Ally Carter liked to write, and she’d been doing it for years. But it was a hobby to her day job as an agricultural economist – a field in which she holds an advanced degree from an Ivy League college.
“On a lark I thought I’d see if I could get published,” she says.
She did. Her first book, Cheating at Solitaire, hit shelves in 2005, the same year the fifth Harry Potter book was released and the first of the Twilight books was published. Young Adult readers’ thirst was about to be unquenchable. Carter’s literary agent suggested she offer them something.
While watching an episode of Alias, Carter wondered if the main character, CIA agent Sydney Bristow, had gone to a school for spies.
“I couldn’t stop thinking about how awesome that would be,” Carter says.
She created this school, and the Gallagher Girls series was born.
The jump from agricultural economist to spy fiction writer may seem an odd one. Carter, though, says she’s always imagined a deeper hidden story behind everything. Growing up on a farm in Locust Grove, Carter says she would wonder if her room had a secret passage.
“My career absolutely started on a farm in Oklahoma where I could let my mind wander,” she says.
Carter, too, had always wanted to write. She was inspired as a young adult by the writing of fellow Oklahoma writer S.E. Hinton after reading The Outsiders.
“Until I read that, it never occurred to me that people wrote books,” she says. “Much less people like me. And teenage me really took hold of that.”
As her books became successful, writing became more of a job and less of a night and weekend hobby. Carter developed a second series, Heist Society. The economist in her ran the numbers and decided she could swap out a second series for her day job. She submitted her resignation at Kansas State where she worked at the extension service. A week later, she was told Gallagher Girls would be on the New York Times Best Sellers list.
“It’s an odd transition. But ultimately nothing is really different,” says Carter, who now calls Tulsa home. “It’s great I get to do what I wanted to do when I was 12 or 13.”
This spring, Carter traveled to promote her latest installment of the Gallagher Girls. The fifth book in the series was released in March, and she’s been in bookstores and libraries talking with readers and signing books.
“It’s nice to be among your people,” she says.
Getting to see and meet readers is what keeps her grounded. She says that readers ask her what it is like to be famous and wonder if she knows anyone famous.
“Really not so much with the famous,” she says. “It’s not a magic wand and ultimately just a job. I’m really, really lucky to have this job,” she says.