|Author Catherine Ryan Hyde|
"When did you know that you wanted to be a writer? What did your family think about that choice?"
Iwas a sophomore in high school, and it hit me all at once, all in one English/Creative Writing class. Believe me, I’m not ducking the question, but I did write out the story in more depth than I probably would here in this interview—also more than you might want me to. For those interested, it’s on my blog at: http://www.catherineryanhyde.com/blog/2009/4/3/i-owe-it-all-to-lenny-reprint.html
Still, I need to put the emphasis on the word “wanted.” This is when I began wanting to be a writer. Who knew there was such a big chasm between wanting to be something and actually being it? I think that chasm is much wider (and the view much more disturbing should you be foolish enough to look down) for writers. Not exclusively for writers, but we are right up there with rock musicians and stand-up comedians in terms of the terror of the task ahead. Had I chosen to be, say, a plumber or a teacher, I think the gap might have been easier to bridge. You train hard to do it, and then you go to work doing it. And paychecks are issued. Writers have a hard time navigating what I jovially call “the paycheck gap,” that eight or ten years when you have to live on air. It requires courage, something I did not have overflowing at the time. So “wanting to be” turned into “being” when I finally got brave enough. I had no illusions. I knew I would starve. I didn’t care.
As to what my family thought of it, it was more or less expected. My mother was a writer, as were ultimately all three of her kids. They’d have been more surprised if I’d chosen a different path.
By the way, something my mom said to me when I was a teenager finally broke through and got me where I needed to go (though not until decades later). She said, “The trouble with a fallback position is that you tend to fall back.” So that’s the secret of my success as a writer. No Plan B.
"You had 122 rejections before being published. If ebooks and self publishing were around at the start of your career, how different do you think it would have been?"
I would have made a lot more of my mistakes out in view of the public.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m grateful for the self-publishing trend. But like any innovation, it cuts both ways. A lot of books go out into the world before they’re ready. Some go out that would never have been ready. But I’d still rather see a hundred terrible, lazy, error-filled books for sale on Amazon than see one good writer locked out of the process by the old way of doing things. People point to problems self-pub creates, and I note that you can drown in water, and fire can burn down your house, but they’re both still generally good things to have around.
But I’m not exactly lasering in on your question, am I?
I think the process of struggling mightily to get a few short stories published, to get an agent, was a real trial by fire for me. I’m glad I was forced to have that experience. I think I would still have worked very hard to hone craft and mechanics, because it’s just how I am. (“Driven” is a nice word, and sounds so much gentler and happier than obsessive-compulsive.) But, as I said initially, a lot more of the honing would have taken place in public view. So, much as I embrace the digital publishing revolution, I’m happy with the way it worked out.
"Adult fiction and YA fiction, you’ve written both, which do you prefer writing? Reading?"
Initially, when I began writing YA, I think I liked it better. I had this idea that it was more emotionally honest, more immediate. It had what a woman I met in a bookstore called “the freedom to be sincere.” But now I write books with teenage—or child, or just young—characters (not every time but often) for adults. But it crosses over to teens to some degree. It all gets very muddled.
I like to write from the heart, and worry later about who will want to read it. And often you don’t know. I had my YA editor tell me a book (Chasing Windmills) was not YA, so I got it published as adult, and it crossed over. The lines are often drawn in the wrong places. So I think I’m letting go of the labels while holding on to what I love about YA.
As far as reading goes, I have a slight preference for YA, but I’m a fairly eclectic reader, other than the fact that I’m not much into genre fiction. I like realistic contemporary stories.
"I read somewhere that 'Electric God' is being adapted for a movie. True or False?"
It’s not a false rumor. I mean, when that appeared in Variety, it was true enough. The director Mark Pellington optioned it. A screenplay was commissioned. Nicolas Cage signed on to play Hayden Reese. And then, as is so often the case in Hollywood, nothing happened. Well. I’m sure things happened. Just not things that led to the movie coming to a theater near us. That’s not to say it never will. Stranger things have happened, and while I never try to predict what Hollywood will do, I’m no more inclined to predict what they won’t do. But we have some preliminary interest in a couple of the other titles, so if I were a betting woman, I’d put money on one of my other books beating it to the screen. That is, if it ever gets there at all.
By the way, this is a fairly typical experience between Hollywood and an author. Pay It Forward was an anomaly.
"Could you ever have imagined that “Pay it Forward” would be a cultural phenomenon?"
When I was writing that book, I had a hard enough time imagining it in a bookstore. When I started it, I had no book-length fiction published. When I finished it, I had just a novel and a story collection with a tiny start-up press who promptly went belly up the following season. To call me an under-published author would have been a generous assessment. So my lofty goal was to get it out where anybody could read it, ever. Changing the world, however slightly, was well beyond the scope of my imagination at the time. (Here is the story behind the inspiration for Pay It Forward)
"I know all of your books are special to you, but is there one that means more to you than the others? If so, which one?"
Becoming Chloe was my favorite for many years. I’ve written quite a few since, and I honestly think When I Found You, Don't Let Me Go, When You Were Older—and maybe even a couple of the other newer ones—are at least as good, if not better. It’s all very subjective in this business. Still, after all this time, the prize for the greatest heart connection between me and a book goes to Becoming Chloe. Sometimes I wonder if it always will. I guess the only way I’ll ever find out is to write a bunch more books. Conveniently, that was my plan anyway.
"What one book, by any author, would you recommend that everyone read?"
Hmm. Hard to narrow it down to one. I think my favorite of all time is Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes. But I think the one everybody should read is probably The Tao of Pooh by Benjamin Hoff. The world would be more peaceful. So I guess it’s a tie.
"On your Pinterest board “People I Admire”, among others, you have the Dalai Lama and Jon Stewart. Why?"
The Dalai Lama because he lives the way I aspire to live, in equanimity and peace. One of my favorite quotes about kindness is from the Dalai Lama. “Be kind whenever possible. It is always possible.” Anyone who is a leader in kindness is a person of great value to this world, in my opinion.
Jon Stewart because he does so much more than just comedy. His comedic timing is brilliant, and I love watching him lampoon politics. But there’s a serious side to what he does. He brings light to injustices that might otherwise have skated under the wire. Like the time he had the 9/11 first responders on his show, because they couldn’t get the help they needed from our government. Anybody who has that kind of power and uses it for social good is tops in my book.
"Of all the people you have met, famous or not, who stands out the most?"
I really had to think about this. I had to answer all the others and sleep on this one.
The first name that came to mind was Bill Clinton, even though you were clear that fame need not be a factor. The fact that he came up first may show that we prioritize fame without realizing it. I don’t know. It may also just be that I found meeting him interesting.
The thing that struck me most about him is his focus on people. When you are introduced to him, you’ll think no one in the world exists for him except you. You say one sentence to him and then he holds the floor on a number of different topics, and you listen intently, not because he’s Bill Clinton, but because he’s interesting. He doesn’t seem to tire of these exchanges. (I met him several times, including three days of shared speaking engagements in Las Vegas. Every day I had to wait 20 or 30 minutes for the Secret Service to lock down the hotel entrance, and when I finally could get in, he’d still be holding forth in the lobby with some family from the Midwest. His love of human interaction seemed genuine.)
Two others came to mind, both somewhat famous—but that’s not why I chose them.
The first is Ram Dass. I went to hear him speak in San Luis Obispo. During an intermission, I asked if I could give him a hug. He just lit up, and we held each other, and he breathed with me. There was nothing perfunctory about it, as there normally would be between strangers. He opened himself up and let his energy mix with mine, and gave what he had to give in that moment. Afterwards, a line formed practically out to the door of others who wanted a similar hug. It was an interesting lesson in human nature.
The last was His Holiness Swami Chidananda Saraswati, of the Divine Life Society in Rishikesh, India. He was (he is since deceased) a big fan of Pay It Forward. I was invited to India to stay at the ashram and meet him. We only met once, as he was in his 90s and in poor health. He was in bed, and I sat at his bedside, and we talked. At the end of the talk, when he needed to rest, he led a short meditation. The energy in the room transformed. You could almost feel a crackle of energy rising, but it was calm. You have to respect someone who can muster enough serenity to fill up a room.
I know you have the Pay It Forward Foundation, are there any other charities or causes that you support?
Quite a few. My passions are environmental and economic justice and animal welfare. Just about anybody who defends the Earth has my support, though I can’t afford to support them all financially. I’ve been involved in some environmental activism in the little town where I live.
My late mother had much the same priorities, and she used to have money deducted from her account every month for Best Friends Animal Society in Utah. I continue to donate the same amount to them yearly in her memory. We also stopped there once on a motor home trip through Utah, and took the tour. So I guess I would put them second in charities after the Pay It Forward Foundation.
I’m a supporter of Occupy Wall Street, and once every month we have an Occupy Cambria march here in town. Just a peaceful march with signs. Raising awareness.
"And finally, Ella and Jordan, what made you decide to adopt rescue animals?"
Ialways have, my whole adult life. I never bought a dog (or cat) from a breeder. I guess I’m too aware of the suffering of the animals who are homeless. I used to train dogs for a living, years ago, when I was in my twenties, and I did some volunteer work with Actors and Others for Animals in Studio City. Once you take a good look at the reality of animal overpopulation, it’s rescue all the way. Plus, when you’ve had rescue pets, you can feel the difference. They appreciate you in a different way than a pet who’s always known a good home.
If anything, I usually take it a step further and adopt the one I know no one else will want. My last dog before Ella had the mange when I got her, and was malnourished. The pound was only going to give her two days.
I felt a little guilty with both Ella and Jordan, because they were so adoptable. Ella was only four months, and quite adorable. But I couldn’t help it. It was love at first site. Jordan was five months, and sweet and healthy. But black cats have trouble getting out of shelters, so I guess there was a small note of service in there.
Idon’t care where you go, or how much you pay, you will never find better, happier, healthier, more fun pets than these two. It’s one of those situations where you don’t necessarily get what you pay for.
Giveaway from Catherine Ryan Hyde.
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