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Little Willow

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Interview: Pamela Lowell

Returnable Girl by Pamela Lowell features a headstrong foster child named Veronica (Ronnie) who "has been returned nine times between the ages of eleven and thirteen." Just where does Ronnie belong? (Read my review of Returnable Girl.)

Author Pamela Lowell put a lot of heart and time into her story. She recently spoke with me about it.

How long was the journey from the first seed of inspiration to full bloom publication?

Let's see. This journey began many years ago, with a young foster child who was only six at the time. My first real encounter with the "system." Seed of inspiration. That said, the original manuscript was about twice as long (not a young adult novel) when it became obvious that Ronnie was going to steal the show. I lopped off about 100 pages and started again. About a year to write. A couple of months to sell. Another year to do editor's re-writes. So depending upon how you do the math, either fourteen years or two and a half.

Being a clinical social worker, you had years of experience to draw upon while writing this book. Was there any particular teen who inspired the character of Ronnie?

Not really. She's a composite, bits and pieces of many teens I've known and loved.

Have any of your clients read the novel?

Yes, actually quite a few. Adults included. I'm quite addicted to their feedback. Good or bad, it doesn't matter. (Yes, it does. Lucky me, it's all been very good!)

I have to say that the cover and the additional images on the book jacket are positively perfect! They even got Ronnie's bag correct. How much or how little input did you have on the cover?

I absolutely love the cover. Didn't they just nail it? I had some ideas that I bounced off our town's Young Adult librarian who is very interested in graphic design. Marshall Cavendish was very generous in asking for my input and I was thrilled. I felt certain we needed to use a photograph of a real girl, since this is how families are recruited for foster kids, by posting their pictures. And of course there is the HEART GALLERY project which has professionals photograph foster teens (like glamour shots only better) for display at libraries, state houses, etc. The file folder and paperclip were also my idea since we therapists keep our notes on our clients in those damn file folders (I have hundreds of them!) Originally I wanted the trash bag to be on the front cover, too, but I'm pleased it's on the back flap. A nice little surprise I think.

The pink and black Vans were the model's idea, I suppose, but I've bought myself a pair which I wear to book signings, readings etc. After I put them on, I suggest to readers to imagine how it might feel to walk in a foster teen's shoes.

What other novels revolving around foster children would you recommend? What non-fiction titles?

For non-fiction, I'd suggest Beyond the Mask by Debbie Riley for parents who want to understand their foster or adopted teen. The heart knows something different, by Al Dessetta about foster teens in their own voices. Also Turning Stones, My days and nights with children at risk, by Marc Parent (it's going to be made into a documentary soon.) Last Chance Texaco by Brent Hartinger is the one I'd consider for fiction.

Tell us about your next book, Spotting for Nellie.

On a drive home from a keg party, a drunken Nellie urges Claire to pass Adam's car so she can moon him and the car crashes into a tree. Nellie, the third best gymnast in the state (and Claire's best friend) ends up in a coma. When Claire tries to tell the truth about what happened, almost everyone turns against her. Sarah feels like she's lost two friends at once - not to mention that her parents are furious with her for coming out before college. And Adam, who was kicked out of a private school has a dark secret all his own. How do you forgive yourself for doing the worst thing possible? When "I'm sorry" doesn't cut it, and there's no one to blame but yourself? Friends discover how the choices they make can sometimes carry a steep price -- but how together, maybe, they can help each other heal.

What are your ten favorite books of all time?

Only ten???? Seriously, I was one of those weird kids whose only hobby growing up (emphasis on only) was hanging out at the library, but okay, here goes --

To Kill a Mockingbird
A Wrinkle in Time
One Flew Over the Cukoo's Nest
Heart is a Lonely Hunter
Cat's Eye
The Stone Diaries
Stones in the River
The World According to Garp
Nobody's Fool

For more information regarding Pamela Lowell's social work and writing, please visit

Tags: books, cybils, interviews

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