Catherine Ryan Hyde Catherine Ryan Hyde is the author of more than 25 published and forthcoming books, including the bestselling When I found You, Pay It Forward, Don't Let Me Go, and Take Me With You.

Cambria, CA

Catherine Ryan Hyde Catherine Ryan Hyde is the author of more than 25 published and forthcoming books, including the bestselling When I found You, Pay It Forward, Don't Let Me Go, and Take Me With You.

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The Don't Let Me Go scene adaptation is here!

Catherine Ryan Hyde

I've been talking about this for a while. And if you follow me on social media, you've probably seen a couple of little short "teasers" for it, such as a montage introducing the characters, the Grace actress doing a monologue she memorized for her audition, and even a behind-the-scenes "making of" video. (If you didn't see those videos, you still can by going to the Don't Let Me Go Scene Adaptation page in Extras.)

It's not a whole movie. It's an adapted scene. The best way I can describe it, I think, is to say it's a very different way of looking at a book trailer. In the past I recorded myself reading excerpts from a book and made a little film or montage of photos for you to watch while you listened. But this really takes it a step further. It's an actual live-action production of the excerpt!

Okay, enough talking about it. Here it is. And of course I look forward to hearing what you think!

Celebrating a book birthday today!

Catherine Ryan Hyde

I'm vaguely questioning whether this even needs saying. My wonderful readers have been so all over this new book. Most of you have pre-ordered it. I already have excited posts and comments to Facebook saying that the ebook has just dropped onto their Kindles.

And besides, I've been doing a countdown to the book, for heaven's sake.

But I'm saying it anyway, if only because it's so exciting. Just in case there's anybody out there who doesn't know, this is a book birthday for me. This is the day The Language of Hoofbeats bursts out into the world.

The reviews are just lovely so far, and it seems to be enjoying a great reception.

If you preordered it, look on your Kindle. It should be there. If you didn't preorder it, if you go click the buy button now, for $4.99 you can be reading it in about 30 seconds.

Now that's something to celebrate! I hope you'll come back and share your thoughts, either publicly or by email. I always love to hear from you.

Yet Another Deal Alert, this time for paperback

Catherine Ryan Hyde

In addition to the WALK ME HOME ebook being featured as a Kindle Monthly Deal, TAKE ME WITH YOU is included in a new print book deal, just in time for the holidays. It began Monday, December 1 and will run through the end of the month. The beautiful trade paperback edition is only $9.50--more stocking-stuffers for the readers on your list! 

And here's where it really gets good, in my opinion. With the Kindle Matchbook Program, if you buy a copy of this book for $9.50 to give as a gift, you can get the Kindle ebook for yourself for only $0.99.

In other words, happy holidays to all!

Deal Alert: Walk Me Home for $1.99 all through December

Catherine Ryan Hyde

Great news: Walk Me Home has been chosen as a Kindle Monthly Deal for the month of December! That means the Kindle ebook is only $1.99 all month. And what a great month for it, too, right? More stocking stuffers. And of course you get to buy holiday books for yourself, too.

So if you missed this title, here's your chance. And you might pass the deal news along to your reader friends, if they're the type to appreciate such bargains.

Between this monthly deal and the release of The Language of Hoofbeats on the 9th, December promises to be a great month.

Thanks, and happy reading!

Better Than Blurbs: Dissonance by Lisa Lenard-Cook

Catherine Ryan Hyde

Because I no longer write blurbs, but still very much want to help other authors, I've launched a blog series called Better Than Blurbs. The authors and I have in-depth discussions about their books, which I hope will help readers identify whether they'd enjoy reading them.

This is the thirteenth post in the series (hope you're not superstitious, Lisa). The author is Lisa Lenard-Cook and the book is a favorite of mine, Dissonance.

Me: Will you please tell my readers a little about the book in your own words?

Lisa: In other interviews (including the readers’ guide on my website), I’ve talked about the three seeds for the book. But because, twenty years after I first wrote it, the reissue gave me the opportunity to reread it myself, I’ve read it as a reader. So I’d love to answer this question as if I were writing a review.

At its heart, Dissonance is about love, war, and forgiveness. It begins in 1995 when Anna Kramer, a piano teacher in Los Alamos, New Mexico, learns she has inherited the journals and music scores of Hana Weissova, a concert pianist originally from Prague whom she does not think she knows. As Anna reads Hana’s journals, plays her music, and learns about Hana’s experiences in the concentration camp Terezin during World War II and in New Mexico when the war is over, what she discovers about Hana and her life helps her come to terms with the mysteries and misunderstandings of her own.

In addition to these interwoven stories, music theory is sprinkled throughout the book. Some readers may be put off by this seemingly disembodied voice. (The first sentence is, “The piano is unique among instruments for its double stroke.”) What is it doing? Why is it here? Part of the answer lies in the opening section of music theory, when we are told that dissonance “is a fitting metaphor for what this [the 20th] century has wrought.” But if we also ask that the first sentence of a fiction contain all that comes after, then we need to look more closely at that “double stroke.” I’ll leave the many possibilities open to the reader.

Me: To throw a little of my own experience in here, I not too long ago began to write a book that was to be set in Warsaw during the Nazi invasion. I never ended up finishing the book. I may still at some point. But I have to say it, the research dragged me down. Yet Dissonance never dragged me down. It never felt overwhelmingly heavy. Can you tell us about the research you did for the book? Do you have any idea how you pulled off a book that touches on the Holocaust but is not depressing? Because it’s really quite a feat.

Lisa: What a lovely compliment. Let me begin by saying I never planned to write a book about the Holocaust. For one thing, I didn’t live through it, although many of my friends’ parents in North Buffalo did. But the more I’ve thought about the Holocaust aspect of the book over the years, the more I’ve realized how much Hana Weissova’s indefatigable spirit owes to Gerda Weissman Klein, my childhood friend Leslie’s mother, whose memoir All But My Life I highly recommend. Hana’s story has little in common with Mrs. Klein’s. But among all the survivors I knew when I was growing up, only one—Mrs. Klein—chose to share her story. In doing so, she became an inspiration to others, and in particular to me.

[Me, note: I should probably mention at this juncture that Lisa and I have some interesting coincidences between us. I also grew up in North Buffalo, though we didn't meet there, and my father's side of the family is Jewish. His mother, my grandmother, had come over from Germany/Poland (the boundaries changed with time and war) long before World War II. But she had a good friend in the neighborhood, Esther Bestry, who had the tattoo on her arm. And I watched Night and Fog in high school knowing how easily that could have been me. But back to Lisa]

But you asked about research. Despite an undergrad degree in History, I’m a peripatetic researcher, or, in more contemporary terms, perhaps an ADD-afflicted one. I dip and taste, then flit off to the next tidbit. I seldom read history or science books straight through, but rather flip each book open randomly, until I’ve read everything. Sometimes I read them backwards.

Each day, when I sat down to work on Dissonance, my sources lay open around me on my desk (an enormous library table my husband built for me when I finished grad school). I’d open one of the music theory randomly, read what was there, then reconsider it in my own words in the notebook where I wrote the book (I was still writing longhand then). Not all of the music theory I first wrote about remained. But a lot of it did.

In the case of the Holocaust, and in particular Terezin, I already knew a great deal, first of all because I was raised Jewish and knew survivors, and second because I’d read Holocaust fiction and memoir both as a girl and an adult, beginning with Leon Uris’s flawed-but-important Exodus. So the books I chose for my research as I wrote Dissonance were specifically about Terezin, about Prague, about people who’d been at Terezin (as well as about the Manhattan Project). I also reread Mrs. Klein’s book and a number of other memoirs, including Elie Wiesel’s Night and The Diary of Anne Frank. These two particular memoirs succeed—connect, resonate—because of their voices, and I think that Hana’s story is, as you put it, “not depressing,” because hers (like Anne Frank’s—who can forget that line just before the end: “In spite of everything I still believe that people are really good at heart”?) is a hopeful voice. As Hana herself says, “Remember and forgive. There is time for little else.”

Me: I rarely ask questions like this. Non-writers are usually the ones who ask, “How much of this is from your personal experience?” I tend to figure fiction is fiction. But the observations about music in Dissonance seem to go above and beyond what research will provide. So will you tell us about your personal experience with music?

Lisa: I’m a piano lesson dropout! My husband is a blues guitarist (with a day job), but, while I do occasionally play the guitar inherited from my father (who was emphatically not a musician), and love to croak along with love ballads on my solo road trips, my own experience with music has been more as a listener—an educated listener, perhaps, but a listener nonetheless.

But it wasn’t really music that captured me—it was music theory, more specifically the language of music theory—harmony, rhythm, consonance, dissonance—and how these words seemed emblematic of much larger ideas, abstract concepts we have trouble getting our minds around. The voice (because in the first draft, it was just a voice) talking about music and music theory in Dissonance seemed able to articulate questions I myself had (have) grappled with in ways I hadn’t previously considered. As an example, there’s the discourse at the beginning of the book’s third movement which ends, “Music implies a god.” I would not have arrived at this unexpected conclusion without that voice to guide me.

Me: As you know (but my readers may not) I read this book many years ago, around the time Coyote Morning came out. And I’ve always loved it. It’s one of my favorite books of all time, and I recommend it often. I needed (and wanted) to read it again to prepare for this interview. One thing I had forgotten was the connection to the nuclear bombs dropped on Hiroshima. (And still she manages not to be depressing!) You approached the subject with a remarkable lack of judgment. Can you tell us why the bomb was included? Was any parallel to the Holocaust intended? If not, how does the juxtaposition of the two advance the book, in your opinion?

Lisa: The juxtaposition became intentional only after I’d finished the first draft. When I read the manuscript after I’d put it aside for a few months, the parallel was clear, so I tweaked it a bit, but, as with everything in the book, I didn’t push it. One of effects I am always after is to let as much as possible speak for itself, to just lay out the facts and let the reader draw her own conclusions. That’s why, in Dissonance, there’s extra white space between sections, to allow the reader to think.

In all my fiction (and here I include the many unpublished novels in my closet) my goal is to present all sides of an issue (not “both sides,” note—there are as many sides to any issue as there are interested parties) without taking a narrative stance. This isn’t easy, because I, the author, always have a stance. But what I’ve found is that using leitmotifs (like the music theory in Dissonance), repetitive elements outside the story (the letters to the editor and Coyote Facts in Coyote Morning), and metaphor allow me to show all those sides without insisting the reader think as I do. In the case of Coyote Morning, I knew I’d succeeded because both the coyote lovers and the coyote haters in the New Mexico village where I lived when I wrote the book believed I was on their side.

The other aspect of this I’d like to mention is how views change over time. Our generation believes that dropping those bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki is unforgivable. But our parents’ generation believed, as it says in Dissonance, that they “helped end a war that had already gone on far too long.” Revisionist history is fascinating because it imposes a contemporary lens on the past. I’m always amused when someone suggests that history is “objective” or “true.” Like all events retold, history is created—and recreated. As a fiction writer, I believe that we’ll find our larger Truths in fiction.

Me: Of course, I was delighted to hear that this book was being rereleased. It’s a wonderful opportunity for a book that so richly deserves it, in my opinion. It’s unusual, though, for a “small” (though it shouldn’t be) book to get that chance. Will you tell us more about the arc of its publication and re-publication?

Lisa: Despite the book’s many awards and honors, UNM Press had, of course, moved on to promote other books. So, in 2008, at the encouragement of a friend in the business, I got the rights back to the book, thinking that perhaps I could sell it to a bigger house. Unfortunately, the publishing industry was soon in as much of an upheaval as the economy itself. Then, in the summer of 2013, I got an email newsletter from Santa Fe Writers Project (SFWP). As I’m sure you do, I get lots of these newsletters and aggregations and headlines and blog announcements and the like. But, for some reason, I read this one, and clicked through on some of the links, in particular a Washington Post Magazine article about SFWP’s founder, Andrew Gifford (and boy, has he got a story!). Once I’d finished reading the article, my well-tuned intuitive guide system told me I had to send Andrew Dissonance.

The SFWP website  described a number of projects SFWP was (is) engaged in—a contest, a journal, and general submissions. I selected the latter. Not five minutes after I’d electronically submitted Dissonance, Andrew emailed back: “Are you sure you’re in the right place?” he asked. Yes, I told him. “Do you own the rights?” Yes, I said. Within days, Andrew was posting about his reading of  Dissonance on Facebook. A number of mutual friends told me I’d better friend this guy. I did more than that. I sold him the book.

SFWP is in a far better position to support a small literary novel than either a big commercial publisher or a university press whose primary focus is not fiction. And Andrew loves reprints, and loves the books he publishes. Agents and editors toss the word “love” around a lot—but Andrew makes sure SFWP lives that way.

Me: I couldn’t decide whether to ask this, because I thought it might be a spoiler. But I noticed you revealed in the reader’s guide on your website that the woman whose music and diaries your protagonist inherited was, much to her surprise, her mother’s lover. I loved that about the book, because usually LGBT themes are much trumpeted, as though only gay people will be looking for them. They are so rarely a surprise. And I like what you’ve said, both to me and in public, about this aspect of the book. So will you please tell my readers a little bit about your discovery of this plot element, and why it felt right for this book?  

Lisa: I think you’re referring to the fact that this was an absolute surprise to me. In fact, when Anna cries, “No!”, that was actually me—I was that shocked at this turn in the narrative. And frankly, as I continued to write the first draft, I thought that it didn’t belong, that it was a wrong turn.

But when I returned to the book a few months after writing that draft and read it through, I realized that this was one of the most important elements of the book (and this is a book with a lot of important elements!). Because the book is about love, in all its manifestations. It’s about accepting others, especially those different from oneself. And most of all, it’s about accepting those closest to us as they are, not as we wish they were. The latter, I think, is the hardest thing of all.

Me: What’s next for you?

Lisa: My agent is currently shopping a novel called Long Division to editors, and I’m working on a new novel, called Dear Lucia, about a woman whose mother leaves her family in 1975, when the daughter is 12, then surfaces a year later with a book that becomes a bible for second wave feminists. I’ve also got three short stories I’m working on—short stories take me much longer to write than novels—and two memoir pieces. Beginning next year, I hope to spend a week each month working in San Francisco, where my daughter lives, because I’ve found that a change of venue reinvigorates my writing.

Me: Please write your own question, and answer it.

Lisa: You spend a lot of time working with writers, talking to writers, and helping writers. What would you like to say to readers?

First of all, thank you. Translating pictures in my head into words that you read and then translate into pictures in your head is half of why I do what I do (the other half is because, like all writers, I’m compelled to use language to try to make sense of the world). Post-structural theory holds that a text is recreated by each reader, that it doesn’t even exist without readers. I’m always struck by the questions readers ask, by the texts that readers create, because those who write to me tell me that they believe in the healing power of love, the transformative possibilities of forgiveness, and the strength of what we know in our hearts, not because I preached (E. M. Forster’s term, not mine), but because they found it within themselves while reading my book.

Thank you, Catherine, for your time, for your belief in my book, and for all the wonderful things you do.

Find out more on Lisa's website & blog

Find her on Facebook and Twitter

The making of a scene from Don't Let Me Go

Catherine Ryan Hyde

Some of you may have heard a slight leak of information (probably on Facebook and probably direct from Yours Truly) regarding a short film based on a scene from this book, filmed in live action.

But... why am I telling you what it's going to be when this "making of" video (below) can say it all for me?

The video of the scene itself is not far behind, so "watch this space" for more news as it becomes available.

And don't forget the Kindle ebook edition of Don't Let Me Go is being offered at a special price right now. Only $0.99 today, tomorrow, and Thursday. Pass it on! And please pass this video along, too, to anyone you think might enjoy the book. Thanks, faithful readers!

Deal alert: Don't Let Me Go for $0.99

Catherine Ryan Hyde

Starting today, November 25th, the Kindle ebook edition of Don't Let Me Go is on sale for only $0.99! It will remain at $0.99 for three days (the 25th, 26th, and 27th). At midnight on Thanksgiving the price will go up to $1.99.

This is a Kindle Countdown deal, which means the price will go back up in increments of $1 a day until on the last day it will jump back to the regular price. So I strongly recommend that if you haven't read this one, and are interested, you grab it while it's only $0.99.

I've said it before and I'm sure I'll say it again: Faithful readers deserve book bargains! 

And if you're interested in more happy news about Don't Let Me Go, be sure to check out my next and most recent post about the making of a scene from the book. We're talking live action Billy Shine, Grace, and Rayleen. Now that's something that doesn't come along every day!

Happy Thanksgiving! If you're one of my readers, you're a big part of what I'm grateful for this year.

More Language of Hoofbeats giveaways

Catherine Ryan Hyde

I just got home from a trip, and it was time to draw three winners in the giveaway for the paperback copies of The Language of Hoofbeats.

And the winners are: Jeanie Wright, Mandy Warrender, and Donna Eisenhower. The three winners have been notified by email.

Now. Let's say that's not you. First of all, read my post about the new "No Losers" seven entry rule if you haven't already. Second, look what came while I was gone. So let's roll one giveaway right over into the next.

Up for grabs are three of these lovely unabridged audiobooks on CD. Most of you know the drill. If not, please read the following: 

Leave a comment below to be entered. Please DO leave your email address in the comment form (even though it will say it's optional). I promise I won't use it for any other purpose but to notify you if you win. Please DON'T leave your email address in the body of your comment unless you want everybody to see it. Those familiar with my old website might be a little confused by the new comment system. It will seem there is no place for your name and email. But when you hit "Post Comment," you'll see those fields come up.

A small handful of people will have trouble leaving comments. Do not despair. Please email me (using the address on the "contact" page) if that happens to you. 

I'll leave this open for about a week. Good luck!

Do authors have a "duty to warn"?

Catherine Ryan Hyde

A couple of weeks ago the very first novel I ever wrote, Funerals for Horses, got a scathing 1–star review on Amazon from a person who said “someone should have warned” her that there was sex in the book. Well, I did, actually, in my new introduction. I didn’t respond, of course, because I don’t think authors should ever respond to reviews. But I did begin to discuss it a bit on Facebook in the context of a recent post regarding authors leaving reviewers alone.

Interestingly, I heard from another woman, a Facebook friend, who also strongly believes in book “warnings.” She feels that if a book contains sex it should say so in the promotional description, because otherwise she will already have spent her money by the time she finds out, and it will be too late.

Actually, the book is for sale exclusively on Amazon, and the reader can use the “look inside” feature before buying. Plus Amazon ebooks can be returned for a full refund in the first few days.

That said, I’m looking further into whether something should be said in the book description of Funerals for Horses. But I have a feeling the problem will not be so easily solved. While I totally support people’s right to read only what they care to read, I’m not sure the author can solve the problem with warnings.

Here's where I stand on "warning" readers. Or, at least, where I think I stand. I’m hoping to hear from readers and get more information that will help me decide.

How do I know where the reader’s line will fall regarding sex? I have a couple of books in which characters have sex, but it's described in very non-specific, emotional-observations-only terms. Do they need a warning? What about the adult edition of Pay It Forward? Reuben and Arlene have sex, but we leave them at the bedroom door. But they wake up in the same bed. Does that need a warning?

I'm really shocked by how many people won't read a book with "swearing" in it. Do I need to warn about that? What about damn and hell? Does that count? If I soften the s-word by saying "crap," will that offend? Some people it will, other people it won’t.

I’ve actually had readers write to me to learn in advance if the name of God is taken in vain in one of my books. I did a search for one person, and found that it was used in sentences like, “I hope to God it’s okay,” but not in the context of swearing. I returned that information, saying I hoped it helped. The reader in question said it did, but without telling me where it fell on his line. But it wouldn’t have changed much if he had, because someone else’s line will be different.

I myself don't like to read books with upsettingly detailed violence. But how can the people who market the book know how much violence I will find upsetting?

Then there are people who will not read a book in which an animal is mistreated, or even one in which a pet dies a natural death.

Several people complained about When I Found You, feeling that they should have known in advance that the book includes boxing and hunting, because those are activities they don’t like.

I’m really not saying any of this sarcastically, or as if my view is the only one. I just don’t know how an author can  address in advance what a reader might find unacceptable. I may still decide to warn about the sex issue in Funerals for Horses, if only because it’s so different from my newer books, and I can understand why some readers would have come to expect something different from me. But I wonder if the only real solution to the problem at hand is for the reader to read the free sample, then buy the book, then stop reading and return the book if they feel they’ve made a mistake.

I’ve been in the book business for a long time, and this feels like a new problem to me. I never heard a word about a responsibility to warn readers about sex and language until a year or two ago. I’d be interested in hearing what my readers think on the subject. Because if I should be doing better to help readers have a good experience with my work, I want to know.

The Ethical Author Code

Catherine Ryan Hyde

Historical novelist Jane Steen recently wrote a very good opinion piece on ethics in self-publishing for the ALLi (Alliance of Independent Authors) website. I'll link to it HERE.  

I'm sure very few readers are strangers to the fact that "authors behaving badly" incidents have been a sore subject for the last several years. Authors have stalked reviewers and then proudly written articles about it, hit them over the head with wine bottles, bought false reviews or written sock puppet reviews, and mercilessly spammed potential book buyers by email or in social media. And that's a short list of what's going wrong.

Several years ago I wrote An Open Letter to Authors on this blog, offering my opinion on what to say in response to a bad review. (Hint: NOTHING!) Unfortunately, we are still swimming in the same issues today.

A few important things to remember:

  • This is a tiny segment of authors causing problems. Most authors are polite and ethical. As with all "news," you just don't hear as much about the good news.
  • This is not exclusively an indie author problem. However, in the past, publishers have tended to rein authors in. And in decades past, mountains of criticism and rejection have faced authors long before their books ever saw the light of day. We learned to deal with it before hitting the public eye. Now, I'm afraid, some are learning to hear criticism in public. 
  • Like most bad trends, fighting against it yields poorer results than committing to its solution.

So I'm speaking out on this positive new trend of the Ethical Author Code. The code is available on the Alli website. I think my readers already know that I bend over backwards not to violate any points of this code. For example, for years I've been encouraged to keep an email list of readers, but I have always refused. I feel that emailing you to tell you I have a new book out is spamming you. So, though you give me your email address for the purpose of giveaways, I don't save those addresses or use them for any other purpose. I put news on my website, on this blog, and on my social media pages, so you know where to find it. If you want it. That's the key.

I publicly commit to all points of The Ethical Author Code, and encourage other authors to do the same.

UPS delivery--can a giveaway be far behind?

Catherine Ryan Hyde

Look what the UPS guy brought me. It's due for release on December 9th. But since I have some, let's give some away!

Most of you know the drill. If not, please read the following: 

Leave a comment below to be entered. Please DO leave your email address in the comment form (even though it will say it's optional). I promise I won't use it for any other purpose but to notify you if you win. Please DON'T leave your email address in the body of your comment unless you want everybody to see it. Those familiar with my old website might be a little confused by the new comment system. It will seem there is no place for your name and email. But when you hit "Post Comment," you'll see those fields come up.

A small handful of people will have trouble leaving comments. Do not despair. Please email me (using the address on the "contact" page) if that happens to you. 

***One very important addition: If you're reading this blog on Goodreads, please click through to the original post on my website and leave your comment there. Otherwise I'm afraid I'll forget the Goodreads people one of these times when I go to draw names***

I'll collect entries for a week or ten days and then choose a winner at random. If you don't win, don't be discouraged. Read my post about the new "No Losers" seven entry rule.

Good luck!

Better Than Blurbs: Feral by Holly Schindler

Catherine Ryan Hyde

Because I no longer write blurbs, but still very much want to help other authors, I've launched a blog series called Better Than Blurbs. The authors and I have in-depth discussions about their books, which I hope will help readers identify whether they'd enjoy reading them.

This is the twelfth post in the series. The author is my old friend (we've never actually met in person, but since when did that ever stop a friendship?) Holly Schindler, and the book is Feral.

Me: Please tell us about the book in your own words.

Holly: Claire Cain endures a brutal gang beating in her hometown of Chicago.  This happens after she steps in to save her best friend from being wrongfully accused of distributing drugs.  When Claire, a journalist, runs stories to vindicate her friend, the gang retaliates.  She spends the next several months healing physically and insisting that she has healed emotionally as well (though she’s still tortured by nightmares and unrelenting anger).  When her father gets the last-minute offer to spend his sabbatical in Peculiar, Missouri, Claire agrees to go, jumping at the chance to get away from Chicago.

But Peculiar offers no reprieve.  Claire’s struck by one similarity after another once she crosses the city limits: the town is hit with an ice storm, just as Chicago was the night of her beating; her school uses lockdowns and uniforms; the town’s feral cat population stalks her, just as the gang did in Illinois.  And soon after arriving, Claire stumbles upon the body of Serena Sims, a classmate.  The town is quick to chalk Serena’s death up to an accident.  But Claire suspects otherwise…and the deeper she digs into circumstances surrounding Serena’s demise, the closer she gets to learning a horrific truth about herself and the damage she truly sustained in that Chicago alley…

Me: Years ago I wrote a short story called Alice Needs This. It was about a child molester who skillfully wins over a fourteen-year-old girl. I tried to write it from Alice’s point of view, but just couldn’t get it to go. Finally I dropped into the fictional head of the child molester and it all fell together. Except, as I was writing it, I kept realizing I was scaring myself. While writing Feral, did you ever scare yourself? (You scared me!)

Holly: I have to say that I love that I scared you!  Mission accomplished!   It’s funny—I didn’t scare myself while writing it.  (But your story sounds utterly terrifying—there’s nothing more frightening than a scenario lifted straight out of the real—rather than paranormal—world, is there?) 

Also, my experience with FERAL is completely different than my readers’.  My readers jump into the cold, brutal waters of FERAL cannonball-style.  I slowly inched my way into the book one toe at a time.  The book started out as a straight MG mystery (the Serena Sims death was a cold case involving an old student at the protagonist’s school); as I revised, it got increasingly darker.  So dark, I knew it needed to be bumped up to YA.  That might sound easy enough—you keep your characters and put them in high school instead of middle school, give them cars instead of bikes—but it’s actually a complete overhaul.  I had to reinvent a new main character (we aren’t the same people at seventeen that we are at thirteen), and had to reinvent several plot points as well (for example, “cheating” took on new meaning in the YA version). 

Brainstorming my new protagonist, I discovered the beating backstory.  And I knew I also wanted the deeper message of the book to be about recovering from violence.  It was also at that point that I knew the book would be a psychological thriller, rather than straight mystery or even horror. 

I continued to darken details—especially the beating scene with Claire—as the book went through development at HarperCollins.

Me: Why are you trying to ruin my relationship with my very good-natured cat?

Holly:  I’m a cat lover, too, actually.  I grew up with two cats I adored.  Tuffy, as her name implies, was born feral.  She was living near my parents’ home right after they got married.  It was driving Mom nuts to see her eating out of their trash cans, so she adopted Tuffy.  In the midst of trying to figure out if she was actually going to stay with them permanently, a litter of kittens arrived.  Mom found homes for three of the kittens and kept Peter.  Pete and I were always together when I was growing up—I kind of always suspected he thought of me as his pet, since he was part of the family before I was. 

Tuffy kept my mom in line when my brother and I (we’re just a year apart) were little.  Every single time one of us would cry when we were babies, she’d run to find my mom and bite her ankles! 

Cats are so cool—I’d love to have another, but you know I’ve got the most spoiled dog on the planet, Jake.  He’s a complete only child, and hates sharing—with anyone!  I think bringing any other animal into the house would result in a total bloodbath. 

Me: You made some reference to this book falling through some genre cracks. Maybe not being quite what people wanted to box it into being. Can you go into that for my readers? I think it will help people understand exactly what it is and who will enjoy it.

Holly:  I’m a big fan of vintage movies.  Love anything black and white.  Big, big fan of Hitchcock—and that definitely shows in FERAL. 

FERAL’s a psychological thriller in the classic sense.  While the book features mystery, horror, and paranormal elements, the emphasis is on the “psychological” rather than thriller / action.  The novel features a Hitchcockian pace and focus on character development (here, we’re exploring the inner workings of the main character, Claire Cain).  Speaking of Hitchcock—even the feral cats are a nod to THE BIRDS.

Essentially, every aspect of FERAL is used to explore Claire’s inner workings—that even includes the wintry Ozarks setting.  The water metaphor is employed frequently in psychological thrillers to represent the subconscious, and here is incorporated in the form of a brutal ice storm (that represents Claire’s “frozen” inner state).  The attempt to untangle what is real from what is unreal (another frequently-used aspect of the psychological thriller) also begins to highlight the extent to which Claire was hurt in that Chicago alley.  Even the explanation of the odd occurrences in the town of Peculiar offers an exploration into and portrait of Claire’s psyche. 

Ultimately, as I said, FERAL is a book about recovering from violence—that’s not just a lengthy or hard process; it’s a terrifying process, too.  The classic psychological thriller allowed me to explore that process in a dramatic, scenic way.

It’s really been fascinating to read the response to FERAL (I read all my reviews—reader reviews, blog reviews, trade reviews).  I went at FERAL assuming some genre conventions are just intrinsic…but I have to say I do think that the psychological thriller is changing as a genre.  When I try to brainstorm favorite recent psychological thrillers, I get to MEMENTO or WHAT LIES BENEATH, and then I start to stall out—but I saw those movies years ago, in college!  Perhaps as a result of the classic psychological thriller being a bit underrepresented right now (especially at the box office), I absolutely think that modern readers see the term “psychological thriller” and assume that the emphasis should be on “thriller” rather than “psychological.” 

The strongest positive response I’ve received are from somewhat older readers—those, like me, who are fans of or remember some of those classic psychological thrillers.  Those who remember not wanting to get in the shower after watching PSYCHO or getting goose bumps at the sounds of pigeons at the park after watching THE BIRDS. 

 Me: Over the past year or so, I’ve watched you go through some growth spurts in the publishing business. I know you’ve had to learn how to stand your ground when you know the work is right, and some other lessons. I know some may involve other people, which might prevent you from going into detail. But all in all, can you give us some idea of the changes that have allowed you to move your career forward?

Holly: You know, I think every author goes through a similar process: first, all you want to do is just get IN the industry—you want to sell a book.  Then, once you’ve signed a contract or two, you’ve got to figure out your own way within the industry. 

One thing I’ve learned is that I sometimes disagree with feedback I get from industry insiders—and that’s okay.  It doesn’t mean that I’m a crummy writer, and it doesn’t make the person I happen to be dealing with a crummy [fill in the blank here—editor, agent, publicist, publisher, etc.]  It only means we disagree.  I’ve learned that it’s my responsibility not to simply swallow my disagreement, but to voice it.  No one knows I disagree if I don’t say anything. 

The cool thing is that by saying what I think, I wind up getting new feedback—engaging in a conversation that helps me find my way with a WIP.  That recently happened with my next MG.  It’s based loosely on a family story, so that made it easy for me to pipe up during revision requests and say, “Here’s what this book is, and here’s what it isn’t.”  It resulted in a really great conversation, and I thoroughly enjoyed revision.  It’s under submission right now.

Me: You do an amazing job, I think, of writing for different age levels. This book, Feral, and A Blue So Dark seemed on the mature end of YA, and yet you struck such a perfect middle-grade voice for The Junction of Sunshine and Lucky. Is it as effortless as you make it look? Does it take time to shift gears? Do you get to tell your creative process who you’re writing for on the way into a novel, or does it tell you? Anything else you want to add about age-driven voice?

Holly:  Thanks for that—I’m really proud of the fact that I’ve tackled different genres and age groups.  So far, I’ve done contemporary realism, romance, psychological thriller, YA, MG…There’s definitely something to be said for author branding, but I know I’d feel stymied pretty quickly. 

Finding the right age category can, sometimes, be a no-brainer.  Aura came to me really quickly for A BLUE SO DARK.  The original book was drafted and edited in two months.  And though it went through several rounds of revision, her voice remained the same. 

Other times, the process of finding the right age category can be pretty tough.  FERAL and THE JUNCTION were harder, for instance…FERAL, as I said, started out as an MG, and THE JUNCTION started out as a picture book.  Early response to the PB version of THE JUNCTION was that the concept of folk art was too advanced for the readership, and I was encouraged to bump it up.  (Several phrases from the PB version made it into the MG version, which shows the book should have been MG all along, I think.) 

So it can happen in all sorts of ways: you can hear a voice and know it’s a teenager talking to you.  Or you can get feedback that makes you realize where you need to take a project.  Or a project you try to make fit in one genre keeps refusing to click—like your experience with Alice Needs This—and you know you need to take it in a different direction.

One thing that can help is to think of specific people at certain ages: a family member, a niece or nephew, a neighbor.  When I was drafting my earliest works, I was also teaching guitar and piano, and I sometimes go back to those students.  I think, “What would ten-year-old Mitch do at this point?”  Or, “Would sixteen-year-old Megan be responding this scenario in this way?”  It can help drive specific scenes, and it can help give you a better feel for which category the book should be, especially during the initial process of character brainstorming.

Me: Can you tell us about what’s next for you?

Holly: I’m branching out into hybrid status.  This is definitely part of my “growing” stage.  I write quickly, and I write where my heart takes me—which means sometimes generating manuscripts that don’t fit the traditional platform.  It’s so cool that the line between indie-pubbed work and traditionally-pubbed work is no longer the line between bad and good.  It’s just that some books don’t fit the traditional platform.  And, again, rather than trying to force a manuscript to be something that it was never intended to be, I’m going to be taking those manuscripts that are best for the indie format and putting them up myself.  I’m incredibly excited about this prospect, and will be blogging about the entire process at Holly Schindler’s Character Driven.  You can also follow along at Twitter and Facebook.

Me: Please write your own question, and answer it.

Holly:  You like to branch out and write in different genres—but what genres would you like to revisit?

I don’t think you can beat a great contemporary read—and I do tend to think readers also connect most strongly with characters in contemporary books.  But I also thoroughly enjoy writing love stories.   I can’t wait to return to books like PLAYING HURT

FERAL, as I mentioned, plays with several different genres—and I’d love to tackle both a straight mystery and a straight horror novel (I actually have outlines for them both). 

The first genre I’ll be tackling in the indie format is a romantic comedy.  I think I’ve had sprinkles of humor—often darker humor—in some of my other books.  It’s a delight to dive into something that’s just full-on funny…

Deal Alert: Attention paper book lovers

Catherine Ryan Hyde

For those of you who "love the feel of a book in your hands," and for those looking for holiday presents for readers, I have a deal alert for you. Amazon has put the lovely trade paperback edition of When I Found You on sale for $7.49, about half off the list price.

Now here's where it really gets good. Are you familiar with the Kindle Matchbook program? If you buy this paperback for half off to give as a gift, you are then eligible to buy the Kindle edition for only $0.99. How's that for a win/win?

This offer will be good through the end of November.

Happy holidays, a little early. I hope to have another big discount coming up this month, and will keep you posted as soon as I know.

But I want to know what happened!

Catherine Ryan Hyde

Sometimes when I write fiction, I leave certain details open-ended. Yes, there is always more to know about the arc of characters’ lives, but in my opinion some of it belongs in the story and some doesn’t.

            Unfortunately, this seems to drive a percentage of readers crazy.

            People write to me asking how things turned out for a character or characters. Sebastian and Maria (from Chasing Windmills), for example. Will they be together again? People have said in their reader reviews that they’re taking away one star because I didn’t tell them if Nat and Carol get back together at the end of When I Found You. People request sequels with surprising frequency, which is a lovely compliment—but it’s another example of curiosity regarding what happens after the last page (although I know it some cases it’s a desire to spend more time with the characters, which I love to hear).

            Then there’s Pay It Forward.

            Right now I’m in the process of reading over 100 emails from middle school students who are studying Pay It Forward in school. Which is a lot of fun. But they want to know all this stuff beyond the last page. What happens with Trevor? Did this or that character really Pay It Forward?

            I find myself having more and more to say about fiction as it relates to any open questions in the work. I think there’s a flaw in how we’re looking at the whole issue. And I think reading becomes more meaningful when we clear up the misunderstanding. So I’m going to air my thoughts about that in this post.

            When I worked with my editor at Simon & Schuster to create the Young Readers’ Edition of Pay It Forward, I had a big decision to make regarding the ending. I decided not to go against my original intention, exactly, but rather to end the book before Trevor’s fate is known and let young readers decide for themselves. I knew I’d get questions about it, so I included the following in my introduction/author’s note for the Young Readers’ Edition:

            “This is the same book, just a bit shorter, and much more appropriate for the young reader. The characters and the story are the same.

            One thing is slightly changed, however. I’ve done something a little different with the ending. Left it more open. And I know I’ll get a lot of questions about it. Children, and probably adults as well, will email me to ask what happened after the last page.

            But fiction isn’t like that. I don’t have a secret key to any parts of the story that aren’t on the page. After I stop writing, it’s up to you. That’s the magic of a story. It’s a combination of your imagination and mine. Whatever happens in your mind is just as real as what happens in the mind of the author.

            So don’t write to me and ask me how it ended. Write to me and tell me how it ended for you.

            We’ll pool our resources and come up with a memorable story. And maybe … just maybe … a kinder world.”

            So here are a couple of answers for those who want to know what happened to/with [fill in the blank]:

            1. Nothing happened. It’s fiction. Those people don’t exist. I do want to say, though, that I’m pleased and flattered that you feel like they did. That’s a great compliment. But they can’t do anything beyond the words on the page, because they’re not real.

            2. Reading is a different kind of experience from, say, watching a movie. It’s a fictional world where you bring your imagination to the page with mine, and we create something together. Don’t give my imagination too much credit and your own too little. Do Carol and Nat get back together? Do Sebastian and Maria come back around to each other? They do if you say they do. There’s no reason to ask me, as if I own all their details. That’s the beauty of reading. You own them, too.

            Please feel free to share your thoughts on how any of these characters or story lines evolved in your imagination after the last page, because your assessment is every bit as valid as mine.


You can Pay It Forward to the Pay It Forward Foundation

Catherine Ryan Hyde

Most of you know that Simon & Schuster has released a “Young Readers’ Edition” of my 1999 novel Pay It Forward. It’s been edited down to a solid G rating (by yours truly) and is suitable for kids as young as eight.

Of course, now the challenge is to get these books into the classroom. That would be easier if schools had lots of money for books. They don’t. Teachers are all too often buying books for their classrooms with their own money. And they don’t exactly have money coming out of their ears.

So a few weeks ago, the Pay It Forward Foundation and I launched a project. I donated $1,000 to the Foundation for the purchase of paperback copies of the Young Readers’ Edition. Simon & Schuster was kind enough to offer us a special discount, so we were able to get 325 books to give away. Thing is, half of them are gone already. And I haven’t even announced that the program exists. These were just teachers who had already contacted us in hopes of getting help acquiring some.

The Foundation board (of which I am a part) was kind enough to vote to match my donation with Foundation funds. So another 325 books are now on order. If you’re a teacher, you can learn how to apply for them HERE. And if you know a teacher, you can pass this info on. 

But here’s where we need your help. If you simply pass along the info that free books are available, they will be gone in a matter of days. If they even last that long. Then the program will be over. 

Here’s how you can keep it growing strong: You can pass along this blog post to everyone you know. With enough donations to this fund, we can keep this program going almost indefinitely. They don’t have to be big donations. Even $5 and $10 donations will go a long way if we can just get enough of them. 

And here’s how we get enough of them: You know how the concept of Pay It Forward works, right? It uses exponential math to plant roots. It starts with one, like this post. Then it goes to three, then nine. Then 27. Then 81.  Then 243. Then 729. Then 2,187. The bigger it gets, the bigger it gets. What if you shared this appeal for donations with three people and asked them each to share it with three more? It could be in thousands of hands in no time. Books would flow into middle schools. Kids would be inspired to try kindness. The world would change. Maybe not entirely, but enough to make this worth doing. 

So, please. Spread the word that there are books to give away. But please also spread the word that we need help to keep the supply strong. You can help change the world. 

Information on how to donate to the Pay It Forward Foundation can be found HERE. And please note that your donation is for the Young Reader Book Program.

Thank you for Paying It Forward!

Want to know "How to be a Writer"?

Catherine Ryan Hyde

Many of you know that I collaborated with my old and good friend Anne R. Allen (who is, in her own right, a successful author and publishing industry blogger) on a book for writers.

It's How to be a Writer in the E-Age: A Self-Help Guide.

Anne describes it this way: "It's a warm, funny guidebook to help new writers weed the important stuff from the bullbleep and keep from getting discouraged during the crazy process of writing a book and getting it published." I think that sums it up rather well.

The book is currently on a Kindle Countdown Deal in both the US and the UK. If you're a writer, or want to be, this is a good time to give the book a try. If not, please share this info with any writers in your life. We really have gotten wonderful feedback from those who use it. It's a tough business, and they say this book helps! 

It will go back to $3.99 on Halloween, Oct 31st at Midnight. And you know I always keep you in the loop about discounts. Avid and faithful readers deserve breaks on book prices. 

I'll look forward to hearing what you think!

Better Than Blurbs: A House of Light and Stone by E.J. Runyon

Catherine Ryan Hyde


Because I no longer write blurbs, but still very much want to help other authors, I've launched a blog series called Better Than Blurbs. The authors and I have in-depth discussions about their books, which I hope will help readers identify whether they'd enjoy reading them.

This is the eleventh post in the series. The author is E.J. Runyon, and the book is A House of Light and Stone.

Me: Eve, will you please tell my readers about the book in your own words?

Eve: Strangers. It’s about all the ways a world can be filled with strangers. How we can be strangers within even the closest family. Strangers to our immediate environment, like Duffy’s Mother is in the new neighborhood she’s moved everyone into. How old, good friends— like she and Mrs. Bettencourt, ‘Lise are, how they end up treating each other when they reconnect. How being a stranger even to your own self, as Duffy is, can affect whom and what you let yourself be. So, that’s the biggest thing it’s about.

On a literal level, it’s about a 10 year-old’s quest to try and be what she feels a ‘real girl’ should be. Duffy’s a kid from a world, back in 1966 & ‘67 East Los Angeles, where what she sees on TV is a world of white folks. And she’s, as she puts it, “just Duffy, with the brownest eyes and as jet-black hair as you could get.“ Even though all her four brothers and sisters are half white-half Mexican, she feels she’s different. So there again, we’ve got a stranger within her own tribe. A stranger, she feels, to her own people.

There’s the whole world of folks around Duffy who treat her like she’s family. And family members who she thinks have problems treating her that way. There’s the second thing this book’s probably about: disconnects that life can seem to be made up of. Mama and “Lise take forever getting on the same wavelength, no matter how attracted they are to each other. Duffy feels she’s always a step behind those who like her and want to help. Her actions turn from well-meaning to failure at nearly every turn, because she’s not had any way of seeing life done well.

Hopefully, by the end of the novel, we’ll see it’s about an inimitable quest for what self-knowledge can bring to one single soul. Duffy becomes a much stronger person. A butterfly out of a chrysalis, a wholly new girl. One she can be proud to be. Mama finds that being her true self is not the end of the world. And though some family members are lost to the city around them, some are gained, and a family’s balance is restored.

Me: Talk to us about the word “literary.” Because I feel this book is a great example of literary fiction, using the term in the most flattering possible way. But most people, at least in the publishing industry, don’t use it as a compliment. Literary fiction is a hard sell to publishers, and often another hard sell to readers. Any thoughts on where we slipped off track with this?

Eve: I think you and I spoke about this many years in the past. How I wanted my work to not be categorized. How I wanted it to stand as Literary, over genre. I haven’t changed. And I will argue, we don’t need to if our literary fiction works are, at the same time, accessible as genre work is to the reader. Sure there are themes here in Duffy’s story of Childhood - Growing up - Abusive relationships - Innocence - Love and friendship.

But I wrote this as a single little girl’s story, using my finest storytelling abilities I could bring to this. And perhaps those themes are only list-able, now in retrospection of what I’ve created. Not because I planned or built them in there. Perhaps my novel won’t be another hard sell to readers, because of that storytelling tact.

Me: You told me once, many years ago, of a time when your whole very large group of siblings was gathered together one morning and sent into foster care. If you don’t mind doing so, will you talk a little bit about that experience? Did it inform Duffy’s story in a significant way? If so, how?

Eve: Actually, even though I have my memories of that time. It involves others and their realities are their own. I hesitate to give too much weight to this book vis a vie my own background, as I didn’t write this as a roman a clef. There were times of great joy because I was with my brother and sisters, and some awfully hard times also when we’d get split up. I basically felt motherless in my early youth. Unlike Duffy who has a very present mother in this novel, I was 6 months old going into foster homes and nearly six coming out. We lived in more than one home.

Beyond that, I tried to write here a story about a girl who knew the type of life I did, but who was her own little soul. Not me. Like you mentioned once, to the question about ‘if your characters are based of folks in your life’, you said something like, you tried making them busy enough being themselves, that they didn’t need to be based on anyone you knew, yes? No matter who you may think you know I am, this is Duffy’s tale—not mine. [Me, note: I never doubted that. I know how it feels to give a character one tiny aspect of your history and still have her be 100% her own person.]

Me: Duffy worries at one point during the book (on her way to creative writing class) “What if they say I’m stupid? Or too Mexican? Or that this neighborhood isn’t the one I should’ve come to”? I’d be surprised if there wasn’t a trace autobiography there, simply because how could you grow up in this culture and not feel those pressures? Is it ever a temptation simply not to mention it—not to give people what might feel like ammo for them to use against you? And, if so, what are the associated burdens?

Eve: I like to think I write for three reasons. And those reasons have informed my whole body of work, fiction, poetry, short stories, or plays. I find myself speaking for those who’ve gone though the harsher things— so, through my attempted empathy on the page, others will know what’s happened in the quieter lives. Not my personal life, but any small life out there. Then, doing that, I also speak to a reader who really may have no idea that some lives roll the way they do, with so many valleys and peaks. I have to mention things aloud to them there on the page. And lastly, I write about folks who do their worst, SO that folks will see that yes, that type of behavior is out there; being done to us smaller souls. And they can't hide any longer. Folks are writing about their lives as well.

I’d definitely allow Duffy to voice all those truths she feels; facing them is how we are able to hold ourselves upright and walk right past those inner fears and outer abuses. And if anything, I wanted Duffy to be that deeper thinking little soul. Speaking her own truth to the powers she sees surrounding her.

Me: Duffy has a very positive influence in her life in Mr. St. John, the social worker. And this is somewhat unusual. The foster care and child welfare systems are full of good people, certainly, but also rife with abuse, and we tend to hear more about the abuse, both in real-life news stories and in fiction. What made you decide to show that system in a positive light?

Eve: That dynamic between those two just came to me. I didn’t write ‘A House of Light & Stone’ as a condemnation of a system. So there was no need to go the other way with their interactions. As you mentioned before our time here, you felt this novel was one that was ‘pure character-driven literary fiction, rather than having an obvious theme or issue to discus’. So we aren’t going to find sensationalism here.

I think it was less a decision to show that system in a positive light, and more of a light touch with what it was I did show about the man as a positive, hopeful guy faced with a very tough nut to crack in our little Duffy. And this is set in 1967 Los Angeles, there were more idealistic folks in the system at that time, I think.

Me: Authors tend to be people who love creative writing (well, duh) and books. But it’s fairly unusual for those loves to bleed over into their main characters. Will you talk a bit about why Duffy shares those passions with her author?

Eve: Okay, _smiles_ I’m going to give away a huge secret here. I came up with the last lines of the book first, where Duffy paraphrases the prayer. That was the first inkling this novel was built on. From that ending scene I built backwards. So seeing her say that, I then had to have scenes after scenes about why this little kid would have said that in the first place. It wasn’t planned, her wanting to be a writer; it grew from her uttering that phrase on my pages. I had to follow her path from there.

And then of course, there’s the adjusted adage I teach my coaching clients, it’s less a case of writing what you know, as it is using what you know in your writing. I knew I’d be a writer from a very small age. Before I could write in handwriting even. And that came through here, me using some sense memory of what I know.

Me: Will you tell my readers a little about the coaching and other services you offer to aspiring writers? There maybe be someone within the sound of our virtual voices who would be interested.

Eve: The next logical step to my 1-on-1 coaching that I’d been doing since 1997, was to expand into an online business. I quit my Software career, sold my house to go back to school, got a BA in Creative Writing, and did graduate work in Online Teaching and Learning. Then, my 2008 National Novel Writing Month effort ended up getting published as my writers guide, ‘Tell Me (How to Write) a Story’.

That came out last year from my UK Publisher, Inspired Quill. But between 2008 and 2013, in 2010, I built a writing website called ‘Bridge to Story’. That entailed creating 52 free lessons. I’m all about the service of midwifing creativity. I’m glad to give all that to folks without charge. One client revamped the whole site for mobile users, he liked what I did for him, coaching-wise, so much. So that social enterprise vibe is strong in my work.

With my 1-on-1 private clients, I spend 1.5 hour sessions with them on Skype, sharing their screen, working about the same stretch of time I run my Community Ed courses. They get my undivided attention and we work, literally, right on their own pages, as I coach them in stronger ways to do what they have in mind.

Folks give the most surprising feedback on my method. And several have their books out to agents and publishers; others have already published what we’ve worked on too. Some are getting some glowing reviews. One client calls me a Bodhisattva, and another was so happy with the level his work was brought to, he sent me a MacBook Pro as a thank you. I guess you could say, I enjoy my twin-calling as a coach and author, it’s going well. I’m on Facebook, and welcome anyone who wants to speak to any of my clients about what I do and how it’s done.

Me: Please write your own question, and answer it.

Eve: Do you feel this novel would make a good, ‘little film’ for some Indy filmmaker?

Do you remember the small film quite a while back called 'Echo Park'? With Tom Hulce? It came out in the late 80s I think. It was set in a L.A. neighborhood. And it told a sweet story about people’s lives. Like 'Laurel Canyon', or the one called 'Quinceañera', that’s another one. If I remember, that came out about a dozen years ago, that film, too, was also called 'Echo Park' in it’s L.A. release. (That’s weird! Hah.) Well, that was another one set in L.A. and telling a tale of real lives intersecting and making ripples.

No gratuitous shoot outs. Just the damage of living in our worlds. Especially in the Los Angles area. I think this book is in that vein. Close, small lives. But very watchable. I could see it being translated well, by some ardent new director. Someone who can see the potential of telling the quieter lives on film, so yes. If the fates allow. I could see that.

Me: Thanks, Eve! Eve's website is here, or you can follow her on TwitterFacebook, or Google+.

Check out my new photo site!

Catherine Ryan Hyde

Saddlebag Lake at dawn, after a night of light snow

Saddlebag Lake at dawn, after a night of light snow

All of you who know me know that amateur photography, especially nature photography, is very important to me. And when I first created this new site, I struggled with how to fit them all in. I could only show about five of each gallery without bogging everything down and causing slow loading. I don't want to complicate this site too much, but I don't want the photos to be an afterthought, either.

My solution? 

I still have a page on the navigation bar above for my photos, but its purpose now is to link you to the new site. I think you'll find it easy to navigate. 

I'll keep adding to it, of course, and the most recent galleries will be right up front, so you can always see what's new.

Take a look around. Let me know what you think.

Better Than Blurbs: Again by Lisa Burstein

Catherine Ryan Hyde

Because I no longer write blurbs, but still very much want to help other authors, I've launched a blog series called Better Than Blurbs. The authors and I have in-depth discussions about their books, which I hope will help readers identify whether they'd enjoy reading them.

This is the tenth post in the series. The author is Lisa Burstein and the book is Again.

Me: Lisa, please tell my readers about your book in your own words.

Lisa:  I've written before about my experience being sexually assaulted by my ex-boyfriend when I was seventeen years old. You can see a post about that here. But response is about something else. This is not about me, or the boy who raped me, this is about the boy who watched.

The boy who saw what was happening right in front of him and left.

The boy I considered a friend who saw me being assaulted and chose to do nothing.

The boy who made me wonder what he did with his guilt.

It was this boy who made me want to write Carter as a character who does the same thing. In Again, Carter witnesses a sexual assault about to occur at his fraternity during his freshman year, but does nothing to stop it. He leaves. He doesn't know the girl his brothers are going to assault, but the guilt he feels is immense, intense and cripples him for years after.

How would you react in a similar situation? How would I have reacted?

If you have a friend who you see needs help; you help, right?

Or is it more complicated than that when it involves sexual assault, especially when you are a guy? When maybe it seems easier to stay out of it, or ignore it. 

I’ve thought about this a lot.

For years I've wondered how my friend felt after walking away from me that night.

What he did with what must have been the gnawing feeling in his gut as he walked away? If he could go back would he have done things differently?

With Carter and Again, I've fictionally given him a second chance.

Additionally, I’ve always wanted to write about someone who truly rewrites their life. Who sees no other option but to literally go back in time. I think that wish is something we all have sometimes. It was enlightening to travel to that place with Kate. I got the idea for Again from my own feelings about turning 30. 

Who was I? What had the choices I'd made turned me into? What the hell was I doing with my life?

Kate in Again feels like her whole life has been a series of bad decisions. The only way to fix them is to go back and make new ones.

I found this idea so appealing. If I had the option to go back to college and make different decisions knowing what I know now, would I make better ones?

Would you?

Me: Many of my readers might not be familiar with the genre NA, or New Adult. It's fairly new on the scene, and might not be all that well understood. Will you please bring us all up to speed?

Lisa: New Adult is a genre that has come about in the last couple of years. It consists of characters that are not Young Adult, but not Adults yet either. Usually it includes characters that are between 19-25. In Again, I wanted to combine this genre with the contemporary romance genre so I decided to make my protagonist a 29 year old who pretends to be 19. She is "acting" like a new adult even though she should be an adult.

Me: As I began to read, I noticed that the structure of the book had a lot in common with the romance genre, in that the love interest is right there in the first scene, clearly setting up the goal of what's important here. This is not an insult, or even a judgment in any way. Clearly, if it's a type of romance, it's a very modern take on the genre. Maybe you could tell us in your own words how you think they are similar, how you think they are different.

Lisa: New Adult is different from a typical contemporary romance in the fact that new adults are not only dealing with their romantic relationships but also with trying to figure out their place in the world, who they really are, without the safety net of parents. You are over eighteen and out on your own. In Again specifically, Kate at 29 is completely unhappy in her place in the world and who she is. This is why she goes back and tries to live her life over "again" by pretending to be 19.

Me: I was interested in the fact that your main character struggled with alcoholism. Probably because I’m an alcoholic with 25 years of recovery. At first she tried to go it alone. She mentioned rehab, and mentioned AA once. I know you wanted us to see her struggle, but I wonder if there’s a reason why she didn’t use the AA program as her life resolved itself. Did you feel that the target audience would not be open to 12-step programs, or not see them in a positive light? Or is it just something that is foreign to you as the author as well? Was any research involved in capturing the feelings of an alcoholic (which, by the way, I think you did well)?

Lisa: I have struggled with alcohol abuse as well. I have gone for treatment, but never AA or rehab. I guess I saw Kate as someone who would try to fix herself before she asked for help. It was about who she was as a person. She is extremely immature for her age and believes she has control over something that in many ways is uncontrollable-- alcoholism. I am certainly not against anything that helps a person deal with their issues. I wanted to write a book about someone who thinks she can go it alone and realizes her addictions are stronger than she knows.

Me: Based on your original description of why you wrote this book… well, many things come to mind. That it’s brave. That I can understand how our struggles to understand the behavior of others can turn into novels. But my question is this. We’re all people at some level. All human no matter how badly we behave. And yet not everyone who commits an act like this feels deep remorse. Which do you think is worse? To feel there are people in the world who are inherently “bad”? Or to know that basically decent people can do terrible things?

Lisa: I think it’s far worse to see people as inherently bad. It was why I wrote Carter the way I did. I think everyone has to have at least some good in them, some part of them that feels guilt for doing anything that hurts someone else. I might have rose-colored glasses on here, but I guess making Carter someone who felt the impact of what he did so deeply, helped me come to terms with what my friend did to me. He might not have struggled with it the same way Carter did, but working through that guilt with Carter allowed me to finally forgive my friend.

Me: You made a reference to sexual attraction as being “another kind of addiction,” but it didn’t seem to come up again, at least not so clearly. This is a book that very much concerns itself with sex. How much do you think sex and love can become confused, or used addictively, in people of this age? And how much of that felt important in the writing of this book? 

Lisa: I think in your twenties sex and love are sometimes the same thing. I think both women and men can become caught up in that aspect of a relationship where it becomes all that matters. How they define themselves, how they wield power, how they feel. Before Kate meets Carter it is one of the main ways she defines herself, as a sexual being. That is not a bad thing, don’t get me wrong, but throughout the book she learns that sex can mean more than just sex. 

Me: In my older books, I have some adult material, some brief sex that is described in a relatively detailed way. And all of my books include some level of what people call “language.” And I’m surprised by how much grief I get about it in user reviews. There are people who write that they never would have read a book if they had known it contained “swearing.” As the author of a book with a fair amount of sex and language, do you get negative feedback from some readers? Or is this a difference in our two audiences?

Lisa: I usually don’t get grief for this. I think in romance and New Adult specifically people expect a certain level of language and sex. I have a Young Adult book titled Dear Cassie that has over 200 mentions of the F word. Perhaps we have different audiences. ;) 

Me: Please write your own question, and answer it.

Lisa: What do you hope readers get from Again?

I hope they find that any mistake you make isn’t too big to forgive yourself, once you come to a place to accept that forgiveness.

Lisa Burstein is a tea seller by day and a writer by night. She received her MFA in Creative Writing from the Inland Northwest Center for Writers at Eastern Washington University. She is the author of Pretty Amy, The Next Forever, Dear Cassie, Sneaking Candy and The Possibility of Us. As well as a contributor to the essay collection, Break These Rules: 35 YA Authors On Speaking Up, Standing Out, and Being Yourself. Again is her self-publishing debut. She lives in Portland, Oregon with her very patient husband, a neurotic dog and two cats.

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