A string of thrillers by Lois Duncan, including I Know What You Did Last Summer, Killing Mr. Griffin, and Don’t Look Behind You, first sent shivers down the spines of teen readers in the 1970s and ’80s. These three novels are the first of 10 Duncan titles that Little, Brown plans to reissue in trade paperback editions with fresh cover art, modernized texts, a Q&A with the author by Barry Lyga, and a reader’s guide. Due next month, this trio will be followed by Stranger with My Face, Down a Dark Hall, and Summer of Fear in spring 2011. Rounding out the roster are Daughters of Eve and Locked in Time, scheduled for fall 2011; and A Gift of Magic and The Third Eye, slated for the publisher’s spring 2012 list.
With the exception of Don’t Look Behind You, which was originally a Delacorte hardcover, all of the reissues were published in hardcover by Little, Brown, and all 10 were released in paperback by Dell’s Laurel Leaf imprint. When she arrived at Little, Brown Books for Young Readers 18 months ago, senior executive editor Erin Stein learned that the paperback license for Duncan’s novels was due to expire. “It was great timing for me, since at the very start I had this amazing opportunity to bring these books back home where they belong,” she says. “Everyone was excited about the idea of reissuing them and got right on board.”
Including the author, who was thrilled at the prospect of updating her novels and, in her words, “bringing them into the 21st century.” When she reread the books, Duncan was surprised at how little needed to be changed. “I’ve been amazed that these books have remained in print and have been so popular for so long,” she says. “I realized as I read the novels back-to-back that the plots and characters had held up all these years, and it was just little fringe things that had to be reworked, mostly due to today’s technology. I loved going through the novels and giving the characters cell phones and computers, and changing their clothes so they were no longer wearing polyester pantsuits. And of course I changed the dialogue slightly so that it sounded more contemporary.”
Interestingly, it was today’s omnipresent cell phone that presented Duncan with the biggest challenge as she updated the texts. “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,” she explains. “But cell phones let teens be in touch, so I had to keep finding ways of disposing of those awful instruments! 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.”
As she worked with the author on the revisions, Stein, who read Duncan’s novels as a teen, was impressed at how well the books have withstood the test of time. “When she wrote these novels, Lois was really on the edge of YA fiction, and it is very impressive how this fiction still resonates,” says the editor. “In fact, in addition to the thriller aspects, she included paranormal themes, which is obviously perfect for today’s readers.”
High on Stein’s list of priorities in this reissue venture was giving the new editions a bold, eye-catching cover design. For that, she enlisted the help of Tracy Shaw, associate art director for LBBYR, who enthusiastically stepped up to the task. “We wanted to bring an eye-catching, fun, and modern look to the novels, and to emphasize the titles themselves, since they are such classics,” Shaw says.
For inspiration, she researched the work of the late Saul Bass, a graphic designer and filmmaker who designed many iconic movie posters, including those for Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo and Psycho. “We loved the feel of his posters, which were so minimal yet so very graphic,” she says. “We also looked at relatively recently redesigned covers of some Stephen King novels, which really make the titles stand out.” To ensure that those of the Duncan reissues did the same, the publisher lined up Jennifer Heuer to hand-letter the titles on the covers, which also feature background images.
Duncan, who describes the new covers as “striking,” is tickled to think that the next generation of readers will be exposed to her fiction in a spiffy new package. “I think it’s wonderful that they’ll think I’m a new young writer who’s just burst onto the scene, and here I am a grandmother of grown grandchildren,” she says with a laugh. “In a way it’s like rebirthing my own children and giving them wings. This has been a lot of fun!”
I Know What You Did Last Summer, Killing Mr. Griffin, and Don’t Look Behind You by Lois Duncan. Little, Brown, $7.99 each paper Oct. ISBN 0-316-09899-1; -09900-4; -12658-8