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10 Facts About Author Lois Duncan

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Whether you were a fan of her thrillers, like I Know What You Did Last Summer, or preferred more lighthearted fare like Hotel For Dogs, Lois Duncan’s name probably appeared somewhere on your bookshelves when you were younger. Here are a few things you might not have known about the prolific author, who died on June 15, 2016 at the age of 82. 

1. DUNCAN SOLD HER FIRST PIECE OF WRITING WHEN SHE WAS JUST 13.

Duncan loved writing from a young age; she submitted her first piece to a magazine at the age of 10. Three years later, her very first acceptance letter arrived. Seeing her piece in Calling All Girls magazine motivated Duncan to keep going. “I could hardly wait to rush home from school each day to fling myself at the typewriter,” she later said.

2. SHE WAS OFFERED HER FIRST YOUNG ADULT BOOK CONTRACT AFTER WINNING A WRITING CONTEST.

All of that after-school practice paid off: As a senior in high school, Duncan was named the winner of a short story contest in Seventeen magazine. Winning the contest required her to make an editorial change, however: A 19-year-old boy in her story was drinking a beer, and Seventeen required her to change it to a Coke to win the prize. She did, and took home $1000. Duncan also nabbed her first young adult writing contract; her debut book, Debutante Hill, was released in 1958.

3. "LOIS DUNCAN” WAS NOT HER REAL NAME.

As she gained acclaim as a writer, Duncan decided she needed a pen name. She was named after her mother, a magazine photographer, and to avoid confusion with the elder Lois Steinmetz, the author decided to write under her first and middle names instead. For several of her early novels, Duncan also went by the name Lois Kerry.

4. HER FATHER, JOSEPH JANNEY STEINMETZ, WAS A FAMOUS PHOTOGRAPHER.

oaktree_b, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Both of her parents were well-known within the industry, but Joseph Janney Steinmetz was published in Life, The Saturday Evening Post, Time, and Town & Country. One of Steinmetz’s most famous pieces is the photo of clown Emmett Kelly (above), who intended to use it for his Christmas card.

5. DUNCAN WAS A COVER GIRL.

Growing up, Duncan was her father’s subject on a regular basis—including when he shot the cover of Collier’s magazine in 1949 (above). You can view more of his photos of her at the State Archives of Florida.

6. SHE ONCE WON A TRAINED PORPOISE.

Duncan later became a single mother after she and her first husband divorced in the early 1960s, so she was always looking to earn a little extra income on top of her ad agency job. She often spent her lunch hour scouring magazines for writing and photography contests or working on her submissions. One of her first big wins was an entry in a contest that requested fun snapshots taken on a Florida vacation. The prize? A live porpoise, direct from Marineland. (PETA didn’t exist at the time.) Luckily, Lois was able to decline the “pet” and take a cash prize of $1000 instead.

7. "CONFESSION STORIES” WERE HER BREAD AND BUTTER FOR A FEW YEARS.

After winning a couple of those magazine contests, Duncan decided to focus on writing for magazines full-time. She found success in what she called “confession stories”—tales of woe, published anonymously, that magazines ran as fact, even though Duncan submitted them as fiction—with titles like “I Carry a Dreadful Disease” and “Two Men Claim Me as Their Wife.” Her most popular story was “I Wanted to Have an Affair with a Teen-Age Boy.” Duncan wrote one a week, earning $200 per story.

8. HER DAUGHTER WAS MURDERED IN 1989.

On July 16, 1989, 18-year-old Kaitlyn Arquette was driving in her car in Albuquerque, New Mexico, when she was shot twice in the head—the victim of a drive-by shooting. She died the next day without waking up. After an investigation, police concluded that the incident was essentially a case of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Though three men were charged in the case, those charges were eventually dropped due to lack of evidence.

Duncan, however, was not ready to give up. She had been investigating on her own and discovered that her daughter’s boyfriend had been involved in an insurance scam. She believed that Kait had uncovered it and that the shooting was perpetrated by someone—not her boyfriend, but one of his associates—who didn’t want her to blow the whistle. Police stopped investigating, however, and the crime has never been solved. In 1992, Duncan wrote a book about it called Who Killed My Daughter?

Bizarrely, Duncan had recently written a novel called Don’t Look Behind You, in which the protagonist was based on Kait; many of the elements of the plot also showed up in Kait’s murder case. Later, when Lois and her husband hired a medium and a sketch artist to create a picture of Kait’s killer, the resulting drawing looked like the hit man on the cover of the British edition of Don’t Look Behind You.

9. SHE WASN’T TOO HAPPY ABOUT THE MOVIE I KNOW WHAT YOU DID LAST SUMMER.

Eight years after the death of her daughter, Duncan’s book I Know What You Did Last Summer was made into a horror movie starring Sarah Michelle Gellar and Freddie Prinze Jr.—and it was dramatically different than the words Duncan had put on paper. Her suspense novel had been transformed into a blood-and-gore-filled flick. "They made it into a slasher film. And I don't think murder is funny," she told People magazine. In fact, after Kait’s death, Duncan quit writing stories that put young women in peril. “I went weak after Kait’s murder,” Lois told Buzzfeed. “How could I even think about creating a novel with a young woman in a life-threatening situation?”

10. CELL PHONES WERE HER NEMESIS.

In 2010, Duncan worked with publisher Little, Brown to update 10 of her books. Though the plots held up surprisingly well for being at least four decades old, she had at least one hang-up: cell phones. “A strong element of many of my plots is having the protagonist be in a dangerous situation and not being able to reach the outside world. But cell phones let teens be in touch, so I had to keep finding ways of disposing of those awful instruments," she told Publisher's Weekly. "I had one fall into a river and another fall into a toilet, and another with batteries that needed recharging. It was tricky coming up with 10 different ways to get rid of a cell phone.”

Other updates included adding modern-day lingo, having characters use Google for research, and “changing their clothes so they were no longer wearing polyester pantsuits.”

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15 Powerful Quotes From Margaret Atwood
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MICHAL CIZEK/AFP/Getty Images

It turns out the woman behind such eerily prescient novels as The Handmaid’s Tale and Oryx and Crake is just as wise as her tales are haunting. Here are 15 of the most profound quips from author, activist, and Twitter enthusiast Margaret Atwood, who was born on this day in 1939.

1. On her personal philosophy

 “Optimism means better than reality; pessimism means worse than reality. I’m a realist.”

— From a 2004 interview with The Guardian

2. On the reality of being female

“Men often ask me, Why are your female characters so paranoid? It’s not paranoia. It’s recognition of their situation.”

— From a 1990 interview with The Paris Review

3. On limiting how her politics influence her characters

“You know the myth: Everybody had to fit into Procrustes’ bed and if they didn’t, he either stretched them or cut off their feet. I’m not interested in cutting the feet off my characters or stretching them to make them fit my certain point of view.”

— From a 1997 interview with Mother Jones

4. On so-called “pretty” works of literature

“I don’t know whether there are any really pretty novels … All of the motives a human being may have, which are mixed, that’s the novelists’ material. … We like to think of ourselves as really, really good people. But look in the mirror. Really look. Look at your own mixed motives. And then multiply that.”

— From a 2010 interview with The Progressive

5. On the artist’s relationship with her fans

“The artist doesn’t necessarily communicate. The artist evokes … [It] actually doesn’t matter what I feel. What matters is how the art makes you feel.”

— From a 2004 interview with The Guardian

6. On the challenges of writing non-fiction

“When I was young I believed that ‘nonfiction’ meant ‘true.’ But you read a history written in, say, 1920 and a history of the same events written in 1995 and they’re very different. There may not be one Truth—there may be several truths—but saying that is not to say that reality doesn’t exist.”

— From a 1997 interview with Mother Jones

7. On poetry

“The genesis of a poem for me is usually a cluster of words. The only good metaphor I can think of is a scientific one: dipping a thread into a supersaturated solution to induce crystal formation.”

— From a 1990 interview with The Paris Review

8. On being labeled an icon

“All these things set a standard of behavior that you don’t necessarily wish to live up to. If you’re put on a pedestal you’re supposed to behave like a pedestal type of person. Pedestals actually have a limited circumference. Not much room to move around.”

— From a 2013 interview with The Telegraph

9. On how we’re all born writers

“[Everyone] ‘writes’ in a way; that is, each person has a ‘story’—a personal narrative—which is constantly being replayed, revised, taken apart and put together again. The significant points in this narrative change as a person ages—what may have been tragedy at 20 is seen as comedy or nostalgia at 40.”

— From a 1990 interview with The Paris Review

10. On the oppression at the center of The Handmaid's Tale

“Nothing makes me more nervous than people who say, ‘It can’t happen here. Anything can happen anywhere, given the right circumstances.” 

— From a 2015 lecture to West Point cadets

11. On the discord between men and women

“‘Why do men feel threatened by women?’ I asked a male friend of mine. … ‘They’re afraid women will laugh at them,’ he said. ‘Undercut their world view.’ … Then I asked some women students in a poetry seminar I was giving, ‘Why do women feel threatened by men?’ ‘They’re afraid of being killed,’ they said.”

— From Atwood’s Second Words: Selected Critical Prose, 1960-1982

12. On the challenges of expressing oneself

“All writers feel struck by the limitations of language. All serious writers.”

— From a 1990 interview with The Paris Review

13. On selfies

“I say they should enjoy it while they can. You’ll be happy later to have taken pictures of yourself when you looked good. It’s human nature. And it does no good to puritanically say, ‘Oh, you shouldn’t be doing that,’ because people do.”

— From a 2013 interview with The Telegraph

14. On the value of popular kids' series (à la Harry Potter and Percy Jackson)

"It put a lot of kids onto reading; it made reading cool. I’m sure a lot of later adult book clubs came out of that experience. Let people begin where they are rather than pretending that they’re something else, or feeling that they should be something else."

— From a 2014 interview with The Huffington Post

15. On why even the bleakest post-apocalyptic novels are, deep down, full of hope

“Any novel is hopeful in that it presupposes a reader. It is, actually, a hopeful act just to write anything, really, because you’re assuming that someone will be around to [read] it.”

— From a 2011 interview with The Atlantic 

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China's New Tianjin Binhai Library is Breathtaking—and Full of Fake Books
FRED DUFOUR/AFP/Getty Images
FRED DUFOUR/AFP/Getty Images

A massive new library in Tianjin, China, is gaining international fame among bibliophiles and design buffs alike. As Arch Daily reports, the five-story Tianjin Binhai Library has capacity for more than 1 million books, which visitors can read in a spiraling, modernist auditorium with floor-to-ceiling bookshelves.

Several years ago, municipal officials in Tianjin commissioned a team of Dutch and Japanese architects to design five new buildings, including the library, for a cultural center in the city’s Binhai district. A glass-covered public corridor connects these structures, but the Tianjin Binhai Library is still striking enough to stand out on its own.

The library’s main atrium could be compared to that of the Frank Lloyd Wright-designed Guggenheim Museum in New York City. But there's a catch: Its swirling bookshelves don’t actually hold thousands of books. Look closer, and you’ll notice that the shelves are printed with digital book images. About 200,000 real books are available in other rooms of the library, but the jaw-dropping main room is primarily intended for socialization and reading, according to Mashable.

The “shelves”—some of which can also serve as steps or seating—ascend upward, curving around a giant mirrored sphere. Together, these elements resemble a giant eye, prompting visitors to nickname the attraction “The Eye of Binhai,” reports Newsweek. In addition to its dramatic main auditorium, the 36,000-square-foot library also contains reading rooms, lounge areas, offices, and meeting spaces, and has two rooftop patios.

Following a three-year construction period, the Tianjin Binhai Library opened on October 1, 2017. Want to visit, but can’t afford a trip to China? Take a virtual tour by checking out the photos below.

A general view of the Tianjin Binhai Library
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People visiting China's Tianjin Binhai Library.
FRED DUFOUR/AFP/Getty Images

A general view of China's Tianjin Binhai Library.
FRED DUFOUR/AFP/Getty Images

A woman taking pictures at China's Tianjin Binhai Library.
FRED DUFOUR/AFP/Getty Images

A man visiting China's Tianjin Binhai Library.
FRED DUFOUR/AFP/Getty Images

A woman looking at books at China's Tianjin Binhai Library.
FRED DUFOUR/AFP/Getty Images

A general view of China's Tianjin Binhai Library.
FRED DUFOUR/AFP/Getty Images

People visiting China's Tianjin Binhai Library.
FRED DUFOUR/AFP/Getty Images

[h/t Newsweek]

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