Saturday, April 5, 2008

GLBT Issue: Catherine Ryan Hyde

Catherine Ryan Hyde
Interview by: Lauren

Catherine Ryan Hyde is the author of Pay it Forward, Becoming Chloe, Chasing Windmills, and the soon-to-be released The Day I Killed James.

1.In Pay it Forward, you have gay and transgender characters. Was there any connection between having GLBT characters and the message of the book? Do you wish these characters were represented in the film version?

I had a lot of diversity in the book. I had two or three gay characters, though a couple were quite minor. One fairly major character, a viewpoint character, Gordy, was a transgender teen. I also had an interracial romance, a couple of physically large characters, and Trevor was described as being so dark-haired as to possibly be part Hispanic. And yes, I thought all of that diversity was important. My idea was to create a fictional “new world order” that was for everybody. So I was careful to portray what seemed like a fair cross-section of everybody. I have this theory as a novelist that if we can know people better through fiction, we will be less afraid of them.

Then in the movie, everybody magically turned white, blonde, straight, anglo and thin. Except the miscreants. It was disheartening. Potentially even more disheartening was that everybody screamed about the racial casting issue (as well they should have), but all the other diversity disappeared without a complaint. Everybody noticed that the teacher was not black but nobody noticed that the AA sponsor was not 315 pounds. Nobody seemed to notice or care that Gordy was gone. I think that’s a telling oversight.

2.A novel you have out under the category of YA is called Becoming Chloe and features a main character that is gay. Will you give us a brief summary of the character and his role in the novel? Was there a specific reason you decided to feature another gay character in your novels, but this time in a bigger role?

Jordy (just a coincidence that the name is so close to Gordy) is the protagonist and narrator of Becoming Chloe (which, by the way, is absolutely suitable for grown-ups). When the book begins, he’s a 17-year-old throwaway street teen illegally squatting in a Manhattan Cellar. He meets Chloe quite by accident as he rescues her from a sexual assault in the alley just above where he sleeps. She’s so completely helpless that Jordy takes her under his wing. They end up crossing the country together, and seeing the world. It’s Jordy’s attempt to convince her that the world is a beautiful place, even though he’s not entirely sure he believes it himself.

My goal was that this novel be about some other kind of bond than a romantic one. Sometimes I think that’s almost too easy. Of course if you’re sleeping with someone you will love and protect them. But there are other circumstances under which we will do this for someone, and as a novelist I find them fascinating. So one good way to have a boy and a girl together without a sexual component was for Jordy to be gay.

That said, I don’t feel I decided in advance to write a novel with a gay character in the main role. I think I begin a novel with a character. As I’m developing the novel in my head, the character tells me his or her story. And that’s when I find out if the character is gay or straight. And to one extent or another this informs the story. But I don’t force an orientation on main characters. I let them be what they are.

3.What are your thoughts on how the GLBT community is represented in the media (books, TV, movies, etc.)?

Better than it used to be yet not nearly good enough. First of all, there simply isn’t enough representation. I have this radical notion that the percentage of GLBT (and other minority) characters should approximately match their percentage in society. And we’re way behind on that. I think we are still, after all these years, suffering to some (smaller) extent from the “Leave it to Beaver syndrome.” A bizarre percentage of fictional characters are white, straight, thin, young, handsome or beautiful in predictable ways, and economically privileged.

I can’t change that in any large way, but I can do better in my own fiction.

4.Your new novel, The Day I Killed James, comes out this May. What is the novel about? You’ve been talking a lot about the differences and similarities between Adult and YA categorized books. How do you feel in regard to James?

It’s about a young woman who holds herself responsible for the suicide of a young man whose heart she carelessly (but with no premeditation or malice) broke. So it becomes a novel about the crushing effects of guilt, and about what our responsibility really is (and is not) to those close to us. Like just about everything I write, it’s a pretty weighty topic.

Like so much of my YA fiction, I actually wrote James for adults. Then I changed the age of the character, and a few resulting situations (school instead of job, etc) but not the prose itself. The first-person voice worked equally well for an eighteen-year-old as it did for a woman in her thirties. And I think that just about says it all.

5.If someone was trying to deal with their sexuality and/or coming out to family and friends, what would you want them to know?

That they are not alone. And again, that’s something I can’t personally change, but I think having potential role models in fiction is a small contribution.

6.Since you’ve dealt with GLBT characters in more then one of your books, do you feel that you will continue to do so in the future? What made you, if anything specific; decide to feature the characters that fall under the GLBT label?

I can guarantee it. The next thing I’m going to go back to working on (as soon as I finish my current adult novel-in-progress) is a YA about a girl who’s in love with the older man next door, who turns out to be FTM in transition. I thought it would be interesting to tell the story not from the transgender person’s POV (I’m not sure that’s my story to tell) but from the POV of the person who has to make the emotional adjustment to loving him, especially with a lot of her own personal and very vulnerable feelings on the line.

If there is a why, it’s what I said earlier about growing up with a TG sibling, and the idea that we are mostly frightened by people we don’t know.

7.Are there any books that you feel are great GLBT literature? Any other books under any category?

When I was a teen, there was the absolutely classic Rubyfruit Jungle. I haven’t read it in years, so I have no idea how it holds up nearly two generations later. I don’t know about great literature, but I really liked David Levithan’s Boy Meets Boy. Because it was so completely non-tragic. It was about normal things, crushes and social embarrassment, and not about the devastating effects of prejudice. Which may not be 100% realistic, but it’s refreshing. And again, though perhaps not great literature (by whose standard, anyway?) Sarah Waters’ Tipping the Velvet was a fun read.

8.If you could wish on a real shooting star, what would you wish for?

I think I would wish that we could all be less afraid. So much of our mistreatment of each other has its roots in fear. Or so I have concluded from my observations. Frightened people are so dangerous. I would ask the star if we could all feel relief from fear, especially fear of each other.


chatteringbee said...

Nice interview!

Melissa N said...

Thanks for the interview. I'm definitely going to check out Becoming Chloe!