Thanks to Tabatha at The Opposite of Indifference for hosting this amazing community of poetry lovers.
I am a long time fan and reader of Ellen Hopkins. Her book, CRANK, introduced me to novels in verse. It made me revise my WIP from prose to verse.
My oldest grand girl has been reading her since sixth grade. This year I purchased her latest, PEOPLE KILL PEOPLE, to give oldest. I had to read (it was a CYBILS nomination after all). It’s a must read.
Ellen Hopkins graciously answered the followings interview questions for me:
JRM: When and how did you get starting writing?
EH: I’ve been writing ever since I learned how. Poetry was my first love, but also short stories, essays, nonfiction, journalism. It’s a talent. It’s a passion.
JRM: What process do you use when writing in more than one voice? Do you write the different voices as the story unfolds or each separately or a combo?
EH: I have to write chronologically, so I write each voice in succession. Often those voices connect somewhere, somehow, so it keeps everything in order in my mind, if nothing else.
JRM: If we could hear the actual voice of Violence, how would it sound? Old? Young? Or would it change? What kind of picture did you have in your head as how Violence would look as a character?
EH: The call to violence is an ancient one, so for me the voice of Violence is ancient. Sometimes soft, sometimes loud. I picture Violence as a crone, but maybe one who can make herself beautiful if the need arises.
JRM: What kind of research did you do for this book? Did you talk with people who’ve had first hand experience with Violence? Were you able to ask people the question of why pull a trigger?
EH: I mostly interviewed victims of gun violence… that, of course, includes the families of victims. I can tell you once someone crosses that line it changes lives forever. I was also raised in a household that had guns. My father hunted and also collected/traded them, so there has never been an aura of curiosity or inexperience with weapons surrounding me. On two occasions, as a child I witnessed my “responsible” gun-owning father (alcohol involved) put a loaded gun to my mom’s chest. She talked him down, but the fear was incredible.
Blending immigration, racism, violence and gun control seemed like a such tremendous task to weave together into one story. Were there points when you needed to step away from the manuscript to allow it to percolate?
Stepping away from the manuscript was mostly for research. The percolation is in the pre-write for me. I generally have a real relationship with my characters before I sit down to write, especially with multiple viewpoints in the story.
JRM: How did you counter balance these hard themes when you were in the middle of writing? I wonder if it energized you or drained to write this book and how you balanced that out.
EH: Honestly, it depended on the day and what was going on, both in my life and in the world. There were several mass shootings in the news, which made it more difficult to write but also much more important. Without understanding the WHYS of gun violence we can’t work to mitigate it. Rarely do I have the luxury of stepping away from a writing project too long, by the way.
JRM: Would you like to share what’s next for you in the writing world?
EH: The next YA, which releases in October, is SANCTUARY HIGHWAY, a politically charged near-future look at where this country could end up if it keeps moving in the direction it has been. After that, I’m hoping to finish a middle grade novel about how a troubled kid who changes the lives of his new family negatively—-but much more positively.
Stay tuned! In fourteen days, the CYBILs Awards will be announced.
Wonderful! Thank you for bringing us this inside knowledge. I need to read this book.
Thank-you, both Jone and Ellen, for sharing this interview. My skin crawled reading about those actions of a ‘responsible’ gun owner… I will definitely be on the lookout for this book in Australia!
This interview was fascinating, especially the part about the voice of Violence.
Thank you for this interview! My reading usually stops at 5th grade level and content. I’m anxious to get caught up on all the YA I’ve been missing, especially verse novels!
Such an engrossing interview! Thank you, Jone and Ellen. I’m glad she wrote this book.
I liked Ellen’s description of having a “real relationship” with her characters before she starts to write. It seems like that is how you can hear their individual voices the best.
Love hearing about the process from Ellen, Jone. Thanks for this. I’ve bookmarked the book!
These are some hard and honest topics–but much needed. Thanks for sharing Ellen Hopkins book and interviewing her.