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Author Catherine Ryan Hyde MAG
Catherine Ryan Hyde is the critically acclaimed author of more than 40 published stories and 16 novels. Her novel Pay It Forward was adapted into a major motion picture. Hyde is the founder of the Pay It Forward Foundation, which aims to educate and inspire students to change the world. Her latest novel, Jumpstart the World, tells the story of an isolated girl who befriends a transgender man.
How would you describe the road to publication?
Do I have to use clean words? It is more difficult and more frustrating than anyone can imagine. And a lot of people think once you get published then the publishing industry just rolls over and does whatever you ask. But the road to continued publication is difficult too. Not only is it difficult, but it can be very ego deflating.
Let me tell you something about me: I have a reputation for not really caring what anybody thinks. But I really do – less than I used to but more than I should. I am trying to learn by the hard knocks of experience not to care but I don't think that's realistic. I am learning to absorb blows and just keep walking. I read a wonderful quote by an unknown author that says, “To avoid criticism do nothing, say nothing, be nothing.” I choose criticism.
What does it mean to “jumpstart the world”?
Jumpstart the world is an expression that Frank, the transgender character in the book, uses as a way of describing activism – to some degree the book is a type of activism. What he means is that the world has this standard that there is supposed to be equality for everybody. But everybody knows there isn't. And so his statement is, “Sometimes you have to jumpstart the world just to get it to be what even the world admits it should be.”
Your book, Pay It Forward, was made into a major Hollywood film. What was that experience like?
The process really went on without me. I don't say that with any bitterness. It's also not a particularly faithful adaptation. That said, it is always a good thing when Hollywood adapts your book, no matter what they do to it, because the name recognition is enormous. And it helps get other things published.
What were your goals in creating the Pay It Forward Foundation?
My goal initially was to bring the idea to as many children as possible. Trevor was 12 in the book. The reason I wrote him that age was that there is a little window as we are growing and developing where we haven't gotten jaded yet, we haven't had to filter what we say because the person standing next to us might think it stupid. But on the other hand we are old enough know that we can have a powerful role in the world. It's that very simple idea of changing the world through kindness without expectation of personal gain.
The Movement has done a remarkable job of planting its own roots. There seems to be more happening with it now than ever and it's driving itself.
Are you an optimist?
Obviously I am an optimistic person or I wouldn't have written that darn book, right? But I also am a very realistic person. And I realized that we were probably talking about relatively smaller world change, but I always found it intriguing that people would do nothing because they didn't think they could change things enough.
What makes you want to explore gender identity issues in this novel?
I grew up with a transgender sibling. So this has been in my experience for quite some time. I can't help feeling that we're afraid of what we don't know. And it feels as though if people just knew a little bit more about this situation, it would be less severe. If you know anything about GLBT (gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender) issues, you know that the abuse, bullying, and suicide rates are terrifyingly high. I think they're four times higher for gay teens than straight teens. Thirty-two percent of transgender individuals attempt suicide. That's almost one in three, which is horrifying.
And there is nothing to be so scared of, in my opinion. I think fiction is a good way to explore those fears because some people aren't ready to sit down with a transgender person in real life.
Where do you get your ideas?
Oh, wouldn't it be nice if I knew that! I really do get this stuff from pure imagination. When I was a kid/teenager everybody said I was too much of a daydreamer. And my teacher used to tell me I was never going to amount to anything if I didn't get my head out of the clouds. But writing really is a process not all that different from daydreaming.
What is the hardest part of
The hardest part is when I literally don't have an idea what I am going to do next and wish I did. And the reason that that's the hardest is because the creative process of getting the story to appear out of my imagination is utterly outside my control. That always makes me feel at the mercy of the creative process. The easier, simpler parts are the revision work because it is so controllable.
What do your readers say when you talk to them, and what would you want them to say?
I am hoping that they say my book changed them in some small way – changed the way they look at the world or something. One of the best compliments I ever got was from a teen reader, and a boy, too. He said my book made him want to tell his friends he loved them.
What I hear from readers generally is very positive. I think it is rare for a reader to take the trouble to get in touch with you to criticize you. Generally it's when you touch them that they go to the trouble. I am happy to hear anything that readers have to share because this is a very solitary job. I send these things off into the void and I like to know they are out there doing something.
You write books mostly for a teen audience, but you have written books for adults. What is the biggest difference between those audiences?
The truth of the matter is, I am wrong more often than I am right about whether one of my novels is for a young-adult or an adult audience. I don't think there is much difference in the sophistication or reading level between the two. The main question is would a teenager be interested in the story? It probably has to be somewhat less cerebral. And I think it helps if it's about somebody approximately their age so they can relate and care. But other than that, in terms of writing style or adult material or whatever, I don't filter or pull any punches.
How is writing a short story different from writing a novel?
In some ways, it is harder. You don't have as much time to develop characters. You almost have to show them in action walking through their lives, and the readers need to know everything they are ever going to need to know about them. It's a challenging form that teaches very good lessons about self-editing.
I often wonder why short stories aren't more popular these days, since we take our information in shorter and shorter snips. A lot of readers read on the subway, and everybody says they don't have time for big novels. And yet short stories have gone out of favor. I find that curious.
What is the biggest challenge that teenagers face today?
There are so many – I hardly know where to begin. I think the greatest challenge that's been thrown our way with the information age is the controversy about what is appropriate for teens. There was a time when books were the main source of information, which made it possible to filter what teens heard and keep track of what they were reading.
But now teens are out on the Internet. And it's time for adults to just deal with it. Any time I hear an objection to what's supposedly “adult” material in a teen book, it's never from a teen; it is always from an adult. I don't understand why we are afraid of words and ideas. I don't know what we think it's going to do to anybody.
It's rare to see a well-written book that's not written specifically for a GLBT audience but that really tackles GLBT issues.
Well, I figure, why preach to the choir? You know, if I had written this from the point of view of a transgender teen, say, which is one way to go, then I am pretty much pitching it to a GLBT audience. But by telling it from the point of view of straight teens, I'm targeting those I want to talk to about transgender issues. I like to talk to straight teens – if they'll listen. If you tell a good story that people can relate to, hopefully they will listen even if they didn't think they were in the market for learning transgender tolerance.