Smoke, the much-anticipated sequel to Ellen Hopkins’ 2006 novel, Burned, hits shelves today. Even though there’s a seven-year gap between the release dates, Smoke picks up just a week or so after the end of Burned. “It’s a special book to me because I wasn’t going to write it, and it ended up being one of my favorite books I’ve ever written,” said Hopkins. “I really feel like I did the best I could for Pattyn, and I think my readers will appreciate what I did for her.” Read on for more with Hopkins where she talks about Smoke, her 2014 release Rumble, and her new non-profit organization.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: You never intended to write a sequel to Burned. What finally changed your mind?
ELLEN HOPKINS: It was totally my readers. It was six years between when Burned came out and when I started to write the sequel. There were just too many…they weren’t even requests. They were more like demands! [Laughs] When I wrote Burned, it was my second novel. I didn’t have a readership at that point—nothing like I have now. As I started to hear from more and more readers about it, it came to me that Pattyn did need closure. I felt like it was fair to my readers and fair to her character to go ahead and write the sequel.
Was it hard to get into the Burned/Smoke mindset since so much time had passed?
Pattyn is just a character that kind of stays with you. Because Smoke is a dual POV—it’s also her sister Jackie’s point of view—I had to really get into Jackie’s head more. So that was harder to get into her head I think. But I reread Burned probably three times before I started Smoke so I really had the flow of what was happening and the emotion of the characters. That was really important.
So is this really the end? Any chance for a third book?
For me, it’s the end. I think I gave Pattyn the closure she needed. It’s funny because a lot of my readers are teens, and they want to know what happens next with almost all my books. And it’s like, “Well how far do you want me to take you? Do you want me to take you through getting married and having babies? Or getting divorced later?” [Laughs] I think it’s fair for readers to be able to create some kind of future for my characters that I don’t have to create for them.
What’s next on your book agenda?
I’m just going through the revision on Rumble, which will be next year’s young adult. On the surface, it’s about belief versus non-belief. It’s about a kid who considers himself an atheist, and his girlfriend is an evangelical. Of course, that sets up a lot of interesting things. But it’s really more about the search for redemption. His little brother committed suicide, and he’s really looking for forgiveness that he can’t find because his brother’s gone.
Tell me about Ventana Sierra, your new non-profit organization.
Ventana Sierra, which we founded a year ago, came from a place where I would come across young people who had no resources and were aged out of foster care. They were on the street because their caretakers had made them leave or whatever. Some of those kids really had big dreams, but no way of reaching them…. It came to me and my daughter Kelly, who has been in social work for 12 years. She also had a similar idea. So we came together as mother and daughter to create this non-profit that gets people off the street and into state housing and into college. It’s pretty competitive because there are a lot of kids out there that need help. We’re looking for kids with real motivation to succeed…. It’s my way of paying forward to my readers, but it’s also my way of trying to create a better future. These are the kids who want to be teachers or social workers or psychologists. They want to help other people. So I think if we can help this many people, and they can move on to help that many people and so on, it’s going be a real dynamic going forward.