How did you become a writer?
I became a writer the day I learned how to put a decent sentence (or maybe an indecent sentence) down on paper. I've always been drawn to words and loved that I could share my dreams and nightmares, successes and failures, hope and despair, with others. I wrote when it didn't mean a paycheck, but found my way into writing as a career through freelance journalism, then nonfiction books, and finally fiction.
Name your writing influences (writers, books, teachers, etc.).
First was my mom, who read to me every day when I was very young, and had me reading chapter books before kindergarten. She loved classic lit and poetry, which is why verse speaks to me. I went to a private middle school and my 6th-8th grade English teacher, Mr. Mechling, gave us lots of interesting writing assignments and convinced me then I had a talent for words. As for authors, Stephen King, John Irving and Ken Kesey. They write very different things, but all use character to drive their stories forward. To me, character is everything.
When and where do you write?
Usually I write in my office, and I dive in as soon as the family is out the door for the day. On a good day, I write at least six hours (with too much social media distracting me). But I also write on the road. Hotel rooms are great because there are fewer distractions.
What are you working on now?
At the moment I'm revising the 2019 YA, SANCTUARY HIGHWAY. It's near future, and paints a not-quite-dystopian picture of the United States of America, which has been declared a Nation of Evangelical Whites. A group of young people must first escape the NEW hierarchy, then form an underground network to thwart it.
Have you ever suffered from writer’s block?
Of course, though it's a temporary problem. I step away from my computer and do something physical--work in the garden or run with my dog. When I work my body, that creative space in my brain unlocks itself. Best alternative: the hot tub. Something about all those bubbles.
What’s the best writing advice you’ve ever received?
To write the stories that scare me, without thought to censorship, either self-imposed, or from the outside. To write fearlessly and honestly.
What’s your advice to new writers?
Spend a lot of time on craft. Once, an editor might have seen a spark somewhere and taken the time to fan it into flames, regardless of story structure or pacing or even details like grammar. Those days are no longer. Not with so many excellent writers submitting. Don't shortchange yourself by sending off work that isn't your best.
Ellen Hopkins is a former journalist and the award-winning author of twenty nonfiction books for young readers, fourteen bestselling young adult novels, and four novels for adult readers. She lives near Carson City NV with her extended family, an exceptional German shepherd, a lazy rescue cat, and two ponds (not pounds) of koi.