Posted by: Kerry Gans | November 2, 2011

Interview with Lois Duncan

The Author Chronicles gives a warm welcome and thanks to Lois Duncan, our final Mystery Month author guest. In her interview, she talks about keeping up with contemporary teens, how she started in the YA genre, and her work on behalf of real-life victims of unsolved crimes.

To enter the contest to win a signed copy of her book Stranger With My Face simply leave a comment at the end of the post – just saying ‘hi’ is fine.

1. Most of us writing YA are well past our teens. How do you manage to stay current with the contemporary teen sensibility?

I had five children of my own, with a 16 year age difference between the oldest and youngest. So our home was always swarming with kids of all ages. Today I’m finding it harder to write for teens, as they’re living in a constantly changing world of new technology that I haven’t kept up with. The saving grace is that I now have teenage grandchildren.

2. You’ve been writing in this genre for a long time. Have you noticed any style/content changes over that time? How is writing today different from when you started?

Publishing today is much more commercial than when I broke into it. The focus is less on the quality of a book than on how much money it will make and whether Hollywood will pick up on it. Today’s authors are widely referred to as “content providers.” I feel blessed to have had the largest part of my career during a gentler era.

3. Was there something in particular that drew you to writing for YA rather than adults?

I started submitting stories to magazines at age ten and made my first sale at thirteen. I continued to write for magazines throughout my high school years, and wrote my first novel at 20. Because of my age, teen issues were all I knew to write about, so I wrote for my peers and became known for books in that genre. However, that isn’t all I write. I’ve written 50 books total — including those for a younger age group (such as HOTEL FOR DOGS), rhymed verse, and adult fiction and non-fiction — plus a huge number of magazine articles. But my YA suspense novels have been by far the most successful and they’re what people seem to want from me. Once you get classified as writing in a particular genre, it’s almost impossible to successfully switch to something else.

4. What hobbies do you use to balance out the often solitary life of creation?

As mentioned above, I had a large family to both enjoy and take care of. For years I taught at the University of New Mexico, which I loved. I have a lot of fun with photography. I love to read. And I volunteer as a counselor at a women’s resource center to help women with problems find the resources they need, be they therapy, childcare, food, or escape from physical or mental abuse. And, I have to admit, I’m getting a kick out of Face Book.

5. Do you know “whodunit” before you start the book, or do you leave some of the mystery for you to discover, as a writer?

I should think it would be impossible to write a mystery novel without knowing how it’s going to end. Such novels are tightly structured. Clues and foreshadowing need to be planted. Sub-plots must be developed. And in order to build to a climax, you must know what that climax will be. Otherwise you’d be wandering all over the place.

6. Are you an outliner or do you like to wing it?

Both. I outline the plot so I know the basic structure before I start writing. I know the spots in which the major action scenes must occur in order to keep up the pacing. I know at what point I’ll start building toward the climax, and what that climax will be. But once I start writing, new ideas will occur to me, or certain characters will become more interesting that I thought they’d be, which can lead to unexpected sub-plots. It’s like taking a long road trip. You have a map that shows you your destination. You establish what the main route will be and approximately where you’ll make your overnight stops. But sometimes an interesting side road will appear where you least expect it, and you take a little detour to see what is down there. Maybe it’s something you’ll decide to load into your car/computer and take with you for the rest of the journey.

7. I was sorry to learn of your daughter Kait’s murder. Would you like to say anything about her unsolved case, or the work you and your husband do on behalf of other victims of unsolved crimes?

Kait, 18, was chased down in her car and shot to death in Albuquerque, New Mexico, in 1989. She had fallen in love with the wrong man, and through him, had learned about criminal activities that apparently were protected by certain members of law enforcement. On the night of her death, she had broken up with the boyfriend and was going to become a whistle-blower. When the police dropped off Kait’s unsolved case, I wrote the adult, non-fiction book, WHO KILLED MY DAUGHTER?, to motivate informants and keep the facts of her story from becoming buried. Our family has continued our personal investigation for all these years. Since law enforcement doesn’t want our new information, we post it on Kait’s Web site. There is also a recent radio interview with the newest information posted here.

When my book came out, we were contacted by so many other families of murder victims whose loved ones’ cases had been mishandled, that my husband and I developed a Web site for THEIR stories. I interview the families and help them word their stories, and my husband links documentation, (autopsy reports, depositions, scene photos, etc.) to support their allegations. That site is a resource for the media and investigative reporters, plus a way for tipsters to get information to the families. We consider this our gift to Kait. It’s a way to give her short life meaning so she didn’t die an empty death.

Lois Duncan

Lois Duncan was born in Philadelphia,PA, and grew up in Sarasota,FL.

She knew from early childhood that she wanted to be a writer. She submitted her first story to a magazine at age 10 and became published at 13. Throughout her high school years she wrote regularly for young people’s publications, particularly Seventeen.

 As an adult, Lois moved to Albuquerque, NM, where she taught magazine writing for the Journalism Department at the University of New Mexico and continued to write for magazines. Over 300 of her articles and stories appeared in such publications as Ladies Home Journal, Redbook, McCall’s, Good Housekeeping, and Reader’s Digest, and for many years she was a contributing editor for Woman’s Day.        

Lois is the author of over 50 books, ranging from children’s picture books to poetry to adult non-fiction, but is best known for her young adult suspense novels, which have received Young Readers Awards in 16 states and three foreign countries. In 1992, Lois was awarded the Margaret A. Edwards Award, presented by the School Library Journal and the ALA Young Adult Library Services Association for “a distinguished body of adolescent literature.” In 2009, she received the Katharine Drexel Award, awarded by the Catholic Library Association “to recognize an outstanding contribution by an individual to the growth of high school and young adult librarianship and literature.”

Six of her novels — SUMMER OF FEAR, KILLING MR. GRIFFIN, GALLOWS HILL, RANSOM, DON’T LOOK BEHIND YOU and STRANGER WITH MY FACE — were made-for-TV movies, and two others are currently under option. I KNOW WHAT YOU DID LAST SUMMER and HOTEL FOR DOGS were box office hits. Two new books, NEWS FOR DOGS and MOVIE FOR DOGS complete the HOTEL FOR DOGS trilogy. She has just completed revising ten of her earlier teen novels to “bring the characters into the 21st Century” by updating their clothing (no longer any polyester pants suits) and giving them computers and cell phones. These new editions are being released over a two year period – 2010-2012- by Little, Brown.

Although young people are most familiar with Lois Duncan’s fictional suspense novels, adults may know her best as the author of WHO KILLED MY DAUGHTER?, the true story of the murder of Kaitlyn Arquette, the youngest of Lois’s five children. Kait’s heartbreaking story has been featured on such TV shows as Unsolved Mysteries, Good Morning America, Larry King Live, Sally Jessy Raphael and Inside Edition. A full account of the family’s on-going personal investigation of this still unsolved homicide can be found on the Internet at .

 Lois Duncan’s personal web page is at

 For further information, Lois Duncan can be contacted by phone at (941) 966-8016, or by e-mail at


  1. Lois,

    My heart is breaking for you and your family. I can’t imagine the sorrow you have had to endure. I visited Kait’s website and it is beautiful. I wish you all the success in the world.



  2. Kerry, Love this interview and getting into the mind of Lois Duncan. And what a terrible tragedy she had to live through with her daughter’s death.


  3. I love Lois Duncan’s books. I’ve been reading them for a quarter of a century and never get tired of them. She’s just that good.


  4. Great interview


  5. Great interview.


  6. I’ve always love Ms. Duncan’s books and I am even more impressed with her having read this interview.


  7. […] The Wolves: On the Trail of a Killer detail their long fight for justice. Lois was kind enough to visit us here on the Author Chronicles when we were still new bloggers, and I for one will miss her wit, charm, and […]


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