I had the immense pleasure of meeting S.E. Hinton in Tulsa last month, and not only did I discover that she is a faithful lurker around these parts, she very graciously agreed to an interview. Her debut novel, THE OUTSIDERS, which she wrote when she was sixteen, revolutionized the children’s book world upon its publication with its realism and immediacy, a stylistic shift that is still reverberating to this day. She is the author of six other much-beloved novels, a picture book, and her new linked story collection, SOME OF TIM’S STORIES, was recently released in paperback, so please check that out.
You grew up in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and still call it home to this day. What does it mean to you as a place, and what it is it about Tulsa that keeps you there?
Well, Tulsa is home, I was born here, still have family here, have friends I go back forty years with here. It’s a city that supports the arts, it’s easy to get around, it’s easy to work here. Tulsa gets the same Internet, same magazines, same cable as larger cities, we have a strong film community that brings us the best foreign and indie movies.
I like having a history with the place I live, seeing what is changing and what stays the same.
And the restaurants here are GREAT.
I would have to agree about Tulsan restaurants. “The Outsiders” is sometimes credited with creating and popularizing Young Adult fiction (YA) as a genre. Did you set out to write something new and different when you were writing? What was your mindset?
I guess in a way I did set out to write something new and different with The Outsiders, because I wanted to read something that dealt with teen life as I saw it. There wasn’t anything realistic for teenagers to read back then; I was through with the horse books, not ready for a lot of adult books, couldn’t stand the “Mary Sue Goes To the Prom” books, so one of the main reasons why I wrote it was to read it. Also, I loved to write, and had been writing since grade school, and I was angry about the social divisions in my very large high school (Will Rogers High).
Something I never knew about “The Outsiders” until we met is that even though you wrote it when you were only 16, it was actually your third novel. What did you learn about writing when you wrote those first two novels? What happened to them?
Like everyone else, I learned from my mistakes. I think every book is practice for the next one. At that time I still needed a lot of practice so I wisely never tried to publish them.
“The Outsiders,” “Rumble Fish,” “Tex,” and “That Was Then… This Is Now” have all been made into movies. What is it like seeing actors play the part of characters you created and having someone else’s vision shaping what the audience sees? Was it tough letting go of the control over your stories or did you enjoy it?
I was lucky enough to be very involved in three of my movie adaptions, Tex, The Outsiders and Rumble Fish. Tim Hunter and Francis Coppola made me welcome on the set–I was there every day–and I got to be in on many aspects of film making. It’s a community way of story telling, and I loved it. Luckily, too, the directors’ vision was close to my own. As a rash generalization, I like actors. They think and talk about things writers do. I was very close to the Tex and Outsiders cast, (my horse played Tex’s horse, and he was a star) they were great actors and good kids.
I would love to work on a movie again. Working with the right people feeds your own energy and imagination.
In recent years you have moved from writing for children to the more adult novel, HAWKE’S HARBOR, and the new collection SOME OF TIM’S STORIES. What prompted this shift, and did you have to adjust as a writer as you moved into new territory?
I just wanted to do something different. HAWKE’S HARBOR seems different from my usual writing, an adventure and horror story, but basically it is about relationships like all my other stuff. I let myself go with that one, all over the globe, and all over the map, sometimes humor and tragedy on one page.
After that one, I went to the strict discipline of the Tim Stories, settling into one voice, allowing only a thousand words a story. I just like to shake things up sometimes. Some Of Tim’s Stories is the best writing I’ve done yet. I’m not going to equal that for a while, so I am working on something very frivolous right now.
You were represented for many years by Marilyn Marlow, a groundbreaking Curtis Brown children’s book agent who passed away in 2003. What was it like working with her, and what was your relationship like?
Marilyn was the first “professional” to read The Outsiders. I still have her first letter to me, saying she thought I had “captured a certain spirit” and would try to find a home for it. My age and inexperience did not seem to matter (although I am sure my spelling horrified her). She sold it to the second publisher who saw it, and I remained with her until her death.
Marilyn looked out for me. She was there to meet the plane when my fifteen year old sister and I (eighteen) came to New York for the first time. I think in a lot of ways, she always thought of me as a child needing protection, she certainly was the last person to think that way, and I loved it. I had to look out for myself and other people at an early age, so it was a great relief that I had Marilyn to deal with the business side of things, who was a tough lady (and I emphasis “Lady” because she always conducted herself as such) and a very thorough agent. Nothing got by her.
But Marilyn was also a personal friend, always concerned about every aspect of my life. I miss her very much.
What is your writing process? Do you get it on the page and revise later? Outline? Plan ahead? Let the writing go where it goes?
I think I’ve tried every writing process there is, trying to find an easy way to write a novel. If I do find it, I’ll publish it and retire. Sometimes I revise as I go. Once I used an outline. One time I thought in terms of movies and wrote scenes out of order, as they occurred to me, and stitched them together later. I wrote That Was Then, This Is Now, two pages a day and did almost no revision. I originally wrote Rumble Fish as a short story, did the novel, and threw that one away because it was too easy, and wrote it again with Rusty James as the narrator, which was not easy at all. The Outsiders was forty pages long, single-spaced, typed, in its first draft. The third draft was the one Marilyn saw. The only thing I am sure of in my “process” is that it involves a lot of staring out the window.
You have a reputation for avoiding the spotlight, which in these media-centric days is something of a rarity. Do you find it difficult to maintain a private life in today’s Internet-driven world?
Nope, not really. Just say no to most interviews. I’m not living in seclusion here. Anybody who wants a look at me can go to the Reasoner’s grocery store, it seems like I’m there every day. I’ve been happily married for thirty-eight years, I ride my horses, read books, swim in my pool, not a lot of headlines here.
Sometimes I get recognized, usually if I’m running into a drug store, with no makeup, unwashed hair and desperate for personal items, but it’s not a problem.
How interesting can a person be who spends a lot of her working hours staring out a window?
What advice do you have for writers who are just starting out?
Write for yourself first. Don’t study the market, it will change before you can get a book done. The writing is the thing to concentrate on. If you don’t want to read it, nobody will. Then read Nathan’s blog and figure out how to get an agent. Actually, my teenage cousin wrote a book, studied Writer’s Market for advice, and received some favorable responses (as well as rejections) from a few publishers, and used them to get an agent. She now has several YA books published and is writing more.
God sent me Marilyn, I can’t really advise writers to wait around for that to happen.
Of course, when it did happen, I had my book ready.
Laura Martone says
Thanks, Ms. Hinton, for your willingness to be interviewed by our boy here. I learned a lot from your advice – and am especially heartened to hear that, like me, you try to write what you want to read – and that there’s no one RIGHT way to approach the writing process. Woohoo!
Thanks, too, to NB for sharing this interview with the rest of us!
P.S. I’ve been to Tulsa once… sadly, all I can remember besides the UU church that I attended there (All Souls) are those darn praying hands!
Awesome interview, especially the staring out the window part. SE Hinton is one of the reasons I wanted to be a writer.
Matilda McCloud says
Thanks for this interview–it is heartening to read about the need for practice novels and about how important it is to write what you would want to read.
THE OUTSIDERS was such an important book for the boys in my life (my sons and my nephews). There’s a copy on my older son’s shelf…and he’s graduating from college tomorrow…
Lady Glamis says
Fabulous interview, Nathan. Thank you to both of you!
Marilyn Peake says
Thank you so much, S.E. Hinton, for sharing your wonderful insights about writing. And thank you, Nathan, for posting such a lovely, informative interview.
So lovely to get a few insights from a master. It’s amazing that you were only 16 when you wrote The Outsiders. Thanks for taking this interview! Thanks to you Nathan for prevailing upon her to answer a few questions. I aspire to be able to spend many of my working hours gazing out a window.
Raining in Seattle says
Well done! Thank you for sharing.
Thanks so much for this interview. I love SE Hinton’s books, especially The Outsiders and always wanted to know more about her. A real inspiration.
OMG! This couldn’t have been a better interview. The Outsiders is one of my all time favorite movies (I’m sad to say I never read the book). I actually call my brother-in-law Pony Boy and have for the last ten years.
Anyhow, wonderful interview. Glad to get to know the author.
Nathan – how hard were you laughing at me at all my posts convinced the interview-ee was a man?? And Dan Brown no less? Sooooo far away. My white-space investigation skills are broken. 🙁
But I’m glad that despite the fact that Mrs. Hinton doesn’t offer up interviews she was willing to do one for you. 🙂
The only thing I am sure of in my “process” is that it involves a lot of staring out the window.Finally! Someone else validates the critical importance of staring out the window to a writer’s task.
Thanks for posting this interview.
Mercy Loomis says
I’m with Marilyn. Thank you both!
Elissa M says
I just have to climb on the bandwagon and thank you Nathan, for posting this interview, and Ms. Hinton for giving it. I have two tattered copies of The Outsiders, and one each of the other YA’s. I think I’ll have to find me a copy of Some of Tim’s Stories now.
Yes. Staring out the window is essential to writing.
M. K. Clarke says
Thanks, Nathan, for such a grand interview with a classy, powerful lady.
I’ve been a HUGE fan of Hinton’s since I was first exposed to THE OUTSIDERS when I was twelve; I’ve a son and completely forgot to introduce these boys to him. Like others who’ve posted here before me, she was largely a big reason why I choe to write. It’s more than the voice, though. It’s the style, grace, realism, grit, honesty, depth and unhappy endingish reality she paints that keeps a story like hers long with you after you’ve long read the book.
Not since Huckleberry Finn have I strove to have my characters this deep, real and honest. Thanks, Nathan, and thank you Ms Hinton, for introducing Ponyboy in my life.
Sara Tribble says
Awesome interview! This is great and makes me feel a lot better! I love when writers take a step back and let us in to their inside head!
Great idea for the interview Nathan!
It has all been said, but I feel compelled to add my thanks, especially knowing that Ms. Hinton doesn’t do many interviews. It takes a generous spirit to share from the heart like that, and I felt encouraged by it in a very genuine way.
i truly look forward to checking out her work…thanks for the interview.
Jen C says
My eyes almost popped out of my head when I logged on and saw who the interviewee was!
The Outsiders was on our reading list in high school and while English was always my fave subject and I didn’t have a problem reading the assigned books, The Outsiders was the only one we read that really resonated with me.
When I think about the book now I still remember the atmosphere it created and feeling I had when I was reading it all those years ago. Surely the mark of true art.
Also, TEX! I actually never read that book, but darn it I loved that movie when I was younger!
Wonderful interview Nathan, thank you!
Great interview. So nice to find out that she is as cool as I always thought she was from reading (and loving) her books as a teenager. She has been a huge influence on me!
sally apokedak says
What a wonderful interview. She’s brilliant.
Thanks for giving us your time. Both of you.
Thanks to both Nathan and Ms. Hinton for taking the time to do this interesting interview.
I remember reading The Outsiders in class in seventh grade. I had to work so hard not to cry in front of the entire class at the end.
I didn’t know it was written when she was 16. I have hope! 🙂
Jill Lynn says
The Outsiders: a classic
S.E. Hinton: classy for gracing Nathan and audience with a rare interview
P. F. Sheckarski says
It’s “Reasors,” not “Reasoners.” I imagine we can credit this error to spell-check.
Congrats on snagging this interview, and thanks for conducting it so well.
So about the Unusuals. What was the conversation about??? I LOVE LOVE LOVE The Unusuals. I’m afraid they may cancel it if they don’t get enough of a following (if it hasn’t already been canceled).
Sooooo what were you and Mrs. Hinton talking about?? I’m curious to know what she thinks about it. There is something so addictive about that show and I’m not sure I can quite put my finger on it. 😀
I grew up on S.E. Hinton. Rumble Fish, The Outsiders, Tex, That Was Then This is Now… Hinton inspired me to read Gone With the Wind too. I loved reading this interview on my favorite blog! Thanks!!!
Beth Fehlbaum, Author says
Wow, that was cool. As a YA author as well as a teacher who has used The Outsiders again and again in her classroom– that would have been a banner day, to get to meet S. E. Hinton. Thanks for sharing it. Awesome.
Beth Fehlbaum, author
Courage in Patience, a story of HOPE..
Ch. 1 is online!
Nathan, thanks for this insight into an incredible writer…
Ms. Hinton, thanks for giving this interview….
Richard Lewis says
My daughter just read it for school here in Bali.
Great interview. Thanks for posting.
Yeah, staring out of windows is an important part of writing. Maybe a lot of writers don’t stare enough.
I feel like I am in “la la land” right now.
Being born in the same city, she has been an inspiration… I wish I was there to see you two talking.
I am happy to say that our “process” is the same too!
Maya / מיה says
Thank you so much for this inspiring interview. I still remember reading THE OUTSIDERS as a kid, and I’m very interested in checking out the short stories now.
By the way, what’s the name of S. E. Hinton’s teenage cousin who writes YA books?
These lines resonate most for me from this interview right now:
“The writing is the thing to concentrate on. If you don’t want to read it, nobody will. Then read Nathan’s blog and figure out how to get an agent.”
(The “then” part is a little tricky for me… and I think I should heed it. I think I might have to declare an embargo on reading trade blogs– or at least, any but this one 🙂 — until I actually have a finished manuscript!)
I love The Outsiders. Thanks for the insightful interview.
I read “The Outsiders” when I was in the 7th grade, and it felt like the doors of my life had been shot open. I started writing that same year, and am rather embarrassed to admit that one of my first works was to write line-by-line the novel…only adding a rather horrible little sister, Mary Sue, into the mix. I happily stopped by chapter 2.
Thank you, thank you, thank you!!!
I read Ms. Hinton’s books in high school and loved them.
This was an excellent interview! Thanks so much to both of you.
Robena Grant says
What a treat! Thank you both.
I read the Outsiders with my kids and loved it. Thanks to Ms. Hinton for the insight into her writing process and how it changes depending on the work. I like that.
And while we’re on the subject of Oklahoma…
Many years ago as a newcomer to the U.S. (and a young adventurous gal)a few friends and I went to Oklahoma because of a song, something about an Okie from Muskogee. Anyway, ran into my first twister and the most bizarre storm this gal from the land downunder had ever seen. We hightailed it back to Texas and thirty years later, I still haven’t been to Muskogee.
I actually freaked out my husband when I squealed out loud at the sight of “Interview With S.E. Hinton”.
Thanks to you both for this inspiring interview.
Amazing interview. Thank you. The Outsiders meant everything to me when I was growing up.
Thank you Nathan.
I take my hat off to a very gracious lady. Thank you, Ms. Hinton.
Heidi the Hick says
Ahhhhh what a great interview!!!!!
I don’t know how to say this without sounding ridiculous but… The Outsiders kind of changed my life.
Yep sounds stupid alright. Seriously, that book grabbed me and would not let me go, and when I found out that SE Hinton WAS A GIRL and that she was a kid when she wrote it… I felt like there was hope for me. Someday. That writing novels wasn’t just for rich old guys. I don’t know how I had that idea but there it was. She changed everything.
And guess what? This interview just gave me that spark again.
Tomara Armstrong says
What an incredible interview and such an inspiration 🙂
TC Laverdure says
Awesome, just awesome. I really liked this post.Muchas Gracias mi amigo.
THE OUTSIDERS was the first book I ever read that wasn't part of a school assignment. That's when I became a reader, & almost 40 years later, started writing. I just read HAWKES HARBOR a few weeks ago. Enjoyed it.
Thanks NB & SEH
Great questions, interesting answers. How I loved (and still love) her books.
S.E. Hinton is my hero!!!! I wish I could write as well as her!!!! I've been writing for a while now and knowing that she got her book published at sixteen makes me want to meet the same deadline! I've got two years so I'd better hurry!!!!! S.E. HINTON ROCKS!!!!