We are pleased to announce that Ellen Hopkins has graciously taken part in our Summer Author Interview Series. She’s an inspiration to teachers, writers, mothers, and, well, everyone. When I began teaching, the first book that I ever taught to my students was CRANK. Many of them told me, (quite proudly), that CRANK was the first book that they had ever read – and did I have any other books by Ellen Hopkins.
Does that not speak volumes about the influence of Ellen Hopkins on younger generations or what?
Check out the interview below.
TWT: Can you tell our readers more about where you get the inspiration for your stories?
EH: Life is full of inspiration, isn’t it? Story ideas come from many places, really. The news. Friends. Family. And, now, from my readers. Many share their stories with me and if one speaks to me (or if the same theme keeps coming at me), I will research it and decide if it would make a good book. But, straight down to it, people inspire me.
TWT: The CRANK trilogy is rooted in truth – did that make your writing process more difficult? Easier? A little bit of both?
EH: The story was there, of course, so creating the arc and plot was not difficult (at least until I got to Fallout, which is set in the near future). Reliving that time in my life was extremely hard, especially with Glass, which represents the deeper part of my daughter’s addiction. I often had to leave my computer for some deep breaths before returning to the writing.
TWT: What advice would you give to parents, teachers, and students who are struggling with addiction?
EH: Ask for help. And do it sooner, rather than later. Every day you spend fighting addiction is a better day lost. Don’t try to do it alone. It takes extreme strength of will, and the substance will keep calling to you. You are hurting your body and brain, and destroying relationships that you might never be able to rebuild. Focus on the people who love you and ask for help.
TWT: What advice would you give to aspiring writers?
EH: To be a voyeur. Observe life, especially people. Keep notes about your observations. Listen to how people talk, and what they talk about—what excites them, what makes them sad, what they argue about. Character is everything, so be building characters all the time. And let plot flow from there. Forcing characters into an artificial plotline will get you into trouble every time.
TWT: Your writing has a very distinct style. As a poet from a very early age, was this a natural transition, rather than the more standard novel format?
EH: Prose has its place, and I wrote it for years, as a freelance journalist and nonfiction writer. However, with fiction, yes, the verse format seemed to work more easily for me. I am drawn to poetry and poetic devices—metaphor, imagery—not to mention making every word on the page count. It’s a challenge, and one I take quite seriously.
TWT: Here at The Write Teacher, many of our students struggle with addictions. Heroin, meth, coke, and pills…. we deal with it all. Unfortunately, some of our students don’t feel that they need any medical help when it comes to quitting their choice of drug. They feel as though they can quit cold turkey. What would you say to them?
EH: In the Crank trilogy, I refer to meth as “the monster,” and it becomes more than metaphor, as it did in real life for my family. You are not trying to quit a drug, you are trying to escape a monster. It’s got teeth, and it’s hungry and what it wants to eat is you. It’s tricky, too. If you get away, it keeps following you, calling to you, cajoling you. It doesn’t want to let you go. It takes help to escape the monster, and why would you want to try to do it on your own, when there are people who know how to help you get away, and stay away? I saw my daughter get clean and stay that way for six years before she slipped back into the grip of the monster. She damaged herself physically and mentally. She hurt her family, especially her children. She thought she could do it on her own, but all it took was someone letting the monster back in through her door. Accept the help you’re offered.
TWT: Who has been your greatest teacher?
EH: Wow. I’ve had so many great teachers, it’s hard to pick just one. But probably the mentor I credit most with where I am today was a local poet named Bill Cowee. It’s funny, because we didn’t see eye to eye on a lot of things, especially politics. But we had this amazing friendship, and that man taught me not the basics of poetry, but the heart of poetry, and mine blossomed under his mentorship. Bill passed away a few years ago, but not before seeing me realize success, something he was very proud of. Thanks, Mr. Cowee!