Lois Lowry's Blog
Here is Alfie, supervising the set-up of a treadmill in my studio in Maine. I have one in Cambridge but soon will move up to Maine for the summer and need to continue trudging away. My friend Kay has convinced (make that coerced) me to go with her in January to a place that I am thinking of as Torture Resort (see website: http://www.theashram.com) so I have to prepare myself. Kay doesn't need to; Kay is always prepared! As I speak she is leaving for Peru to hike the Inca Trail; and she spends time each day at the gym, or rowing on the Charles River, but only of course when she is not off trekking the tundra of northern Canada.
The childish part of me (my main component part, actually) would like to say, of Kay, "Well, nyah, nyah, she can't write a book!" but the fact is she is in the middle of writing a book right now, while she is on sabattical from her teaching chores at Harvard.
The treadmill allows me to prop up my Kindle and read while treading, and I have just finished Barbara Walters' much-publicized memoir. In it she mentions a question she sometimes asks during interviews: 'What do you think is the biggest misconception that people hold about you?' So I have been thinking about that, and mentioned it to Martin (who arrived here yesterday) over a glass of wine last night. I told him that my first response was "that I am well-organized."
Then, after a second, I said, "But I am pretty well-organized, actually," and he agreed....
Here is Darel. As I am out in the studio trying to create a new book, Darel is on the second floor of my house trying to create a new bathroom.
And he's doing a great job.
I WANDER'D lonely as a cloud
That floats on high o'er vales and hills,
When all at once I saw a crowd,
A host, of golden daffodils;
Beside the lake, beneath the trees,
Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.
Continuous as the stars that shine
And twinkle on the Milky Way,
They stretch'd in never-ending line
Along the margin of a bay:
Ten thousand saw I at a glance,
Tossing their heads in sprightly dance.
The waves beside them danced; but they
Out-did the sparkling waves in glee:
A poet could not but be gay,
In such a jocund company:
I gazed -- and gazed -- but little thought
What wealth the show to me had brought:
For oft, when on my couch I lie
In vacant or in pensive mood,
They flash upon that inward eye
Which is the bliss of solitude;
And then my heart with pleasure fills,
And dances with the daffodils.
IN my first book about Anastasia Krupnik...and that's its title....she, at age 10, accompanies her father to a Harvard English class in which he is teaching this Wordsworth poem to his bored students. Walking home with him afterward, they talk about "the inward eye which is the bliss of solitude" and the little girl realizes that her grandmother, in a nursing home, has such an inward eye....memory....that provides company for her.
I love inserting literary references into fiction for young people. Recently, in the book "Messenger," after the death of the character Matty, I quoted the second verse of this Houseman poem, "To an Athlete Dying Young":
The time you won your town the race
We chaired you through the market-place;
Man and boy stood cheering by,
And home we brought you shoulder-high.
To-day, the road all runners come,
Shoulder-high we bring you home,
And set you at your threshold down,
Townsman of a stiller town.
Smart lad, to slip betimes away
From fields where glory does not stay,
And early though the laurel grows
It withers quicker than the rose.
Eyes the shady night has shut
Cannot see the record cut,
And silence sounds no worse than cheers
After earth has stopped the ears:
Now you will not swell the rout
Of lads that wore their honours out,
Runners whom renown outran
And the name died before the man.
So set, before its echoes fade,
The fleet foot on the sill of shade,
And hold to the low lintel up
The still-defended challenge-cup.
And round that early-laurelled head
Will flock to gaze the strengthless dead,
And find unwithered on its curls
The garland briefer than a girl's.
Play rehearsals for "Gossamer" have begun in Milwaukee, and that means the playwright is back at work. Funny how you don't perceive stuff until director and actors begin working with it. Jeff Frank, the director, emailed me that the transition from Scene 1 to Scene 2 didn't work well...getting the characters from one place to the next was difficult, but what if we...? And he was right. I re-wrote Scene 1 and now, he tells me, that problem is solved.
Now I am about to deal with a number of other thoughts/suggestions from Jeff after he held a reading in front of an audience. This is the type of thing (I hope he doesn't mind my posting his quote here):
As much as I love scene 17 and the humor within (which I think is necessary in the rhythm of the piece), I do feel that it goes on too long – interrupting the build in tension for too great a time. We also lose some of the dramatic tension in the scene if we venture too far into the humorous aspect.
Of course this is the sort of collaborative work that ultimately strengthens the play and for which I'm very grateful. It's fun, actually, to trim and tighten with the help of such input.
He also mentioned the possibililty of switching scenes 14 and 16 with each other and this is something I'll look at when I have a little more time to sit and think. Today I am flying to Newport News, Virginia, in order to speak at a Holocaust Remembrance ceremony there tonight. But I'll be home tomorrow (Friday) and back at my desk....
It is actually warmer here than it was in Beverly Hills. Think I just hit a cool snap out there.
My next trip in this non-stop spring will be Newport News, Virginia, where I will speak at a Holocaust Remembrance ceremony next Thursday evening.
As for movie news, now that I have actually met with the people involved: no news. Simply a lot of discussion about things left unanswered in the book...how to answer them in the film, or how to deal with them if they are to remain unanswered. Various visions of what things look like. How big is the community? How old is The Giver? All of these things...which can be left for a book-reader to individualize...have to be firmed up for casting directors, for set designers, etc. No more "whatever you want it to be in your imagination."
It's an interesting, challenging process.
Here's a front desk at Warner Brothers:...
I was having dinner last night in the restaurant of the Four Seasons Hotel in Beverly Hills, where I have been staying for the past few days, and when the waiter offered me the dessert menu, I said no thanks. Didn't even want to read about the flans and creme caramels and decadent chocolate things. Was full. Stuffed. Had not even finished my risotto.
So he took the dessert menu away. And a few minutes later, back he came with ... THIS.
My dinner companion, screenwriter/director Bob Weide, had also turned down dessert. And so he ALSO got one of these.
"The chef got this machine," our waiter explained. "He's having fun making cotton candy."...
Some posts ago, a commenter asked how I was enjoying my KIndle. And I never got around to answering.
But the answer is: I LOVE IT.
Here's the thing: it isn't a book. It doesn't feel in your hands like a book, or smell like a book, or sit upright in your bookcase enhancing your decor and making your guests admire your literacy.
You can click on any of these photos to enlarge.
First, a photo just sent to me from the recent event at the Kennedy Library: me at the podium, introducing gorgeous Alice Hoffman, who appears to be listening attentively. Alice is now off touring for her new book, The Third Angel, and it wouldn't surprise me if we were to run into each other at an airport someplace!
Next, a stack of books waiting to be autographed at Politics and Prose, the wonderful bookstore in Washington DC. I spent the past week first in Baltimore, then Washington (where I was competing with The Pope), then Philadelphia (where Hillary and Barack were just down the street).
Spring is finally coming, I think. My lawn is dappled with scylla and I can see a robin tugging at a worm this very moment, from my office window.
I returned from Michigan Monday after watching a terrific performance on Sunday of THE GIVER, with staging very different from any of the productions I've seen in other cities. And: a female GIVER! First time I've seen that, but it worked just fine.
And yesterday I signed books and spoke briefly about "The Willoughbys" at Porter Square Books in Cambridge, where I live. A lot of school groups there so the store was packed and they were great kids: attentive, interested. Most unusual question: "What kind of tea do you like?"
Ah, Earl Grey.
And that reminds me of a recent email, with a PS: "What is your favorite ice cream flavor?" and then: PPS: "You don't have to answer that if you are lactose intolerant."...
Okay, so this is not a luscious landscape. This is the view from my Holiday Inn hotel room in Flint, Michigan, the view of the Chinese restaurant to which I walked across the parking lot for dinner last night, the HI having no restaurant of its own.
Flint is in a state of demoralizing economic decline, the auto industry here having collapsed.
But the arts here seem alive and well. Tomorrow I will speak at a nearby theater and then attend a production of THE GIVER at the smaller theater next door to that one. The arts — in the form of theaters, and library — are all in the same location; and from my quick glimpse yesterday during a tour of both theaters, they are fabulously designed and well maintained.
I have seen stage productions of THE GIVER many times in many different cities. Each of them is staged differently...it's one of the intriguing elements of theater, that a play leaves latitude for the director and set designer to create individual elements. I got a peek backstage here in Flint and can tell already that today's production will be very different; but I won't make any comments until I've actually seen what they're doing....
Since I showed you all a picture my daughter did of her cat at age 8, and because I am taking a break from work and killing a little time, here are a couple of pictures of the same daughter's current cat, Sam, done by the same daughter but many years later, in her forties.
and okay, one of her (late, much mourned) very old dachshund, Wiener
A while back I posted a photo of the painting my daughter gave me for my March 20th birthday, a painting of a San Francisco street (she lives in SF) and now here is a picture if her actually working on the painting.
And thinking about that made me remember another painting of hers...this one done when she was in fourth grade many years ago. It won a prize in a city-wide children's art show, and it has been hanging in my guest bedroom now for a long time.
It was a painting of her cat, whose name was Betsy, with a litter of kittens. If you click to enlarge it you can appreciate the very self-satisfied look on the mother cat, and the pink paw pads....
This is a banyan tree, one of several, at Selby Gardens in Sarasota, where I spent the past almost-a-week. Strictly vacation, visiting good friends who winter there, and a much-needed vacation after a lot of travel...and more to come: Detroit next weekend, then Baltimore,Washington DC, Philadelphia, and finally, Los Angeles.
Today was the PEN Hemingway event at the Kennedy Library (such a gorgeous location on a clear day with blue sky). I remember speaking of that event on this blog a year ago, when Joyce Carol Oates was the keynote speaker. This year it was Alice Hoffman, and I was the one to introduce her, a real privilege, since Alice has been a friend for many years...but also daunting, wanting to get it right and do her justice. I remember that last year it surprised me that JCO was funny; I hadn't expected that. No surprises with Alice, that she was articulate and smart and political.
Patrick Hemingway , Ernest Hemingway's son, read the opening passage of "A Farewell to Arms" and read it well. I haven't re-read that book in years but the opening pages...and the ending...have stayed with me; I could almost recite the words as he read. The Kennedy Library houses the Hemingway archives and papers, including the 44 versions of the last page of "A Farewell to Arms." I remember reading once that when asked why he rewrote and rewrote it, EH replied: "To get the words right."
An email today from my German daughter-in-law tells me that my granddaughter and her good friend, Annika, have just received the book "The Willoughbys," which I dedicated to the two of them. Annika will have to wait until it is translated into German because she is not proficient yet in English, but Nadine, my granddaughter, reads (and speaks) both languages....
Just to brighten the day...and to counteract the whining in my last post...here is a painting (click to enlarge) by Anne Schreivogl, who was kind enough to send me pictures of some of her work, knowing that I would love it (since we have almost the same birthday!) The bright colors are making me smile as I sit here at my desk, and also reminding me that I must get back to my current knitting project. I've been traveling too much, and knitting is hard to take along on a plane (and Tuesday morning I head to Sarasota, where it will...I hope and assume....be warm, and I don't much like knitting during hot weather)
All this traveling has also thrown a monkey wrench into writing and I must found a way back into my work, not just my knitting. I will be in Florida for three days (this time strictly vacation, visiting close friends), then the following week to Flint, Michigan, to see one more production of THE GIVER.
And my current project, though quite brief, is oddly difficult. Next Sunday I am to introduce Alice Hoffman, who will be the keynote speaker at the PEN Hemingway-Winship Awards at the Kennedy Library. This is a very big and elegant event. Alice follows last year's keynoter, Joyce Carol Oates. Ordinarily an introduction is not a big deal; people are waiting to hear the speaker, after all, not the preliminary words. But Alice is a friend of mine (another with whom I share a birthday week!) and I want to do her—and her fine body of work—justice.
So that is today's project. And tomorrow I sit down with the panel of judges for this year's Susan Bloom Award— we've all been reading manuscripts like crazy — to select the 2008 winner(s). This is an award for a previously unpublished New England children's author, given by the Children's Book Caucus of PEN New England, the tenth year of the award's existence. Many of the previous winners have gone on to publication—part of the award consists of a reading by a major publisher— so it is a big deal. The winner(s) will be honored at an event May 4th....
Here are two pictures of my computer screen while it is showing an animated film of "Number the Stars" made by a schoolgirl named Shani in Woodside, California. The reason I have titled this post as an apology is because Shani sent me this film, and some books to be signed, MONTHS ago. She waited a while and then wrote politely to asked if I had received them...and I had to reply regretfully that I had not, that they had somehow been lost in the mail. Yesterday they arrived, forwarded from the publisher to whom she had sent them, along with a stack of other mail...some of it dating to August 2007.
I don't know really how to account for this, but here is my theory. Forwarding the mail is a boring job. It is given to some minor employee who is overworked and underpaid, and eventually that employee quits, leaving mountains of untended mail, maybe on a high shelf someplace, out of sight. Eventually someone says, "What's this dusty stuff?" and takes it down and deals with it. But in the meantime months have passed. Christmas gifts have gone unacknowledged. A young girl who spent hours making a film is led tp believe that it disappeared in the mail. Once, even, an invitation to dinner with the foreign minister of Denmark went unanswered because it didn't reach me until long after the dinner had been held.
And I don't have a solution, except once again to apologize to all those disappointed kids who never got a reply to letters they wrote to me last fall. Maybe if we all gather, en masse, with placards, and demonstrate? March on the palace? Send a petition? Whine in unison?
The Dalai Lama says to smile and think: I wish you happiness....
That seems much too long and complicated an address, but I'm told it is the way to get to a piece I wrote that appeared in Sunday's Washington Post: a short article about my history as a child liar. Oh, make that embellisher. No, I guess I was right the first time: liar. I started out (age 5) with simple embellishment, to gain affection when I felt under-appreciated; then I advanced (age 8) to upper-level embellishment to gain admiration; finally I progressed (age 10) to out-and-out lying in order to win popularity (it worked, briefly). All of this before adolescence. Surprisingly, during my teenage years I became something of an achiever and so didn't need to create my own niche any more through such subversive methods. But it was all good training for the writing of fiction, and that's what the Post article is about.
Oddly timed, too, because of the revelation that one more book has been recalled, its author having confessed to having completely made up her own fascinating past and peddled it as memoir. Me, I call my own work fiction, and it seems to me that author should have done the same.
This week is my birthday and my painter daughter has sent me a painting of hers I had admired: a street scene from San Francisco, where she lives. Here it is, hanging in my office (click to enlarge):
Back from the West Coast, after very hospitable times in Portland, Seattle, and Vancouver; and now I am catching my breath before heading to New York day after tomorrow, just overnight. This is a busy time of year! But Martin is coming with me to New York, because it will be my birthday, and we will go to the theater.
So many friends share my birthday week that it almost makes me believe in Astrology: my friend Joanna, an actress and professor of theater; my friend James, a composer; my friend Alice, a novelist; my friend Haley, a retired professor of Children's Literature....and several others, including two daughters-in-law. March is a good month for a birthday, at least in New England, because you begin to feel...slightly...that spring is on the way.
In Portland I got to watch a reading of the play "Gossamer" and was delighted to see how well the audience responded. It is still technically "in process" so there was a talk-back afterward in which members of the audience had a chance to make suggestions and comments to me and to both theater directors who will produce the play in the fall. There were two child actors and ...let me think...I believe 6 adults...reading at
microphones; and we all...myself included...laughed at times, and dabbed our eyes at other times. (Well, by "all" I don't mean the actors....they stayed in character throughout.....but the audience).
In Seattle, I did an hour-long radio program, mostly interview but some call-ins...and to my amazement, got a call from a friend I had not seen since 1956 when she was a bridesmaid in my wedding when I was a child bride (age 19). I had no idea that she lived in Seattle or that she would recognize the interviewee as her old pal. Somehow we had failed to keep in touch over the years, and it was nice to catch up a bit. (we did that afterward, privately, not in front of the radio audience!)
Now I am catching up, as well, on all the episodes of "In Treatment" that I missed while traveling. And answering a ton of mail, too. In my waiting mail, incidentally, was my new "Kindle" which Ihad ordered several weeks ago, but they were out of stock then. For those who don't know...a Kindle is an electronic book into which one can download up to 200 books... It makes for very easy reading...ALMOST feels like a real book! The reason I wanted it was because I am a very fast reader, which means that I have to schlep several books on any plane or train (or bus, which is what I take to New York) so that I won't be left bookless midway. So I'm very psyched about the Kindle. And I'll try it (well, I've tried it already of course) .. I'll USE it for the first time on my way to New York Wednesday. Four hours down, four hours back. That is usually a three-novel timespan for me. And I've already downloaded three into my Kindle....
Here is a group of wonderful 5th graders in Portland, Oregon, who spent an hour asking me questions yesterday morning...and many of whom came last night to be part of 900 people to hear the annual children's author lecture held each year. My hand got tired from signing books afterwards...but it was nice that many of the books were the brand new one, THE WILLOUGHBYS, which is JUST available for the first time.
Night before last I watched a reading of the play "Gossamer," by performers from the Oregon Children's Theater (2 children and 5 adults, reading the parts) listened to comments and questions from an enthusiastic audience, and could feel for the first time just how it will work on stage. There was no staging yet, of course, but listening to the reading, you could sense the pacing, and the scene changes. People in the audience who knew the book enjoyed the reading; but the important thing was that people who had never read the book could still "get it" in its dramatic form. There was laughter and silence and probably even a little eye-dabbing here and there.
Now I must dash off to speak at a luncheon and then rush to the airport to get a plane to Vancouver, where I'll be speaking tonight. Busy week!
I am writing this in a hotel room in Portland, Oregon, having arrived here this afternoon from Wisconsin, where I spent yesterday watching two performances, matinee and evening, at a theater in Kenosha, where THE GIVER was being performed. The two not-very-good-cell-phone photos (click to enlarge) are of me after the evening performance, with two of the stars: Terry Lawler, who played The Giver, and Nathan (drat! I'm going to get his last name wrong!) Fosbinder? (Nathan, if you read this: post a correction. I'd hate to ruin your career in the theater by botching your name) who played Jonas. Both of them are great performers.
Tomorrow I will attend, in Portland, a public reading of the play "Gossamer" which will consist of the actors at microphones, reading the script to an audience who then will be invited to give their reactions: was there something they didn't understand? something that didn't work? something they especially liked? My only role will be to listen, take notes, figure out what needs work. The next step..in June...will be a week in New York working on the play with the director, set designer, actors, and others. Such a lot of preparation goes into the production of a play! The writing of the script is really just the beginning.
Tomorrow I'll get to have lunch with my very dear friend Allen Say...we were children together and neighbors in Japan in the late 40's, though we didn't know that and realize that connection until we met as adults. Allen lives in Portland. Tomorrow he will get to lord over me the fact that I will turn 71 this month...and he won't turn 71 till August: a mere child in comparison.
It was cold and snowy in Wisconsin, and also in Minneapolis, where I changed planes. But Portland is beautiful today: clear and sunny, so Mt. Hood is visible in all its splendor.