Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Author of teen novels stays young at heart

A Q&A with Lois Lowry

Express Staff Writer

Lois Lowry, author of at least two books that appear on middle school reading lists nationwide, has traveled all over the world. She lived in Japan with her army father as a child, and has more recently come back from trips to New York City and Paris.

She's soon to board another plane en route to Sun Valley, where she will spend only one day before jetting off to Los Angeles.

While here, the author of "The Giver" will share a bit about how her diverse experiences help inform her work. She gave the Mountain Express a preview of the lecture she is slated to give at the Sun Valley Center for the Arts this week.

Q) What appeals to you about writing for young adults?

A) I am somebody who has very clear and subjective memories from all the way back to age 4, but especially from adolescence. I started to say that I had fond memories of that time, but really that was a trying time.

I have clear memories of what it is like to be young, and I enjoy revisiting those memories. That's how I do it [when I write], I re-become young, I re-enter adolescence in the form of whatever fictional character I've created. I completely enjoy that process. It draws on my memory and my imagination, and it's just a comfortable place to be as a writer.

Q) How do you feel about young-adult fiction as a genre? Do you have a favorite young-adult author?

A) I tend not to read young-adult fiction. I haven't read any of the current, contemporary fiction out there. I read about young-adult fiction, and I am aware of the trends.

When those vampire books—"Twilight"—became very popular, my granddaughter read and loved those books. But suddenly, there are a thousand vampire books, because everyone jumped on the bandwagon. Now the trend is mermaids and angels, I think. Since "The Giver," there are a zillion dystopian novels. Maybe there is room for that, but frankly, I just find it annoying.

Q) Did your experiences with your children and grandchildren inspire any of your work?

A) I tend not to write about contemporary children doing trendy things. Kids today enjoy reading about that, but they have a short shelf life. I try to avoid that kind of thing. My stories end up being more timeless.

Although I had four kids and now I have four grandchildren, I haven't used specific things from their childhoods because it would date them. If I had written about my children, the stories would have had hula hoops in them. For example, Anastasia [Krupnik]'s father is a writer, and he uses a typewriter. That wouldn't happen today.


Q) You have said you don't read young-adult fiction, but what do you enjoy reading?

A) I read good literary fiction, and a lot of nonfiction One thing I'm sorry is gone I read a lot is wonderful volumes of collected letters, letters from Flannery O'Connor and E.B. White. People don't write letters anymore, and it's a great loss.

Q) One of your more recent books is an autobiographical picture book. What was it like, having someone illustrate your work?

A) I've not written picture books before, because the publisher prefers the writer not discuss it with the illustrator. I did not ever talk to the illustrator, but he wanted a photograph of me at that age. The pictures are stunning, but it sends shivers down my spine because the child in the pictures is me. (The illustrator used a picture of Lowry, age 9, to provide a model for the child in the book.)

Q) Your body of work is so diverse, from dystopia to historical fiction. What spurs that diversity?

A) I enjoy going back and forth. It just keeps me interested, doing different things. It's like not cooking spaghetti every night, even though you may love spaghetti.

Q) You obviously love writing, but what is the hardest thing about being an author?

A) I don't want to whine and complain, but it's part of the general climate right now. Suddenly, authors are called upon and expected to do a lot of self-promotion. Certainly I am an introvert, I like being alone in a room. I don't mind speaking to people in a room, like I will in Sun Valley, but I am not someone who will tweet and twitter. And that's what publishers want authors to do now. I don't mind [blogging], that's sitting here at my desk and writing, but I don't like to yammer on about how wonderful I am and how you should buy my books. It just doesn't feel right.

Q) What was it like to write a story for "The Chronicles of Harry Burdick," inspired by an illustration of a nun floating in a chair in the midst of a giant cathedral? (The book was released Oct. 27.)

A) It was a lot of fun, and I got to choose the illustration. I was one of the early ones to sign on, so I got to choose the one I wanted. It's an interesting exercise, because it means you are starting from a different place. When I'm writing a story, I start with a setting and a character, and something the character is facing. Starting from the illustration, I was starting with the thing already there, and I had to back up and figure out how the character had gotten there. It was fun, and quite a challenge.


Lowry will give a lecture at 6:30 p.m. on Thursday, Nov. 3, at the Presbyterian Church of the Big Wood on Saddle Road in Ketchum. Tickets are available at/

Katherine Wutz:

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