Ellen Hopkins is the award-winning author of eight NY Times bestselling young adult novels-in-verse. Her first adult novel, Triangles, published last year and her upcoming YA, Tilt (September 2012) is a companion to that book, contrasting adult and teen POVs. Her second book for adults, Collateral, publishes November, 2012. Ellen lives with her family near Carson City, Nevada. Learn more about Ellen on her website and don’t forget to follow her on Twitter.
Let the conversation begin!
Describe your writing journey, from aspiring writer to published author.
Like most writers, I think, it started with reading and falling in love with the idea of becoming a storyteller. I’ve been writing ever since I learned how to put words on paper. Published poetry throughout school and into college, where I studied journalism. Then I took a big detour to get married, raise a family and start a couple of businesses. After a divorce and finding new love, I decided it was time to live my dream.
I moved into freelance journalism, and from there into children’s nonfiction, where I published twenty books, largely for the educational market. But always, I wrote poetry and fiction. I thought I’d write horror. Then I thought I’d write picture books. Neither, it turned out, was where I belonged as an author. A personal story brought me to YA fiction. That story became CRANK, which I sold with only 75 pages completed, through meeting an S & S editor at a writers’ conference.
What three words describe you?
Honest. Funny. Driven.
If you could throw any kind of party, what would it be like?
It would be a luau. A real one, on a tropical beach. With hot beach boys serving mai tais and cooking Kahlua pork over rocks in a pit and cutting up tropical fruit. Except mangoes. No mangoes. I’m allergic.
If you could choose anyone, who would you pick as your mentor?
Stephen King. I think he’s a master of character, and character is everything. I’d love to learn how he builds such realistic characters to plunk into the middle of genre fiction. Plus, he’s just so quirky and smart and weird. It would be fun to hang out with him.
Which celebrity do you get mistaken for?
This is kind of funny, and I don’t get mistaken for her on the street, but I often get email meant for Ellen Degeneres. I don’t know if there’s a website with celebrity email addresses that lists mine for hers or what. And I have no clue if she gets mine, too.
When you have 30 minutes, how do you pass the time?
Fortunately, my time is mostly my own, at least when I’m home. So I can create 30 minutes of free time for myself whenever. If that’s all I have, though, I often putter around in my garden, which is my real relaxation. I love creating beauty, and that includes the kind I can look out my window and enjoy.
If you could do anything and get away with it, what would you do?
This probably sounds boring, but I’d hide away somewhere for a week or so and just write. Like, not even my family would know where I was. Of course, I’d have to know everyone was okay, and I’d be worried that someone would need me. So that would be hard.
If you won the lottery, what is the first thing you would do?
I feel like I have won the lottery, as there’s a gambling element to trying to become a published author. And, you know, having lived in Nevada for almost 25 years, real gambling has lost any sort of draw. I never play the lottery.
What’s the hardest thing you’ve ever done?
There was a time when I had to do the tough love thing with one of my children and make her leave the house. She was a danger to everyone living at home, and all our lives were in turmoil.
The best part of waking up?
I’m always the first one up, usually very early in the morning. I love the silence.
What age did you become an adult?
Sixteen. My dad passed away and my mom melted down, so largely I became the adult taking care of things for a year or two. The problem with becoming an adult is you can’t go back to being a kid again. Except maybe in your heart. You can always be a kid there.
What was the last movie or book that made you angry?
Water for Elephants. I can’t stand animal cruelty.
What advice would you give to new writers?
Challenge yourself. No great story is easy, and if it feels like it was easy to write, it’s probably not good enough. Be patient. Hone your craft. Write the story that speaks to your heart, and belongs only to you. And write bravely.
What mischief did you get into growing up?
As a younger child, not much. But in high school, I was a 70s rebel, which should tell you everything you need to know.
If you could choose to stay a certain age forever, what age would it be?
Forty-five, although that ship has sailed. At that age, you are wise, and beyond the idea that how you look means everything. But you’re also young enough to enjoy new experiences, great health, etc. At least, as long as you take care of yourself.
What is the best writing advice you’ve ever received?
To not read reviews. And I don’t. You can have 100 great ones and the one bad one still hurts like hell. Better to avoid that hurt.
What would you like your life to look like in ten years?
Just like it does now.
Can you share a recent traveling highlight?
In March, I was invited to speak at the American School in Warsaw, and one of the students was a huge fan. She took us on a tour of her city, and her enthusiasm made it a very special afternoon. On that same trip, we stayed at a little resort in the Tyrol Alps, and one afternoon caught a bus with several teens who had just gotten out of school. They texted and joked and irritated each other just like American teens would, and both experiences were great reminders that people around the world are more alike than not. And that includes teens.