Monday, November 8, 2010
INTERVIEW WITH CATHERINE RYAN HYDE
Friday I promised—today I’m delivering…She’s here! The extraordinary Catherine Ryan Hyde.
Catherine’s latest novel, JUMPSTART THE WORLD, was released in October…and because she’s truly one of the coolest YA authors out there, she agreed to chat about her newest release, and to give us the straight-skinny about her feelings on Hollywood, reviews, and the blogosphere…
Congrats on the recent release of JUMPSTART THE WORLD—which, as it turns out, deals with timely subject matter. Tell us a little about the book, and about where the spark of inspiration came from.
Timely because of all the recent suicides in the LGBT community? I hope so. I hope it will add some small shred of comfort to those who are being bullied and vilified. A strong positive portrayal in fiction is better than no hope at all.
It's about a barely-sixteen-year-old girl, Elle, whose mother dumps her in her own apartment to smooth over some problems with the new man in her life. Elle ends up making a few friends at her new school, almost all of whom are gay (being mistaken for gay herself, she finds herself with an open welcome to that group and not much of any other). She falls in love with her next door neighbor, Frank, because he listens to her and he looks out for her. He's much older, and in a long-term relationship. So she knows they won't be together, but she just adores him. And then her friends make the observation that he might be a transman. Which she does not want to hear. Not because she has a problem with transmen per se, but because she has a seed of a doubt about her own sexuality and isn't sure what that would say about her. But when it proves true, she learns to deal with it. And, much to her discomfort, it doesn't make her love for Frank go away. (Spoiler: Frank's friendship is worth the discomfort.)
I grew up with a transgender sibling. And now, in adulthood, I have a very good friend who is a transman. So this has been part of my experience for as long as I can remember, and doesn't seem the least bit weird or scary to me. So I guess I wanted to say, for those with less experience, "Hey, guys. It's really not that weird or scary."
JUMPSTART THE WORLD is the fourteenth title listed on your website (how good must that feel!)…Do you have a favorite book among all that you’ve published?
I think I mostly feel...tired. No, just kidding. I'm very happy that the body of work is getting so big. Unfortunately, that only makes it harder when people say, "Oh, I've heard of you! You wrote that book. Pay it Forward." (Usually followed by, "I loved that movie!" But don't get me started.)
My personal favorite has always been my YA novel Becoming Chloe. Now I have to search inside and see if Jumpstart the World changes that. It could only be a tie, I think. Or Jumpstart the World is a very close second. Yeah. I think it's a very close second. I adore Jumpstart. But there's something about Chloe and Jordy and my heart. We're tied together in some way.
Do you have any manuscripts in a drawer that haven’t been acquired, that you still have an affinity for or believe will find its publishing “home”? How do you fight for those projects as an author?
Hmm. Yes and no. All the books I've put in the drawer over the years have come out now. Usually, using the tool of time and distance, I was able to revise large sections (typically the last half or the last 1/3) to keep what was good and fix whatever made me put it in the drawer.
Interestingly, Jumpstart the World was such a novel. My young adult editor rejected two very different versions of the story. My way of fighting for this project was to raise the bar for myself, do better with it, and then go back to the same editor and ask her to read it again. Of course, looking back at that first version, I'm very glad I did.
I have one other YA that my editor passed on. I suspect it will go the same way. I'll raise the bar, jump higher, and then we'll see.
For writers, I want to note that I strongly advise you, in most cases, not to rewrite based on rejection. It doesn't always mean there's anything wrong with the work. But I trust my editor a great deal and have worked with her for a long time. And I know that in the long haul, I can usually look back and see she was right all along.
Are reviews important to you? I know you read blog reviews (and even post quotes from blog reviews on your website)…Do you value print reviews over blog reviews (or vice versa)? Do reviews ever change or shape the way you write? In what way? (Or: Why or why not?)
Reviews are important in that they introduce people to the book. They get it out there. Most of my reviews have been good, and of course I love to read a review by someone who really gets the book. But I don't want them to become important to me in an unbalanced sense. I can't base my self-esteem as a writer on them. Then again, they're reader feedback, and can't be safely ignored.
Complex. Isn't it?
I think the answer here is to value the aggregate. The reader reaction as a whole. There will always be some readers who don't like a book. I gave up on pleasing everybody a long time ago. So, for example, I used to read Amazon reader reviews and get upset by anything negative. Now I just look at the star rating, and if it's in the 4-5 range, which I think they all are, I know I'm doing okay.
Print reviews and blog reviews are separate but equal. They are both hugely important. I need Kirkus and School Library Journal and Publishers Weekly, because that's what the libraries and book stores use for direction. But in the teen lit field, to influence an individual reader, there is nothing like the blog review. They are taking on more and more importance, and in time might pass print reviews on the road. But for the moment I love them both equally.
There's only way I can feel myself possibly change the way I write based on reviews. Sometimes readers will say, "I wanted to know more about..." referring to a character or bit of backstory. And sometimes I'll hear that in my head while writing a subsequent work, and I'll go a little deeper.
I love your appreciation for readers and the way you highlight your fans on your website—you’re one of the absolute most approachable authors out there! How much extra work does it take to stay in touch with readers?
Thank you! That's just the kind of compliment I value most.
I really don't think of it as work, because these are, for the most part, really wonderful people. It's like I have my actual friends and my virtual friends, but of course they're every bit as real. It's just our communication method that's virtual. I'd say I spend a minimum of 45 minutes a day communicating via my computer (email and social networking). I'd be hard-pressed to think of what else I could do with that time that would be more important or productive. (I know some would say writing, but nobody writes every waking moment without a 45-minute break in there anywhere. At least, nobody I know.)
Some authors are reluctant to establish an online presence, but you really make the most of it…Were you always open-minded about social media, blogging, etc.? Or are you surprised to be so active online?
I think I resisted at first. A few years ago, my agent suggested a MySpace page (yes, MySpace was king back then). I didn't do it right away. I didn't know how and I guess I felt intimidated. Then I offered a piece to a little online zine, and I began corresponding with the young woman who creates it, and--long story short--she helped me create a MySpace page. Once somebody got me started, it wasn't hard to keep skiing downhill on my own. I've always been open-minded about setting aside time for readers and communicating with them, so I think that helps.
What’s the best contact you’ve ever had with a reader?
Oooh. That's hard. So many to choose from. A teen girl who had been feeling close to suicidal, but found hope in Becoming Chloe. A teen boy who told me Chloe made him "want to tell his friends he loved them." An adult whose life would have been very different if Jumpstart the World had been available years ago. The mother of a transman in transition who said I had no idea what a difference it makes to have a tender and positive portrayal of someone like Frank. And about a million people who caught the kindness bug from Pay it Forward. I could go on, but you get the idea.
Every writer dreams about the day Hollywood comes knocking…What was it like to see PAY IT FORWARD on the big screen? Do you feel you’re still associated with that title more than any other? Why or why not?
I have other titles? Okay, just kidding. See question #2.
In some ways, being deadly frank, many of my "Pay It Forward fans" let me down. Not all of them, by any means, but maybe nine out of ten. I thought they would go on to give my other books a try, but the vast majority never even read Pay It Forward! They just saw the movie, or liked the concept, and they tell me they're my fans without reading anything I've written, which doesn't quite work for an author. I've noticed that the new edition is selling surprisingly steadily and well, so I hope that this is beginning to change. But all in all I've been left with the sense that we, as a society, value movies far more highly than books, which is too bad.
All that said, the movie raised my name recognition greatly, and that's no small favor to an author. So there is definitely a positive side, despite my overall snarkiness on the issue.
I knew I wanted to write shortly after birth. When did you come to writing? How long did it take to snag the first publication?
I came to writing in a big way when I was a sophomore in High School (I tend to be a late bloomer). Here's a link to a little story about that: http://www.catherineryanhyde.com/blog/2009/4/3/i-owe-it-all-to-lenny-reprint.html
It took me well over two decades to snag my first publication. But I should qualify: First I dropped two decades of my life to alcohol and other drugs. I wasn't 100% absent, but I wasn't getting much done. Then I got clean and sober at around 34. Then I got serious, about not only writing but doing something with my writing. Then I began getting short stories published after a couple of years of rejections.
I love the slideshow of your dog on your website…What does Ella know about you that others might be shocked to learn?
Thank you. (And Ella thanks you.)
Ella knows how much of a recluse I really am. She knows that, despite my knowing thousands of people, I'm close with her in a way I'm not with any of them. And I expect that's fine with her. But I think I could use a little work in the human relationship department.
So many relationships in a writer’s career turn out to be long-term. Who have you worked with the longest—an editor? An agent? How has that relationship grown and developed over time?
I've changed publishers quite a bit. First Russian Hill Press, then Simon & Schuster, then Doubleday. Knopf for my YA novels is my most stable relationship: six or seven years and five novels so far. And I'm developing a good, long-standing thing with TransWorld, my UK publisher, who now publishes original adult novels I still haven't sold here in the U.S.
I've been with my agent, Laura Rennert, since late 2003. And I feel like that relationship just gets better. Even when sales are slumpy, she believes in me completely...and lets me know it. It's very heartening. I wish all authors had that support.
Do you have any writing quirks? Any tricks you personally use to pull yourself out of any slumps?
I always assume that a slump has a purpose. If I can't get going again on a novel, I take that as an indication that I'm moving in the wrong direction. That helps a lot, though not always instantly.
Surely you must work on multiple projects at once, as prolific as you are…how many are you working on now? How do you successfully juggle?
Seriously? I don't even walk and chew gum at the same time. I manage to be "serially prolific." Not sure how, but I think obsessive-compulsive behavior works in my favor.
What’s your idea of a perfect day?
Fourteen pages. Or six to eight hours on the trail in the great outdoors, looking over Half Dome or the Grand Canyon. These are my separate but equal perfect days.
…I really wasn’t joking when I said Catherine’s one of the absolutely most approachable authors out there…Head on over to her website and blog—send her a message, leave her a comment, or check out how to get some of her signed author swag. Check out her reader slideshow project—she’s actively looking for new photos now! And whatever you do, don’t leave this interview without reading her Five Ways to Jumpstart the World. (I especially love #4).