Books

8th Annual Texas Book Festival

Jennifer Bendery

Ah, the legacy of S.E. Hinton, young adult fiction writer extraordinaire. Her books will forever be associated with adolescence for scores of readers.

[30 October 2004]

The Outsiders. Rumble Fish. That Was Then, This is Now. Tex. Remember all these? Ah, the legacy of S.E. Hinton, young adult fiction writer extraordinaire. Her books will forever be associated with adolescence for scores of readers. And if you were too lazy to read her books, you certainly caught at least one of the film adaptations, which launched the careers of a bunch of kids named Tom Cruise, Rob Lowe, Emilio Estevez, Matt Dillon, Patrick Swayze, C. Thomas Howell, Ralph Macchio and Diane Lane.

As a tangly-haired 10-year-old, I remember watching The Outsiders for the first of about 5,376 times and reciting out loud, along with Ponyboy Curtis, the words to Robert Frost's "Nothing Gold Can Stay." That story made me feel gritty. Real gritty. It made me want to shun my suburban hell lifestyle in Northern Virginia and hole up in an abandoned old church in the middle of nowhere, playing cards with rough-and-tumble greasers like Ponyboy and Johnny, hiding out from the law and cutting my hair with a pocketknife.

The extremely private Hinton graced Austin residents with her presence at this year's Texas Book Festival, where she announced her new, first-ever book for grown-ups, Hawkes Harbor. While festival attendees sniffed out author readings in various chambers and committee rooms of the Texas State Capitol, where the festival takes place every year, Hinton sat perched at the helm of the House of Representatives chamber, spilling her secrets to success in connecting with young adult readers. The first secret? Hinton hates reading in public; she read one sentence from Hawkes Harbor and then took questions.

But perhaps one of Hinton's best secrets has been her identity. She was 15 years old when she started writing The Outsiders. Basing the story on rivalries in her own high school between the rich kids (the "socs," short for "socials) and the poor kids (the greasers), Hinton published the book two years later and went with her initials instead of her full name (Susan Eloise) because the book was written from a boy's point of view. "Publishers didn't want readers to pick up the book and see violence and have reviewers say a girl doesn't know anything about this," she told festival attendees. "I wanted to get people to read without a gender bias."

It sounded like the publishers shouldn't have had anything to worry about in terms of Hinton's credibility: She grew up in a greaser neighborhood and admitted getting "into a few fights" herself. While the reliance on her initials kept people guessing about Hinton's gender, The Outsiders went on to sell more than 10 million copies and rank second on Publisher Weekly's list of all-time best-selling children's books. (For you nerds wondering what the all-time bestseller is, it's Charlotte's Web).

Deemed "The Voice of the Youth," Hinton has had a tremendous impact on the culture of reading in America. In fact, a panel moderator at the festival noted the irony of Hinton's session taking place in the House chamber when stating that Hinton's writing promotes reading among young adults more than Texas legislators do. "Certainly more than they've done lately," quipped the moderator, as the audience erupted into applause.

The real secret to writing young adult fiction, according to Hinton, is the ability to connect emotionally with a character. As for the oft-quoted philosophy of "writing what you know," well, that's hogwash. "If you know what it's like to be cold and can read up on Antarctica, you can do a book on Antarctica," she said. "It's the emotions." In fact, Hinton half-jokingly said raising her teenaged son made it "hard to conjure up sympathy" for teenagers and left her with writer's block.

The best way to overcome a block? "Just do it," said Hinton. "Don't talk it to death." Instead of trying to write "a gorgeous masterpiece," start off by writing simple sentences that you can go back and fix later, she said. Hinton also encouraged people simply to "read all the time," and not just for content but also to notice a novel's use of paragraphing and sentence formation. By becoming comfortable with the structural and storytelling aspects of novels, when you sit down to write your own book, "You only have to worry about what the characters are doing," she said.

There you have it, oh ye aspiring writers of children's fiction. Secrets revealed from a master. Oh, one final secret: Hinton flunked creative writing class.

So far J. J. Abrams and Rian Johnson resemble children at play, remaking the films they fell in love with. As an audience, however, we desire a fuller experience.

As recently as the lackluster episodes I-III of the Star Wars saga, the embossed gold logo followed by scrolling prologue text was cause for excitement. In the approach to the release of any of the then new prequel installments, the Twentieth Century Fox fanfare, followed by the Lucas Film logo, teased one's impulsive excitement at a glimpse into the next installment's narrative. Then sat in the movie theatre on the anticipated day of release, the sight and sound of the Twentieth Century Fox fanfare signalled the end of fevered anticipation. Whatever happened to those times? For some of us, is it a product of youth in which age now denies us the ability to lose ourselves within such adolescent pleasure? There's no answer to this question -- only the realisation that this sensation is missing and it has been since the summer of 2005. Star Wars is now a movie to tick off your to-watch list, no longer a spark in the dreary reality of the everyday. The magic has disappeared… Star Wars is spiritually dead.

Keep reading... Show less
6

This has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it.

It hardly needs to be said that the last 12 months haven't been everyone's favorite, but it does deserve to be noted that 2017 has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it. Other longtime dreamers either reappeared or kept up their recent hot streaks, and a number of relative newcomers established their place in what has become one of the more robust rock subgenre subcultures out there.

Keep reading... Show less
Theatre

​'The Ferryman': Ephemeral Ideas, Eternal Tragedies

The current cast of The Ferryman in London's West End. Photo by Johan Persson. (Courtesy of The Corner Shop)

Staggeringly multi-layered, dangerously fast-paced and rich in characterizations, dialogue and context, Jez Butterworth's new hit about a family during the time of Ireland's the Troubles leaves the audience breathless, sweaty and tearful, in a nightmarish, dry-heaving haze.

"Vanishing. It's a powerful word, that"

Northern Ireland, Rural Derry, 1981, nighttime. The local ringleader of the Irish Republican Army gun-toting comrades ambushes a priest and tells him that the body of one Seamus Carney has been recovered. It is said that the man had spent a full ten years rotting in a bog. The IRA gunslinger, Muldoon, orders the priest to arrange for the Carney family not to utter a word of what had happened to the wretched man.

Keep reading... Show less
10

Aaron Sorkin's real-life twister about Molly Bloom, an Olympic skier turned high-stakes poker wrangler, is scorchingly fun but never takes its heroine as seriously as the men.

Chances are, we will never see a heartwarming Aaron Sorkin movie about somebody with a learning disability or severe handicap they had to overcome. This is for the best. The most caffeinated major American screenwriter, Sorkin only seems to find his voice when inhabiting a frantically energetic persona whose thoughts outrun their ability to verbalize and emote them. The start of his latest movie, Molly's Game, is so resolutely Sorkin-esque that it's almost a self-parody. Only this time, like most of his better work, it's based on a true story.

Keep reading... Show less
7

There's something characteristically English about the Royal Society, whereby strangers gather under the aegis of some shared interest to read, study, and form friendships and in which they are implicitly agreed to exist insulated and apart from political differences.

There is an amusing detail in The Curious World of Samuel Pepys and John Evelyn that is emblematic of the kind of intellectual passions that animated the educated elite of late 17th-century England. We learn that Henry Oldenburg, the first secretary of the Royal Society, had for many years carried on a bitter dispute with Robert Hooke, one of the great polymaths of the era whose name still appears to students of physics and biology. Was the root of their quarrel a personality clash, was it over money or property, over love, ego, values? Something simple and recognizable? The precise source of their conflict was none of the above exactly but is nevertheless revealing of a specific early modern English context: They were in dispute, Margaret Willes writes, "over the development of the balance-spring regulator watch mechanism."

Keep reading... Show less
8
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image