Caroline: I had never read a zombie romance before The Forest of Hands and Teeth. What gave you the idea for the book?
Little Willow adds: Did you set out to write a zombie story, or did it start out as something vaguely horrific or dystopian which then evolved into a story about the undead?
Carrie: In 2006, I really wanted to participate in National Novel Writing Month, but one of the rules is that you have to start something new and all I had were half-finished projects. I spent a lot of time whining, trying to figure out what to write about when my fiancé said, "Write what you love," and I said, "The zombie apocalypse?" He'd actually been the one to introduce me to zombies a few years before but they'd always just sort of been a joke between us -- it had never occurred to me to actually write about zombies.
The more I thought about it, though, the more I liked the idea because I've always been fascinated with survival and how you keep going after everything around you shifts and becomes unrecognizable. A few days later I read an article about the over-fishing of tuna and thought how strange it would be if something as ubiquitous as tuna disappeared -- it made me wonder what else really common today could disappear or be forgotten in future generations. That night I was walking home from work when the first line of The Forest of Hands and Teeth came to me and I emailed it to myself. When I got home I wrote the first chapter and I just kept going from there.
So I'd never really intended to write about zombies initially but I always knew that The Forest of Hands and Teeth would be a book about a village existing hundreds of years after the zombie apocalypse. The romance is in there because I think it's such a part of our lives -- I still have my journals from when I was a teen and almost every page is about a boy and wondering if he liked me or I liked him.
Caroline: Isolation is a major theme in the first book. Do you have a fear of isolation yourself?
Carrie: I don't have a fear of physical isolation as much as emotional isolation. I think my larger fear is about failing to remember -- I have such a terrible memory and I've already forgotten stories that my grandmother told me about my family that she told no one else. I worry about forgetting who I am and where I came from -- I'm fascinated by all the people who have lived before us who are now totally forgotten.
Little Willow: I too am fascinated by memories and strive not to forget anything or anyone. What, if any, of the societal rules presented in your books do you feel would serve a modern, zombie-free community well, to have those "rules and fences" in place?
Carrie: I think one of the problems with rules is that there's almost always an exception and so often we're unwilling to recognize that or be flexible to deal with it. One of the things about Mary's world is that from her point of view, the Sisterhood is corrupt and unreasonable in their rules but from the Sister's point of view, they're doing everything out of love to protect the village and ensure the survival of humanity. I think about what it must be like to be a parent and want to protect your child so fiercely but how sometimes protection can go too far and cause kids to not have enough information to make smart, informed decisions about their life.
Little Willow: The Dead-Tossed Waves is a sequel to Forest, told from the POV of Mary's daughter, Gabry. Had you already written (or planned to write) this story prior to the selling of the first book?
Carrie: I actually hadn't -- The Forest of Hands and Teeth was initially a stand-alone, and shortly after turning in the final revision my editor started talking about the idea of a sequel. I jumped at the possibility because I loved Mary and her world but when it came to the reality of writing it I realized that it couldn't be from Mary's point of view and that's when I chose to write it from her daughter's.
Little Willow: Caroline and I discussed the names of the characters. Mary is a Biblical name, symbolic of the mother. How do you select her name, and the names of other crucial characters?
Carrie: Mary's name came pretty easily to me -- I wanted a biblical name and that seemed the most apparent and applicable. At that point I hadn't planned on every character having a biblical name -- Harry and Travis were just names I chose because I liked them (I used to have a crush on my friend's older brother Travis) and Cassandra was supposed to be a reference to the character in Greek mythology who foretold the future but no one listened (that aspect of her character never made it into the book). Tabitha was a biblical figure raised from the dead by St. Peter and other names were biblical as well: Elizabeth, Jedidiah, Gabrielle (from the angel Gabriel -- messenger from God who sometimes is considered to signal the end of time). For The Dead-Tossed Waves the Recruiters are often named after weapons (Wesson from Smith and Wesson) and those in Vista have names that aren't common today like Catcher and Cira. The name Kyra (mentioned once in DTW) is the name of the actress who played the little girl in Night of the Living Dead. I definitely use names as clues! (smile)
Little Willow: Do you plan to write additional volumes in this series? If so, what are the titles and release dates?
Carrie: I've written the third book already -- it's called The Dark and Hollow Places and should be coming out Spring 2011.
Little Willow: Great title! What else are you currently working on?
Carrie: I also have three short stories set in the World after the Return coming out in 2010. Hare Moon is coming out in July in the Kiss Me Deadly anthology edited by Trisha Telep and is about Sister Tabitha when she was a teen. Hare Moon is coming out in September in The Living Dead 2 anthology edited by John Joseph Adams and is about a group of teens who go on their senior cruise when infection breaks out on the cruise ship and two boys escape on the life raft but one of them is infected. Bougainvillea is also coming out in September in the Zombies vs. Unicorns anthology edited by Holly Black and Justine Larbalestier and is set about 10 years after the return on Curacao.
Little Willow: I can't wait for that anthology. The ocean is a recurring theme, important as both an idea and an actual place, symbolizing freedom, offering a lighthouse sanctuary. What's your favorite beach or ocean?
Carrie: I grew up spending my summers at my grandparents' house on Cape Cod and I remember how rough the waves were and how they were so full of sea-weed that I never wanted to swim in the water. It was always this rough beautiful but untouchable ocean. It wasn't until I was in my late teens that I went to a South Carolina beach and realized that the sand could be flat and the water clear of sea weed.
Little Willow: You used to be a litigator, and you're engaged to a lawyer. What pulled you out of that world and into the writing realm?
Carrie: Ever since high school I'd wanted to be a writer and I actually wrote two romance novels after graduating from college (while I was working at a boarding school) but I realized that it's not a stable profession and that it would be smart to have another career just in case. Law school totally suited me -- I loved it but I didn't love the private practice of law as much. At the same time I had a friend who'd kept writing while I'd gone back to school and I saw her get a great deal and quit her job and I realized that if I wanted to realize my dream of being a writer I was going to have to start pursuing it again. I'm lucky that my fiancé also writes so he understands the ups and downs of the job (and I understand the ups and downs of his). I also get to still exercise the law part of my brain when he talks about his cases.
Little Willow: What compels you to write? As a reader, what type of stories do you find compelling?
Carrie: I've often wondered that... Sometimes I think it's deadlines that compels me or stubbornness but when it comes down to it what really compels me is that I just don't have a choice. To me there's just no option to not write.
Little Willow: What is your favorite zombie movie?
Carrie: Tough question! I love Dawn of the Dead because it's what got me into zombies. I love Shawn of the Dead because it brilliantly mixes comedy with true horror and gut-wrenching emotions. I used to hate Night of the Living Dead because I thought the characters were useless and deserved to die but after I heard George Romero explain that's the point -- that he's making a comparison to our society's inability to band together to solve read global problems -- I fell in love with it. It's the first time I realized that anger at a movie could be the actual point of the movie.
Little Willow: What are your ten favorite novels of all time?
Carrie: Can't answer that question - sorry! It's literally impossible for me to choose favorites because every book has contributed something to my life and it feels unfair not to name them all. I love Nabokov's Lolita because it taught me how you can play with language and asked the question about what art is: subject matter or how it's presented. I loved A Wrinkle in Time, A Knight in Shining Armor, It, As I Lay Dying, Socks (the first book I remember reading on my own). My list could go on and on and on!!
Caroline: I can't wait to read your new book.
Little Willow: Ditto. Thank you for your time, Carrie, and for including me in your blog tour. Have a great launch!
Carrie: Thanks so much, Little Willow and Caroline -- fantastic questions and I loved answering them!!
Visit Carrie Ryan's website to learn more about the book and the author, to view the book trailers, and to read Carrie's blog and tweets.
Follow her blog tour:
3/17 The Book Smugglers
3/18 MTVNews.com: Hollywood Crush
3/19 The Page Flipper
3/20 Through A Glass, Darkly
3/22 Mundie Moms
3/23 Cheryl Rainfield
3/24 Just Blinded Books
3/25 The Story Siren
3/27 Beautiful Creatures
Carrie will also be answering questions at RandomBuzzers.com from now until April 2nd.