Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Catherine Ryan Hyde talks about her voices

Yesterday, I posted my thoughts on Catherine Ryan Hyde's book Don't Let Me Go. Today, Catherine is here at The Book Bag talking about the voices in her head. And be sure to stop at the end of the post to enter the 2 giveaways.

Hi Catherine, I have a question I always like to ask authors, so here goes ~~

I have heard other authors say that they 'hear voices in their head' and that is how they write their books: the characters are telling their stories. Not being a writer myself, that concept has always intrigued me.

When some people hear voices, we get them medical attention, others end up becoming writers. Does this happen to you? How do you come up with your stories?

Susan, this lead-in to a post made me laugh out loud. For a couple of reasons.

First, you’re separating out writers from those who need medical attention. Are you sure that’s wise? Also, I’ve joked about the “hearing voices” thing on many occasions.

When people ask me how I come up with my stories, I try to describe how it feels when a character comes into your head with a story to tell. But I always preface it by saying, “I’m going to be very careful in how I describe this to you, the way characters come talk to me. Because there’s still such a thing as the mandatory three-day psych evaluation.”

The difference between those strapped down and me? Maybe not as wide a chasm as I might like. But I think the main distinction is that, although I experience this conversation as though the character is separate, I know I’m really just hearing from another part of my imagination and experience. I don’t get confused about what’s real and what is not. May that never change!

I always start my stories with a character. I never start with a plot. I think it’s important to put my focus on who something is happening to, rather than what happens. Because if I care deeply for someone, I care about everything that happens to them. Big, small, and in between. If I don’t, there’s almost no story you can draw me into.

So what I’m looking for is a person (imaginary) with a story to tell. At first I’ll “see” them more than hear from them. I’ll see an image of them, usually with the emotional heart of the situation as a backdrop all around them. I’ll take some time to feel what that character is feeling. There may be many emotions flowing through that character before the story is told, but one always seems to form the natural heart of the work. When I have a good bead on that, I’ll invite this character to start telling me their story. Which is really just another way of saying I imagine a story to fit them. I think the advantage of phrasing it the first way is that it preserves the illusion that this is someone else. Which I think (hope) helps my characters not to keep turning out as thinly disguised versions of me. And so long as I know that their separateness is an illusion, I think I’m on solid ground.

But the creative process is a funny thing. I think writers play games with it because we know there’s a degree to which it’s out of our control. So whatever gets words on the page. And the more vivid the experience for the reader, the better. So…if the author can’t get lost in the head of the main character, how can the reader do the same?

This reminds me a little of the experience I used to have with movies when I was younger. I’d go see them in theaters, and, in the dark, completely lose track of myself and experience life through the movie. Then, when it was over, I’d stumble, blinking, out into the light, surprised that the real world was still there. That it had been there all the time.

That’s what an author is doing, I think, when we talk about hearing the characters’ voices in our heads. We are voluntarily stepping out of our own lives to step into the fictional world of someone else. So long as we know that’s what we’re doing, I think we’ll be okay. And if we’re really lucky, and do our job well, the reader can get similarly lost.

You could do worse than to lose yourself in a book. Whether it’s already written and published or not.

Catherine Ryan Hyde is the author of 18 published and forthcoming books. Her newest releases are When You Were Older, Don’t Let Me Go, Jumpstart the World, When I Found You and Second Hand Heart. Forthcoming is Walk Me Home(Transworld UK, Spring 2012).

Other newer novels are Becoming Chloe, Love in the Present Tense, The Year of My Miraculous Reappearance, Chasing Windmills The Day I Killed James, and Diary of a Witness. Both Becoming Chloe and Jumpstart the World were included on the ALA’s Rainbow List. Jumpstart the World was chosen as a finalist for two Lambda Literary Awards, received a third place Rainbow Award for Young Adult/Coming of Age Fiction and a tie for first place in Bisexual/Transgender Fiction. Love in the Present Tense enjoyed bestseller status in the UK, where it broke the top ten, spent five weeks on the national bestseller list, was reviewed on a major TV book club, and shortlisted for a Best Read of the Year Award at the British Book Awards.

Older works include the story collection Earthquake Weather, and the novels Funerals for Horses, Pay it Forward, Electric God, and Walter’s Purple Heart.

Pay It Forward was adapted into a major motion picture starring Kevin Spacey and Helen Hunt, chosen by the American Library Association for its Best Books for Young Adults list, and translated into more than 23 languages for distribution in over 30 countries. The mass market paperback was released in October 2000 by Pocket Books and quickly became a national bestseller. It is still in print, and was rereleased in a trade paperback edition in April of 2010.

More than 50 of her short stories have been published in The Antioch Review, Michigan Quarterly Review, The Virginia Quarterly Review, Ploughshares, Glimmer Train, The Sun and many other journals, and in the anthologies Santa Barbara Stories and California Shorts and the bestselling anthology Dog is my Co-Pilot. Her stories have been honored in the Raymond Carver Short Story Contest and the Tobias Wolff Award and nominated for Best American Short Stories, the O'Henry Award, and the Pushcart Prize. Three have been cited in Best American Short Stories.

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

Connect with Catherine!

Buy the Book!

**Everyone who leaves a comment on the tour page will be entered to win a $25 Amazon gift card! Anyone who purchases their copy of Don't Let Me Go before September 24 and sends their receipt to Samantha (at) ChickLitPlus (dot) com, will get five bonus entries.**

Catherine has 4 backlist titles that will be available for Kindles coming in October! Check out:

And When You Were Older (available now in the UK) will be will be on sale in the US in November - print and eBook!

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  1. Hey There! I’m a fellow blogger/writer looking to meet new people and discover great blogs, and I gladly added myself to your followers and can’t wait to read more!! I’d also love to invite you to check out a great giveaway I’m having, that I think would be right up your alley!

    Hope to see you there, and thanks so much!


    1. Thanks for stopping by, Martin and for the follow. I will go check out your blog and giveaway. Thanks for the heads-up.

  2. Samantha,
    Thanks so much for throwing the spotlight on Catherine. She's always got good things to say. Any of you blogophiles out there who have a chance to attend a workshop with Catherine, I heartily recommend it. And as to characters in our heads? Absolutely.

    1. Thanks for stopping by CS - I just love that idea of characters living and coming alive in all you author's heads. And may it never stop!


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