Well, I'll try once again to remind people that if they have questions, they should send them to me by clicking the E-MAIL button on my website. I can't answer questioons on the blog. Sorry about that!
Lois Lowry's Blog
It is very, very hard to answer the question about the origin of ideas, because for me...and I assume this is true for almost all writers...ideas just APPEAR in the imagination, sometimes triggered by something you have seen, thought, read, or imagined.
Here is a scenario that just appeared in my mind, triggered by something that happened three days ago. A writer from the Bangor newspaper was here for an interview (hi, Kristen, if you are reading this!) because I am doing a bookstore thing up in that part of the state next week. So that she didn't have to bring a photographer, I had emailed her a couple of photos.
But shortly after she left, my son Ben arrived here in order to install my window air conditoners, something I can't do myself, weakling that I am, and he brought his two little boys with him. It was a lovely evening and I got out my camera to take some pictures of the grandsons.
Grey, age 7, found an interesting bug that he became involved with. But the younger boy, Rhys, age 5, wanted to use my camera. It made me a little nervous because it is a $1000 camera, but I told him as long as he kept the strap around his neck so that he couldn't drop it...and I showed him what to look through, and how to press the shutter....
Where do you work?
is a question I am often asked. I'm not sure why people ask it. But I confess that if I were to be allowed a peek into the day-to-day life of an author I admire - say Ian McEwan - I would want to peek at where he works. Much less interest in where he sleeps or eats.
This, then, is where I work. At least in the Maine house (as opposed to the "main" house which is in Massachusetts). At home, I have a room which was once a doctor's office, because the house had been owned by a doctor who had his practice there. So it is easy to call that room my "office."
Here in Maine, though, this room, where I work, is used for other things as well...the TV is in this room, for example...and it was oddly nameless until we gave it an acronym for a name. We call it the FOLD. Family room, Office, Library, and Den.
And the Fold is where I work....
I got home (to Cambridge) Monday night from New York and yesterday drove to Maine to find that Highland Road....which I usually drive across to get to my own road...was closed because a huge thunderstorm ("monsoon" someone called it) the previous night had taken some wires down.
No surprise, really, then, to find, when I reached my house by a different route, that I had neither cable nor telephone.
Well, I thought, I can live without phone or internet for a while. In fact, I remembered, I had some Netflix movies piled up; and though I couldn't watch TV from this rural hillside without cable, I could still watch a rented movie tonight. And in the meantime, I could still work on my computer, though I would not be able to e-mail off the piece of work (foreword to an anthology) that I had almost completed. But surely by tomorrow, I thought, all would be working again.
I sat down on my porch with a glass of iced tea and did the NY Times crossword puzzle. It began to get windy and dark. Uh-oh. Another thunderstorm. And indeed it was. HUGE thunder, which made me remember how terrified Bandit, our dog, would have been. He would have scuttled into the nearest hiding place....
I just discovered that if you click on the teensy photo, you can see if full-size. Try it! Click on that one where the helicopter (me in it) is but a dot in the sky, and wow! You can really see it.
Stan Foote, the theater director from Oregon who was with me for three days last week so that we could do the neceassry prelimary discussing before we collaborate on an adaptation of GOSSAMER to the stage, said he had never seen a wild turkey. I told him that he certainly would see one while he was with me in Maine because they are always out there pecking around where food has spilled from the bird feeders. Last summer I once counted 22 of them on my lawn.
But no. Not a one appeared while Stan was there, and he told me he was quite certain I had made the whole thing up.
Of course the day after he left, I looked out the window and...voila. So I took a picture.
I emailed him the photo....
So there I am, looking down on my own chimneys.(hard to see, in these small photos. But the 'copter is above the roof, to the right of that tall tree) Defintely a new and different view of my own life.
Writers are always looking for new viewpoints. One of the most astounding in recent years was the tour-de-force called "The Lovely Bones" by Alice Sebold, in which the story is told by a dead fourteen year old girl who looks down and relates the effect of her murder on the lives of everyone who knew her. More recently, "The Book Thief," which I'm told (I haven't read it yet) is narrated by Death.
Whose story is this? Who should tell it? are the questions I ask myself when I begin a new book. Often the answer is straightforward. Other times, less so. Long ago, a book called AUTUMN STREET which remains one of my favorites, the story (a mostly-true one from my own childhood, actually) is told through the perceptions of a very young child but in the voice of a grown woman looking back on the events.
More recently, I wrestled with point-of-view when writing THE SILENT BOY. The title character is a boy about fourteen, but he doesn't (can't) speak. Who should tell his story? Eventually I decided that it worked best if the events in the plot are told by someone who doesn't completely understand them: a little girl. The Unreliable Narrator, this is called in writing courses. It is an intriguing challenge for the writer, and often a remarkable experience for the reader (most notable example coming to my mind at the moment: "Why I Live at the PO" by Eudora Welty)...
Except my peonies, which are in full bloom but have pretty much quit trying to use good posture and are sprawled now, looking like women who got all dressed up, strutted briefly around, then drank too much and fell over and are lying there, bruised, past their prime, but still wearing their gaudy finery, smeared eye shadow, and too much perfume.
There is a garden that I admire, in this smalll town (I don't know whose garden it is but it's next door to the house that has two Clumber spaniels behind a picket fence) in which all the flowers are blues and purples. Everything so carefully chosen and arranged.
I admire it, like looking at it, without envying it. It is always amusing to use the phrase peony-envy but in truth I think most people simply enjoy looking at other people's gardens without feeling an iota of envy. It's like going to a wonderful pot-luck dinner to which everyone has brought something special. You don't think, on tasting something, "Rats. I wish I'd made that," but instead just take pleasure in that fact that everyone brought their best creation.
I've been thinking these thoughts for two reasons. One, I watched the Tony Awards last night. Of course, everyone nominated wanted to win. Why wouldn't they? And yet there seemd such genuine admiration and joy as each winner was announced. People in the same profession were taking pride in the accomplishments of their peers....
Maybe this is a lost cause. But today there is another post to the blog, asking a question about sequels to THE GIVER.
Reminder: I cannot answer questions on the blog. if you have a question, send it through the website e-mail. Before you do that: please read the FAQs.
I am about to leave for Maine, for the summer, so am packing the car and realizing sadly that I no longer have to worry about leaving room for the dog to sprawl. He loved riding in the car. Mostly he slept, curled in the back seat, but somehow magically he could tell when we were about to arrive at a place he loved - either of our two homes, for example; or the kennel where he stayed when we went on a trip; he was always very happy there. Somehow, though he seemed sound asleep, as the car made its final turn toward any of those destinations, His eyes would open, his ears flick, and then he would be on his feet and at the car window to supervise the arrival.
I realized, while going back and forth to the car, that the bearded iris in my garden here in Cambridge are bursting open. They are among my favorites, and I'll miss the apricot colored ones unless they decide to come to life in the next hour. But the deep almost-black are in full bloom now, and the light blue-violet ones as well. I got my camera back out of the car in order to photograph them.
While focusing, I realized that in the background would be the blurred image of the sculpture that was placed there in memory of my son, whose death also occurred on Memorial Day. Eleven years ago. It seems yesterday....
What can you say about a goofy-looking dog who has been a part of your life for twelve years, who has never been sick, hardly ever been a pain in the butt, who has loved you no matter how grouchy you've been, and who has never asked anything more of you than an occasional biscuit and a scratch under the chin?
And now he is telling you that he is old, and ready to go?
Well, you think back to that line in Charlotte's Web, the one that your seven-year-old son once told you solemnly was the saddest line he had ever read. No one was with her when she died.
And so I am sitting here with my dog and telling him it's okay, and that we understand, and that we'll stay with him....
Just a reminder that I cannot answer questions on the blog. if you have a question, click "E-mail" on my website and send it to me that way.
Several years ago I wrote a book that remains one of my favorites: THE SILENT BOY. It is set in the early 1900's and is about a boy who doesn't speak, and today would likely be called autistic. But in those days, there were no such terms, and the boy is referred to as "touched"...meaning "touched in the head," a phrase used commonly at that time. The young child narrating the story, who cares about the boy and understands him better than most other people, always thinks of him - affectionately - as "the touched boy."
So the title, when I finished writing the book and turned it in to the publisher, was "The Touched Boy."
But I was asked by the publisher to change it. It was at the height of the Catholic Church scandal in Boston, and the word "touch" had taken on a nasty little life of its own.
This year a new book of mine has been recently published, and its title, too, had to be changed, and for the same reason. The small sweet creature who is the central character of the book, is one of the "dream-givers"...those elfin spirits who creep silently about at night, gathering fragments of people's lives, extracting them from human belongings while they sleep.
Here's a quote from the book:...
I am altogether tired of ark jokes, now that New England has entered its umpteetnth day of rain and there are floods everywhere. Worst, they say, in 70 years.
I had intended to go to the nursery today to buy plants for replenishing the garden, but of course it has been too miserable to go anywhere. So I have turned my attention to my desk (see picture) and its unending mess, much worse than the garden.
And here is what I done so far today:
(This is all a sort-of answer to the FAQ "Can you decribe a typical work day?")...
Yesterday I was one of several speakers at Boston's annual Yom HaShoah Holocaust Remembrance ceremony at Faneuil Hall. The neo-Nazi protesters who had planned to be there - and because of whom the hall was ringed with police - did not show up, and one wonders if their shaved heads are uncomfortable in drenching rain.
It was a hideous day, a downpour, and I confess to jealousy of the mayor, whose car collected him afterward from the front door --- having driven right up over the cobblestones -- while I (and everyone else) had to make our normal-person way, dripping, to our own vehicles.
It felt as if the world wept. And inside, in the company of Holocaust survivors and their children and grandchildren, it seemed appropriate as we all mourned the unconscionable loss of so many victims.
The speaker whom I found most moving was Dr. Wolfgang Vorwerk, the Consul-General of Germany, who talked of his country's determination to teach their children about the past and its horrors. Perhaps that was especially meaningful to me because my 12-year-old dual-citizen granddaughter is growing up in Germany and I have watched her own mother's commitment to telling her the truth about that time.
But there is so much hatred, still. I tried, in my own brief talk, to tell of my feeling that the time is past for hatred, that the world is small, now, and people interconnected and that though we must mourn what we've lost - and tell each other and our children - our stories, we must also move ahead and beyond. I described my son's wedding in Germany and how I had looked around, as a soprano sang: "Where you go, I will go. Your people will be my people" ... and I realized that in the same month, back in 1945, my son's Jewish stepfather, 18 years old, had been in uniform and with weapons, on the island of Okinawa; and his new mother-in-law, nine years old at the time, had been hiding and sobbing, with other children, in a basement in a German village, because the American troops were entering and they feared for her lives....
I've just spent three days at the farm in Maine, doing the spring chores, getting the furnace serviced (and examining the snake that the furnace man found: "This is not a Maine snake," he said. "Last time I saw a snake like this was when I was in Egypt, in the Navy." It made me feel ominously ilke Cleopatra)
Lilacs are in bud. And here is the apple tree that I see when I look through the kitchen window: newly pruned, very green in the rain, and quite gnarled and old. We have other, younger apple trees, and they bear more fruit than this ancient guy. But this one has so much history going for it, plus its wonderful shape, and the fact that countless birds use it for shelter; Ihave a snapshot of a pileated woodpecker on its trunk last summer.
Our farmhouse was built in 1768, before there was a United States. Early records show that our place was called Brigham Hill, and amazingly, Google Earth calls it the same thing when its little car icon drives up that road diagonally across my computer screen.
Down at the crossroads, in the little cemetery, there are many Brighams: old men and their successive wives who mostly died young, along with countless children, their mossy gravestones etched with lambs and angels and assurances that they are safe in heaven. The old books describe an apple orchard and though it is hard to imagine that this old tree could have existed then - almost 240 years ago - certainly the granite boulders that form our foundation date that far back, and the hand-hewn beams pegged together in the barn; they were all part of someone's existence long ago....
I've just finished reading a article (in yesterday's Washington Post) about a friend of a friend of mine, who was married in 1956 (as I was) to a young Naval officer (as I was). It was the Cold War era, a time when many of us married young military officers. I didn't know this woman, but I had heard her story from our mutual friend: that three months after her wedding, her husband's spy plane was shot down off the coast of China. His body was never recovered. A year later he was declared dead by the military. She returned to school, became a doctor eventually, married another doctor, and went on to have four children.
And then...thirteen years ago...she discovered that he may not have been killed, that there was a seemingly strong possiblity that he had been captured by the Chinese and held prisoner there.
She has not been able to cut through the red tape and evasions of either the American military or the Chinese government to find the truth, and so she will have to finish her days with that uncertainty.
It made me remember the days when I was a young military wife, living in military housing in San Diego, and I saw two officers in formal uniforms knock on the door of a nearby dwelling in order to notify the young woman there of her pilot husband's death.
And of course it brought back the memory of the official visit to my home - two officers; they always do this in pairs - to bring me the paperwork and the 200-page explanation of my own son's death in a fighter plane....
Well, it's happened. This morning I got an e-mail...certainly not the first of its kind....from a kid who simply said U R A BITCH (I suppose because I had replied to questions with an explanation that I can't answer long lists of them for individuals, not when I get 50-60 e-mails a day). I found myself muttering about good manners and what ever happened to common courtesy and what's wrong with today's young people...and suddenly I realized that I sounded like my mother.
My mom was actually a nice woman, reserved and proper and gentle; and she had been a kindergarten teacher before she married, so when we were little, she was great at reading to us and playing games and all those things that make kindergarten teachers so wonderful.
She lived to be 86. In her final years she was legally blind, and tethered to oxygen, so my brother and I bought her a monstrous TV - tavern size - and she spent her days sitting in front of it watching the blurred outlines of Oprah and Sally Jessy and Jerry and the others on daytime television. It was quite an education for her. "My goodness, I never realized the world was so filled with homosexuals!" she said once...not in judgment, but in amazement, that all this had been going on and she hadn't known.
She accepted the world she discovered then with great interest, but she did not learn to accept bad manners or displays of poor upbringing.
Did you know the world is full of rude adolescents, Mom? I wanted to say to her in outrage, when I read my BITCH e-mail this morning. Then I laughed, to myself and at myself. The world has, I suppose, always been filled with rude adolescents. It's just the anonymity of e-mail that gives them such a platform....
I'll be leaving Friday to attend several performances of the Prime Stage production of "The Giver" in Pittsburgh. Here's a photo of Jonas and The Giver, from the Pittsburgh Post Gazette, as well as a review of the performance:
Speak with manners and precision. Don't let doubts impair our vision.
That's part of the mantra repeated by the citizens of the community of sameness, a seemingly idyllic environment portrayed in Prime Stage Theatre's production of "The Giver," based on the Newbery Award-winning novel by Lois Lowry.
The residents, including 12-year-old Jonas, seem content and happy with their lives. Everything is the same. There is no war, no pain, no difficult decisions to make, and disruptions are quickly taken care of....
I said a while back, in a previous post, that I would discuss fan mail. And I've put it off because it is difficult. It's like the movie star who moans, "Oh, it's so hard to be beautiful..." Yeah, right.
It is very hard to complain about fan mail.
And most of it, to be honest, is downright wonderful. Here are excerpts from some recent e-mails:
...somehow I feel my relationship with my older daughter has been different since she devoured
your novel and we have discussed it, and I feel more confident about the things I want to accomplish as a teacher...
...I just want to let you know how much your wonderful books meant to me
as a child and still mean to me today. I spent over ten years in foster
care, which meant moving dozens of times and losing a good chunk of my
personal effects, but never once did I lose or leave behind anything written
REMINDER: If you are writing to ask me questions for school assignments....send them to me by pressing the E-MAIL button on my website. I am not going to answer those questions here on the blog.