Thursday, March 7, 2013

The Queen of Teen Screams

I was inspired by Ashley's post the other day, What Would Sidney Sheldon Do? and realized I had never really written about one of my favorite authors growing up, and that's Lois Duncan.

As a kid I was obsessed with anything creepy and unexplained—ghosts, astral projection, reincarnation—and Scooby Doo just didn't cut it. I wanted seriously scary mysteries and Duncan's books were the best around. By the time I read Down a Dark Hall, Killing Mr. Griffin, Stranger with My Face and I Know What You Did Last Summer, these books were already a decade (or nearly so) old, yet they felt incredibly fresh and timeless. The plots were original without seeming farfetched and they always kept me turning the pages.

A few years ago, Little, Brown reissued ten of Duncan's paperbacks. I reread Down a Dark Hall, just to see, and it totally held up. (It didn't hurt that Duncan updated the technology and fashions involved.) It struck me that one of the reasons her stories endure—and it seems like Hollywood is still making movies out of them—is because Duncan does such a great job setting up not only a compelling mystery or suspense story but also in building incredibly relatable, sympathetic characters that demand emotional investment. Most are dealing with family drama like icky stepparents, abuse and alienation (you know, on top of the murderous classmates, secret twins and discoveries that they're unwitting subjects for educational experiments). This is a great reminder for those of us trying to write thrillers, mysteries or even horror books for teens or tweens. At the end of the day, what readers are going to respond to is how well we can capture the experience of adolescence, which, it hardly needs restating, is harrowing enough in its own right.

Elisa Ludwig's debut young adult novel PRETTY CROOKED (Katherine Tegen/HarperCollins), was released in March 2012. It's the story of Willa Fox, a teen girl who goes Robin Hood on her rich classmates, and it's the first of a trilogy. The sequel, PRETTY SLY, will be released in March 2014. Elisa lives in Philadelphia with her husband Jesse.


  1. I love all these old covers! These books would have scared me to death when I was young. I still watch scary movies with one eye shut, hiding in the corner of the couch with all the lights on.

  2. I love, love, love Lois Duncan! I booktalk them all the time to my readers and there are several in the past years that have read all of hers we have in my library! The chills hold up!

  3. Stranger with my face! I remember that one, and that cover! I haven't read her in years. Interesting that she made updates to fashion and technology. I may revisit some of these books!

  4. Ashley—I love the old covers, too. I deliberately chose the old-school versions over the redone ones, even though they look great. There's just something about the retro graphic design! Jana—very cool to hear that! Next we have to get Paul Zindel's books rediscovered! Diana—Definitely check them out. She makes it seem so easy—there's such elegance to her pacing and structure.


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