Dag 326: Ellen Hopkins (www.ellenhopkins.com)


Ellen Hopkins is a New York Times Best Selling Author. She has 2 websites: one with adults books, and one for young adults. Ellen explains: After eight young adult novels, I thought it was time to explore more mature subject matter, while still utilizing my signature verse novel formatting. Readers who started with me in 2004 (with my first YA novel, Crank) have grown up. They have turned on their parents, teachers, librarians and counselors to my books, and this adult readership has come to appreciate verse as story as much as my younger readers do.

I will continue to write YA, of course. Teen characters are hugely appealing to me. But some topics I want to write about demand adults as main characters. My first adult novel, Triangles, is about hitting midlife and wondering if you might have accomplished more, or if you had taken a different turn, would your life, in fact, be better? And, perhaps the biggest midlife question of all—should I change directions now, before it’s too late?

Up next, in the fall of 2012, will come Collateral, about deployment and what that means to those left behind. As our men and women return from the Middle East, they come home profoundly changed. Coping with that transformation is extremely difficult both for our soldiers and for their loved ones. I do hope this book will open readers’ hearts and minds. In these lean economic times, it is vital we don’t cut necessary resources to those who most deserve them.


Born: March 26, 1955 in Long Beach, CA. I was adopted at birth by an older couple. Albert C. Wagner was 72 at the time; Valeria was 42. To put that into perspective, he was born in 1883 and she was born in 1912.

Grew up: in Palm Springs, CA, in a neighborhood with movie stars and entertainment icons, including Elvis Presley, Bob Hope, Kirk Douglas and Arnold Palmer. We were, however, the “poor rich.” My father made his money in the steel industry in WWII. I remember the day he had actually earned his million. As a poor immigrant child who was most definitely a self-made man with a 6th grade education, he couldn’t have been prouder.

Learned: from my father the value of hard work and honesty. From my mother, I learned a love of language and reading. She inhaled literature and read to me every day from the time I was a baby until I finally told her to quit already. She also had me reading chapter books before kindergarten.

Found: my birth mother, Toni Chandler, in the year 2000. One interesting side note is that she has written poetry her entire life. I have a half-sister, Fran, who I have yet to meet. I did try to contact my birth father when my son, Jason, was born. He refused to acknowledge me or even that he’d had a relationship with Toni. However, they were roller skating pairs champs in high school together. (If you’re wondering, I’m a klutz on skates.)

Moved: to the Santa Ynez Valley, near Santa Barbara, my 8th grade summer. The high school is relatively small and my parents thought it would be a more wholesome atmosphere. The valley is a “horsey” place and I did, in fact, own horses until I moved to the Tahoe area in 1985. I showed, jumped, rode gymkhana and barrel raced.

In school: I was a straight A student almost all the way through school. With an excellent private school background through 8th grade, it was fairly easy to maintain those grades all the way through high school, despite a certain renegade attitude (70s rebel and all that!). I was the type who could read a chapter in a book and pass a test, even without the classroom discussion necessary for some.

Started writing: From the time I knew how to put words on paper. I’ve always been writing something (especially poetry) ever since, although I didn’t start writing for money until around 1992.

Published: my first poem, a brilliant haiku (I’m pretty sure there were trees and springtime in it), when I was nine. I was always encouraged by my English teachers to write, and won pretty much every creative writing contest I ever entered all the way through high school.

Graduated: Santa Ynez Valley Union High School in 1973. Went on to study journalism in college (Crafton Hills College and UCSB), but dropped out to get married and start a family.

Children: Had my first child, Jason, when I was just 21. He was born in 1976. Cristal followed two years later.

Divorced: When Cristal was still a baby in diapers. My ex moved to Albuquerque. I’m not going to disclose names. He should be allowed a sense of privacy.

Rebound relationship: Met my daughter, Kelly’s, father on the rebound. He was very much a not-nice man. The relationship was physically abusive and lasted far longer than it should have.
When I finally found the courage to make a break, he kidnapped Kelly against court orders and hid her for almost three years. Finally, his own grandmother helped us get her back. That’s a long story, too long to tell here. Maybe I’ll blog it one day.

Owned my own business: During this time, I was the owner of Valley Video, a video store before video got big. Sold out in 1984.

“Forever love”: found me during this time. I met John Hopkins, and we moved to the Tahoe area in 1985. Wanting to be sure it would all work out, I insisted we wait to get married until October 19, 1991. We’ve survived good, bad, amazing, and horrible and come out stronger. He is still, and always, my best friend.

For the last time: We moved to northern Nevada, in a rural valley between Reno and Carson City, in 1990. We thought the move might be temporary, but we simply love it here. If you look in my photo albums online, you’ll find examples of why. It’s a different kind of beauty than the green of Washington, but the palette here—gold and auburn and sage and the deep blue of the Sierra–is unmatched.

During this time: I decided to try and write for a living. I started freelancing newspaper and magazine articles. Moved from there into children’s nonfiction, publishing twenty titles before I sold my first novel. I was always trying different things—picture books, early chapter books, etc., and I wrote an entire adult novel which didn’t sell then. [I’ve resurrected it; we’ll see what happens with it in the future.] I also taught creative part time as an artist-in-residence; owned my own little publishing company, which did a newspaper for children; and was an instructor for the Institute of Children’s Literature. And I did all those things simultaneously, searching for where I belonged as a writer.

The real story: behind Crank took place between the years 1995 and 1971. “Hunter,” aka Orion, was born in 1996. We took guardianship of him when he was just a baby and adopted him when he was not quite four years old. He is the light of our lives (as well as the biggest pain!) and a true gift. He knows the whole story, of course, but considers us his parents, and we consider him our son.

We lived: in the same modest home until last year. Rather than move (we love our 1.25 acres on a hill overlooking Washoe Lake to the Sierra), we added on, and remodeled the old part of the house. Everything they say about remodeling/additions is true. The process had dust and some small delays. But it was sooooooooo worth it.

For Writers On Writing

  • Try to write every day, even if it’s just a sentence or two in a journal, a short poem or a character sketch. If you miss a day, don’t beat yourself up. Writing should be something you love to do, not something you have to do.
  • Always keep a notebook by your bed and in your purse, pocket or glove box. Note down those ideas or character sketches when the muse strikes. You can always flesh them outlater.
  • Study your craft. Writing is one thing. Writing well is another. If you can, take classes online or at a community college. If you can’t, buy or borrow books on craft. Be the best writer you can be.
  • Other classes to consider are psychology, sociology, philosophy and religion. All these give you insight into the human psyched and character, IMHO, is what the best stories are all about.
  • Read, read and read some more. What is it about a poem or story or book that makes you love-or hate-it? What works for you, and what doesn’t?
  • Join a critique group. Sit in on a session or two before sharing, so you know if the group seems like one you can trust to offer fair, but kind, criticism of your work. It’s good to have other eyes on your writing, but not mean spirited eyes.
  • If you can’t find a group you like, start your own. Find other writers in your area, especially those who write the same kinds of things you’re writing. If it’s too hard to meet in person, trade writing for critique online.
  • Handwritten work is easy to lose, through moves, fires, floods and other events. If you’re going to submit, you’re going to have to put your work into a computer at some point. But even if you’re just writing for yourself, put everything into a universal word processing program (WORD is recommended) and store it both on your hard drive and on a flash drive, which is portable. Keep that in a safe place.
  • Writer’s block can and does happen. Take a break. Take a walk. Personally, I take a hot tub. The bubbles seem to work wonders for me when I get stuck.

Totally inspired. Dat is alles wat ik kan zeggen over Ellen. Haar biografie is zo schitterend, ze heeft zoveel meegemaakt en overal doorheen schemert het schrijven. Ze beschrijft de dingen als haar adoptie en de ontvoering en mishandeling van haar dochter kort en bijna zakelijk. Maar wat een pijn moet het hebben gegeven om dit met je dochter mee te maken. Wat een pijn moet het hebben gegeven als je eigen vader je niet wilt erkennen. En in alles zie ik hoe schrijven haar heeft geholpen.

De schrijftips die ze op haar website heeft staan zijn ook geweldig. Ik doe al veel van deze dingen, maar zelfs dan geeft het mij veel inspiratie om ze weer te lezen. Voor mij is het nog maar een paar weken en deze blog is ten einde. Zeer waarschijnlijk is dan ook mijn boek voltooid. Maar ik weet dat ik zal blijven schrijven. Want het doet me zo goed, ik kan me er zo in verliezen, het komt zomaar uit mijn vingers, ik zie dat het bij me past.

Daarom heb ik voor volgend jaar al een nieuw 365-dagenproject bedacht: iedere dag bedenk ik een woord, gewoon een woord, dan zet ik de wekker op 10 minuten, en dan schrijf ik gedurende die tijd alles wat er maar in me opkomt vanuit dat woord. Ik mag niet nadenken, ik mag alleen schrijven. Dit heb ik geleerd tijdens een workshop van Geertje Couwenbergh. Door zo te schrijven leer je op een gegeven moment te schrijven vanuit je eerste gedachte, en niet vanuit de tweede, vaak door jezelf onbewust gecensureerde, gedachte. Leren schrijven vanuit je eerste gedachtes is een radicaal andere manier van schrijven dan we gewend zijn. Het bevrijdt je ongecensureerde zelf en versterkt je intuïtie. Door het te koppelen aan een 365-dagenproject weet ik zeker dat ik het doe, want ik zie nu al hoeveel me dat gaat opleveren. Het wordt mijn persoonlijke schrijfmeditatie.

En dan hoop ik volgend jaar ook mijn eerste boek te publiceren, en wellicht net zoveel te schrijven als Ellen. Aan de tips zal het niet liggen, mijn avondinvulling voor vanavond is helder: schrijven!


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