Interview with author Carrie Ryan
Young adult writer Carrie Ryan put her own stamp on the zombie genre with the novel 'Forest of Hands and Teeth,' which was published in 2009. She followed it up with two novels and a short story collection about its setting -- a post-apocalyptic world of zombies and a bizarrely fractured human society. The heroine, Mary, is an "every-girl" figure that seems to have struck a chord with readers judging by the reviews.
Ryan was kind of enough to speak with us about her books and an upcoming film adaption of the first zombie novel.
I understand that The Forest of Hands and Teeth, the first book in your zombie series, is poised to become a movie. Can you provide any details?
Yes! I’m super excited about the movie and the people involved so far. The director, Kate Maberly, is really passionate about the project and she’s been working with Doug Liman, who has done so many incredible movies like Swingers, Bourne Identity, and Edge of Tomorrow. They’ve cast Masie Williams, who plays Arya Stark on Game of Thrones, as the main character, Mary, and I think she’s a perfect choice! My understanding is that they plan to start filming this spring and I’m keeping my fingers crossed that I get to play a zombie.
What first compelled you to explore the zombie genre? The acknowledgements in the book describe your first viewing of a zombie film and I was wondering what it was.
I became fascinated with zombies after watching the remake of Dawn of the Dead. I left the theater unable to stop thinking about what I’d do in a zombie apocalypse — where I’d go and how I’d survive. The thing about zombies is that they should be such an easy monster to kill — they’re slow, they can’t use tools or weapons, they can’t form plans — but the problem is they never stop coming. That’s the horror of it, there’s really no escape.
The Forest of Hands and Teeth is set generations after the zombie apocalypse in a village in the middle of a forest full of zombies. I was curious what it would be like to grow up in a world where zombies had always existed — your parents grew up with them, your grandparents, etc. I think what fascinates me is the idea that the world around you can be bleak and difficult and terrifying and dangerous and yet you can still find a way to live a life filled with love and friendships and dreams. It gives me hope.
I notice that certain themes such as religion and social dysfunction play a part in these stories. Do you have any thoughts to share on this?
Mary, the main character in The Forest of Hands and Teeth, grows up being told lies about the world around her and she has to decide how far she’ll go to find out the truth. Part of what I wanted to explore was how easy it is to control a population if you control access to information. If you want to make a population behave in a certain way, you make them believe there’s no other option. When in reality, if you believe strongly in your position you shouldn’t fear opposing viewpoints. If anything, you should encourage them and use them to demonstrate the superiority of your position. Ignoring the truth doesn’t eradicate its existence and anyone who discourages questioning betrays the weakness of their position.
You seem to have explored other genres, such as fantasy and straight suspense. What is next? Will you return to the zombies?
Right now my husband and I are co-writing The Map to Everywhere, a four book fantasy adventure series set on a river of pure magic. It’s for younger readers (ages 8 and up) and has been so much fun to write — it’s all about imagination and trying to capture the essence of the stories that made us fall in love with books and fantasy as kids.
My latest YA novels, like Daughter of Deep Silence, have been more contemporary suspense, but I can’t resist zombies! I still write a couple of zombie short stories every year. The next one will be out this July in the Nights of the Living Dead anthology edited by Jonathan Maberry and George Romero.
Do you have any particular favorites in the zombie genre?
So many! Of course I love the Dawn of the Dead remake because it’s what sparked my interest in zombies. I actually hated Night of the Living Dead when I first saw it because I thought the characters were so inept that they deserved to die. Then I went to a George Romero lecture where he talked about his intent with the movie as a larger statement of how as a society we seem unable to work together to solve the world’s largest problems. That totally changed my opinion of the movie in so many ways! And of course I love the Walking Dead — especially the graphic novels. I appreciate how the authors didn’t set out with a specific story arc in mind, but just wanted to explore what would happen after a zombie apocalypse. This captures so much of what I love about zombies — the idea that, just with life, it’s not about the end, but about the journey.
about the end, but about the journey.