The Significant Interview with Dusti Bowling

When I love a book, I can’t stop thinking and talking about it.  When I read my ARC of Insignificant Events in the Life of a Cactus by Dusti Bowling, I must have driven my book loving friends crazy…I couldn’t stop raving about it.  I read this book over the summer and truly loved every page of it.  The main character, Aven, was such a real, believable character, who was born without arms, making her standout even more as the new kid when her family moved out west.  I was so intrigued to read her story.  But Insignificant Events was more than just a story about her life and unexpected relationships in her new school.  There was mystery, raw emotions, friendship, and so much more, neatly wrapped up in a little present.  Thank you for the gift, Dusti Bowling.

3 Questions about Insignificant Events in the Life of a Cactus

Aven’s disability is one that is not often, or maybe even never, written about.  Where did your inspiration come from?  

The seed was first planted in my mind to write a story about a child with limb differences after my cousin was injured in Iraq back in 2008. At that time, we were told he had lost his eye and was going to lose his arm. In the days following that phone call, I couldn’t stop thinking about what life was going to be like for him with only one arm. I did a lot of research about it and found there were almost no children’s books featuring characters with limb differences back then. But my cousin passed away a couple of weeks later, and I didn’t think about it again for several years. Then one day I saw a video of Barbie Thomas taking care of her baby, driving, folding towels, and working out at the gym. She did everything with her feet because she didn’t have arms. That video was really eye-opening for me. Over the next year or so, I kept thinking about this character who was really capable and strong and funny and unique. She wouldn’t have arms and would do everything with her feet. That character simply wouldn’t leave me alone until I put her down on paper. And as far as I know, Aven is the only character out there with both arms missing.

What kind of research did you do to ensure you were accurate in what Aven’s life would be like?  

I couldn’t find much written about life without arms, so I relied heavily on videos of people, particularly one series of videos called “Tisha Unarmed.” Tisha’s videos were incredibly educational for me, showing how she did everything without arms, from getting dressed to grocery shopping to carving a pumpkin. When I finished my manuscript, I reached out to Tisha to see if she would be willing to read it. Thankfully she agreed and really loved the story.

We’d love to know more about how the plot came to be for Insignificant Events.  Did it start out as a mystery? Was it always going to be about a child born with a disability or is that the way the story evolved?

The story was always about Aven born without arms from my very first thought. I wanted it to just be about her adjusting to a move and meeting Connor (who always had Tourette’s) and becoming friends. But the first draft didn’t have a mystery or even a western theme park! When I first queried the manuscript to agents, I got a lot of “I love your voice, but this story is too quiet” and “I love the characters, but this story doesn’t really have a plot.” I took all the advice I received and completely rewrote the manuscript. I was already thinking about writing a story set in a western theme park, so I decided to use that setting for Aven instead of saving it for another book. I added the mystery to move the plot along better, and it ended up becoming very meaningful to me. I’m so glad I listened to the feedback I received because it improved the story massively.

3 Questions about Dusti Bowling

If you weren’t a writer, what would you want to be and why?

I’ve always wanted to own a “dessert shop” where you can get just about any kind of dessert you want: pastries, pies, ice cream, candies, etc. It would also be a great place for tea parties and children’s birthday parties. I love baking, and I think this would just be so much fun. Maybe I’ll still do this one day!

What is one book that has stuck with you since you’ve read it?

Just one?!? I recently read Wishtree by Katherine Applegate. I loved the simplicity and beauty of the story so much. I won’t be at all surprised if it wins her another Newbery award.

What is one item in your fridge that tells us about you?

The giant jelly smear across the shelf.