Tuesday, July 10, 2012

19 Ellen Hopkins on Fearless Writing

We are honored to have YA-writing rock star Ellen Hopkins joining us today to talk about controversial young adult books. First, we need to put why we love Ellen into perspective (beyond her amazing writing, of course). Martina and I were fortunate enough to meet Ellen at the SCBWI NYC conference last year through our dear friend and firecracker Tracy Clark. Picture Ellen enjoying a peaceful dinner with friends and then graciously greeting two complete strangers out of nowhere. Nevermind the fact that Martina and I were pretty much peeing-our-pants excited.

Now add on top of that my latest antic- emailing Ellen an S.O.S. note on an MFA assignment of mine last week. She responded and helped me out right away from her middle-of-nowhere island vacation off the coast of Australia. Yep. I’m that girl, ruining Ellen’s trip and once again, she kindly comes to my rescue. For these reasons and more, we love her!
Now the official bio: Ellen Hopkins is the New York Times bestselling author of Crank, Burned, Impulse, Glass, and Identical. She lives in Carson City, Nevada, with her husband and son. Hopkin's MySpace and Facebook pages get thousands of hits from teens who claim Hopkins is the "only one who understands me", and she can be visited at ellenhopkins.com. You can also find here on Goodreads, blogging, or on Twitter.

Why do you believe some of your YA novels are deemed controversial by certain audiences?

Fear. People fear what they don't understand, or what they believe is threatening to them or their children. Who wants to believe their teen is thinking about sex, or might be struggling with his or her sexual identity? Somehow, they confuse the knowledge found in books with "giving people ideas." What they fail to see is that at some point kids decide to follow their hearts, find their own way. Books can only empower them by giving them the knowledge they need to make better choices.

What compels you to keep writing when you know that a portion of readers may view some of the content as controversial?

I write what's important to me, and what I believe is important to my readers. I've never written in fear of critics or censorship. Life is not fantasy, and there are enough writers telling those stories. Few enough of us choose to write real, but somebody has to.

How has the public’s reception of your novels that include controversial topics changed over time, if at all?

Certainly people now expect my novels to include some sort of "controversial" topic. But I do believe people are starting to understand the need for books that illustrate the results of certain choices. By writing realistically, readers truly understand this. I see the biggest change in acceptance by librarians, who for the most part have always wanted "their kids" to have access to the books they need. As time goes on, more of them are seeing the need for books about sexuality, addiction, etc., because more and more lives are affected by these things.
In your opinion, why is it important for teens (and other readers, for that matter) to have access to books that include controversial content (LGBTQ, sex, drugs, violence, bigotry, etc.)?

Again, it goes back to arming them with knowledge, and teaching them without condescension or didacticism, but rather a respect for their generation. You can't prettify life, but you can help them choose a more positive path by illustrating outcomes in a very realistic way. They want to read about people like them, but also people unlike them, who they want to understand. So many young people only hear what their parents or preachers or certain pundits/news channel personalities tell them. They need to hear the other side in some cases, so they can make wise decisions.
Thanks, Ellen! How about a giveaway? Fill out the form below and leave a comment on this post to enter to win a copy of CRANK. Contest closes July 17th at midnight EST. U.S. residents are welcome to enter.

Cheers,

Marissa

19 comments:

  1. I absolutely love this woman. She embodies the act of being fearless. Absolutely extraordinary. I just love her stuff!!

    ReplyDelete
  2. No, seriously: Ellen Hopkins is a god! Same as you, random fan reaching out to her...I emailed her asking if she would maybe-kind-of-possibly-sort-of-consider-for-a-second...ummm...blurbing my memoir? SHE DID IT! I sent her a manuscript, she read it, and...SHE GAVE ME A BLURB, AND THE RIGHT TO USE THAT BLURB, AND HER NAME ATTACHED TO IT, ANYWHERE!!! What is UP with this woman?! (Here's what she said, by the way: "Reading STRAIGHTLING is like watching a great horror flick. You really want to cover your eyes, but you just can't! Compelling. Scary. Totally real." Know what's totally real? Ellen. Fucking. Hopkins.)

    ReplyDelete
  3. Great interview. It always frustrates me because people claim that controversial lit "gives people ideas." And it's so hard to explain to them that it doesn't! But Ellen just said it so clearly. You're amazing, Ms. Hopkins. =D

    ~Riv Re
    Riv Reads

    ReplyDelete
  4. All of Ellen's books are amazing and leave me thinking for days/weeks/months after reading. Loved the interview! Thanks ladies!

    ReplyDelete
  5. Hi Ellen! *waves* The topics of your books definitely make people think and consider things about life, and that's a great thing. :)

    ReplyDelete
  6. I love Ellen's books. I just finished reading Impulse (like last week) and am now reading again. It's even better the second time. I can't wait to read the sequel, Perfect.

    ReplyDelete
  7. Thanks so much for featuring such great writers. I do a lot of health care writing in my day job and Crank is just such an important book to explore drug use, health, and personal challenges. Ellen examines issues that many authors shy away from. Love the interview. Thanks!

    ReplyDelete
  8. Triangles is without a doubt the most stunning book I have ever had the pleasure to read. I haven't read any of her YA books yet but I would love to. I would read anything she wrote.

    ReplyDelete
  9. I would love to read these author's books. They sound very good.

    ReplyDelete
  10. Ellen Hopkins' writing proves that YA is not fluff. I love how she speaks to young readers with respect and not condescension. It's a lot easier to listen to an adult who's being honest, no matter how harsh the truth is, that to one who just says NO.

    ReplyDelete
  11. The key phrase and words to live and write by: "...arming them with knowledge..." -- especially important as more and more of our so-called leaders are using ignorance for political advantage. Keep it up, Ms. Hopkins.

    ReplyDelete
  12. This comment has been removed by the author.

    ReplyDelete
  13. This is so inspiring. Everyone's first comment when they hear about the book I'm writing is "You'll never find a publisher for that!" But it's true, there's a need for books with controversial subjects. Teens (well, anyone really!) always need to feel like someone "gets them" when it feels like no one does.

    ReplyDelete
  14. My students LOVE Ellen Hopkin's books. And, copies disappear because the books mean something to them. Kids connect to what she writes because it's real. This is their world. Even in my little corner of the universe....

    ReplyDelete
  15. What a great lady to help you out like that! Ms. Hopkins proves that teens are not only smart but insightful. There's no reason to write down to them or gloss over reality. Her success and following is proof of that.

    ReplyDelete
  16. Everything seems controversial to someone. I would like to read a book someone didn't like something about. Love her writing without fear!

    --Markella

    ReplyDelete
  17. I am now very intrigued and would love to read Ms. Hopkins' YA novels.

    ReplyDelete
  18. I got to meet Ellen at last year's SCBWI conference and was blown away by how warm and down-to-earth she is. Love her.

    ReplyDelete
  19. Thanks, Martina for totally generous sentiment that I do NOT deserve! Anyone who knows you knows that I am the lucky one to have you as a fabulous friend AND blogging buddy :)

    ReplyDelete

Tell us what you think. We'd love to hear from you! :)