Q&A with Catherine Ryan Hyde

May 23, 2017 | By | Reply More

Catherine Ryan Hyde is absolutely one of the most bold-faced names we’ve interviewed here at WWWB. She is the author of 32 books and counting, including ALLIE & BEA (Lake Union, 2017), SAY GOODBYE FOR NOW, LEAVING BLYTHE RIVER, ASK HIM WHY, WORTHY, THE LANGUAGE OF HOOFBEATS, TAKE ME WITH YOU, WHERE WE BELONG, WHEN I FOUND YOU, WALK ME HOME, SECOND HAND HEART, DON’T LET ME GO, and WHEN YOU WERE OLDER.  

Her novel THE WAKE UP (Lake Union, 2017) will publish this December. She is co-author, with publishing industry blogger Anne R. Allen, of HOW TO BE A WRITER IN THE E-AGE: A SELF-HELP GUIDE. Her novel PAY IT FORWARD was adapted into a major motion picture, chosen by the American Library Association for its Best Books for Young Adults list, and translated into more than 23 languages for distribution in over 30 countries.

An avid hiker, traveler, equestrian, and amateur photographer, she has released her first book of photos, 365 DAYS OF GRATITUDE: PHOTOS FROM A BEAUTIFUL WORLD. Her novel LOVE IN THE PRESENT TENSE enjoyed bestseller status in the UK, where it broke the top ten, was reviewed on a major TV book club, and shortlisted for a Best Read of the Year award at the British Book Awards. Both BECOMING CHLOE and JUMPSTART THE WORLD were included on the ALA’s Rainbow List, and JUMPSTART THE WORLD was a finalist for two Lambda Literary Awards. WHERE WE BELONG won two Rainbow Awards in 2013 and THE LANGUAGE OF HOOFBEATS won a Rainbow Award in 2015.

She is founder and former president (2000-2009) of the Pay It Forward Foundation, and still serves on its board of directors. As a professional public speaker she has addressed the National Conference on Education, twice spoken at Cornell University, met with Americorps members at the White House and shared a lectern with Bill Clinton for three speeches.

Her short stories have been honored in the Raymond Carver Short Story Contest and the Tobias Wolff Award and nominated for Best American Short Stories, the O’Henry Award, and the Pushcart Prize. Three have been cited in Best American Short Stories.

Let’s start from the beginning, your beginning.               

Where did you grow up? How did your childhood impact the woman you’ve become?

I grew up in Buffalo, NY. My family, though full of well-meaning individuals, was the scene of a great deal of heartache and chaos. Everybody seemed quite busy with the problems at hand (I was the third of three), so I became the disappearing child. I amused myself by making up stories in my head, and tried not to need anything from the people around me. Too bad that never works. Now I seem to write stories about kids (and sometimes other people) who fall through the cracks and need someone to catch them. I don’t suppose that’s a coincidence. I don’t suppose anything in life is.

Favorite writing clothes?

Sweat pants, a short-sleeved V-neck tee, and a comfortable oversized shirt worn on top as a jacket. That’s more or less my idea of pajamas, and I wear some version of it until the moment I have to go out. Then I try to look vaguely presentable (though probably not by anybody else’s standards).

Favorite place to write? 

My easy chair. Hands down. I haven’t used a desktop computer for decades. I’m all about the easy chair.

How old were you when you wrote your first novel? What prompted you to write it? Did you expect it to become your career?

Depends on the definition of writing a novel. Does that indicate finishing it? Probably so. In that case, I was in my mid-thirties. I had been working as a baker and pastry chef at a local restaurant. The place closed in January, which is a bad month to be laid off in a tourist town. I knew the old notion that I would write a novel if I ever had the time was either true in that moment or it never would be.

I certainly didn’t imagine I’d make much money at it. My highest goal was just to make enough with my writing that I could keep writing. Not have to go back to a day job. I certainly never imagined all of this.

You are a bestselling novelist and an award-winning short story writer. How do you know which format will best tell a story idea?

I don’t. Occasionally I think I do, but I’m almost always wrong. At this point in my career, I consistently write book-length fiction that is more or less “Coming of Age.” That is, usually centering around younger characters, but geared more toward the adult reader. But in the past, if I thought it was Young Adult it would be published as adult and vice versa. If I set out to write a short story, it turned into a novel. I think the work dictates where I go—certainly more than the other way around.

In your 32 books, you’ve had success in both adult and young adult genres. How do they compare? As you age, how do you ensure that your YA protagonist’s voice is current?

Oh, that’s easy. I just fall back on my own arrested development. Being a teen was so intensely painful. It was impossible to forget.

I’m current enough on technology and such that I can drop in a few details to keep the reader in the current day. But beyond that I try to go for the feeling level. The stuff that’s universal, and that’s been true since the beginning of time.

It is very difficult for the interviewer to choose a favorite among your books, but it might be BECOMING CHLOE. I wanted Jordy (a homeless, abused gay teen with the heart of a lion) to be real. Another novel, JUMPSTART THE WORLD, features a transman named Frank. What draws you to writing LGBTQ characters and what in your own life gives you such a clear understanding of them?

I’m no stranger to the LGBT community. Then again, I’m not a gay 17-year-old boy or a transman. But isn’t that what it means to write fiction? You have to write about people you’ve never been. Again, I just try to get underneath our differences. I try to write from that place where we’re all human and we all resonate on the same emotions. The more a group of people is marginalized, the more I want to humanize them in my writing. I think the biggest thing that’s gone wrong in our society is the construct of the “other.” There is no other. We are all just people. Take away the false notion of “otherness” and the only problems left would likely be related to the weather.

In your newest novel, ALLIE AND BEA, you pair feisty, impoverished senior citizen Bea with formerly-privileged teen Allie whose parents are incarcerated—two very different human beings with nothing in common except that they have nothing and nowhere to go. On the run from a horrifying Child Protective Service situation, Allie takes refuge, to Bea’s dismay, in Bea’s van. Together they travel up the Pacific Coast. What is the central theme (or themes) you wanted to explore in this story?

It started with a simple idea. An older woman who was homeless, living in her van, and her circumstances had caused her relationship with honesty to become more… how should I say it… negotiable. And then I saw her meeting up with this teen who’s so honest it’s a nuisance. And I figured the teen would get the older woman on track again. But now I look back and that just seems almost painfully simplistic. Fortunately it took on a life of its own and turned into so much more.

Over so many books, are there themes you find yourself returning to again and again? Why? In today’s tumultuous political climate, what do you think people need to hear?

I think I come back again and again to the simple question: What is our responsibility to each other? We seem to have social contracts that limit our involvement in the problems of others, but people step over those lines in the sand all the time. So now I wonder why the lines are even there. And I’m fascinated by people who help not because they have to but because they can.

I think people need to be reminded that there is good in us. Yes, there is bad in us, too. But I continue to feel that we are basically good. Why do I think this? Because babies are not born violent and evil and gradually steered toward good by a series of altruistic experiences. It’s the other way around. It’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking the bad has come to outweigh the good, but I don’t believe that either. I believe in what Jordy said at the end of Becoming Chloe: that life is exactly as wonderful as it is terrible, and as terrible as it is wonderful, like two sides of the same coin. Unfortunately a lot of fiction focuses on the darkest parts of our nature. And I think people read fiction like mine because they want to believe in the positive side of what it means to be human.

You have a horse named Soul who you train with in dressage? What is dressage? What draws you to it? (The interviewer thinks it is absolutely beautiful and can’t comprehend how either the horsewoman or the horse can manage it!)

I do indeed, and he is quite a guy. I just adore him, as you can gather from pictures of us together.

So, at the root of the thing, dressage just means training. Sounds simple enough.

Now. If you are watching a dressage performance and are unable to comprehend how the horse and rider do such things, you are watching a rider far more advanced than yours truly. You’re probably watching my trainer/instructor, Barbi Breen-Gurley, or someone very much like her. She rides Grand Prix dressage—with the piaf, and the passage, when the horse is dancing—and your jaw would drop. She can inspire her horse to do a flying lead change on every canter step, diagonally across the arena, so he appears to be skipping. And you can’t for the life of you figure out how she’s even asking the horse to do it.

Yeah. This is not me. I’m riding training level dressage, which is one step up from introductory. Which is… well, that’s self-explanatory, isn’t it? It’s introductory. I’ve clawed my way up one rung from that. I’m not saying it’s not hard to ride training level dressage, just that it wouldn’t make your jaw drop.

Why do I do it? Because my goal is not just to sit on my horse’s back, but to form a genuine partnership with him. To achieve something wonderful together. I want to form a communication that is ours alone. Owning and riding a horse is not as easy as it looks in the directions, and it seems to me that these complex, challenging, rewarding working relationships between horse and rider are the successful ones.

Also, I think I might be a glutton for punishment. I do like a good challenge.

And I’m guessing by now you’ve gathered that this question needs to be filed under the heading “Don’t Get Catherine Started.”

What are some of the subjects of your lectures?

I’m actually a bit relieved to say I almost never do any these days. Not because I don’t like people, and talking to them, but because I couldn’t keep doing that kind of travel. But I spoke for years on the whole Pay It Forward phenomenon, and of course I speak to groups about being a writer. Sometimes I’m invited to my local Unitarian/Universalist congregation, where I talk about being human. I don’t know why anyone should listen to me, as they’re all people, too, and know as much about the subject as I do. But if I can say something in the right way and somebody hears it at the right time, I’m glad.

A practical question: You are a prolific writer, to say the least. You lecture and teach and advise the Pay It Forward Foundation. You also give tremendous care to your other interests: riding, photography, hiking, your cat and dog, Jordan and Ella, etc. How do you do it? Do you work toward all of it some every day or do you compartmentalize in a different way?

Wow. All good questions. I have no idea. You really make it sound like I’m very organized about the whole thing. In actuality, I simply write whenever a piece of the work is ready to write. I naturally write very fast, which helps. I write first thing in the morning, which leaves my afternoons free to ride. But some things just don’t fit. Now that I ride regularly, I hike fairly seldom. And I don’t take off in my little camper van nearly as often. I pay someone else to do the housework, organize the garage, run to the post office, and take the vehicles in for servicing. That doesn’t fit. And most of the lecturing and teaching is in the past. Plus I want to point out that I’m single and have no children, which is probably the biggest part of my secret weapon. But thank you for making me sound like Wonder Woman. It was fun to read, if a little tiring.

Many writers have the impression that once an author gets a few books behind them, the rejection stops. That you stay with the same publisher forever (at least for that genre) and that they accept every story you pitch. Is that true? Is it ever true? Should it be?

Ha. Yeah. That would be nice.

One of the hardest eras in the arc of my career was after the Pay It Forward book and movie. Things went downhill in a hurry. I had to reinvent my career from scratch. Meanwhile, as I was struggling to make the mortgage payments, everyone assumed I was rich and famous.

I think it’s rarely if ever true. And if it is, it probably shouldn’t be. We are all only as good as our last book, and that is as it should be.

ALLIE & BEA marks your tenth book with Lake Union Publishing (not including translations!), an imprint of Amazon Publishing, and your eleventh, THE WAKE UP, will publish in December. How did you come to publish with them? Why did it interest you? What has the experience been like?

Like a huge, happy sigh. That’s what it’s been like.

Lake Union publishing contacted me in 2012. I was at a low place in my career and had put out a few independent ebook titles to keep things going. One of them, WHEN I FOUND YOU, my agency and I decided to offer free for five days. This was the golden age when everybody was filling up their brand new Kindle. It took off on some kind of “right place/right time” magic, and 81,000 copies were downloaded in those five days, which sent it very high in the popularity rankings.

The now-retired Amazon Publishing editor Terry Goodman took the time to sit down and read it, then sent me a lovely email (which is hanging, framed, over the fireplace in my studio) expressing interest in acquiring it as an Encore edition. A year and a half later I had gone from stressing over the monthly mortgage payment to paying off the mortgage entirely and throwing a mortgage burning party. They have really been a dream publisher for me. They connected me to the right audience for my books, and that’s something no publisher was able to do before.

Many, many authors with much less success than you have layers of barrier between the readers and themselves. But not you. Your personal email address is on your website, and you respond to every reader’s message. It must take so much time. Why do you do it?

Because no one is more important than my reader. Without my reader, I’d be out of a job. And because the whole point of writing is communication. If it only goes one way, it’s just a monologue by a person too in love with the sound of her own voice. I like it when communication goes both ways.

And finally…

Film or Television? Both.

Mountains or Beach? Both.

Salty or Sweet? Salty.

White or Red Wine? Neither. Clean and sober 28 years and counting.

Thank you, Catherine! We support you now and always.


Bea has barely been scraping by since her husband died. After falling for a telephone scam, she loses everything and is forced to abandon her trailer. With only two-thirds of a tank in her old van, she heads toward the Pacific Ocean with her cat—on a mission to reclaim what’s rightfully hers, even if it means making others pay for what she lost.

When fifteen-year-old Allie’s parents are jailed for tax fraud, she’s sent to a group home. But when her life is threatened by another resident, she knows she has to get out. She escapes only to find she has nowhere to go—until fate throws Allie in Bea’s path.

Reluctant to trust each other, much less become friends, the two warily make their way up the Pacific Coast. Yet as their hearts open to friendship and love from the strangers they meet on their journey, they find the courage to forge their own unique family—and begin to see an imperfect world with new eyes.

Praise –

POPSUGAR Hot New Spring Books Selection

“Hyde delivers a fast-paced, touching, and humorous journey of an unlikely pair who never knew they needed each other… Through little adventures and hiccups, the two learn eye-opening things about themselves and their outlook on the world. Perfect for anyone looking for an uplifting and lighthearted escape.” Booklist

“An appealing tale of friendship, family, trust, and faith in humanity. Fans of the author’s previous works will enjoy growing and traveling alongside the title characters.” Library Journal

 ALLIE AND BEA is Available




Other ways to bond with Catherine –




Interviewed by –

MM Finck

MM Finck is a writer, essayist, and offers query letter coaching and opening pages editing as The Query Quill. She oversees WWWB’s Interviews and Agents’ Corner segments. Her women’s fiction is represented by Katie Shea Boutillier of the Donald Maass Literary Agency.

She is a member of the Women’s Fiction Writers Association and the contest chair for the Women’s Fiction Writers Association 2016 Rising Star writing contest for unpublished authors. Her work has appeared in national and regional publications, including skirt! magazine.

When she isn’t editing her novel, #LOVEIN140, you can find her belting out Broadway tunes (off key and with the wrong words), cheering herself hoarse over a soccer match (USWNT!), learning to play piano (truly pitifully), building or fixing household things, and trying to squeeze more than twenty-four hours out of every day. She is active on Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads, and Litsy (@MMF). Say hi!  http://www.mmfinck.com

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Category: Interviews, On Writing

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