Interview with author, Catherine Ryan Hyde (part 2)

Q. What first inspired you to write?

Astrophotography by CRH

CRH. I can’t define myself as a writer without mentioning Lenny Horowitz, my high school English teacher. I never called him Mr. Horowitz. He let us call him Lenny. Lenny sent my world in a completely different direction (and if you’d seen the direction I was going at the time, you’d understand that he was a lifesaver): he taught me to love reading again, and he told me I could write.

When I was little, nobody had to teach me to love reading. Books were water; I was a duck. I pitched into Dr. Seuss, Winnie the Pooh, the Black Stallion series. I was unstoppable. Then came school, in which my irresistible force met an immovable object. I hated the books I was given to read. They didn’t speak to me. They were almost as bad as–I hate to even utter the word–homework.

I began to avoid reading if possible. I honed the talent of writing book reports on books I hadn’t read. To this day, I have a chip on my shoulder about the classics. I’ve tried twice to read Moby Dick. I give up. I’m not ashamed, either. I like modern, fast-moving fiction. I’ve taken my last run at the great white whale. Ever. It’s over.

Back to Lenny. He gave us different books. Books written in the same century he assigned them. Books with down-and-out characters, people outside the mainstream. I understood these people. I was outside the mainstream. I was overweight and had braces on my teeth. My peer group thought I was from outer space. I liked reading about characters on the margins. We had something in common.

Miracle of miracles, I woke up. One day Lenny gave out a creative writing assignment: an essay, on any subject. I still remember how he walked up to the blackboard and wrote, in big block letters: I AIN’T TAKING IT AFTER FRIDAY. Not exactly your run-of-the-mill English teacher, right? I was so impressed by his willingness to meet us where we lived that I decided to impress him back. I wrote an essay intended to be funny. Always risky. It was a takeoff on the “my dog ate my homework” excuse note, a long, rambling, slapstick story explaining why I was not able to hand in my essay on time.

Sight unseen, Lenny read it out loud in front of the class. They laughed. Everybody, including Lenny. They laughed a lot. For a long time. It was my first whiff of the rare smell of success. Lenny told the class my essay was clever. Later I found out he was still talking about it in the staff lounge that day. He told all my other teachers I could write.

Q. What comes first to you? The Characters or the Situation?

CRH. It’s a tie. What comes is a character in a situation. For example, Jody in WORTHY, watching as someone puts a dog out of a car and drives away. Or Pete in SAY GOODBYE FOR NOW, finding the injured wolf hybrid beside the highway. Or Roseanna in HEAVEN ADJACENT, getting into her car and driving away from the city to some remote location and never going home. Or Ruth in ASK HIM WHY, arriving home from school to find that her brother has returned prematurely from the Iraq war in less-than-honorable circumstances. It’s not enough (for me) to find a character. I have to know what is making their life so interesting/challenging in that moment.

Q. Do you ‘get lost’ in your writing?

CRH.   Not really. I’ve been doing this for quite a while. I’m on my 39th book, and that doesn’t count anything that ended up in a drawer. If I get lost, I might get lost. End up nowhere, or somewhere I did not intend to be. Now I’m more like a person following a roadmap. Not calculated, exactly. But fairly organized.

Q. Are you working on something now? If so tell us about it.

CRH. Always. I’m on a two-book-a-year contract. There is never a time when I am not working on something new. And here’s what people don’t tend to see, unless I tell them. You see the book that just came out, and then you want to know if I’ve started another. I’ve started three others. And finished two of them. The one I wrote after Have You Seen LUIS VELEZ, I just finished reviewing the copyedited manuscript. The one after that, I’ve finished with the developmental editing, and we’re going over cover design. The one I have in progress is almost done. But I don’t want to talk about that one, because I haven’t even finished writing it yet. So I’ll tell you a tiny bit about the other two.

STAY is a novel set in the Vietnam War era (but here at home, not in Vietnam). Its hero is a teen boy whose brother is overseas, and who is trying to hold his family and friends together at home. Of course the plot is more complex, but this is just a quick glimpse. Its theme is more or less suicide-related, but there is no suicide in it. It’s about the opposite of suicide. It’s about staying.

PAs to the author, Ella & Jordan

BRAVE GIRL, QUIET GIRL is about a woman who briefly loses her infant daughter in a carjacking, and her eventual relationship with the homeless girl who finds her.

Did you miss Part I?

Conclusion to this wonderful interview is August 2nd.


MY BLOG features INTERVIEWS with  best-selling AUTHORS!   May: Boo Walker, June: Anne D. LeClaire and July — Catherine Ryan Hyde.  Coming Soon!  My interview with Susan Wiggs
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