Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Authors in the Corner: Catherine Ryan Hyde

Today we have with us Catherine Ryan Hyde.


How did you decide to become an author?

My mother was a writer when I was growing up. And I have/had two sisters (sorry to say I lost one in 2007) and they are/were both writers. Whether this is nature or nurture, I can't say. But it seems to run in the family.

When I was in the second or third grade, my mom came to school with me in one of those "parent day" things. Those days when you bring a parent and have them talk about what they do. She brought her books and talked about being a writer. Later all the kids said things like, "Wow. Your mom is really cool." Which had maybe never occurred to me before. At least, not the way it looked through somebody else's eyes. I think that might have been a factor.

Third, and possibly most important, was my sophomore English teacher in high school. Lenny Horowitz. He told me I could write. Out loud. In front of all the other students, who didn't know I could do anything. Later I found out he went back into the staff lounge and told all my other techers I was a good writer.

That was when I made up my mind what I wanted to be. Unfortunately, there's a big gap between wanting to be something and being it. But that's another story.

As a child, what did you want to grow up to be?

First I wanted to be a cartoonist. Then I wanted to be a songwriter. Then I wanted to make animated films. I always knew I wanted to do something creative. I just had to find my avenue.

What’s your greatest influence?

I think I am influenced by my endless curiosity about human nature. I'm fascinated by what scares us. Also by what we do when we're scared, particularly when we aren't willing to admit it. Also by the odd ways we vent our anger, which is generally something we use to cover up our fear. I also enjoy exploring our responsibilities to one another. If we are decent people, we owe some measure of helpfulness amd respect to those around us. But what measure? Where does it start and where does it end?

I believe there are limitless novels hidden in the previous paragraph.

Are you working on something right now?

If revisions count, yes. I told my YA editor I would show her something new around the end of the summer. I wrote the last page barely over a week ago, then took off on a little mini-vacation. Now I'm home and making sure it's clean and tight, especially the parts I wrote most recently.

Have you ever refrained from writing about a certain topic for fear of how others would react to it?

I hope not. If possible, I bend over backwards to include the parts that will challenge others the most. I don't think it's my job as a novelist to help people be comfortable. If anything I'm trying to bump them out of their comfort zone.

When I first wrote Love in the Present Tense, I had an opening chapter in which Leonard was standing on the hood of his friend Marco's car at 50 MPH. I was worried some teenager might be inspired to try that. I shared the fear with a couple of people, but they both said the same thing. They said I couldn't pay too much attention to that, or I'd never be able to write anything. Later, after selling the novel, that scene (and for that matter, Marco) was cut, but not for that reason. Because my editor thought it made Leonard seem too crazy. So I never got to find out if it would inspire others in a dangerous way. Probably just as well.

Now I just try to silence all those voices when I write. I'll deal with the reactions of readers later, when it can't change the course of the work

Who’s your favorite author? Your favorite book?

I always had trouble with stating a favorite author, because I seem to go book by book. I'll love a book by an author, get everything they ever wrote, and not feel as strongly about any of it.

So far as I know, one of my favorite authors, Jonathan Safran Foer, has only two novels (and other things that are non-fiction). Everything is Illuminated and Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close. And I loved them both. So maybe he's my favorite author.

Books? Hard to narrow it down to one. Maybe one of the two I just mentioned. Maybe The Book Thief by Markus Zusak. Maybe Flowers for Algernon. There are so many.

Is there something that I didn’t ask that you wish I had?

Is the movie Pay It Forward a faithful adaptation of your book?

Not really, no. The idea itself comes through well, but they changed a lot. Not all for the better in my opinion. So many people tell me they loved the movie. Some say they've seen it a dozen or more times. I'm thinking, if they love the story that much, why not try the book? You know. See the movie eleven times and read the book once. Sometimes it's because they don't know it was a book. Which is why I asked myself the question. I'm on a kick to raise consciousness on the matter with this simple question: Did you know Pay It Forward started with a book?

Thanks so much, Catherine!

You can visit Catherine at her website,


Carol said...

Great interview! I really like Catherine Ryan Hyde's books.

Reviewer X said...

Great interview. I loved interviewing Catherine for my blog. She was really speedy with the responses.

The Pay It Forward situation is really sad. It must be extremely unsettling to see people talking about a movie made from your book and not know it originated with a book. I've been meaning to read PIF for some time now (I need to get it, actually). I haven't watched the movie yet either, so I guess I'll be one of the people who say "I read the book first!" :)