Interview with Award-Winning Author Deborah Hopkinson

DebGet to know Deborah…

Deborah Hopkinson is the award-winning author of more than 40 books for young readers including picture books, historical fiction, and nonfiction. A prolific picture book author, Deborah has won the SCBWI Golden Kite Award for picture book text twice, for Apples to Oregon and A Band of Angels. Other picture books include Sweet Clara and the Freedom Quilt, winner of the IRA Award; Sky Boys, a Boston Globe-Horn Book Honor book; and Keep On! The Story of Matthew Henson, Co-Discoverer of the North Pole, winner of the Oregon Book Award.

Deborah’s nonfiction includes Titanic, Voices from the Disaster, which received a YALSA Excellence in Nonfiction honor and a Robert F. Sibert Honor. Up Before Daybreak, Cotton and People in America, won a Carter G. Woodson Award Honor, and Shutting out the Sky, Life in the Tenements of New York 1880-1924, received an NCTE Orbis Pictus honor. Deborah’s middle grade novel, The Great Trouble, A Mystery of London, the Blue Death, and a Boy Called Eel, won an Oregon Spirit Award.

 A native of Massachusetts, Deborah received a B.A. from the University of Massachusetts and an M.A. from the University of Hawaii at Manoa. Up until 2014, Deborah also pursued a career in higher education fundraising, serving such institutions as Whitman College and Oregon State University. She and her husband, winemaker Andy Thomas, live in West Linn, Oregon and have two grown children.

A frequent presenter at schools and conferences, Deborah loves history and is passionate about encouraging young readers to think like historians. Her next book, in Fall 2015, is Courage & Defiance, Stories of Spies, Saboteurs, and Survivors in World War II Denmark. For more info, follow Deborah on Twitter  and visit her website.

Let the conversation begin!

What one commercial product are you totally loyal to?

Chobani yogurt!  I even carry it with me in my suitcase when I travel to visit schools.

What are the biggest challenges you have had in the realm of your art?

I think the lack of support for school library budgets may be the biggest challenge children’s authors like me face. Most of my books aren’t even carried in chain bookstores. Librarians and teachers keep my books alive. 

How did you pick your writing genre?

I was interested in history in graduate school, but really writing historical fiction and nonfiction came about primarily because I love to read about history, and enjoy learning new things. 

What life experiences have inspired your work?

Although I may not have been aware of the impact until much later, growing up in a historic city (Lowell, Massachusetts) had an impact. I read a lot, but the lives of ordinary women and men were not covered in children’s books as they are now. My desire to find out more has shaped my work.

How do you know when a book is finished?

Sometimes I feel books are never done – they can always get better. But at a certain point (usually when the deadline is upon me), I come to a point where I feel that at this moment in time, this is the best I can do. (That is usually after several go-rounds with my editor too!) 

Why were you drawn to a career in writing instead of to a job that might offer more stability and security?

Actually, for most of my writing career I have had a full time job. It was only earlier this year that I left my job in development, raising funds for higher education, to write and visit schools full time.  I feel fortunate to have learned a lot in both careers.

Deb1Who do you consider a literary genius?

Dickens, Austen, and Charlotte Bronte. 

What obstacles have you had to deal with in your career?

I feel I have been very fortunate to have the opportunity to work with amazing editors from the beginning.  I would have liked to write full time earlier, but on the other hand, having a day job and not traveling for school visits enabled me to spend more time with my children.  So, all in all, I have been lucky. And I don’t mind revising, which is necessary because I am a writer who rarely gets it right the first time!

Do you do anything special to get your creative juices flowing?

Usually I just sit down, drink coffee, and start. When I am stuck, going to the gym or taking a shower helps. 

What are your words of wisdom for someone starting out in the field of writing?

Just put your energies in the direction you want to go – and don’t give up. Read as much as you can and don’t pay attention to trends.

When did you know for certain that you wanted to pursue a career in writing? Have you ever questioned that decision?

I wanted to be a writer when I was ten years old. I didn’t actually start until my early thirties, though, in part because I didn’t at first consider writing for children. But when I had my daughter and I began reading picture books to her, it struck me that this was something I could try while working full time. Now that I am writing (and visiting schools) full time I am ecstatic!  I feel incredibly lucky to have work that I love passionately. 

Share