A profile of zombie writer Carrie Ryan ’00, who has a new book that was released today:

It began soon after Ryan, 32, graduated from Williams College in Massachusetts with an English degree. She wanted to write chick lit set a big city. She had zero experience with big cities, however.

So she decided, in what she calls “my grand plan,” to go to law school. Her logic? With a law degree, she could work in a glamorous city, gleaning material. She enrolled at Duke University, where she met J.P. Davis, a fellow law student from Chapin, S.C., who shared her passion for fiction writing.

Somehow, probably because she was in love, she let Davis talk her into watching “Dawn of the Dead,” the 2004 remake of George Romero’s classic zombie movie.

When it was over, she realized she had enjoyed herself.

A new direction

By the time she and Davis got their law degrees and moved to Charlotte, Davis had read her “The Zombie Survival Guide.” She was hooked.

“What I find fascinating,” she says, “is not necessarily the zombies, but the surviving.”

In Charlotte, the couple worked as lawyers by day. In the evenings, she wrote chick lit and Davis worked on his short stories. They talked about zombies. On walks, they’d imagine a world decimated by the undead.

Then, one evening in 2006, Ryan was leaving her office in the Bank of America building, contemplating an article she’d read on the overfishing of tuna.

How strange, she thought, to imagine a future where something as common as canned tuna was unknown. What other parts of our civilization, she wondered, might be forgotten in a future world?

Suddenly, she had an idea – a story about a world nearly destroyed by a zombie plague, a place where people have lived so long in their fenced-in village, sealed off from the zombie-filled forest, that they’ve collectively forgotten about the world’s oceans.

She pulled out her Blackberry and e-mailed herself a single sentence: My mother used to tell me about the ocean.

After working for a couple of evenings, she told Davis she was writing about zombies. I hope you don’t mind, she told him, but I’m using your world.

Ryan’s sentence about the ocean became the first line of her book.

Great timing

In 2007, she sold “The Forest of Hands and Teeth.” Her agent had sent the book out on a Friday. On Monday, she had a six-figure offer from Delacorte Press for a two-book deal.

In late 2008, she quit her job.

Today, instead of working in trusts and estates, Ryan writes at her computer near the fireplace in her Dilworth home. She wears sock-monkey slippers and rainbow fingerless gloves that keep her wrists from aching as she types.

On a good day, the weather is rainy gray, and she’s asking herself one of her favorite questions: What’s the worst thing that could happen?

Continue reading: A love story, with zombies

Carrie has a blog here.

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