Cambrian: Arts & Events

Author Catherine Ryan Hyde’s characters find common ground on the Central Coast

Cambria author Catherine Ryan Hyde is seen recently with her 11-year-old dressage horse, Soul.
Cambria author Catherine Ryan Hyde is seen recently with her 11-year-old dressage horse, Soul.

Catherine Ryan Hyde may be best known among the general public for her book “Pay It Forward,” which became a major motion picture, but she’s not out looking for another movie deal.

“I don’t really care anymore,” Ryan Hyde said during a recent interview in her Cambria home. “Now, with the amount of money I make selling books, I’d rather sell books. The movie was not nearly as good — I think — as the book.”

Ryan Hyde isn’t boasting. You don’t have to boast when you have a book-shaped crystal trophy in your living room signifying 500,000 books sold – for a single title (“Take Me With You”). And her 32nd book: “Allie and Bea” was released May 23.

Ryan Hyde may not sell that many copies of every title, but under her current contract, she said, she makes twice as much for each book she writes as she did for the movie rights to “Pay It Forward.”

Ryan Hyde is one a two-book-a-year schedule for her publisher, Lake Union, one of several imprints owned by Amazon.

“I always wrote that fast,” she said. “I’m not hurrying; that’s just how I write.”

That schedule, however, leaves her little time for anything other than writing and her other passion: her horse (an 11-year-old dressage horse she calls Soul). She doesn’t do book tours and, if she makes a public appearance, it’s usually a phone interview to a radio station or an appearance before a school audience via Skype.

“Allie and Bea”

Ryan Hyde’s latest novel is a story of a friendship between 15-year-old Allie, whose parents have been jailed for tax fraud, and a widow named Bea who’s lost everything to a telephone scam. Bea has been running scams of her own just to stay afloat financially, while Allie — who’s run away from a group home — is what Ryan Hyde calls “rigidly honest.”

When the cross paths, each has something to teach the other.

“Allie kind of turns Bea off of cheating others to get by, and in a way, Bea shows Allie that being judgmentally honest is not the way to teach others.”

The story, like a few of those Ryan Hyde has written, touches on the Central Coast: Bea and Allie meet in San Luis Obispo and travel “right through Cambria.” There are references to the Hearst zebras and the Piedras Blancas elephant seals in the book, as well.

Three other Ryan Hyde books have Central Coast connections, too: “Pay It Forward” was set in Atascadero; “Becoming Chloe” included scenes at Cambria’s Leffingwell Landing as well as Big Sur; and “The Day I Killed James” featured scenes in Cambria and at Hearst Castle.

“I try to set these stories either in places where I’ve been, if not lived, or places that are entirely fictional,” she said.


Ryan Hyde said she doesn’t know where she gets the ideas for many of her books: “Basically, I wake up with stories in my head, and I kind of always did.”

When asked about “Allie and Bea,” however, she reflected on her mother’s own experience as a former business executive who retired to the house in Cambria where Ryan Hyde now lives. The two shared the home, on which her mother paid a small mortgage, for many years, but Ryan Hyde said they needed their combined incomes to afford it.

“She had Social Security after she retired, and I’m here to tell you, it wasn’t much,” Ryan Hyde said. “I don’t understand how anyone can live on that. I think it was kind of in my head that we think seniors are doing fine because they’ve got Social Security, and they’re not doing fine. So I think there’s that from my own experience: What would she have done if she didn’t have family?”

Allie kind of turns Bea off of cheating others to get by, and in a way, Bea shows Allie that being judgmentally honest is not the way to teach others.

Catherine Ryan Hyde

Many of Ryan Hyde’s stories involve encounters between characters from very different backgrounds, often from different generations, as Allie and Bea are.

As examples from her own life, she points to two of her own teachers — one who didn’t believe in her when she was young and another who did.

“I had a teacher once who said I’d never make anything of myself if I didn’t stop daydreaming,” she said. “I’d like to go back and have the last laugh.”

On the other hand, Ryan Hyde said her career path “may have started with the high school teacher who made me want to be a writer. He was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s disease when I was in high school, and he died a year or two after I left town. He was the one who told me I was a good writer.

“The idea that you can do something like that for someone … it may not seem like that huge a thing, to do, but it can really turn that person around.”

The juxtaposition of characters from different backgrounds also reflects Ryan Hyde’s desire for people to find common ground.

“I am interested in people overcoming their differences,” she said, raising a concern over the increasingly polarized and rigid nature of social interactions. “If we can’t somehow get beyond this, I really worry for our future. And I think we can (overcome it). We have the basic same human desires for love and success, and I think somehow we’ve gotten focused on our differences.”

Next up

Ryan Hyde is working on a book titled “Heaven Adjacent,” but her next novel — already completed — is “The Wakeup,” set for release in December.

It’s the story of a 40-year-old cattle rancher in the Central Valley who “has a kind of awakening” of an empathic gift that makes him extremely attuned to pain and fear in animals.

“It completely ruins his life, because he’s a cattle rancher,” Ryan Hyde said.

It destroys his relationship, and a new relationship brings a further challenge: dealing with his love interest’s son, who abuses animals.

Ryan Hyde, who’s 62, said she plans to keep writing two books a year for the next three years and “retire” when she’s 65.

But retirement, as she envisions it, would involve writing one book a year instead of two.

“I can’t really picture myself not writing,” she said.