Lois Duncan

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Duncan in 1947.

Lois Duncan Steinmetz (28 April 1934 – 15 June 2016) was an American novelist, poet, and journalist who primarily wrote young adult literature and horror and suspense novels, many of which—including I Know What You Did Last Summer, Summer of Fear, and Killing Mr. Griffin—were adapted into feature films.

In addition to her suspense novels, Duncan also published poetry, chapter and picture books, and a non-fiction book detailing the 1989 unsolved murder of her daughter, Kaitlyn Arquette. Duncan was also a faculty member in the journalism department at the University of New Mexico throughout the 1970s.



  • I cannot remember a time when I did not consider myself a writer.
    • Quoted in The 100 Most Popular Young Adult Authors: Biographical Sketches and Bibliographies (1997), p. 109
  • The books I loved most as a child were those that contained elements of magic—the whole series of Oz books, Mary Poppins, The Princess and the Goblin—I could name them indefinitely.
    • On her favorite literature as a child, quoted in The 100 Most Popular Young Adult Authors: Biographical Sketches and Bibliographies (1997), p. 110
  • The subject matter of today's youth novels has no boundaries. The only taboo seems to be sex discrimination... I can only guess about where we're going, but I think we have come about as far as we can in the direction of 'let-it-all-hang-out' realism. My reader-mail indicates that kids are beginning to feel bogged down with so much depressing slice-of-life. My own most successful books have been those that were high in entertainment value, especially those touching on the supernatural.
    • On literary realism, quoted in The 100 Most Popular Young Adult Authors: Biographical Sketches and Bibliographies (1997), p. 113
  • A movie loosely based upon my novel, I Know What You Did Last Summer, opened in theaters around the country. I was ecstatic until I settled into a theater seat with my box of popcorn and discovered that Hollywood had turned my teenage suspense story into a slasher film. The setting had been changed from the mountains of New Mexico to a fishing village on the East Coast, so an insane fisherman, who wasn't in my book, could decapitate my characters with an ice hook. The first thing I did after leaving the theater was phone our daughter Kerry and warn her not to let the grandchildren see it.
    • On the adaptation of her novel I Know What You Did Last Summer in 1997, quoted in MoviePilot piece
  • Violence is a fact of life in today’s society and therefore it has its place in books and films, but I strongly believe that the people who create those books and films have a duty to treat the subject seriously and to show the terrible consequences.
    • On violence in the arts, 1998 interview, reprinted in The Telegraph (2016)
  • 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.’
    • On censorship, interview in Absolute Write (2002)
  • 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.
    • On the basis of her novel Killing Mr. Griffin (1978), interview in Absolute Write (2002)
  • 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.
    • On violence in her novels, interview in Absolute Write (2002)


Duncan (left) with friend Polly Gaines, 1950.
  • I was in my forties and teaching magazine writing for the Journalism Department at the University of New Mexico. I was hired on a fluke. The professor who was scheduled to teach the course became ill, so the chair of the department, my personal friend Tony Hillerman, asked me to fill in for a semester. Tony knew I’d never been to college and didn’t care; he just knew I’d written successfully for magazines for years. The original professor never returned, and someone else replaced Tony as Chair and automatically kept me on. I discovered I loved teaching writing and started to get worried that my deep dark secret, (no college!) might be discovered, so I began taking courses under my married name, Lois Arquette, hoping I could get a degree before someone “outed” me. In the course of that endeavor, I took a juvenile literature class where they were studying “Lois Duncan books.” My fellow students were excitedly writing A-plus papers about how many of my books were based on Greek myths. I had never even read those myths!
    • On teaching and attending college, interview with Megan Abbott (2011)
  • It came naturally. I came from a family of strong women.
    • On writing female characters, interview with Megan Abbott (2011)
  • I understand the craft of writing, because it’s who and what I am. The commercial world of publishing, both in the past and today, is an ongoing mystery to me. Fads are constantly changing.
    • On writing and publishing, interview with Megan Abbott (2011)
  • Ironically, when it was released in 1979 it was challenged by feminists who thought it was anti-feminist and by anti-feminists who thought it was feminist. I was trying to walk a nice gray line but people who feel strongly about a subject don’t want a gray line. They want it to be all black or all white.
    • On controversy over her novel Killing Mr. Griffin, interview with Megan Abbott (2011)

See also[edit]

External links[edit]

Encyclopedic article on Lois Duncan on Wikipedia