S.E. "Susie" Hinton, 34, is the author of four books: "The Outsiders," "That Was Then, This Is Now," "Rumble Fish" and "Tex." All are set in a place like Tulsa, Okla., all deal with the theme of teen-agers at odds with their own world, all are selling briskly as Dell paperbacks and all have recently been purchased by the movies.
Lately Hinton has found herself on three Tulsa film sets in the role of a consultant or coauthor of scripts, expert on Oklahoma styles and "den mother" to the casts of teen-agers gathered to bring her spare, melodramatic stories to the screen. She also got to make her film debut -- as the typing teacher in "Tex."
Hinton's heroes are outsiders, and though she doesn't look the part, she plays it -- keeping a wary eye on interloping adults and saving her real attention for the kids. In the Picasso Room of the Hotel Excelsior in Tulsa, after a long day's work helping Francis Ford Coppola with his movie version of "Rumble Fish," she talked about success, life and growing up.
Q: With 7 million books in print, you're sort of a hero to teen-agers. Does that bring a new responsibility?
A: Yeah, in a way. I don't go back to my own school, but I do go out and talk to kids sometimes. I remember one teacher asked me in front of the class, "How do you begin your writing day?"
"With a hangover," I said. The class went nuts. Don't forget, I flunked creative writing in high school. It's a good thing that in the world of publishing, neatness doesn't count.
Q: You wrote "The Outsiders" as a student at Will Rogers High School. It's a story about warring teen-age cliques -- is it autobiographical?
A: Well, there was a group called the Socials, and there was also the Greasers -- kids from the other side of the tracks. If you were in the Socials you were a "soc." By the way, it's pronounced sosh rhymes with gauche , not sock, despite the way it looks in the book. The groups had different dress codes, different attitudes. I was sort of on the side of the Greasers, inside at least. A friend of mine got beaten up on the way home from the movies, and that got me going. I wrote it when I was a junior, and the book came out when I was a senior. It's in its 40th printing now.
I really loved to write then, and I'd just go at it eight hours a day. After that I was completely blocked for three years. The only reason I wrote "That Was Then" three years later was that I had a boyfriend who wouldn't take me out unless I finished two pages a day.
Q: Do you ever feel disqualified by age from writing about kids today?
A: Well, it's true that at 34 I no longer get suicidal over a bad haircut. But it's not that adults don't have problems; it's that when you grow up, you can sort of handle them better. Maybe what I lack now in pure emotion I can make up for with technique.
Q: Your byline is S.E. Hinton, not Susan Eloise Hinton, and your narrators are boys. How come you know so much about boys?
A: I like boys. I was always doing the boy stuff while the girls were doing eye liner. I was drag racing, playing football. I remember asking myself: What is this? These girls can only get status by the kinds of cars their boyfriends drive? Also, I couldn't stand all those "Mary Jane Goes to the Prom" stories.
Q: You've spent a lot of time with Matt Dillon, the current teen heartthrob who plays the lead in "Tex," "The Outsiders" and "Rumble Fish." Can an adult really be with friends with an 18-year-old?
A: I think we're good friends. He's somebody whose opinion I value and who I trust, and it doesn't matter what his age is. He thinks I'm a good writer, and he's not one to take school all that seriously. He told me that "That Was Then, This Is Now" was the first book he had ever finished.
Q: What difference have you found between the world of high school and the world of Hollywood?
A: Well, over the years I had turned down several offers from movies. I just didn't feel like turning my stuff into "Beach Blanket Bingo." After all, kids tell me they have read some of them 30 times. When Zoetrope Francis Ford Coppola's studio called me two years ago, I didn't even know what it was. But I had seen "The Black Stallion" and I really liked it. Then a week later Disney called, wanting to make "Tex."
Tim Hunter, who directed "Tex," saw himself as an independent, and of course Francis, who did "The Outsiders" and "Rumble Fish," certainly isn't Hollywood in that sense either. I've really just been an observer, and I know this is going to sound stuck up, but I felt at home right away with both of them. I like the working hours, shooting at night, staying up late. It's the best thing that's legal to do.
Emilio Estevez, who's in "Tex," has written a screenplay for "That Was Then, This Is Now." I haven't read it yet, but Emilio and his father Martin Sheen have an option to produce it.
Q:What about adult fiction?
A: If I ever find the adults remotely as interesting as the kids, I'll do it. But the fact is I'd much rather have written "My Friend Flicka" than "Princess Daisy." My books are good and I'm doing what I'm good at. Besides, if Huck Finn was published today it would probably be considered adult fiction.
Q: Do teen-agers today read books?
A: The young adult market is booming. Sure, they also play video games. But people always think kids are worse than they were as kids, and it just isn't true. We should stop viewing kids as a separate species. They're human, but all they ever get is either "sit down and start behaving like a grownup," or, "sit down, what do you know, you're only a kid."
Q: So, do you stay on in Tulsa, now that you're rich and famous?
A: I like being a little bit famous, I wouldn't like being a lot famous. I don't like watching Matt Dillon get mobbed. And I'm not really rich -- don't forget, this is Tulsa. People who are rich here are really rich. Besides, if I really wanted to make money I'd write a book called "How to Lose Weight and Win at Pac-Man While Killing Your Cat With a Rubik's Cube."
I like it here. I like the low key. I walk my dog. I ride my horse. I wrote three of my four books here. I went to the University of Tulsa. I have family here and so does my husband.
His name is David Inhofe. He's the one who wouldn't take me out unless I did the two pages on "That Was Then, This Is Now." At the time we were in Palo Alto, and he was getting a master's degree in statistics from Stanford. What he does now is sell Earth Shoes through the mail. Yeah, I know, Earth Shoes went out of business. But he bought up all the stock, and he still sells them. He has an ad every month in Rolling Stone.
Q: Is he impressed with your success? The movie directors coming to town and all of that?
A: Nothing impresses my husband. Once, though, we were in the Zoetrope studio and a secretary said to him, "You may not know it but this is the old Desilu studio, and you're sitting on the couch from 'I Love Lucy.' " That's when my husband went nuts.