Before 1998, Yankee novelist Catherine Ryan Hyde wasn't exactly thrilled with her prospects.
She'd already had two books published by a small press, but that garnered her little attention and even less monetary reward. She was living with her mother and training dogs to pay off her debts.
And then all hell broke loose.
In July 98, her unpublished novel, Pay It Forward, was optioned for a movie in a six-figure deal. A few days later, Simon & Schuster grabbed the book rights in another six-figure deal. Nowadays Hyde is still dealing with the fallout from the critically acclaimed Kevin Spacey/Helen Hunt film.
Since then, Ryan Hyde's life has change very little, except for the fact that her bills are paid. She doesn't mince words. She loves her bomber jacket. She prefers the Nancy Drew books to Moby Dick. And although she regards herself an "undisciplined" writer, her output is nevertheless enviable.
IN: So, you've been busy!
CRH: Yes! Two new novels from Knopf Books for Young Readers are coming to a bookstore near you. But do not be fooled. They are tough and mature and suitable for grownups. Becoming Chloe is set for spring '06, and Broken People for spring '07. I really hope my adult readers will trust me and give them a try.
IN: What types of writing markets do you believe to be the hottest for today's writer to contemplate for potential business?
CRH: Not to rain on anybody's parade, but I really think looking for the hot market is the wrong approach. They're all hard, and the real success comes from doing what you love. People tend to scope out romance, because they see the statistics on how it sells. But successful romance novels are most often written by those who love the genre.
I believe in staying true to your creative process and then seeking an audience to share your vision. I also want to quote Elmore Leonard, when asked what kind of writing is most likely to make money. He said, "Ransom notes." I second the motion.
IN: Your novel, Pay It Forward, is of obvious interest, for many readers, especially so as a movie. Five tips on negotiating the novel-to-movie pitfalls?
CRH: There's really just one pitfall, so just one tip. You will have no control. They can make whatever movie they want. Let them. Even if they make the worst movie in the history of the cinema, it will get people talking about your book. Except they'll be saying, "Don't see the movie. It sucks. Read the book. The book is better."
And this hurts you how? The pitfalls of Hollywood adapting your work are a thousand times more desirable than the pitfalls of Hollywood not adapting your work. This is what we call a high-end problem. Remind yourself how lucky you are to have it. If you forget, complain to your struggling writer friends. They'll remind you.
Also, don't disparage the movie in the media. If you really hated it, and a reporter asks what you thought about it, just say, "I thought the book was better."
IN: You are a such a strong storyteller and a pro with a plot. What tools do you use on a daily basis that make creating easier?
CRH: Thanks for the swelled head. There'll be no living with me now. Really just one tool: My obsessive, relentless, pathological curiosity about the weirdness of human nature.
IN: Before 1998 you, relatively speaking, lived in obscurity. Then came the movie. How did you make the leap to stardom, and who were the main individuals who helped you to where you are today?
CRH: Not relative at all. I was living in total obscurity. But I had given up all the day jobs by then and was writing full-time. Even though I couldn't afford to. Not because I was unrealistic about this business. I knew I would starve. I just didn't care.
My agents at the time, Anne and Michael Vidor of the Hardy Agency, were most instrumental. Unfortunately they've gone into a new line of work. They got me this film option that by all rights should have gone nowhere. That's where most film options go.
I can't really speak to the leap beyond that. I don't quite get it myself. It's something like being struck by lightning. People (understandably) want me to tell them where to stand, but lightning never strikes twice in the same place.
But I can tell you this: It won't strike you while you're snuggling by your fireplace. You'll have to stand out in some rainstorms. Even though you'll be wet, cold and miserable and may or may not be struck. The best way to maximize your chances of being in the right place at the right time is to be in a lot of places at a lot of times.
I do want to share a piece of advice that I consider to be the secret to success in this (or any other) business. "The trouble with a fallback position is that you tend to fall back." That was my real secret weapon. No Plan B.
IN: The Pay It Forward Foundation (http://www.payitforwardfoundation.org/) is based upon the concept of doing a favor for another person -- without any expectation of being paid back. The only request is that the recipient of that favor do the same for someone else: ideally three others. Would you like to do a trio of favours?
CRH: I'd love to. Thank you.
The best book I've read in years is Lisa Lenard-Cook's Dissonance. It won many awards, but not enough people know about smaller press titles. Check it out. If you agree, start an e-mail chain and tell all your friends who read. And ask them to tell all their friends who read.
Two, can anybody out there afford a scholarship for a deserving young writer? Ralph Scherder (http://rockspringpress.com/index.htm) would really benefit from the Santa Barbara Writers Conference this June, but needs financial assistance. If you can help, please write to Marcia Meier at email@example.com and offer help for him. He's going places.
And three, please help me help a talented new writer/student/friend by sharing market information. Do you know any good agents/editors who will consider Science Fiction if it's strong cross-over reading with a wide appeal? If you know that tough market, please send me suggestions at firstname.lastname@example.org
I'll pass them along.Read Catherine Ryan Hyde's excerpt from Walter's Purple Heart.
Diego X. Jesus is a Dominican-born American freelance underground journalist and associate editor of IN who makes Toronto his home approximately half the time. Otherwise, we don't know where he might be. Email Jesus
Mark London is a Toronto based writer and associate editor of IN who has been with the FWO-Int'l since it's inception and volunteers much of his time in assisting young writers' careers. Email Mark: email@example.com