Several years ago, we started getting messages about novels from a writer named Ellen Hopkins. Most of our readers knew we highly endorsed the awareness of recovery from addiction being that one half of us has been clean and sober for 17 years. Even though her books were already bestsellers, we had never heard of her. We trotted over to Barnes and Noble and picked up a copy of Crank, the first novel in her series about meth amphetamine addiction. We…were…stunned! Her words tore at the veins of our heart with the raw candor she wove through the poetically, visual images she pens on her pages. We read the book in less than one day and were back at the bookstore buying the sequel, Glass. Instantly we were hooked and since that first day have been huge fans of her work, waiting desperately for her next book to hit the shelves.
Although her first books were written as young adult fiction, there is nothing specifically young adult about them. She is willing to tell the gritty stories about topics most writers are afraid to touch. Most of the people we have referred her novels to are adults, although she has an enormous teen following. Now she has followed up her young adult fiction with two adult specific books which are just as amazing. Needless to say, not only is Ellen Hopkins a prolific storyteller with imaginable grace, she’s a real deal gal who tells it like it is…and we love her all the more for her refreshing honesty!
1. Describe Ellen Hopkins in ten words or less.
Devoted wife, mother, friend. Compassionate crusader. Passionate writer.
2. Your first fiction novel was Crank. Tell us what motivated you to write this book.
Crank was inspired by the very real story of my daughter’s addiction to crystal meth. I started it because I needed to understand the “whys” of what happened to my trouble-free A+ kid, which is why I wrote first person from “her” point of view.
3. You have now ventured into several different areas of adolescent angst. How do you typically do research for your writing?
I do a lot of primary research, and have the amazing resource of my readership to tap into.
4. Before you wrote fiction, you wrote 21 non-fiction books for children. Tell us about this body of work.
I came to writing nonfiction from my work as a freelance journalist. In researching some stories, I thought they might be interesting books for children. The first was about aviation, through man’s love of competition. From there, I wrote about everything from deep sea exploration to outer space to military weaponry and jets. I actually wrote all 21 books in the span of just four years.
5. What do you believe are the four major issues facing teenagers today?
The lack of cohesive families/parenting, either through divorce or as a result of both parents having to work. Peer pressure. Bullying. And dealing with issues they can’t control (physical or sexual abuse; losing a parent to addiction; losing a friend to suicide, etc.)
6. What advice would you give to a young person struggling with addiction or substance abuse?
To ask for help sooner rather than later. So many young people believe they can’t talk to their parents about the tough stuff, but in my experience most parents want to help their children, even if they seem judgmental. Beyond their parents, other family members, teachers, counselors, etc., are surely willing to help.
7. What advice would you give to family members of people struggling with addiction? How about a teenage friend?
Not to take the entire responsibility for helping. Professional help will likely be more effective, and take away the judgment value. But also not to accept excuses when it’s clear there is a problem. And if the addict refuses help, to go the “tough love” route. You can’t help if you’re an emotional wreck. Sometimes you have to save yourself.
8. What are your three favorite books of all time?
Anne Lamott’s Traveling Mercies—an amazing look at faith. Ken Kesey’s Sometimes a Great Notion—tough to read, but amazing character studies. Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye—which perfectly captures the troubled soul.
9. If someone could only read one book that would make an impact on their life, what would you suggest they read?
The Shack, which shakes up the classic views of God.
10. Of all of your books what is your favorite you have written and why? Do you think your books should be read in any order?
Probably Identical because of the mysteries presented. The subject matter is tough (father-daughter incest), and presented unflinchingly, but this is an important issue to understand and
drag out into the light. As for order, Crank, Glass and Fallout (in that order) are a trilogy, and it makes sense to read Impulse before its companion, Perfect. The others are stand-alone titles.
11. Recently, On Oprah Winfrey’s last show, she stated, “turn your wounds into wisdom”. Being that much of your work seems based in some autobiographical fact, what do you feel about this statement?
Some wounds never heal completely, but if exposing my wounds through my words can help others cope somehow, there is power in that.
12. In all of our interviews we ask how each person defines “sexy”. How would you define sexy and what advice would you give to young men and women who want to feel sexy or attractive?
Sexy is about self-love. Not conceit, but the confidence that comes when you love who you are. Learn to love yourself, and don’t be afraid to let that love shine through.
13. What are three things we wouldn’t know about you by looking at you?
That I am focused (okay, maybe closer to driven); that I am organized (except for my office); that I am a Believer (who chooses not to ram religion down anyone’s throat).
14. We have only known you a short time but you have already taken a lot of time and interest giving us advice on writing as a career. Why do you think it’s important to help new writers?
Because literature and literacy are not all about me. Competitiveness in this business helps no one. Mentoring the next great writers will help countless people, well into the future.
15. What three pieces of advice would you give a young writer to help them be successful at writing as a career?
1. Patience. Don’t expect the first thing you write to end up a bestseller. 2. In keeping with that, craft is as important as story. Keep building your craft. Forever. 3. Don’t choose writing as a career expecting to get rich. Some do. Many more don’t. Make writing your heart. Tell the best story you can, in the very best way. Making a living with your writing should be your goal.
16. Based on your books, you seem to keep up on pop culture. Where do you find your information, such as movies, television, radio, etc and what are some of your “faves” in pop culture right now?
Lady Gaga. Some of her music (not all). But Lady Gaga, the person. I also like reality TV where some sort of talent is involved—Idol, So You Think You Can Dance, Survivor, Amazing Race. Shows that illustrate the best—and worst—of real people. On the cable TV side, True Blood is pretty hot vampire, if you ask me. And as for radio, Sirius all the way. So many choices, commercial-free.
17. If you could only listen to three CD’s for the rest of your life and they couldn’t be mixed, what would they be?
Here I show my taste for classic rock: The Beatles (White Album); Dark Side of the Moon; Queen’s Greatest Hits.
18. If you could be any fictional character, who would you be?
Scarlet O’Hara. Only I would have been smarter. Ashley over Rhett? Seriously?
19. What message would you most like teenagers, or anyone for that matter, to gain from your books?
That life is all about choices. We can forgive some mistakes. But bad choices can’t always be taken back. Think carefully about outcomes before you choose.
20. In Bowling for Columbine, singer Marilyn Manson was asked what would he say to the kids of Columbine if they were there and he responded, “I wouldn’t say a single word to them I would listen to what they have to say, and that’s what no one did.” What do you think of this statement as a role model to teenagers and young people?
I would say he has a point. But troubled teens aren’t always willing to talk. As a community (not to mention as parents), we need to be mindful of the warning signs of mental breakdown. They were definitely there before those kids picked up their guns. Overlooking them, or pretending they’re not there, is highly irresponsible.
21. Tell us about your new book Perfect. What is this book about and where did you find the inspiration?
Perfect is about four teens’ drive for the unattainable goal of perfection, through self-regulated eating, surgeries, steroid use, etc. It is also about trying to live up to other’s expectations of perfection—parents, boyfriends, coaches, etc. The inspiration for this book, as for most of my books, is the teens I talk to every day. Their stories inspire my stories.
22. We end all of our interviews by asking, “Boxers, briefs, jockstraps…or nothing at all?”. As a writer who develops characters, what would you say each of these answers says about the person answering?
Boxers = someone like my husband, who worries about squish-related health issues, but not about “hanging out.”
Briefs = someone like my brother-in-law, who is all about propriety. Most of the time.
Jockstraps = someone like my ex, who wished he had a reason to use one.
Nothing at all = someone like my 14-yr-old son, who claims he “forgets” his underwear.
Thanks Ellen…We Adore You Darling!
Be Yourself. Be Fearless. Be Your Own Unexpected Luxury.
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*Photographs courtesy of Ellen Hopkins.