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People Watching Leads to Inspiration

Ally Condie on lucky numbers and inspiration when writing The Unwedding

Jun 4, 2024

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You know how some people have a lucky number? I think I have an unlucky one. It’s twenty. There’s the whole year 2020 (I don’t need to tell you what happened there, you were in it, too!). And, after our divorce during our twentieth year of marriage, my ex-husband took someone else on a trip for what would have been our twentieth anniversary. I was, of course, gutted by both this and the divorce. But I decided that I would be proactive. I would take a trip on my own and it would be fine! I would be fine! I would put myself in a beautiful place and let nature heal and help me the way it always has. (I have known this trick/truth since I was a little kid and my parents spent the weekends taking us to the many beautiful state and national parks near our home in southern Utah.)

No problem, I told myself, as I checked into the resort alone and realized that everyone else seemed to be checking in in twos or groups. I’m doing great, I thought, when saw that there were two of everything—two robes, two sets of slippers, two shower heads—in my room. I’m learning to be alone and I’m crushing it, I reminded myself as I went into the restaurant sans husband, zero kids. (The not always being with your kids was, and is, the hardest part.)

I sat alone and ordered my meal by candlelight, watching the other couples and groupings. Doing amazing, I told myself, and I very much was not. Grief crept up behind me and tapped my shoulder. No, I said. I am not going to turn around and look.

So I looked at everything else going on around me. And there it was, life. So much of it.

Is that couple really happy? They seem to be. Oh, look, a wedding party. The bride is so beautiful. That family is darling. Those two look miserable. Ooh, love her dress. That looks like a father and his daughter—so sweet. She’s helping him read the menu.

In addition to the trips to national parks, my dad also took me to England when I was twelve, and he bought me a giant, bricklike anthology of Agatha Christie mysteries to read while I was there. I fell in love immediately with the dialogue, the puzzles, and the study of human nature. I adored Miss Marple and the way she surprised everyone who overlooked her because she was a sweet elderly lady. As I sat alone, people-watching, I thought, Ooh. Could I be Miss Marple? If a murder happened, I would be the one best equipped to solve it, because I’m the only one here paying attention to everyone else.

And then the meal went from sad to interesting to exciting. Maybe, I thought, I have a book idea?

The main character in THE UNWEDDING, Ellery Wainwright, is not me. I’ve never solved a murder or been in a natural disaster. Most of the things that happen to Ellery in THE UNWEDDING never happened to me, but the spark of the story and the emotions are shared between us. And in giving Ellery fictional versions of some of the things I have in my life—a love of art and nature, dear friends—I realized how lucky I am. And, recently, I’ve chosen a lucky number. It’s six, the date I celebrated my new marriage with my husband, family and friends in the mountains near our home.

This book was a delight to write. I hope you enjoy reading it, and I’m grateful to you for taking a chance on this story with your precious time. I love reading even more than I love writing, and it is always a pleasure to connect with those who share the same love. I feel lucky that, at least in some small way, our paths cross with the stories we read and share.


Ally Condie

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