Monday, May 18, 2020

Catherine Ryan Hyde

Catherine Ryan Hyde is the author of more than 40 published and forthcoming books.

Her new novel is Brave Girl, Quiet Girl.

My Q&A with the author:

How much work does your title do to take readers into the story?

I really ask only one thing from a title, and that’s to represent the emotional heart of the story. I never questioned the title of Brave Girl, Quiet Girl. I never tried on other titles. From the moment Molly began chanting the phrase to the found baby girl, as they are hiding in a hole under some flattened cardboard boxes beneath a freeway overpass, I knew it had the right feel. And when Molly gets stressed nearly to the breaking point and the toddler starts chanting the same phrase back to her to calm her… well, that’s what I mean by the emotional heart of a story. If you listen, as the author, you can hear it beating.

I’ve noticed that people who haven’t read the book are curious about the title. There are two girls on the cover, one big and one little. People express curiosity about which girl is the brave girl, and is that same girl the quiet one? They reflect on whether they themselves feel brave, or tend to be a quiet person.

So my work here is done.

What's in a name?

I don’t think I’ve ever named a character by knowing a great deal about the meaning of the name I chose. I don’t have a formula for what sounds strong, what sounds sensitive. I try on names until a character comes to life. Until she (or he) jumps up and says, “There you go. I can work with that.”

Then again, the fact that I don’t think consciously about the tone of a name or what it represents doesn’t mean I’m not doing that assessment on some level. I could be an idiot savant of character names.

How surprised would your teenage reader self be by your novel?

Not even a little bit. She was reading books about the underdog all along. About characters at the margins of society. People you might not be brave enough or open enough to spend time with in real life. She was always on the hunt for humanity in unexpected places through literature.

I’m sure she’d read every one of the 40 books I’ve written since and say, “Yeah. That sounds about right.”

Do you find it harder to write beginnings or endings? Which do you change more?

Endings are always harder. Because endings have to satisfy. Beginnings don’t have to satisfy. They can ask questions but not have to answer them. They can make promises that the poor middles and endings have to keep. It’s always easier to lay out a conundrum than it is to resolve it.

That said, I tend to begin with a pretty good idea of what I intend to convey, and that helps. I’m not suggesting that I find them inordinately hard at this point. But beginnings? They’re about as hard as slipping on an icy sidewalk.

Do you see much of yourself in your characters? Do they have any connection to your personality, or are they a world apart?

I understand how they feel. Then again, I’m working on the assumption that if you go just a bit deeper into any human being you’ll reach a place where we all understand each other. We all want to love and be loved. We all want to feel safe, and we want our loved ones to be safe. There’s a level at which human emotions are pretty universal stuff. But please believe me when I say I am making these people up. They’re not me. They’re not anyone I know. They are exactly who they are.
Visit Catherine Ryan Hyde's website.

--Marshal Zeringue