Monday, July 15, 2013

Author Guest Post: Lois Metzger and Five Books that Influenced Her

Lois Metzger, author of A Trick of the Light, was born in Queens and has always written for young adults. She is the author of three previous novels and two nonfiction books about the Holocaust, and she has edited five anthologies. Her short stories have appeared in collections all over the world. Her writing has also appeared in The New Yorker, The Nation, and Harper's Bazaar. She lives in Greenwich Village with her husband and son.

For more information please visit, and follow the author on Facebook

Thanks to Lois Metzger for stopping by! If you haven't grabbed her new book, A Trick of the Light, do so ASAP. Here are five books that influenced Lois and her writing (I've included links to each book on Goodreads so you can add them to your shelves):

Downtown by Norma Fox Mazer
When I was 14, I wanted to be a writer and write about people my own age. Years went by -- and I still wanted to write about 14-year-olds. In my 20s, I worked at The New Yorker Magazine, and submitted short stories about 14-year-olds. Which got rejected. I was told that "reminiscences" were the acceptable form of writing about young people: looking back from the standpoint of maturity. Young-adult literature was something I only heard about several years later, when a friend told me about Norma Fox Mazer. I read Downtown, and instantly knew what I wanted to do with my life: write about young people from their points of view -- in the here and now, not in the way back then.

Downtown is the riveting story of a 16-year-old boy who realizes he is living a lie. He tells people his parents are dead (they're in prison). He says his name is Pete Connors (not his real name). I loved the way she wrote about lies and the damage they can do. My new book, A Trick of the Light, is filled with lies -- lies you tell other people, lies you tell yourself.

Since Downtown, I've read hundreds of YAs, and in Norma's case I actually had the privilege of meeting her and getting to know her; she died in 2009. As wonderful as her books are, she was an even more spectacular person.

Down a Dark Hall by Lois Duncan
I've always been a huge fan of "creepy." The tingle at the back of your neck. The sense that something is wrong, someone is hiding something. Lois Duncan is a master at this kind of thing, and I've devoured all her books.

In Down a Dark Hall, it's the little details that give the story its punch. A girl, Kit, is accepted to an exclusive girls' boarding school, while her best friend, who is smarter, is not. When she gets to the school, Kit realizes there are only three other students. As time goes on, things get very weird and sinister; the students spend more time alone in their rooms and less time in class, and one girl seems to be going insane.

In A Trick of the Light, I tried to create a suspenseful story in the same way, with quiet and unsettling moments instead of loud explosions.

I am the cheese by Robert Cormier
This is my favorite YA novel.

It's a complicated story, starkly told in alternating chapters, first about a boy bicycling to meet his father in Vermont, and then about the boy inside a bare room being questioned by a mysterious man. For much of the book, the reader is definitely confused, but pieces start eventually coming together and it's all chillingly explained at the end. The darkness in the book (and it's very dark) is part of the path that points to the truth.

My new book is dark (though not as dark as Cormier's), and I definitely kept this book in mind anytime I worried whether things might get too rough for a reader. Cormier allowed me to take my story to the limits without censoring it, to let the darkness come before letting in the light.

Sweet Whispers, Brother Rush by Virginia Hamilton
The beauty of this book lies in the voice of its 14-year-old heroine, Tree. She's bright and funny, though her life is hard; her mother is a nurse and lives with her patients, leaving Tree to care for her older brother, Dabney, who has mental retardation. But there are ghosts here, too, and a magic mirror. 
Tree enters the mirror and experiences life as her own mother. Afterward, Tree laments the fact that it's 5:30 and "I been sittin here two hours. Ain't even started supper . . . But Dab, guess where I been?" She looked into his eyes and she knew he wouldn't understand. "Like a dream," she said . . . "It not possible, but it happened."

The idea of a mirror showing you something different than what's really there fascinated me, and is a huge part of A Trick of the Light.

Sold by Patricia McCormick
Among the many things to admire about this book is the handling of a very difficult subject: a girl in Nepal is sold into prostitution. Lakschmi is 13 and narrates her story in a simple, child-like way. But there's nothing simple or child-like about what's happening to her. Her emotions shine through; her loss of innocence unfolds beautifully. This book is a perfect blend of character and story.

I'm very proud that Patricia McCormick, who writes so brilliantly, gave me a blurb for A Trick of the Light.

© 2013 Lois Metzger, author of A Trick of the Light


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