This is the moment, the stuff that dreams are supposedly made of. Catherine Ryan Hyde carefully, but assuredly, seals the nondescript cardboard mailing box. She’s saying goodbye to the last six months of her life; that’s how long it’s taken the Cambria author to write and rewrite, and rewrite again, the 286 typed, double-spaced pages now ready to be mailed.
Her mother Vance proofread everything one last time earlier that day. Time to send it out. Catherine’s agent in San Francisco has been waiting patiently for weeks. A prominent New York publisher has already agreed to read this new manuscript, a novel that Catherine calls “Turtle Park.”
The title seems more than a touch ironic. Catherine has inched slowly, very slowly, toward literary success, almost six years and more than 500 rejection letters in the making. She’s spent most of this time in a self-imposed shell, a sparse work space over the family garage just off Highway 1.
No job. No dates. No hobbies. No coming out for anything. Total, absolute, complete dedication to her craft. Her three previous novels have yet to find a publishing home. Now comes “Turtle Park” and the 41-year-old writer seems cautiously optimistic. Her friends love it. Vance loves it. Her agent really loves it.
Staring at the waiting cardboard mailer, Catherine entertains the idea that maybe, just maybe, her moment has slowly, but surely, arrived. “I have high hopes for this,” she admits. “It’s a big leap from the others. After three novels, I finally sat down and wrote the novel I always wanted to write, not the one others were encouraging me to do.”
There are many struggling scribes who dream daily of being the next John Grisham or Mary Higgins Clark. Few, I suspect, were prepared to follow in Catherine’s footsteps–to make the commitment to craft that she’s made. Her total income for 1995 was roughly $4,000, mostly from housesitting jobs, up just slightly from the previous year.
Her clothes are strictly second-hand; a restaurant is a luxury she can’t afford. Vance invited her to move back home to save money. A friend donated an old Witco computer that Catherine now uses to write.
“I was laid off from a restaurant job a few years ago. I told myself if I ever had the time, I’d write a novel. I started writing. Then I went back to work. But taking the time away from writing wasn’t good, so I made the decision.”
There have been no regrets. “This is the only thing I’ve ever done that I really felt like I was here to do,” Catherine says. “Life is pointless to me without writing.”
But still the going can be slow. She’s published 17 short stories in different literary magazines. Each was rejected at least once by some other editor. One was turned down 27 times.
Ask Catherine about “Turtle Park” and she becomes purposefully vague. The story is set in Santa Barbara. There’s a former actress who is housesitting. And a woman who works for county health. And a man who teaches anthropology at UCSB.Catherine doesn’t reveal much more–this is more about character than plot, she explains.
Her agent will review the 286 pages one last time before forwarding it on to New York. A response could be slow in coming. Catherine’s in no hurry. There are other writing projects to pursue.
“I’m not doing this to be rich and famous. Even if they buy my book, we’re not talking big bucks. But if I sell this one, that will make it a lot easier to sell the next book, and the one after that.”
Only 286 steps to go. Catherine Ryan Hyde is almost there. At her own pace. In her own style. Ready to come out. Enjoy the moment.
And finally exhale.
San Luis Obispo County Telegram-Tribune (June 1996)
Editor’s Note: Catherine Ryan Hyde has gone on to write more than 40 published books, but “Turtle Park” is not one of them.