“Sitting Right Across from an Author”

On March 2nd, Catherine Ryan Hyde‘s visit with readers of her book “Have You Seen Luis Velez?” created quite an awakening and set of realizations about the world around us. One of the attendees stated it was as if “She was sitting right across the living room in a chair from her” and certainly, either from the warmth of her book or from the laid back, relaxed style that Ms. Hyde brought to the author session, it was not difficult to see how easy so much just seemed to come to her as an author.

We were very lucky to be participants of such a great book and episode. As tonight is the book discussion of Have You Seen Luis Velez?, thanks to Delaware Festival of Words, we reflect on the take aways she provided as an author:

Ms Hyde emphasized that events over lifetime have helped shape her as well as what has come out onto the page. Her creative process was often irregular compared to others, quite independent of what authors might say is a system that works for them. Truly the events that have been occurring around her influenced what we see in her deeply moving publications.

In formulating the origins of Have You Seen Luis Velez, she mentioned she has imagined parts for a long time, a run down apartment and bad neighborhood, a youngish boy, an older woman, and yes, a cat. When we asked her about the importance of the cat she made a very good point, had the cat not existed in the plot, then the young character might not have ever had the link to the neighbor that began a spiraling connection of events that pushed the two through the remainder of the book.

Connecting back to what inspired her to write, she mentioned that as of late, she has been watching the way she felt society going – which to her obviously was not being happy about where society was going, and led her to think of the things that might be going wrong.

I liked the fact /comment made that too many people have this mindset we are good people – even when one of us does something terrible, forgivable, the fact is that they are dangerous, when they do such an act – – and that leads to the proof of a tribalism. We versus a they, they being dangerous, an US being better than a they– and indeed, it does seem that there is too much of this in the world today.

It was worth noting the author did not think she could solve this problem, but at the very least she could get people to talk about this issue and that would be a starting point.

In ties/connections to the novel on a person novel, she reflected that other than her being half Jewish – only one of her grandparents she knew, her maternal grandmother come to the U.S. from Germany/slash Poland and never had been really in danger as she was  not born until 1955. In high school she has watched the documentary, Night and Fog and she still today remembers sitting through the whole movie horrified at the atrocities of what the allies has found when encampments had been liberated from World War II. It was worthy of her noting when you have a book that is capable of combining several cultures, you have the opportunity to see or know one culture from the inside out is so helpful and such a benefit.

Hyde’s comment about in fiction it is about turning up the volume to make a more interesting read occurs often in her novel, especially in Have You Seen Luis Velez?

When asked if she researches for her books, she did state she does but as you would have guessed, it depends on the book, she is able to do light research, write, and then go back and see if any mistakes were made based on the research she conducted.

She did view a book she is now working on, a coming of age story taking place during 1941-1942 – the main character realizing he is gay at an inconvenient time and place, also connected to three best friends, one being Japanese. Obviously, being during 1941-1942 also causes its chare of issues with the culture and conflict that was occurring in the United States at the time.

In elaborating on the authoring and editing process, she relayed how an agent reads the draft first, then editor, then a developmental editor, then copy editor, then 2 proofreaders and a sensitivity reader. Although many might not be familiar with a sensitivity reader, as there was not usually this position, it is interesting how in today’s climate, this is part of the process.

We discussed the issue of writing about someone you are not and she did feel it is okay to write about someone you are not –BUT IT HAS TO BE CORRECT and not taking liberties that fall far from the actual portrayal, as we brought up the controversy surrounding the book American Dirt.

Ms Hyde went on to mention that on the surfaces we have a lot of differences, but underneath that, you get a really universal experience- basically a human being is someone who wants safety, love and be loved, which is a shared experience almost everyone wants, and those are the areas we should focus on to connect us as a community.

Many readers has questions, one being the situation of the character Raymond being possibly asexual, as his sexuality was not really an asset when slight mentions of characters showing an interest in him. I loved that Ms. Hyde’s responses was that people have false ideas about this topic, and honestly, no one would have questioned his sexuality if he had appeared more responsive to his sexual characteristics, either, a good point. She did mention that, that was not a key factor or topic for Raymond as a character – as the other values and important details were with his relationship and motivation with other characters. This also allowed Raymond to have the freedom and chance to have a better understanding of who he was as a character.

Another reader asked if this was a model of a hero’s journey, unconsciously. It was interesting to note it was a journey of self discovery and the author noted this was first time she had nine characters with the same first and last name!

As an author, she did not realize until she was into the story how the other characters would be disappointed that they were not the Luis Velez that Raymond was looking for. Focusing back on the cat as a character, seeing Raymond finding and befriending the cat in an abandoned building, buying food himself, and saving /protecting the cat tells you all you need to know about Raymond.

Again, the question arises, I\if it had not been for the cat – how would they have taken the step into friendship ? The answer is doubtful. For the cat’s sake Raymond will show up at the door – that was the key that opened the lock for the door. However I thought before the cat, Raymond had the inclination to help his neighbor, so I was not 100% sold on the above fact.

When asked about how arriving at the name Luis Velez – Ms Hyde stated she needed definitely the name to be Hispanic, a name easy to remember, easy to pronounce, and she had obtained the idea from a Frasier show – closely tied to the name Lupe Velez – so again – taking aspects from the world around her! She mentioned she will hear names and they will just click. She again reiterated that she did not worry how others are doing it in developing their plot and details, she relied on what worked for her, and writers should rely on what works for them!

In mentioning the concern for the world around her – she referred to Trayvon Martin – the acquittal – bothered her – the an incident again where an older man (Michael Dunn) killed a younger man (Jordan Davis) over the music – the penalization does not bring the young man back – and she continued to be troubled by the stand your ground laws as she continued to see such troubling events all around her.

She stated it is important to question How do you write an ending that is what everyone will talk about?

When asked Why New York?, she mentioned she was more inclined to writing settings in small towns, rural settings, and occasionally approached big cities. However, in Have You Seen Luis Velez?, you have to live in a place large enough with so many people named Luis Velez – which was pretty true!

When asked How long does a character stay with you?, she stated Not as long as you think – she had to switch gears as she is on a 2 book a year to be written / published schedule – it would be a problem if you could not get out of the last book – as she would not be able to separate one book from another regarding the separate plots, characters, etc..

When asked is Ms. Hyde deemed herself successful, she said yes, by her definition. She is able to do what she loves and not having to stop what she does for a living! Since being a sophomore in high school, she liked the idea of being an author, and if you did not know, she was the author of Pay It Forward! I loved realizing this after reading this book as I did not know before and yet- it makes sense! I also loved the fact that she did not particular like the idea of anything having to go to movies, as it meant less to her as being able to write meaningful books. She hoped to get Payitforward into more schools and we discussed how books like Pay It Forward, and Wonder, make a difference to readers, youth authors like Jerry Craft and the ideas we discover in Have You Seen Luis Velez?

If interested in a connection to discussing, reading, and developing possibilities of Have You Seen Luis Velez? into a Kindness Program, Ms Donna Carter, from the Greenwood Library is helping develop this idea among Sussex County – a theme that is desperately possible and needed across the world! Excited for tonight’s book discussion!

About Harry Brake

Employee of Woodbridge High School, Library Media Specialist, Media crazy! :)
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