For nearly four days, I drove The Outsiders author, S.E. Hinton, around Dallas as part of our Big D Reads program, which, as you recall, has a simple goal of inspiring the entire city of Dallas to read one book together in one month. The past 27 days, we’ve handed out 20,000 copies of Hinton’s book and created programming around it.
This past weekend, I got to know Susie Hinton (somewhat) well. Hinton started writing The Outsiders when she was 16. She worked on it at home in Tulsa, at school (in her creative writing class, which she earned a D in), at the dinner table, and during Thanksgiving. The book was her obsession. Though it’s not a true story, and none of the characters are real, she was inspired to write it after a friend got beat up on his way home from a movie. The book wasn’t a huge hit when it was published. It took some time, then it became popular. (She says that last year was the book’s best year yet.)
As the books began selling, and money started coming in, Hinton determined early on that she would not talk about her personal life. Nearly 50 years (and countless appearances later), she still holds to that policy.
But she will talk about her writing process, which character she most associates with (Ponyboy), and what she tells people when they ask why she killed off Johnny (because she’s “a cold-hearted bitch”—she’s not one to beat around the bush).
Hinton, a self-proclaimed introvert, doesn’t do many book events anymore. After the first three events here in Dallas, I understood why. Her story is nearly 50 years old. The information around it hasn’t changed in that time. By the third event, I could answer most of the questions she was asked. I get how that could wear on a person after a few years. But she was great in going to all our events and answering all our questions. She has some avid fans out there. On our way to the airport, I asked her a few last questions. Read below. Then go follow her on Twitter.
KN: No matter where we were, the audience always wanted to know which character you most identify with in The Outsiders. Is that the most frequently asked question?
SE: It’s one of them. Is it a true story? That’s another one.
KN: You often answer some of these questions through Twitter (@se4realhinton) where you have more than 25,000 followers. How do you use Twitter to engage with your fans?
SE: One thing I love about Twitter is I cannot answer all my fan mail. I don’t even try to read my snail mail.
KN: People still send snail mail?
SE: Yeah, especially class groups. I can’t answer my email fan letters either. Twitter is good to do with interaction, because you can’t send me five pages. You can say, “Hi, I love your books,” and I can say, “Hi, thank you for saying that.” So you’ve actually made a personal contact without taking up your whole day. One of the things I really like is I get to keep in touch with a lot of friends that are scattered all throughout the United States. I have Tommy Howell’s email address, and I could write a letter, but it’s fun to see him on Twitter and say, “Hey, Tommy, how are you doing?” That’s all you want to say to your friends. You don’t want to have a long discussion.
KN: What’s the craziest fan letter you’ve received?
SE: I was opening my fan email, and started reading this letter. I said to my husband, David, “Listen to this. ‘I think you have the most sexy eyes in the world, and your luscious body just turns me on, and your somebody I just dream about.’” I thought, “Huh, I hope this isn’t from a high school kid.” It turned out to be sent to the wrong author and the author who was supposed to get it was an author who wrote erotica. So it wasn’t meant for me, but it certainly gave me a jolt.
KN: The Outsiders was made into a movie in 1983. It was directed by Francis Ford Coppola and starred Matt Dillon, Ralph Macchio, Tom Cruise, Rob Lowe, C. Thomas Howell, Patrick Swayze, and Diane Lane. Which of the cast members have you stayed in touch with?
SE: I’m still in touch with all of them. Saw Matt (Dillon) just a few weeks ago. Saw Tommy (Howell) last summer. Tweeted with Ralph (Macchio) the other day. I’m in touch with all the old cast members.
KN: In the time I’ve spent with you, a quarter of our conversation has been about The CW’s show Supernatural. How did you get into that particular show?
SE: I just loved the show. I saw an ad in Entertainment Weekly with new shows coming out that fall. I’m very interested in paranormal. The writing is good. It’s funny. It’s humorous. It’s scary. It’s just what you want. I tell people I came for the subject and stayed for the story.
In the third season, I wrote the creator and the head writer—I think it’s the only fan letter I’ve ever written anybody—and a couple days later, I had a reply that said, “We’ve been staring at your letter, trying to figure out if it’s a hoax.” I said, “No, it’s me.” So I corresponded with Eric (Kripke, a writer for the show). He turned out to be one of these people that The Outsiders changed his life. So we corresponded. He got me an invitation to the set, which I did just thinking it would be fun to see the stars in action and hang out on the set. I made friends in just the short time I was there and was invited back. This year was my seventh year visiting the set of Supernatural. I go twice a year, in the spring and the fall, and shoot a week. It’s just a fun vacation for me.
KN: What are you working on now?
SE: I’ve been hired to write a screenplay based on my short stories, Some of Tim’s Stories. It was optioned for a low budget indie movie not too long ago.
KN: You’ve spent the last four days in Dallas, a city you had been through, but not spent much time in. You didn’t really have any preconceived notions of Dallas, did you?
SE: No. I figured it was a bigger Tulsa.
KN: Do you still think that?
SE: Yeah, especially with all this urban renewal that’s happening here. The exact same thing is going on in Tulsa. Tulsa is even putting together a park that they’re calling The Gathering Place, which is, I think, similar to the Klyde Warren Park.
KN: Did you have any good food while you were here?
SE: I had some great food—wild boar tamales and some really good margaritas (at Stampede 66).
KN: We’ve talked about the letters you’ve received from people saying the book has changed their lives. You’ve received letters with the same message for the past 50 years. What does that say about the work you created as a teenager?
SE: Apparently there’s something in it that every generation and people from all over the world can identify with. So, I’m thrilled. I didn’t expect this. This is what’s happened.