On Friday, June 28, Simon and Schuster held what it hoped would be the first of many “Teen Tastemakers” receptions at ALA in Chicago. The first guest of honor was Ellen Hopkins, who was there to promote her book Smoke, the sequel to her 2006 book Burned. Before the event, all the teens in attendance were given Burned to read so they would be able to ask Hopkins questions later in the evening.
When the event started, teens and their librarian advisors were given passports. The passports were stamped while teens mingled, enjoyed appetizers and drinks, and spoke with each other and Hopkins. The teens learned about PulseIt, were given five free books (Smoke among them), watched the City of Bones trailer, received movie paraphernalia, and voted on book covers.
After mingling, Hopkins went to the front of the room to talk about her writing process, what she was working on, and her charity Ventana Sierra. Most knew Hopkins’s background: she was a former journalist, and after writing over 20 non-fiction books for middle school students, she switched to young adult fiction. She had written poetry since the age of 9 and decided to write Crank to chronicle what her daughter went through for six years as a means to help others. She wanted to “put a face on addiction.”
Hopkins admitted right away that she has had to defend the ending of Burned ever since the book was published (“including tonight!”). She wanted to explore why school shootings happen and “what could put a girl in that situation.” She then gave a simple (semi-spoiler) summary of how Smoke opens and how she wanted to “continue her story in a way to move [Pattyn] forward.” The book is told from two perspectives. In all her “spare” time, Hopkins has been adapting Crank for the stage, working on her non-profit (webinars are coming soon!), and writing her 2014 young adult book, Rumble, about belief versus nonbelief. Hopkins thinks teens should be asking questions about beliefs.
After her talk, the teens asked Hopkins questions and learned a lot more about her process. She does base her stories on things that have happened, but it’s “never their story exactly.” She advises writers to be voyeurs and to study subjects in college that will allow them to see “what makes people tick.” One of the funnier moments of the evening was when Hopkins was asked what subject she wouldn’t write about she said, “I probably wouldn’t write about … hmm … necrophilia. Don’t know what it is? Look it up.” Someone did and the room erupted in laughter for a few minutes.
Since Hopkins writes in prose and free verse, her personal habits are a bit different “from the norm.” She doesn’t listen to music, and a good day is “six to eight houses in front of the computer,” which equates to 15 finished pages. Once those pages are finished, they are done, as it is really hard to edit verse and once it only took her 8 hours to edit an entire book. As for her future plans, she said she has to keep challenging readers and herself. She is considering a short horror story in verse.
After the question and answer session, the teens were able to get their books signed by Hopkins. It was a great event and I hope it is something that Simon and Schuster will continue to host for teen readers.
— Faythe Arredondo, currently reading The Symptoms of My Insanity by Mindy Raf