I forgot to mention that last night, just after I got back from Maine, Allen Say, the illustrator and my very close friend, called to say he was in Boston. So he left the luxury of the Four Seasons in order to hang out over here for a while. Here he is. Here WE are, actually.
Lois Lowry's Blog
Okay, so I have to explain the rooster.
Several years ago, my artist friend Middy (she does the illustrations for the Gooney Bird books) and I took a trip up the coast of Maine, stopping in art galleries, poking around, just having a fun, relaxing time. She kept telling me that I would love the paintings of a man named Philip Barter; and eventually, as we found ourselves way up the coast, above Ellsworth, she took me to his home and studio, and she was right. I loved his work. In fact I bought a painting of his which hangs in my living room today.
In fact, here's a picture of it. It's the painting over the couch. (Beyond it is a painting by Ashley Bryan. But that's a whole other story)
While headed both to and from Brattleboro, Vermont, this wekend to participate in their wonderful annual Literary Festival, I read. I am one of those lucky people who can read in a car. (And no, I wasn't driving!) Yes, the scenery in New England is spectacular this time of year and I did look up and through the window now and then. But so was my book: AFTERNOONS WITH EMILY. by Rose MacMurray, who, sadly, died just as she finished writing it. Her family oversaw its publication.
Maybe only former English majors will love this book...(but lord knows there are enough of us around!) Told from the point of view of a young girl who moves to Amherst, MA when her father becomes a professor of Classics at the college there, the story is really a study of the girl's odd, reclusive neighbor, Emily Dickinson.
Needless to say, this is a novel and therefore one can't rely on the authenticity of its portrayal of the poet. Still, it is clearly carefully researched (the author was a teacher of poetry) and the time and place come thoroughly alive in the book. So does the character of Emily, with all of her complex personaity and quirks: her hysteria, her simmering angers, her arrogance, and at the same time the sharp intellect and the amazing newness of her style....
This morning Alfie had a visit from Nellie, a Tibetan Terrier from Beacon Hill. They are the same age, though Nellie, being female, is comsiderably smaller. I had wondered if a dog recognizes his own breed. Alfie's play companions are generally "other." He played with happily with Nellie, and allowed her to share his uneaten breakfast very companionably, and of course there is no way to ask him...but to be honest, I think he viewed Nellie as simply "dog," and not "Tibetan Terrier."
I was in Tampa overnight Friday night in order to speak to the Tampa Writers' Project there at their conference on Saturady...several hundred teachers who teach writing and study it seriously. A good group. It is always pleasant to be with like-minded folk. I was to speak for an hour and then sign books (for maybe half an hour, they said)...but the book-signing went on and on and it was three hours later that I was finally able to rise from that chair and rest my hand. Not that I am complaining! It's wonderful to have such an enthusiastic throng.
And yesterday a photographer came to the house, sent by Houghton Mifflin to do new photos for publicity, book jackets, whatever. Turned out he had two subjects instead of one for most photos, because publicity-hog Alfie kept leaping into my lap and posing. Attached, a throwaway Polaroid that the photographer, Neil Giordano, let me keep.
It is Tuesday, and on Friday I have to fly to Tampa in order to speak Saturday morning to teachers of writing. In a way, I feel as if they should be speaking to me because surely they know more abut the craft than I do or ever will. But...since I will be the speaker...I am trying to put some thoughts together.
It's timely, because I am soon to start on a new book and I have been thinking a lot about it.
"Thinking a lot about it" is always, of course, the first and most important part of the process.
At least for me. I must keep reminding myself that everyone goes about this job differently, and what works well for some will not work at all for others.
I understand there are writers who make outlines and use index cards. In a way, I envy them. It sounds organized and disciplined and careful and meticuous. It also, alas, sounds (to me) boring. But maybe I say that out of envy, because I can't do it, the way a bad ice skater might yawn and say it so borimg to do a quadruple jump....
It has been a while since I have posted anything to this blog...long enough that I've had inquiries from several friends about my health! But I'm fine, have just been busy, and on the road a bit.
The death of Madeliene L'Engle recently was a loss to the world of literature. I was asked by a magazine editor to make a brief statement about it and sent the following:
I never knew Madeleine L'Engle personally. But I felt as if I did. Her books, especially "A Wrinkle in Time," had been an important part of the lives of my children when they were young. Then I entered the same field in which she was already such a towering figure, and though our paths never crossed in person, I felt her presence there in our shared world of literature.
A few years ago, I read that she had lost her son. Because it was something I had experienced, the loss of a son, I wrote her a letter. Both of us had shared many stories with the world, but this was a personal and private loss, and one that we shared with each other. When she replied, she concluded her letter with the word "Blessings."
I thought of that when I heard that she had died. What better farewell is there? Blessings to you, Madeleine L'Engle.
I very rarely read children's books. But recently, after coming upon a review of this one: Good Masters! Sweet Ladies! Voices from a Medieval Village
, by Laura Amy Schlitz, I bought it and was so charmed by it that I wanted to mention it here.
I had a personal reason for being interested. I have long had a passion for Medieval times and still have an entire bookshelf devoted to reference volumes about that era. Way back in, oh, probably 1980, I began writing a novel set in a small English village in - I think it was 1439 (I am at the wrong house and can't look it up). In any case, it was the year that the plague entered England and eventually killed a third of the population. I remember that I named my fictional village Tarrant Marsh.
I remember ,too, that my protaganist was a young girl, left with a newborn baby to care for after her mother and the rest of her family...and almost all of her village..dies. (Interesting to think of it now, since many years later the book "The Giver" dealt with a young boy caring for an endangered infant)
I was loving the writing of my Medieval book. The I happened on a review of a book by well-known wrter of historical fiction Ann Turner, a book called "The Way Home"...well, here, I'll look it up:...
Okay, here's a confession. Almost every day at lunchtime I leave my desk, leave my office, and take my lunch into the TV room and turn on Court TV. Then for an hour I watch a little slice of the seamiest part of American life. Lately it has been the trial of Phil Spector, sleazy music mogul (see attached photos) accused of shooting would-be starlet Lana Clarkson.
This trial will end soon and it will be hard to say goodbye to this cast of characters. Yesterday, testifying for the defense, was a friend of the victim who thinks her pal committed suicide. She was apparently very depressed because a famous movie person (I missed the name) didn't recognize her, at a party. "She freaked out," said the witness.
All of the above took place at what the commentators refer to as "the mansion" belonging to Spector (again see photos), a 33-room house, the scene of many parties and much gun-waving.
Last night, still feeling crummy from a virus that started last Thursday, I went up to bed early with a box of Kleenex and a bottle of Tylenol. Martin was downstairs, reading; and Alfie had gone outside for a final pee before bedtime.
Suddenly, from someplace behind the house, we heard the most godawful, terrifying cries from the dog. Clearly Afie, but sounds we had never heard before.
I raced downstairs. Martin was already outside with a flashlight and a big stick (actually, a handsome hand-carved walking stick that had been a gift from a friend). I fumbled around looking for shoes and a second flashlight, then joined Martin and we started searching when the cries came again...and then, after a moment, from behind the barn, came Alfie, stumbling and whimpering but alive. I think we had both pictured him grasped by the throat by a slavering coyote.
He had tangled with a porcupine. This was a first for him, and for us; and it has left me wondering why on earth such an encounter is generally portrayed as humorous, in cartoons or in children's books. This was not at all funny. The dog was in a lot of pain, and then of course had to undergo a lot MORE pain as one by one (we counted till 30, then quit counting) we wrenched those barbed quills out of him. He bled a lot. But bless his heart, he lay there, trembling but unmoving, and watched us with frightened but very trusting eyes as we tended him.
Today he is limping, and so I am taking him to the vet this afternoon just to be checked out....
Probably no one else is old enough to recognize this title, which was a crackpot invention of genius Ernie Kovacs in the early days of television. If you google The Nairobi Trio and then go to the YouTube demonstration you'll see why it is indescribable, and why people my age all remember it.
Why the title came to my mind, though, when I looked at this photo....I'm not certain. This is Jeff Frank of First Stage Theater in Milwaukee, and me, and Stan Foote of Oregon Children's Theater, when we were working together in Milwaukee last week. We were proper and staid, not at all like the demented (and lamented) Nairobi Trio.
Charlotte Corgi was here yesterday, and I asked her owner about the other names in the litter; the ones she could remember were Babar and Clifford. Several readers of this blog have posted replies telling of various naming themes in their own lives. (I've explained in the past why I can't print comments, though I always read and appreciate them)
I had a friend once whose cat had kittens and she (my friend, not the cat) named the kittens Shirley, Goodness, and Mercy. For those who didn't figure it out instantly, I'll explain that she feared they would follow her all the days of her life....
I woke up to rain this morning...not unwelcome because we need it, and currently the pump in the old well that waters my gardens is not working properly. But I hope it clears by tomorrow, because tomorrow Alfie is entertaining a guest, his friend corgi Charlotte. Charlotte was born into a litter that were all named for children's book characters... I don't know the names of the others but will ask Charlotte's mom.
Once I knew a golden retriever who was named Henry, each of that litter having been named for Shakespeare characters: a rich source; I can picture Falstaff and Prospero.
Alfie's litter was not named thematically...they were not named at all, actually, until owners took over (and I do know that he has a brother and sister somewhere now named Elvis and April) but if they had been named for British movies, as Alfie was, they could have been ... what? Maurice? Iris?
Best news bookwise in a while is the announcment of a sequel to "The Pillars of the Earth" by Ken Follett. The new one, due out in October, will be called "World Without End." I remember when 'Pillars' was published: quite a long time ago, maybe early 1990's*, and although I had not before been a lover of historical novels, that one so captivated and fascinated me that I recommended it to countless people, and every one of them was hooked the way I had been. Just the other day I got an email from my brother, whose wife had recently had surgery, tellng me that he had whiled away the hours sitting at the hospital by re-reading "The Pillars of the Earth"... His wife is doing fine now, and one hopes he doesn't have to sit in a hospital ever again, but I was pleased to be able to tell him about "World Without End."
* I just googled it to check. 1990....
It is a truly great year for apples, at least at our Maine farm. Every apple tree...and we have seven...is weighed down with fruit ripening. I was looking ahead to making applesauce...LOTS of applesauce...but in a way dreading the hard work of it...until a visiting friend recalled her mother using a gizmo called a Squeezo-strainer for that purpose. "Probably obsolete," my friend. "It was forty years ago." But we googled Squeezo-strainer...and now I have one; and if my friend's memory os correct, I'm going to be churning out applesauce practically effortlessly, as soon as the apples are ripe enough.
In the meantime my grandsons' younger golden retriever, Dash, is chasing apples as if they were balls (and when he's bored, he eats them). (His older half-sister, Tillie, has no interest; nor does my dog, Alfie)
And here is a very majestic dog, already in the car for his leavetaking this morning after a weekend visit. This is Paddington Bear, at least his head, with the other 160 pounds not visible. It is not often one has a RUG to visit. He was lying on the floor last night when a newly-arrived dinner guest walked past and jumped when the Newfie blinked. "It's ALIVE!" she said, startled, having thought it really WAS a rug.
So here's the thing. I agreed to do the beginning of a story for a section of Weekly Reader called "Weekly Writer"...in which a professional writer starts a story, kids continue it over several months, paragraph by paragraph, and eventually the professioal writer finishes it up. Stephen King has done one. Walter Dean Myers. R.L. Stine. Others. And yesterday I set out to write my "beginning."
I always start a story, or a book, with a little introduction of character(s) and a sense that something is wrong and that something - at this point unkown, perhaps a little mysterious - is going to happen. (That is, after all, why a reader turns the page).
"It was almost December, and Jonas was beginning to be frightened." That is the "beginning" of THE GIVER, and it does what I just drescribed, in the space of one sentence.
Another begining, this time of GATHERING BLUE:
THere was no reply. She hadn't expected one. Her mother had been dead now for four days...
Someone has sent me this little news story - and photo - from Castle Rock, Colorado:
Soaring Hawk Elementary kicked off the new year with a school-wide reading of Gooney Bird Greene by Lois Lowry. Gooney Bird has the gift of storytelling and she mesmerizes her classmates from the moment she walks into class from China wearing pajamas and cowboy boots. Her elaborate tales, although they are absolutely true stories open up a new world to her second grade peers. Suddenly, everyone has a colorful tale to spin.
Students are now having book discussions on the playground and at the dinner table with their siblings and parents. They are focused on their writing assignments and trying to include words and phrases that will capture and keep the readers interest. Diamond earrings, a consumed cat, and a flying carpet certainly kept the Soaring Hawk kids entertained.
The last day of school for C-Track, Danna Finks 4th grade class all dressed as Gooney Bird Greene. Polka dot leggings with flip flops, fancy scarves and head bands, one big dangly earring and lots of boots made for an awesome track off day.It also epitomized the spirit of Soaring Hawk as a learning community....
Alfie and I returned to Maine today, stopping midway for several hours to speak at a lunch in Kennebunkport (no, not at the Bush estate). I've done this two summers in a row, at the Colony Hotel, a vast and luxurious and lovely summer resort hotel. Last year I stayed overnight (their treat in return for my speaking) but this year I needed to head on north because of commitments here tomorrow, and because the dog was with me (though they tell me that it is a dog-friendly hotel,and indeed I did see a cocker spaniel in the lobby).
Alfie was a pretty good boy, though after an hour of so of being tied to a piano leg, the kind local bookseller volunteered to take him for a brief walk. I wrote that sentence wrong, didn't I? I made it sound as if the bookseller was tied to a piano. But you knew what I meant.
I read today's audience...and last week, a different audience, at Lesley University...Chapter 2 from "The Willoughbys"...the chapter that describes the terrible parents, who are dreaming up a despicable plot to rid themselves of their children. Heh heh. Villainry! I love it.
Only recently, reading (also at Lesley) from an very old Anastasia book, did I remember that Anastasia Krupnik..then age 12....had a crush on her gym teacher, who was named...ta DA...Ms. Willoughby!
And also recently, I have had some correspondence with a young man who works for the Civil Liberties Union in Oregon, and his name is...ta DA... Willoughby. And..here in Maine...the local chamber music series is headed up by board president ...ta DA...Mrs. Willoughby.
So apparently the name did not just appear out of the blue, for me. It was lurking there. And I hope no one named Willoughby minds. Although the parents, Mr. and Mrs. Willoughby, are terrible parents and end up dying a bizarre but deserved death at the end....the children (there are four of them) are quite lovely and all of them live happily ever after, as most Willoughbys should....
A recent lightweight article in the NY Times raises the question of whether listening to a book qualifies as "reading" the book. My personal opinion is: who cares?
It did make me remember back to my grad school days when I took two semesters of intensive Shakespeare, and I found that if, while I read the plays, I listened simultanmeously, I got more out of the experience. This pre-dated CD's or even tapes. I used to go to the university library...I seem to recall a glass-enclosed (probably soundproof?) room where I listened to actual recordings.
Now...I mean like RIGHT now...I listen to audio books in the car. Back and forth to Maine, 3 hours each way. Some people tell me they worry that it would distract them from their driving but I haven't found that to be the case for me. I listen to mindless but absorbing mysteries.....except for one recent high-brow trip, a four and a half hour drive - nine hours round trip - when I listened to "Collapse"...interesting, but after a the seventh or eighth hour I really did not want to know one more thing about deforestation. Back to Police Inspector Brunetti.
Anyway: all of those thoughts spring out of the fact that this morning I had a four and a half hour dental appointment. I SHOULD have taken my headphones and a book on my iPod because four and a half hours is a very long time to sit and listen only to the whine and screech of dental tools.
But it didn't occur to me. I did, though, because of an aching head and mouth, come home at the end of those hours and curl up with a book and some Tylenol. I rarely read during the day....it feels decadent. But I started today on "Peony in Love" by Lisa See and it pulled me right in. Now I can't wait to get back to it, though I am not yearning for more dental recovery time...just routine bedtime reading....
I think that's an old movie title. Sidney Poitier and a bunch of cheery nuns, maybe?
a shameless plug (I get no commission) for Deerwood Gardens in North Waterford, Maine, where Beverly Hendricks raises thousands of daylilies of all varieties. I took my visiting thirteen-year-olds there yesterday (they thinking, Ho hum, gotta humor the grandma) ...then they were just as dazzled as everyone is on seeing the array of colors this time of year. I had them each pick out two...(and now I forget the names they chose, except for "Blueberry Candy" and "Aquarelle.") Bev went out and dug up their choices and so yesterday my visitors went on to their next stop (and how I'll miss their giggling!) with daylilies tucked in the back of the rental car.
And what's a great way to amuse 13-year-olds iif you have a good camera and know how to use Photoshop?
Here are the fake book jackets I made for them:...
A reader has emailed to ask my feelings about the Harry Potter phenomenon. I feel very out of that particular loop...have not read a single one of the books, not seen a single movie. During the past two weeks I got calls from a lot of media, including ABC News, wanting a statement from me regarding HP...but I couldn't reply except in a general way. Certainly the whole thing has been wonderful for the world of books and kids. It got kids reading, and talking about what they were reading, and looking forward to more reading...and three cheers for that.
I feel kind of sorry for J.K. Rowling, though, because she lost any vestige of privacy she ever had, and I don't know if she'll ever get it back. Anonymity is something writers savor, I think. No matter how popular a writer is, he/she can walk down the street and not be mobbed or photographed or intruded upon. But not so, I fear, for Rowling. The books made a celebrity of her and that part of it must be awful. I hope she can get her life back now.
Last Wednesday I drove down to Boston and on Thursday collected my grandaughter and her best friend, both 13, who had flown in from Germany, and on Friday brought them back to Maine. Fortunately the weather has been fabulous here and they've spent time at the beach, and had a boat ride on the lake with thier uncle, aunt, and two cousins. In the evening we've watched movies...last night, "Aquamarine"...and done jigsaw puzzles, and just hung out.
Today my German daughter-in-law arrives...she has been in New York....and probably some serious shopping will have to take place, since the weak dollar against the Euro means that things are a great bargain here for her, even if it is a nuisance schlepping stuff home.
Luckily teenagers sleep late in the morning, which means that I do have these early hours—it is 6:20 AM as I write this—at my computer, and today I can mail off the completed Gooney Bird manuscript (now titled "Gooney Bird is So Absurd") and then turn my attention to the stage adaptation of "Gossamer" before I head to Milwaukee August 12th to work on it with the theater director there.
I stopped in yesterday at our wonderful Bridgton Books, the local bookstore, and when my friend Perri, who works there, commented that she was weary...and I asked why...she said, "Have you been living under a ROCK?" Of course: Harry Potter. In this tiny town they had had 500+ people lined up at midnight the night before. Even as we talked, Perri was fielding phone calls from people wondering if she had a copy available for them. Nadine and Annika, when I mentioned it, just shrugged. They aren't HP fans. Cornelia Funke...yes. They would have stood in line at midnight for one of her books....