Guest blogger Catherine Ryan Hyde is the author of 20 published and forthcoming books, including the national bestseller Pay It Forward and her latest novel, Walk Me Home.
I write character-driven fiction, so each novel begins with a
character in my mind. Once I know the characters, the plot suggests itself.
When I began Walk Me
Home, one important character dictated the mood and action, not to mention
setting high stakes for all the others. It wasn't Carly. Or Jen. Or their
mother. Or even Teddy. It was the American Southwest.
Place can be a character. But for place to be a driving
force in my novel, it must be someplace I know firsthand. The first time I saw
Navajo and Hopi lands, I was on a drive through the Painted Desert in Arizona
in 1989. I was headed to the Grand Canyon for the first time. In my old pickup,
with my old dog, I sliced in and out of the rain, the clouds dark, the scenery
arresting, Pink Floyd's "Shine On You Crazy Diamond" blasting on the
cassette player. Over and over.
The visit would not be my last. Later I wrote Funerals for Horses, my first published novel,
and set much of it in the Navajo Nation. But it wasn't enough. The landscape wouldn't
leave me. I had more business with this character.
The Southwest is mostly desert, beautiful but unforgiving.
Spaces between towns can be empty and long, shade nonexistent. If two young,
recently orphaned sisters try to move through on foot, the conflict is built in:
their inexperience against a character who is at once breathtaking and deadly.
Compromises must be made if the girls are to survive.
Red Rock, Arizona, never fails to make me feel inspired...and
insignificant. It reminds me that I'm tiny but part of the greater whole. One
with every other tiny thing.
Jen thinks it's everything. Carly thinks it's nothing. The
land changes the opinion of the girl who most needs changing.