STAYING GOLD IN TULSA Emma & Karah have lunch with S.E. Hinton
[The following is an edited conversation between Belletrist & Susie. We suggest you go to Tulsa if you can, and if you can’t, follow @se4realhinton on Twitter because she’s a legend.]
Emma: We just really want to know what you're reading right now.
Susie: I am reading Prairie Fires, The biography of Laura Ingalls Wilder and her daughter Rose. I am reading The Thin Light of Freedom which is about the civil war battles in the Shenandoah Valley. I just finished re-reading Forever Amber which everybody thinks is a bodice ripper that's actually a very very accurate history of the restoration of King Charles the second--
Karah: Coincidentally a bodice ripper.
Susie: Yeah, you know bodices get ripped, but ... still there's a lot of good history in that besides that. I'm reading something--
Karah: Do you like romance?
Susie: No. ‘Matter of fact ... one reason why for a long time I couldn't read any contemporary fiction is I didn't want to see a picture of a pirate ripping the shirt off a girl anymore.
Emma: Obviously, you wrote The Outsiders, one of our favorite books, which is also an amazing film. Are you still overwhelmed that people write to you and correspond with you about the book to this day? And you just celebrated the 50th anniversary of The Outsiders! When you wrote it, did you have any idea?
Susie: Of course not. When I wrote it, I didn't even have any idea how to get it published. I had no idea how you got published. I had been writing since the third grade and it was the third book I'd written. I just had it in my drawer with all my other stuff. So, finally I got a name of an agent and I sent it to her. She sold it. I wrote it [The Outsiders] like I write almost everything... for myself. And that's because I wanted to read it. There was nothing realistic being written for teens at that age. It was all Mary Jane goes to prom. And I wanted to read something realistic about what I saw my friends doing.
Emma: We love to hear what people write in, like when you wrote this book, were you writing in a notebook with a pen, with a pencil?
Susie: No. I was typing. I taught myself to type in the sixth grade because I'd been writing a lot of stories even by the sixth grade. And I realized if I couldn't read my handwriting, nobody could read my handwriting. So I taught myself to type when I was in the sixth grade and I typed it. I've been typing for a long time and of course we didn't have computers and when you had to correct something when you were typing, you'd have to retype a ton of stuff just to correct one paragraph. Oh lordy. That's why I love my computer. It's even fun, very fun to correct this and that. It's interesting but no I typed it all.
Karah: What type of typewriter did you have? Do you remember?
Susie: Well I started on my fathers and it was an antique then, Underwood. It's like a 1930's Underwood. Man I must've had muscular fingers just to put those things down. You know, carbons and all that stuff. And then when I was in ninth grade, I saved up my money and bred my Cocker Spaniel, and when she had-
Karah: You bred your own dog?
Susie: Yeah. I had her bred, and with that money I bought my first Underwood modern computer. It wasn't very modern, but it was a modern computer. It was in third grade that I knew I was gonna be a writer. It wasn't just, "Oh, I wish I could be a writer," it was just I knew I was gonna be a writer. It was just clear in my head.
Emma: How long did it take you to write The Outsiders? Did it just come to you?
Susie: First I began it when I was fifteen. And the first draft was 40 pages long single spaced typed. But it was the basic story. A bit later, even though I was sixteen, and in my junior year of highschool, I rewrote it a couple of times. I went back and I added more detail, I added flashback and then a draft that publishers saw. And of course I get to tell you that my junior year in highschool is the year I flunked creative writing.
Emma: Okay, that's crazy.
Susie: Well, I was writing less. It probably was because I was too busy working on my own stuff to do my school work but I found out an interesting thing is: publishers do not care for spelling, they'll fix it for ‘ya. But one thing about that creative writing class though was that I came across that Nothing Gold Can Stay poem by Robert Frost and I thought, "Well this is what I'm trying to say in my book."
Karah: I just got chills.
Susie: So I went home and wrote it into the book. I would go home from school and write things into the book that were happening in high school. A kid decided to dissect his worm with a switchblade, you know in biology. Went home and wrote that in. I mean, I just kept my eyes and ears open in high school and went home and wrote that in.
Emma: Did you ever think of writing as ... from a more female perspective or was it was always this was just the story?
Susie: This was the story. I was a tomboy, most of my closest friends were guys. I was doing “guy stuff,” playing football, and I thought if I wrote this and said a girl was doing it, no one would believe it. But I found that a male point of view is so much easier for me than female point of view. It took me a long time to even understand a female point of view. You got to understand how segregated the sexes were in the 1960s. What girls got to do was stand in the john, wrap their hair and outline their eyes in black which is interesting for about an hour but not all the time. And then they would brag about what kind of car their boyfriend’s had. I wanted my own car. I didn't want to brag about what kind of car my boyfriend had. I wanted my own car.
Emma: You wanted to brag about your own car.
Susie: From then on it was just easier to write from a male point of view. I'm very lazy, and I will take an easy way out any time. I like it because there's more that's written for girls than there is guys. And girls will read boy books. Boys don't usually read girl books. So I've just stuck with it.
Emma: I think you've found a way to obviously write a book that is ageless, genderless, and timeless. Young boys, young girls, older men, older women. I mean, everyone we know has read this book. From every walk of life. I posted a picture of The Outsiders on my Instagram, and it was like the 10 most different people that follow me, responding, being like, "favorite book, favorite book."
Karah: Were there a lot of people who thought that this was for sure written by a guy?
Susie: Oh yeah! My publishers were the ones who wanted me to put my initials on it. And their reason was they just wanted to fool the first reviewers. They figured the first reviewers would pick up the book, see what the subject matter was and decide a girl would not know anything about this. And I went along with that. And it worked. All the first reviews were "this young man is writing this book." But then I went to New York, did some publicity on some TV stations. It wasn't a big dark secret. I didn’t send some little kid with a black leather jacket to do my interviews.
Karah: Like JT LeRoy.
Emma: Like JT LeRoy.
Karah: Do you know the Like JT LeRoy story?
Susie: I've heard of it.
Emma: That's what happened... I remember when I first read The Outsiders in school I was like "is it a girl or boy who wrote it?" And I remember looking at the back, there was no picture of the author.
Susie: I never want my picture on a book. I was at signing for a very famous writer and she's quite old. And this lil' boy came in with this book and he looked at her picture in the back which you know, she was a lot younger and he looked at her, and he was confused. I don't want anybody to look at me like that.
Emma: Well I think it's also important for me as a reader to know less about the author before I read and then when I finish it, I dive into learning all about the author. I think it's fun to be able to forget who wrote the book and just immerse yourself as the reader, and then afterwards, go into a deep research hole, which I definitely do.
Susie: I don't like to read a lot about an author before I read a book either, but then I do afterwards. I've got a couple biographies of Shirley Jackson. I actually like the first one the best.
Karah: Isn’t there a new one?
Susie: Yeah, and it was very kinda dry, but I loved the first one which was dismissed as gossipy... God it's a good read
Emma: Shirley Jackson of The Lottery that Shirley Jackson?
Susie: Yeah, The Haunting of Hill House. I read The Haunting of Hill House in eighth grade and slammed it shut because I was too scared to finish it. Oh, man even Stephen King said it's the scariest book ever.
Emma: I have got to read that one...Are you writing anything specifically right now? Or do you write all the time?
Susie: Well I spent so much time working on a screenplay which didn't work out, but, a few years ago, I started this very silly book which is a paranormal adult, comedy, thriller. And I've been thinking, "that might be my last book and people will be going, "Man, S.E. Hinton was really losing it there at the end."
Emma: No, that sounds good to me, I love paranormal thrillers.
Susie: But it’s got a lot of good stuff, a lot of really good stuff, and I figured out what the main solution was for all this weird stuff going on which is gonna work really well so in January and through all of Christmas, distractions everything, I'm gonna get back to it finish it up.
Emma: Can't wait to read that.
Susie: Because it's got very funny stuff and it's got very scary stuff.
Karah: Do you like writing about where you’re from?
Susie: No, not really. People think Rumble Fish is part of the “Tulsa Trilogy” and it’s not. It's set very vaguely. Francis Coppola [we did the movie together] caught all that real well. That's the one [Rumble Fish] I'm most proud of ... The most complex character I've ever have written is Motorcycle Boy who is really a smart observer.
One line I love in that Dickens movie. It's about how he's [Charles Dickens] writing A Christmas Carol and he was trying to figure out names and names of stuff. And he finally settled on Scrooge and he poof Scrooge was there. And he said, "Find the right name the character will appear" and that has happened to me like 3 times.
Emma: With which characters?
Susie: One was Ponyboy.
Emma: What was the Christmas movie again?
Susie: The Man Who Invented Christmas.
Karah: Do you have a favorite memory from filming or from the process of getting the movie together?
Susie: Francis [Ford Coppola] had me, paid me to be on the set at all times, and the boys came in, and they were little boys, they had no adult supervision. So I immediately took it upon myself to be their mother. And I had their back and I was looking out for them. They never forgot it. Tommy Howe [C. Thomas Howe, the actor] was the littlest one. They were all really good kids, they were goofy normal teenagers off camera, and on camera they were serious artists. I loved watching that transformation, but one of my favorite moments from the making of the movie was when Tommy had some kind of teen drama going on, and at one point and I was talking to him about it. I was guiding him: “Maybe you should do this, don't worry about that part…” He just walks off for a second and he looks at me, he said, "I love you Susie." It was just one of my favorite memories of him.
Emma: That's sweet. I know it's funny when you're--at least for me--whenever I'm shooting a movie--it starts to feel like summer camp and family where you can't imagine your life before or after because you're in this bubble. And it's the most amazing thing that it's hard to describe to people I think.
Susie: I learned the same thing when shooting Tex. You're all so close and then everybody goes.
Emma: There's a mourning period after.
Susie: It is a mourning period.
Emma: She [Karah] sees me after and I'm like "I need three days to just be in bed.”
Karah: Yes. You’re sick.
Susie: I know. Yeah it was, but I was also so ready for it by the end. By the end of that shoot, I felt like one of those old dogs, tits dragging around, six puppies swarming all over her.
Emma: You were ready!
Susie: I was ready, but they were so good. That's one of my favorite memories about The Outsiders is how good those kids were.