‘How does an author become an author? For S E Hinton, the choice was easy — she wrote her first book when she couldn’t find anything that she wanted to read. She reached that point when she was only 17 years old, and the result was “The Outsiders.” Now, 10 years later, Ms Hinton has just published her third novel, “Rumble Fish.”
‘Like her other books, it’s a story about and for teenagers — not the well-behaved, clean-cut kids who get into “jams,” but delinquents, kids in trouble, the hoods and greasers who are usually thought to be outside the world of books, either as readers or subjects. “When I finished all the horse books and didn’t want to read about the prom, I wrote ‘The Outsiders’,” said Ms Hinton, who was in St. Louis recently. “I would have read boys’ books, if there had been any.
‘“Rumble Fish” is the story of two brothers, Rusty-James and the Motorcycle Boy. Rusty-James isn’t very bright, but he longs for the day when he will be just like his elder brother — intelligent and cool, a respected hood. It doesn’t work out that way, but the story is exciting, easy to follow, and very sad. Like Ms Hinton’s other books, it’s told from a boy’s point of view — Rusty-James is the narrator.
‘“That’s the view I feel most comfortable with,” said the author, whose soft voice is accented with a Southwestern twang. “When I was in high school in Tulsa, Oklahoma, there was no Women’s Lib. The girls stayed in the bathroom, ratting their hair and outlining their eyes in black. That’s interesting for about one minute.” She couldn’t get interested in makeup, but she was interested in the high school social structure — she thought it was “just the stupidest thing in the world.”
‘“The socies wore wheat jeans and got drunk and beat each other up and everybody thought they were cool,” she explained. “The greasers wore blue jeans and black jackets, and got drunk and beat each other up, and everybody thought they were scum.” Ms Hinton had friends in both groups, but never felt that she fit into either one. That didn’t bother her.
‘“Some kids are terrified that they won’t fit in, but I wasn’t,” she recalled. “I’ve always been kind of a loner. I wasn’t popular or unpopular. Of course, some people would look at me strangely. I wasn’t an advanced kid in any way, but I was always in A-track classes, and that classifies you. One time I pulled into a popular drive-in in a car lull of greasers, and some people looked at me. I know I was thought of as eccentric.”
‘Her family thought she was a little unusual, too. Her parents encouraged her enjoyment of reading, but didn’t take her interest in writing quite so seriously. She taught herself to type when she was 12 years old, planning even then to be a writer. While she was working on “The Outsiders,” her family didn’t pay much attention. “I was just weird Susie, up there typing,” she said with a laugh.
‘After she finished the novel, she showed it to a children’s writer, who was the mother of one of her friends. The woman took the book to another children’s author, who put Ms Hinton in touch with a literary agent. One day after school, a call came to tell her that her book had been accepted for publication. “I just went nuts!” she said. “I was alone at home and didn’t have anybody to tell. I ran around in circles and picked up the cat.” The cat, incidentally, was named Rusty-James.
‘Ms Hinton was sent to New York on a publicity trip for the book. Her mother said that she was too young to go to New York alone, so her younger sister went with her. It was exciting, Ms Hinton said, but added that she was so inexperienced that she couldn’t tell “if it were a big deal or not.”
‘However, her early success also had drawbacks. “I got a terrific case of first novel block,” she said. “I couldn’t stand to write anymore. I felt that people were watching me all the time. ‘Is it a fluke?’ I got to the point where I couldn’t use a typewriter even to write a letter. I didn’t know if I could do it again. The only thing I wrote for four years was a short story version of ‘Rumble Fish.’”
‘Ms Hinton finds time to write when she is not working in her husband’s shoe store in Tulsa. They live outside of the city, in a house on a tract large enough for her to keep a horse, fulfilling an old ambition. Ms Hinton considers books for teenagers her forte, and has evidence to back up her claim — her first two books have sold about 3,500,000 copies, often in paperback editions that schools use. Ms S E Hinton hopes that through her books, teenagers who don’t usually enjoy reading will develop a taste for it.“Some boys think reading is sissy,” Ms Hinton said. “That’s one reason I have all my heroes read.”’ — Judy J. Newmark
S.E. Hinton Site
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10 Things I Learned: Rumble Fish
An Overview of Rumble Fish by S. E. Hinton
”If I Could Think of Somewhere to Go”
Page to Screen: Rumble Fish
RUMBLE FISH is a Great Reminder of the Genius of Coppola
Cover to Credits: RUMBLE FISH
Buy ‘Rumble Fish’
S.E. Hinton Biography
Hinton, Susan Eloise “S.E.”
Interview with S.E. Hinton
‘Francis Ford Coppola became a major admirer of Hinton and her works. His first Hinton adaptation was THE OUTSIDERS (1983). Much like the book, it was a medium-sized hit that continued to exert its influence over several decades. For many, it is one of the definitive movies and perceptive movies about the teenage years.
‘During the shoot of THE OUTSIDERS, Coppola and Hinton, who was on set as the film’s technical adviser, began writing a script for an adaptation of “Rumble Fish.” The idea was to make it as a low budget art film on many of the same locations with some of the same actors. Coppola stated that it was his “reward” for completing the difficult OUTSIDERS shoot. The resulting film is quite different from anything Hollywood could have expected. It is shockingly avant-garde in its black and white cinematography, sparse scene-blocking, and use of symbolic and elliptical storytelling techniques.
‘Today RUMBLE FISH is not an especially well known film, but it is highly prized and loved by those who have seen it. In 2014, Richard Linklater programmed the film for an AFS series and many of those who saw it for the first time hailed it as a masterpiece.’ — Austin Film Society
S.E Hinton in Rumble Fish
from The AV Club
Hadn’t you just flunked a writing class when you started writing The Outsiders?
S.E. HINTON: Well, I was flunking a writing class while I was writing it. It was like The Outsiders ate my homework. But it was creative writing. I had wonderful English teachers. I hate that this is the most well-known anecdote about a teacher, because I had great English teachers who were very encouraging. But all I can think of is this woman who counted off for spelling, which publishers don’t. I said in an interview not too long ago, the interviewer said, “Weren’t you just devastated?” I said, “No, I was sitting there, thinking, ‘Woman, you’re gonna feel like such an idiot.’”
She probably did. You were growing up in Oklahoma, and watching these social groups. Why tell the story from the perspective of a young teenage boy, as a teenage girl?
SH: Well, I grew up with only boys. I was a tomboy. I couldn’t find anything in the female culture to identify with. What girls got to do was stand in the john, outline their eyes in black, and do their hair and brag about their boyfriend’s car. I didn’t want that. I wanted my own damn car. Even today, my men friends outnumber my women friends. So I think maybe my mind—I’m not saying I have a masculine mind, because god knows my husband does, and I have no idea how that works—but it’s just that I don’t find a lot of female characters as interesting. And, it’s the easiest voice for me.
Another thing is, I figured, if I wrote this and said a girl was doing this stuff, which I was doing, nobody would believe it. It was very easy for me to switch over to the persona of a boy, and I’ve written from a male point of view ever since, just because it’s easy and I’m lazy.
So these characters were based on actual boys that you knew and were hanging out with?
SH: Loosely based. I couldn’t say, “This is who such-and-such is based on,” because I fictionalized everybody, mixed up their looks and personalities and so forth. But yeah, I knew the situation, being in a greaser neighborhood and hanging out with guy friends like that. It kills me when people say it’s a gang book. It’s not a gang book. I have no idea how organized gangs work, but I’m very aware of the social class warfare that was going on in my school.
And you were growing up on the greaser side.
SH: Yep. Then, when I went to high school, I got put in, nowadays what would be called AP classes. They called them college track in those days. So I was in a different group of kids when I was in high school. So I got to see both sides. I refused to identify with either one of them. I’ve always been an observer. There’s people who do things and people who watch, and I’m a watcher. I was very well aware of what was going on.
I went to a huge high school, baby boomer. The senior class that I graduated with was 1,000 kids. That was the smallest class in the school. The bell rings and this mass of humanity, you have to try to find your way through to get to your next class. But you couldn’t have a lot of friends. You got there, and you decided what group you were in, or somebody decided what group you were in for you, and then you didn’t have any friends outside of the group. And I was watching these people obey all these rules—nobody said, “Where do these rules come from? Why do we have to do this? Why can’t we have friends in any group we want to?” And I just thought the whole damn thing was stupid. So I just was watching it.
Your writing is so atmospheric. It really puts you in a place. After you finished The Outsiders, how did you get it published as an unknown high school student?
SH: Well, I’ve been writing since grade school, so I’d actually been practicing for eight years. I wrote constantly. The Outsiders was the third book I’d written. It was just the first one I’d ever tried to get published. But I just did it for myself. There wasn’t anything being written realistically for teens in those days: “Mary Jane goes to the prom.” I wanted to read it, and I always told kids that tell me they want to be writers, “If you don’t want to write it bad enough, so you yourself can read it, you’re not a writer.” It wasn’t like I sat down at 16 and thought I could write a book. I’d been writing for a long time. I just had closets and drawers of all my other stuff.
One day I was talking to a friend at school, and she said, “My mom writes children’s books,” and I said, “Oh, I write!” She said, “Oh really, let my mom read it,” which she did, and she gave it to a friend of hers, who was also a published writer, but she had an agent, and she said, “Here’s my agent, send it to them.” I had no idea what was the difference between an agent and an editor. I had a name and an address. So I did send it to her. Marilyn Marlow of Curtis Brown did call me my senior year and said, “I’ve sold it to Viking. It was the second publisher that saw it, and it’s going to come out in a year.” Of course, I was just dumbfounded, and of course, excited. I got a contract on graduation day, which just blew graduation out of the water.
Of course, the funny thing is, four years later, I got my contracts for That Was Then, This Is Now, the second book. I got those on my wedding day. I looked at the contracts and went, “Eh, this is nothing. I’m getting married!” I stayed with Marilyn Marlow as my agent until about 12, 15 years ago. I’m still with Curtis Brown. I know I’m supposed to have starved with rejection slips all over, but it didn’t happen that way. It went real fast for me.
S. E. Hinton Rumble Fish
‘Rusty-James is the number one tough guy among the junior high kids who hang out and shoot pool at Benny’s. He’s proud of his reputation, but what he wants most of all is to be just like his older brother, the Motorcycle Boy. Whenever Rusty-James gets in over his head, the Motorcycle Boy has always been there to bail him out. Then one day Rusty-James’ world comes apart, and the Motorcycle boy isn’t around to pick up the pieces. What now?
‘Like Hinton’s groundbreaking classic The Outsiders, Rumble Fish was adapted into a movie by Francis Ford Coppola and remains as relevant as ever in its exploration of sibling relationships, the importance of role models, and the courage to think independently.’ — Delacorte
p.s. Hey. ** Misanthrope, Oh, yeah, the Mark Dennison novel, get on that, big up. I’ve had guns held to my head twice when I was younger. Not hot. Well, you are in the US, so you getting shot is highly more likely than anything paranormal fucking with you, so stay bulletproof. ** Dominik, Hi!!! Ha ha, I fear I probably eat something very like what you unpleasantly unwrapped every day. Amazing what one can get used to. That is a lovely sentence, yes. The only reason I didn’t pull it out as the post’s title is because Facebook would have flagged the post and who needs that aggravation. But yes! Love making a porn film called ‘Rumble Butt’ (it’s amazing what horrible titles porn gets away with), and giving you Struggling_fashion_student too, of course, G. ** David Ehrenstein, Yes, I used to love watching the Amazing Randi on Johnny Carson and all those shows. Man, we need the likes him now really badly. ** _Black_Acrylic, Maybe your dad could have swayed me on asparagus, but I’m not betting a fortune on it. ** Bill, Hm, I wonder if Brian Evenson quietly pores over the slave posts each month look for premises. Wouldn’t shock me. I remember that band! Or I mean I remember its name! ** CAUTIVOS, Hi. Well, the slave posts definitely aren’t for everybody, that’s for sure. ** l@rst, Thanks for the link, man! Very cool about Samuel Robertson Illustrated Old Testament, I need to get that. I have it in pdf form, but I can’t imagine that’s at all sufficient. ** Hopelessly Graphic, Ha ha, did you choose that screen name especially for the hopelessly graphic slaves? Hm, well, the only time in my life when I was in therapy was in the early 90s for about a year and a half because I hit rock bottom. It helped a lot, but I was really bad emotional and psychological shape at the time. Otherwise I’ve always just soldiered on using my powers of objectivity and pragmatism and logic to get through the dark passages, and that’s worked fine for me. But I am a pretty logical type person, and that helps me a lot. So, I don’t know. If you’re mostly okay and upbeat, maybe not? But if you’re suffering and feeling impaired re: your life and writing and stuff to the point where your own powers of analysis aren’t sufficient, it does seem to help? I don’t know if that answer helps. Big hug back to you, my buddy. ** Okay. I’m spotlighting S.E. Hinton’s super good YA novel today. Ever read it? It’s a goodie. See you tomorrow.