin gown, white silk gloves that reach to her elbows, and her dark hair is so perfectly coiffed that it’s hard to believe it’s real. She looks kind of like Audrey Hepburn from Breakfast at Tiffany’s except without the cigarette holder.
Suddenly, the restaurant staff springs to life. A waiter pulls out her chair, another waiter slides a special menu into her hands, and a third fills her water goblet with perfectly chilled spring water from the Swiss Alps. Her personal assistant scowls at everybody around the table, a reminder that we’re not allowed to speak. Ally looks pleasant but tired, having just signed 2,300 books for her adoring fans.
Dinner is pleasant. Ally is nice. She responds to our questions (well, to my single schmoe question) in a polite, stately manner, sort of like Queen Elizabeth, II speaking to her subjects. She talks about her writing. She talks about her family. She seems like a genuinely kind person, not like the New York Publishing Celebrity I had expected. Then before dessert arrives, everything changes and she starts telling hilarious stories about growing up in southern Utah, about the wild and crazy things she did while she was in high school, about living in London as a college student, and incredible details, including the title and the entire plot, from the third and final book in her Matched series. Her staff is scowling at this freewheeling, unrestricted personal and professional access that Ally has granted everyone, including the schmoe seated at the distant end of the table. None of us can believe the scoop we’re privy too.
But now, for some reason, the details are hazy. I mean, I can recall that I really did have dinner with Ally Condie and that she spellbound us with uncensored, personal stories from her past and with all the details about her next book, but I can’t recall a single specific thing from any of that. What I do remember is that when dessert was over and Ally had left, Catwoman and the security guards lined us up and made us each swallow a little red pill.