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….
I have been oh-so-excited about this interview. Carrie Ryan is the author of The Forest of Hands and Teeth, which will be published by Delacorte and will hit shelves March 10th. Everyone is talking about this book. I know that I’ll be buying a copy the day it launches. For personal reasons, I’ve been dying to know how Carrie handled law school, working at a firm, and writing books. I’m so thankful Carrie put so much thought into these answers. Hope y’all enjoy.
The Forest of Hands and Teeth is your debut novel, so a big congrats on that. But can you give us a little statistical rundown on how long it took you to get to this point? How many books? How many rejections? How many days, months, or years?
The short answer: Three completed novels (The Forest of Hands and Teeth was the third); seven years (only three years of actually writing); 19 rejections.
Longer answer: I started writing my first novel just before graduating from college and I finished it that next year. It was a western historical romance (long story behind that choice) and I queried about six agents — a few requests but all ended up as rejections. And I realized I was okay with the rejections because I never wanted to write another western historical romance again! After that I wrote a romantic comedy that I never polished or queried.
Then I had this grand long term plan that I’d write chick lit and I somehow convinced myself that the best way to do that was to go to law school (another long story behind that choice!). So basically I stopped writing for four years while I applied and attended law school.
After starting work as a lawyer for a few months I decided I needed an exit strategy and I started writing seriously again. I had many false starts (I wrote about 172k words that year but finished nothing). I started writing The Forest of Hands and Teeth on November 2, 2006 (I still have the email where I sent myself the first line). I finished the rough draft in April 2007, revised it until the end of August when I started querying agents and sold in October!
Oh boy. An exit strategy from practicing law? I need to cover my ears!
Which “Call” thrilled you more? The call in which you landed an agent or the call in which you landed your book deal? Can you describe to us what it felt like?
Wow, I don’t think I can compare the two! My agent, Jim McCarthy, called me on a Monday and it was totally out of the blue. I was standing in the kitchen when I heard his voice on the answering machine asking me to call him back. I just stared at my fiancé, JP, and he stared at me and he started jumping and dancing but I just kept saying “it could just be that he wants to talk. It might not be an offer.” It was well after business hours and for about twenty minutes I walked around the house in a daze unable to really utter anything coherent. Then I checked my email and Jim had sent an email letting me know that he wanted to offer representation. That’s when I started dancing too and we went out to celebrate!
The call for the book deal was also way unexpected! We were going to send FHT out on submission on a Monday but Jim called Friday afternoon and asked what I thought about sending out a sneak peek to a few editors who’d showed early interest. I was all for it! So when he called on Monday morning I figured it was just to check in and talk about sending out the rest of the submissions. But he was calling to tell me there was a pre-empt! When he gave me the details I just remember staring out the window completely floored.
Actually, now that I think about it, I think the call for the book deal thrilled me more. Getting that offer of representation was an amazing feeling but knowing the book had sold – wow. I floated all day (I’m still floating!)
Now THAT is a fast sale.
You’re lucky enough to have quit the day job now, but how did you balance the demanding task of being a lawyer as well as being a writer?
I had no life – haha! Seriously, I decided that if I was really going to do this — write and try to sell a book — that I had to figure out how to make it work. I didn’t want five years to pass and look back and lament not really striving for my goals. I cut out most TV (and honestly, that’s how I found a lot of time), I ate frozen dinners, the house teeters on being a wreck (our Christmas tree was almost always up through my birthday in mid-January). I’d wake up, go to work, come home and write. On the weekends, I’d write. Some months (when I was working on a big trial) the only time I had to write was the 8 minutes while the pasta was boiling for mac ‘n’ cheese! I’m not really sure I would call that balance – haha!
That’s a really honest answer. Thanks for sharing.
I believe when I talked to you last you were rushing to meet a deadline. Are you working on the sequel to Forest? What fresh challenges are there in writing a sequel and in trying to avoid the infamous sophomore slump?
I made that deadline – yay! I’m working on a sequel to The Forest of Hands and Teeth that will come out in Spring 2010. It’s kind of a loose sequel, though, set quite a while after the end of the first book and with a different POV character.
Fresh challenges — there were plenty (and old challenges too!). One challenge for me was that I’d never planned to write a sequel so I hadn’t created a character arc and plot arc that I felt like could span another book. I had a few other issues but can’t get into them without spoilers ☺ But I think that’s one reason I ultimately decided to use a different POV character for the second book and set it later. So I’m using the same world, but it’s not really a direct sequel.
I also think it’s often nice that the lead times with YA are so long that you have plenty of time to write the next book in a vacuum without hearing public feedback about the first book. I think sometimes hearing the responses to the first book can really influence the way you think about the second!
Interesting. I had no idea different genres/categories of books had different lead times.
This is Fumbling with Fiction, so I have to ask, in your writing career have you ever had a big “Oops!” moment?
Oh yes! The first one that comes to mind is when I ended up querying an agent before the project was remotely ready. In my defense, it was a pitch workshop with an agent and I didn’t expect her to actually be requesting material, but I didn’t even have the partial ready!! I scrambled to edit that and sent it before the book was finished (never did finish the book) and got a rejection (rightfully so!).
However, I’m also a big fan of believing that things tend to work out and happen for a reason. I definitely learned not to query until the manuscript is as polished as possible and I also met my critique partner, Diana Peterfreund, without whose support I’m not sure I’d have sold FHT.
I think your fiancé is also a writer and an attorney. That’s two writers/lawyers under one roof! Good, bad, or ugly?
Lol, I asked him this question and he was like “all three.” For me it’s wonderful. He understands that writing can be hard, he supports me unequivocally, and he’s an amazing editor. He’s not afraid to tell me when something’s not as good as it can be nor is he afraid to heap on the praise ☺ The hardest part for me is that he is truly an amazing writer and I strive to write as well as he does!
You’re now at the beginning of your writing career. Can you believe it? Where would you like that sure-to-be illustrious career to take you?
No, I still can’t believe it! Honestly, there are days when I just clap my hands and dance around with glee! For me and career goals… I’d just love to be able to keep writing (and to keep writing full time).
Tell us a little about receiving your first editorial letter. What was yours like? How did you feel when you received it?
My first editorial letter came on the Wednesday after I sold that Monday! So I was utterly surprised because I thought I’d be waiting weeks or months! The first letter focused on broader issues and then we worked on smaller and smaller issues with subsequent letters. I was really energized when I first got it because it made everything feel so real! I think for me the key with revisions has been understanding the “why” of it — if I know WHY my editor wants a certain change it’s easier for me to figure out how to make that change.
Your editor must have been really psyched to start your book. That’s great! Finally, if you could have written one book previously published by another author, which book would it be?
I’m sure it will seem quite strange to most people, but I wish I’d written Lolita by Nabokov. I remember when I first opened that book, standing in the college bookstore loading up for my semester classes, and I had to sit down on the floor because the beginning is so stunningly written. I love the wordplay, the fun with language and I learned a lot from that book about how to write descriptions and choose words.
(Be sure to check out the coolest book trailer ever!)