Carrie Ryan: Haunted at 17


My new novel, 17 & Gone, comes out tomorrow, March 21, and to mark the release of this story about a 17-year-old girl haunted by the missing, I’ve asked some authors I know to join me in answering this question… What haunted YOU at 17? Here’s Carrie Ryan revealing how she ended up haunting herself when she was 17 years old…

Guest post by Carrie Ryan

(Carrie Ryan at 17.)
(Carrie Ryan at 17.)

“Carrie, you are only 17. Live long and enjoy your life. You are a person, so stand up and be one. In life, not everyone will like you, that is a fact all people must face. In the same respect, many people will like you, so make sure it’s the real you they like.”

—From my journal, May 1, 1995 (when I was 17)

What haunted me when I was 17? Myself. I still have my journals from high school, and reading back over them, there’s one thing that’s abundantly clear: I was always getting in my own way. Trying so desperately to figure out who I was that I wasn’t allowing myself to just be.

I was haunted by this idea that there could be this perfect me out there—that I could find some sort of combination of traits and qualities that would make me work. And by work I mean would make me feel settled in my own skin. I spent a lot of time chasing after an idea of myself that people would admire, love, respect, desire.

Usually I merely appropriated what I saw and liked in others: if I met someone I admired for their mastery of an instrument, then I tried to become adept at an instrument as well. Same with soccer and painting and poetry (ugh, if you asked me what haunts me now, I’d have to say some of the wretched angsty poetry I wrote in high school).

I tried to be the same (same clothes, same taste in music, same likes & dislikes) and I tried to be different (outspoken, brazen, athletic). Even as I told myself I was just expressing who I truly was, I knew there was no such thing. I wasn’t much of anything; instead I became a reflection of attributes that I admired in other people.

In many respects ghosts are apparitions of a person truly alive, and at 17, that’s what I was: a shadow who desperately wanted to believe that she was real. Who didn’t understand what it really meant to “be yourself,” because I was anything but myself (though don’t get me wrong—there were strong flickers of the woman I’d become even then).

When I think back to myself at 17, I think of all the ghosts in school around me and in my mind, that’s who they all still are. It’s always strange to run into those people—my former friends and classmates—now, because most of them have become vibrantly alive.

And I always find it curious that whenever I visit a school, there’s a moment when I feel like that old ghost of myself—the girl at 17 who so desperately wanted to be herself but didn’t know what that meant—stirring inside me. She’s the shadow that still clings to me and whispers, “What happens if you’re yourself and they don’t like you?”

And in the end, I tell her the same thing she told herself at 17: not everyone will like you, but many will. Sometimes it’s an answer that satisfies both of us, and sometimes it satisfies neither.

That’s the thing about hauntings—they’re remnants of a thing that came before, and they’re almost impossible to get rid of.

ForetoldCarrie Ryan is the New York Times bestselling author of the critically acclaimed Forest of Hands and Teeth series, which has been translated into over eighteen languages and is in development as a major motion picture. She is also the editor of the anthology Foretold: 14 Tales of Prophecy and Prediction, as well as the author of Infinity Ring: Divide and Conquer, the second book in Scholastic’s new multi-author/multi-platform series for middle grade readers. A former litigator, Carrie now writes full time and lives with her husband, two fat cats, and one large dog in Charlotte, North Carolina.

Find her online at

Follow @carrieryan on Twitter.


Don’t miss the other posts in the series. Throughout the week, more YA authors will reveal what haunted them at 17. Here are the Haunted at 17 posts so far…

Feel inspired and want to share what haunted you at 17? If you write a post on your blog, leave a link or tweet it to me. I’ll send you some 17 & Gone swag if you’d like it, and I’ll be featuring all the posts in a round-up at the end of the week!

You don’t have to be a writer to take part in this. All you have to be is someone who was once 17.


Want to win a signed hardcover of 17 & Gone, some swag, and a signed hardcover of Imaginary Girls to keep it company? Every commenter on this Haunted at 17 post will be entered to win. You can also enter by filling out this entry form.

The giveaway is international. Closes 11:59 p.m. EST on Thursday, March 28. Two winners will be chosen.

 17 & GONE NEWS:

  • 17&Gone_thumbIf you’ll be in New York City for the NYC Teen Author Festival, come see me and get a signed copy of the book! Full schedule here—look out for me on Friday, March 22 at the Union Square Barnes & Noble or Saturday, March 23 at McNally Jackson or Sunday, March 24 at Books of Wonder!
  • The 17 & Gone Blog Tour is all about the images that spoke to me—and inspired and illuminated parts of the story—while I was writing the book. I collected them on my Pinterest inspiration board, and each stop on the blog tour reveals one of these images and a passage inspired by it. Here’s an image that made me think of Abby at this stop at Confessions of a Readaholic.
  • Kristina Perez has interviewed me for her Madeleine Project. Come find out my answers to some of the most important questions.
  • If you’ve pre-ordered 17 & Gone or plan to buy it this week (thank you so much for your support! it means the world to me!) and can’t be in New York City to get it signed, I have a way to sign your book from afar. Leave a comment on this photo on my Facebook author page and I may just mail you a signed and personalized bookplate.


What haunted Melissa Walker at 17?


Guest Post: What Scares Carrie Ryan

(Design & illustration by Robert Roxby)

By Carrie Ryan, author of THE DARK AND HOLLOW PLACES

Growing up I was a horror novel junkie. I’d be the first one in line the day Christopher Pike’s latest came out and I’d read him late into the night (I credit him for turning me into a speed reader). I loved his ability to take things that seemed mundane and make them horrifying (anyone remember Chain Letter?) while also making it seem like this was the kind of story that could have happened just one town over.

Today, when I think about what makes a story scary for me I think it’s that interweaving of believability with the claustrophobic feeling that horror is inevitable and there is no escape. I love the stories that feel like they could happen to you or might have happened to a friend. That’s why I think all urban legends start with “This totally happened to a friend’s brother’s ex-girlfriend…” because that makes them feel real.

It’s not scary when something happens to a total stranger. But when that stranger could have easily been you? That’s terrifying.

And so once you have that familiarity you start piling on the tension until there is no escape and whatever horror awaits is inevitable. I often think that’s the scariest part of any story—not the eventual horrible thing that might happen, but waiting for that event and trying to escape as every option closes.

This is something that Joe Hill does brilliantly in Heart-Shaped Box. For those of you unfamiliar with the story, the protagonist, Judas Coyne, buys a ghost off an online auction site (actually, he buys the suit the dead man was buried in, but supposedly the spirit is attached to the suit so you get the suit, you get the ghost).

{Spoiler Alert} Bad things start to happen, but escape still seems possible until one by one all the options are closed out. His girlfriend burns the suit so he can’t send it (and the ghost) away. Even when he leaves the house the ghost follows. His dogs, who have the ability to protect Coyne, are killed. Every single option is closed out—there is no escape. And it’s that dawning lack of hope that brings down the real horror. {End Spoilers}

Because really, scary books are ultimately about the hope of survival and escape: That somehow the protagonist can endure the pressing horror and find a way to escape and persevere. And yet there always has to be that moment in the book where all hope is gone; where things can’t get any worse and yet they do.

Shirley Jackson is another author who is brilliant at this. I think someone else is going to expound more on her so I won’t go into too much detail but in almost every Jackson story just when you think that things can’t get worse… they do.

Really, for me, scary is the obliteration of options. Because when the protagonist sees no way out and the reader can’t see a way out either, you’re at the complete mercy of the author. Which is right where we want you. 🙂

Carrie Ryan is the New York Times bestselling author of two critically acclaimed novels set decades after the zombie apocalypse: The Forest of Hands and Teeth (Delacorte Press, 2009) and The Dead-Tossed Waves (Delacorte Press, 2010). The third in the trilogy, The Dark and Hollow Places, was released in Spring 2011. Born and raised in Greenville, South Carolina, Carrie is a graduate of Williams College and Duke University School of Law. A former litigator, she now writes full time. She lives with her writer/lawyer husband, two fat cats and one large puppy in Charlotte, North Carolina. They are not at all prepared for the zombie apocalypse.

Visit Carrie online at

Follow @carrieryan on Twitter.

Author photo © Darren Cassese

Comment on this guest blog and you’ll gain an extra entry for the big Halloween giveaway on October 31, containing prize packs of signed books plus books and ARCs donated by my publisher Penguin Teen!  

You can keep track of all the “What Scares You?” guest blogs with this tag.