“Flotsam & Jetsam” — Carrie Ryan

Carrie Ryan’s first novel The Forest of Hands and Teeth debuted to great acclaim when it was released in 2009. The sequel, The Dead-Tossed Waves, came out earlier this year, and the third volume, The Dark and Hollow Places, is due out in Spring 2011. Our next story shares the same milieu as her novels, but takes place several hundred years earlier. Another piece of Ryan’s zombie fiction appears in the anthology Zombies vs. Unicorns. Her love of zombies is all her fiancé JP’s fault. Since becoming infected with the zombie bug, she has begun converting her friends and family to her cause, much like a zombie would.

In Poetics, Aristotle recommends that storytellers observe a unity of time (no large jumps forward in time), place (one location), and action (few or no subplots). Well, things don’t get much more unified than a couple of characters on a lifeboat. Hitchcock used this scenario to great effect in his World War II-era film Lifeboat, in which the survivors begin to suspect that one of them is a German agent. Gary Larson, author of the beloved newspaper comic The Far Side, repeatedly used gags involving lifeboats. (In one such strip, three men and a dog draw lots to see which of them will be eaten—the dog comes up a winner, and looks suitably smug.)

Our next tale also utilizes the grim immediacy and forced intimacy of a lifeboat scenario. “My original idea for this story was to have infection break out on an airplane, which caused airports to constantly divert it,” Ryan says. “As I thought more about the idea, I wanted to simplify it and boil it down. I was out to dinner with friends and talking about my idea, and my fiancé suggested using a boat instead. I’d been doing a lot of research into The Rime of the Ancient Mariner for another project so the first line was obvious, and the entire story unfolded from there. I love using zombies in my fiction because it allows me to ask what differentiates the living from the dead. How do we determine our own lives and futures beyond mindlessly doing what someone tells us?”