"Where are you going?" asked my son, as I headed out the door this afternoon.
"To see a friend," I shouted over my shoulder. "I'll be back in a little while."
It was the truth, kind of anyway. I was going to see a friend. OK, a friend I had never met. But a friend who I had known through her books for a long, long time.
Lois Lowry was reading at the Tattered Cover) this afternoon, and so I made the sixty mile round trip, through rush hour traffic, to see my old friend.
Lowry has a new book, BLESS THIS MOUSE, that has just come out in the last few weeks. She talked first about the origin of this story. Lowry was at her summer home in Maine sitting at the dining room table writing when a little mouse scurried out from his hiding place. Unlike most mice, however, he was not afraid of Lowry, or her dog either. He sat in the middle of the room, and even allowed the author and her dog to approach and touch him. Lowry said that finally she scooped him up in her hand, said, "I think you will be much happier outside," and took him out into the yard, where she released him. When she came back into the house, she opened a new file on her computer, and started the story that became BLESS THIS MOUSE. The book only took her three weeks to write.
Lowry talked a little about the characters in the book, especially Hildegarde, the Mouse Mistress and Roderick, her not so smart friend. An author, said Lowry, must first make her reader care about her characters, and then she must create a problem that leaves the reader worrying about them. Hildegarde and Roderick live in a church, along with 218 other mice. The Feast of Saint Francis is fast approaching. On this day, the parishioners and townsfolk bring their pets to be blessed. The mice hate this day because they know the church will be filled with cats. Lowry read several scenes; one was a conversation between Roderick and Hildegarde that would be perfect for teaching kids how authors use conversation to reveal characters. In the other scene, Hildegarde, wearing a green gumdrop hat tied with a gold cord from the priest's garments, decides that the mice need to receive the blessing of Saint Francis.
Lowry also talked a little about her process. She said she typically starts with a character and a quest. She sometimes, but not always, knows how the story will end. She never outlines, because that makes the writing boring for her.
She also talked a little about her current project. Lowry is writing the fourth book in the Giver series. The main characters in this book are Gabriel and his birth mother. Lowry described it as a long book, she said about 450 pages, which will come out next spring, if she gets home and gets it written.
So far my spring vacation has been more work than fun, lots of appointments, and chores, and cleaning. It was really nice, then, to spend this chilly Monday night with an old friend…