Interview, Excerpt & Giveaway with Catherine Ryan Hyde!!

>> Thursday, September 29, 2011

I have a very special guest today--Catherine Ryan Hyde, multiple award-winning, bestselling author of 18 novels in mainstream fiction and young adult fiction. You may know her best from the book-turned-movie Pay It Foward. Since the blockbuster hit, she's gone on to publish 12 more successful novels.  

She is giving away 3 copies of DON'T LET ME GO along with 3 custom handmade bookmarks pictured below today! Simply leave a comment or questions to enter.

Catherine and I live in the same area of California and met about a decade ago when Catherine gave a small, private course on writing. I don't remember how I found the class and I didn't know who Catherine was at the time, but it must have been fate, because Catherine gave me my first solid footing in writing fiction, a footing that has everything to do with how far I've come.

Catherine taught me how to write a query letter and synopsis and went on to show me how to immediately grab a reader and then hold their attention through the pages, and even after trying various other styles, I always came back to Catherine's teachings because they were solid, smart and savvy.  Catherine's instruction along with her industry knowledge was the foundation for the connection I made with my current agent and my first sale to an editor.

Moving forward, Catherine continued to inspire authors with occasional courses on craft-related topics and a "support-group" of sorts where authors from the area would get together and share their recent accomplishments or disappointments and talk over industry topics or problems. While I was in her class and mentioned my then-6th grader's love of reading, Catherine arranged a visit to her class at the local elementary school to discuss writing. She has always been endlessly generous with her time, knowledge and experience.

Her writing is both poignant and breathtakingly real, her characters starkly realistic, her conflict biting and complex. I am particularly awed by her stellar craft in all aspects of storytelling and prose. If you haven't read Catherine's work, you haven't witnessed raw, emotional storytelling at its finest.

I can't say I've ever had someone I've considered a hero, nor have I ever admired any particular societal icon, but when it comes to writing, I'd definitely consider Catherine Ryan Hyde my mentor. And I'm thrilled to have her here today.

She releases her latest novel, DON'T LET ME GO today!  

Ten year old Grace knows that her mum loves her, but her mum loves drugs too. There's only so long Grace can fend off the 'woman from the country' who is threatening to put her into care.  Her only hope is...

Grown-man Billy Shine hasn't left his apartment in years. People scare him. And so day in, day out, he lives a perfectly orchestrated, silent life within his four walls. Until...

Grace bursts into Billy's life with a loud voice and a plan to get her mum clean. But it won't be easy. Because they have to take away the one thing her mum needs most...Grace.

Catherine, tell us about your upcoming release, DON'T LET ME GO.

Don’t Let Me Go is the story of Grace, a 10-year-old girl whose mother has fallen deeply into drug addiction. Grace is almost entirely unsupervised when we meet her. She lives in a run-down, six-unit apartment house in a bad section of L.A., and she’s about to end up in the foster care system. Except one of her five neighbors, Rayleen, had some bad experiences in foster care. And she makes up her mind that Grace is not going there. And she pulls everyone else in the apartment house together to make sure nothing bad happens to the girl. And these are not the kind of people who would otherwise have been pulled together. They’re the kind of people who seem destined to live their lives apart. Even Billy gets involved, the neighbor no one besides grace has ever met, or even seen. Because he doesn’t go outside. And he doesn’t talk to people. And he doesn’t have a life, because he’s afraid of life. But Grace gets in where no one else can. And these five really disparate people team up to save Grace, but Grace saves them. Even though they didn’t exactly know they needed saving. But, looking back, it seems pretty clear.

What creates the biggest conflict between your hero and heroine?

I love this question, because I get to make a hero and a heroine out of a 10-year old girl and an agoraphobic ex Broadway dancer. But that’s Grace and Billy.

The biggest conflict between them comes in the form of Billy’s neuroses. Grace wants—needs—him to do these things that seem so basic to her. Like go outside. And much as she loves him, it’s hard for her to be patient with his shortcomings. But in time she learns to accept him more or less the way he is, though she never pulls any punches about the fact that she finds him weird. Well, most people would find him weird. But Grace doesn’t really mean it as an insult, which is why it works.

Why did you put these two together?

I just love exploring this oddball type of relationship. I love bonds between characters who become family even when they’re not related by blood. I love it even more when they’re not related by much of anything.

I like to explore non-sexual bonds, because they tend to be far quirkier. We know why people are drawn together if the people are two consenting adults. It’s a pull we all understand. But what forms a bond between two people like Billy and Grace? As a novelist, questions like that one give me a lot to explore.

Is there a message in this novel that you want readers to grasp?

The obvious novel (Pay It Forward) aside, I really try not to have any particularly overt messages in my work. I don’t want to be too didactic or appear to preach. I think it’s the novelist’s job to entertain, rather than teach. But, now, here’s the catch. I think it’s great when the reader learns something about the human condition from one of my novels. But I don’t want to be seen as teaching.

An old writing mentor of mine once said (regarding flashbacks, which many feel are to be avoided), “If you have to use a flashback, by all means do so, but don’t get caught.” I think that’s the point I’m trying to make about message. I want the reader to feel they discovered something in my books, not that I tried to force-feed it.

That said…I think the point I was trying to make in Don’t Let Me Go is that fear keeps us alone. But we need each other. It’s so easy to avoid each other, because it’s so complicated to deal with people. So fraught with emotional and logistical landmines. But what we lose in being alone is so much greater than the trouble we avoid. It’s the kind of lesson that could go right over the head of a grownup, while a 10-year-old kid could grasp it easily.

How do you keep in touch with your readers?

Any way I can. Any way they want me to. I have my email address on my website. And it’s my actual address. The mail comes to me, and only to me. I don’t have an assistant weeding these out for me. I just like to hear from readers. So I correspond with readers fairly regularly by email. And of course there’s Twitter and Facebook, and that’s another way readers and I can interact.

What are you reading now?

Second Nature by Jacqueline Mitchard.

What would you like to tell readers?

That it’s not a line when I say I like to hear from readers. I really do. It makes this a far less solitary profession. I love to hear what readers did and did not like about the books. I love it when people tell me favorite lines. I love it even more when they tell me about their own life experience as it relates to what they read. It means a great deal when relative strangers give me pieces of themselves like that. It has value.

I also want to tell readers to never judge a book by its movie.

Where can we find you online?

My website:
My blog:
Facebook profile:
Facebook author page:

I could go on, but…I’m guessing, armed with that, you’ll find me.

Here's an excerpt from DON'T LET ME GO:

“Who brought you home from school?” he asked Grace.

            He sat perched on the very edge of his sofa, watching her look around his apartment.  Watching her peer at all of his photos again, as if she hadn’t just examined them the previous day.

            He couldn’t focus away from his lack of sleep.  It left his nerves raw, and feeling as though they’d been recently sandpapered.

            “Felipe did,” she said.  “That way Yolanda wouldn’t have to take off from work.  Because they don’t pay Yolanda when she takes off from work.  She can take off.  But then she just loses the money.”

            “And Yolanda is…”

            “My mom’s sponsor.”

            “Sponsor?  What kind of sponsor?  What does she sponsor her to do?”

            “In the program.  You know.  Like an AA sponsor, except Yolanda is NA.”

            “Oh, good lord, that explains a lot,” Billy said, wishing after the fact he hadn’t said it out loud.

            “What does it explain?”

            “Forget I mentioned it.  That’s me in an Equity waver production of The Iceman Cometh.”

            “I understood the picture better before you told me that.”

            “So how did Jake Lafferty find out I was going to be taking care of you?”

            “Oh, that’s easy.  Rayleen had to go talk to him.  Because Felipe didn’t want to come pick me up at school, because he figured Mr. Lafferty would give him a hard time about it.  So Rayleen had to go talk to Mr. Lafferty, and I had to go, because otherwise I would have been alone with just my mom, who was asleep, and then if the county came to check on me, that would be bad.  So I went along.  And, wow, he was really mad.  But Rayleen didn’t act like she was one bit scared of him.  She just told him Felipe was gonna pick me up from school, and he better just stay out of it.  He didn’t like it much, but he just sort of said, ‘Why should I care?  Do whatever you want.’  But then he wanted to know where I’d be after Felipe went to work, which seemed weird to me, because, a minute before that, he’d just said he didn’t care.  I told him a lot about you.”

            “Oh.  OK.  That explains a lot.”

            “You say that a bunch, did you know that?  What does it explain?”

“It explains why he came down here and asked personal questions.”

“What kind of personal questions?”

“Well…how can I tell you…if they’re personal?”

“Right,” Grace said.  “Duh.  Sorry.”  

“What did you tell him about me?”

            “That you used to be a dancer and an actor and a singer…”

            That explains a lot, Billy thought, but he kept it to himself.

            “…and that your name was Billy Shine, but that your first name used to be Rodney or Dennis or something…”

            “Donald.  Actually.”

            “Oh,  Right.  Donald.  Sorry.  And I told him your last name used to be Fleinsteen, but you changed it to Shine, because Fleinsteen wasn’t a dancer’s name.”

            “Feldman,” Billy said, suddenly even more tired.

             “Oh.  Feldman.  Where did I get Fleinsteen?”

            “I wouldn’t venture to guess.”

            “There you go talking weird again.  I guess I told him wrong.  What’s this one?  Is this you dancing?”

            She held up a framed photo that had been sitting on the end table near the couch.  It was indeed a photo of Billy dancing.

            “Yes.  In fact, it’s me dancing on Broadway.”

            “What’s Broadway?”

            “It’s a street.  In New York.”

            “It doesn’t look like a street.  It looks like you’re dancing inside.”

            “Right.  In a theater.  On Broadway.”

“Oh.  Is that good?”
“That’s about as good as it gets.”

“Too bad you don’t do this anymore.  I mean, since you loved it so much.”

“Well, look at it this way, Grace.  If I were still dancing, I’d be on Broadway right

now, and then who would look after you?”

            “True.  But that’s another thing I was thinking we could talk about, because if you were still a dancer—”

            “Maybe we should play the quiet game,” Billy interjected.

            “What’s the quiet game?”

            “You know.  The one where we try to see who can go the longest without talking.”

            “Ugh,” Grace said, putting the Broadway photo back in the right place, but at the wrong angle.  “Sounds really boring.”

            “I’m just so tired, though,” Billy said, leaning over and fixing the angle of the Broadway photo.  “I didn’t sleep last night.  I’m just not sure how much more energy I have for talking.”

            Grace appeared suddenly in front of him, bouncing up and down on her toes, her hands on his knees.

“Will you teach me to dance?”
“That takes energy, too.”

Please, Billy?  Please, please, please?  Please, please, please?  Pleeeeease?”

Billy sighed deeply.  Wearily. 

“OK,” he said.  “I guess it takes less energy than listening to that.”

Don't forget to leave a comment or ask a question to enter to win:
1 of 3 copies of DON'T LET ME GO
Each with a custom bookmark
*MUST* leave contact email to WIN!

Catherine Ryan Hyde is the author of 18 published and forthcoming books.

Her newest releases are Jumpstart the World (Knopf, Fall 2010) and Second Hand Heart (Transworld UK, Fall 2010). Forthcoming is Don’t Let Me Go (Transworld UK, Spring 2011) and When You Were Older (Transworld UK, Fall 2011).

Newer novels are Becoming Chloe (Knopf, 2006), Love in the Present Tense (Doubleday, 2006), The Year of My Miraculous Reappearance (Knopf, 2007), Chasing Windmills (Doubleday, 2008), The Day I Killed James (Knopf, 2008), Diary of a Witness (Knopf, 2009), and When I Found You (Transworld UK, 2009).

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. 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, 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.


ReneeRearden 7:52 AM  

Don't Let Me Go sounds wonderful! I love stories with characters that face difficult issues, but find their strength because they face those issues together.

Congratulations, Ms. Hyde, on your upcoming release. Thank you for sharing with us some ideas behind your latest novel AND offering such a great giveaway!


Diana Cosby 8:24 AM  

A pleasure to 'meet' you. Don't Let Me Go sounds fabulous. Congratulations on a tremendous career, and I wish you continued success!

Catherine Ryan Hyde 9:40 AM  

Thanks Renee and Diana. What a generous and friendly writing community! The book will come out in the US in a few months (for those who don't win the three giveaway books).

GzNKz4evr 9:46 AM  

Joan, thanks so much for having Catherine on your blog. I just recently read Second Hand Heart and absolutely loved it! I had seen Pay It Forward the movie, and was bawling like a baby when I watched it. I was a bit leery about Second Hand Heart because I didn't want to become a blubbering idiot drowning in tears again. There were definitely some teary moments, but I love that her books are not what one would normally expect as far as exploration of the "relationship". She gets a message into her stories without cramming it down your throat.

I also have a special place with Second Hand Heart in my own heart because I Know what it is like to have a child with a heart condition. Luckily my son's condition was operable. I also got a kick out of the presence of the Grand Canyon in the book because I live very near there and had just, I mean just, visited for the first time. (Sad, I know, but an experience everyone should have the pleasure to enjoy at least once in their life.)

I generally stay away from authors that are guaranteed for a cry, but I have made an exception for CRH. I am looking forward to reading Don't Let Me Go ... so long as I have my tissue nearby. :)

Congratulations on the release and thanks for the giveaway!

Joan Swan 11:55 AM  


CRH is a master at putting her characters in the toughest and most realistic situations and having those conflicts wring every posibility out of them. Amazing to watch! Thanks for coming by!.


Joan Swan 11:59 AM  


I recently read a fabulous book by another author, but ended up putting it down because the torment was so great, I couldn't take it.

The difference with CRH's books -- as you so perfectly pointed out -- is that while she does put her characters through tough paces, she has a way of threading in an underlying element of hope throughout the story that gives the reader the net beneath the tightrope, the safety and security to move forward. CRH is fabulous as showing both side of the character coin and both positive and negative sides of conflict and outcome.

Her books are so rich with emotion, conflict and reality! Love it!! :)

Catherine Ryan Hyde 12:01 PM  

Kendra, my mom lived in Flagstaff for two or three years before I was born, and she had never gone to the Grand Canyon, because my father was always afraid the car would break down (he had pessimism down to a science). So I took my mom to the Grand canyon when she was 83, and we hiked down to Cedar Ridge and back. She trained for it, and did great. Never too late. Glad you got there!

kissablysweet1/Melanie 4:09 PM  

What's one thing you either cut out of the book or purposely left out of the book that later you wish you'd left in? It sounds terrific. Can't wait to read it.

Macladie25 at yahoo dot com

Catherine Ryan Hyde 4:17 PM  

You know...I can honestly say...not a darned thing. I left it all in. Cut very little. It's longer than my other books, but no one has complained yet.

GzNKz4evr 8:44 PM  

You said it much better than I did though. I like the analogy of the net beneath the tightrope. :)

I love Flagstaff. It is beautiful. We opted to live in Williams because it is still "small town" and lacks the hustle and bustle of Flag. Not to mention the craziness when the college is in session. **wiggles eyebrows**. I prefer to visit Flag, rather than live there. I absolutely love that there is so much to do in this area though. You could stay busy for a very long time! :) The Grand Canyon alone takes multiple days just to see the view points, let alone the hikes, helicopter tours, rafting, it is endless activity! This was the first time I had read a book that I felt so connected to on so may levels and I truly enjoyed the experience! Thank you!


Joanna Celeste 12:03 AM  

Hello! Ms. Swan, thank you for the delightful interview and introduction. Catherine has always been very special to me as well, and she guided me from a novice to someone with confidence with the gentlest touches. I'm blessed, as we all are, to have her in our world.

Catherine, my golly you did it again! You've got me crying, with goosebumps, all inspired to take on that sometimes scary playground called Life. I can't wait to read your book, and discover the world you have created. Congratulations on your new release! I'm sure it will be important in the lives of many people.

Sincerely, Joanna

Joanna Celeste 12:04 AM  

Ooops I forgot my email address -

Linda McDonald 9:16 AM  

Congrats on all your books and your latest release. I too, like to read about oddball relationships. They really make for an interesting read, and I'm sure it was interesting for you as you wrote the story.


Na 3:46 PM  

This sounds like such an emotional story. I like that a ten year old is the main protagonist. Sometimes a child can provide a deeper look into issues.

Cambonified (at) yahoo (dot) com

Taffy 6:26 PM  

This book sounds so interesting. Congrats! And I love the cover.


Catherine Ryan Hyde 7:25 PM  

@ Linda, it really does keep it fresh for me as I write. I'm glad there are readers like you out there who like to read this kind of stuff as much as I like to write it!

Catherine Ryan Hyde 7:28 PM  

@ Na, I agree that kids really get to the heart of an issue. Although sometimes it's challenging to write a whole story from their point of view, because in other ways their understanding is limited. So I really had fun alternating between (the point of view of) Billy and Grace. And I hope it's fun for the reader as well.

Catherine Ryan Hyde 7:39 PM  

@Taffy, thanks! I think I got lucky with the cover. People seem to respond to it.

Cherry 11:06 PM  

WOW thanks for the awesome interview and giveaway! The bookmarks are SO pretty!!!

Catherine Ryan Hyde 9:15 AM  

I agree, didn't Joan do a great job on those bookmarks?

Jo Ann Hakola, The Book Faerie 7:51 PM  

Have you ever known anyone like Billy? This sounds like a really good read. My email is hakola at

PamM 8:10 PM  

Congrats on the upcoming release. Thanks for the interview and giveaway.
Kydirtgirl68 AT gmail DOT com

Jeff Rivera 6:41 AM  

Thank you for sharing the info. Have a great day..

Adventures in Children's Publishing 7:08 AM  

I just wanted to tell you both how amazing I think your relationship is. I loved PAY IT FORWARD and Joan is one of those people who epitomizes the idea. She's wonderful.

Best of luck with your new book release. I'm looking forward to reading it and am delighted to have learned about it! Thanks for a great interview.


Catherine Ryan Hyde 3:28 PM  

@ Jo Ann Hakola, I had an uncle (he was my only aunt or uncle) who was agoraphobic. Billy is not him. But I know the subject matter pretty well.

Catherine Ryan Hyde 3:29 PM  

And to all of you that sent your good luck wishes and congratulations, a big and heartfelt thank you.

Melanie 5:42 PM  

I have all of Catherine's books (except this one), so would be thrilled to be able to add this to the collection. Plus, those bookmarks are gorgeous. But if not, I know I'll be buying it when it comes out in the US. I can't imagine an author (or an author's dog) I'd like to support more :)

--Melanie (

Anonymous,  8:03 PM  

humm blogger isnt lettin me comment for some reason this book sounds amazing a book i seriouslly want to read for sure i usually post as SiNn


Joan Swan 10:09 AM  

WINNERS Chosen by

I will email you gals to grab your addresses!
Thanks everyone for coming by -- hope you'll all look up Catherine's work -- she is a truly fabulous author!

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