Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Interview with Carrie Ryan, Author of The Forest of Hands and Teeth

Thank you Carrie for taking the time to join us on YAedge Book club! Below Carrie answers all of your questions!

From Tina:

I really enjoyed the book. I was completely captivated. When it came to the end, I wanted more. I was sad to see it end. So many questions unanswered.

My question is, will there be a sequel?

Carrie Ryan:

Thanks Tina! There will be two more books in the series – the second book is called The Dead-Tossed Waves and will be out in March 2010 and the third will be out Spring 2011. They’re not direct sequels, though – each is from a different point of view and the second book starts quite a bit after the end of the first.

From Aimee C:

Hi Carrie,

How did you get the book written while holding a demanding full time job and what is your #1 tip for writers? Thanks so much!

Carrie Ryan:

Hey Aimee! It was hard to try to find a balance between my day job (being a lawyer) and writing (plus other things like family, home life, pets, etc). The first thing I did was put writing as a priority – I stopped watching as much television, I stopped worrying if the kitchen was clean or the flower beds were weeded. Once I got home from work I’d pop a dinner in the microwave (saved time cooking and cleaning up) and then just wrote. The weekends it was the same thing – writing both days.

There were definitely days that I cut myself some slack if I couldn’t write or if I had to put other things in front of writing, but mostly I just tried to really make the time to write where I could.

I think my number one tip for writers (and it changes all the time – lol) is to remember the love of writing. It’s easy to get caught up in all sorts of things peripheral to writing, but ultimately it’s about you and they keyboard/paper telling a story – that’s the love that you have to remember!

From Tracy:

Hi Carrie, wow. What a tale. I was especially moved by the Unconsecrated infant scene. Powerful. When you were writing that particular scene - did you know what Mary was going to do, or was it a surprise for you?

Carrie Ryan:

Hey Tracy! I have to be honest, I hadn’t planned that scene out before writing it so I really didn’t know what Mary was going to do. As I was writing it I didn’t think it would make it into the final manuscript much less the book – I was really sure that somewhere along the line someone was going to say “you just can’t do that, has to be cut.”

From Kitty:

I'm still reading... I haven't finished the book.

( I'm on chapter 7.) I do love Mary's voice. It's almost poetic. Was it hard to write in first person present tense? Or is that just how the story unfolded to you? One of my favorite lines so far is "there is always a choice." So by taking away Mary's options she was forced to make a choice and join the Sisterhood. Did you have that idea early on or was choice and freewill something that later developed? I can't wait to finish the book. It came highly recommended by my editor Kat O'Shea.

Carrie Ryan:

Hey Kitty! When I started writing The Forest of Hands and Teeth it was more of an experiment than anything else. I’d been writing a much different voice but wanted to start a new project for National Novel Writing Month. I really wanted to try a new voice just to get an old character out of my head and so I picked first person present because it was totally different from anything I’d written before. Pretty quickly I realized that it worked with the character and the tone of the book and that’s how the story unfolded.

Choice was definitely one of the themes I wanted to play with but even that one (and others) became even more developed as I wrote the story. I’m not an outliner so as the plot unfolded I realized a lot of themes I could play with and then would go back and weave them in from the beginning.

From Kurt:

I noticed there was a theme of isolation running throughout the whole book, from the village Mary grew up in, the zombies isolated in the forest, Mary holing up in the attic by herself when they reach the new village, to even the town at the end (don’t want to give too much away for people who haven’t gotten to the end). There are no relationships that fully blossom in the book. Was this fully intentional and if so, why?

Carrie Ryan:

Hey Kurt, that’s a really interesting point. There’s definitely isolation and I very much put a lot of obstacles in the way of the relationships. I do think that some relationships blossomed (or had already been established before the book) but I also wanted to highlight the reality of their world (fairly dire and survival focused).


In your mind, what time period/year does The Forest of Hands and Teeth take place? I want to make sure I’m prepared for the zombie apocalypse.

Carrie Ryan:

Haha, I go under the assumption that the zombie apocalypse could occur at any time J I purposefully never set the absolute time/year of the book in place for a variety of reasons, but when I was trying to think about what the characters would know (what stories would have been passed down, etc) I would think back to the Civil War and think about what I’d know of that time period if I hadn’t learned about it in school (so generally that would put the events in the book around 150 years after the apocalypse).

From Tami:

I read on your blog that The Forest of Hands and Teeth was optioned for a movie recently. Can you tell us any news regarding the option (if possible) and also where were you and how did you get the great news?

Carrie Ryan:

Hey Tami! Yes! Seven Star Pictures optioned The Forest of Hands and Teeth and I’m not sure what news about it I can share just yet so I’m erring on keeping my mouth shut J Actually, when I got the final news about the option I’d just stepped out of the shower and was still dripping wet. When my fiancĂ© came home and I was jumping up and down on the phone in a towel, he was a little surprised and then whisked me out to a celebratory dinner!


I’m currently in search of an agent. Can you share your plight in searching for, signing with your agent and selling The Forest of Hands and Teeth?

Carrie Ryan:

Good luck in the agent search! While I had beta readers going over my most recent draft of the manuscript I’d spend the time I normally reserved for writing researching agents. I’d read agent blogs, read about their deals in Publishers Marketplace, look at books I thought were similar and find out who their agents were, etc. I created a list of agents and then made a note card for each one noting their submission information, any pertinent details (who they represented, anything I’d learned from interviews about how they liked to be queried), etc.

Once I had the research done, I spent a lot of time on the query letter (and definitely used my beta readers for that as well). And then… I was scared to send anything off. I’d revised FHT as much as I could, but was still afraid. And then one day a friend of mine told me I was just procrastinating out of fear and she sent my query letter to her agent. The agent requested a full and that was pretty much all the motivation I needed to send everything else out.

One of the reasons I signed with Jim is that I felt completely comfortable talking to him on the phone and knew that I’d be able to ask him anything and never feel dumb. Plus, he was phenomenal about following up and is crazy responsive (can you tell I absolutely adore my agent?!). After a round of light revisions with Jim, he submitted the book to a few editors for a sneak peek on a Friday afternoon and it sold that Monday morning in a pre-empt.

I’m really glad I spent a lot of time really researching agents. I do think the maxim “a bad agent is worse than no agent” is true (esp having seen many authors struggle through bad relationships with their agents).


The cover of Forest of Hands and Teeth is amazing. Is it what you picture Mary to look like and what you had in mind when picturing the cover as you wrote?

Carrie Ryan:

Thanks! I’ve really been lucky with covers so far (fingers crossed!!). I never had an absolute picture of Mary in my head but I totally love the cover and think it fits her well.


Tell us about your daily writing schedule. What are five things you always need near by when writing?

Carrie Ryan:

My writing schedule varies, but generally I’m out of bed and at the computer by 9am. I check email, blog, catch up on various things and then try to write out a to-do list. Recently I’ve been revising which means I spend most of the day working through the current draft, stopping to refresh diet coke or to pop lunch in the microwave. If I have an upcoming deadline (seems to always be the case) then I’m usually working until my fiancĂ© comes home from work around 7-8pm. Sometimes I’ll keep working after that or I’ll take the night off and start again in the morning!

Five things I always need when writing? Diet coke, computer, blanket over my legs, pen & paper for notes, iPhone. The cat would like to think that he’s indispensable for writing but more often he’s just a paperweight for the current print out of the manuscript!

Thanks so much everyone for such great questions!!