TTBF Author Interview (2)

Teen Press Corps member, Rosie, interviews People Kill People author, Ellen Hopkins



Rosie: Your characters in your book People Kill People are very deep and complex, how do you think of those characters and their deep backstories?

EH: That’s like where I start. Prewrite is all creating characters so this book particularly I knew I had different themes, different reasons why people might pick up a gun, so revenge, jealousy, hate, anger so then I create the character around that, that suits the theme. So I spent a lot of time learning who they are, figuring out who their family is, what their family situation is, and if they have a love interest, do they hate their love interest, whatever. So just really building character bibles as some people call it. That’s where I start.


Rosie: Why did you think it was important to write People Kill People about gun violence? Was there a specific reason you wanted to write about that?

EH: I probably started thinking about it with Columbine and this idea that not only of a school shooting or a mass shooting, but that a young person would be capable of that. I’m always looking at the psychology, the reasons why things happen because hopefully by figuring out the whys we can maybe make a difference and change them. I’ve had some personal experiences like Las Vegas; my niece was there, she watched a girl die right in front of her. Things like that, they hit you and it becomes a personal journey.


Rosie: Are there any any characters in any of your books that you see aspects of yourself or others in?

EH: There are always threads of people in them. There are threads of myself in many of my characters, there are threads of people I know, there are threads of readers that share their stories. I try not to tell anybody else’s story specifically, but often they’ll inspire a character or a story idea.


Rosie: What is your current favorite book?

EH: That’s a tough one. What I’m reading right now is mostly non-fiction. I’m reading a book called Fear by Bob Woodward and it’s all about kind of the Trump White House and how that happened and the background behind that. Bob Woodward was a journalist that covered Watergate and all that so he’s really excellent at that.


Rosie: What is some advice you have for teens?

EH: To consider your choices carefully. You guys have lots of information coming at you all the time but in a mad moment you don’t always think about the information. If you can remember that outcomes to choices, we can forgive some mistakes, but there are some things you can’t take back. Like you know you shouldn’t get in a car and drive drunk but lots of young people are going to, so if you kill your best friend you will never forget that, that will be something you will carry with you for your whole life. So just think carefully before you make less than positive decisions.


Rosie: What are three books you think every teen should read?

EH: This is a tough one. Speak {by Laurie Halse Anderson} I think is really important because the idea of how important it is to use your voice. This is a tough one because there are so many that are really important. I love some of the classics so I think Lord of the Flies is a book that everybody ought to read. I know everybody doesn’t like that book, but this idea that any kind could, given the wrong situation, become a savage I guess. And all of my books! But no I think contemporary fiction is a good thing. It depends on where your interests lie, but I think contemporary young adult fiction should be explored by contemporary young adults.


Rosie: What is your biggest pet peeve?

EH: Stoplights. I live out in the country and when I go into town it’s like, “this is two minutes of my day.” Then I go a block and it’s like, “this is another two minutes of my day.”


Rosie: What’s your favorite word?

EH: Wellspring. I think we should all be a wellspring for somebody who’s in need; offer what we can in the moment and maybe that is something small and maybe it’s something big, you never know.


Rosie: What is your favorite thing about Austin?

EH: I love that it’s a blue dot in the middle of red. I think people get the wrong idea about Texas, but I think it’s a very sensible city in the middle of some craziness.


Rosie: Why did you decide to write People Kill People as the voice of Violence? How did you come up with that idea?

EH: There is a poem at the beginning where it came, but it was like I think we can all be tempted into that space and I think we can all be tempted into a violent place given the right circumstances. It’s up to us to choose whether we’re going to choose to listen to that voice and I really wanted that idea that you can choose even if bad things are happening to you, you can still choose. When you’re young too, you don’t have as much perspective to realize that maybe you can get past this moment because everything is about right now. Like when you get old like me, I’ve had all these different moments so I can look back and go, “I would not do that again now.”


Rosie: Was it hard to write People Kill People because of how much of that is happening in the world, or was that part of why you wrote it?

EH: Both. The book was finished before Charlottesville which is interesting because I wanted to look at hate groups because they’ve been on the rise for quite a while. I knew that Tucson is a place where they really do have them. The group in the book is a real group so that’s very real. Also the cover, that was all pre-Parkland obviously, and the cover designer for whatever reason on the connect the dots he ended at 17 which was kinda weird and creepy. But Parkland, you know those things, my grown kids, they never thought about school shooters, they didn’t happen. But now you know I’m raising grandkids and they’re doing lockdown drills now and little kids have to think about it. I really think there’s a place to reach across the political divide and find a common ground that can help make all of us safer with some common sense and regulation that wouldn’t affect the 2nd Amendment, your ability to own guns, unless you are a domestic abuser or something like that and you should not own guns.


Rosie: If you could go back in time what advice would you give your younger self?

EH: That life isn’t all about having a partner or having a love interest in your life. I think it’s such a driving force when you’re a teenager. That you need a boyfriend or you need a girlfriend and you need a partner, and you don’t. So I think for me I would have found a way to be happier with myself without somebody else attached. I think I made some really bad decisions because of that. I fell in love with the wrong people.


Rosie: Is there one place where you write? Is there a special place or a special thing that helps you write?

EH: I usually write in my office because it’s a space that I’ve created that is my space. I’ve gone to the mountains, it’s a pretty peaceful space, but I also like to write on the road because I don’t have the distractions that I have at home. I don’t have to get up and wash clothes or make dinner or whatever.


Rosie: When did you start writing? Like did you always like writing?

EH: Yeah I was writing poetry ever since I was little. I wrote poetry all the way through high school, studied journalism in college, thought I’d be a journalist, and later I was, but then I fell in love with Mr. Wrong and got married and took a big long detour. Sometimes detours are alright though because they give you stuff to write about.


Rosie: Is there any advice you would give teenagers who want to follow a career in journalism and writing?

EH: You’ll be able to make a living quicker as a journalist probably, so learn to love the research because even with fiction research is important to get things right. Learn how to interview well because primary resources are really important as well. But you can also do both; you can have something creative going on the side while you’re making money.


Rosie: Do you have any advice for aspiring authors?

EH: Look for high-stress situations like airports because then you’ll see how people respond under stress. And also patience if you’re young because the first thing you write probably isn’t going to be a best-seller. Not that it never happens, but probably not because once upon a time editors could afford to spend the time working with you to build a book, but they can’t do that anymore because there are too many people that want to be there. So it’s important to build your craft so that when you turn in a book it’s well written.


Rosie: What has been your favorite place to travel?

EH: Australia. Since it’s a continent, not just a country, we’ve been there three times and we’ve been three different places and it’s all very different. They like Americans, they speak English, and because there is so much to see there. There’s all kinds of different things to do there. I love it. And also it takes a long time to get there so that’s why you need to stay for a few weeks when you go.


Rosie: If you were an ice cream flavor, what flavor would you be?

EH: Probably peppermint candy because when you bite into it it’s like “ooohh.” It’s not necessarily my favorite but that’s probably what I’d be.


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