Points of View: Catherine Ryan Hyde on ‘Allie and Bea’ (Q&A)

Today, I’m honored to share virtual space with prolific storyteller Catherine Ryan Hyde.

Catherine is the award-winning author of the newly released novel Allie and Bea (Lake Union Publishing). She has written 32 published books; 1999’s Pay It Forward was adapted for film by Warner Bros., made the American Library Association’s Best Books for Young Adults list, and has been translated into more than two dozen languages in 30 countries. More than 50 of Catherine’s short stories have been published in journals, and her short fiction received honorable mention in the Raymond Carver Short Story Contest, a second-place win for the Tobias Wolff Award, and nominations for Best American Short Stories, the O. Henry Award, and the Pushcart Prize. Three works have also been cited in Best American Short Stories.

Catherine is the founder and former president 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.

Catherine Ryan Hyde_(c) Kilpatrick_300dpi
Catherine Ryan Hyde

Praise for Allie and Bea:

“Hyde delivers a fast-paced, touching, and humorous journey of an unlikely pair who never knew they needed each other.…Through little adventures and hiccups, the two learn eye-opening things about themselves and their outlook on the world. Perfect for anyone looking for an uplifting and lighthearted escape.”—Booklist

“An appealing tale of friendship, family, trust, and faith in humanity. Fans of the author’s previous works will enjoy growing and traveling alongside the title characters.”—Library Journal

From the publisher:

Bea has barely been scraping by since her husband died. After falling for a telephone scam, she loses everything and is forced to abandon her trailer. With only two-thirds of a tank in her old van, she heads toward the Pacific Ocean with her cat—on a mission to reclaim what’s rightfully hers, even if it means making others pay for what she lost.

When fifteen-year-old Allie’s parents are jailed for tax fraud, she’s sent to a group home. But when her life is threatened by another resident, she knows she has to get out. She escapes only to find she has nowhere to go—until fate throws Allie in Bea’s path.

Reluctant to trust each other, much less become friends, the two warily make their way up the Pacific Coast. Yet as their hearts open to friendship and love from the strangers they meet on their journey, they find the courage to forge their own unique family—and begin to see an imperfect world with new eyes.

Allie & Bea_300dpi

Now, Catherine shares her reflections on the creative process and publishing industry with us …

John Valeri: What inspired you to write Allie and Bea – and what are the keys to maintaining a creative spark?

Catherine Ryan Hyde: I think it was the back and forth play between rigid honesty and self-interest that drew me to these two characters. I knew I wanted to create an older woman—Bea—who has become jaded because of her troubles and is willing to steal from strangers. I thought the teenager, Allie, who is a paragon of integrity, could get through to her somehow. Change her perceptions of the world and its people. But it grew more complex. They each changed the other and met somewhere in the middle, in those gray areas of the human condition.

I’m not 100% sure how one maintains a creative spark. If I knew I would bottle the answer and sell it. I know it helps (me, at least) to stay curious about who we are as people—why we do what we do and don’t do what we don’t do. I also know that when creativity comes around, you’d better be there at your keyboard to meet it.

JV: This book has two protagonists. How does such a set-up enhance opportunities for organic character development – and what does their unlikely union say about the meaning of friendship and family?

CRH: In a story that centers around a two-person relationship, I really enjoy writing from alternating points of view. It gives full insight into both characters and allows the reader to know more than either character knows, which is a great way to see more deeply into their interactions.

“Unlikely” is a good word for their union. They really don’t get along all that well through most of the book. But isn’t that often true of our blood families? We love our relatives but don’t always like them or see eye to eye. I think the message here is that we need each other. We all need someone. And we don’t need a perfect match or a meeting of the minds to be there for someone else. We can find what we need in each other if the need is strong enough and the will to help is intact.

JV: In your opinion, why is the lens of fiction particularly powerful in illuminating everyday realities – and which of the underlying social issues in this work are closest to your heart?

CRH: I think fiction gives the writer tremendous freedom to portray the truth. People and situations can be shaped to best bring the emotions of life home to the reader.

Bea’s inability to live on her Social Security is the closest to my heart. My mother lived with me for the 25+ years of her retirement. I know how much she got every month in Social Security, and I don’t know how a person could live on that amount without the help of family. We seem to have a lot of faith in our safety nets, but seniors fall through them all the time. I’m not sure who or what is there to catch them, if anything. And the topic of kids or teens who fall through the safety net—the foster care system, etc.—has always been a fascination of mine. I think I’m bothered enough by all this to want to write stories about fictional people who are willing to catch.

JV: You are a veteran of the ever-changing publishing industry. What have you seen to be the greatest changes in recent years – and to what do you credit your continued success?

CRH: I love ebooks. I think they’re an amazing addition to the world of reading. I also love downloading Audible audiobooks onto my phone and listening to them on the go. The whole idea that ebooks would usurp and destroy print books always seemed silly to me. I’m old enough to remember when the same was said of “books on tape.” All reading is good, in my opinion, and more ways to read can only improve the landscape. And the physical book isn’t going anywhere—it never was.

What I like best about ebooks is that they can be produced and sold inexpensively (unless the publisher refuses to do so), creating a book that is affordable for the reader but still pays the author well. I also like the instant gratification of e-reading. If I see a book I want, I can buy it and begin reading in about 30 seconds.

I don’t know if I would say I’ve had continued success, in that it has not been continuous. It’s had its ups and downs. But I was willing to change as the industry changed, and I’m pathologically stubborn about my career. I simply refused to give up and go home. My mother once said to me, when I was a teenager, “The problem with a fallback position is that you tend to fall back.” So that’s my secret to success. No Plan B.

JV: How have the altruistic philosophies of many of your books—including the “Pay It Forward” concept—continued to shape your life, and what are the benefits, both internal and external, of putting good energy and intentions out into the world?

CRH: It may be more that my philosophies have shaped the work, not that the work has shaped me. Or it might be both. In creative endeavors, it’s sometimes hard to tell.

I think we all begin our lives wanting to be kind. We don’t always end up there. I used to think our altruism died as we grew up—that it was stomped or kicked out of us. Gone. I don’t believe that anymore. I think we just hide it away. We reach an age when the people around us aren’t talking about kindness, so we don’t dare talk about it either. But I’ve seen it wake up in so many people, especially after the Pay It Forward book and movie were released. So now I know it’s in there, and I believe it’s our true nature. So the benefit is nothing less than a return to our true nature. That’s no small benefit!

JV: Leave us with a teaser: what are you working on now? What can readers look forward to next?

CRH: After Allie and Bea will come a novel called The Wake-Up, about a former cattle rancher who becomes so sensitive to the emotions of others that his entire life is turned upside-down. And all this just as he’s trying to find his way with a seriously abused new stepson who can’t be trusted around his animals.

What I’m working on now I haven’t even run by my editor yet, so I won’t say too much. But its working title is Heaven Adjacent, and if all goes well you’ll see it in or around the summer of next year.


With thanks to Catherine Ryan Hyde for her generosity of time and thought and to Claire McLaughlin of Little Bird for providing this interview opportunity.


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