#TuesdayTalk with Pamela McDowell. Her novel, Salamander Rescue, is on shelves now!
Tell us about your book.
My new book, Salamander Rescue, is an ecological adventure story full of animal encounters – bears, horses, kittens, fawns, and of course, salamanders. Once again, Cricket and her friends (previously introduced in Ospreys in Danger) jump into action to save a species facing imminent danger using the tools they have at hand – lemonade and cement.
What was the catalyst for your story?
This adventure was inspired by the actual discovery – and rescue – of long-toed salamanders one cold, wet night in Waterton Lakes National Park. It’s hard to believe that tiny salamanders live in such a mountainous area, but that night, residents and tourists joined together to create a bucket brigade to move the salamanders safely across the road.
If your book is illustrated, what was it like to see your story come alive visually?
It is always a thrill to see how another creative mind interprets my story and I love how Kasia Charko has brought the characters to life. It’s fun to see how she visualizes a scene, like a bear jam or lemonade sale. Most importantly, though, I really appreciate the effort she makes to get the details right, accurately representing the animals and Waterton with as much care as I put into my research before I begin writing.
What are the challenges of writing for or within a series?
Salamander Rescue is the second book in this ecological adventure series and I am working on a third. Cricket and her friends are in each book and it’s important to keep the details consistent, especially for the main characters. Characters can grow and change as they get older, but if the changes don’t make sense, readers notice.
What was your favourite book as a child?
You have probably already guessed that I loved books about animals when I was a child. I read anything I could find about horses – King of the Wind, The Black Stallion, My Friend Flicka, and even non-fiction, like Horse Breeds of the World. But I also liked Dr. Seuss. It was fun to read those books aloud to my little brother, with the crazy, made-up words and rhymes.
In your opinion, what makes a compelling story?
I like a story that has such vivid description and action that I feel I am part of it and can’t wait to see what comes next. This doesn’t mean a lot of description, but well-chosen words that allow my imagination to create a picture. I like a story that keeps me turning the pages – ‘just one more chapter.’
Does your book have a niche or specialty market?
Both of my chapter books, Ospreys in Danger and Salamander Rescue, are ecological adventures that focus on environmental stewardship. Families that camp or hike or simply like being outdoors enjoy the books because the details about the animals and their environment are factual (and carefully researched) and kids like the idea of rescuing an animal in distress or danger. I believe Baba Dioum spoke quite succinctly when he said, “In the end we will conserve only what we love, we will love only what we understand, and we will understand only what we are taught.” Fiction is a great way to teach children about the natural world in a way that is exciting and inspiring rather than didactic.
Do you gravitate toward a certain genre or type of writing?
I enjoy writing about nature and am happiest when I am immersed in research, learning all I can about an animal, location or issue. Sometimes I dig so deep into the research that I have far more material than I could ever use in one chapter book! But I share the interesting bits that I have to leave out of the book in my blog or presentations to schools.
What types of conversations do you hope will come out of your book?
I hope that Salamander Rescue will create an awareness of the tiniest creatures that share our ecosystems and that young readers will become curious and want to learn more about the salamanders in Waterton or where they live. Kids can make a difference, and I hope this book will get readers thinking about ways they can help species at risk.
My favourite snack while I’m writing is a cup of cinnamon tea and a Snickers bar, cut into a zillion thin slices so it lasts a long time!
Pamela McDowell’s first career was in education, teaching junior high and high school. She began writing when she left teaching and has now written more than twenty nonfiction books for children. Pamela grew up in Alberta and enjoys writing about the diverse animals and habitats of her home province. Ospreys in Danger is her first work of fiction. Pamela lives in Calgary, Alberta, with her husband, two kids and an Australian shepherd. For more information, visit www.pamelamcdowell.ca.