Carrie Ryan is the author of the young adult (YA) fantasies The Forest of Hands and Teeth, a tale of love, determination and the groaning undead, and The Dead-Tossed Waves (coming to a bookstore near you on March 9!) Carrie, a former litigator, now writes full time. She lives with her writer/lawyer fiancé, two fat cats and one large puppy in Charlotte, North Carolina. They are not at all prepared for the zombie apocalypse.
YA is a rapidly growing subset of the fantasy market, and features some remarkable stories. Today we’re delighted to talk to Carrie about why she chose to write for the young adult market. Please welcome Carrie Ryan!
Why I Write YA
The first time my mom and I went to the bookstore after I sold my first book, my mom asked me to show her where it would be shelved. I gestured to the Young Adult/Teen section and she said “Go with me.”
I looked at her. “Why?”
She glanced back at the teen section. “Because I’m an adult. That’s the teen section. I feel weird just going over there by myself.”
<Insert me rolling my eyes.> “If you want to buy my book eventually, you’re going to have to get over that.”
<Insert her giving me the “I’m the mother so what I say goes” look.> I escorted her into the YA section.
Fast forward a few years — my first book has come out in hardcover, the paperback of it just released this week and the second is on its way. Now whenever my mom goes to the bookstore, the Teen section is her first destination. In fact, when I come home to visit, if I don’t have a bag of the latest YAs in my car, I’m lucky if she lets me in the house.
Recently, she called me up and asked for a recommendation. “I want a book with maps,” she said.
“Huh?” I asked.
“Maps – I love the maps in the front. I love how these books create these really complex worlds with rules and history and detail. But I really love the maps.” She told me she’d been reading and loving Kristin Cashore, Tamora Pierce and Alison Croggin.
I thought about this for a moment. “Mom, I think what you love reading is fantasy.”
“Huh,” she said, somewhat surprised. Not once had it occurred to her to wander into the Fantasy section of the bookstore. Up until she started reading YA, she was pretty much the exact demographic Target goes after with it’s Bookend Bookclub selections and that’s what she stuck with. But now that she’s been reading YA… she’s found some new loves.
What’s funny is that I used to be just like my mom. I’d go into the bookstore or library and head straight to the Romance section. I knew the authors, I knew the stories, I knew how to choose a book I’d like. The rest of the bookstore or library just felt so overwhelmingly foreign to me.
So it was no surprise that when I first began writing, I started with romance novels. I did a ton of industry research and became very acutely aware of the “strong guidelines” involved (such as the happily ever after). I’d go to conferences where people would say to write the book of your dreams, but always be aware that when you go to sell it, the bookstore needs to know where to shelve it. I think this is something that genre writers are very aware of — when to bend the rules, when to break them, and when to adhere to them. Sure there are adult books that cross genre, but sometimes those can fall through the cracks or be more of a risk to market (I’ve had more than one friend unable to make a sale because an agent or editor just doesn’t know where it fits in the market).
One of the great things about YA is that all the books are shelved together (or split into “realistic books” and “SFF books”). There’s no distinct category for high fantasy or science fiction or romance or historical or contemporary issues. YA books can pull from anything they want so you can have a book that’s a post-zombie apocalypse romance that may or may not have a happily ever after or you can have a book about a school where cheerleaders are high tech spies thwarting an assassination or a book about killer unicorns and the virgin descendants of Alexander the Great who hunt them or one about a high school valedictorian who ends up pregnant and doesn’t know what to do.
Sometimes I wonder when it happens that we “graduate” from YA and “choose” our section of the bookstore. Sure some people read across all genres, but a lot find their niche and stick with it. I was in high school when I pretty much started choosing books only from the Romance section and now I realize just how much I was missing by not branching out. On one hand, it’s nice to walk into a bookstore and straight to the section that has books you pretty much know you’ll love. On the other hand, I kind of like it when all our books are jumbled together and as a reader you don’t know what you’re going to get other than (hopefully) a pretty awesome story.
To me, this is one of the greatest thrills writing (and reading) YA. I don’t have to worry where my book is going to be shelved or how the booksellers will be pitching it (my next release has the tagline “Eat, Prey, Love”). I get a huge thrill when readers tell me that they never considered they might like zombies or horror or post-apocalyptic romance but that they enjoyed my book and that it made them look for others like it.
I also have to admit that I was pretty thrilled that by introducing my mom to YA books, I ended up introducing her to a whole new world of fantasy. And no, my books don’t have maps in them, but when my mom asks, I’ll draw them for her all the same.