Here are some highlights from Lois Lowry's keynote speech from SCBWI New York. I'll be posting more highlights from SCBWI soon--including what agent Ginger Clark has to say about YA market trends, and some awesome book porn from Mo Willems, Sara Zarr, and Linda Sue Park!
Lowry decided to tackle one of the big questions in her keynote: Where do you get your ideas from? Lucky for us, she actually has the answer for some of her books! Below are stories that inspired some much-loved books:
Summer to Die
Summer to Die was her first novel. The idea started with a couplet she'd written, and with memories of her sister, who died when they were both young women.
She found herself telling stories to her young daughter about her sister, and over the years those stories were told again, and shaped and reshaped and retold.
Lowry says she thinks she was "giving sorrow words" when she wrote her first book.
When she was in college, her father was President Nixon's daughters dentist. Even though she never met the daughters, hearing the stories from her father started a fascination with presidential daughters. Lowry particularly liked Jimmy Carter's daughter Amy because she got into trouble, had tantrums in public, wore big glasses and her mother put her in ugly clothing.
And thus, the Anastasia Krupnik series was born, based on Amy Carter and a little bit of Lowry too.
Number The Stars
Lowry has a friend who grew up in Denmark, and lived there as a child during World War II when it was occupied by the Nazis.
She realized the stories her friend told her about living in Denmark as a child were not only important, but important for children to hear, and Number the Stars was born.
The question we all know and use--what if?--is a great way to think of a story, and was part of how The Giver came to be.
In the last years of her father's life, he lived in assisted living because while his health was fine, his memory was fading. Lowry and her brother made him a photograph album to help bring back memories.
One day she came across a picture of her and her sister. His father recognized Lowry and her sister, but couldn't remember her name. Lowry told him, and then her father said, "Whatever happened to her?" and Lowry had to explained that she had died--and although it had happened a long time ago--because he couldn't remember, it was overwhelming for him to hear.
Later, Lowry wondered what if? What if there was a way to obliterate sad and painful memories and make people comfortable and happy? They would be safe and have no knowledge of things that could hurt and endanger. What would that community be like?
Of course, things got more complicated from there, but what if? was the seed of The Giver.
The Silent Boy
Her grandmother's sister, when she died, left Lowry all her photographs, but no information about any of them. There was one photograph--of a somber looking boy in overalls and a brimmed cap--that haunted her, until she imagined his story and it became The Silent Boy.
When Lowry's mother was in her 80s, she had a stroke. They placed her in a nursing home because the hospital could not do anything else for her. During her time in the nursing home, her mind went somewhere else. During this time, sometimes her mother would laugh or cry and they didn't always know why. At one point, Lowry asked her mother if she was actually with the people she sometimes mentioned, or if she just remembered them.
And her mother said to her: "In the dream world, that doesn't matter."
That phrase stuck with Lowry, about a place where time and place blur together.
Bless This Mouse--coming March 2011!
"What most works are the things that surprise you." What surprised her was a small, super-cute mouse that she found in her home one day who was totally unafraid of her. And so, Hildegard the Mouse was born.
For more information and tidbits, check out the official SCBWI Team Blog. I met most of the live bloggers during the weekend, and they were all super-nice.
So, are you all like Lois Lowry? Can you pinpoint where any of your ideas come from? Or are they just bits of thought floating in space?
* Added note from Donna: If you want to know just how much the FNC loves Lois Lowry, I wrote about The Giver for Books Change Lives month on the Hey! Teenager of the Year blog.