Looking Back on CWIM: The 2000 Edition
An Interview with S.E. Hinton...
This edition of CWIM saw the addition of Agents & Art Reps and section devoted to SCBWI Conferences. Among the publishing professionals interviewed: Caldecott Winner Jacqueline Briggs Martin; Allyn Johnston, then editor at Harcourt (who now has her own S&S imprint, Beach Lane Books); YA novelist Francesca Lia Block; SCBWI Executive Director Lin Oliver; Writers House agent Steven Malk; and more than half a dozen others including a feature with the iconic author of The Outsiders, S.E. Hinton who at the time was coming out with her first picture book.
Here's an excerpt from the Q&A by Anne Bowling:
You were 15 when you started writing The Outsiders, and wrote 4 full drafts for the next year and a half before you had the manuscript. Did you have a mentor at that time, or was someone guiding your revisions?
No. I love to write. Actually, The Outsiders was the third book I had written, it was just the first one I had tried to publish. The first two ended up in drawers somewhere--I used characters from them later in other books, but I certainly didn't go back and rework them. Everybody's got to practice.
When I was writing The Outsiders I would go to school and say "Well, I'm writing a book, and this has happened so far, and what should happen next?," 'cause I'd get stuck. Someone would say, "Oh, make the church burn down." And I'd say, "That sounds good, I'll make the church burn down." I was just doing it because I liked doing it.
Because there was very little being published at that time for young adults that included such violent content and emotional depth, were you concerned at all that the book was really pushing the envelope?
No, I wasn't. One reason I wrote it was I wanted to read it. I couldn't find anything that dealt realistically with teenage life. I've always been a good reader, but I wasn't ready for adult books, they didn't interest me, and I was through with all the horse books. If you wanted to read about your peer group, there was nothing to read except Mary Jane Goes to the Prom or Billy Joe Hits a Home Run--just a lot of stuff I didn't see any relevance in.
I know I've been banned in places, but I've gotten so many letters from kids who say, "After reading your books, I realize how stupid violence is." I've never had a kid write me and say, "I read your book, got all hopped up and ran out and beat up someone."
In retrospect, how do you regard your writing ability at the time you worked on The Outsiders?
When I do glance at it again, I'm kind of surprised by that, too. But from grade school on I knew I wanted to be a writer, and I read all the time, and I practiced, and the only way you're going to be a writer is to read all the time and then do it. So I was doing the right things.
I feel differently about The Outsiders than I do my other books. I'm really proud of it, because it's done a lot of good--much more than my personal capacity for doing good could ever be--and I'm really pleased with it that way. I almost don't even think of myself as having anything to do with it. It was almost kind of like it was supposed to be out there, and I was just the way it got there.
While you were writing, were you consciously concerned with elements like, plot, pacing, characterization, dialogue?
Oh no, no, no. I tell people to try to not ever think that. Because that'll freeze you up so badly. So much of my writing is done in subconsciousness, I keep working on a way to take a nap and find a chapter done. But don't think about what you're doing, just keep your story going. Years later somebody's going to write you a letter and tell you what you wrote about. So don't worry about that part of it.