Ellen Hopkins: Sculpting the Words Behind GLASS

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Ellen Hopkins Glass author

Authors often draw upon the well of their experiences as a source for their art. For New York Times bestselling writer Ellen Hopkins, that well is deep, dark, and painful. Through her verse-novels Crank and its sequel Glass, readers are taken on a journey into the world of a young meth addict, seeing through her eyes the impact she has on her family, her friends, and ultimately herself. It's an eye-opening story, and one that couldn't really have been written with the same vision had Hopkins herself not had to live the nightmare, when one of her children became addicted to "the monster" drug, crystal meth.

You've mentioned that this story is "loosely based" on family events. Does the writing act as an abatement or catharsis for what plainly must have been an extremely painful time for your family?

Glass is the sequel to Crank, which I started completely for me. Writing from my daughter's POV helped me understand the decisions she made and my part in them. It was, perhaps, an easier book to write than Glass, which recreated even more painful memories than the original. Yes, writing it was cathartic. And also necessary, because reliving that period lends perspective.

Are there any parts in Glass that are specifically taken more from your experiences? For example, the actions taken by the character of Kristina's mother, or Kristina herself?

The major plot points of Glass (Kristina choosing meth over her child; babysitting for the cousin of the guy she fell for, and having a relationship with him; her friend working at a house of prostitution; trafficking meth for Mexican Mafia; how she got arrested the first time and turned state's evidence;) are all taken from my/our personal experience. The details (how she fell for the new boyfriend; how she tracked down her old friend; waiting for phone calls; her day to day existence; who she dealt to, and how; etc.) are fiction, created by me from what I knew. Of course, some of the details like the baptism and the attraction to two men at the same time were true. I wanted to include these to show how low the addiction can take you.

I missed out on Crank (my introduction to your work was with Impulse) so you may have covered this before, but it seems there may be a psychological component to Kristina's problems other than addiction, given the added presence of Kristina's alternate personality, Bree.

Bree [Sarah in real life] was a persona consciously created by Kristina [my daughter]. She "became" this person when she partied for a couple of reasons. The first was she believed if she got busted they wouldn't know who she really was. The bigger one in my opinion was that it was easier to do things contrary to her belief system by morphing into someone else.

Your previous novel, Impulse, also deals to a degree with addiction recovery, while largely devoting itself to the treatment of kids who have attempted suicide. Did that storyline in whole or in part also spring from the events of your family's struggle?

My younger daughter (not the one Crank is based on) works in a treatment center, much like the one in Impulse. The characters in Impulse are loosely modeled after some of the kids she's worked with. They are composites, actually. In addition, I have a friend who is bipolar and has been suicidal. Vanessa is much like my friend.

In Impulse, each protagonist communicates to the reader in his or her own unique style of verse -- some with a complex rhyme, others with just a distinct pattern. In Glass, there isn't any particular rhyming scheme, but there's a definite 'sculpture of words' to each chapter. Why did you choose this form to tell your stories over a prose narrative?

Verse in general offers readers the chance to climb inside the poet's head and heart. Using it to tell a story offers them the same chance to climb inside the characters' heads and hearts, putting them "right there on the page." The unusual formats I choose add visual interest for readers who often choose more visually stimulating venues than books for entertainment. And the white space is comforting to non-readers, many of whom tell me my books are the first they have ever finished. Since my books are all well over 500 pages, this gives non-readers a real sense of accomplishment.

What drives the forms for each chapter? For instance, the parallel messages extracted by alignment, or the word-shapes of balls and/or pipes? Obviously you had to communicate closely with the editors and typesetters for the finished product to keep it's shape.

The forms simply seem to happen. I format as I go, all in MS-Word, and each poem simply must "feel" right to my aesthetic sense. It's funny, because I'm not exceptionally good at drawing, but seem to have a talent for visual creation with words. Some of the poems require specific instructions, but usually only as far as column justification. The rest I do myself. With Crank (my first verse novel), the design department most definitely was scratching its collective head. Now they've kind of gotten used to me and in fact enjoy the challenge.

At the end of Glass (and we're not really giving away an ending here), Kristina's story is still ongoing. Can we expect a future idyll with, if not a happy ending, an optimistic place to rest? (And on the personal side, has there been a "happy ending / optimistic turning point" in the real battle against "the monster?")

If I don't do the third Kristina book, my readers will likely mutiny. I've heard from hundreds already, wanting to know I'll write the book where everything turns out all right for Kristina. In real life, my daughter has been clean almost six years, but it took two of prison (a couple of years beyond the jail time in Glass) and four of programs and still every day is a struggle. Still, she is clean, and so there is hope that she will move forward into a more positive future.

Have you received any feedback on the impact of your books on readers who themselves were mirroring Kristina's pattern of addiction?

Between emails, MySpace and Facebook, I am fielding 150-200 messages a day. Many readers thank me for giving them books they want to read. Many more thank me for the insight I've given them into this addiction. Some will never use because of the pictures I've painted. Some have stopped using. Some continue to, but are rethinking how their addiction affects those around them. And some now understand the addictions of their friends, parents, other family members, even grandparents. My books have touched the lives of tens of thousands, and I can't tell you how grateful I am to have such a positive effect on so many.