Monday, January 4, 2010

INTERVIEW: Award-winning Author famous for her novel “I Know What You Did Last Summer” - Lois Duncan

Welcome to “Up Close and Personal.” For every interview I will be introducing a literary personality discussing their views and insights, as well as upcoming literary events around the world.

Today’s interview is with Lois Duncan. She is an award-winning author of suspense novels for young adults. Some of her works have been adapted for the screen, the most famous example being the 1997 film “I Know What You Did Last Summer,” adapted from her novel of the same title.

The 1971 children's book “Hotel for Dogs” has been made into a movie, in 2009, starring Emma Roberts. She is the niece of 3 times Golden Globe winner and Academy award-winner, Julia Roberts.

Ms. Duncan was born in Philadelphia Pennsylvania in April 28th 1934. Her parents were famous photographers, Joseph Janney Steinmetz and Lois Steinmetz. She attended Duke University but dropped out of school, got married and started a family. She later graduated from University of New Mexico, with a B.A. in English in 1977.

Ms. Duncan, is the author of fifty books ranging from non-fiction books for adults, children’s picture books, but she is best known for her young adult suspense novels.

Her novel, “Who Killed My Daughter?” is the base on a true story about the brutal murder of her eighteen-year-old daughter, Kaitlyn. “Who Killed My Daughter?” was written for the adult audience but the young adult audience accepted it and loves the book.

Her latest novel, “News for Dog” published in April of 2009 is another canine adventure with Andi and her brother Bruce. They started a new project which is a newspaper for dogs. They made a hit out of their paper but then, they attracted mysterious dognappers.

E.I. Would you share some early insight into who you were as a teenager? What were you like? Give us three “Good to Know” facts about your first job, the inspiration for your writing, any fun details that would enliven your page. Tell your fans about Lois Duncan -- the woman behind the award-winning author of suspense novel for young adults?

LD There was never a time when I didn't think of myself as a writer. At age 10, I started submitting poetry to magazines, and, amazingly, some of it was published. By age 13, I had begun to sell stories and articles, and, at age 20, I wrote my first novel. Because of my age when I started my career, teenage subject matter was all I knew to write about, so I fell automatically into that genre. Today I have written over 50 books, including poetry, text for picture books, and fiction and non-fiction for adults, but I've experienced the most success with young adult suspense novels such as I Know What You Did Last Summer and Killing Mr. Griffin.

I'm married to Don Arquette, an electrical engineer, and am the mother of five children. The youngest of those children, Kaitlyn Arquette, 18, was murdered in Albuquerque, New Mexico, in 1989. When police dropped off Kait's unsolved case, I wrote a non-fiction, adult book, Who Killed My Daughter?, to motivate informants. Our family maintains a Web site at, to update people on our on-going personal investigation and give tipsters an easy way to contact us. We've gleaned a lot of new information that way.

E.I. What is it about the art form of writing suspense novels that enchants you the most?

LD Those are the kind of books I most enjoy reading. I like plots with twists, character development, and surprise endings..

E.I. Please tell our readers about your book “News for Dog”? What sparked your interest in the subject of Dogs? What were your favorite aspects?

LD Between writing suspense novels, I've always liked to "cleanse my pallet" by writing something in a different genre. Hotel for Dogs -- a humorous story for 8-12-yr-olds -- was such a book. I wrote it in 1971, and it came and went without much attention, because everyone was salivating for my next suspense novel. Then, a couple of years ago, my film agent was in Hollywood, marketing film rights to my YA novels, and one of the producers at Dreamworks asked, "Is that the same 'Lois Duncan' who wrote Hotel for Dogs, my favorite book when I was a little boy?" That book had been out of print for so long that my agent had to phone me to find out if I'd written it. I had to order a copy from Amazon to recall what it was about.

"The rest," as they say, "is history." Hotel for Dogs became a very successful movie. Scholastic republished HFD and, as part of the contract, I agreed to write two sequels. So, I wrote News for Dogs (Scholastic, 2009) and Movie for Dogs, which will be published in the spring of 2010.

E.I. Many writers describe themselves as "character" or "plot" writers. Which are you? And what do you find to be the hardest part of writing?

LD I think I'm equally balanced between the two. Plot -- meaning structure -- is very important in a genre novel, especially a mystery, where all the pieces have to fall into place. Because I'm less interested in what people do than in the motivation behind their actions, characterization is one of my strong points. Description is probably my weakest point. And I'm not very good at research. I've never had much success with historical novels or stories laid in foreign settings. I write best about what I know about.

E.I. What was your biggest challenge in writing “News for Dog”?

LD Trying to write a modern day sequel to a book written over 30 years ago and having the two flow seamlessly together as if they were written in the same time period. News for Dogs starts six months after Hotel for Dogs ends. Yet the characters now have computers, digital cameras and cell phones.

E.I. How did you decide what level of details your young reader will accept? Did you work them out in advance, or did they evolve as you wrote the story?

LD I always plot my stories before starting to write them. Otherwise it's too easy to bog down in the middle.

E.I. How much of Andi, Bruce, Jerry, Connor and Aunt Alice were planned out in your head?

LD Andi, the young writer, is a self-portrait -- myself at age ten. My hobby is photography, so there's quite a lot of me in her brother, Bruce, the young photographer, as well. The other characters were invented.

E.I. How do you imagine the audience when you are writing?

LD With books for children and teenagers, I imagine the reader as being the same age or younger than my viewpoint character. Never older. Kids don't like to read about characters younger than themselves.

E.I. Do you have sheets of newsprint covered in a story boards all over your walls?

LD No. I make notes in a notebook.

E.I. If you were asked to read a page from “News for Dog” is there one that you would personally select to share with your readers? And why?

LD I don't think you can pull a page out of context and have it make sense.

E.I. Please tell us about your upcoming novel, “Movie for Dogs” Can you give us a sneak peek about the book?

LD In News for Dogs, Andi and Bruce publish a newspaper for dog owners to read to their dogs. (I got that idea from a neighborhood newspaper that my brother and I published when we were children.) When their on-line edition of the paper gets them into so much trouble that they're no longer able to publish it, Andi focuses her talents on writing a book about their adventures with evil dog-nappers. In Movie for Dogs, she converts that book into a film script, and she and Bruce and their friends make a video and enter it in a contest. When they make it to the finals, they and their dogs go to Hollywood. (I got the idea for that from going to Hollywood myself to watch the filming of Hotel for Dogs.)

E.I. As a writer do you ever feel pressure or insecure, or are you able to separate all that from your own creative process?

LD I felt extreme pressure when I signed a multi-book contract to write three young adult suspense novels within a three year period. I wrote the first two books, The Twisted Window and Don't Look Behind You right on schedule. Then, Kait was chased down in her car and shot to death. All my will to write vanished. There was no way I could create a fictional mystery novel about a young woman in jeopardy when our own horrendous real life mystery was all I could think about. I overshot the deadline for that third novel by seven years. However, my publisher was patient, and I eventually forced myself to honor the terms of the contract by writing Gallows Hill. That's the last teenage suspense novel I intend to write, at least until Kait's case is solved.

E.I. Ms. Duncan, Thank you for contributing to my blog. It has been a pleasure for me to get to know your work a little better. Would you like to end your interview with a writing tip or advice for young aspiring writers?

LD Just sit down and do it. Writing is a self-taught craft, and there are no shortcuts. Good writing comes with practice. Write your story. Then set it aside for a while. Take it out and read it with fresh eyes to find the weaknesses. Then rewrite it and set it aside again. Take it out and reread it. Continue that process until it's the best you can make it. Then write something else.

To learn more about Loid Duncan, please visit her website

To purchase her books, please visit AMAZON and Barnes & Nobles

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