SALT LAKE CITY — While on vacation in Idaho, local children's author Ally Condie saw a rusty old mining ship abandoned in a river, and it inspired the plot of her next young adult novel.
"I was like, 'What is this? Is this something from the future, from another civilization?'" Condie said. "And that got my mind running."
The best-selling author of the young adult dystopian "Matched" trilogy, Condie, who resides in Pleasant Grove, has been meandering into middle grade novels of late. These include her Edgar Award-nominated mystery "Summerlost" and her horror series "The Darkdeep," co-authored with Brendan Reichs. Now, after a five-year hiatus, Condie is returning to young adult dystopian with "The Last Voyage of Poe Blythe" (Dutton Books, 336 pages, ages 12 and up).
Condie said it wasn't a conscious decision to take a break from writing young adult, she just happened to have ideas for middle grade books. Also, from 2015 to 2017, Condie was earning her Masters of Fine Arts in creative writing from the Vermont College of Fine Arts.
"Honestly, going back and forth between middle grade and young adult is a dream for me," Condie said. "Because I love writing both things and that way I don't get fatigued on one or the other."
She did enjoy getting to back to young adult where she could write a story with a "harder edge" and a bit more romance, she said.
"The Last Voyage of Poe Blythe" tells the story of Poe, a 17-year-old captain of the last mining ship belonging to a secluded, dystopian civilization called the Outpost. On this last voyage, Poe is bent on revenge against the river raiders who took everything from her two years before. As she navigates the dangerous waters of the Serpentine River, she discovers a traitor amongst her crew and an ensuing catastrophe forces her to face her grief and the armor she's built to protect herself from ever feeling that pain again.
Condie did her share of research into river dredges in order to write this story, including taking a tour of one in Sumpter Valley, Oregon, with her family. There, Condie learned about how fast the mining ships move and how loud they would be to work on. She did make modifications for the futuristic setting of her novel, including adding living quarters, she said.
It was tricky for Condie to insert all the information she learned about river dredges, the main setting for "Poe Blythe," without impeding the plot.
"I didn't want to slow down the real heart of the story, which is the character and her forward motion," she said.
So, she had to work hard to explain aspects of the dredge while the characters were in the middle of the action.
One of the main themes in "Poe Blythe," Condie said, is "what we would do for love."
"Something we all have in common is there is someone that we would do a lot for," she said. "Whether that's a parent or someone we're in love with or a child — everyone has that person in their lives where to lose them would be inconceivable."
That's the situation Poe has to face that Condie hopes all readers will be able to feel a connection to.
Right now, "Poe Blythe" is a standalone novel, but there is a possibility for subsequent books if there's a demand for them, Condie said. Her next co-authored book in the "The Darkdeep" series, titled "The Beast," releases this October, and, she said, she has another secret young adult project in the works as well.
Condie thinks "Poe Blythe" should be a good fit for fans of "Matched," though the main character and love story are very different. She said there will actually be a few "Matched" Easter eggs within the pages of "Poe Blythe" that fans can look forward to.
When asked if the dystopian genre is making a comeback in young adult novels, Condie said she doesn't think it ever left.
"It's just been called different things, like 'sci-fi' or 'speculative fiction,'" she said. "But I think it's always going to be here. It's a genre that's still appealing and I don't think it will ever vanish."
If you go …
What: Ally Condie book signing
When: Tuesday, March 26, 7 p.m.
Where: Provo Library, 500 N. University Ave., Provo
How much: Free
Note: Places in the signing line are reserved for those who purchase a copy of the featured book from The King's English.