Deborah Hopkinson

How did you become a writer?

I’m a huge proponent of keeping your day job if you need to, but not giving up on the goal of writing full-time. My first picture book was published twenty-five years ago, but I’ve only been writing full time since 2014. Prior to that, I also worked in academic fundraising. I wrote a lotin my career—grants, speeches, press releases. All of it taught me a lot about being flexible and open to revision.  

Name your writing influences (writers, books, teachers, etc.).

I don’t usually read fiction when I’m writing fiction. And I’d have to say that my writing influences have come primarily from film. For my nonfiction, I try to pay attention to how story and context intersect. I love how Ken Burns zooms in on an individual, then backs up to provide context. And though I’ve read a ton of “craft” books, I always tend to return to Save the Catby Blake Snyder. That beat sheet has saved me several times.

When and where do you write? 

Years ago, I purchased a huge, handmade dining room table from a friend. Her ex-boyfriend had made it. Now it’s my desk. I sit under the 1970s-era dining room chandelier that was here when we purchased our house. But I can look out the back window at a bird feeder and our kitchen garden. Our two dogs keep me company. (They both appear in my forthcoming spy mystery for young readers.) My cat, Beatrix, is always creating havoc on my desk. She’s named for Beatrix Potter, about whom I wrote a picture book entitled Beatrix Potter and the Unfortunate Tale of a Borrowed Guinea Pig.

What are you working on now? 

I sometimes work on more than one thing at a time, since I write picture books, historical fiction for 8-14 year olds, and nonfiction for elementary and teen readers. I’ve written three longer nonfiction books on World War II, and am just finishing a fourth, which will come out in Spring 2020. It’s entitled Refugees and Survivors: Escaping the Nazis on the Kindertransport. I have one more WWII book to go. When I’m not speaking to students in schools around the country, I’ll often work on picture books in the midst of long projects.

Have you ever suffered from writer’s block?

I’m really not sure writer’s block is a real thing, at least for me. I slog through, no matter what. Sometimes I go off and take the dogs for a walk and let things jiggle around in my brain, and then I come back to the computer and slog through some more.

What’s the best writing advice you’ve ever received?

My longtime editor Anne Schwartz once commented: “You have to want it more than sleep.” That’s especially true when you’re trying to write with young kids. 

What’s your advice to new writers?

Don’t listen to advice that doesn’t work for you. Not everyone can write every day, or set process and output goals (something that worked for me), or write before work, or all weekend long, or whatever. Each of us finds our own way to write. Find yours—and don’t give up.

Deborah Hopkinson has written more than fifty books for young readers, including picture books, middle grade historical fiction, and nonfiction. Her award-winning titles include Titanic: Voices from the DisasterSky Boys: How They Built the Empire State BuildingApples to Oregon, and Courage & Defiance: Stories of Spies, Saboteurs, and Survivors in WWII Denmark. Deborah’s new books include D-Day: The World War II Invasion that Changed HistoryCarter Reads the Newspaper, a picture book illustrated by Don Tate, and How I Became a Spy: A Mystery of WWII London. She lives near Portland, Oregon.