How I Write: Lois Lowry
Published: May 25, 2002
|In her 1994 Newbery Award-winning novel The Giver, Lois Lowry describes a world where people don't suffer pain or unhappiness, but the price they pay for this utopia is their humanity. Lowry challenges her young readers to ask: Is living in a "perfect" world worth giving up individual freedom, memories, the right to make wrong choices? The author, who also won a Newbery in 1990 for Number the Stars, once said she wrote to "help adolescents answer their own questions about life, identity and human relationships." With compassion and humor, her books often explore, rather than avoid, complex and difficult topics such as mental illness, death and the Holocaust. Born in Hawaii, Lowry attended Brown University, married and raised four children, then completed her degree at the University of Southern Maine. She lives in Cambridge, Mass., with her companion, Martin Small, and her dog, Bandit. |
Credits: Novels include The Giver (1993), Number the Stars (1989), Rabble Starkey (1987), Anastasia Krupnik (1979), Find a Stranger, Say Goodbye (1978) and A Summer to Die (1977). Awards include the Newbery Award (two times) and the Boston Globe-Horn Book Award (1987).
Why: I used to work as a photographer, and I'm looking at a photograph I took years ago of my two oldest children when they were 1 and 2 years old. What's interesting to me is the way the light falls on these children. For me, writing is a very visual thing. I think part of the process is deciding what to illuminate, what to make the light fall on, and what to blur.
The process of deciding how to focus has to reflect itself in my writing as well. In most photographs, there are secrets hidden that you see only if you look carefully. I think that should be true in the writing--the writer puts in things that are almost hidden and hopes the reader will find them.
Ideas: Ideas come by being observant, which all writers are, keeping my eyes, ears and mind open. That's something that comes to me quite naturally. I travel a lot, often alone. I might watch a family in a restaurant, and I'm interested in how they interact. I'm most interested in the hint that you sometimes get that something is awry in the interaction. You can read that in somebody's posture or a tone of voice. Then the people are gone, but the imagination takes over and begins to fill in the blank spaces. By then, it's become a story in my imagination.
How: I start each day by reading a poem. I have several poets who are my favorites, and I turn at random to a poem. That works so well for me because poetry, although I don't write it, reminds me of how precise and evocative a good selection of words can be, how words can become transcendent.
This morning, I turned to a poem by Mary Oliver, "Robert Schumann." A line from the poem--"Now I understand something so frightening and wonderful, how the mind clings to the road it knows"--set me off. That says so much to me and so precisely.
I work through a book chapter by chapter, revising as I go. When I have a collection of chapters that seem like a finished book, it often needs another complete revision. It's a matter of going back and making the connections of things more clear. That's the fun part for me. It's intriguing, like working on a puzzle.
Advice: I do think a writer needs to immerse her- or himself in good literature. If you never eat good food, you'll never be a good cook.
I get the most inspiration from--and this is soon to be an obsolete genre--collected letters. I have a huge shelf of collected letters. My favorites are Flannery O'Connor's and E.B. White's. The intimacy and the immediacy and the eloquence with which they write are reflected in those letters. It's reflected in their work as well. Of course, those collections are soon to be gone because we don't write letters any more. We send e-mail. I'm as guilty of that as the next guy.