Interview with Lois Duncan
Interview by RoseEtta Stone
Lois Duncan is a multiple award-winning author of more than forty books, most
of which are YA (young adult) metaphysical/ paranormal-themed suspense novels.
She's received fifteen international young readers' awards.
There are so many questions to ask you; why don't we begin with your banned
books? You knew that "Killing Mr. Griffin" had been banned
or censored, but were surprised that "Don't Look Behind You" also was,
and "[couldn't] think of a single thing that anyone might object to about
that book." If I told you it was challenged for its immorality, as
well as for its graphic and sexual references, would you consider these valid
reasons for challenging the novel?
I can only assume there was a mix-up. "Don't Look Behind You"
is about a family forced into the Federal Witness Protection program because the
father helped the FBI expose a drug ring. It's an adventure story.
The closest we get to a sex scene is when the 17-year-old daughter goes to a
party where the punch has been spiked, and her date starts kissing her.
She shoves him away and makes him take her home.
Authors have stated before that they were unaware of
objections or protests lodged against their books. How significant
or insignificant an issue, then -- and to whom, is the censorship of childrens'
and young adult literature?
I am almost never informed when a book of mine has been challenged. I
learn about it only if a reporter contacts me for a comment and then, since I
don't know the specifics of the problem, I don't know how to respond. It
doesn't seem to affect book sales.
"Daughters of Eve" was also banned or
censored. Were any of your other books, and do you know why?
"Killing Mr. Griffin" has been censored in some school districts.
The reason cited most often (at least, to me) is that one of the characters says
"shit." I'm sure others of my books have been censored as well,
but, as I said above, I am almost never informed when that happens.
You've been writing for teenagers for more than twenty
Much longer than that. I started submitting stories to magazines
when I was ten and made my first sale at thirteen. Throughout my high
school years I wrote regularly for youth publications, particularly
"Seventeen Magazine." My first YA novel, a romance titled
"Debutante Hill," was published in 1957.
Has, or how has censorship, in relation to books for
this age group, changed over the last four decades?
The reasons for censorship reflect the social climate of the times. The
publisher of "Debutante Hill" asked me to revise the manuscript
because I had a 19-year-old boy (the "bad guy") drink a beer.
When I changed the beer to a Coke, the book was published and won the
"Seventeenth Summer Literary Award." In 1974, I was asked to
revise "Down a Dark Hall" (a ghost story), to keep from offending
members of the Woman's Movement. The ghosts in that story were originally
all male; when I changed the ghost of a male poet to Emily Bronte, the book was
considered politically acceptable. In 1984, I wrote a book of religious
verse for children titled "From Spring to Spring." That sweet
little book was ready to go to press when the publisher suddenly got cold feet
about offending feminists by referring to God as "He." Of
course, God couldn't be called "She" either, so I had to go back and
reword all the rhymed verse to get rid of the pronouns, while maintaining the
rhythm and naturalness of the wording. What a challenge that was!
Although you've no doubt been asked numerous times
before, you wrote "Killing Mr. Griffin" because...
I started thinking about charismatic psychopaths like Charles Manson and
wondering what they were like as teenagers? They didn't just spring
full-blown from oyster shells -- they had to hone the "people skills"
that allowed them to become so manipulative as adults. Kids like that are
growing up within our school systems and can exert tremendous control over their
fellow students. I consider "Griffin" a cautionary tale about
the danger of peer pressure.
I found it interesting and wondered how and why the
novel's high school kids were so obliviously and fatally "taken in" by
a charismatic psychopath?
For the same reason adults are seduced by charismatic religious leaders and
politicians. Such people have a magnetism about them.
I also wanted to ask if there was an unstated,
read-between-the-lines message in that, for kids? Or if I was being overly
analytical? But you already discussed that.
Without my consciously intending to insert it, all my YA novels seem to contain
an "unstated, read-between-the-lines message" about the importance of
taking responsibility for our own actions.
The book didn't definitively spell out whether Mr.
Griffin was or wasn't David's father, thereby leaving the question of patricide
unresolved. What did your readers make of that?
All the clues needed to answer that question are in the story. Does Mr.
G's age correspond with Mr. Ruggles? His personality -- (over
serious Griffin and free spirited Ruggles)? His career choice?
His dedication to perfection? His huge feeling of responsibility toward
his wife, unborn child, and students? The answer, obviously is NO.
So why does David react emotionally to the class ring on Mr. Griffin's hand?
The book contains the information that both men attended Stanford University so,
of course, they wore identical school rings. I like to think my readers
are intelligent enough to figure that out for themselves.
Would the bloodshed at Columbine and other high
schools, and escalating violence in schools Nation-wide make you censor yourself
and think twice about writing "Killing Mr. Griffin" today?
"Killing Mr. Griffin" doesn't encourage violence in schools any more
than the story of Cain and Able encourages children to kill their younger
brothers. Seldom does the small group of parents who want to protect their
children from any knowledge that violence exists in today's society have a
problem with their children reading the Bible. The occurrence of an event
in a work of literature is not a mandate that the reader should go forth and do
likewise. In most cases it's just the opposite. The devastating
consequences of the "senior prank" that inadvertently led to the death
of a fine man should make readers of "Killing Mr. Griffin" think
twice before allowing themselves to be led down a dangerous path where there's
no turning back.
What I, personally, have a problem with are the stories (usually on television
where action takes the place of introspection) where violence is sensationalized
and made to seem thrilling rather than terrible. I was appalled when my
book, "I Know What You Did Last Summer," was made into a slasher film.
As the mother of a murdered child, I don't find violent death something to
squeal and giggle about.
"The one thing we're absolutely sure of in
our own minds is that this was not a random shooting -- Kait was
Kaitlyn, your then eighteen-year-old daughter, was
murdered in July of 1989. Would it be too painful or uncomfortable
for you to tell us a bit of her story?
Kait was shot to death in her car in Albuquerque, New Mexico, on July 16, 1989.
Albuquerque police dubbed the shooting a "random drive-by" and refused
to investigate any other possibility, despite strong evidence that Kait was
murdered because she was preparing to blow the whistle on organized crime
involving her estranged Vietnamese boyfriend, Dung Nguyen, and his friends.
Those criminal activities were apparently protected by certain police officers.
Were there other reasons, beside telling Kait's story,
that you wrote "Who Killed My Daughter?"
When the police dropped off the unsolved case in 1991, I wrote "Who Killed
My Daughter?" to motivate informants and to prevent the facts of the case
from becoming buried.
Despite its publication, your own personal two-year
investigation, FBI involvement, an investigative journalist and private
detectives uncovering evidence, repeated re-enactments on "Unsolved
Mysteries," Nation-wide reportage by newscasters, and your appeals for help
and information on TV and radio programs across the U.S., Kait's murder is still
unsolved -- her case still open?
Technically any unsolved case is classified as "open," even if
the investigation is permanently inactive. APD has stated, however, that
they consider Kait's case "closed" and will not follow up on any
information that indicates that the shooting was not "random."
Was Dung ever indicted or deported for his involvement
in Kait's murder, or for the other crimes he committed?
Did the mysterious "Good Man Who Is Afraid"
who you mentioned in "Who Killed My Daughter?" ever again come forward
with information? Or the "old" boyfriend whom Kait was
seeing clandestinely, that took her to the "Desert Castle?"
Not the mystery man. But other people have. And, yes,
"Rod" has contacted us and provided us with interesting information.
In the late 90's you wrote "Psychic Connections:
A Journey Into The Mysterious World Of PSI." This book, by virtue of
the material it discusses, must raise more questions than answers, as did
"Who Killed My Daughter?" Did you find researching and writing
the book as therapeutic or cathartic as you did writing Kait's book?
It was educational rather than therapeutic. My co-author, William Roll,
Ph.D., is a respected parapsychologist -- a former research associate at the
Parapsychology Laboratory of Duke University and past president of the Oxford
University Society for Psychical Research. Working with Bill on this
project was like taking a cram course in parapsychology.
Although you haven't written any since Kait's death,
the majority of the forty best selling novels you've written were young adult
paranormal mysteries. Did you believe in the paranormal when you wrote
Actually, I have written others since Kait's death. At the time of her
death I was under contract with Dell to write three YA suspense novels.
The first two books, "The Twisted Window" and "Don't Look Behind
You" had been completed. At first I thought it would be impossible to
write another fiction story about a teenage girl in a life threatening
situation, when my whole heart and mind were focused upon our real one, but
eventually I forced myself to fulfill the contract. "Gallows
Hill" was published in 1997.
No, I didn't believe in the paranormal. I thought I was writing a form of
The Psychic Connection
Your daughter Robin manipulated you into something
that wasn't "your thing" -- consulting a psychic medium. Through
her, and other psychics, Kait communicated with you from the "Other
Side." And during the first two years following her death, you were
both also able to communicate with each other without psychic intervention.
Can you give us some idea of what those experiences were like?
Psychics work in various ways. The most common method used by psychic
detectives is psychometry (obtaining information from the energy stored in
inanimate objects). The psychic, Noreen Renier, who helped us with Kait's
case, held the earrings and necklace Kait was wearing at the time she was shot
and got impressions of what Kait experienced in the last moments of her life.
The psychic, Betty Muench, gets her information through automatic writing, as if
taking dictation from voices that only she can hear. She uses an electric
In my own case, I'm not a psychic and can't do either of those things. But
I am Kait's mother, and the connection between us was a strong one in life and
apparently continued to be so after her death. I received information
about the case in dreams or by hearing Kait's voice hearing Kait's voice when I
was in that twilight state between waking and sleeping, which private
investigators were later able to document. I've been told this happens
with many mothers of murdered children.
So that we fully understand -- private investigators
were able to document or substantiate the information you received from Kait
after her death, about her case. They weren't, of course, able to document
(or substantiate), as fact, that Kait actually communicated with you while you
were sleeping or in that (in-between) twilight state.
They were able to verify that the information I received in that manner was
accurate. Examples: The R&J Car Leasing dream message that I
describe in "Who Killed My Daughter?" -- an insurance fraud
investigator in Costa Mesa verified that a business called R&J Car Leasing
was located directly across the street from the motel Kait and Dung stayed in
when Dung staged his fake car wreck in March, 1989. Every time Kait
stepped out of that motel, she was looking at a sign that said "R&J Car
You'll find another account of a message-dream that was documented in an excerpt
from "The Tally Keeper" linked to Kait's web site (http://www.arquettes.com).
That message pertains to a woman named Jane with a heart tattoo on her upper arm
who had important information to give us. Without that dream, we would
never have known that Jane existed.
A portion of "Who Killed My Daughter's?"
prologue reads: *"But the third young man was a rebel who would
not be intimidated. He considered himself invincible, but his judgment was
poor, and he trusted all the wrong people. His actions brought disaster to
himself and his teacher." The psychic who told you about your own
previous life as a male "robed" teacher concurred and added that Kait
"came very near in this other time to a fate similar to her fate in this
time.......... Knowing whom to trust was the lesson she had to learn throughout
But your "life's purpose" (not
"lesson"), in this incarnation, as the
same psychic told you, "is to give out [your] 'truths' through the
media." Which you began doing by writing "Who Killed My
Daughter?" And telling her story/your truths nationally, via the
I believe my purpose also involved learning patience. It's been a long
twelve years since Kait's death, and we are still fighting the System to try to
get somebody in authority to follow up on the evidence. Yes.
One of Kait's messages to you, shortly before "Who
Killed My Daughter's" publication, was: "I wanted to leave a
note to tell you good-bye. I'm sorry things turned out like they did.
I never told you how much I liked you. You were my favorite teacher."
Could her message be interpreted as an awareness on her part, or her
acknowledgment that she remembered the past life you (the teacher), (and the
students) - Kait and her siblings, shared together?
It could be interpreted that way.
You modeled April, the heroine of your novel,
"Don't Look Behind You," after Kait. April was chased by a
hitman in a Camaro. "Don't Look" was published in June of 1989.
One month later, in July, 1989, Kait was chased down and shot to death.
And a witness reported seeing her chased by a Camaro. Please share with us
the other astounding parallels or "coincidences" between the
circumstances surrounding Kait's assassination and fictitious details in
That's too hard to do in this short a space. All that information is in
"Who Killed My Daughter?".
Another remarkable "coincidence" you cited
was related to the kidnapping in "Ransom," your novel, published just
prior to an actual kidnapping that took place (I think) in LA, which replicated
the fictional one in your book.
You explained all of these extraordinary occurrences
with an intriguing, thought-provoking theory which you defined as the
"foreshadowing of future events"-- your belief being that the
fictitious characters and episodes had been "Written by someone whose mind
had been touched by a memory of the future." Now, that's not precognition,
with which I guess we're all, to a greater or lesser degree, familiar.
For all we know, it may be the same thing.
Let's end this portion of our discussion with one final question: In
regard to our soul (or life) "scripts" which we ourselves, perhaps
with some Divine assistance, write between each physical death and the following
incarnation -- you, the entity now known as Lois, are, always were, always will,
and were meant to be, a teacher. That's who and what "Lois" is.
In fact, you've lectured and taught writing and journalism classes, courses,
seminars, etc., during your entire writing career, in your present life.
And as far as your children are concerned, the psychic who spoke about your
former "robed" teacher incarnation, informed you that you "will
continue to be their teacher in all realms." Does all of the above
accurately reflect your beliefs as well?
I don't know if it's true or not, but I don't find the concept unacceptable.
* The third young man (in that lifetime) was Kait. She was one of Lois'
** Lois Duncan's interview concluded in the January 18th, 2002 issue of the X -
Rated Childrens' Books Newsletter.
Read the conclusion of Lois Duncan's interview in the X - RATED CHILDRENS'
BOOKS NEWSLETTER. Request this complimentary issue, or a free
subscription by visiting X-RatedChildrensBooks.
"WHO KILLED MY DAUGHTER?" BY CLICKING HERE.