Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Interview with SPILLING INK CONTEST judge, Wendy Townsend

Dear Readers,

Please join me in welcoming one of the judge's for the contest, my good friend and esteemed colleague, Wendy Townsend. Wendy was recently featured in Kirkus Book Review Journal. Her book garnered a starred review, a personal interview, and her book jacket on the cover of the journal! Congratulations, Wendy! You'll learn more about Wendy in the SPILLING INK WRITING CONTEST coming up right here on Friday! Wendy is donating an autographed copy of her book, SUNDOWN RULES for the Spilling Ink Writing Young Author Writing Contest for grades 4-8.

Your comments are always appreciated! Thanks so much for joining us for this mid-week post!

The Lure of Bare Feet in Mud

by Jenny Brown on March 25, 2011 | Children's
Wendy Townsend spent her childhood summers near Michigan’s Marl Lake, home to 12-year-old Louise, the narrator of her latest novel, The Sundown Rule. Louise is inseparable from her cat, Cash. She also provides food to the nearby crows and rescues baby animals. When her father leaves Brazil on a nature-writing assignment, Louise must spend the summer with her highly allergic Aunt Kay and Uncle Jack in the suburbs—and leave Cash behind. Like Louise, Townsend finds solace in nature. Here the author discusses nature’s profound effect on humans and the dangers of severing that connection.
Check out more books about children and the wild world.
Louise tells readers what she’s thinking through her observations and her senses. Do you naturally write in such a spare way?
I haven’t always liked to write. I started out writing articles for nature magazines and co-authored a care guide [for iguanas] with a veterinarian. I’ve kept large iguanas since I was 8 years old. I thought fiction would be a better way to say what I wanted to say about the value of animals to us as human beings. [My editor] Stephen Roxburgh is a great teacher in terms of economy of language. I wanted to step inside the child character and write as a witness of what was going on—to get out of my head, into a place of seeing and smelling and hearing.
You’re also nonjudgmental when it comes to animals. Louise knows, for instance, that crows steal other birds’ hatchlings but “loved the crows anyway.”
I want people to rethink how they look at animals, especially crows, snakes, bugs and spiders, as if there’s no sentience there and no society. They do have society. They have a lot to teach us. I found my grounding and my security at a very early age with those animals and in nature. When you’re standing in a pond with your bare feet in mud, that’s about as good as it gets and as safe as you can feel.
When Louise becomes friends with Sarah, Sarah’s father also becomes an important ally for Louise. He has that insightful response when Louise describes missing Cash: “Animals give us something special, don’t they? Something people can’t.”
It is an inchoate thing. The word that comes to mind is “wonder.” Animals do look at us as much as we look at them. Maybe even more. As a species, we are alone on the planet in many ways. We’ve put ourselves there. People who have pets or working farms do have companionship with nature. John Berger wrote an essay called, “Why look at animals?” He says that “With their parallel lives, animals offer companionship… to the loneliness of man as a species.” That has always resonated with me.
Louise hints at the spirituality that grows out of her love of nature. One of the great moments in the book is her conversation with Sarah about whether animals have a soul.
When I had the relationship with the real friend [who inspired Sarah], the wonderful thing about this person is that she was able to manage her mother’s extreme religious fanaticism and still go on these turtle walks and frog hunts with me. In my family we weren’t churchgoers. My grandmother was a bird-watcher and gardener, and believed in Mother Nature. I think that what I was pondering was, I was seeing what Sarah gives to Louise in terms of companionship, but what does Louise give to Sarah? I feel like Louise gives Sarah this window into nature.
Louise is as comfortable in solitude as she is in the company of those she loves. Do you think that’s something our society is giving up? Is it a challenge to seek out those stretches of solitude?
Children are used to stimuli, and what happens if they don’t get that stimulus? They have to learn how to be quiet and still and alone. I don’t know how else you can feel grounded and steady with yourself. Nature has that to offer us. It’s emotional safety to be still and quiet, and feeling everything and seeing everything is calming. It’s very hard to find that today.
What’s next for you?
My third novel will center around an incident in May 2008 in the Grand Cayman Islands: people broke into the Blue Iguana Recovery Program and brutally murdered eight of the primary breeding adults. They haven’t caught them yet and they don’t know why. Blue Iguanas are incredible, they’re in the same genus as the [West Indian rhino iguanas] my husband and I have. Blue iguanas are functionally extinct, and there’s been an effort to keep them alive. For me it tipped it, I see snapping turtles who’ve been run over, and I’m heartbroken when an animal is hit and didn’t need to be. I needed to write a book about coming to terms with cruelty to animals. It’s also a road not taken, because I almost became a marine biologist, but realized I’m more of an artist than a scientist. It feels like an important story for me to tell.
Pub info:
The Sundown Rule
Wendy Townsend
Namelos / March / 9781608980994 / $18.95
(Ages 8-12)

Congratulations, Wendy,on all the great reviews for your new book, SUNDOWN RULES!


  1. Great questions and fascinating answers! Congrats on all these accolades, Wendy!

  2. Excellent interview, Clara and Wendy!

  3. Congratulations, Wendy! I'm intrigued especially by your work! I went away to marine biology camp in high school and spent summers in the Caymans with my family (all of whom are scuba divers).

    I'm guessing highly allergic Aunt Kay and Uncle Jack of SUNDOWN aren't nature lovers, lol? Looking forward to reading your books! Thank you, Clara, for hosting.

  4. Claudia and Marileta, Thanks for stopping by to congratulate Wendy!

    Kristin, I'm sure you'll love Wendy's sensitivity to nature when you read her books. I hope one of your boys will enter the writing contest--if they like to write, of course!

  5. I enjoyed the interview. It sounds like a great book.

  6. Wendy, Congratulations on your book. I read Sundown Rules and loved it! Thanks for writing it!
    And thanks to both you and Clara for an interesting interview. It is so much fun to learn about an author's life.
    Best wishes,
    p.s. An iguana (Francis) lived in our home for about 8 years. We have some very funny stories to tell from the experience.

  7. Children need more books that teach how to respect animals. Thanks to Wendy for writing and discussing this particular subject and to Clara for the great interview. It was great.

  8. Janet, Lorrie, Elizabeth, and Betty, Thanks for your thoughtful comments and for your ongoing support. My readers are GREAT!

  9. Well, I want to thank you guys for such kind words about SUNDOWN. And I'm so happy you agree that kids do need to respects and care for animals.
    Lorrie --Francis must have been a good fellow, to have left you with fond memories.

    Bye for now --and back to the writing desk!