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Born: March 26, 1955 in Long Beach, CA. I was adopted at birth by an older couple. Albert C. Wagner was 72 at the time; Valeria was 42. To put that into perspective, he was born in 1883 and she was born in 1912.
Grew up: in Palm Springs, CA, in a neighborhood with movie stars and entertainment icons, including Elvis Presley, Bob Hope, Kirk Douglas and Arnold Palmer. We were, however, the “poor rich.” My father made his money in the steel industry in WWII. I remember the day he had actually earned his million. As a poor immigrant child who was most definitely a self-made man with a 6th grade education, he couldn’t have been prouder.
Learned: from my father the value of hard work and honesty. From my mother, I learned a love of language and reading. She inhaled literature and read to me every day from the time I was a baby until I finally told her to quit already. She also had me reading chapter books before kindergarten.
Found: my birth mother, Toni Chandler, in the year 2000. One interesting side note is that she has written poetry her entire life. I have a half-sister, Fran, who I connected with a few years ago. She lives with my mom in Michigan, and we stay in regular touch. I did try to contact my birth father when my son, Jason, was born. He refused to acknowledge me or even that he’d had a relationship with Toni. However, they were roller skating pairs champs in high school together. (If you’re wondering, I’m a klutz on skates.)
Moved: to the Santa Ynez Valley, near Santa Barbara, my 8th grade summer. The high school is relatively small and my parents thought it would be a more wholesome atmosphere. The valley is a “horsey” place and I did, in fact, own horses until I moved to the Tahoe area in 1985. I showed, jumped, rode gymkhana and barrel raced.
In school: I was a straight A student almost all the way through school. With an excellent private school background through 8th grade, it was fairly easy to maintain those grades all the way through high school, despite a certain renegade attitude (70s rebel and all that!). I was the type who could read a chapter in a book and pass a test, even without the classroom discussion necessary for some.
Started writing: From the time I knew how to put words on paper. I’ve always been writing something (especially poetry) ever since, although I didn’t start writing for money until around 1992.
Published: my first poem, a brilliant haiku (I’m pretty sure there were trees and springtime in it), when I was nine. I was always encouraged by my English teachers to write, and won pretty much every creative writing contest I ever entered all the way through high school.
Graduated: Santa Ynez Valley Union High School in 1973. Went on to study journalism in college (Crafton Hills College and UCSB), but dropped out to get married and start a family.
Children: Had my first child, Jason, when I was just 21. He was born in 1976. Cristal followed two years later.
Divorced: When Cristal was still a baby in diapers. My ex moved to Albuquerque. I’m not going to disclose names. He should be allowed a sense of privacy.
Rebound relationship: Met my daughter, Kelly’s, father on the rebound. He was very much a not-nice man. The relationship was physically abusive and lasted far longer than it should have. When I finally found the courage to make a break, he kidnapped Kelly against court orders and hid her for almost three years. Finally, his own grandmother helped us get her back. That’s a long story, too long to tell here. You can find a fictionalized version in The You I’ve Never Known.
Owned my own business: During this time, I was the owner of Valley Video, a video store before video got big. Sold out in 1984.
“Forever love”: found me during this time. I met John Hopkins, and we moved to the Tahoe area in 1985. Wanting to be sure it would all work out, I insisted we wait to get married until October 19, 1991. We’ve survived good, bad, amazing, and horrible and come out stronger. He is still, and always, my best friend.
For the last time: We moved to northern Nevada, in a rural valley between Reno and Carson City, in 1990. We thought the move might be temporary, but we simply love it here. If you look in my photo albums online, you’ll find examples of why. It’s a different kind of beauty than the green of Washington, but the palette here—gold and auburn and sage and the deep blue of the Sierra–is unmatched.
During this time: decided to try and write for a living. I started freelancing newspaper and magazine articles. Moved from there into children’s nonfiction, publishing twenty titles before I sold my first novel. I was always trying different things—picture books, early chapter books, etc., and I wrote an entire adult novel which didn’t sell then. [I’ve resurrected it; we’ll see what happens with it in the future.] I also taught creative part time as an artist-in-residence; owned my own little publishing company, which did a newspaper for children; and was an instructor for the Institute of Children’s Literature. And I did all those things simultaneously, searching for where I belonged as a writer.
The real story: behind Crank took place between the years 1995 and 1971. “Hunter,” aka Orion, was born in 1996. We took guardianship of him when he was just a baby and adopted him when he was not quite four years old. He is the light of our lives (as well as the biggest pain!) and a true gift. He knows the whole story, of course, but considers us his parents, and we consider him our son.
We lived: in the same modest home until last year. Rather than move (we love our 1.25 acres on a hill overlooking Washoe Lake to the Sierra), we added on, and remodeled the old part of the house. Everything they say about remodeling/additions is true. The process had dust and some small delays. But it was sooooooooo worth it.
FAMILY REVISION: In 2013 we took guardianship of three grandchildren, who were at that time three, four and nine years old. They remain in our care full time.
My parents were Republicans (he was a businessman, after all). But I knew from the time I did mock elections in 7th grade that I was a born Dem. Bobby Kennedy was my hero. His death, coupled with MLK’s death and the conflict in Viet Nam, forged my politics.
And on that subject, I’m an active member of the Democratic party and served as a Nevada caucus chair in 2008. What an amazing experience! I am also an outspoken progressive activist and feminist.
I am a certified Lutheran and when I’m home, do go to church regularly, and even sing [a mediocre alto] in the choir. However, over the years, my beliefs have morphed into some combination of Christian beliefs and spirituality. I do believe the energy that makes us “us” never dies and is more than just random electrical impulses in a hunk of gray matter.
One of the things I love most about being home is gardening. I do veggies, and have created a sweet little high desert oasis here, with ponds and waterfalls and gorgeous perennial beds.
I love to cook and often bake homemade bread, cinnamon rolls, etc. I also know how to can fruit and vegetables. Don’t often have time to do that anymore, though.
Speaking of time, I’m traveling around 100 days a year, doing school and library visits, book signings and festivals, writers conferences, and other events. Please check out my events page to see if I might be somewhere near you.
Ellen Hopkins is a poet, freelance writer, and the award-winning author of twenty nonfiction titles, three novels for adults, and thirteen NY Times Bestselling novels-in-verse. She has published hundreds of articles on subjects ranging from aviation to child abuse to winegrowing. Ellen is a regular speaker at schools, book festivals and writers conferences across the US, and now throughout the world.
2002-2003 Instructor, Institute of Children’s literature; interim artistic director, BAC Stage Kids; freelance writer; author; poet
2000-2002 Editor, Northern Nevada Family Magazine, freelancer, author, poet
1996-1998 Novelist, scriptwriter, freelance writer and poet
1992-1996 Reporter and editor for the Tahoe Truckee Reader
1986-1992 Freelance journalist, short story author and poet
1980-1985 Owner, Valley Video
Santa Ynez Valley Union High School (graduated 1973)
Crafton Hills College, UCSB
Institute of Children’s Literature
1995-1997 WNCC Lone Mountain Writers Group
1997-1999 Breakaway Writers Group
1998-present Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators; served as regional adviser for the Nevada chapter for ten years and currently sits on the Board of Advisers.
1999-2005 Unnamed Writers; served on the board, 2005
2001-2002 Chairman of the Board, New Writers of the Purple Sage
2002-present Ash Canyon Poets
2001 SCBWI Charlotte’s Web Award for outstanding contributions to children’s literature by a new author.
2001 Sierra Arts Foundation professional artist award.
2004 Sierra Arts Foundation professional artist award.
2005 Quills Award nominee (Crank)
2005 Book Sense Top 10 (Crank)
2005 NYPL Recommended for Teens (Crank)
2005 PSLA Top Ten for Teens (Crank)
2005 Charlotte Award (Crank)
2005 IRA Young Adult Choices Award (Crank)
2006 Kentucky Bluegrass Award (Crank)
2006 SSLI Honor Book Award (Crank)
2006 Nevada Writers Hall of Fame Silver Pen Award
2006 National Book Award nominee (Burned)
2006-2007 Gateway Readers Awards winner (Crank)
2007 ALA Best Books for Young Adults nominee (Burned)
2006-2007 Tayshas Reading (Burned)
2008 ALA Best Books for Young Adults (Impulse)
2008 ALA Top Ten for Young Adults (Glass)
2008 Georgia Peach Award (Impulse)
2008 Kentucky Bluegrass Award (Impulse)
2008 Kirkus Best Book for Teens (Identical)
2008 ALA Quick Picks for Reluctant Readers (Identical)
2009 YALSA Top Ten for Teens (Identical)
2009 ALA Quick Picks for Reluctant Readers (Identical)
2009 Abe Award (Crank)
2009 Soaring Eagle Award (Crank)
2009 Green Mountain Book Award (Crank)
2010 Nevada Governor’s Arts Award
2011 Tayshas Reading (Fallout)
2013 Joan F. Kaywell Award
2014 Listen Up Audiobook Narrator of Year (Rumble)
2014 Listen Up Childrens/YA Editor’s Choice (Rumble)
2015 Nevada Writers Hall of Fame
2017 RT Book Reviews Top Pick (The You I’ve Never Known)
Q: In what order do I read your books?
A: Glass is the sequel to Crank, so comes after. The others are totally different stories and can be read in any order. If it interests you, I wrote them in this order: Crank, Burned, Impulse, Glass, Identical, Tricks.
Q: What happened at the end of Burned? Will there be a sequel?
A: I purposely left the ending of Burned ambiguous, so readers could decide which way Pattyn goes. But in my mind, suicide was not an option. Revenge was. I never planned a sequel, but I have a story percolating in the back of my mind that could become a sequel. So maybe.
Q: How about a sequel to Impulse? Tricks?
A: The funny thing is, I never planned a sequel to any of my books (not even Crank!). But I have had many requests for sequels, and they are always a possibility. But do see information on Perfect, below.
Q: Okay, so what happened to Cody at the end of Tricks?
A: Cody is still deciding, as much as he can in his condition, whether or not to come back. But I don’t think he’d leave his mom alone, do you?
Q: How is Kristina? Do you still talk to her?
A: Kristina is alive. Mostly stays clean, although she has relapsed. She struggles daily to make ends meet and care for the [youngest] two of her five children, who she had after she got out of prison. That is prison, after the jail time in Glass. She has some brain damage and health issues because of her use. Yes we talk, although she lives 500 miles away from me, so we’re not close. My hope for her is she’ll find a way to return to her art.
Q: What does she think about you writing books about her life?
A: First of all, the books are not only about her life. They are about my life, and the lives of our family members. The truth is, I started Crank as a kind of personal journey, to try and understand what had just happened to six years of my life… and what had happened to my beautiful daughter, no longer so beautiful. I didn’t start it looking for publication, let alone expecting the book to become the phenom it has. But the story inside is universal. Addiction, of one kind or another, touches almost everyone. As I wrote, I understood the importance of the story. Now that she’s clean, my daughter understands its importance, too.
Q: How is “Hunter?” Does he know the facts about his life?
A: “Hunter,” aka Orion, is a brilliant, beautiful young man. Yes, he knows the facts about his life. For a little more, please see my Bio page here.
Q: Will you ever make your books into movies?
A: Movies aren’t really up to me. A film company has to take an interest. That said, there is some interest, so it’s always possible!
Q: Are you writing anything now?
A: I’m currently writing Perfect, about the drive for perfection, whatever the costs. It is a companion novel to Impulse, so happens at the same time, only with Conner’s twin sister, Cara, as one of the main characters. You will see what happens with Tony and Vanessa, and how Conner’s family reacts to “the perfect paper airplane.” When that book is finished, I’ve got a contract for more, so the answer is: I’m always writing something, and never plan to stop. Writing is my heart.
Q: Where do you get your inspiration for your stories? Are they all based on real life experiences?
A: The Kristina books are based on my family’s real life experiences. The others are totally fiction, although there are threads of real people/situations in them. Inspiration comes from many places. Friends. Family. In the news. And yes, sometimes from readers.
Q: Will you write my story?
A: Again, reader stories often serve as inspiration for characters or story threads in my books. But I don’t want to write someone else’s story for them. Some day, they might want to write it themselves. And it would limit my ability to let my characters talk to me and tell me their own stories.
Q: I want to write my own books. How do I start? How do I publish?
A: Start here, on the For Writers page. I DO NOT recommend self-publishing. If a publisher wants money from you, that is self-publishing. Why not try to get paid for your writing instead? And remember writing is a journey. It may take years to publish, but that’s okay. Everything you write is a learning experience. And often the perspective gained along the way makes your storytelling deeper.
Favorite color: RED!
Biggest vice: Red wine
Pets: Two German shepherds, one cat, inside and outside fish
Favorite music: Rock, grunge, some country, big band
Favorite band: Pink Floyd
Music when I write: None
Favorite TV show: American Idol
Favorite food: Fries (but I avoid them, or else . . .!!)
P.O. Box 2205 • Carson City NV 89702