Cover Story: Author Catherine Ryan Hyde of Pay It Forward

Published in The Santa Barbara Sentinel

Author Catherine Ryan Hyde stood perched over the dog, looking one minute to the pup waddling across the kitchen floor with her tail between her legs, and the next through the window to the outside hose.

Hyde was dog sitting Josephine, the pet of Santa Barbara Writers Conference founders Mary and Barnaby Conrad.

Josephine was sick and running the dog back and forth from the house to the garden hose had become her afternoon routine.

It was a slight turn of events from a phone call Catherine received earlier that day.

Chuck Adams and Michael Korda, her agents at the time, had delivered big news Her manuscript Pay It Forward, which had been optioned to a small Hollywood producer just two weeks earlier, had been sold to Warner Brothers Studios.

Now publishing companies were calling and wanted in.

Something weird just happened and we cant really explain it,said Adams.

But were getting calls from big publishers like Simon & Schuster and Little Brown. They want to see Pay It Forward and we dont know how they know about it.

Between taking care of a sick dog and making big publishing deals, this was a story even Hyde, a fiction writer, couldnt have made up.

Josephine whimpered a warning and Catherine scooped her up and raced outside just in time.

As Catherine rinsed off the dog, she laughed to herself thinking, I guess this is what they mean by keeping it real.

Hyde turned off the hose, dried Josephine with a clean towel, and set her down on the lawn.

The dog shook remnants of water from her fur coat and with her tail wagging, pranced across the yard toward the house.

Catherine smiled, glad to see Josephine feeling better, and made her way back to the kitchen to call her agents.

The Little Writer That Could

It is possible Catherine was born a writer.

With the exception of her father, each of her family members have been published to a certain degree and her mother, Vance Hyde, was an author.

For show-and-tell at school and back in the 1960s, most people brought their dads,Hyde says.

My mom brought her books and talked about being a published author. I was sort of surprised by how impressed the other kids were.

Another boost came in high school when Catherines creative writing teacher read her story out loud to her fellow students.

He told the whole class it was clever and I later found out he told other teachers in the teachers’ lounge I was a good writer.

It was the first clear message she received of her talent and the defining moment she decided to become a writer.

Now, it did take me twenty years to bridge the gap between this is what I want to do and this is what Im gonna do.

In 1989, Hyde got into a couple of twelve-step programs and got clean and sober.

Before that, I think its really hard to follow your dream. You have the dream but you dont really have that follow through,she says. I spent a year or two cleaning up the wreckage, as they say. Then I solidly went after that dream.

To refine her skills, Hyde joined the Cambria Writers Workshop and later joined the Santa Barbara Writers Conference.

When In Doubt, Write It Out

Catherine also attributes the start of her career to being laid off.

In Cambria, her hometown, she worked as a baker and sous chef. Due to lack of tourism in the winter months, the restaurant closed and soon after went out of business. With no local jobs open in January, it was time to reevaluate her life.

I had been writing before but that was the moment where I thought, I keep saying that Ill sit down and write a novel if I ever really have the time. If thats true, its true now. And if its not true, youre kidding yourself.

Hyde sat down to an IBM electric typewriter and wrote one book a year for the next five years.

Her first two publications were Funeral For Horses and Earthquake Weather.

Game Changer

Then magic happened.

Her agents at the time represented another author who had a small movie deal with Hollywood producer Jonathan Treisman of Flatiron Films.

They pitched the manuscript for Pay It Forward and worked an option deal. Two weeks later Treisman sold that option to Warner Brothers.

But her previous unpublished books worked to her advantage.

After Pay It Forward, my editors at Simon & Schuster said, What you do you got?so I pulled a couple things out of the drawer.

They accepted Walters Purple Heart, a story that had been passed over twenty-six times, including by her editors at Simon & Schuster.

Its an interesting wake-up for writers to know you can get acceptance on a book that has already been passed over,she says.

A book that you can acquire as a follow-up for a fairly heightened debut is a very different situation than a book you could launch alone.

Award-Winner, Best-Seller, Adventurer on the Side

On May 23, 2017, the award-winning short story writer and New York Times Best-selling author released her thirty-fourth title, Allie and Bea.

Set on the scenic Pacific coast, it is the story of an unlikely friendship between Allie, a fifteen-year-old girl whose parents are jailed for tax fraud and Bea, a woman recovering her husbands death and a telephone scam that left her broke.

Her next book, The Wake Up is currently on preorder and will be out in December.

She is currently on a two-book-a-year-contract with Amazons Lake Union Publishing.

Since 2013, Hyde has sold two and a half million copies of her last eight books under Lake Union.

(Separate from Amazons self-publishing company Create Space, Lake Union is invite only. Hyde got Amazons attention in 2012 when she offered one of her books for free in electronic form for five days. Readers responded, downloading 81,000 copies.)

Her writing space is an easy chair by her living room window. Usually with her dog, Ella, and cat, Jordan, nearby.

An avid hiker, she currently enjoys horseback riding five days a week, a more favorable adventure to her work schedule.

Last year, I went to Nepal and trekked the foothills of the Himalayas. Next year, I am going to see Aurora Borealis.

Shes also known to take off in her camper van between or during books.

Im 62 and Im thinking Ill do this two-book-a-year thing until Im at retirement age,she says.

Maybe my version of retirement is doing one book a year. Then Ill have more time for hiking.

Hyde’s Advice to Writers:

* Don’t write in a vacuum. Join a writers group or a conference like the Santa Barbara Writers Conference. Let other people hear your work and offer feedback. Get used to it and thicken your skin.

* Make up your mind that you’re not going to let rejection stop you. Because if you do, don’t waste your time being a writer.

* Write. Because if you’re not writing, you’re not a writer.


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