March 10th, 2009

Invisible cover

Debreview with Carrie Ryan

Debut novelist Carrie Ryan is the author of the much-anticipated THE FOREST OF HANDS AND TEETH. I was honored – nay, *thrilled* – to interview her about her book, the process of writing, the oncoming zombie apocalypse and a little bit about herself.

As one of the Deb2009 "Zombie Chicks", how do you recommend your average reader prepare for the inevitable Zombie Apocalypse?

Unfortunately, I’m not sure there ever will be a good way to prepare for such an eventuality. We’ve been trying to train our dog Jake as a “zombie attack dog” but really, he’s just not that into it (he’d rather snore on the couch – I’m not sure he realizes the extent of the threat!).

You've used your tasty brains to create the astounding world of THE FOREST OF HANDS AND TEETH – what came to you first: the character, the setting, or the plot?

The setting actually came first. I was working on another book with no plans to start anything new when my fiancé (who is also a writer) and I went to lunch one day and he started talking about this post apocalyptic world with a town at the edge of a forest full of zombies. Even though the world totally intrigued me, I was content with what I was writing until a few weeks later when I was walking home from work and the first line of a story set in that world popped into my head. So even though the setting came first, it took the character’s voice to really get things started!

When did you know you *had* to write this book?

I knew I had to write it the moment that first line came into my head. I was so afraid of forgetting it when it came to me that I emailed it to myself. When I got home, I copied it into a word document and suddenly, I couldn’t stop writing! I wrote about 20k of that book in two weeks! [Dawn gapes here.] But I knew I had to finish the book because I wanted to know how the story ended!

THE FOREST OF HANDS AND TEETH started as a NaNoWriMo novel; did you write any novels before this? Did participating in NaNoWriMo make a difference in your writing process?

I started writing romance novels after graduating from college in 2000. I wrote two that first year – one that I tried shopping until I realized that I didn’t want to brand myself as a western historical romance writer, and another that I never revised because it had too many flaws. Then I took four years off to apply for and attend law school. My first year as a lawyer I decided to get back into writing and NaNoWriMo seemed like a great way to really focus on writing. Plus, when I’d written my second book I’d participated in BIAW (Book In A Week) and had written like 50k in one week so I really like challenges! [Dawn falls out of her chair here.]

Also, NaNo is pure fun – lots of writers hanging out and writing! I think I’ll always want to participate!

Fellow authors know the importance of a good website, a stunning trailer, and a blog with great voice – and you've got all three! How did you do it? Spill!

Haha, thanks! I totally lucked into the trailer! Random House Children’s Books hosts a Teen Book Video Awards every year where they choose three books and invite film students to submit trailers for them. Luckily, my book was chosen and the filmmaker – Jessica Pilkes – did an amazing job. I love her vision and think it’s totally spot on!

As for the website, after selling the book I sat down one weekend and looked up as many sites as I could and tried to figure out what I liked and didn’t like and who built the sites I liked. There are some really amazing sites, but there was only one designer whose entire portfolio I loved – I knew that I could just hand everything over to her and she’d come up with something great and she totally did! I love working with her!

The blog was more of a lark. When I was starting out writing I really loved to read the archives of other author blogs – it gave me such a great sense of the journey to publication and it’s really cool to see sort of a “real time” version of the process. You’d see an author blog about wanting to give up, or the fear of failure and yet you would know that they persevered and made it. I really wanted to have that kind of record of my journey and the day I sold it was pretty cool to read back through the entries that led to the sale.

Your cover also *rocks*! How did you get such fantastic cover art?

One of the first things I thought when I heard that Delacorte had made an offer on my book is that they do such amazing covers! To this day I think that A Great and Terrible Beauty has one of the best covers (and titles) ever. When my editor talked to me about my cover I had no idea what it would look like and I thought they might end up with something more iconic (most like what the UK cover looks like). And especially since as of last year there were few faces on YA covers, I was shocked to see my finished cover with a face and everything! But I totally utterly absolutely love it!

I’ve since found out that the same artist is doing the cover for my second boot (The Dead-Tossed Waves, a sequel to The Forest of Hands and Teeth) and I can’t wait! I love his work!

What's been the highlight of your publishing experience thus far?

I have to say, the whole thing has really been amazing. It often feel so surreal and as if it’s happening to someone else! One of the best moments happened in the beginning – the day I sold. We were supposed to be subbing the book on a Monday but my editor sent out a few sneak peeks on Friday afternoon so I wasn’t expecting anything when my agent called Monday morning (I thought he was calling to finalize the other submissions). But he’d gotten a pre-empt! That day was hectic and by the end of it, we’d accepted the offer and I walked out of work with the deal memo in my hand. My fiancé (who I dedicated the book to because he’d been there every step of the way) was picking me up and as he pulled his truck to the curb I just waved the deal memo in the air and we were both smiling and laughing and almost shouting with pure delight. It was such a fantastic feeling to be sitting with him and sharing that moment.

How about "you"? Do you write in silence or with music?

Silence. I wish I could write with music or that I had playlists but for me it’s just distracting. It’s funny because I find such inspiration from music, but just not when I’m actually writing.

You know the importance of a great first line – what was your favorite first line from a novel?

I wish I could remember! While I can’t remember my favorite first line, I do know my favorite opening – the first section to Nabokov’s Lolita. I can still remember when I first read it, standing in the college bookstore getting my books for classes. I flipped open the first page because I’d heard so much about this book but didn’t know anything about it and I was blown away by the writing. It’s still my favorite of all time.

As a writer and a lawyer, what advice do you have for new novelist regarding legal things like contracts, agent agreements, etc.?

To read them, ask questions and think them through. Generally, someone who signs a contract will be held to the terms of the contract even if they claim to not have read it or understand it (subject to some exceptions). I think we work with agents so we can trust their counsel but ultimately it’s our career and we need to understand what’s happening (or would happen in a worst case scenario).

Now for some fun! Dawn of the Dead or Shaun of the Dead?

Trick question! But honestly, I’m not sure I can choose because they’re both brilliant! One thing I love about Shaun is the amazing juxtaposition of humor and solemnity – it really is both a hilarious and heartbreaking movie! But Dawn is where it all started with me so I have to give it props as well!

How do you keep The Bosses (aka your beautiful cats) happy?

They will argue that I do not keep them happy merely because a dog still exists in our house and – horror upon horrors – is allowed up on the bed at night.

As a fellow board game & card game enthusiast, do you prefer games with more strategy, luck, or the use of funny, made-up words/rules?

First, you can’t beat made-up words and rules! I love a good strategy game but I also like a dash of luck. I tend to stay away from games that involve memorization (like counting cards) because I like to just play and relax and have fun!

Since you're a graduate of Williams College, you know all about purple cows – (which reminds me of a favorite drink I had as a kid); what's your favorite childhood treat that you still enjoy today?

Oooh, good question! Sugar cereal! Which sounds totally strange, but we were never allowed to eat sugary cereal growing up and so every time I buy a box (or two!) I still feel like I’m getting away with something – haha!

You knew I was going to ask this question... How do you feel about monkeys?

I guess the question is, how do I not feel about monkeys?

You can follow Carrie Ryan and the up-to-date news about THE FOREST OF HANDS AND TEETH by checking out her website at