Book Nerd Interview
Lois Duncan grew up in Sarasota, Florida, the daughter of internationally known magazine photographers, Joseph and Lois Steinmetz. She has one younger brother. From early childhood, she knew she wanted to be a writer. She submitted her first story to a magazine at the age of ten and made her first sale at thirteen to a magazine called Calling All Girls. Throughout her high school years she wrote regularly for young people's magazines, particularly Seventeen.
In 1962, Lois moved to Albuquerque, New Mexico, where she taught for the Journalism Department at the University of New Mexico and continued to write for magazines. Over 300 of her articles and short stories appeared in such publications as Ladies Home Journal, Redbook, McCall's, Good Housekeeping, and Reader's Digest, and for a number of years she was a contributing editor for Woman's Day.
Lois is also the author of 48 books, ranging from children's picture books to adult novels, but she is best known for her young adult suspense novels. Many of those have been chosen as American Library Association "Best Books for Young Adults" and Jr. Literary Guild Selections, and they have won Young Readers Awards in 16 states and three foreign countries. In 1992, Lois received the Margaret A. Edwards Award, presented by the School Library Journal and the Young Adult Library Services Association, to honor a living author for a distinguished body of adolescent literature.
Lois has also written novels and non-fiction books for adults, including Who Killed My Daughter?, the true story of her search for the truth behind the brutal murder of the youngest of her five children, eighteen-year-old Kaitlyn. Although written for adults, this book has been embraced by young people.
Lois is married to Don Arquette, and their children are also highly creative. Robin Arquette (Burkin) is a singer and composer and collaborated with her mother on a series of musical CDs for children called “Songs of Childhood.” Kerry Arquette writes children’s books – the most recent two are Daddy Promises and What Did You Do Today? – and is also co-owner and editor-in-chief of Cantata Publishing Company. Brett Arquette is the author of three adult novels, two of them horror books, and the third – Tweaked – something even stranger. Donnie Arquette is a free soul who does his own thing, but is an extremely talented artist.
What was the greatest thing you learned at school?
How to study.
Is there such a thing as a formula for storytelling?
Someone the reader likes and relates to/ overcomes obstacles/to reach an important goal. The more important the goal, the stronger the story will be. (Survival is the most important goal of all.)
What are “Character Rules” and give us some examples.
The only rule I can think of is to know why your character acts as he or she does. Don’t just describe the actions but know the motivation behind them. I think psychology courses are as important for aspiring writers of fiction as English courses.
What are some of the common challenges that new and experienced authors face and what advice do you have for over-coming them?
Most new writers tend to believe that if they write a story or book, that’s the end of their job. They don’t realize that they need to go over and over it, trying to find ways to make it even better. They need to check every sentence, asking themselves, “Did I used that same adjective three paragraphs ago? If so, I’d better find a synonym. Is this adverb necessary, or would the sentence be stronger without it?” etc. Their job’s not done until the story or book is as perfect as their capable of making it.
In your book, Down a Dark Hall; can you tell my Book Nerd community a little about the novel?
DOWN A DARK HALL is a Gothic ghost story, laid in an isolated boarding school, where the gates close behind the students and they are cut off from any contact with the outside world. In that atmosphere the ghosts can take over their lives.
What was one of the most surprising things you learned in creating Kit Gordy?
I didn’t learn anything in particular by creating Kit Gordy. She was fully developed in my mind before I started writing. But I learned a lot from the research I did to create the situation at that boarding school. I did a lot of reading to come up with identities of appropriate artists, writers and composers who died at young ages and whose work I was able to describe and (in the case of the poet “Ellis”) duplicate. And I had to consult with professional artists to learn the process of artificially aging new paintings to make them appear to have been painted hundreds of years ago.
If you could introduce Kit to any character from another book, who would it be and why?
Possibly “Nore” from LOCKED IN TIME, since she, too, was dealing with people and events from the past.
What are some of your current and future projects that you can share with us?
I’ve just finished updating ten of my older young adult suspense novels to bring them into the 21st Century so readers of today can better relate to them. (Giving the characters cell phones and computers, etc.) Of course, in DOWN A DARK HALL, that created problems, because I had to make sure the students didn’t have access to those cell phones and computers so they couldn’t reach out for help.
What question are you never asked in interviews but wish you were?
How much would you like me to pay you for doing this interview?
Most horrifying dream you have ever had?
I often have dreams about the murder of my youngest daughter, Kait. (At age 18, she was chased down in her car and shot twice in the head, as you know if you’ve read my non-fiction book, WHO KILLED MY DAUGHTER?) I hear gun shots and Kait’s voice screaming, “Mother! Help!” and I’m unable to do anything to save her.
When asked, what’s the one question you always answer with a lie?
I never answer any question with a lie, although I might say, “I’d prefer not to respond to that.”
If I came to your house and looked in your closet/attic/basement, what’s the one thing that would surprise me the most?
That there’s nothing of interest in there.
When was the last time you cried?
On Mother’s Day. Because I missed Kait.
Who is the first person you call when you have a bad day?
I don’t call anybody. I wait until my husband gets home and then I unload on him.
Where can readers stalk you?
My Face Book page is open to the public. People don’t have to “friend” me to read it. I’ve even filled in the whole Time Line going back to my birth, so they can see photos of me when I was their ages.
Kit Gordy sees Blackwood Hall towering over black iron gates, and she can't help thinking, This place is evil. The imposing mansion sends a shiver of fear through her. But Kit settles into a routine, trying to ignore the rumors that the highly exclusive boarding school is haunted.
Then her classmates begin to show extraordinary and unknown talents. The strange dreams, the voices, the lost letters to family and friends, all become overshadowed by the magic around them.
When Kit and her friends realize that Blackwood isn't what it claims to be, it might be too late.
Suspicious and uneasy about the atmosphere at her new boarding school, fourteen-year-old Kit slowly realizes why she and the other three students at the school were selected.
The highly suspenseful Down a Dark Hall by Lois Duncan tells a creepy story about a fourteen year-old girl named Kathryn “Kit” Gordy who is sent to a boarding school. Once she checks into Blackwood, an exclusive all girls school, she discovers the school is peculiar as she’s one of the only four students enlisted. Kit immediately sense evil lurking around the corner and the four students begin having unusual dreams. Soon after bodies are possessed and the book that starts out less-than-creepy, follows a path that will send chills up and down your spine.
Lois has a grand talent of building up suspense. Right from the beginning, she foretells dark happenings and continues to stack more on top of it. My mind was in a trance reading this book that it formed a thick fog inside my head. Everything about Blackwood had creepiness written all over it. The writing style and plot is similar to all of the great Lois Duncan books. She produces very imaginative and innovative stories each time. She is a skillful writer and a natural at keeping readers on the edge of their seats. The story itself is frightening, with menacing elements unhurriedly building until its explosive culmination. This has been a favorite for many young readers for many years and it continues to do so. Down a Dark Hall will have you looking over your shoulders whenever you find yourself in a dark place.
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