Interview with ‘Smoke’ Author Ellen Hopkins
New York Times bestselling author Ellen Hopkins joins us to talk about her latest novel-in-verse Smoke, which continues the riveting story of Pattyn Von Stratten that began in Burned.
Smoke continues the story of Pattyn Von Stratten that began in Burned. What should readers who haven’t experienced Burned yet know before they dive in? (Although we recommend they read Burned first!)
Pattyn comes from a strict religious background, punctuated by the physical and emotional abuse of her father (who, despite everything, she loves). After some trouble at school, she is sent to live with her sympathetic aunt in the wilds of eastern Nevada. There, she meets the boy who would be her salvation, except her father won’t allow it. When we leave Pattyn at the end of Burned, she is considering a shooting rampage, and topping the list of intended victims is her father.
What comes first – the poetry or the story? Do you know what story you want to tell or do you let the poems dictate what direction it goes in?
Before either, I come up with a general theme and the characters that represent that theme. The pre-write is all about character and world building, though my worlds tend to be those everyday people inhabit. After I get to know my characters well, I let them tell me their stories. Somehow, they speak to me in poetry.
We love the unique free verse style your novels are written in. What made you decide to embark down such a different path? Were you inspired by any other authors?
I’ve written poetry most of my life, and that includes formal and lyric poetry, not just the narrative verse my novels are written in. I actually started my first novel, Crank in prose, but the voice was all wrong so I put it away. Then I took a workshop with another verse novelist, Sonya Sones. That gave me the idea to try a novel in verse, and it definitely worked, not only for that first book, but for the others that followed.
What can we expect next from you?
My next young adult novel, Rumble, is finished and in production, scheduled for a September 2014 release. It’s about belief v. non-belief. I’m currently writing my third adult novel, Tangled, about falling in love with a psychopath. This will be my first novel in prose, although there will be some poems from the psychopath’s point of view. I’ve also recently adapted Crank to the stage. It will open here in Reno in January, then the script will be available for other theater groups.
What books are sitting on your nightstand right now?
A couple of books from Entangled Teen–Olivia Twisted by Vivi Barnes and Scintillate by Tracy Clark.
Is there anything else you’d like to tell our readers?
A couple of things. If the verse format seems off-putting, read completely for story. My books are fiction first, verse second. On Smoke, it’s the sequel I thought I’d never write, but it ended up being one of my favorite books, and my readers feel the same way. Finally, if you know my name because of Crank, well, it’s only one of twelve novels I’ve published, and they are all very different. I think each is better than the last, so keep reading!
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