Novels are weird beasts. Each novel has its own journey, and depending on the sort of novel it is, its own destination.
I’ve not written many novels, but do hope to follow in the footsteps of those who have–so in the tradition of guest posts from experts on Daily (w)rite, today I present you the delightful and incredibly generous Carrie Ryan.
Carrie is the New York Times bestselling author of the Forest of Hands and Teeth series, the Map to Everywhere series (written with her husband, John Parke Davis), Daughter of Deep Silence, Infinity Ring: Divide and Conquer, and Dead Air (written with Gwenda Bond and Rachel Caine), as well as the editor of Foretold: 14 Tales of Prophecy and Prediction. Her novels have sold in over 22 territories, and her first book is in development as a major motion picture.
This interview with Carrie Ryan was made possible with the collaboration of my wonderful agent, Lucienne Diver, and Sarah Simpson-Weiss, assistant to New York Times bestselling author Rachel Caine. Lucienne also represents Rachel Caine’s estate, and we all thought this interview would be a great way for Carrie to share her insights on the writing life (some of which I’ve highlighted in blue), while also speaking about Trapper Road, the new novel she’s written to continue Rachel Caine’s legacy and the very popular Stillhouse Lake series.
There’s a fab giveaway at the end of the interview: don’t miss it!
1. Your journey from aspiring writer to NYT bestselling author who has sold in dozens of countries is inspirational. Could you tell us a little bit about your path to publication?
My sixth week working as a lawyer I realized billing hours wasn’t what I wanted to do with the rest of my life. I asked myself, if I could do anything in the world, what would it be? The answer was: I’d be an author. So, I threw myself into pursuing that goal, writing nights and weekends and any other free time I had. When November and NaNo rolled around, I was looking to start a new project and lamented to my husband that I didn’t know what to write.
He said, “Write what you love.”
I said, “That would be zombies. No one wants to read about zombies.”
(This was 2006 when zombies weren’t popular)
But then I decided “why not?” and started writing a book set generations after the zombie apocalypse. I knew it would never be published, so I took risks and experimented with a new voice. I tried writing in first person present tense, and my first draft didn’t contain contractions. It was a book written wholly for myself and my husband and I loved it.
Once I was finished I decided I might as well query it. I ended up signing with my first agent who sold the book to Random House Children’s Books and The Forest of Hands and Teeth became my first NYT bestselling book. I still try to follow that same advice: write what you love. It just happens that I love a lot of different novels!
2. What does your typical writing day look like?
I’m trying to remember when I last had a typical writing day – lol. I used to have a fairly predictable schedule, but then the pandemic hit, I had a kid, and we decided to build a new house. That threw any kind of schedule right out the window!
When drafting Trapper Road I used a program called Pacemaker Plus for the first time — it’s a website where you set a word count and a deadline and it tells you how many words a day you need to write to reach your goal. It was very helpful in keeping me on track.
3. You straddle various genre in your writing career. How would you advise a new writer approaching the querying of novels in varied genre and planning out a career?
This is a tough question to answer because the writing world has changed so much since I first published in 2009. Back then, there was really only one clear avenue for an author: querying an agent and signing with a traditional publisher. Now there are so many options and I find that really freeing. In the past if you wrote a book and it wasn’t picked up with a publisher, it ended up in a trunk under your bed. Now, that’s not necessarily the case.
In fact, Rachel Caine is hugely inspiring to me in terms of a career author. She’s had series that have done tremendously well, but she’s also had to change her pen name because of poor sales. She’s an author who kept writing through all of it, and if something wasn’t working, then she pivoted and found something that did work. Rachel has written everything from YA to romance to urban fantasy to thrillers to mysteries. She never gave up, and I think it’s that kind of tenacity that builds a career.
4. Your novels grab the reader on the first page, and never let go. What tricks can a writer use to write a riveting first page?
Thank you! First lines are always a struggle for me — I can spend days or weeks stuck with a blank page and no matter how much I try to force it, I can’t without the first line. But once the right first line comes to me, it’s like a starting pistol — I’m out of the gate running. That was one of the benefits of working on Trapper Road: the first line was already written for me!
For me the goal with any opening to a book is starting someplace interesting and not over-explaining. Give the reader only what they need to not be confused and want to put the book down. Also, an editor once told me to never start a book with a bored character. All so much easier said than done!
5. When writing a series of novels, how do you keep things fresh for your readers and yourself?
I think the key to keep things fresh for every book in a series is to have its own, urgent arc in addition to an overall series arc. I also follow what I think of as the Buffy the Vampire Slayer approach: solving one problem creates a new, even larger problem.
It’s one reason I found working Trapper Road so refreshing — even though there’s a larger series arc at play, every book in the Stillhouse Lake series is somewhat episodic in that it has its own mystery or puzzle to solve. In Trapper Road, Gwen is hired to find a missing teen girl and discovering what happened to her is what drives the plot of the book. But that doesn’t mean she’s escaped the threats and ghosts of her past.
6. Could you list out five recent novels you enjoyed reading?
I’ve been on a big thriller kick recently. Here are a few that I tore through recently:
The Kind Worth Killing by Peter Swanson
Jane Doe by Victoria Helen Stone
In the Dark by Loreth Anne White
Malice House by Megan Shepherd (I know it’s not out yet! But I loved it!)
Since Malice House isn’t out yet, I’ll add another creepy thriller: Hide by Kiersten White.
7. What novels can your readers look forward to next?
I have a twisty YA survival book called Into the Winds which should be out next year!
8. What was it like writing in another author’s world with another author’s characters? How did you approach taking on this project?
I knew taking on this project I had very big shoes to fill — Stillhouse Lake has done so well and is beloved by so many readers. I didn’t want to let them down, because that felt like letting my friend Rachel down. No pressure!
But once I read Rachel’s outlines and chapters for future books, I just got it. I could see the entire series in my head, and I could see all the little clues Rachel had left along the way and how she was laying the foundation for future arcs. Honestly, she made it easy because she created such dynamic, well-built characters.
My first step in approaching this project was to take a deep dive into the novels. I spent several weeks studying them like I was a student again. I took tons of notes — a lot on little details and facts, but also on mannerisms, word choice, and how characters approach various situations. At night I would listen to the audiobooks before bed to make sure I had Rachel’s voice firmly in my head. Between each draft I re-read the series in order to keep myself steeped in that world and voice, but also to fact check anything I may have missed on previous reads.
I’ve also been lucky to have the support of Rachel’s team. I’m working very closely with Sarah Weiss who was always Rachel’s first reader, and her agent Lucienne Diver. We also used the same developmental editor Rachel worked with for the rest of the series, and she brought a lot of expertise and familiarity to the table.
9. What is that one thing you’d like readers to know about Trapper Road before they dive into the book?
I want readers to know how much I loved writing this book and how honored I’ve been to continue the Stillhouse Lake series. This series meant so much to Rachel and she had big plans for Gwen and the other characters — I’m glad I’m able to help bring those plans to fruition!
Have you read any novels by Carrie Ryan? What about the Stillhouse Lake series by Rachel Caine? Do you have questions for Carrie?
GIVEAWAY: If you sign up for Rachel Caine’s newsletter, you get Identity: A Stillhouse Lake short story for free.
Carrie Ryan is the New York Times bestselling author of the Forest of Hands and Teeth series and many more. Her novels have sold in over 22 territories, and her first book is in development as a major motion picture. A former litigator, Carrie now lives in Charlotte, NC with her husband and various pets.
Rachel Caine is the NYT, USA Today, and #1 WSJ bestselling author of more than 50 books in several categories and genres, including adult thriller and adult urban fantasy/SF as well as books for young adults ages twelve to eighteen.Rachel Caine lost her fight with a rare and aggressive cancer, soft tissue sarcoma, in November of 2020. With over 56 novels in print and millions of copies sold, she was a frequent guest at conventions in the United States and around the world. Her popular book series include the young adult Morganville Vampires novels, the Great Library series, and the #1 bestselling Stillhouse Lake novels in adult thrillers.
Lucienne Diver joined The Knight Agency in 2008. With her sharp eye and gift for spotting original new voices, Lucienne is one of the most well-respected agents in the industry. Over the course of her dynamic career she has sold over a thousand titles to every major publisher, and has built a client list of more than forty authors spanning the commercial fiction genres, primarily in the areas of fantasy, science fiction, horror, women’s fiction, romance, mystery/suspense and young adult. She is also the author of the Vamped young adult series—think Clueless meets Buffy—and the Latter-Day Olympians urban fantasy series. She also writes young adult suspense: FAULTLINES, THE COUNTDOWN CLUB and DISAPPEARED.
My own crime novel, The Blue Bar will be out this October with Thomas & Mercer. It is already available for preorders. Add it to Goodreads or pre-order it to make my day.
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