Cover Reveal (and Q & A!): Momentous Events in the Life of a Cactus by Dusti Bowling
Okay, back it up a little there, people. I want to tell you a little tale about a book that came out in 2017. Back then, the name Dusti Bowling was unknown to a lot of us. When Sterling released the debut author’s middle grade novel novel Insignificant Events in the Life of a Cactus, there wasn’t anything on the outset to garner notice. But the people who actually went and read the book found it to be rather extraordinary. This, in spite of the fact, that the premise sounded exceedingly difficult to write. To put it simply, the story is about a girl born with no arms who moves to a new home, solves a mystery, and basically conquers the world. Where the heck did this book come from? Who was Dusti Bowling? And was there any chance that there would be a sequel?
You want a sequel? You got a sequel, my friends.
But first, let’s just lob some questions in the direction of Ms. Bowling. Having been given the chance to ask her one or two, I was hardly going to give up this chance.
Betsy Bird: Thanks for taking some time to answer my questions. First and foremost, your novel INSIGNIFICANT EVENTS IN THE LIFE OF A CACTUS is sort of the little book that could. It was your debut, right? And here it is getting all these state awards and starred reviews. I had no idea a sequel was even in the works! What made you want to return to Aven again?
Dusti Bowling: Yes, CACTUS was my debut! When I wrote it, of course I hoped people would love Aven, but I was surprised at how strongly readers ended up connecting with her. I started getting asked constantly if there would be another story about Aven, and though I hadn’t before considered writing a sequel, I couldn’t help thinking about how her story might continue. Eventually, a plot came together and my agent and I presented the idea to my publisher. I was thrilled to get to spend more time with characters I treasure.
BB: Arizona takes a bit of a hit in the entertainment industry these days (I’m thinking of THE GOOD PLACE as I say this). You live there yourself, so sell it to me. Why set a book in Arizona? What’s it got that nothing else has?
DB: Arizona is an amazing state that is underrepresented in children’s literature. What do we have that no one else does? Well, we have more national monuments than any other state. Our monuments include Native ruins, stunning canyons, and beautiful deserts. I live in the Sonoran Desert myself and love to explore it. Just the other day, my husband and I took a quad ride near Alamo Lake and found two incredible canyons. We didn’t see a single other person the entire day! Arizona also has wonderfully diverse landscapes. It only takes us an hour to reach the red rocks of Sedona or snowy pine country when we need a break from the heat. But it’s not hot all the time. We have gorgeous 70-degree winters in the desert. When it’s over a hundred degrees, we just jump in the pool or one of our many lakes and rivers. And don’t even get me started on our unique mountain ranges, ghost towns, wildlife, and sunsets. I could go on all day, but I think my favorite thing about Arizona is our epic monsoons in the late summer. Dry washes become raging rivers, the temperature drops by as much as thirty degrees, and the rinsed desert smells like heaven. Arizona provides me with endless story ideas. I’ve lived in several other states, but my heart always lives in Arizona.
BB: When CACTUS first came out my co-worker saw that it had a character with Tourette’s Syndrome in it. We have another co-worker with Tourette’s so we vetted it with him and he said it rang incredibly true. Add in the fact that your main character was born without arms, and how do you make these characters as accurate to their lived experiences as possible?
DB: While I was writing CACTUS, I relied heavily on YouTube videos of armless people for my research because I could find very little written on the experience. Tisha Shelton’s videos (Tisha Unarmed) were incredibly helpful to me, so when I completed the manuscript, I reached out to Tisha to see if she would be willing to read it for authenticity. I also reached out to Barbie Thomas, who was the original inspiration for the character. Both women loved the story and representation. For CACTUS 2, we hired sensitivity readers to ensure the story would again be authentic and respectful to people with limb differences.
Writing the character of Connor was a little bit simpler for me because my husband and daughters have tic disorders. I actually hadn’t anticipated including a character with Tourette’s in the story, but my oldest daughter was struggling to adjust at the time as her tics became more and more severe. I often pull from my life when writing, and that was one of the most important things in my life at that moment. I took all of the embarrassment, pain, and anxiety she was feeling and poured it into Connor. Of course I also did a lot of reading and other research on Tourette’s since it varies so much from person to person, and some of Connor’s tics are different from those of my family members. But Connor’s struggles are largely based on those of my own children.
BB: You seem pretty comfy in the realistic middle grade genre, but have you ever wanted to branch out? To try something YA or just go nuts with a fantasy?
DB: My agent just told me a few days ago that I’m allowed to be more than one thing, and it was the biggest relief because I love doing something different with every story I write. I feel like I could go anywhere. I have several story ideas, one of which contains quite a bit of magical realism and another which has subtle science fiction elements. I also love writing YA and would definitely consider writing a YA story if the right idea takes hold. When it comes to writing, I often feel like I don’t choose the story; the story chooses me, which is definitely the case with the story I’m currently writing.
BB: After the next CACTUS, what are you working on next?
DB: The story I’m working on is again realistic middle grade, but it’s something very different for me. For one thing, it’s my first verse novel! I was so surprised when the words started coming out in verse, but it felt right for the story, and I found that I absolutely love writing in that style. The story is also darker and less humorous than what I usually write. I feel like it could spark some important conversations and push the boundaries of middle grade a bit, but maybe in a way they need to be pushed in our current world.
Many thanks to Ms. Bowling and the folks at Sterling for the talk.
And now, here you go, the sequel to Insignificant Events in the Life of a Cactus . . . .
About Betsy Bird
Betsy Bird is currently the Collection Development Manager of the Evanston Public Library system and a former Materials Specialist for New York Public Library. She has served on Newbery, written for Horn Book, and has done other lovely little things that she'd love to tell you about but that she's sure you'd find more interesting to hear of in person. Her opinions are her own and do not reflect those of EPL, SLJ, or any of the other acronyms you might be able to name. Follow her on Twitter: @fuseeight.
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