Ally Carter

The famed young adult author visits Centennial.


Carter giving a presentation in the library. Photo by Laura Nicolescu.

Laura Nicolescu, Co-Editor-In-Chief

Rising as one of the most popular authors for young adults, Ally Carter comes from humble beginnings. Born and raised in Oklahoma, Carter graduated as co-valedictorian of her senior class and attended Oklahoma State University and Cornell University before working several years in the agricultural industry. However, realizing a career as an author was possible even in humble Oklahoma, she began to write full time. The rest is history.

Carter’s books have been translated into dozens of languages and are available in several countries. After all, the likable and relatable Cammy from Carter’s most popular series, Gallagher Girls, resonates with young adults all around the world. With this kind of resume, Cen10 News welcomed her with great honor on her recent visit to our school.

Carter admitted that being a writer was long-term dream of hers, but never dreamt that she would get to do it.

“I would spend a lot of time in the fantasy of ‘when I’m a famous writer, this is the kind of desk I’m going to have,’” Carter said. “I did all these things to prepare for my famous writer life, but I didn’t write. It’s like saying ‘when I win an Olympic gold medal…’ but you don’t play any sports.”

Carter then made a deal with herself that she had to write something. It didn’t have to be long, it didn’t have to get published, and it didn’t have to win an award—it just had to exist, no matter how bad it was.

Carter talking to students in the library.
Carter talking to students in the library.

“I think a lot of young people, aspiring writers, don’t realize that whatever you write first, I hate to break it to you, it’s not going to be that good,” Carter said.  “Writing and starting to write is a little like turning on a garden hose you haven’t used in a really long time, and what comes out first is rusty water, with dirt in it, maybe some gravel. But it doesn’t stay that way. The only way to get to the clean water is to let the water run. I gave myself permission to write the dirty water, to get it out of my system.”

Carter went out and bought a dollar notebook and wrote until she had told a whole story. Then the process was to put it in the computer and revise it to make the story good. Carter says one of the hardest things about writing is knowing if it’s good or not, and because she had lost all perspective about what she had written, she went to get an independent opinion by entering her story in a contest.

“I made myself a deal that if I won the contest I would start the process of trying to get it published,” Carter said. “If I didn’t win I would take that as a sign I wasn’t ready yet.”

Carter went on to win the contest, but was afraid of what would come next now that she realized she actually had a chance to pursue her dream.

“I was now to the point in which, let’s say you’ve had a crush on someone for a really long time—I had to ask that person to the prom,” Carter said. “It was time to put it into action. I had to put myself out there and really take a chance.”

However, the hardest part lay ahead—getting someone to publish the works she had written.

“To publish something, you need to find out the submission standards, and you need to follow those rules exactly,” Carter said. “Then it gets really hard, and becomes a matter of ‘I didn’t like this but somebody else might.’ Back to the prom analogy, it’s ‘I’m already going with somebody, that was really nice of you thank you for asking.’ Or ‘I’m going to be out of town that weekend.’ Or ‘I just don’t like you,’ or ‘I would go with you but I just don’t want to.’”

Despite being turned down lots of times, Carter never gave up on her dream, leading to books such as the popular Gallagher Girls Series.

Photo by Laura Nicolescu.
Photo by Laura Nicolescu.

“After the differing degrees of no, eventually, if you’re writing at a professional level, someone will say yes,” Carter said. “People ask me all the time—how hard is it to get a literary agent, and my answer is if you’ve written a professional level book, it’s not that hard. But writing a professional level book is hard. So that’s why the writing is always what should come first.”

After publishing her first adult books, “Cheating at Solitaire” and “Learning to Play Gin,” Carter was looking for her next big break.  Writers are known to get ideas from unconventional places, and Carter is no exception. A television show she happened to watch changed the young adult genre forever.

There was an episode that was a flashback episode, when some of the adult female spies were teenagers, and my very first thought is ‘did she go to a boarding school for spies,?’” Carter said. “Maybe in P.E. you repel out of black helicopters, or you have to kill a man with a piece of uncooked spaghetti. Maybe everyone gets poisoned in science class and either you create an antidote or you die. And that’s how you know that you fail— because you die. I knew I had to write this. So I sat down and said ‘I think it’s going to be called “I’d Tell You I Love You But I’d Have to Kill You,” and it’s going to be about a boarding school for spies.”

Carter says characters are the center of most stories, and the main character of the Gallagher Girls series, Cammy, is no exception.

“Really good spies are chameleons, and so her name is Cammy the chameleon,” Carter said.  “She’s the girl nobody sees, and that’s the cornerstone of that character, and in turn, really, the books.”

The Gallagher Series encompasses the sequel to the aforementioned “I’d Tell You I Love You But I’d Have to Kill You,” “Cross My Heart and Hope to Spy,” the third book of the Gallagher Girls series, “Don’t Judge a Girl by Her Cover,” the fourth book, “Only the Good Spy Young” the fifth book, “Out of Sight, Out of Time,” and the 6th and final Gallagher Girls book, “United We Spy,” Carter says this series was a huge turning point in her life.

“Everything changed at that point because the book sold for a decent amount of money and became pretty popular right out of the gate,” Carter said. “Still, I kept my day job because I’m very risk averse.”

However, Carter was soon assured that it was safe to quit her day job and work as a full-time writer. After Gallagher Girls, Carter wrote another best-selling young adult series, The Heist Society, made up of the first book titled “Heist Society,” the second book “Uncommon Criminals,” and the third, “Perfect Scoundrels,” revolving around the main character Kat, whose family business is thievery. In addition, Carter’s newest series for young adults, Embassy Row, is on track for the same success.

“I thought obviously it has to be about a teenager because they’re so much more interesting than grown ups they see things, hear things and look at things differently, but a lot of times adults don’t take them seriously,” Carter said.  “And so I thought what would happen if a teenager saw something or knew something and none of the officials would actually do something about it.

Photo by Laura Nicolescu.
Photo by Laura Nicolescu.

That’s how Carter came up with the main character of the Embassy Row series, Grace.

“When Grace was 13 she actually saw her mother murdered, but nobody believes her,” Carter said. “They keep telling her ‘it was dark.’ ‘It was traumatic.’ ‘It was a long time ago.’ ‘You were young.’ ‘You absolutely did not see a man with a scar on his face shoot and kill your mother.’ But for three years Grace has been telling them differently. Now she’s 16, and has to move in with her grandfather who is the United States ambassador to a small European country, and she’s moving out onto a street where Russia is their next door neighbor and Iran is at the end of the street. They sit her down and say ‘you can’t cause trouble here.’ And she says ‘I’m good. I am never going to say the words scarred man ever ever again.’ And then who does she see? The scarred man. Now she knows her mother’s killer is real. She knows he’s there. And worst of all, she knows he’s going to kill again.”

Carter says Grace is her favorite character in all the books she’s written.

“She’s the character I’ve written that most badly needs a hug,” Carter said. “Grace has had a really hard life. And the cornerstone of that character was I needed it to be someone who’d cried wolf, so that when she got to the embassy, when she saw or heard about this terrible thing that was going to happen, nobody would believe her.”

Thanks to the success of her many books, Carter is a big star in the young adult book world, but says it’s getting harder for her to write.

“The first novel I ever wrote took me four or five weeks and I was only working on the weekends—I’d sit down Saturday afternoon and write 50-60 pages,” Carter said. “I had no idea what I was doing, and it was just fun. Now that I’ve been doing this for a while I sit down and I write and I doubt everything, so it gets a little harder for me with every book.”

As a veteran author many of us know and love, Carter’s words of advice to us Titans aspiring to be writers are paramount. She says one of the most important things is to read as much as you possibly can and don’t rush to get your works published.

“One of the things that I see a lot that kind of bothers me and makes me worried is I’ll hear from readers that’ll come up to me and say ‘I’m a writer, I’m writing a book, I have to have it published before I graduate from high school,’” Carter said. “And my answer to that is why? Why the deadline? It’s not expiring, it’s going to go on for a really long time. And so I think my advice would be to enjoy your amateur status as long as you possibly can.”

Hailing from the plains of humble Oklahoma, Carter’s success is one for the books. Despite some bumps along the way, Carter says she wouldn’t change anything for the chance to follow her dream.

“So much of my career trajectory is 100 percent out of my hands and always will be, and for a control freak like me it’s really hard,” Carter said. “But I wouldn’t trade this job for the world.”


For Ally Carter’s full answers, check out: