Ellen Hopkins was born in Long Beach, California on March 26, 1955. She was adopted by Albert and Valeria Wagner. She grew up in Palm Springs, where she went to private school. At age 9 she published her first poem, which is when she knew she wanted to be a writer. She had one brother, who was adopted separately and his name was Albert Jr.
She attended high school in Sata Ynez Valley in California. She then went on to attend to college at UCSB where she studied journalism. She left college to get married, have kids, and start her own business. That didn’t last very long though before she had met John Hopkins in 1984. She soon divorced her husband, got re-married and then pursued her dream of becoming a writer. She has 3 kids, Jason, Cristal, Kelly, and adopted a baby from her oldest daughter Orion who is now 11. He is the baby from the book crank. Her oldest daughter is also the girl in Crank.
Her novels are praised by teens and adults alike, and she has been called the “bestselling living poet in the U.S.” by mediabistro.com. She lives with her family in Carson City, Nevada. For more info, visit her website.
Let the conversation begin!
What initially drew you to writing?
Books. I loved reading from way back before kindergarten, when my mom read to me every day. Loved stories. Storytelling. Language. Poetry. Classic literature. Horse stories. Fantasy. Horror. Contemporary fiction. Stories. Writing my own stories grew as a natural progression from reading them.
Who is your favorite author?
Historically, I’m a big Stephen King fan. Also, Ken Kesey and John Irving. Which may seem widely disparate, but they’re all such character-driven authors. And for me, character is everything.
Where do you get your ideas?
My kitchen. My neighbors. Gossiping with friends. Airports. Bookstores. Newspapers. Watching people at church or at the dentist’s office. Ideas are everywhere. The trick is to know where to look.
Tell us about the book you’re working on.
I just turned in Triangles, an adult novel about three women (two friends and a sister), hit with midlife crises. In writing their stories, I built teen characters with stories of their own…. not purposely, just what happened. I just started a YA companion, Tilt (September 2012), which will explore the teens’ stories, as well as their views of their parents’ meltdowns.
What advice would you give young writers?
To learn patience. Those fabulous success stories starring teen authors are rare. Every day you live brings broader perspective, which allows deeper character building. Talent is only one part of the equation. The other two are luck and persistence. Keep growing, as people and as writers. There are no shortcuts to success, and if writing is your heart, it’s your words that count. Publication will come when the time is right.
What is the most valuable advice you’ve ever received?
That any job worth starting is worth finishing, and giving it your all.
When are you the most productive?
I am a morning person. Usually up before the sun is. I do my best writing as soon as the family is off to school/work. Afternoons, I do errands. Evenings are dedicated to family.
Are your characters completely fictional? Or do you base them off real people?
Some are very real. The others all have threads of real people. Sometimes those threads are thin–facial expressions or tendencies toward something. But I think all authors pull from real life to build their fiction.
What book was the easiest to write? Hardest?
Each book had its challenges. With Crank (my first novel, loosely based on my daughter’s story of meth addiction), the story was there. Reliving it was difficult, and so was developing the formatting. It was also single POV, so easier in that way. With every book, I think, the writing gets better. More complicated plots and more layering to the characters. So each was a step forward toward where I am now.
What is the best writing advice you’ve ever received?
To revise toward mystery. Don’t give everything away early on. And don’t drown the heart of the story in unnecessary verbiage. In other words, take yourself out. Let your characters do the talking.
What is your dream vacation?
A month in a villa overlooking the ocean in Greece. With a very good looking butler to cook and clean (okay, and maybe give daily massages).