Lois Lowry and Becoming a Writer

Kyla and Heather get Lois Lowry to sign a copy of The Giver

A little over a year ago, DH made a new friend. It wasn’t a friend for him,it was a friend for me. Her name was Heather Kelly.

DH met her on our daughters’ kindergarten playground. Luckily, in the way children either  become fast friends or sworn enemies, our daughters were instant pals: my exuberant, over-the-top, Type A with Heather’s quiet, shy but equally headstrong Cowgirl. It took the moms a bit longer but resulted in a friendship with far greater symbiosis.

Heather has been the jumper cables for my childrens book writing aspirations and I’ve helped hone her athletic pursuits. It’s a very positive and supportive friendship, the type that enhances ones well-being rather than detracts from it in the way that friends you just share vices with do.

The pursuits we share (sports and children’s literature) make us better people. Neither of us depends on the other for inspiration nor survival—like the symbiosis between plant and animal found in lichen—rather, we are motivated toward our mutualistic pursuits just by spending time together and encouraging each other.

Which is why it strikes me as particularly ironic that one of the galvanizing pieces of our friendship is founded on a dystopia, conjured in the mind of Lois Lowry.

It happened last October, when Heather—an aspiring Young Adult/Middle Grade author—and I did a YA book exchange. She gave me Lois Lowry’s  The Giver, and I gave her Jean Craighead George’s My Side of the Mountain. Since Heather reads considerably more than I, she wasn’t terribly inspired by my recommendation. But, for me, The Giver was one of those enticing, surprising and unresolved books that I’ve always loved and been haunted by. Right up there with Alduos Huxley’s Brave New World, Kurt Vonnegut’s The Sirens of Titan, and George R. Stewart’s Earth Abides.

The Giver is a tale about 12-year-old Jonas, who lives in a dystopian village called the Community. It’s powerful in the way that a really good book should be and the ending made me beg for resolution. I wanted there to be more. I wanted to know what happened.

Well thank goodness I wasn’t alone in this desire because finally, 50 YEARS later, Lois wrote the conclusion.

On Monday night, Heather and I went to hear Lois talk about this new book—the final piece in The Giver quartet—and also about her 50+ years and 60-books-later life as an author. I came away with one solid piece of advice:

Always be kind to your fans.

Lois is a crusty Cantabrigian who tells it like it is and perhaps this is the underlying formula for her unyielding success and two Newbery Medals but it’s not helping convert any of her young fans into aspiring writers. And here’s why:

When a young fan sends you an e-mail going on and on about what an amazing author you are, how you’re “totally awesome,” how “cool” and “great” your books are and then asks for advice about becoming a writer someday, YET fails to include punctuation anywhere in her message, tread lightly.

Instead, here’s how Lois replied to above fan:

“Well, for starters, you should learn how to use punctuation.”

No, I’m so glad my books inspire you. No, thank you for yo ind words. No, inspiration for young fans. No. Lois told it like it is. She tread with heavy foot.

Needless to say, the child’s father promptly wrote back avowing to trash all of Lowry’s books and never be in touch again.

That’s OK, I still love Lois Lowry and am grateful to Heather for reintroducing her to me…complete with her dystopia and all.

Who’s your favorite author? Have you ever been inspired to do something differently because of him/her?


10 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Heather Kelly
    Oct 24, 2012 @ 12:39:29

    HA! I was sure I was going to have to “out” Lois’s bitchiness in this comment. I was sure you focus on her positives–because there were so many.

    She is an amazing writer. And I loved how she spoke to a room full of 150 people as if she were cozing up to a few guests in front of the fireplace in her living room.

    What I am still trying to digest is her scoffing at the thought of herself reading MG or YA–saying that she only reads books written for adults. Which would make sense if all her books were as literary in feel as The Giver, but I’m amazed she writes Gooney Bird Greene in an adult book vacuum.

    Happily she is an enigma.

    I will never permit my children (or myself) to reach out to Lois without having a professional book editor go over the e-mail. 🙂

    I can’t believe you’re making me run on THANKSGIVING DAY. (Just kidding–you know I want to. Kind-of.)


    P.S. Lois–yes, I know that “cozing” is not actually a word. I was taking liberties.

    P.S.S. Kyla–your husband can do no wrong in my eyes, since he “set us up” to be friends. He’s a prince. 🙂

    P.S.S.S That’s a super cute picture of us. 🙂


    • growingmuses
      Oct 24, 2012 @ 21:42:10

      Dear God, what’s the point of anonymity when I have a friend like you to blow my cover! I agree that it strikes me as curious that Lois does not even stay current with the audience that butters her bread by reading their kid lit…I wonder if she knows who Katniss Everdeen is…not that she fall’s into either category (kid nor lit).


  2. Heather Kelly
    Oct 24, 2012 @ 12:46:50

    Also, are you saying that we aren’t going to go out drinking and eating?! WHAT?!


  3. slightlywonky
    Oct 24, 2012 @ 15:48:22

    Because our heads have been so filled with political rhetoric lately, it’s so refreshing to hear someone just say it like it is. Lois sounds like a trip, and her book sounds amazing too… 🙂


    • growingmuses
      Oct 24, 2012 @ 21:44:51

      hammer, nail! She is exactly what you’d expect out of Cambridge. You’ll love her stuff. You may remember her from A Summer to Die? The Giver Quartet is a must but perhaps not until e-nut is at least 12.


    Oct 28, 2012 @ 10:02:09

    You may be surprised…or not…to know that Lois Lowry lived in Falmouth, ME for years – in fact, less than a mile from your brother.


    • growingmuses
      Nov 11, 2012 @ 11:07:19

      It delights me more than it surprises me…that suits her personality as a somewhat crusty New Englander well. In fact, I believe she still spends a good amount of time there. I’ll have to start stalking out (once you show me where to stalk ;o)


  5. EG
    Oct 28, 2012 @ 23:42:14

    Love it! I wouldn’t comment in a fragment on her blog, and I’m happy for the comfy space here… but she sounds great on the page and in person, too.


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