"Earthquake Weather" Shakes Up Emotions
"Earthquake Weather" By Catherine Ryan HydeRussian Hill Press, $18.95.Cambria author Catherine Ryan Hyde's first published collection of short stories, "Earthquake Weather," is a kaleidoscopic treasure.Look through each piece of glass in a kaleidoscope and you see the world differently -- a uniquely colored and shaped vision. Yet each piece is part of the big picture: a world of many shapes and types of glass -- or people -- whose very individuality makes us interested in them and how they fit in the world, even if it seems they could never be a part of ours beyond the fiction which brings them to life.Ryan Hyde is a master of characterization, of emotion and dialogue. Her writing brings us into the lives of such varied people, from a self-mutilating psychotic obsessed with fire to a young gay man having an affair with a bisexual married man. Many are people on the fringe of what most see as regular society, the mainstream, and yet they seem so real, so truthful. We see what makes each of them tick through Ryan Hyde's words, and she makes us understand and even care for them as only a talented wordsmith could.Publishers Weekly says the "smell of hungry desperation that seeps through the work recalls the stories of Joyce Carol Oates."Indeed there are so many emotions in these stories, such depths to the feelings, whether it's a new-found respect for insects, a strange connection to a dog that at once scares and protects you, or the deepest love for a baby not officially yours but to whom you feel attached to just the same."What inspires me is the emotionally complex nature of the world I see all around me," says Ryan Hyde. "Emotional ambiguity, the difficulty of communication in relationships. Emotionally dicey situations. Moral dilemmas and ethical crossroads. To me, this is the stuff of which fiction is made."Superb fiction, in her case. She knows just when to break a writing "rule" to create an effect. Her stories are woven so that they make you say "wow" at each conclusion, leaving you thinking and just plain feeling, perhaps appreciating your own life a little more or learning something that brings understanding to your own situation. Her versatility of viewpoints is amazing. How is she is able to get into so many different kinds of people's heads and hearts? How can she present so many viewpoints with apparent accuracy? Male or female -- and sometimes from both sides in one story, so that we understand the ironies of life and how two people can see the same situation so differently through their own perspectives. Gay or straight. Faithful or cheating. Drugged up or clean. Sane or not.Maybe it's because she finds the core emotions that tie all personalities together and that many of us have on some level or another. Loneliness, sadness, the need to be loved and to love. She says she herself is "good in friendships, not so great in romantic involvements -- so far, anyway. Nothing is a lost cause. Good at being alone -- maybe too good."So many of her characters fit into that category, easily bringing that truth across. As one character puts it in a particularly tough situation: "I don't know what I feel. Maybe I feel too many emotions, all lined up like planes on a runway, and nothing can get through."These feelings are universal, no matter what our backgrounds."I try to show something that I feel is true about the human condition, and if I've done my job right, maybe someone will take something new away from the story, which is a kind of learning," said Ryan Hyde. "If there's anything I want people to learn from my work, it's that there's a place under the surface, under the apparent differences, where we are all the same. I want readers to be able to see a bit of themselves in someone they might have previously believed they had nothing in common with. If I can do that, I think I've done enough."It's a tough assignment, but one the woman who occasionally teaches fiction workshops succeeds at. Not surprising, considering her strong will to succeed. Once upon a time Cambria author Ryan Hyde had just persevered through 122 rejections in just a few years time. But she did persevere, and in 1994 dedication started paying off for the woman who now describes herself as "driven" and "intense" and considers writing her only "addiction."Many of her short stories were published in different national fiction journals in quick succession. Several of those ended up earning her such honors as being nominated for best American short stories and in the Raymond Carver Short Story Contest. In 1997 her first novel, "Funerals for Horses," was released to national acclaim.With her first anthology of short stories, it's easy to see why so many of these short works earned honors for the prolific writer -- and why people are thronging to read the 13-year Central Coast resident's works. A recent book signing in Cambria had a nonstop line of well-wishers on hand to get a copy of the book signed. She said she makes a point to make each one differently in some way, not just a generic "Thanks for reading, Catherine Ryan Hyde."E-mail addresses, including one on possibly the Web's largest book site, Amazon.com (and one at firstname.lastname@example.org), yield her fan mail from all over -- mail she says she always answers: "If you don't hear back from me, I didn't get your mail. An e-mail from some person across the country who just loved my book: That's a real peak experience."And her website (http://www.thegrid.net/cryanhyde) attracts interest as well. "There," she says, "you can learn everything you need to know to decide if this is a book you would want to read, so you're not buying blindly. You get book excerpts and can even download the first book from the collection, 'Dante'."Although it's not "exactly earning a fortune right now," finally having her work published and well-reviewed so widely after all those years does have its advantages. Like being taken seriously by publishers. And "the ability to hear criticism without letting it affect my feelings about my work.""I used to lose confidence in a story or novel if someone didn't like it," she says. "Now I've had 30 stories published, and somebody didn't like every one of them, so it's easier to consider it just one person's opinion and move on."But hearing readers' opinions is something she definitely wants to do."People send me e-mails now that say, 'I know you're busy and I'm probably bothering you, but ... ' A woman called in to Dave (Congalton's radio) show and said she'd always meant to stop me on the street and tell me how much she liked my book, but she never had. You really can't "bother" a writer by telling her you loved her book. Write to me. E-mail me. Stop me on the street. That busy I'm not." Freelance writer Joan McCray Tucker is never afraid to voice her opinions of someone else's writing.