How They Got Here: 2009 Debut Author Carrie Ryan

This post is part of a year-long series of blog interviews I’ll be hosting with my fellow 2009 Debut Authors, called "How They Got Here." 

It should be an especially helpful series for teens who write, teachers, and anyone who wants to write for kids.  2009 debut authors will be dropping by to talk about how their writing in school shaped the authors they are today, what teachers can do to make a difference, how they revise, and how they found their agents and editors.  (You’ll even be able to read some successful query letters!)  If you know a teacher or two who might be interested, please share the link!

Today…Carrie Ryan, author of THE FOREST OF HANDS AND TEETH!

In Mary’s world, there are simple truths.  The Sisterhood always knows best.  The Guardians will protect and serve. The Unconsecrated will never relent.  And you must always mind the fence that surrounds the village. The fence that protects the village from the Forest of Hands and Teeth.

But slowly, Mary’s truths are failing her. She’s learning things she never wanted to know about the Sisterhood and its secrets, and the Guardians and their power. And, when the fence is breached and her world is thrown into chaos, about the Unconsecrated and their relentlessness.

Now she must choose between her village and her future, between the one she loves and the one who loves her. And she must face the truth about the Forest of Hands and Teeth. Could there be life outside a world surrounded by so much death?

Welcome, Carrie! Tell us about the first thing you ever wrote that made you think maybe you were a writer.

Actually the VERY first thing I wrote (that I remember) was a poem when I was in middle school. I read it to my dad and he was like "what book is that from?" and I told him I’d written it. I remember the look of surprise and pride on his face and it made me realize that I could write something he thought was publishable!

What books did you love when you were a kid?

Any and all books! I loved Nancy Drew and then Sweet Valley High and then Christopher Pike books. I learned how to speed read staying up until two in the morning reading Christopher Pike, too afraid to put his books down!

Is there a particular teacher or librarian who was a mentor for you in your reading and writing life?

So many teachers were mentors to me and I was so excited to be able to send them a copy of my book! I wrote my first short story for Mrs. Carter, my high school English teacher and she encouraged me so much. She’s definitely one of those teachers who everyone remembers and everyone tells stories about at reunions 🙂

Moving on to the here and now, most writers admit that making time to write can sometimes be a challenge.  When and where do you write?   Do you have any special rituals?  Music?  Food & beverages?

With The Forest of Hands and Teeth I would write in the evenings after work. I was a lawyer preparing for trial during part of it and sometimes the only time I could find was the 8 minutes while I was waiting for the water to boil for Mac’n’Cheese! Now I’m a full time writer so I generally write during the day once the procrastination becomes too much!

I try really hard not to have any rituals, but most days I end up writing while I sit in my chair with a diet coke by my side (and often a cat draped somewhere).

Do you have a favorite strategy for revision?

Attack revisions! Generally I start with the big picture stuff, trying to think through the best way to approach the issues. Then, once I have a plan of action I go in and rewrite what needs rewriting and putting notes in the margins of other things to change. Finally I do a read through to make sure it all fits together. Mostly I just try to have an open mind and try to think of different ways to approach each problem.

What’s your best advice for young writers?

Read and write. I really think that reading is one of the best ways to learn craft, to see how other writers structure a story, structure characters, pacing, etc. I also feel like sometimes people really *want* to write, but never actually sit down and write.

Oh, and to remember the love — remember that you love writing and that’s why you do it 🙂

What’s special about your debut novel?

It’s special to me because I wrote it as a love letter to my fiance. I know that sounds kind of strange given what the story is about, but he was literally with me every step along the way as I wrote and wanted to know the ending as much as I did!

What were the best and worst parts of writing it?

The best were the moments that everything around me disappeared and I was in Mary’s world. When the words just flowed. The worst were the moments when I didn’t know what happened next and I was afraid of ruining the story!

How did you find your agent and/or editor?

Just sent him a query letter! I did a lot of research into agents and figured he might be interested based on other projects he represented. He emailed asking for more and then offered representation.

And here’s the letter!

Dear  ________:

I read on Publisher’s Marketplace about your recent sale of _______ ‘s zombie novel, ___________ , and thought you might be interested in The Forest of Hands and Teeth, my 70,000-word literary post-apocalyptic novel targeted to the young adult market.

Generations after the zombie apocalypse known as The Return, Mary’s life is as circumscribed by her community’s strict religion as it is by the fences that form her village’s only defense against the hordes of the undead — the Unconsecrated — who dwell in the surrounding forest.

Her faith is shattered the day her mother becomes infected by the Unconsecrated, and her belief in her community is destroyed when she secretly witnesses the Church leadership imprison, then condemn, a miraculously non-infected outsider who somehow finds a safe path to the village. The only other person who questions their Puritanical lifestyle is her betrothed’s crippled brother, Travis, who has been assigned to wed Mary’s best friend. Mary is torn between her duty to friends and society and her growing love for Travis.

When the Unconsecrated breach the fences and overrun the village, Mary, Travis, and their intendeds are among the few survivors. Now, their only chance is to brave the outsider’s path through the deadly Forest in an attempt to discover the only thing that Mary still believes in — that there is a world beyond the Forest of Hands and Teeth.

I am an active member in Romance Writers of America and several of its subchapters. The Forest of Hands and Teeth is my third completed manuscript and will appeal to fans of Alice Hoffman, Libba Bray, and Meg Rosoff.

Per the submissions guidelines on your agency’s website, I have pasted below the first chapter and synopsis. I would be delighted to send the full manuscript at your request. Thank you in advance for your time and consideration. I look forward to hearing from you.

Carrie Ryan

Thanks for sharing your fantastic query, Carrie!

You can read more about Carrie at her website, and of course, you can ask for THE FOREST OF HANDS AND TEETH at your local independent bookseller.  You can also order it through one of my favorite indies, Flying Pig Bookstore (they ship!), or find an indie near you by checking out IndieBound!

Up next in the "How They Got Here" Debut 2009 series… Neesha Meminger, author of SHINE, COCONUT MOON, will be stopping by on Tuesday, March 24.