Monday, October 29, 2012

Interview with Author Lois Duncan

Lois, eReaders and eBooks are everywhere these days. How else has the book industry changed since the release of your first novel?

When I wrote my first novel there was only one outlet to publication—a traditional publisher who paid the author an advance against royalties (which were usually 10 percent of the book’s selling price); assigned an editor who gave suggestions (actually more like directions) to the author about revisions; printed the manuscript and hired an artist to create the jacket; sent the “galleys” to the author to review for possible typos; and then took total charge of promotion and distribution, getting the book reviewed, and making arrangements for interviews and book signings.

Today there are fewer traditional publishers, and writers have numerous additional options for publication. Aside from e-books, there’s also Vanity Printing (self-publication) and Print-on-Demand (POD) publication. The problem with those options is that few bookstores will stock self-published or POD books and almost no reviewer takes them seriously; and promoting and selling the books is left up to the author.  Those chores can take over an author’s life and leave little time for writing new books.

You’ve created dozens of characters over the years. What character is the most memorable? Why?

Probably “Mark” in KILLING MR. GRIFFIN, because he was a teenage psychopath.  I had to do a lot of research to make him believable.

And “Lia” in STRANGER WITH MY FACE.  We all feel in possession of our bodies. So the idea that another person has the ability to take over our bodies and assume our personalities is terrifying.

If you could re-write one of your novels which one would you choose? Why?

I’ve just finished doing exactly that. Little Brown asked me to up-date ten of my young adult suspense novels to bring them into the 21st Century by changing my characters’ clothing and slang they used, and giving them computers, cell phones, etc.  Open Road has had me do the same thing to four other novels which now have been published as e-books.

The hardest problem I had was dealing with the cell phones.

I’d never fully realized how many of my plots pivot upon the fact that the characters are cut off from communication with the outside world. In DOWN A DARK HALL, the girls can’t contact their parents to report the awful things being done to them, because they’re locked in a boarding school with the only phone located in the head mistress’s office. In LOCKED IN TIME, my heroine Nore can’t call for rescue because there is no house phone. Today all they’d have to do is pull out the trusty cell phone and punch in 911.
So I frantically orchestrated situation after situation — trying not to make them all the same — in which the phones haven’t been charged or (in Nore’s case) got ruined when Gabe tried to drown her in the river, or, in DOWN A DARK HALL, are out of the area of reception.

In SUMMER OF FEAR, there was a different problem. A girl, (who turns out to be a witch) takes a plane flight from her home in the Ozarks after her parents die in order to live with relatives in New Mexico.  A key element in that story is that it’s impossible for a witch to be photographed. That worked fine in the original version. But, today, every plane passenger must show a photo ID. How does the witch girl travel? (This is a witch who lives like a normal person, not someone who would get on a broomstick.)

Book covers have a lot more pizzazz than they used to. What book would you like to get a cover redesign?

All my novels have just gotten new covers, along with the updates. Here are some examples that demonstrate how trends in book jackets have changed over the years.

What advice would you give to budding authors?
Just sit down and do it. Writing is a self-taught craft and comes with practice. There are no short-cuts and nobody can do it for you.  I started submitting stories to magazines when I was 10, and submitted a new one every week before making my first sale at 13.  I wrote my first novel at 20 and it was published when I was 22.  The whole process takes patience and a lot of self-discipline.

I Know What You Did Last Summer and Killing Mr. Griffin are two of my favorite books from my childhood. Where did the ideas for these stories come from?

With I KNOW WHAT YOU DID LAST SUMMER, I wanted the challenge of writing a book with a double-identity twist, so the reader would be fooled into thinking one person was two different people. (Ironically that element was totally removed from the film version.)

KILLING MR. GRIFFIN came from pondering the question—“Where do serial killers come from? We read about the terrible things they do as adults, but they weren’t always adults. They’re probably sprinkled through all the schools in our nation, honing their charismatic skills on innocent classmates.

What if ….” (That’s always a fiction writer’s question—the one that leads them into a story) … “what if?”  One of my daughters was dating a charming young man who seemed almost too good to be true. So I asked myself…”what if that cute guy is not what he seems?  My daughter adores him so much that she’d probably follow him anywhere. He’s the leader of a clique of other kids who also think he’s wonderful. What might he lead them to do if he was a psychopath?”

Are you currently working on something?

As you probably know, my youngest daughter, Kaitlyn Arquette, was murdered at the age of 18. That led me to write a non-fiction book, WHO KILLED MY DAUGHTER?, to motivate tipsters and prevent the facts of her case from becoming buried. I’m currently working on THE TALLY KEEPER, a sequel to that true-life horror story, that includes all the new information we’ve acquired through private investigation since that first book was published.