Tuesday, September 7, 2010

An Interview with SCBWI's Newest Board Member: Ellen Hopkins!

Beloved, bestselling (and sometimes controversial) author Ellen Hopkins has recently accepted a four-year appointment as a member of the SCBWI's Board of Advisors.

Ellen's latest young adult novel in verse, FALLOUT, goes on sale September 14th. Before she embarks on a FALLOUT tour, she took a little time to chat with me about SCBWI, her latest projects, and what she wishes she knew when she was starting out.

Please tell me a little about your history with SCBWI. When did you join? When (and why) did you become a Regional Advisor?

Can't remember exactly, but around twelve years ago. In Nevada, you can attend critique group meetings without joining the international organization, so I think I hung out with the group a while before I joined. But I quickly came to see the value of joining.

I've been a Co-Regional Advisor for four years, and was an Assistant Regional Advisor before that. My co-RA, Suzy Williams, asked me to help out when she took over as RA, and I felt compelled to accept. It's kind of a calling, I guess.

How has SCBWI helped you over the years? Why do you choose to still remain so active in the organization now that you're a successful, best-selling author?

When I first decided I wanted to write for children, like most newbies, I had no idea how to go about it. I made all the usual mistakes, including writing a 3000-word picture book. I found our local SCBWI and learned so much! Still, there was plenty of rejection, and I might have given up except for in 2002, I went to the LA Annual Summer Conference. Deborah Nourse Lattimore critiqued a picture book in verse of mine, and nominated it for the Sue Alexander Award. That recognition pushed me forward and gave me the confidence to show that manuscript to an editor from  Simon & Schuster. She didn't acquire that book, but she did acquire CRANK.

I remain active with SCBWI because there are so many writers in exactly the same spot I was--searching for where they belong in this industry. Someone helped me when I needed it. I think it's only right to help others in the same way.

Tell me about your upcoming book FALLOUT, which will hit stores in less than a week, and where your book tour will take you. 

FALLOUT is the third and final book in the CRANK trilogy, only it's written from the POVs of Kristina's oldest three children, who are "shopped out" to different relatives and struggling to make sense of their lives. So many of my readers are dealing with a parent's addiction, and I wanted to give them a voice.

The book releases September 14th. I launch in San Francisco, and am in the Bay Area, Seattle, St. Louis, Chicago, Nashville and Columbus GA. Home for a day, then Austin, Houston (where I'm signing at the Humble B&N, so despite my recent uninvite from the TeenLitFest, the teens there will be able to see me!) Home for a day, then back up to King County WA, Bend OR. And then I get a week home before our Nevada SCBWI conference in mid-October.

You're really active and generous on social networks. Why do you choose to participate in Twitter, Facebook, etc.?

Social networking does a couple of things. First, it keeps me connected to my readers, who really enjoy the "behind the scenes" glimpses of how I live and work. And second, it connects me to industry professionals, many of whom are friends. Writers (when they're not traveling) live relatively isolated lives. It's nice to be able to talk with people who are experiencing the same things I am--balancing career and family; getting stuck mid-manuscript; going through revision hell, etc.

You recently contributed a piece to an issue of Writer's Digest called "Top Ten Things I've Learned Since Becoming a Bestseller." Could you share something you wish you knew when you were starting out as a writer?

The importance of patience when building a readership. Even after you write that great book and find a publisher for it, an audience doesn't just appear. It's a lot of work, and for most of us, it takes years. The great thing is, though, that once you build that readership, they remain loyal.

Can you give us some scoop on your next project PERFECT?

PERFECT is about four high school seniors, struggling to attain and maintain "perfection." Each has a personal goal (beauty; athleticism; grades), but each comes to learn that perfection (or as close as you can get to it) has a price. PREFECT is a companion to IMPULSE, so happens at the same time, with Conner's twin, Cara, as one of the main characters.

 Find Ellen Hopkins online


Catherine Stine said...

Good luck, Ms. Hopkins! You have the right qualities for the job: smarts, devotion and experience.

Alice said...

I completely agree, Catherine!