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Lois Lowry's Blog
Here I am, my last year of high school, sixteen years old, with the kind of hairdo we created in 1954 by winding our hair into pincurls each night and impaling our own heads with bobby pins (now there's an obsolete term).
I was thinking of myself at 16 this past weekend because as I flew into New York, the plane took an unusual approach to La GUardia, flying low over southern Manhattan, and I found myself looking down at the roof of the house I lived in as a teenager.
Because of my father's job at that time, I lived on the most incredible piece of real estate: Governor's Island, out there in the harbor not far from the Statue of Liberty. Each day I took a boat over to the Battery, and from there the subway to school in Brooklyn Heights.
New York has changed, in some ways, since then. I'm not certain that if I were the mother of a fifteen or sixteen year old now I would be thrilled with the thought of her roaming the city the way I did then. But oh, what a magical time that was for me. I thought myself very worldly and sophisticated. In truth, I was wide-eyed and ingenuous - and like a sponge. I absorbed everything - and have squeezed sone of it back out, in a couple of books set in Manhattan (The One Hundredth Thing about Caroline; and Your Move, J.P.!)...
I will very shortly go to the St. Louis Airport and head back to Boston, and home, after a very busy week: five cities, countless book-signings, lots of people to meet. Many libraries, many bookstores...I only wish I'd had time to browse and read in all of them!
And in each place, someone I've known the past appeared! In the midst of signing book after book for strangers, there would suddenly be a familiar face, or name. In Dallas, a little girl named Grey, who was named for the son I lost, by her parents, who had been his good friends. An unusual name... a family name in our family...(and now my other son has a boy named Grey, for the uncle he never knew).
I love naming book characters. But it is never a difficult task because somehow the right names just come to me, as if they have been whispered into my ear by the characters themselves.
In my book The Silent Boy, the main character is Katy, named for my own mother, who was a child herself in the years the book takes place, and whose actual childhood photographs are used as illustrations.
Many of my books have a minor character named Ben, just as a private joke between my son Ben and me....
That previous short post was a good example of how weary one gets on a book tour. Somehow the outdated, chipped tile in a hotel bathroom takes on metaphoric significance. Of course any hotel would be a contrast to the opulence of my stay in Dallas, and certainly I wouldn't expect or even want such luxury every day. This (un-named) hotel has a certain funky charm, and clearly was once quite elegant. It's like the old lady you see whose lipstick is seeping into the wrinkles around her mouth. You can tell that she has good bones and breeding, but the bloom is gone and her silk blouse has stains under the arms.
Tomorrow I speak to 120 sixth-graders, then do an hour-long NPR interview, then a lecture at the Kansas City Public Library. By the end of the day I too will be chipped and peeling and seeping and stained.
The important thing is that there is a very comfortable bed in this room and I am right this minute going to fall into it.
After one of these events, a woman came up to me to have a book signed, and said: "I just loved listening to your antidotes."
She meant anecdotes, of course, and I didn't point that out because I didn't want to embarrass her. But I've been thinking about it ever since.
My anecdotes are simply the bits and pieces of my life: the things that went into the making of who I am, as well as the fiction I've written, and none of them important to the world in any way.
But I do like thinkng of them, now, as antidotes. The whole process of telling our stories to one another is what makes us human, and is sometimes very healing. If you eat a little Drano by mistake, you call the Poison Control Center in Atlanta, and find out what the antidote is, and then you don't die. In the same way, if you have had caustic experiences in the past....you talk about them. Tell them to others. Listen to what they tell in return. And it neutralizes the Drano that might otherwise erode your being.
I'm in Dallas now, and will speak this afternoon at the Dallas Art Museum. They have housed me in a hotel suite roughly the size of a cattle ranch. Last night I sat in one of my several rooms, on a damask couch, all alone, sipped a glass of wine, and watched Helen Mirren as Queen Bess on HBO. They chopped Mary's head off extremely graphically. Full frontal chop. (Now there's a woman who needed antidotes.)...
Maybe everyone in the world already knew this but me, but I discovered yesterday that they cannot fuel an airplane if there is lightning in the vicinity. I discovered this because I had to sit in the Knoxville airport for several hours waiting for the lightning to go away.
When you are waiting to board a plane and the weather is terrible, you try to think about other things. And so I sat at the airport thinking about poetry. This is the poem, by Billy Collins, that came to my mind, and it was not at all in the category of "other things":
At the gate, I sit in a row of blue seats
With the possible company of my death,
This sprawling miscellany of people—
Carry-on bags and paperbacks—
That could be gathered in a flash
Into a band of pilgrims on the last open road.
Not that I think
If our plane crumpled into a mountain
I thought the cover was breathtakingly beautiful, and found myself wondering if the child on it is Grey or Rhys. I found the name of the woman who designed the cover, but no photo info.
This is a quote from an e-mail I received yesterday, referring to the jacket on the book GOSSAMER, and referring also to my two smallest grandsons, whose names are Grey and Rhys.
I have often done the photographs for my own book jackets: NUMBER THE STARS, THE GIVER, GATHERING BLUE, and MESSENGER. So it makes sense for a reader to wonder if the lovely profile and hands on GOSSAMER are those of my own grandchild.
But no. I was mystified, thinking about a jacket for this book, and wondering how it might look. The most important character, after all, is translucent. But fortunately the book designer, Kathy Black at Houghton Mifflin. had a vision of it that was perfect. Not just the exquisite translucence of the child, but the posture, with its sense of wonder: it’s all perfect....
Date: Fri, 14 Apr 2006 21:21:47 -0700
To: Lois Lowry
Subject: love Gossamer
I love love love Gossamer. Your prose is so tight it's poetic.
And nobody dies! Yay! Very happy with the whole book.
Here (I’ve deleted the name of the sender out of respect for privacy) is an e-mail I received last Friday, in response to my new just-published book.
“And nobody dies!” is what I want to talk about.
I chuckled when I read that, and then thought about previous books, and it is true: fairly frequently, people die in my books....
A few people have posted comments at the end of my musings here, and I appreciate it (I’ve only had to delete one that was random obscenities)…but want to point out, too, that I’m not going to comment on comments and create whole conversations…haven’t time! If you have a question you want to ask me, you should send it by e-mail, which you can do through the website.
Otherwise: feel free to say whatever you wish, as long as it doesn’t need a reply! And if there is something you would like me to discuss, please say so.
Just as an aside: I hate the word “blog.” It sounds, I don’t know, a little like the noise kids make when they fake-barf.
But when I said that, in an e-mail to one of my daughters, she replied:
Why don't you like the word? it sounds so funny
to me, BLAWGG --(C'mon, you gotta love it: blawwwwgg!!! buhloggy! Blahg)
I spent yesterday afternoon at Bunker Hill Community College and have already, in the few hours since then, had e-mail from several of the students whom I met there.
I think that we pay much too little attention in this country, and spend much too little money, on education. Okay, enough time on my soapbox.
But one of the good things we do is to provide community colleges.
I was with, yesterday, students from I-don’t-know-how-many different cultures. English is a second language for many of them. I watched them listen intently and take notes. They came up to me afterward to thank me, to shake my hand, to tell me their names: names from Iraq, Thailand, Viet Nam, Korea, Barbados, Haiti…those are a few that I recall.
Most of them, probably all of them, have jobs. They work hard and study hard and spend their time trying to better their own lives and make a difference in the world. I doubt if any of them went to Fort Lauderdale for Spring Break....
“April is the cruelest month, breeding lilacs out of the dead land, mixing memory and desire, stirring dull roots with spring rain….”
That’s what T.S. Eliot said, and certainly April in New England is bleak, though it hardly seems cruel, when things are clearly itching to burst into bloom (and I’ve attached a snapshot of the forsythia, which has already burst, in my front yard).
But this month will seem a little cruel when, next week, I pack up and leave on a book tour which will take me to six cities in ten days. You get to feeling a little sorry for yourself when you wake up in yet one more hotel room and try to remember where you are…and why you’re there.
It used to be easier before we all quit smoking; back then, hotel rooms always had an ashtray with a book of matches in it. Handy tool. The matchbook had the name of the hotel on it.
I am at my old farmhouse in Maine, now, a wonderful too-brief respite in the midst of a lot of travels. It was a long day yesterday, beginning with a 10 AM memorial service for a close friend who died ten days ago, then the three-hour drive here to arrive in time for a scheduled telephone interview with a writer for a Houston newspaper, since I’ll be in Houston in a couple of weeks as part of a promotion tour for the book GOSSAMER.
She (the Houston journalist) asked me about the use of four particular words in the book. Stupidly, I don’t have the book here with me, and now can only remember three of them: Peace. Family. Laughter. When I get back home Monday I’ll add the other one. Or maybe it’ll come to me when I’m out cleaning up the gardens because sometimes when you are doing mindless things, your brain takes the occasion to work on something else that was left undone.
(LATER NOTE: I just thought of the other: courage.)
Anyway…in the book, those words are important; they are actually given to, or bestowed upon, people who are in need of them. (Tough to explain. You have to take my word for it.) The newspaper writer wondered about my choice of the words. It had, in fact, not been a conscious one, really; I needed four words, four concepts, and those were the ones that came to me during the writing. Nor had I thought about them, and their choice, until she asked me. But – as I told her on the phone – those are the things we most need in our lives. They are what we seek, what we yearn for. Copurage. Peace. Family. And....
Laughter? Yes. I think so. After talking to her, and thinking about it, I remembered the memorial service with which the day began. Picture a large, quite beautiful Catholic church: St. Paul’s, in Cambridge, MA. Picture a crowd gathered to say goodbye to a dear man, a greatly-admired and much-loved friend (and husband, and brother), who had died with enormous dignity after a long and terrible illness....
This will be a brief post because I am just in from Jamestown, NY, where I spent the day with close to a thousand sixth graders, brought by bus from their schools for an event sponsored by the Robert H. Jackson Center. Robert H. Jackson, who was from that area, was the chief prosceutor at the Nuremburg Trial of the Nazi war criminals, and went on to become a U.S. Supreme Court Justice. The center that bears his name is intended to advance the legacy of Justice Jackson through education, exhibits, and by pursuing the relevance of his ideas for current and future generations, with special emphasis on educating young people on issues of justice and fairness. A remarkable place with remarkable goals.
I promised nine sixth graders that I would list their names and I am delighted to do so. Each of these kids - with whom I shared a spaghetti dinner last night - received an award from the Jackson Center and the New York State Bar Association for essays about my book "Number the Stars." Some of them came long distances from other parts of the state with parents, siblings, and teachers, to receive their awards, and it was wonderful to see their pride, well-deserved, and their smiles.
So: Here they are, i hope withtheir names spelled correctly, and in no particular order:
True winners, each of them!
I mused a couple of days ago about typos. Now…because one has just been brought to my attention (more about that in a minute),…I want to talk a bit about real errors in books. My errors, my books. I assume other people and other books have errors as well, but I’ll only be apologetic and humble about my own.
Readers love to spot mistakes. Especially young readers. They even examine book jackets closely to see if anything is inconsistent, and often something is, usually in paperback, because the illustrator creating the jacket has not had the time, or taken the time, to read the book thoroughly and get every detail right. So you get the letters saying “How come the girl on the cover has dark hair, but inside the book it says…” The author doesn’t KNOW the artist, so can’t write back and say grouchily, “Blame Mr. Joe Crayola, who did that picture..”
The author just has to, as kids say, suck it up.*
But then there are the other errors. Errors of fact, or logic. Once I wrote a book, Anastasia’s Chosen Career, in which Anastasia is watching a friend get a haircut. It describes the friend’s hair being washed. Then the beautician, in preparation for the cut, removes a plastic barrette.
“Wouldn’t she have removed the barrette first, before she washed her hair?” a reader wrote me....
I am thinking about awards. I am thinking about awards today because this afternoon I went to the Kennedy library to watch several very deserving writers receive the Hemingway/PEN NE Award and the Winship Award. One of the writers, the poet Stanley Kunitz, was not there because, well, he is 101 years old; and when you are 101 they understand if you choose not to show up. You have shown up for 100 years or so and now it is okay to stay home and read a book instead.
But I bet he is delighted to win the award, anyway. He probably has a whole room of them.
I have a wall, myself. I call it the Wall of Perpetual Self-Adoration and I have included a couple of photos of it here. It is a sneaky way to display my grandchildren, as well....
Yes, I’m aware that I have now posted two quite glowing reviews: one from PW for my newest book, GOSSAMER, and one for the play adapted from THE GIVER.
And so I am in danger of becoming a member of the Strut-and-Preen Society.
Would this woman post a BAD review? Readers want to know.
Yeah, I guess I would. Will.
But not today because I don’t have one close at hand. Let me muse for a moment about reviews in general, though....
"My name is Lois and I'm a bad typist." Maybe there should be a support group for people like me, where we would confess and then sit around drinking coffee and commiserating. Bad typing DOES require sympathy and support, because invariably the bad typist types "pubic" when she means "public" and it comes back to haunt her. Me.
The thing is, I taught myself to type when I was a child, sneaking in and using my father's manual Royal typewriter when he wasn't around to catch me at it. (Oh, maybe he wouldn't have minded all that much; he was a good dad.) No one told me that there were rules and procedures for typing. I just did it....and did it and did it....and after a while I did it very fast; but I still can't do it without looking (when I wore the print off the keys of my laptop computer, Apple replaced the whole keyboard for me but until that new one arrived in the mail I waas comletely sunk...could not remember where a single letter was) and I have never done it without a lot of mistakes.
When I first began writing books, back in 1976, I was using a portable typewriter on a small table in an unobtrusive corner of my then husband's study. I used carbon paper. If I revised anything, it meant re-typing the whole blasted thing. I was thrilled when erasable typing paper was invented; it enhanced my life immeasurably.
I got a word processor in, oh, maybe 1990 0r 1991. It was a large, noisy machine called a Decmate II and it cost me a fortune: $6,000. I thought it was a computer, but what did I know; it was simply a word processor. THE GIVER was the first book that I wrote on a non-typewriter, and I remember the sheets rolling out of the printer - clatter clatter clatter - and I had to tear them apart one by one. But still! I could correct all my zillions of typos without re-typing or erasing or using White-out! It changed my life.
In 1994 my friend Carol Otis Hurst told me that what I had was not a computer at all, and I should get a computer, and she showed me hers, which she was carrying at the time. This conversation took place in the Toronto airport. Holy Moley! I thought. This person is carrying her work with her! She can sit in a hotel room and write. And revise. And then pick the whole thing up and take it home, and it only weighs...what? She handed it to me, using just one hand.. Back home my enormous Decmate II was taking up the entire top of my desk and floor space besides and scaring the neighbors with its noise....
THE GIVER has just had a new and wonderfully successful incarnation on the stage in Portland, Oregon.
The adaptation used there, and beautifully staged by Oregon Children's Theater director Stan Foote, was written by Eric Coble. And in May, in Pittsburgh, the Prime Stage Co. will present a different adaptation of the same book: this one by Diana Basmajian. Reading both scripts...(and at the same time reading the screenplay)...was fascinating, since each writer approaches the material differently..and of course translating a book to a more visual medium is a unique challenge.
Here's a review of the performance in Oregon. Pittsburgh's, of course, is still to come.
Friday, March 10, 2006
-- Michael McGregor...
Usually when an author receives a foreign edition of a book, there is some clue as to what language you're looking at. If you remember the words from high school French class, okay, that one's easy. When it is Turkish or Hungarian you can figure it out by finding...in the small print...the name of the city where it was published. Ankara or Budapest is pretty definitive.
But this one was a mystery to me. THere was nothing recognizable in the small print. So I sent a jpeg of it to my friend Alan, who was once a good Bar Mitzvah boy, and have just heard back from him: yes, it is Hebrew. "Do you want my sister in Israel to translate it?" he asks. But no, I won't bother Alan's sister. if it says "Gooney Bird Greene" in English...as it does...then it will be some similiarly silly name in Hebrew. And isn't it fun to think of kids in Israel getting a laugh out of this character?!
I have just finished writing a third book about Gooney Bird and it is at Houghton Mifflin now, awaiting illustrations and then publication...probably spring 2007. But I can give you a title now - GOONEY THE FABULOUS - and the first few paragraphs, which will provide a hint of content that creates the title:
“And so,” Mrs. Pidgeon said, reading the final page of the book she was holding, “because the ant had worked very hard, he and his friends had food all winter. But the grasshopper had none, and found itself dying of hunger.”
“Oh, no!” Keiko wailed. “I hate stories where people die!”
Malcolm, who had been rolling paper into balls while he listened to the story, tossed a little paper pellet at Keiko. “It’s not people,” he pointed out. “It’s a dumb grasshopper! It’s only a grasshopper! Just a grasshopper!”
“Nobody cares if a grasshopper dies!” Tyrone said.
“I do,” Keiko murmured sadly. She folded her arms on her desk and then laid her head down on her arms.