Sunday, March 18, 2007

One Writer's Process: Lois Lowry

Whether writing about Annemarie Johansen helping to save her best friend from the Nazis in Copenhagen in 1943, or about the seemingly perfect world that Jonas begins to question after receiving his life assignment with the Giver, Lois Lowry seeks to explore in new, thought-provoking ways how each of us is linked in some way to one another.

"My books have varied in content and style," writes Lowry, "yet it seems that all of them deal, essentially, with the same general theme: the importance of human connections."

Readers familiar with her first book, A Summer to Die, will recall it as a highly fictionalized retelling of the early death of her sister, with Lowry relating in precise detail the emotional effects that the loss had on her and her family.

And although Number the Stars, her Newbery Award-winning novel, is set in a different culture and era, Lowry believes that she is trying to tell the same story: "that of the role that we humans play in the lives of our fellow beings."

Likewise, the books in her trilogy--The Giver, Gathering Blue, and the newest, Messenger --take place against the background of very different cultures and times. Yet Lowry suggests that, "though all three are broader in scope than my earlier books, they nonetheless speak to the same concern: the vital need of people to be aware of their interdependence, not only with each other, but with the world and its environment."

The author of more than thirty books for children, including the Newbery Award-winning novels Number the Stars (1990) and The Giver (1994), the Anastasia Krupnik series, the Sam Krupnik series, and the Gooney Bird Books, Lowry has received numerous awards for her work, among them the Boston Globe-Horn Book Award, The Dorothy Canfield Fisher Award, the California Young Reader's Medal, and the Mark Twain Award.

"Sorry this has taken me so long," Lowry wrote in response to our request for an interview. "Today my son, his wife, two kids, and two golden retrievers have gone off for a hike, so I am briefly all alone, except for the carpenter at work in my barn."

During the brief lull in a hectic schedule, she was kind enough to share her thoughts on writing with Wordswimmer.

Wordswimmer: If writing is like swimming ... how do you get into the water each day?

Lowry: The hard thing for me is staying away from it. Life intervenes in the form of company (right now I have children, grandchildren, and two grand-dogs visiting); commitments (this weekend I have to do a book-signing); and travel (in August I go to visit a granddaughter). And all of those things - while pleasurable, surely! - take me away from my desk, away from my computer. I am always eager to get back to it, and my mind is always there even when my body is not!

Using the water metaphor... I sometimes tiptoe in each day, sometimes plunge. Either way, it feels good to be in there, surrounded and submerged.

Wordswimmer: What keeps you afloat... for short work? For longer work?

Lowry: What always keeps me "afloat" is such a love of what I do. Few things give me such a sense of exhilaration ... maybe the restoration of neglected houses (my hobby) ... but that is, in a way, the same thing ... putting the parts together so that something new and intriguing emerges.

It is not hard to stay afloat when you love the place where you are drifting. Short work, longer work: same thing.

Wordswimmer: How do you keep swimming through dry spells?

Lowry: I don't have "dry spells" ... times when nothing is happening. My brain is always busy. The hard thing for me is sorting through. Sifting. Choosing what to do next. Finding time for all the ideas. Sometimes having to let some go.

And, too, I become excited by trying new things. Right now I'm adapting a book (one of my own) to the stage. There is such excitement in trying something different, learning new skills.

And reading. Reading always, always gets me energized to write.

Wordswimmer: What's the hardest part of swimming?

Lowry: Decision-making, I suppose. Which way to turn. Into that safe cove over there ... or out into the open sea where there might be sharks. You need to do both, and so the question is when and how, for each; and sometimes you choose wrong ... find yourself in a whirlpool, say, going around and around ... and you have to extricate yourself, head back and start again.

Wordswimmer: How do you overcome obstacles, problems, when swimming alone?

Lowry: Unlike so many others ... those who warn of the dangers of swimming alone ... (remember the old summer camp buddy system?!) ... I am a completely solo swimmer. Although I have lots of writer friends, I doubt if I have ever once sought advice from them on getting past writing obstacles. I seem to need the solitude in order to hear my own thoughts.

Wordswimmer: What's the part of swimming that you love the most?

Lowry: More than anything I love the feel of words going together with the right cadence and meaning, when things fall into place and you know you have done it the best you can. Second to that is the response from readers that makes you aware that you have touched another human being, have affected him or her in a profound way.

For more information about Lois Lowry, visit her website at or her blog at

For additional interviews, check out:


Elaine Magliaro said...


What a thoughtful interview. I loved both your questions and Lois Lowry's answers. Two of her books, NUMBER THE STARS and THE GIVER, are required reading in my children's literature course.

Anonymous said...

Glad you enjoyed it. Isn't she amazing? And the two books that you mentioned--NUMBER THE STARS and THE GIVER--are two of my favorites. Thanks for stopping by.

Anonymous said...

Lois Lowry's Newbery Medal Acceptance speech for THE GIVER was published in the July/August 1994 issue of The Horn Book. In it she gives the best answer I have ever read to that age-old question, "Where do writers get their ideas?" She says, "It's a little like Jonas looking into the river and realizing that it carries with it everything that has come from an Elsewhere. A spring, perhaps, at the beginning, bubbling up from the earth; then a trickle from a glacier; a mountain stream entering farther along; and each tributary bringing with it the collected bits and pieces from the past, from the distant, from the countless Elsewheres: all of it moving, mingled, in the current." She goes on to give examples of how her own springs, trickles and streams contributed to the writing of THE GIVER. Lois Lowry has been a favorite of mine since I was first introduced to NUMBER THE STARS in a children's literature class. I also would highly recommend her most recent book, GOSSAMER.

Anonymous said...

I love the water imagery... which, I suppose, isn't surprising, given my love of water. GOSSAMER's on my list of books to read, and, with luck, I'll get to it soon! Thanks for sharing the reference to Lowry's acceptance speech.

Sarah Stevenson said...

What a great interview. I really enjoyed your use of the swimming metaphor (and Lowry's exquisite answers). I'll post a link to it later today on Finding Wonderland!

Anonymous said...

Glad you enjoyed the interview... and thanks for linking to it.

gaelwriter said...

Thanks for inviting Lowry to visit with us. She's been such a major figure in young people's literature. "The Giver" and "The Messenger" were intriguing stories for me. They gave a reader lots to think about.