Monthly Archives: October 2010

Interview with Ellen Hopkins

Kyra here.
I got the chance to meet the famous Ellen Hopkins this summer at ALA in Washington DC. It was so awesome! She gave me a little writing advice and really spoke the truth. This lady has been through some tough stuff, and she’s worked through it and helped so many people with her writing.
Check out this awesome interview!

What inspired you to  start writing poetry?

I’ve written poetry pretty much my entire life. Published my first poem when I was nine, and that inspired me to keep writing it, I guess. I’m a member of a poetry group here in Carson City, and have been for over a decade. So I was growing my poetry before I ever considered combining it with fiction. That was a natural move for me.

When did you know you were going to write the Crank series?

First off, I never expected it to become a series. I started Crank when my daughter went to prison. It was a way to work through the previous six years of our life, and those were six years of hell. As I wrote the book, it became clear that it was a bigger story than just mine. Too many people have lived it. I knew the book would speak to many.

Was it hard to write about something so personal?

Because I didn’t start the book [Crank] expecting publication (or even hoping for it, really), it wasn’t hard to write. The story itself was fresh in my mind, and processing it was necessary. Glass was harder to write because it explored the deeper part of her addiction. Some of those scenes were very difficult to relive.

What’s been the hardest part for writing books for you, in general?

The hardest thing is balance. Finding time to write, while promoting the other books, doing school visits, book festivals, writers conferences, etc.  Plus all the everyday stuff. I still have a child in middle school, and it hasn’t been a good experience for him. So dealing with that, my husband, my grown kids and their children. My dogs. My house. My yard. Mentoring other writers as a regional adviser for SCBWI and through my poetry group. Being a friend. And now I’m writing two books a year–one YA and one adult. Yikes! Can we create a few more hours for every day?

If you could do something other than write for a living, what would you do?

I’d probably be a pilot. I love flight and aviation. I suppose that might get boring after several years, but not as boring as being an accountant. Math is not my favorite thing.

What book do you wish you’d written?

Tough question. Not sure I can name a book because all authors are so different. But there are lines in some books I’ve read and wished I’d written. I can’t quote them now, but I distinctly remember reading Laura Weiss’ Such a Pretty Girl and thinking that.

What authors inspire you the most?

Historically, I’m a huge Stephen King fan. Also Ken Kesey (who wrote One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest). Both are character-driven authors, and for me, character should drive every story, even genre.

What’re the best three young adult books you’ve read this year?

Amy King’s Please Ignore Vera Dietz; Jandy Nelson’s The Sky is Everywhere; Holly Black’s White Cat.

What’s the best advice you could give someone wanting to write a novel?

Start by building characters. Know them inside out before you sit down to write. Who are they? What does their family look like? Who are their friends? What do they need/want–and more importantly, why? Motivation is the driving factor for every great story, I think. Once you know all that, let plot flow from your characters, rather than trying to force them into an artificial plot line.

What’s your favorite cuss word?

I don’t use them often, so when I do I want to make the greatest impact. The f-word generally accomplishes that.

When you die, if there is a Supreme Being, what do you want them to say to you when they welcome you back?

I hope He thanks me for making a positive difference in this world. I believe I’m doing that and, in fact, think my writing is a ministry of sorts. Life presents many challenges, and offers up a lot of pain. But there is light beyond all the darkness. I hope my books help people reach for the light.


Filed under Uncategorized

Why YA is Still Children’s

Mette Ivie Harrison is the author of THE MONSTER IN ME (Holiday House, 2002), MIRA, MIRROR (2004, Viking), THE PRINCESS AND THE HOUND (2007, HarperEos), THE PRINCESS AND THE BEAR (2009, HarperEos), and THE PRINCESS AND THE SNOWBIRD (HarperTeen 2010).  Her novel, TRIS AND IZZIE, a light contemporary fantasy inspired by the original German epic will be out with Egmont in 2011.  She has a new trilogy, beginning with A CROWN OF DIAMONDS AND SAPPHIRES due out with HarperTeen in 2012.

Mette is a competitive triathlete and survived (barely!) a PhD program in Germanic Languages and Literatures at Princeton University (1995).  She has five children and lives in Layton, Utah.  For fun, she tries out new vegan recipes, crochets, draws, and plays the piano badly.  She loves Amish quilts, black and white illustration, graphic novels, chocolate, and Jane Austen everything.  Her website is

I was involved this week in a difficult situation with an author who had asked me to critique his manuscript as a YA.  When I kept referring to the general field as children’s, giving him suggestions about how the book would need to be changed, he was frustrated because it seemed obvious to him that teens are NOT children and that their reading interests are nothing like younger children.  I find the same problem when I tell people I write children’s literature, because for the lay person, that means picture books.

An important thing to learn when writing for teens is that it is writing for children in 2 important ways.  One, the publisher and the bookseller lump books into a general children’s grouping, including picture books, easy readers, chapter books, middle grade and young adult.  On the publisher’s side, this means that the same editor who works on your YA book with you will be working on picture books with other authors, and middle grade and even graphic novels for kids with still other authors.  A children’s editor has to be able to work on any of them.  Some may specialize, but I don’t think any of them have exclusionary policies.  This is also partly because for authors, there is a great deal of flexibility within the general children’s umbrella.  If you are an adult author and you want to move from writing mystery to writing literary fiction, you are certainly going to have to change editors and imprints, and may have to change houses.  You are unlikely to be able to even find a referral from your current editor to another editor.  Those parts of the house just don’t talk to each other.  Likewise, if you want to move from children’s to adult, you will have problems.  But if you move from young adult to middle grade or picture, no one will blink an eyelash.  You won’t have to change editors or anything else.  Children’s is also a great place to be because there is no sense of different genres.  If you write fantasy for teens and want to change to contemporary, it’s not a big leap.  Again, the same editor will work with you, the same marketing people, the same artists.

Two, writing for teens is still writing for children because there are certain limitations in what you can write about.  Yes, YA has opened up a lot.  There are fewer taboo topics than before.  Things have gotten darker.  There are walls being pushed back.  But even if you are writing fantasy for young adults, there are certain things you will probably not be allowed to write about.  I have been asked to tone down the references to blood, and to have people spit and vomit less, for example.  And I think of myself as a pretty tame writer.  If you open a fantasy novel for adults today, you will be surprised at how the boundaries have moved there, too.  Swearing on every page, multiple body parts being flung about, the death tolls in the umpteen thousands.  And motivations are not very noble.  So, YA is still tame.  It’s just that the adult side has gotten grittier, and so what YA is compared against has changed, as well.  I don’t know that there are any taboo topics anymore, but there might be taboo ways of writing about them.  Books on rape exist, but they don’t describe it graphically.  And the people who rape aren’t heroes, as they strangely can be in adult literature.  Your readers are still juveniles.  They have parents who want to watch over them and protect them from the worst the world has to offer.  You are writing for school libraries, not just the public library.  And you should be aware that no one bans books like parents ban books.  You may think that having a book banned would be great publicity, but it is no fun to be written nasty letters and emails telling you that the book you wrote, intending for it to be enlightening for kids, is trash.  Most writers I know–even the ones with books getting banned–are trying to do a public service with their writing.  They remember what it was like to be a kid and want to make other kids’ lives easier.  They don’t write cozy messages, morality plays wrapped in words, but they have good intentions.  I never thought of myself as writing for children until I started trying to publish my books, and discovered that they were “clean.”  And now that I’ve been labeled that way, as safe reading for parents who are looking for books without bad words, my editor tries to keep me that way, if I am ever tempted to use a couple of bad words.

When you write for teens, remember that they are children in both senses, and you will be one step closer to becoming a professional in the field.  You ARE a children’s writer, and we welcome you to the fold!


From Carol: Mette is one of the hardest working writers I know. She is smart, determined and successful. We’ve known each other a long time and I have watched her grow into a novelist that has such strong twists and turns in her work that I’m shaking my head at what she does. I consider her a good friend and wish her continued success. She loves it when you call her Met.


Filed under Uncategorized

hobbies vs. passion

I always pause when I come to that part in writing a bio or when people ask me what my hobbies are.

I used to say writing. But only after I was published, because I was too shy to say it before.

And then I thought, “Why am I saying that’s a hobby? It’s work! Great work, but definitely work. And I do it a LOT. Not when everything else is done.” Which is what I think of as a hobby. Something you like to do but don’t necessarily get to do as much as you would hope. Maybe that’s a really inaccurate description.

But I think people do think of writing as a hobby, sometimes. Something cute and sweet that really anyone can do that isn’t to be taken seriously. Ann Dee and I had a conversation about this recently. About how sometimes you have to protect your writing time because people don’t respect it and don’t think writing is work–or that they think it is easy work.

After news of the book deal went through last winter, a couple of very nice and well-meaning men said to me, “I wish my wife had a hobby like yours!”

And I thought, but didn’t say, that is so insulting. To everyone involved. It’s insulting to both me and his wife, because it implies that either of us do something that is not important–her, because she should do this “instead” and me, because it assumes that what I do is very easy. But in reality, it is all valuable and challenging, if done well/taken seriously. I have friends who are incredible cooks, who make beautiful things, who teach music to children, who make things happen at our elementary school. I wish I could do all of those things as well as they do. But I haven’t put in the time to be them. And they haven’t put in the time to be me. But we both love/feel strongly/put time into whatever it is that we do.

So I think what it comes down to is this: there are hobbies, and there are passions. Sometimes, to someone on the outside, a passion may look like a hobby. But that doesn’t mean it is. And whatever our passions are-and they may be myriad-we should be proud of those things and protect them and not let people walk all over them or make them smaller than they are.


Filed under Uncategorized

A Winner and Scary

You guys are scary.


Did you read the entries? The blood, the clock ticking–the retching, the scraping of the nails, the breathing, the inch by inch terror, the hidden cat (scary), the key in the door.

I was sort of shocked at how scared I got. You all deserve to win and you all deserve to come to my house and eat caramel apples if I knew how to make them. Unfortunately, there is only one winner for this one and it was chosen anonymously by an outside judge who claims to be attuned to the nuance of horror.

And the winner is  . . . . Shar! Yay!

I wish we could all get together and have a halloween scary story telling party. One day. One day. I tell a mean Golden Arm.

Also, in relation to the revision suggestions Carol has been giving out, I recently read a facebook status that said “The Orphan is the worst movie ever.” This piqued my interest because I am always on the lookout for the worst movie ever. Or at least, I like to know what people think is the worst movie ever and then compare notes.

I also don’t like to watch scary movies because I can’t get them out of my head, but I do like to know the plot of scary movies so that I can relate to my husband’s teenage brother who has watched all the Saw movies and all the The Hills Have Eyes movies, etc. etc. I tell him they are trash. He tells me how do you know. So then I do a little research and have you read the plot of The Hills Have Eyes? ARE YOU KIDDING ME? Really? Really?

So, anyway, The Orphan. Worst movie ever and a horror flick. And it has a couple of well known actors in it which was surprising to me since I always assume the Worst Movie Ever has to be, you know, full of unknowns. So I decided to read the synopsis. Especially since it’s about a little girl who terrorizes a family. SPOILER ALERT: IF YOU ARE EVER GOING TO WATCH THE ORPHAN OR READ THE SYNOPSIS OF THE ORPHAN AND WANT TO BE SURPRISED BY THE RIDICULOUS ENDING THAT RELATES DIRECTLY TO ONE OF CAROL’S REVISION DECISIONS, PLEASE STOP READING NOW.

Here’s the situation. Man and Woman decide to adopt a girl from an orphanage. She’s nine. Sweet. Different. Creepy looking but you know, she’s nervous. They bring her home. Things are good and then they go . . . well bad. Very very bad. What is wrong with this girl? She’s pushing kids off the jungle gym, she’s setting things on fire, terrorizing the family. Well, Mom does a little research and finds out some disturbing news.
HERE IT COMES . . . the girl is actually thirty-three years old but has dwarfism.  I was dying when I read this DYING. Talk about PLOT TWIST. I can not believe this movie got the green light. I really can’t. Part of me wants to see it (not at all ) just to see how the director tried to pull it off.

So is it a kids/teen movie? Why no, it’s not.

And since this is a writing blog maybe this is something you should consider.

Is the book you’re writing a kid/teen book? Or is the child actually 48? And if they are 48, is it intentional? For plot reasons?

Just some food for thought. I am really deep.

Also, someone asked me do this. Do not count how many times I wrote “so” in the last blurb. It’s not true. They aren’t there. It was late. I was reading bad horror movie synopses.

Congratulations Shar and thank you thank you to everyone who entered. They were so awesome. I am not kidding. So so so awesome.


Filed under Uncategorized