Do I really need to give an introduction here? For those who’ve been trapped under a glacier with only a penguin as your friend, here goes: Lois Lowry, an Army brat like Niki Burnham, lives in Cambridge, Mass. Her first book, originally published in 1977, was A Summer to Die. Her newest book is The Willoughbys, and it was inspired by Sense and Sensibility‘s scoundrel and a new puppy.
1) Is there one book of yours you wish you could rewrite?
I sometimes wish I could rewrite The Giver because I feel that the last section of it is too condensed, too rushed. I was trying to keep the book under 200 pages, which was foolish. Look at JK Rowlings‘ later books, at their length! In retrospect I think the editor should have suggested to me that I go back and elaborate on that final section.
A number of years ago…back in the 60’s…. British author John Fowles re-wrote a published book called The Magus. Then the second version was published. But I don’t think anyone bought it. I know I didn’t, though I had loved the first one.
I think the secret is to avoid Writer’s Remorse by doing the best you can first time around!
2) Is there one huge regret you harbor from your young adult/teen years?
One part of me regrets dropping out of college at just-past-nineteen and getting married. I had been a good student, a passionate scholar. But in those days it was not at all uncommon to marry young and start a family. I had four children before I was 25. It took me a long time, and was a tough process, to complete my education and eventually begin a career. However: if I had continued on academically, and gotten a PhD, I probably would have ended up a teacher, and my life would have been completely different. Maybe equally satisfying, but certainly different.
3) You’ve written so many classic novels, what is your gut reaction when someone writes a bad review?
I’ve become pretty sanguine about that. It’s almost impossible to please everyone all of the time. I’ll add, though, that only once have I ever done a review myself; that was for the LA Times many years ago. It was so difficult, realizing the effect it might have on an author—the sense of responsibility was so overwhelming—that I’ve turned down reviewing invitations ever since, except once for The Horn Book, for an author whom I admired greatly.
4) What is the most extravagant thing you’ve bought with an advance?
Hmmm. I don’t know that I ever have. I’m pretty frugal, actually, and so aware that this is a profession entirely dependent on the whim of the public. My income could end in a heartbeat.
Each time I finish a book and turn it in, though, Martin and I go out to dinner to celebrate. Hardly extravagant! And come to think of it, he usually pays.
5) Some (okay, all) say The Willoughbys was such a drastic change of pace for you. What made you write this type of book?
Well, anyone who knows me knows that I have a sense of humor and a somewhat sardonic view of the world. So The Willoughbys doesn’t seem a departure to me, really. I like going back and forth between genres and audiences; it keeps me from getting bored with my own work.
Two years ago, we were waiting for a new puppy after our previous dog had died. I was at our summer home in Maine, and Martin was in Cambridge, and we were emailing back and forth with possible puppy names after the breeder notified us that the litter had been born. I was lobbying for Mr. Willoughby, from Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility (though Mr. Willoughby was a bit of a scoundrel on that book). But Martin, not being a Jane Austen fan, exercised his veto, and we compromised on Alfie…a good choice, actually, because the puppy’s mother was named Georgy Girl.
I began writing the book when the puppy was still young and scampering around my feet, tugging at my shoelaces, while I worked. I suppose Mr. Willoughby was still much on my mind.