Carrie Ryan has taken some time to school us on zombies and how she wrote THE FOREST OF HANDS AND TEETH (Delacorte, 2009), one of the most exciting and talked-about young adult books so far this year! If you haven’t read it, the novel is set in a post-apocalyptic future where the dead have Returned Unconsecrated. Main character Mary’s village appears to be the only surviving outpost of humanity. They must beat off attacks from the zombies, lest they themselves die and Return.
KidLit: You manage to make a pretty good case for turning Unconsecrated. Why did you add this emotional layer to the story of Mary and her mother? Would you ever make the decision to sacrifice yourself and Return?
Carrie Ryan: Thanks! I think when it came down to it I just really loved the idea of Mary’s parents having this incredible love for each other in a world where love isn’t something that’s necessarily important. I liked this vision of someone willing to do anything for that love (and I also liked setting up the question of exactly what are the Unconsecrated and do they retain anything of who they are?). I have no idea what decision I’d make if faced with it!
KL: In your book there’s a super fast Unconsecrated. How did that present a unique challenge to your characters?
CR: There’s actually a whole background reason to why that happens and I go into more detail about it in the second book (and hopefully laid clues for it in the first book). I came up with the idea because of the world building – the book is set generations after the Return and I needed a reason that people hadn’t re-conquered the world and killed off all the Unconsecrated.
For the characters, I liked throwing something new at them to make them realize that the didn’t have all the answer to what was going on. As a community they felt really safe and in control and I wanted to shake that up.
KL: The Unconsecrated clamoring at the fencelines were a near-constant presence throughout the book, almost like another character. What was your process for creating this rich environment?
CR: I think for me it became part of the process of writing. I’d come home after work every day and turn on the fire – it was usually dark out and so it was just me and my laptop and the fire and I’d try to put myself in Mary’s position. I was actually really surprised when people said they could visualize a lot of the book because I felt like I hadn’t described anything enough!
KL: What does a person need to have (physically, emotionally, anything) before they journey into THE FOREST OF HANDS AND TEETH?
CR: Good question!! Mostly I think they just have to have something driving them – a reason that will keep them going. And a really sharp/pointy weapon is always helpful =)
KL: What happens after an Unconsecrated bites you?
CR: That’s it – you’re going to become Unconsecrated unless someone lops off or bashes in your head. Basically, once bitten a person is infected and the infected always turn Unconsecrated. Either the bite is severe enough to cause the death or the infection kills them. Which seems a rather depressing thought to end the interview on!
Not depressing at all, Carrie. Anyone who knows zombies knows they’re sneaky… and everywhere. It’s always best to be on high alert and, whatever you do, stay inside the fences! Visit Carrie’s website to learn more about her and watch out for my woefully belated review of THE FOREST OF HANDS AND TEETH tomorrow!