Kristin Elizabeth Clark recently sat down with her mentor, Ellen Hopkins, to talk about writing, her transition from middle grade to young adult lit, and just how her book Freakboy was born.
EH: Do you remember our first meeting?
KEC: I do indeed! It was at a conference. I had just picked up Impulse and was really into it. You were being mobbed by people and I thought you’d be hard to talk to but you weren’t. You are so kind to new writers and so good at getting them to focus on craft. I like to imagine that if you hadn’t become Ellen F. Hopkins, bestselling author, you’d be Ellen F. Hopkins, social worker extraordinaire. Or like the Mother Theresa of the great unwashed literati…
Hahaha. I do have a reputation for gathering in strays, including lost-looking writers at conferences. That was the annual SCBWI conference in Los Angeles, one of the best literary parties of every year. I’ve made many friends at that conference. Some I’ve grown very close to, including this one stunning blond woman with a quirky fashion sense. That would be you, in case you don’t know.
*Blushes* – although quirky fashion sense COULD mean anything.
When we met, you were writing zany middle grade. Why the shift to YA? And why this subject matter?
A few years ago a kid with whom I have a very close relationship came out to me as transgender. Living in the SF Bay Area, I thought I knew what that meant, but the more I talked with her, the more we researched support and resources for her, and the more gender queer individuals I got to know, the more I realized how many false assumptions I had about something I actually knew very little about at the time.
I felt there needed to be more books out there dealing with the subject—and when I went to you, Oh Challenging YA Book Queen, wringing my hands and whining about this, you told me (nicely) to shut up and write the book myself.
I chose YA because identity itself is a big question mark when you’re that age, and it felt as though this story was one that a lot of kids would be able to relate to. My protagonist is asking pretty universal questions. Who am I? Where do I fit in? What is my place in this world?
I will never forget how freaked out I was when the story started coming out in verse – nor will I ever forget how encouraging you were about that little fact. Do you remember what you told me?
Man, I’m pretty old to be remembering that far back… but the first thing I said was probably, “Are you insane?” Mostly because I know how you tussle with revision, and verse is incredibly hard to revise. And I might have warned about inevitable comparisons with my work, as well as the reluctance of some editors to tackle verse. But then I’m sure I told you to write the story the way it demanded to be written, and if verse was the way it was speaking to you, then you’d better listen. Is that close?
Speaking of that, when you were mid-revision, you told me you’d never write another verse novel. Still true? Because that would be kind of sad.
That’s sweet–but I’m STILL traumatized from revising Freakboy. So I would never say never but…
What you said about my dip into verse was, “Freakboy is such an internal story, it’s likely verse is the best medium for it. Keep going.”
It gave me such a boost. And you did warn me of people comparing what I was doing with what you do, or maybe even accusing me of copying your style–but again, you were so generous about that. You told me that stories told in verse have been around for centuries and that you didn’t invent it, so if it was speaking to me, I should just go for it, and to heck with detractors.
Of course – you probably did warn me about how terribly hard it is to revise verse, but I didn’t hear it at the time. I learned later… boy, did I learn.
How about you? Would you consider writing a book that was not in verse? Oh! And I understand you’re adapting something for stage. How’s that going?
My next adult novel, Tangled, will be my first prose novel, although we won’t lose the verse completely. There’s a mystery element to the story, and readers will find clues in the poetry left behind. It’s been tough, trying to get adult readers to accept the concept of an alternate format like verse. So we’ll try breaking them in slowly. On the Crank-to-stage adaptation, it’s almost there. The theater company that asked me to write the script plans to produce it in the spring. I’d have finished it already, but this current book tour got in the way.
A final question for you. What’s next?
I’m really excited about the book I’m currently working on. My protagonist is transgender, but she’s pretty far along in the process and so while it’s an important part of the story, it’s not THE story the way it was in Freakboy.
It’s not in verse!!!
This article was featured in our free SLJTeen enewsletter.
Subscribe today to have more articles like this delivered to you twice a month.