The Long, Steep Path: Everyday Inspiration From the Author of Pay It Forward

Catherine_Ryan_Hyde

Catherine Ryan Hyde was one of my heroes growing up; I learned about her book, Pay It Forward, when I was 17 and a new writer trying to work out if I wanted to pursue my writing or if I might do something else. Seeing what Catherine accomplished with her book, and then having the joy of meeting her in person and discovering it was possible to achieve the level of influence she did without it changing who she was—I realized I could become the writer I wanted to be, without having to give up the aspects of myself that I was sure would get compromised if I ever became a public figure (at the time I thought you either were a nobody or a celebrity in the artistic fields).

Catherine was exceptionally down to earth, and she encouraged me to pursue my writing. That someone “like her” could believe in me that much meant a lot to me, and when she wrote on her Pay It Forward dedication “Please say you will [Pay It Forward]” I made a silent promise that I would, for the rest of my life—and ironically it’s that mindset that’s led me full circle, to where I have the opportunity to interview Catherine about her exquisite book, The Long, Steep Path: Everyday Inspiration from the Author of Pay It Forward where she shares herself in spirit the same way she has touched my life – and this way she can be a mentor and a friend to millions more people than she has graced personally. (My book review is on Blogcritics at  http://blogcritics.org/books/article/book-review-the-long-steep-path).

If you’d like to know more about Catherine, she’s truly accessible – check out her website at  http://www.catherineryanhyde.com, her Amazon author page at http://www.amazon.com/Catherine-Ryan-Hyde/e/B001ITTR60#/ref=la_B001ITTR60_pg_3?rh=n%3A283155%2Cp_82%3AB001ITTR60&page=3&ie=UTF8&qid=1363147923 and Facebook at  https://www.facebook.com/#!/crhyde?fref=ts.  

Interview by Joanna Celeste

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Q: What prompted you to write your memoir?

A: I don’t think of it as a memoir… exactly. It’s memoir-ish. It has some elements of memoir, in that everything in it is true, and happened to me. But I tend to think of a memoir as a more complete story of a person’s life. So then, for readers to want to read that memoir, they would have to be interested in knowing about that person’s life. I’m not assuming that people wanted to know my life story. Instead I’ve chosen life experiences that changed my thinking about the world in a small way, and laid them out in a way that just might, possibly, change your thinking about the world in a small way as well.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that’s it’s not really so much about me. It’s more about things I’ve observed that might be useful to you (the reader).

Now, to answer your question: It was one-third reaching out to the people who so far only seem interested in Pay It Forward and not so much the rest of my body of work. It was one-third carried forward from some opinion pieces I’d done for AOL News—on such subjects as happiness and gratitude—that I enjoyed doing and that people seemed to like. The final one-third was a realization I had as I was walking down Indian Cove Road in Joshua Tree, headed for a trailhead. I thought, too bad I don’t write about my hiking and travels. If I did, this trip would be tax deductible. But I didn’t write The Long, Steep Path so I could deduct my trips. I wrote it because that started me wondering why I’d never written about my hiking and travel. When I thought about it, it seemed like an oversight. That really is the honest answer. I wanted to write a creative nonfiction book about hiking and the outdoors, but was eventually able to see that it should have a broader scope.

Q: I loved all your metaphors about hiking. You touched lightly on your past—that you changed your name, just had to get out, that you had deep emotional issues—I’m curious what happened but I also respect that you want to keep some things private. How did you approach writing your memoir, culling the points you wanted to share and what you didn’t feel necessary?

A: I’m not a secretive person at all. I jokingly tell people I’d be the worst blackmail target ever. I’d be like, “Fine, I’ll write about it myself. Save you the trouble.” But that’s my history. When you start writing about your family of origin, that’s shared history. Other people’s privacy and feelings are at stake. I think you probably noticed in my Author’s Note at the end of the book that I only wrote about one living person, and only with her express permission. I was careful with the anonymity of AA members, using no last names, not repeating anything said in a meeting unless they said it outside one as well. The one person whose story was pretty personal, I didn’t use a name at all. I tried to be really careful of other people’s “stuff.” 

Q: That was done very well. I also loved the way you organized your chapters. What was your process of writing like; did you write the essays over time and compile them or did you have an outline of what you wanted to share?

A: There was a bit of trial and error to that. I really chose the subjects more by the seat of my pants. I wrote all the stories I felt were worth writing. Then I laid them out and got a sense of what they all added up to, and how their messages could be most cohesive.

Q: Nice! As a self-proclaimed hybrid author, why did you choose to self-publish this work?

A: Because I wanted to pair the essays with my own photos. And I knew that if I used a traditional publisher, they wouldn’t want to print color photos, because it’s expensive. It raises the production costs, and forces the publisher to charge more for the book, maybe more than most readers want to pay. So we never shopped it around to publishers. Instead we (my agent and I) decided to go independent ebook only. That way I could not only include a big handful of color photos, I could link to the full photo albums for those who were especially interested in one or more of the locations. You can’t do that in a print book.  

The photographs were a wonderful touch. You’ve got me wanting to hike now, so I can visit those places in person.

Q: It was fun learning that you were once a tour guide for Hearst Castle and a pastry chef. For the 8 years you worked a multitude of part-time jobs, how did those experiences influence your writing?

A: Well, they give me a lot of good experience to fall back on. I always prefer to have characters live in a city I’ve lived in, or work at a job I’ve done myself. Because the quality of material you pick up is altogether different than what you learn through research only.

Q: What did you love the most about your experience as a pastry chef?

A: For a time I worked at an actual big bakery, in the pastry department. The hours were terrible, 6:00 p.m. to 2:00 a.m. I had to drive about 70 miles round trip. And I gained weight because I couldn’t stop sampling the product. Not much to love there.

Later I worked at a little restaurant in Cambria, doing homemade breads and desserts. The chef was my best friend Janet, and we worked very well together. Even when things got busy, we stayed stress-free. At the end of the night we ate like royalty. That I liked.

That makes all the difference, working with people you get along with.

Q: I loved your metaphors about animals, like how you developed “gentling” your horse rather than breaking it, and the dog’s attitude towards his daily walk. What would you say is an essential thing we can learn from animals?

A: Presence. The ability to be completely in the moment. Animals are very good at that, and humans are unusually bad at it. And it’s a real goal of mine, to be present. I think it’s the essence of my spirituality, the idea that “the powers that be” in the universe are found in the present moment. So when people act like animals are very simple and inferior compared to us, it seems backwards to me. I’m not saying we’re inferior, but I am saying I feel they are ahead of us in some respects. I guess it all depends on what you value. 

Q: Thank you. One of my favorite parts of The Long, Steep Path was your story about how one sentence changed your life. Your book was full of these one sentences for me. Since publishing your book, have you had any other “one sentence” experiences?

A: It may sound strange, but I have that experience on Twitter all the time. It encourages people to boil down their thoughts. And if you follow the right people, you pick up all these statements that are just so beautifully phrased that they cause you to look at some aspect of life in a new way. I think we do that for each other all the time, just in less dramatic ways than the one I described in the book. 

Yes! Twitter is awesome for that. The philosophy at the heart of The Long, Steep Path– finding the life you want in the life you have – is beautiful. When was the moment you discovered this?

A: I don’t think there was any one special moment when I discovered it. I think the realization came slowly over a period of time. But I think there was a moment, as I was putting together all my thoughts for the book, when I suddenly got a grasp of how to say it. I found the words in that few lines from the prologue of Pay It Forward: “Knowing it started from unremarkable circumstances should be a comfort to us all. Because it shows you don’t need much to change the entire world for the better. You can start with the most ordinary ingredients. You can start with the world you’ve got.” That paragraph seemed to resonate with a lot of people. I guess because, when you think about it, where else could you possibly start? It hit me quite suddenly that this is true of our individual lives as well. And why shouldn’t it be? Put all our individual lives together and you get the world in question.

Q: This spirit seems to be conveyed in the style of your writing—capturing lives that are mosaics; perhaps not perfect, but whole in their own way. What drives you to write your fiction?

A: Human nature. I find it endlessly fascinating. I’m curious about why we take good care of each other, when we do. And why we don’t when we don’t. I’m particularly interested in unlikely bonds, the kind that fall outside blood relations and romance. Both of those are easy to understand, but I love the odd bond that’s quirkier, that says more about the good, loving side of human nature.

Q: That’s my favorite aspect to your stories. As a mentor or a sponsor, how do you approach those whom you take under your wing? What is the basic advice you give them?

A: I think the most useful thing I can do for another writer is to help them develop a new relationship with criticism and rejection. There’s nothing I can say to stop it from stinging. Not even to myself. But it’s possible to look it in the face and not let it stop you. You can learn to see that people are really telling you more about themselves when they judge you.

That’s as a mentor.

As a sponsor, I think my goal is to help people accept life for exactly what it is. When you let a person into your life, you have to take them as a whole. You can’t change them. You can’t take the parts you like and leave the rest. I think if we could have that kind of unconditional love for the world, and our lives, we’d be much happier.

Q: You have a lot of experience you can share from (I still can’t believe that Pay It Forward was shot down by your agent). As someone who went from being relatively unknown to being the center of an international movement, what are some of the pros and cons of celebrity? 

A: I don’t really think of myself as a celebrity, though I think I was thrust into that world for a time during the initial “Pay It Forward Phenomenon.”

Actual celebrity, I’d say mostly cons. There’s something false about it. I always make an effort not to tell people what I do until we’ve gotten to know each other a bit. Because it changes the balance of interactions. And it shouldn’t. No one is above or below anyone else, unless they place themselves there by their own actions.

What I do like is the genuine interaction with readers—when a reader finds me (I make myself easy to find) and shares the thoughts and feelings they had when reading one of my books. That’s very genuine. And of course it happens more as more people read you. So that’s one positive note. That and being able to pay my bills.

Q: Yeah, life is awesome when you can do what you love, interact with the people you write for, and pay your bills. Your book ends, quite aptly, with “The Path Continues”. What’s next on your path?

A: Well, that’s a good question. In many ways I’m waiting to be surprised. But it would be a safe bet to say there will be books involved.

Q: Yay! You’ve got your new book out now, Always Chloe and Other Stories, which I’m excited to read. Anything you’d like to share about that?

A: One of the nicest parts of independent ebooks is my ability to give them away on a limited basis as a way of helping the book find its audience. Always Chloe and Other Stories contains the novella-length sequel to my novel Becoming Chloe. It’s a stand-alone work, though, for those who haven’t read the original. On the 22nd through 24th of March, the Kindle ebook will be free on Amazon. And all anyone has to do is subscribe to my blog, or follow me on Twitter or Facebook, to hear about future deals. I tend to give a lot of books away, even physical books. In the long run, it always brings me more readers.

Wonderful, thank you so much!

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How to be a Writer in the E-Age… And Keep Your E-Sanity!

How_to_be_a_writer

I read How to be a Writer in the E-Age… And Keep Your E-Sanity! < http://howtotellagreatstory.com/2012/10/how-to-be-a-writer-in-the-e-age-and-keep-your-e-sanity-by-catherine-ryan-hyde-and-anne-r-allen/> by Catherine Ryan Hyde and Anne R. Allen last year and I’m thrilled to see what their first updated version will be like, to be released in e-book form soon. The title of their book is right on the money.

I had the wonderful opportunity to interview both ladies on their collaboration on this project, and their warmth and generosity shines. They will also teach a workshop on the subject: < http://digitalageauthors.com/> The Tech Savvy Author, with local radio personality Dave Congalton, set for March 2nd in San Luis Obispo. 

Interview by Joanna Celeste

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Catherine Ryan Hyde

What drives you to write?

That’s a bit hard to quantify. There’s a special feeling that goes with one’s “calling” in the world. It’s not easy to put words to it, but I know it when I feel it. It feels like a sense that I’m more sane, more “me,” when I’m doing the work. I think at the heart of things writing is a type of communication. Under the surface of how it feels at the time, I probably write to feel more a part of things, to feel I’m not on my own little planet all alone.

That captures it perfectly. What inspired you to collaborate with Anne R. Allen on How to be a Writer in an E-Age… And Keep Your E-Sanity?

I’d been wanting to do a nonfiction book for writers for many years. I felt my struggles and my rejections had given me stories to tell, stories that might help other writers take heart. But then the industry began to change so fast. And because I had an agent and a publisher, I realized I was out of touch with the experience of the modern struggling writer. I knew the feelings, and the courage needed, but the details had changed. So Anne’s and my collaboration was made in heaven, I think, because she is so on the cutting edge of the rapid changes in our industry. I felt that our two perspectives would come together to create a complete package.

It certainly felt complete. I enjoyed your sections on editing. How has your experience as a professional editor shaped you as a writer?

I think it’s made me very detail-oriented, and very aware of how much grammar, punctuation, and even neatness count. It’s also helped me put rejection into perspective, because I know some of the reasons a writer’s work is rejected. They are often far less a reflection on the quality of the work than we tend to imagine.

Yes, sometimes the best way to learn is to be in someone else’s shoes. You’re also a teacher—you’ve taught at various workshops and conferences. What was the most rewarding aspect of that experience?

All of teaching feels rewarding to me. Which is good, because if the constant struggle of making a living in publishing is ever too much for me, teaching gives me a soft place to land. I think the best part is when I’m told—or when I can see—that a student has left my workshop more inspired, with a new sense of enthusiasm toward his or her own work.

What did you find most students struggling with?

Story arc—the idea that something needs to happen, that characters need to evolve, that the end must carry that comfortable sense of resolution. Some have trouble with character depth. It pays to know yourself deeply, because it’s unlikely your characters will be deeper than you are. And then on a smaller scale, I see people struggle with the finer points of grammar and punctuation. We all went to school, but many of us did not do so recently, and what we haven’t used in the meantime we lose. So it’s essential that writing students brush up on their English.

Something we’re always learning, it seems. Do you recommend any books on that subject?

I’m a big fan of The New Well-Tempered Sentence: A Punctuation Handbook for the Innocent, the Eager and the Doomed by Elizabeth Gordon. You can tell by the title that it doesn’t take itself too seriously. A sense of humor is helpful when reviewing punctuation. The book has been around since I was brushing up, but is still available in paperback. I also like Eats, Shoots & Leaves by Lynn Truss for the same reason.

You shared many rejection stories with us, and I loved your section about defining success. Could you share with us some stories of your recent successes? You’ve just published a new book The Long, Steep Path: Everyday Inspiration from the Author of Pay It Forward and over the last couple of years have published several books, including Jumpstart the World, When You Were Older, Don’t Let Me Go, When I Found You, and Second Hand Heart.

The biggest two successes have been the US indie editions of When I Found You and Don’t Let Me Go.

When I Found You went on a 5-day free promotion last March. Over 81,000 people downloaded it in those 5 days. After the promotion it rose to #12 in Kindle paid. The combination of the free downloads and subsequent sales gave it a popularity ranking of #3 in the Kindle Store, #5 on Amazon as a whole. For a couple of days it was hovering between two Hunger Games books on the Kindle home page. Amazon Publishing took notice, and will bring it out this March under the Amazon Encore imprint.

Congratulations!

Later we put Don’t Let Me Go on a 2-day promo, and over 60,000 copies were downloaded in just that short time. It didn’t go as high in Kindle Paid as When I Found You. I think its top number was #34. But its numbers have stayed high longer, so we have actually sold more copies of Don’t Let Me Go. And, by the way, Don’t Let Me Go has broken my record for both quality and quantity of Amazon reader reviews. The previous record holder was Pay It Forward, with 202 reviews accumulated since late 1999, 126 of which are 5-star. Don’t Let Me Go has garnered 232 just since June, 176 of which are 5-star.

So that feels like a great outcome to me, especially since these are indie editions.

Awesome! How do you manage the organization of the myriad of activities required to be a successful writer in this E-age?

I’m not sure organization is the right word for it, at least in my case. I think with networking and promotion, as with the work itself, I tend to run on inspiration. Sometimes I get more done than other times, but it works out in the end. Then people say I’m disciplined, which never fails to make me laugh. Fortunately, just as I love the communication of writing a story or novel, I also love the communication of daily social networking. So it tends to drive itself, which is good. Because, like most writers, I do have two left brains.

Your advice on marketing and social media is extensive in How to be a Writer in an E Age… And Keep Your E-Sanity! What would you say is the essence of any successful marketing campaign?

Human relationships. People buy books by authors they feel they know. So it’s always about making connections with readers. Asking a bunch of relative strangers to buy your books in one non-personalized posting has never enjoyed much success.

You keep in touch with people all over the world, and you’ve been published in the U.S. and the U.K. What are the primary differences between working here and across the pond?

At first I thought UK readers were more receptive to literary fiction, but then those same novels took off here in the U.S. as well. So now I think reader tastes are more or less the same on both sides of the pond. For a time the biggest difference was that the US industry was falling apart at the seams, so I was quite dependent on the more intact UK market for my income. Now the US market is stabilizing and many of the troubles we’ve just come through are hitting over there. It’s been an interesting—albeit troubling—process to watch.

That’s neat that you’ve had such a range of experience with various publishing houses, and also with different avenues of publication–from indie presses to working with the Big Six. Please share with us what the publication process has been like for How to Be a Writer in the E-Age… And Keep Your E-Sanity.

At this point I’m what the newly-changed industry calls a hybrid author. I have traditionally published books and independently published books. And in How to be a Writer in the E-Age…And Keep Your E-Sanity! I have a book published under the third model, the new breed of small publisher. The difference for me is that I do far less work than I do for the indie books, yet I get more control than I did with traditional publishers. There was quite a lot of checking and proofing of the various drafts of the formatted work, and of course an author always has to promote, but on the whole it’s been an easy path for this book. As publishing paths go.

Your book is full of useful advice for writers (new, seasoned, and every shade between). If there was one thing that you wish you had known when you had just started out as a writer, what would that be?

I wish I’d know that rejection didn’t mean what I thought it did—that it didn’t mean my work wasn’t good, or even necessarily that the editor who rejected it thought it wasn’t. I wish I’d known that rejection didn’t mean that the same editor wouldn’t publish another of my stories or novels, or, in one extreme example, even the same one. Rejection is never easy, but if I’d known it was often not a true reflection of the work, I might have saved myself a lot of grief. Which is why I share so much about rejection in the book.

Is there anything else you would like to say?

Just that writers need to stick together. It’s a very tough business. People tell you to thicken your skin. I’m not saying it’s bad advice. But sometimes you will need to tend your own wounds. This is what Anne and I hoped to achieve with How to be a Writer in an E Age… And Keep Your E-Sanity! We really do want to help other writers feel more supported, more balanced. More sane.

That about sums up how I felt after reading it, so thank you.

[For more information, visit Catherine <online> http://crhyde.squarespace.com/.%5D

Anne R. Allen

 How to Be a Writer in the E-Age… And Keep Your E-Sanity! covers many areas from getting started, learning to determine when one is a “real writer”, rejection, working with editors and agents, navigating social media, working within critique groups and making the most out of the various types of feedback, maximizing the value of writer’s conferences, the protocol for handling cyber bullies and trolls, querying, defining one’s genre, learning to self-edit,  overcoming depression, writer’s block and self-doubt, and several aspects of getting published, including knowing when to go traditional or self-publish, and what to expect after publication (which was quite enlightening). How did you divvy up the sections between you and Catherine?

It happened kind of organically. We have different fields of expertise–I’ve been with small presses and Catherine has experience with the Big Six and self-publishing, so things fell into place very easily. I don’t remember having to decide. Things just happened.

The pacing of the book is perfect, balanced between your voices. How did the writing process go?

We got together about once a month to outline and plan what we wanted to say, then wrote the pieces and emailed them back and forth. Once we met at my house, but Catherine’s a vegan, and a great cook, so mostly we met at her house and brainstormed over a great vegan meal she prepared. She lives about a 45 minute drive up the coast from my house—a gorgeous drive.

No wonder the overall tone of the book is so warm, what a great atmosphere to work in!

As part of the initial price for the e-book, you offer free updates every six months, to ensure the guidance remains current. Your first update is set to be published this week. What is your process for updating the book?

I perused all my entries in the book and saw some needed to be completely re-done. That took some research. But for most I just had to tweak a few things. We kept some of the references to the “Big Six” publishing companies, although I explained they’re now the Big Five-or-maybe-Four-and-a-half.

How does this work for those who purchase the paperback; do they get access to the updates in a way, either by supplemental pages emailed to them or by receiving a discount on the e-book?

No. Our publisher really couldn’t afford to do that. It’s just the e-book that has free updates.

That’s an amazing deal for a $2.99 e-book.

As an author known for your comedic mysteries (The Camilla Randall series) and your comic thriller (Food of Love), I welcomed your treatment of the various subjects of writing in How to Be a Writer in the E-Age… And Keep Your E-Sanity! What is the value of humor in writing?

I’ve always loved books that made me laugh. I loved reading P.G. Wodehouse  and Angela Thirkell when I was in high school—my parents had a great collection of British humorists. And I loved Kurt Vonnegut, who has dark humor in all his books.  As different as they are, I think they all influenced my writing.

Also, I was in the theater for many years and I learned how to engage an audience by making them laugh, and I transferred it to my writing. I didn’t do it consciously, but the humor always creeps in. 

I enjoy the humorous touches in your posts. Your blog http://annerallen.blogspot.com/ was named finalist for “best publishing industry blog” by the Association of American Publishers and one of the “Top 50 Blogs for Authors” by TribalNation.com, and your section on blogging was extensive in the book. What would you say is the essence of a successful blog?

Every successful publishing blog is successful in a different way. Joe Konrath’s can be hard-hitting and no-B.S. Kristen Lamb’s is chatty and girly and funny. Chuck Wendig’s is R-rated and raunchy. But they have three things in common: 1) They’re “you” oriented instead of “me” oriented.  2) They give great information. 3) They have strong, honest personal voices. I think those are the most important elements of a great blog.

How did you arrange for Ruth Harris to co-blog with you?

She made long comments on my blog a lot—and they were so useful and insightful. I told her she needed to have her own blog and kept hammering her about how we all needed her expertise. (How many people have been on the NYT bestseller list AND edited for a Big Six publisher?) But she didn’t want to make the time commitment. So I asked her if she’d like to be a regular guest on my blog. She jumped right in.

She’s finally started her own blog< http://ruthharrisblog.blogspot.com/>—mostly with links that make great writing prompts, but she’s branching out with some great new features, like “The Story Behind the Story” guest posts from authors talking about what prompted them to write their novels. I think that’s going to be a lot of fun.

I will have to check that out. What about writing do you most enjoy?

The sheer act of creation. When the kernel of an idea starts sprouting into characters and scenes and the people come to life on the page and start doing things I don’t expect. I never know where a book is going to go and I love watching the whole thing unfold.

I appreciated your insight into the subject of depression and creativity. You covered the importance of remaining centered, but what are the ways you personally find balance?

I’m not always good at that. But I try to walk every day and take time to meditate and be in my body instead of living in my head all the time. I love to go out and listen to music and dance. I love roots and world music. We live in a great area for it.

Sounds lovely. What is your favorite motto?

“Everything in moderation. Including moderation.”

Is there anything else you would like to say?

I’m so grateful to Catherine for partnering with me on this book. I was an out-of-print writer without much of a future when we first came up with the idea of a book. She took a chance by linking her name with a relatively unknown author. Since then, I’ve got a publisher who now has published six of my mysteries. If I was going to pick a moment when my career started to come back to life, I’d say it was that lunch when we came up with the idea of a book on “the care and feeding of the writer’s psyche”—and I’ll be forever grateful to Catherine for that.

We’ll be forever grateful to the two of you, for writing (and maintaining) such a heartfelt, comprehensive and knowledgeable book.

[To learn more about Anne or her various creative pursuits, visit her <online> http://annerallen.blogspot.com/%5D