Happy Birthday to the YA that Started it All—!

What Inspires: A Great Story with a Happy Ever After... S.E. Hinton, “Susie” to those who know her, was a student in Tulsa, Oklahoma’s Will Rodgers High School when she wrote The Outsiders, first published in 1967 by Viking Press. Wikipedia  says, “The story was based on a friend of Hinton's who was jumped for being a "Greaser," which upset her so much she went home that day and started writing the book.”

Hinton was 15 when she started writing the book, 16 when she finished. According to Tulsa lore or my recollection of Hinton’s story, she either showed the manuscript to her teacher who sent it to an agent friend, or to a friend’s mom who was an agent or had a friend who was an agent, or? However it came about, Hinton was a freshman at Tulsa University when The Outsiders was published. Wikipedia maintains “Hinton was 18”, but I don’t think that’s true. I recall her telling the audience at a Tulsa Library event that she wasn’t yet 18 when the book came out so she had to have an adult companion accompany her to New York for publicity events (Maybe her sister?)

Here’s what I know is true--Our six degrees of separation connection:

  • I lived in Tulsa, too.
  • “Susie” used to ride horses with my next door neighbor, Nancy.
  • She frequented a restaurant I worked at while struggling to become a writer.
  • I was so in awe of her that my hands shook when I set her soup bowl before her. I used to linger near her table hoping to catch snippets of “book talk” but never did. ( I did hear about her horses, though.)
  • And once upon a time, I owned a car used in the movie version of the book: a white, 72 Mercedes with blue leather interior (which seems a bit odd considering the movie was set in 1965), and something was wrong with the transmission so the car couldn't reverse, but still...

Who's Been Driving in My Car?

I loved driving in that car, wondering if maybe one of those hot, young stars to be—Patrick Swayze, Rob Lowe, Emilio Estevez, Matt Dillon, Tom Cruise, Patrick Swayze (bears repeating), Ralph Macchio—rode in my car. I can't count the times I watched the movie hoping to see my car, but every-dang-time got so caught up in the story I forgot to look... But I digress.

Here’s what I remember S. E. Hinton, creator of The Outsiders, the book which launched the creation of a new genre of books: Young Adult Fiction, telling attendees at various Tulsa writing events. These snippets  sustain me as a writer and inspire me as a storyteller:

  • Little Susie was petrified to write that second book. So reluctant was she that her husband, then boyfriend, bribed her to write by refusing to take her out on dates until she’d written her requisite 2 pages per day. If needed, he’d sit and wait until she finished them.
  • She doesn’t write with a theme or message, doesn’t plant symbols in her stories, doesn’t do anything but try to “tell a damn good story.” And never knows that her books have themes or embedded symbols or deep truths until readers write and tell her what they are.
  • She so completely immerses herself in the characters she’s writing about that she is completely miserable while writing, so much so that when her son was young, she had to stop writing YA for a time because it was wrecking havoc with her home life.
  •  She is rumored to have had a "fling" with one of those wild, hot boys who may or may not have ridden in my Mercedes...

Imagine! Some 45 years later more than 14 million copies of that Tulsa Sister who tried-to-and-did's debut novel, The Outsiders, have been sold, and an estimated 500,000 copies continue to sell each year.

If you want to purchase your own autographed copy of the anniversary edition of The Outsiders or That Was Then, This is Now, here's your chance! S.E. Hinton is signing books for one day only, May 8, 2012,  at Books of Wonder in the Big Apple. Here’s the ordering info: http://www.booksofwonder.com/prodinfo.asp?number=135834

Stay Gold!

*Want to know what Little Susie looked like back when? Hinton plays a cameo role as a nurse in France Ford Coppola’s movie of the film.  Hey, Pony Boy???