Lois Lowry has been writing fiction for more than 35 years. She’s created tales of dystopian societies that continue to trigger parental outrage, but she’s also produced fits of giggles from middle readers tickled by Gooney Bird Greene’s antics.
Where does she get her ideas?
In a recent interview in Indianapolis, Lowry says she finds inspiration in the world around her. Her first children’s book, “A Summer to Die,” published in 1977, was inspired by the death of her older sister when they were young. Two of her other books draw from stories from her own life as well: “Autumn Street” deals with another traumatic childhood experience, the murder of a friend in her childhood, and “Crow Call” deals with Lowry’s father’s return home from the Pacific in World War II when she was 8 years old.
“Those are three books that come from my own experience. But at the same time, probably all of my other books are influenced by my own experience in various ways, ’cause I don’t think if you are a writer you can write without using what you have observed and experienced and felt and thought and imagined. That’s where everything comes from,” said Lowry.
Her recently released book, “The Birthday Ball,” was inspired from much less serious subject matter: the typical fairytale princess seeking love.
“I get tired of being serious, and so I write a completely frivolous, silly book, like this one,” said Lowry, “However, somebody did point out to me that despite the fact that ‘The Birthday Ball’ is silly and frivolous and light-hearted, it does have within it the theme of becoming independent for a young person, of taking a stand and not falling victim to rules that have been set up by other people that should not perhaps apply to you.”
Despite the subject matter revolving primarily around a princess, she hopes the book may also appeal to boys. To that end she created “three and a half” disgusting, silly suitors for the princess.
Lowry travels often to attend book signings and promotions. Rather than writing while on the road, she prefers to write in her country house in Maine, where she finds freedom from distractions.
This serene setting also provides inspiration, too. “Bless This Mouse,” a children’s story scheduled to be released next year, came about after Lowry’s encounter with a large, rather peculiar mouse in her house. “He wasn’t scared of me at all, and my dog went over and looked at him, and he wasn’t scared of my dog either.”
Lowry picked up the mouse and deposited him outside, but a spark had been kindled in her imagination. “I went back to my computer and I closed up the manuscript I was working on, and I opened a new one and I began writing a story about a mouse.”
Two weeks later, she had a 180-page book, though it usually takes her about a year to compose a novel, she said. She sent copies to her editor and agent, and “they both replied almost immediately that they loved it … they didn’t even ask for any revisions. So that was quite amazing.”
Lowry has written more than 30 books and has won two Newbery Medals for the novels “The Giver” and “Number the Stars.” She has experimented with many styles of writing over the years. Early in her career, she wrote magazines articles for adults, but after being approached by a children’s book editor, she changed her focus.
“I had been a kid who read a lot, and I began to be reminded of how books affect kids who are serious readers and how profoundly affected they are by what they read. And I began to feel that anything I was writing for adults was not going to have that kind of effect on the reader,” she said.
One of her best-known works for children has been the target of parental criticism across the country. “The Giver” portrays a seemingly peaceful Utopian society in which, over time, people have forgotten feelings and colors. It addresses some disconcerting issues, such as euthanasia, in its depiction of a conflict-free community.
Lowry said it is ironic that some seek to censor “The Giver.” “It’s an example of what the book is about, which is the compromises that people are tempted to make in order to make a comfortable society,” she said.
She said part of the problem is that the book is written in simple language so readers as young as 8 can understand it. “A good reader can read those words, they can follow the story OK, but they don’t really grasp the concept of the deeper issues,” she explained.
“I think it’s OK for parents to influence what their kids read up to a certain age,” she continued. “But to try to remove books from other people’s children I think is very dangerous.
“It’s the beginning of the taking away of an important freedom in this country.”
Lowry has since written two companion novels to “The Giver,” “Gathering Blue” and “Messenger.” Though they are not sequels, they do contain characters from the first book.
She has received many letters and e-mails from kids asking about what happened to Gabriel, the spirited baby from “The Giver.” She says he will figure in her next novel, though she’s not sure exactly how.
“I’m thinking of writing a fourth book in which Gabe is a teenager,” she said. “But in thinking a lot about him and what’s happened to him, I began to think, too, about where he came from, and I began to get interested in the birth mothers from the first book.”
Reporters Libby Bowling, 11, and Shanze Tahir, 13, contributed to this story.
Copyright 2010 Y-Press