Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Interview with Carrie Ryan

First of all, I wanted to say "HAPPY RELEASE DAY, CARRIE!!" This day has finally come! And Dark and Hollow Places is finally in the wild! If you don't have a copy yet, stop reading this post and go buy it. If you've been addicted to the series as I have, then you'll want this final chapter of the series. I seriously devoured DHP like a zombie at a brain buffet...it was that good.

On another note, the actual reason for this post, Carrie is here with us on release day to talk a little bit about her books. I'm excited to share this interview with you guys! Don't worry, there are no spoilers if you've not read the series at all (and please don't say who you are because I will haunt you until you finally do). So here she is, the lovely Carrie Ryan, with our interview!

About Carrie:
Born and raised in Greenville, South Carolina, Carrie is a graduate of Williams College and Duke University School of Law. A former litigator, she now writes full time. She lives with her writer/lawyer husband, two fat cats and one large puppy in Charlotte, North Carolina. They are not at all prepared for the zombie apocalypse.

Novel Thoughts: Carrie, you have got to be one of the most heart wrenching authors out there! Your writing keeps me drawn in and captivated. Are there specific elements that you write in each chapter (besides someone dying) in order to keep the reader addicted?

Carrie Ryan: Thanks for such a wonderful compliment! I’ve never really thought of writing each chapter in terms of what has to be in there or not. Usually it’s just about what has to happen next for the story to make sense. I do try to keep the story very grounded in the point-of-view character hoping that if she fully experiences the story the reader will too vicariously.

NT: Each time I read your books, I easily read them in just a day or two due to great pacing. Is it tough for you to keep the story going in a specific direction while keeping a good pace?

CR: I love hearing that you can’t put them down! I once heard the writing advice given by Elmore Leonard that you should to skip the boring parts and basically that’s what I try to do. If it’s not important to the story, I don’t write it. If I find myself thinking, “Blah, blah, blah,” when I’m reading over a scene, I cut it. For me a lot of the pacing comes in revisions; I tend to be a messy first drafter and each successive draft is a process of honing things down to what’s essential.

NT: I think the most interesting thing about this series is the POV (point of view) change from book to book. Personally, I absolutely loved the idea and you pulled it off so well, especially seeing as it either works or it doesn’t. And it did. Can you talk about the different POVs and why you chose to write each book told from a different character?

CR: I chose to write the second book from a different POV for a fairly mundane reason: when I’d initially conceived of The Forest of Hands and Teeth it was a stand-alone novel so I’d never layered in the complex character arcs for Mary that could stretch over so many books. When my editor suggested writing more books in that universe I was ecstatic because I love Mary and the world, but I sort of felt like dragging her through another book as the main character would be the equivalent of yelling, “Psyche!” and changing the rules of the game.

So I tried to figure out how I could address the issues a sequel would normally address, answering questions raised in the first book, etc., while also creating a new POV character. And then once I did that for the second book I felt like the third should mirror with another new POV and it was fairly easy to figure out who that would be.

On the one hand it was a challenge to write separate POVs and keep them similar and yet distinct but at the same time I felt like it helped keep the world fresh and allowed me to explore several themes and issues from different angles which I hope helped complicate things in an interesting way.

Now, it’s zombie time!

NT: You knew I would get here, since you know I’m a die hard zombie fanatic! First, and I know you’ve told this story a few times, can you tell of how you came to love these brain-munching zombies?

CR: It’s funny because I’d always hated and avoided scary movies after a babysitter introduced me to the movie Poltergeist when I was five years old. And yet somehow I allowed JP, my then boyfriend, now husband, to talk me into going to see the Dawn of the Dead remake when we were in law school. I was terrified through the movie but I couldn’t stop thinking about it afterward.

A few days later JP bought me the Max Brooks' Zombie Survival Guide and I was even more hooked. I started watching more zombie movies and reading zombie books but I never thought I’d ever write about them. Then one day I was trying to figure out what my next project would be and JP said, “Write what you love,” and I, jokingly, said, “The zombie apocalypse.”

Turns out he was right :) I still tend to think of my books not as “zombie novels” but books that just happen to have zombies. I’m fascinated by the idea of survival and at their heart that’s what most of what I write deals with.

NT: Now, you’re zombies in the books are pretty different then the typical cult zombies out there (i.e. George Romero, The Walking Dead, etc). Can you tell us about your ideas and how you created your own zombie identity?

CR: One of the interesting things about writing zombies is that the cannon is still really young and somewhat flexible. I tend to prefer zombies as the old-school shambling non-sentient kind so that’s what I have in my books. At the same time, when I thought about why the world wouldn’t have recovered from the zombie apocalypse I realized I’d have to tweak things and so I made it so that my zombies “down” (sort of like the idea of hibernation) if they don’t sense human flesh. That way, even if a city is supposed to be cleared of zombies there’s the possibility of one stashed away in a closet somewhere, waiting. Furthermore, at the moment they turn my zombies can sense the zombie population around them and that determines whether they come back as slow or fast moving. The combo of these two traits would make it more difficult for humanity to take back the world which is why only pockets of survivors exist so long after the Return.

Let’s have a question from each book now.

The Forest of Hands and Teeth. The village that Mary grows up in is highly religious based, being run almost entirely by The Sisterhood. Can you first say who The Sisterhood is then tell why you choose them to be the leaders of this village?

Having the Sisterhood rule the village was really organic to the story from the beginning. When the first line popped into my head and I started writing, details about the Sisterhood began to pour out and so it was never really a conscious decision to make the village religious -- that’s just the way it was in my mind.

There are models all over the world through history of cultures dominated and ruled by religion and it made sense to me that after a global catastrophe people might turn to religion for comfort.

The Dead-Tossed Waves. (My personal favorite) In bringing in the Soulers, how did you come up with the idea of a religious zombie-worshipping cult? Also, why did you choose to tell this story from Gabry’s POV?

Religion had been such a big part of The Forest of Hands and Teeth that I didn’t want to let that aspect go in later books but wanted to show another side to it. I’m always fascinated by how people can twist theology to suit their own beliefs and I wanted to see if it was possible to push that to support the idea of zombies as the ultimate resurrection.

The Soulers themselves came about in a roundabout way: I’d been reading The Sweet Far Thing by Libba Bray and she has a group of characters called “mummers.” I was curious if that was a word she’d made up and so I googled it and found that another name for a mummer is a Souler. At the time I turned to JP and said, “Souler would make a great name for someone in a cult who worshipped zombies,” and that was that.

The Dark and Hollow Places. We have finally made it to DHP! This book was extremely intense. You stepped up on action, gore, romance, and more! When it came to writing the final book in the series, what things did you know before actually writing? Did you know it would be from Annah’s POV? Set in the Dark City? The ending? Or did you just have a few ideas in mind and just go with it?

You’ve pretty much hit on what I knew when I started writing The Dark and Hollow Places: that it would be from Annah’s POV and set in the Dark City. I also knew that eventually Elias, Catcher and Gabry would be involved so that I could tie up loose ends.

Then one day I saw a link on Twitter (from Libba Bray who has clearly influenced me a ton) to the video of Susan Boyle when she sang “I Dreamed a Dream” for Britain’s Got Talent and as soon as I saw it I understood Annah’s character. The rest of the story really flowed from figuring that out and realizing that, as the final book in the trilogy, I had to throw everything I could at my characters.

And finally, let’s talk about you (rapid fire style):

Favorite Classic Book?
It sounds odd but the book Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov really opened my eyes to how you can manipulate the reader with language while also asking huge questions (such as whether art should be judged on the subject matter or the presentation).
Favorite Author (past or present)? It’s impossible to say but I think it’s phenomenal how J.K. Rowling has really united readers all over the world and across cultures. That’s pretty cool!
Favorite Zombie Flick? The Dawn of the Dead remake -- it’s the one that started it all for me.
Favorite Zombie Parody? Shaun of the Dead -- perfect in so many ways.
Zombie-killing weapon of choice? Sharp edged shovel -- you can push them back and then decapitate them.
Best book you’ve ever read? I can’t ever choose favorites but I’ve spent a lot of time recently thinking about The Devil’s Arithmetic by Jane Yolen. It was just so eye-opening to me when I read it as a kid!
2011 book you’re looking forward to? I really loved The Near Witch by Victoria Schwab and can’t wait for everyone to read it.
Current project you’re working on (don’t say “secret”)? It will be out Summer, 2012 and I love it :)
Flashback to the 70s, what would you’re style be? Bright and ridiculous.
Favorite red-headed twins? That’s easy: you and Jeffrey! Though I am sorry about what I do to you in my short story for Enthralled :) *jaw drop*

The end! Thanks so much for doing this interview with me! Hope it was fun to do! Anything else you wanna say, this is your time to do that! Thanks again!

Just a huge thanks for all your support -- it means so much to me!


  1. Wow long interview but definitely worth reading!!! I haven't really cared for Carrie Ryans books but I do think she is a talented writer and a lovely person. Definitely will be picking up The Dark and Hollow Places and I will also love to read anything else she writes in the future! :)

  2. I love her books! I bought The Dark and Hollow Places today, so I'll be reading it soon. The Dead-Tossed Waves is my favorite one so far :)

    The world she has created is amazing and scary. I would hate being surrounded by the Mudo.

    Great interview!

  3. Umm... and this is why we love her! Here is my review featuring- YOU!!